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Entries in Tribulation (8)


Views of the End Times: Pretribulationism

Various Passages.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on October 6, 2019.

Over the last 2 weeks, we have talked about different views regarding when the Rapture of the Church will take place.  Posttribulationism says that the Church is raptured at the end of the Tribulation during the Second Coming of Jesus.  Midtribulationism says that the Rapture of the Church is an event that is separate from the Second Coming of Jesus.  In the middle of the seven-year period called the Tribulation, Christ will resurrect believers who are dead, rapture the living believers, and take them to heaven to await the Second Coming.

Our view today is the only, main view left.  Thus, we will not have a new filtering question today, but will recognize that this view is the only one that answers, “Yes,” to our last question.

Is there a rapture of the Church before the Tribulation?

Pretribulationism, or the Pretribulation Rapture view, believes that the Rapture of the Church will happen before the Tribulation begins.  Some see this as the event that starts the Tribulation and others give a gap between the Rapture and the Tribulation.  We will not get that precise as we look at this view.

Another thing to point out, before we look at this view, is that the previous challenges to the Posttribulation and Midtribulation views have strengthened the position of this view.

Here is the view of Pretribulation Premillennialism regarding the end times.  As we have stated, Christ will rapture his Church before the Tribulation begins.  Some people will come to faith in Christ after the Rapture and during the Tribulation.  These will face martyrdom and must refuse the mark of the beast to the end in order to be saved (this assumes a true, living faith in Jesus).  These are called Tribulation Saints.  In heaven, resurrected believers will be rewarded for their service, and a marriage supper of the Lamb will occur.  Then the glorified Church will return with Christ and his angels in order to remove the usurping powers, and to take control of the kingdoms of the earth.  Those who were faithful in the Tribulation will be allowed to enter Christ’s kingdom.  The Tribulation Saints who were killed will be resurrected at the Second Coming of Christ.  The rest of the view is basic Premillennialism and has been covered in our previous sermons.  Now, let’s look at the arguments used to support this view and any problems with it.

Argument 1.  The removal of the Restrainer in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-7 is in reference to the Holy Spirit working through believers, and He cannot be taken away from believers.  Thus, the Rapture must occur at the same time the Restrainer is removed.  If we look at the passage in question, it is clear that the Apostle Paul is trying to calm down the Thessalonian believers who had been led by some teachers to believe that the Day of Christ had already started.

To be clear, the Day of Christ is synonymous with the Day of the Lord mentioned by practically every prophet of the Old Testament.  The Day of the Lord referred to a time when the Lord would rise up in terrible power to judge the nations of the earth.  It would be a time full of judgments and is basically the Tribulation period that we have been mentioning.  They are afraid that the Tribulation has already begun. 

Yet, Paul is telling them that they are not in the foretold Tribulation, or judgment of the nations, because certain things haven’t happened yet.  The two things that must happen before the Tribulation can begin are: the falling away and the revealing of the man of sin.  It seems clear in the argument that these two things had not happened yet, and so the believers could stop worrying that they were in the Day of Judgment. 

For our purposes, we need to deal with two aspects of the Pretribulation argument.  First, in verse 5, believers are reminded that Paul had taught them these things when he was with them.  How I wish Paul had filled us in on all that he had taught them because he mentions several things without further explanation that would be extremely helpful to our understanding.  He emphasizes that something or someone is restraining the work of lawlessness on the earth.  If it was not restrained then the man of sin, or the Antichrist, would have come forward long ago.  Verse 6 refers to a thing that restrains, but verse 7 changes the grammar and refers to a being who restrains.  The Holy Spirit is uniquely qualified to fit both of these expressions.  He has the power to do so, the word “Spirit” is neuter in Greek and thus can take a neuter participle “the (neuter thing) that is restraining,” and He is a being and thus can be referenced with the personal form “the (being) that is restraining.  I know that this is a language mechanics issue that can easily cause our eyes to gloss over, but it is important.  The main point is that the most likely candidate for being a thing and yet a being who restrains the Antichrist from being revealed is the Holy Spirit.

