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Views of the End Times: Posttribulationism

Various Passages.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on September 22, 2019.

Over the last three weeks, we have asked three questions and filtered out three different views that say, “No,” to them. They are:

  1. Full Preterism, which denies that Jesus will come back literally and physically to the earth.
  2. Amillennialism, which denies that Jesus will physically reign upon this earth for 1,000 years.
  3. Postmillennialism, which believes in a millennium in which Christ only rules spiritually.

All of these views generally interpret prophecy as allegorical or symbolic.  The next three views interpret prophecy literally, which I explained last week is better when properly understood. 

All three of these literal views have the same view of the millennium, which is called Premillennialism.  Premillennialism believes that Jesus will physically come back to the earth and set up a 1,000-year reign of peace upon this earth called the millennium.  It is “pre-“ in the sense that it sees Christ’s return happening before the millennium.

Premillennialists do not agree about everything with each other.  However, I believe that they are all trying their best to literally understand what Scripture teaches.  Though we should not be mean-spirited towards any people, I find that differences in views of end-times prophecies can bring out the worst in some.  There is no room for Christians to treat each other unkindly or ungraciously, neither is their room to ridicule these interpretations.

Now, let’s look at the scheme of events that comes from a literal interpretation of end-times prophecy called, Premillennialism.

This view sees the Church continuing to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth during varying times of difficulty and tribulations.  However, at the end of this age, a Great Tribulation will come upon the whole earth that lasts 7 years (some only use this term for the final 3.5 years).  This comes about because God stops restraining Satan’s ultimate plan of deception for mankind.  A global empire is raised up that persecutes those who do not take a mark of allegiance to the leader who is called The Beast, The Man of Sin, Antichrist, and The Lawless One (among others).  This is a time of the wrath of Satan, the wrath of man, and yet also the wrath of God.  It culminates with Christ’s Second Coming where he puts down The Beast and the kings of the earth with their armies, and imprisons Satan in the Bottomless Pit.  Some mortals who survive the Great Tribulation are allowed to enter into the millennial kingdom of Jesus who reigns over the entire earth with his glorified, immortal saints (these have been resurrected at some point).  At the end of this 1,000 years, Satan is released and he stirs up a rebellion against Christ.  Fire comes down out of the heavens and destroys them, at which point, the heavens and the earth flee away.  All of the dead who are left in the grave are resurrected and the Final Judgment is meted out.  The wicked go into the Lake of Fire along with Satan, and the righteous (there would be no mortals left at this point) enter into the Final State in the New Heavens and a New earth that God creates. 

All Premillennialists would agree with this rough chronology of events.  However, there is a bone of contention within this group and it has to do with the concept of the rapture.

Before we get into the different views regarding the rapture, let me deal with the legitimacy of this term.  Some people scoff at the term rapture, but it really is a biblical concept.  The debate is not actually about the term, but rather about what it means and when it happens.  1 Thessalonians 4:17 states, “Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And thus we shall always be with the Lord.” (NKJV).  The term “rapture” is an English form of the Latin word used to translate this concept of being caught up.  Paul’s point is that those who are still alive at the Resurrection of the Righteous will be transformed and caught up, raptured, to Jesus in the air.  We do not stand on the ground waiting for him to come down to us.  The argument that says that the rapture is not in the Bible is being overly simplistic.  It is clearly there.  The question is this.

Is the rapture an event that is separate from the Second Coming and the Resurrection?

Today’s view is called Posttribulation Premillennialism.  It rejects the idea that the rapture is an event that is separate from the Second Coming.  The Church is destined to go through the Great Tribulation and suffer at the hands of Antichrist.  Some Christians will be martyred as a witness to Christ, but some will be protected through it.  At the Second Coming, all believers are resurrected (glorified with immortal bodies), caught up to Jesus, and accompany him as he destroys the beast empire and sets up his earthly reign.

