Thursday, December 11, 2014

"The Rapture and the beginning of the Day of the Lord … "

Day #349:  Daily Bible Reading - December 12th

Scripture Reading:  Revelation 7 - 11 …

It will happen … just as God says it will happen.  God's judgment will come and His wrath will be poured out on the world.  But for those who believe in Jesus Christ, who have received salvation by grace through faith, there will be deliverance, as He has promised.  As Paul wrote in I Thessalonians 4 and 5, the order of events at the end is the RAPTURE, the gathering together of those who are in Christ, and THEN the pouring out of God's wrath.  "For God did not appoint US (believers) to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Thessalonians 5:9).  Since Jesus endured God's wrath in our place on the cross, God's justice is satisfied for all who believe and only those who have not believed will face His coming judgment.

As Chapter 6 revealed the events leading up to the Rapture, a brief overview helps to put things in place.  Believing that there will a seven-year period just prior to Jesus' return to defeat the Antichrist and to establish His kingdom on the earth prior to the Millennium (the 1,000-year reign of Jesus on the earth), according to Daniel 9:25-27, the opening of the seals of the scroll containing God's judgment begins this period.  While the Lamb (Christ) opens the seals, the events described in Chapter 6 are NOT the wrath of God directly, but rather the rule of the Antichrist.  He will reign over the earth and over the nations (he is described further in the interlude of Chapters 11-14), and will finally be destroyed at Jesus' coming.

It appears that the first four seals take place during the first three and one-half years of the seven-year period described by Daniel.  Then, in "the middle of the seven" the Antichrist shows his true colors and attempts to destroy the Jews (Satan has been trying to do that for thousands of years!), and when that doesn't work (more about that when we get to Chapter 13), he turns his attention to believers.  The mistake many make is in understanding the entire seven years to be the Great Tribulation and the time of God's wrath - the "Day of the Lord."  The first three and one-half years will not be a pleasant time on the earth, but believers will still be present during this time.  This is not God's "day of the Lord" wrath.  Though the Antichrist consolidates his power through force during this time, he offers peace to Israel and others, attempting to deceive mankind into believing he wants what is best for all mankind (sound familiar?).  Things change midway through the period!

Jesus describes this in Matthew 24:15-28 and Paul describes it in II Thessalonians 2:9-12.  What is necessary see in trying to understand  Revelation 6 - 22 (as the Spirit gives us wisdom), is that the sequence of time goes from Chapters 6 - 11 … followed by an "Interlude" - Chapters 11-14 … and then picks up in Chapters 15 - 22.  As for the timing of the seven-year period, the "middle" of the period comes somewhere between the fourth and fifth seals, as the fifth seal (6:9-11) describes "the Great Tribulation," which includes the martyrdom of many believers, followed by the Rapture.  John describes the opening of the sixth seal (6:12-17) as occurring just before the wrath of God (the Day of the Lord) begins (8:1).

The Antichrist makes a covenant with Israel and others and begins his reign, then breaks his covenant and attacks Jerusalem and Israel (God protects "the woman" for the next 1260 days or 3 1/2 years - 12:1-6), and then persecutes believers - the Church (12:17; 13:10) until … until the Rapture.  Chapter 7 describes the "sealing" of 144,000 from the tribes of Israel, and THEN the Rapture of the Church, "a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb" (7:9).  One of the elders asked John where this great multitude came from and the answer came, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (7:14).

Only God knows with 100% certainty how these events will unfold, for our understanding is limited.  While Revelation undoubtedly contains much symbolism, other Scriptures give us information that when taken together gives us a clear outline of the events leading up to Jesus' return.  Significantly, there WILL be a Rapture, a gathering together of true believers prior to Jesus' return to judge the Antichrist and the nations, those who have rejected Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord.  Also clear beyond dispute is the fact that God will pour out His wrath upon the earth prior to the establishment of Jesus' reign during the Millennium.

The prophet Zephaniah writes, "Be silent before the Sovereign LORD, for the day of the LORD is near" (Zephaniah 1:7).  He then goes on to describe that "day" as a day of judgment unparalleled in the history of mankind.  "That day will be a day of wrath … " (Zephaniah 1:15).  "He will make a sudden end of all who live in the earth" (Zephaniah 1:18).  God's wrath begins in Chapter 8 of John's Revelation as there is "silence in heaven for about half an hour" (8:1).  Notice the difference between the actions of the Antichrist in Chapter 6, as the Lamb opens the seals to the scroll, and what happens in Chapters 8-9, where it is now God's angels who carry out His wrath upon the earth.  One-by-one they sound their trumpets and God sends judgment upon the inhabitants of the earth.  The result:  "A third of mankind was killed by the three plagues of fire, smoke and sulfur that came out of their mouths … the rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands …" (9:18,20).

Such will be the wrath of God that will be poured out on the earth prior to Jesus' return in glory!  Paul writes in Romans 1:18 that "the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness," but the fullness of God's wrath is being stored up "for the day of God's wrath, when His righteous judgment will be revealed" (Romans 2:5).  God's wrath is not a pleasant topic and many in the church today choose not to consider it or to talk about it.  "God loves everybody!"  they declare, and lull people to sleep, deceiving them into believing that repentance and faith in Jesus Christ is unnecessary to escape God's wrath.  Yet Jesus Himself said,

"God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.  Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, BUT whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.  This is the verdict:  Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil" (John 3:16-19).