Now that we have identified the Restrainer, the argument moves to verse 7 where we are told that the Restrainer is taken out of the way.  The Holy Spirit must be removed, and yet cannot be taken from believers.  Ergo, both will be taken together (the Rapture).  There is one problem with this logic.  It doesn’t actually say that the Holy Spirit is “taken” out of the way, or that He is removed from the earth as some say.  It literally says that He will restrain until “He becomes out of the middle of the way.”  Of course, this is not good English and requires some translation polish.  The Holy Spirit is not “taken.”  Rather, He comes to be out of the middle of the way.  He isn’t taken from the earth.  Rather, He is not standing in the middle of the way of Satan’s final plan.  This does beg the question.  If Christians are left on the earth full of the Holy Spirit, wouldn’t they still be a restraint to this guy coming forward?  The response would be that God gives him authority to have power over Christians for a short season.

The second issue with this passage has to do with verse three.  Some in the Pretribulation view have taken the word “falling away” and challenged its meaning.  The Greek word is apostasia.  All other uses of this word in the Bible refer to a defection from faith in God.  However, its main meaning is “to move away from an established place.”  Some have tried to make this about Christians moving away from the earth (the place that we have been established).  This argument has a technical genius to it that smacks of creativity more than it smacks of truth.  Either Paul used this expression as a kind of tongue-in-cheek statement, or he is simply saying that there will be a falling away from the true faith of God in the end times.  Both interpretations would fit the passage well.  However, the most natural understanding of the phrase is a defection from the faith.

So, where does this leave us?  I still think the Pretribulation view gives the best understanding of this passage, but it is not without its questions.  Are we missing something in Paul’s shorthand account that would could critically change how we view the passage?  It seems likely, but it is just as possible that that information would tilt this passage towards the Pretribulation view.  Paul didn’t want them freaking out that they were in the day of judgment.  The Holy Spirit being “out of the way” doesn’t require the Rapture, but it doesn’t preclude it either.  In this age, the work of the Holy Spirit is hand and glove with true believers, and it is possible that the Rapture would be an event in which the restraint of this world’s wickedness would be removed.  The main problem is that Paul didn’t give us all the answers that he could have due to the fact that he had already told the Thessalonians these things.

Argument 2.  The Philadelphian Church in Revelation 3:10 symbolically represents the faithful Church in the end times.  Christ promises to keep them out of the hour of trial that will come upon the whole earth.

Here, Jesus gives the Philadelphians of Asia Minor (Turkey today) the promise that they will be kept out of the hour of trial that will come upon the whole world.  He doesn’t explain how they will be kept out of it.  Will it happen during their time, but not touch them?  Or, will Christ remove them before the hour of trial begins?  Last week we mentioned two critical points about this passage.  One, the word “from” is better translated as “out of the trial.”  Second, there is a definite article with trial “the trial.”  This means that this is a very specific trial that they know is coming.  A particular trial that would come upon all the world is something that believers have known about throughout the Old and New Testament periods.  Some people try to limit this trial to the 2nd century AD by saying it refers to the whole Roman world, but this is an artificial limiting.  The word refers to the inhabited areas of the earth, which went far beyond the Roman boundaries.  So, is it more likely that Jesus is referencing the Great Tribulation?  It is very possible since we are at a loss to find a time of trial that came upon the whole inhabited earth.

It is common among this view to see the Seven Churches of Revelation chapters two and three as being typical or symbolic of 7 Stages of the Church Age.  We don’t have time to look into the arguments of this view.  It has a certain charm because the descriptions do follow a similar path as the history of the Church.  Also, there are a few clues in the text that hint at something more going on here than just a message to seven first century churches.  The word “mystery” is used of these churches, and they represent the “things that are,” which can be extended to mean the whole Church Age. 

This view would see the sixth Philadelphian Church as the sixth phase of Christianity.  There would be a rise of faithfulness to the truth of Christ.  However, at some point the Laodicean type Church would take the ascendency within Christianity.  The last phase involves both Philadelphian believers holding on to the truth and a large group of Laodicean "believers" who are useless to Christ.  This can also give rise to the idea that only strong Christians will be raptured and the carnal Christians will be left behind.  Regardless, contextually it is not completely clear that the Seven Churches are seven phases of the history of the Church.  However, it is possible.  Also, the Great Tribulation is the best fit for interpreting “the hour of trial,” mentioned here.