Those who disagree should refrain from mocking the idea that they are taken up only to come back down again like a yo-yo.  Some call it ludicrous and illogical.  I find this unnecessarily unkind.  If Christ wanted to pull all believers to him in the air and then let them participate in his arrival and destruction of the armies of the earth, then that is his business.  Who are we to laugh at the concept and call it ludicrous?  Nobody, that's who.  The focus should be on what does Scripture teach, period.

Now, let’s look at some arguments that are typically used to support this view, and we will give some kick back against them at the same time.

The first argument is that the Bible promises that Christians will go through tribulation.  Generally, it is argued that the other rapture views among Premillennialists are trying to avoid the tribulation by positing a rapture event that happens before (Pre-Trib view) or in the middle of the tribulation (Mid-Trib view).  This is an unfair aspersion on these views and is not an actual argument.  So, what about the Bible promising tribulation?  Christians have always suffered tribulation throughout all of history, regardless of their end-time views, and even in our day, people are being martyred for their faith in Jesus.  The question is not about escaping tribulation in general, but rather, it is about a particular tribulation (The Great Tribulation).  Is there any biblical reason to believe God has destined the Church to go through The Great Tribulation?

First, let’s establish that the passages, which promise believers tribulation, are speaking in general terms.  In John 16:33, Jesus tells his disciples, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (NKJV).  Clearly, Jesus is describing the whole period of time from his Ascension to his Second Coming.  In general, this world is difficult on believers and is a source of tribulation and sorrow.  The degree of this depends upon where and when you are born, and where you live your life.  All Premillennial views of the rapture believe this.  This life is tough, but Christ is able to fill our hearts with a peace that passes all understanding in the middle of it.

Now, let’s look at a passage that is speaking specifically of The Great Tribulation, Matthew 24.  In this chapter, Jesus gives a basic outline of the age between his Ascension and his Second Coming.  There are two clear periods of which the first is The Beginning of Sorrows (verse 8).  During this period, the Church takes the Gospel to the ends of the earth.  The next period is called The End (verse 14).  Verse 21 then describes The Great Tribulation as a time that has never been before and will never be again.  It is the specific tribulation that encompasses the whole earth and is put to an end by the Second Coming of Christ.  Yes, believers will endure tribulation and persecution in this world, but the question is what does the Bible say about the Church going through this particular tribulation?  Some think that Scripture says they will and some think that it says they won’t.  This first point confuses the general for the specific and does not exhibit proof on this issue, other than to establish that God would not necessarily be predisposed against it.

The second argument is that the Bible promises that Christians will be protected through The Great Tribulation, other than those called to be martyrs.  Revelation 3:10-11 is often used as a verse to support this.  “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.  Behold, I am coming quickly!”  Let me say up front that I believe it is valid to see this as speaking of The Great Tribulation.  It is an hour of trial that comes upon the whole world and Jesus connects it to his coming.  The Post-Trib view would see Israel in the land of Goshen, Egypt, during the ten plagues, as an example of God protecting believers while he pours out judgment.  On problem with this verse is that the word “from” in verse 10 is actually a Greek preposition that has the sense “out of.”  It does not fit well with a scenario of protecting people through something.  Jesus will literally keep them out of the hour of trial, not through it.  The things described in Revelation seem to be evidence against this.  There are great earthquakes leveling mountains and islands.  Wormwood is an asteroid-like object that strikes the earth, ruining a third of the earth’s water, and killing many.  This does not seem to be God’s general plan for the Church, but rather his plan for some pockets of believers who have come to faith during the Tribulation.  This argument really could go either way and is not conclusive for the Post-Trib view.

