A brother in the Lord frequently argues that the church will go through the tribulation. I hate to admit it, but a book I am reading takes my brothers’ side in this argument.
It is written by Rabbi K. A. Schneider, a Jewish Christian, The book “The Book of Revelation Decoded,” tells us that what we see as the result of the seals being opened in Revelation 6, are divided into two parts, the judgments, and wrath. The wrath aspect, according to the Rabbi, is attributed to the bowls that the Revelation tells us are poured out.
I do not know if the Rabbi’s perceptions are from personal study, or this comes from some traditional Jewish perspective of which I am not aware. I have an inquiring mind, and I need to know. Lacking sufficient evidence about ancestral beliefs, I will look into the Biblical wording about these events more closely. You see, I do not think that a reasonable man should argue with scripture, and that is what we may be seeing here. The result, this division of horrors that God is going to pour out upon the Earth may be the Rabbis attempt to avoid and work around New Testament passages such as Romans 5:8-10.
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” (Romans 5:8-10 NASB)
If I was the argumentative type, I could say, Romans 5:8-10 also speaks of eternity, as it too is salvation. The problem with that kind of thinking is that we are making God out to be very obscure, which I have come to understand that He is NOT. No, these passages are straightforward, and even more so when you look up in a concordance the meanings of the simplest of words, like saved.
Alright, what about this passage.
“For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 NASB)
Here, Paul speaks about how they turned to God; ceased to serve idols, and now serve a living and true God. But Paul is also addressing how they, too, know that there is a hope of a future with Christ in a peaceful eternity. And, because of that hope, they now wait (as if in intermission) for Jesus Christ, the Son; whom God raised from the dead, and who rescues us from the wrath to come.
This waiting is not one where you do nothing but lie around getting fat; we are proactive, encouraging others in the faith and hope. 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 demonstrates that they comprehended how and why a person could have this kind of understanding. Lacking such information makes this life in Christ nothing more than a vague assumption.
In trying to argue against a mid-tribulation rapture of the church, here are some of the points I try to make.
- We, as a church, have created our own problems on this issue, and here is why.
We use the word tribulation as though it is trivial; and, we use it to describe everything – including God’s wrath, that seven-year period that we see in the Revelation.
What do I mean by trivial? Some of us think it is tribulation if you have to put a new propeller on your ski boat to get more speed out of it. Try having your family blown up in front of you as you attempt to worship the Lord.
Jesus told us, in this world, you will have tribulations, but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world. An understanding that griefs are going to come, on a daily basis, is necessary information; it is information that lets me know horrendous things have the potential of coming merely because I follow Christ (I suppose the reality of a statement like this means you are proactive in your beliefs and others know what you stand for. Note, most of the problems Jesus had while he walked this Earth, came from RELIGIOUS folk, but it does not exclude the random drive-by shooting that takes the life of an innocent young science major, and a young father to be.)
- We ignore passages, such as the ones I pointed out above. 1Thessalonians 1: 9-10; Romans 5:8-10. And, we ignore Jesus words when he says,
What a terrible time it will be for pregnant women and nursing mothers! For there will be great distress in the Land and judgment on the people. (Luke 21:23 CJB)
Here, in The Complete Jewish Bible, they use the word judgment and not wrath; however, the NASB uses the word wrath.
Wrath/judgment is the Greek word orgē and means desire (as a reaching forth or the excitement of the mind), that is, (by analogy) violent passion (ire, or [justifiable] abhorrence); by implication punishment: – anger, indignation, vengeance, wrath.
If I am going to try to assess proper usage for one or more of the words that can be used to define orgē, then I have to look at the context. So let’s use passion as a test. Passion is a feeling of warmth and emotion toward something or someone. We often associate passion with love; however, my college professor had a passion for plants, and I could definitely tell that there were plants he dearly loved – like Japanese Maples. God, it would seem, has a passion for those He has chosen, even if means judging and punishing them for their refusal of Him and their choice to follow other gods.
This judgment is also directed at the nations (those outside of Judaism) because the nations have done their fair share of killing God’s people and ignoring God. So it is easy for me to see that God’s orgē is certainly one of anger, indignation, vengeance, and wrath. In other words, a violent and justifiable passion, that looks a lot like wrath.
What else did Jesus say about wrath and judgment?
“Whoever trusts in the Son has eternal life. But whoever disobeys the Son will not see that life but remains subject to God’s wrath.” (John 3:36 CJB)
Jesus said these words while standing amid religious Jews – (Scribes, Sadducees, and Pharisees.) These Jews, in general, did not trust the Son.
Some might say, how do you know that? Matthew chapter two records that someone reported to King Herod, that a large caravan of Magi, were coming from the East. Just the sight of these men and the potential message they could bring, caused Herod grief, so when they arrived and began asking around, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” Herod immediately summoned the Jewish elders and experts in the Torah and inquired who was this King of the Jews that had been born. The elders answered promptly, for they knew with precision what the scriptures said about Jesus being born in Bethlehem and when. But did they follow after Him, as these Magi did? Not a chance.