Argument 3.  Christians are promised to be delivered from the wrath to come and thus must be removed before the Tribulation.  This is the same argument that we saw last week with the Midtribulation view.  It is a powerful argument that can be seen in 1 Thessalonians.  1 Thessalonians 1:10 mentions that Jesus delivers us from the wrath to come, and 1 Thessalonians 5:9 says that God did not appoint believers to wrath, but to obtain salvation.

The main objection to this argument is that these are referring to the wrath of the Lake of Fire, not the wrath of God during the Tribulation.  This is possible and the passages can be read either way.  Yet, most references to the wrath of God refer to events here on earth, and the wrath of the Tribulation is what believers would have directly in front of them more than the Lake of Fire.  Sure, we can die any day and thus the Lake of Fire is closer to us than the Tribulation.  However, in regards to God delivering the Church from the Wrath that He is going to pour out, the Tribulation is the more natural reference than the future judgment at the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20).  So, I rate this as a fairly strong argument.

Argument 4.  The promise of Jesus in John 14 parallels the Bride and Bridegroom imagery.  In John 14:1-4, we have Jesus telling his disciples that he is going away to his Father in order to prepare a place for them.  He then says that, if he goes away to prepare a place for them, he will doubtless come again to receive them to himself (literally to receive alongside oneself).  It pictures him coming to be reunited with them.  From that point, his disciples will no longer be separated from him.  Where he is, they will be.  The natural emphasis of this passage is that Jesus prepares a place in heaven, then comes back for his disciples, and then takes them to the place he prepared.

This is most likely an allusion to the Hebrew wedding practices of the day.  A bride would be betrothed to a husband.  He would then go and make a place for them within his father’s estate.  When he is finished, he would come to pick up his bride and take her to the place that he has prepared.  There would be a marriage supper, or feast, to celebrate the couple’s union. 

This gives better light to Revelation 19.  In that chapter, we are told that the wife of the Lamb has made herself ready, and then a blessing is declared.  “Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!”  The next scene is Christ coming with his saints and angels to destroy the beast, false prophet, and the kings of the earth and their armies.  Revelation doesn’t explicitly state that the marriage supper of the lamb happens in heaven before the Second Coming, but in view of John 14, this seems to be the most likely explanation.  John is writing to people who would totally understand the things being mentioned.  This is another strong argument to me.

Argument 5.  It makes the most sense of the passages that portray the coming of Christ as imminent.  I won’t go through all the verses.  However, many verses speak of Christ’s coming as being near, or at hand.  Only the Pretribulation view satisfies the idea that Christ could come at any moment.  All the other views have a number of years in which obvious prophesied events are happening. 

Typically, people who reject this argument do so by stating that the disciples and Jesus were simply wrong.  They thought it was near, but it was really quite far away.  Of course, then we would have a problem with the trustworthiness of the teachings of Jesus.  He is either the Word of God, and is therefore not wrong, or he is not trustworthy even in matters of salvation.  You can’t have it both ways.  I choose to trust Jesus, and to believe that the passages are intended to keep every generation on their toes.  Yes, God knew that the coming of Christ would be at least 1,900 years away, but that generation would need to know that he could come at any moment.  Such a promise, or warning, helps believers of every age to live a life that is ready for Christ at all times.  So, I find this to be a strong argument as well.

Argument 6.  The righteous being rescued before judgment is a common theme in Scripture.  However, the only safe place during the Tribulation will be in heaven itself.

This is a good argument because there are so many examples.  Enoch is removed before the flood.  Even Noah and his family enter into the safe place of God and are lifted up above the destruction on the ground below.  Lot is removed from Sodom and Gomorrah, and then destruction falls.  The children of Israel are taken through the Red Sea, and then destruction falls upon Pharaoh and his army.  The spies are helped out of Jericho and then the judgment falls on the city…and the list goes on.  The problem with such parallels is that they can only make the case that the Rapture of the Church before the Tribulation is in keeping with how God operates.  It can only support the other arguments; it can’t be a main argument itself.  There are too many other places where God protects believers through judgment and tribulation, e.g. the prophet Jeremiah.  That too is in keeping with how God operates.

As we bring this view to a close, I realize that I have only scratched the surface on all of these views.  Yet, I think what we have done over these weeks serves the issues well.  God has told us that his judgment is coming upon all the nations of the world.  It is our job to warn people to flee the wrath that is coming by getting into God’s ark, the Lord Jesus.  It is also our job to be humble regarding the prophecies that we have received regarding the end times.