The third argument is that the Bible mentions “saints” during the Tribulation, which proves the Church goes through it.  The contention is clearly true, and here is an example from Revelation 13:7.  “It was granted to him [The Beast] to make war with the saints and to overcome them.  And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation.”  (NKJV).  This passage clearly pictures The Beast receiving authority to attack the saints and to overcome them.  The word “overcome” can be used spiritually and physically.  Most likely some saints are overcome spiritually and join his ranks by taking the mark, but others will refuse and be overcome physically by being put to death.  Even if we do not presuppose a Pre-Trib rapture, which would convince some that they were wrong not to follow Christ, the activity of Antichrist and the events of the Tribulation could convince some that he is evil, up to no good, and the Bible was right all along.  Anyone who puts their faith in God’s word and follows it is considered a “saint” in the Bible.  Abraham was a “saint,” but we would not say that he was a part of the Church of Christ.  This verse does not require the Church as a whole going through the Tribulation.  It only requires that there be some believers on the earth.  Notice that the Tribulation has evangelism going on.  The two witnesses of Revelation 11 will no doubt have some people who believe them.  Perhaps, this explains the 144,000 Israeli evangelists of Revelation 7.

On a side note, it has been pointed out that the words “church” and “churches” are used 19 times in Revelation chapters 1 to 3.    It is then absent through all the descriptions of the Tribulation.  It isn’t clearly referenced again until chapter 19 as the wife of the Lamb.  This seems to be an odd, yet purposeful, avoidance of a word that was used abundantly in the first three chapters.  All in all, I do not see this argument as a slam dunk.  It is a worthy point, and yet, the other views have very clear and good understandings of how these “saints” end up in the Tribulation.

The fourth argument is that Revelation 20:4-5 clearly depicts the First Resurrection as taking place after the Second Coming of Christ and before the millennium.  It is true that the First Resurrection is mentioned after the Second Coming is described.  However, it also only mentions believers who were beheaded in The Great Tribulation.  This does not seem to be a verse that is limiting who was resurrected.  Otherwise, it would be excluding all Christians before this including the apostles.  Rather, it is an encouragement to those who face such grisly deaths in the Tribulation that they will not somehow be excluded from the Millennium. 

Revelation 20 describes two resurrections.  The First Resurrection is before the Millennium and involves righteous individuals.  The second is not necessarily called The Second Resurrection, but the implication is clear.  This resurrection involves “the rest of the dead.”  This would be mainly unrighteous people, if not completely.  Jesus and the apostles also point to two resurrections while using different terminology.  In Luke 14:14, Jesus refers to a Resurrection of the Righteous.  In Acts 24:15, Paul refers to the Resurrection of the Righteous and the Resurrection of the Unrighteous.  This seems to be an allusion back to Daniel 12:2-3, where he describes “many who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt.”  Thus, the First Resurrection synchronizes with what is called the Resurrection of the Righteous.

Is the Resurrection of the Righteous a single event that only happens at the Second Coming?  This question may seem odd at first, but let me demonstrate a valid and important point.  In 1 Corinthians 15:20-23, Jesus is called the Firstfruits of those who have “fallen asleep,” i.e. believers who have died. This employs a harvest analogy to the Resurrection, which goes well with the Church Age because it is described as a harvest. He then points out that just as those who are in Adam die, so all those who are in Christ will be made alive.  Verse 23 then states, “but each one in his own order: Christ the Firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at his coming.”  Yes, someone will say that it is clear here that the resurrection happens at Christ’s coming, but don’t jump so quick.  Each one will be resurrected in his own order.  This refers at least to the fact that the Resurrection of the Righteous (First Resurrection) has technically started with Jesus and will include a Resurrection at his Second Coming.  Yet, there are other resurrections of the righteous mentioned in Scripture that clearly happen before the Second Coming.  Here is a list:

  1. Matthew 27:52, Refers to saints who were resurrected on the day of the death of Jesus.  They went into Jerusalem and appeared (witnessed) to many.
  2. 1 Corinthians 15:20, Jesus is resurrected on the third day.  He along with group number 1 are most likely all The Firstfruits.
  3. Revelation 11:11-12, Refers to the two witnesses who appear to be slain around the mid-point of The Great Tribulation.  They are resurrected and ascend in full view of the people of the earth.
  4. Revelation 20, a reference to at least those who were killed for Christ in the Tribulation.