God offers an escape from His wrath through faith in Jesus.  That IS the Gospel!!  Jesus controls the events of Revelation, from beginning to end.  That is a great comfort for those of us who know Him, who have believed in Him, who love Him, but for all who have not heard or believed, only wrath and judgment lies ahead.  If eternal life has any meaning, the opposite must exist:  eternal death.  And the Bible says it does.  JESUS says it does!  Revelation is the "uncovering," the revealing of God's plan for the deliverance of the final generation of believers and the pouring out of His wrath on the rest of mankind.  How important it is that we place our hope in Jesus Christ and in the promises of God!  How important it is to know these things so we are not surprised by the trials that we will be called to go through.  Jesus promises that those who ENDURE, who persevere to the end will receive the result of their faith:  eternal life in the new heaven and the new earth!

Chapter 10 is an interesting message that at once reveals both God's power and the specific nature of His plan.  He could carry out His judgment in a million different ways.  There are thousands of scenarios that could be played out on the stage of planet earth.  The "seven thunders" gives us a glimpse of another possible scenario, but God says, "Enough!"  "There will be no more delay!  But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound His trumpet the mystery of God will be accomplished just as He announced to His servants the prophets" (10:6-7).  The "mystery" of God is the establishment of His kingdom on the earth and that will be accomplished as the seventh trumpet sounds and the final bowls of God's wrath are poured out (Chapters 15-16 through Chapter 19).

John is given a vision of the last "42 months," "1,260 days" through the revelation of the "two witnesses" (11:3-14).  In Chapter 8, verse 13, the last three trumpets are described as three "woes."  Chapter 9, verse 12, says the first woe (the fifth trumpet) is passed, and Chapter 11, verse 14 says that the second woe (the sixth trumpet) is passed.  Chapter 10:1 through Chapter 11:13 is an interlude that gives additional information.  Verse 14 would be better understood taken with verse 15 as John writes, "The second woe has passed; the third woe is coming soon.  The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven which said, 'The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign for ever and ever'" (11:14-15).

Note what the twenty-four elders then say as they fall on their faces and worship God:  "We give thanks to You, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because You have taken your great power and have begun to reign.  The nations were angry; and Your wrath has come.  The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding Your servants the prophets and Your saints and those who reverence Your name, both small and great - AND for destroying those who destroy the earth" (11:15). At the sounding of the seventh trumpet the final scenes unfold, culminating in the return of Jesus Christ, described in Chapter 19:11-21.  No doubt is left concerning the outcome of all that has happened on the earth up to this time.  Jesus Christ shall reign!!

So what does all this have to do with you and me today?!!  Everything!!  Where is all "this" headed?  You and I can see the ongoing struggle between good and evil, between God and Satan, between those who know the true God through faith in Jesus Christ and those who do not.  The evidence is all around us and the consequences of the spiritual war going on in the heavenly realms spills over into your life and mine.  Sin is real and death is real … heaven and hell are real, and all these things are heading towards a cataclysmic conclusion.   Even movies and television have picked up on the discussion, and though they do it for profit, their preoccupation with "end times scenarios" reveals the thinking of mankind that something is about to happen.

Is it all just mass hysteria, as some claim, or is there truth that offers hope to those who believe God at His Word?  We all know that we don't live forever … that death comes to all.  Is what the Bible says true?  You and I and every human being alive today are betting our lives on what we believe.  The Bible stands against all the other philosophies and religions of man and points to the ONE Who declared Himself to be King, and gave testimony to His power by rising from the grave.  No one else … no one else has done so.  The Antichrist will attempt to imitate Christ's resurrection and God will allow the people on earth at the time to be deceived, but we who believe will know the truth because we have the unchanging, infallible Word of the living God!!

Pray that His Spirit gives you wisdom to read and to understand these things.  Some of the details are difficult to understand, but with certainty we have the outline of the events to come.  Paul writes to the believers in Thessalonica, "the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.  While people are saying, 'Peace and safety,' destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.  BUT YOU, brothers, (fellow-believers), are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief" (I Thessalonians 5:2-4).

Stand firm in your faith in Jesus Christ.  Watch and wait, as Jesus told His disciples to do, and prepare for His coming by serving Him and proclaiming the Gospel at every opportunity.  Then when Jesus comes in glory you will hear Him say, "Come, you who are blessed by My Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world" (Matthew 25:34).  AMEN!  Come Lord Jesus!!

"Heavenly Father, I come to You with joy and peace and hope, trusting in Your unfailing love and the promise of eternal life that is mine through faith in Your Son Jesus Christ.  Reading of Your coming judgment stirs within me the urgency to proclaim the Gospel, offering forgiveness and deliverance from Your wrath through Jesus' blood, shed on the cross so long ago for sinners like me.  Give me strength to stand on Your Word, believing all that it says, and give me grace to endure the temporary trials of this life, knowing that I will live forever in Your perfect presence.  To You be glory and honor and praise, in Jesus' name, Amen"

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