We must daily encourage ourselves and one another to keep our eyes upon Jesus in the way that we live from day to day.  This is not the time to compromise and pursue sin, or at least redefine sinful things as moral.  This is the time to hold the line and love people enough to warn them. 

Whether I am dead or alive at Christ’s coming for his Church, I want to be among those who are lifted up to Christ in glorified, immortal bodies.  I want to be among those who rise up to inherit the kingdoms of the earth with Christ.  May the Lord help us to be faithful to the end!

Pretribulationism audio


Views of the End Times: Midtribulationism

Various Passages.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on September 29, 2019.

Over the last several weeks, we have looked at three views of the end times that generally employ an allegorical or symbolic approach to end times prophecy.  They were Full Preterism (see blog post on Sept. 1, 2019), Amillennialism (see blog post on Sept. 8, 2019), and Postmillennialism (see blog post on Sept. 15, 2019).  We then identified a fourth view called Premillennialism, which generally employs a literal approach to prophecy (see blog post on Sept. 22, 2019).

The differences in these previous 4 views all hinge on the relationship between the Second Coming of Jesus and the millennium.  However, within the Premillennialist camp there are some differences that hinge upon the relationship of the rapture to the Second Coming of Christ.  Parenthetically, if you are unsure about the meaning of the word “rapture” then you should see the previous blog post (Sept. 22, 2019).  Thus, last week we looked at the first of these rapture theories within the Premillennialism, Posttribulationism.  It was the view that the rapture is just one aspect of the resurrection, which only happens during the Second Coming of Jesus and after the Tribulation.  Today we are going to look at a second view within Premillennialism called Midtribulationism.  Here is a picture to get a rough approximation of the different views on the rapture within the Premillenialist group.

As you can see The Tribulation is a seven-year period of difficulty which involves the wrath of God upon the earth and ends with the Second Coming of Jesus.  Today’s view believes that the rapture is an event separate from the Second Coming of Christ at the end of The Tribulation.

Is there a rapture of Christian’s before The Tribulation?

The Midtribulation Rapture view says, “No,” to this question.  By the way, there is a minority view called the Pre-Wrath theory, which is similar to the Midtribulation view, but puts the rapture at the ¾ point of The Tribulation.  However, it is not very common and is similar to the Midtribulation view.  So, what does Midtribulation Rapture teach?

First, they believe that Christ raptures his Church in the middle of The Tribulation, which is clearly divided into two 3 ½ -year periods in Scripture.  Second, they see the first half of The Tribulation as being the same as the seven seals and the seven trumpets of the book of Revelation (Rev. 6-11).  The second half is connected to the seven bowl judgments.  Third, they emphasize that the first half of the tribulation is the wrath of man, whereas the second half is the wrath of God.

Argument 1.  Let’s take some time to walk through some of their arguments and give some kick back to them.  They typically emphasize the many places in the Scripture where 3 ½ years are emphasized in relation to end times matters.  Here are a couple of passages that give us such details. 

Look at Revelation 11:3. Here, John is told of two witnesses that will prophesy for 1,260 days and then be killed in the city of Jerusalem (vs. 8).  1,260 days is basically 3 ½ years, and represents the first segment connected to The Tribulation.  These witnesses are killed by the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit (a prison for spirit beings).  We are told that no one can touch the two witnesses until they finish their witness to the world, and then the beast will have the power to kill them.  Now, let’s go to Revelation 13 to get some more information regarding this beast character.

In verses 4-5, we see that the beast is given authority to continue for 42 months.  Interestingly, this just another way of referring to 3 ½ years.  From Revelation 19, we know that the beast will be captured and thrown into the Lake of Fire at the Second Coming of Jesus.  Thus, a rough timeline of The Tribulation would be: 3 ½ years for the ministry of the two witnesses, and 3 ½ years for the authority of the beast.