John 3:36 states that,
“Whoever trusts in the Son has eternal life.”
Are there any assertions in the passage, as to what that eternal life encompasses? Not in this part and not at first glance. You have to pay attention to the context.
“But whoever disobeys the Son will not see that life but remains subject to God’s wrath.”
In the second half of the verse, we have those who are disobeying the Son. This disobedience is a direct correlation to God’s chosen people. Fortunately, we who are “in Him” through adoption, are also God’s chosen. The difference is that we have put our trust in the Son, and therefore have this eternal life. Disobedience, it seems, subjects you to God’s wrath. And, there is the implication that these disobedient ones never put their trust in Him. So I could say that trusting in Him eliminates the threat of wrath.
And then, there is Paul’s assertions in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17
Now, brothers, we want you to know the truth about those who have died; otherwise, you might become sad the way other people do who have nothing to hope for. For since we believe that Yeshua died and rose again, we also believe that in the same way God, through Yeshua, will take with him those who have died. When we say this, we base it on the Lord’s own word: we who remain alive when the Lord comes will certainly not take precedence over those who have died. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a rousing cry, with a call from one of the ruling angels, and with God’s shofar; those who died united with the Messiah will be the first to rise; then we who are left still alive will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and thus we will always be with the Lord. (1Th_4:13-17 CJB)
There is an interesting statement in the middle of this paragraph, and it goes like this:
“When we say this, we base it on the Lord’s own word: we who remain alive when the Lord comes will certainly not take precedence over those who have died.”
Since Paul did not hang out with Christ he would, therefore, have to be trusting what at least one of the disciples told him; that, or we have to assume that Christ, perhaps on the Damascus road, explained in detail all the things He told the disciples. This idea of the Damascus road event plays into the descriptions from many who have died and come back from the dead; they explain how there was an immediate download of information.
While that’s a fascinating theory scripture tells us that testimony has to be at the hand of two or three witnesses.
Do we have those witnesses? It would seem so.
Does what they say align with scripture? Now that becomes a problem. Because much of what we understand comes from the mouth of Jesus, or we are merely accepting tradition. So, while it sounds good and reasonable, I can’t make a doctrine out of a dead persons testimony.
So what did Jesus say, and how can we be sure?
There are apparently, only two references in the NT, and John 11:25-26 is one of them.
Yeshua said to her, “I AM the Resurrection and the Life! Whoever puts his trust in me will live, even if he dies; and everyone living and trusting in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26 CJB)
And in 1Thessalonians 4:13, there is a reference to the fact that anyone who puts their trust in Jesus, will live, even if they die. Jesus took it one step further when he said, as if from another angle, “everyone living and trusting in me, will never die.”
Questions and answers:
What do I make of a statement like, everyone trusting in me, will never die?
A believer never dies spiritually. Although, the reality is that no human ever really dies. Death then is merely a permanent separation from God, and that is what we see in the final judgment. an intentional break in the relationship, could easily be seen as a form of death (this break in the relationship is not on God’s part, and there is nothing set in stone until that final day, although the enemy would like you to believe that.)
This idea of spiritual death is another point that many would argue.
Consider what Adam put himself through in the garden. Having heard and ignored God’s directive about “that tree,” he watches the only woman he has ever known eat a fruit, that causes death. Rather blunt, but true. Adam, having listened to everything the serpent said to her, watches to see what would happen. For all he knows, death is immediate, but then, they had never experienced the death (as far as we know,) of anything. What Adam cannot see is what is going on inside her spirit; nor can he see the cellular effects on her body (this is not a movie where someone ancient has been kept alive and looking young through the “magic” of makeup. So that when death comes they disintegrate into a pile of ashes.)
Can the physical body die?
Indeed, and many have, but many, having put their trust in Christ (we see this even in the OT,) will not be hindered by timing issues or the quantity of dirt piled above you, when the call comes. Perhaps because they have a few extra feet to travel, they will lift off first and we, who are alive, will rise with them.
Then where are these dead in Christ now?
Paul did not tell us directly, but the credible argument is, that when you are absent from the body – dead, then you are present with the Lord. 2 Corinthians 5:8.
Based on Paul’s presentation, we can understand that physical death puts you immediately in the presence of the Lord.
Another thing to look at is the statement we find in 1Thessalonians 4:16.
“For the Lord, Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.”
It would be rare to find a reference to some aspect of the Lord’s return, or, the Day of the Lord, without a corresponding scriptural background in the OT. Jesus, in Acts chapter one, told the disciples that He would come back again for them, just as He left. The correlation is found in Zechariah 14, where we see Jesus returning to the Mount of Olives and physically touching back down; this is dramatically different from the catching away of the church, for when He comes for His church He will not physically touch down, but we will be gathered to Him in the air, in the clouds.