Clearly, all four of these events belong to the Resurrection of the Righteous.  It seems that this phrase describes a kind of resurrection, rather than a singular event.  With this in mind, it would not be entirely unthinkable that there could be a fifth event that happens before or in the middle of the tribulation.  Some may object to the description of the Resurrection of the Righteous as a kind of event rather than a singular event, but the biblical data is still legitimate and brings into question the assumption of a singular event.

The fifth argument is that Matthew 24:38-41 clearly shows that the rapture happens at the Second Coming.  I do believe that the passage is clearly speaking of an event at the Second Coming of Christ at the end of the Tribulation.  However, this passage is not actually talking about the rapture/resurrection.  Yes, it does appear that way at first.  Yet, there is a parallel passage to this in Luke 17:34-37.  Luke gives us the further detail that, after Jesus says, “one will be taken and the other left,” the disciples say, “Where, Lord?”   They want to know the destination of those who are being taken.  Jesus gives this response.  “Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together.” (NKJV).  This answer seems extremely strange if the people taken are the righteous who are meeting him in the air.  Only the destination of the wicked would be described as a place that is likened to a dead body being fed on by vultures.  If you have never seen this before then give it a moment to sink in.  This describes a kind of rapture of the wicked at the end of the age.  Is there any other evidence that supports this?

In Matthew 13:40-43, Jesus warns against trying to remove the tares (people in the Church who may look good but are not) because it would damage some who are legitimately Christ’s.  He states that at the end of the age he would send out his angels and they would gather out of his kingdom “all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness.”  They are then cast into the “furnace of fire,” a clear reference to the Lake of Fire.  This is about the cleansing of the earth of the wicked before the Millennium starts.

Another example of this is found in the same chapter, Matthew 13:47-50, and is called the Parable of the Dragnet.  Jesus compares the Church age to a dragnet.  The Church of Christ will draw all manner of people into it.  However, at the end of the age, “The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire.” (NKJV). 

Matthew 24:38-41 is not a good passage to prove that the rapture/resurrection of the righteous only happens at the Second Coming.

The sixth and final argument is that other views of the rapture only began in the 1800’s and therefore are not trustworthy.  To this point, I would say that views of end-times prophecy have all developed into far more sophisticated systems than the early church ever had.  It is clear that the major view of the early Church was that Jesus could come at any time.  This idea is usually called imminence.  The believers expected an imminent return of Christ.  The Post-Trib view does not fit this idea very well.  A person would be able to determine from the rise of the Antichrist and the death of the two witnesses that Christ would return in 3.5 years.  Similarly, we would then know today that Jesus cannot come back right now and that his Second Coming clearly is not imminent.  This puts us in the place of claiming that the apostles were wrong (which means Jesus and the Holy Spirit were wrong etc.).

Our main concern is to understand what Scripture teaches, not when a particular belief emerged.  Baptismal regeneration was a common belief among early Christians, but it is not a biblical concept.  Once the Church reached the 300’s and found itself embraced by the Roman Empire, views of eschatology changed quite drastically.  So, the antiquity of a view is relevant, but not necessarily proof.

Just as those, who loved God and studied prophecy before the first coming, tried their best to understand how they all fit together, so we do today.  There are many prophecies, and what works to explain one passage becomes difficult to reconcile with all the others.  We must be extremely humble about are particular views of the end times.  Definitely, the main point is that God has everything under control and believers should trust him and give the good witness regardless what we face.  Let’s be that kind of people, a people who are watching and ready for the coming of Jesus, a people who trust him in the face of persecution, tribulation, sorrow, and even death.  May we “prepare the way of the Lord and make his paths straight” in our lives today.

Posttribulationism audio