Let’s dig a little deeper on these references to 3 ½ years.  Daniel 9:24-27 involves a prophecy wherein 70 groupings of seven years are determined for God’s prophetic dealings with Israel (totaling 490 years).  These groupings of seven years are broken up into 3 groups: 49 years (7 sevens), 434 years (62 sevens, and the last is 7 years (1 seven).  It is this last seven that we want to focus upon because of what it says about it in verse 27.  We are told that the previous period of 62 sevens would end with the death of Messiah.  “Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself; and the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary.”  So, after the death of Jesus there was only a period of seven years left for God to complete all prophecy with Israel.  We are told in verse 27 that “the prince who is to come” will strengthen and confirm a covenant with Israel for 7 years.  In the middle of the seven-year period, he will stop the sacrifices and bring in the abomination of desolation, which involves worship of a false god in the temple.  Again, a clear reference is made to a turning point at the 3 ½ year point.  This also synchronizes with Revelation 13 and the beast who has a mouth speaking blasphemies.

We are also told in Revelation 11:2 that Jerusalem will be trampled for 42 months (3 ½ years)-I would assume that this is in the second half under the beast’s authority.  Likewise, Revelation 12 speaks of the Jewish remnant fleeing into the wilderness, being protected from Satan, and being nourished for 1,260 days (again 3 ½ years).  It also describes this period as “a time (1), times (2), and half a time (½).”  This too would equal 3 ½ years.

Clearly, the midpoint of The Tribulation is an important part of the end times.  Yet, do these passages connect this midpoint to the rapture of the Church in any way?  My short answer is that most of the passages make no connection to the rapture of the Church, and the few, where a case is made, are very stretched connections.

Argument 2.  Typically, Revelation 11 and the two witnesses become a key argument.  They are killed by the beast, left to rot on the streets of Jerusalem, and then resurrected and raptured by God after 3 ½ days (Rev. 11:5-12).   These two witnesses are very reminiscent of Moses and Elijah because of what they do.  They shut the heavens so that it doesn’t rain, they turn the waters into blood, and they cause plagues.  Here is the question.  Are they actually two individuals or are they a symbol of the Church?  As you read through the passage, you can see where they could be a symbol in a few places.  However, the details are so clear and specific that it becomes increasingly harder to make it fit with a symbol.  What is symbol and what is not?  How does one make that distinction?  Are all these things symbols: the two witnesses, their death, the streets of Jerusalem, standing on their feet, their rapture, the voice, etc.  It seems a stretch to take all of this symbolic and it seems a stretch to only take the two witnesses as a symbol.  There is nothing textually connecting this resurrection of two individuals to the Church as a whole.  Will all believers on the earth lay on the streets of Jerusalem dead for 3 ½ days?  It seems not likely, especially since the passage gives no implication to this in any overt way.  It seems that these two witnesses represent the grace of God to those who are about to be tempted to take the mark of the beast and pledge allegiance to him and his system.  At this point in our history, modern man will demonstrate that it is one in spirit with the first century world, which crucified the Lord of glory.

This is the only passage that has a direct connection to a resurrection of any kind at the middle of The Tribulation, but yet falls short of a resurrection of all the Church.

Argument 3. The next argument uses 1 Thessalonians 5:9 to argue that “God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  To them, this means that God will rapture his Church before he pours out his wrath.  However, Midtribulationists view only the 2nd half of The Tribulation as the wrath of God.  Is this a legitimate claim?  Are only the bowl judgments in the 2nd half of The Tribulation connected to God’s wrath?  The short answer is no.

If you look at Revelation 6:15-17, we have the sixth seal broken and the people of the earth are recognizing that the wrath of God has come, not “is coming.”  By their own testimony they are looking at what is happening and saying, “Oh, No, the Bible was right!”  We can also recognize that there may be some “wrath of man” in the seal judgments (note that the first seal releases a conqueror on the earth, the second releases war etc.).  However, they are all being initiated by Jesus opening each seal.  The implication is clear and obvious.  He is removing the restraints to taking up his rightful authority over the earth.  This document proves his right and is being opened in order to do so.  These seal judgments and the Trumpet judgments later are all seen as the wrath of God.

Along with this, it is very common throughout the Old Testament to speak of events that are “the wrath of man,” and yet explain that they are primarily the wrath of God.  A case in point is the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the people of Israel.  No angels were involved in its destruction and their deportation.  However, the prophets testified that the wrath of God had come upon Israel, even though Nebuchadnezzar was his instrument.  Thus, it is a false distinction to emphasize the wrath of God against the wrath of God.

Argument 4.  It is also common to take the trumpet of 1 Corinthians 15:52 and connect it to the seventh trumpet of the book of Revelation.  Here is 1 Corinthians 15:51-52. “51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” (NKJV).  Definitely, Paul connects the rapture/resurrection with the sounding of “the last trumpet.”  We can also note that the seventh trumpet is the last of the trumpets in the book of Revelation and happens right after the killing of the two witnesses, aka midpoint of the tribulation.

So, is there anything in the description of the seventh trumpet in Revelation 11:17-18 that would lead us to believe that the rapture occurs here?  I don’t believe so.  The trumpet blast is followed by a declaration that the kingdoms of this world now belong to the Lord Jesus, and that he is going to rule forever.  It is then that the 24 elders who surround the throne of God in the heavens make several statements.  They do mention that the time has come that the dead should be judged, which by extension would involve resurrection.  Also, the reward of the saints is mentioned, which also would involve resurrection.  However, this passage has the sense of declaring that these things are on the horizon (have come).  The world has been waiting so long and now the time has come for these things to be accomplished, not that they have already been accomplished.  In fact, if all these things are done at this point, then the whole bowl judgments seem out of place.  Christ doesn’t come down to reign for another 3 ½ years.  How can he have already reigned, and judged the dead, and rewarded the saints?  There is no clear statement that a resurrection of the saints happens at the 7th trumpet of Revelation.

Furthermore, It seems a stretch to think that Paul, who wrote 1 Corinthians 30 years earlier to John’s Revelation, had in mind the same thing John does.  John is revealing a vision that he has had.  Most of Revelation is stuff that has no New Testament connection.  It is a fresh revelation from God that is clearly giving information that the apostles did not have before this.  Yes, the Holy Spirit could have directed Paul to put down a phrase that he had no clue why he should include it, but this seems to run counter to what Paul is saying.  He has a clear reference in mind when he mentions the last trumpet.  On the other hand, the book of Revelation never calls the seventh trumpet, “the last trumpet.”  Yes, it is logically the last of those seven, but nowhere is it called the last trumpet.  Such, a connection is extremely tenuous, at best.

Let me reiterate that I appreciate that these views attempt to take Bible prophecy literally.  I believe that it is the approach that God would have us use.  Yet, people who hold one of the three Premillennial views of the rapture have not been very kind to each other historically.  In truth, they are often quite nasty, employ ad hominin attacks, and demonstrate extreme arrogance.  This is sad because our lord literally tells us not to do such things.  Even if you believe that a fellow Christian is wrong in their interpretation, you are still required to love them.  On top of this, no view of the rapture involves heresy that will endanger anyone’s salvation.  This is simply an over the top line of reasoning.  Our salvation is not based upon our view of the rapture.

May God help us to endeavor to be a people that will trust God regardless of what we are required to endure because there are people every day who are not in The Tribulation, and yet, they wonder if they can endure the things that they are facing right now.  They need strong Christians who can come alongside of them and encourage them with the truth of God.  Yes, God allows us to go through difficult things, but he also has a good plan for us.  He is not allowing us to suffer needlessly.  Instead, our lives are a witness to the world around us, and a witness against the fallen heavenly powers.  “We choose Jesus!  We choose to follow Him, and not the false pretenders who come to replace him!”

Midtribulationism audio


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


Your Personal End Times: After the Resurrection

Revelation 20:1-10.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on September 30, 2018.

Last week we established that at Christ’s Second Coming believers will either be resurrected, or they will simply return with Him having been resurrected earlier (pre-trib, mid-trib, or pre-wrath).  For many reasons I lean towards the view that sees the resurrection happening prior to the tribulation.  However, it has been humorously pointed out by others that perhaps the best view is those who are “pan-trib,” that is who believe that it will all pan out in the end.  Our salvation has nothing to do with our ability to completely understand the timing of these events, and therefore, we should be very careful to avoid being overly dogmatic about our opinions in this matter.

Today we will pick up after the point that Christ has had the Beast and the False Prophet thrown into the Lake of Fire.  Also the kings of the earth and their armies have been destroyed by Christ and His armies.  Remember, they had been gathered together to try and thwart the coming of Christ.  We will continue to follow the Apostle John’s narrative in chapter 20 of the book of The Revelation.

However, before we do, let me say a word concerning how we interpret Revelation.  Even though Revelation has symbolism in it, I still believe it is intended to have a literal meaning.  What I mean by this is that we should take its words at face value.  If they point to symbolism then we take it symbolically, and if they don’t then we don’t.   Of course it is easy to want to take everything as symbolism.  I think Dr. Ron Rhodes of Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries says it best.  He was a regular on the Christian Research Institute’s “Bible Answer Man” program while Dr. Walter Martin ran it.  He says, “My policy is that when the plain sense makes good sense, seek no other sense, lest you end up in nonsense.”  If we make everything a symbol (even allegory) and nothing is taken at face value, then there is no end to the imaginary interpretations that we can come up with and torture the text to agree with them.  Thus we look for clues and direction from the text whether something is symbolic or literal.

Satan is bound in the bottomless pit

As chapter 20 opens we find the familiar Satan being chained in the bottomless pit.  Some try to interpret this as something that happened in the past and that the events of chapter 20 only describe the Church Age.  However, it stretches the imagination to believe that the Second Coming of Jesus and the jailing of Satan is only a symbol for something that happened in the first century.  It has been stated that if Satan has been in prison over the last 2,000 years then “His chain is too long.”  Yet, this view does not make sense in light of Scripture.  Believers are cautioned against an unchained enemy.  1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.  Thus Revelation 20 gives us the assurance that once Jesus physically returns to earth, Satan will be imprisoned in what John calls the Bottomless Pit.  This is most likely synonymous with Tartarus of Peter’s letter (2 Peter 2:4-6).  Though we have not studied through Revelation in this series, Revelation 9 and 11 both state that the Beast rises up out of the Bottomless Pit.  Now whether that means the Beast is a manifesting, fallen angel, or that a spirit that comes out of the Bottomless Pit will inhabit a willing human, it seems to be the place in which God imprisons spirit beings.  It is also interesting to note the irony that Satan tried to hold Christ prisoner in the grave.  Now the tables are turned.

In Revelation 12:9 and here in verse 2 several things are tied together.  The serpent of old is a reference to the Garden of Eden.  It wasn’t just a snake that tricked Eve.  It really was an inter-dimensional being from among the Sons of God who was speaking to her that day.  Satan is also called the dragon, which connects with serpent and dragon passages of the prophetic books in the Old Testament.  The serpent-dragon-sea creature is an image of evil that goes back to the beginning of mankind and points to this being, Satan or the devil.

We are told that the purpose of this imprisonment is so that he will no lo longer be able to deceive the nations while Christ is physically ruling over the nations of the earth.  Scripture does indict mankind for its rebellion and sin.  However, it also points out that man’s sin has been made worse through the spiritual interference of Satan and his angels.  We really are being played and spurred on by supernatural forces.  This is seen in the Garden of Eden where Satan himself tempts Eve to rebel against God.  In Genesis 6 we again see the spiritual interference as the Sons of God (a class of spirit beings) come down to mankind and lead them in wickedness.  After the flood we are once again confronted with spiritual interference as God judges the Tower of Babel project and rejects the nations.  Deuteronomy 32:8 and Psalm 82, make it clear that the spiritual powers who were supposed to help mankind, forsook their proper duty and encouraged mankind in wickedness.  The New Testament often refers to the powers of the air and the prince of this world as spiritual forces.  What a groan of relief will come from the collective mouth of mankind as Satan and his spiritual forces are removed from the earth.  It is hard to conceive of what that will be like since it is all we have ever known.

Next we are told that he is bound for 1,000 years and then he will be released for a little while.  We will come back to that later.  Now in the Old Testament many passages speak of the Messiah’s reign over all the earth and how it will be a time of peace.  Passages like Zechariah 14, Isaiah 11, and Isaiah 65 are just a few.  However, none of them give a length for it.  In fact, we could say that even in Revelation it doesn’t end after 1,000 years.  Rather, it goes into a new stage.  It is here that it is twice stated that there will be a period of 1,000 years in which Satan is bound and Christ rules.  This is where we get the term “Millennium” for the time of Christ’s earthly rule.  It means one thousand years.  Some try to make this a symbolic number by saying that it only means a long period of time.  But 1,000 years makes complete sense and there is nothing in the text that requires us to make it symbolic.  Most nations or empires last hundreds of years.  Thus the Messiah’s rule lasting a thousand is most likely literal and points to his wisdom and power.  It is even more insulting to the intelligence of the average person to say that we are in this period right now.  We are not in the Millennium and the earthly rule of Christ has not yet begun, regardless of those who say it is symbolically occurring right now.

Jesus reigns with his saints in the millennium

Starting in verse 4 we turn away from Satan and towards the governance.  It is interesting that we are not given much description of life during the 1,000 years.  We are only told about its setting up and its ending.  However, the Old Testament passages that point to Messiah’s reign do give us a flavor of what it will be like.

We are told that thrones are set up and “they sat upon them.”  The “they” does not have a clear antecedent, but I believe it points back to Christ and His holy ones, or saints.  We are told that we will be in charge of judging angels in 1 Corinthians 6:3.  Thus the beginning of this period will no doubt include the judgment of those angels who have worked with Satan to abuse mankind, and also would include the judgments of Matthew 25 where the nations are judged and separated into the sheep and the goats.

Verse 4 also directly references that the souls of those beheaded during the Beast’s horrible, but short, reign will live and reign with Christ.  Some people think that this must be when the resurrection happens.  However, it doesn’t actually say it happens at that time.  And, even if it does, it doesn’t preclude an earlier resurrection.  I think the point is the same as that in 1 Thessalonians 4.  It is easy to fear that those who are killed or die before Christ’s coming will somehow miss out.  Here our minds are set at ease that even those who were dying in those last years will be able to reign in the millennium.

In verse 5 we are told that this is the First Resurrection.  Now this must mean something more than just first in sequence because Jesus was the first to be resurrected and this happened many years before the events of Revelation 20 (John clearly knew this).  In Matthew 27:52-53 we are also told that some of the Old Testament saints were resurrected at the same time as Jesus and even went into the city and “appeared to many.”  In Revelation 11, we also have the resurrection of the two witnesses who even ascend into heaven.  We have also talked about the clear possibility that there is a wholesale gathering together of believers in immortal form in heaven.  Thus in relation to Revelation 20, this is the first resurrection (Note: that the second resurrection is in verses 12-13 and involves the wicked dead being brought before God for judgment).  However, in relation to the previous resurrection it is of the same kind.  Jesus is the first fruits of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).  The First Resurrection is the Resurrection of the righteous and there is an order and timing to it that involves at least two events (the firstfruits and the gathering) and perhaps more.  The First Resurrection is a class of resurrection in which those who belong to Christ are raised up in the order that God has decreed.

Some seem to get the idea that only saints who are killed in the tribulation get to participate in the millennium, but this is not what John is trying to say.  Rather, he is emphasizing that they will not miss out.  They too will be resurrected and participate in this millennial kingdom.  As it says, the saints will be priests who reign with Christ throughout this 1,000 years.

The final rebellion occurs

Verse 7 begins another transition in the text.  We now jump to the end of the 1,000 years and Satan is released from his prison in the Bottomless Pit.  Of course, as if on cue, he immediately begins to deceive the nations.  I would assume some time elapses here.  However, it seems that he is able to gather an army that surrounds the capital city of Jesus and the saints.  This is presumably Jerusalem, though it is not named in the passage.  There is not much fan fare.  Rather, John describes a fire coming down from God out of heaven to destroy the army (verse 9)  Because verse 11 has the earth and the heavens fleeing away from the presence of God and the emergence of a New Heaven and a New earth, some connect this fire from God with 2 Peter 3.  This seems to be a cosmic melt down in which the elements completely dissolve.  This creation is doomed to be consumed by a fiery conflagration.  Of course such a fire is not a problem for those who are immortal. 

Lastly in verse 10 we are told that the devil is thrown into the Lake of Fire where he is to be tormented night and day forever.  Finally the arch-deceiver will come to an end as God separates him from all of creation and especially the creation which is to follow this event.

As we bring our time today to a close, it is good to ask ourselves why God would allow Satan another shot.  Why not throw him in the Lake of Fire to begin with?  There seems to be a point that God is making with the millennium and the final rebellion.  Even when God steps in forcefully, removes evil, and enforces good, many people will still choose evil.  Man is not basically good, and neither is his evil only from his environment.  No we are capable of choosing evil even when we have enjoyed the good life and perfect peace.  So check your heart today.  Where are you spiritually?  Don’t let the devil and his lies deceive you into thinking that God is something to be cast aside or attacked.  In the end God’s plan will happen.  The only question is where you will fit in that equation.  Choose life!

After the Resurrection Audio