Revelation and the Rapture
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Apocalyptic literature arises when justice is deferred. It develops the ideas of the “other world” and the “afterlife.” God is being worshipped for what he is about to do to transform the world into his kingdom. Dispensational theology supports the teaching of a rapture.
Revelation and the Rapture
III. Apocalyptic literature (cont)
E. Apocalyptic literature rose in a Jewish context
F. The symbols in Revelation
G. Revelation chapter 4
H. Description of Jesus
I. Uniqueness of Revelation from other early Jewish apocalypses
J. Dispensationalism and the rapture
K. Dispensationalism and prophecy
L. Rapture texts
Course: New Testament Introduction
Lecture: Revelation and the Rapture
Let's talk about Apocalyptic literature. It's fun and exciting stuff and it's terribly confusing and it's the most mis-interpreted portion of the canon, etc.
Apocalyptic literature arose in a Jewish context. Now here's a good rule of the thumb. Alright? If you're dealing with a neophyte Christian or somebody who has not done any serious study of the New Testament, let me tell you which book of the Bible not to start with. That would be the Revelation. Okay?
Don't start there. I have to tell you a story. I was riding in the mountains of North Carolina on the Blue Ridge Parkway - not to be confused with the Blue Grass Parkway, which is in Kentucky - with my friend, Doug Harris. This was 1969 and I was driving my father's Chevy Bel Air two-tone, column shift, 1955. And the clutch blew out!
As the Bible said, my countenance failed. So, we had to push the car off of the Blue Ridge Parkway, down a ramp, into a Texaco station. The guy couldn't fix it, so we decided to hitchhike home to the middle of the state of North Carolina. We were picked up by a really wizened, old, elderly couple driving a black '48 Plymouth. We got in the car and my friend Doug, who is now a lawyer in North Carolina, said to them, "Well what did you think about the moon landing? Neil Armstrong? All that."
They said, "That's fake. That never happened. Besides, anyway," said the driver of the car, "everybody knows those pictures of the world, round and revolving are fake. The world is not round."
Doug's eyes opened like this, and he went, he looked at me. See, the problem with Doug is he didn't recognize invincible ignorance when he saw it.
So Doug says, "Why do you think the world is not round and revolving?"
And I kept going, "Shut up, Doug. We need this ride. We're hitchhiking home. Be quiet." Right?
The man said, "Well, it's perfectly clear. It says in the Book of Revelations that the angels will spin on the four corners of the earth. It can't be round if it's got four corners, now can it, Mister?"
He had a second infallible proof that I liked better. He said, "Of course the world is not revolving around the sun. I mean, have you ever gone out at nighttime and been standing upside down in your front yard? I think not," says the man.
I'm going, "Whoa! Dude!" Okay. These were flatlanders from the mountains of North Carolina and there really are still some flatlanders out there. Now what was his problem with his interpretation of the book he called Revelations, which by the way, is not the name of this book? It's Revelation, single; not Revelations, plural. Are you with me now? So no Revelations stuff, right? It's the Revelation of John. That's what it is.
The problem is not that he took the Book of Revelation seriously. The problem is, he didn't know what kind of literature it was, and therefore he took figurative language literally. And what that figurative language meant was that God will send his angels to all four corners of the earth to bring in the saved people.
It's a description of theology and history, not cosmology. It's not trying to teach cosmology. And I don't know when conservative Christians are ever going to get the point, that it's not teaching cosmology. It's teaching history and theology. That's what it's teaching. And ethics. Okay?
So, there's a long history of misinterpreting the Book of Revelation. It's still happening aplenty today. Just turn on your television sometime.
Apocalyptic literature arose in a Jewish context. It arose out of the experience of exile. Now, I want you to think about this because this is powerful.
Why is it that visionary literature first arises out of the experience of exile? Well, here's the thing. How long did the exile even of the southern tribes last? I already told you this. Probably 70 years. That's more than a generation.
How long is a Biblical generation? Forty. So we're talking about almost two generations of life here. Right? Some have lived and died in exile. Some were born in exile and have never experienced the Holy Land. Are you with me now? You get the picture?
And here's the problem. The problem is they believed in an almighty, singular god - monotheism - who did justice. And the problem is, that justice was not happening. They were in exile.
"Our captors asked us to sing us one of the songs of Zion but how can you sing the songs of Zion when you're in a foreign land?" says the Psalmist.
Exile had a profound, profound effect on the psyche of Jews. It still does. It still does. And one of the effects was that they learned that justice was not necessarily going to be done in their lifetime. Now this is a shocking revelation if you're a devout Jew.
Do you know how strong the passion is for justice in the human heart? Just watch TV sometime. Just watch court TV sometime. The passion for justice has always been profound and no more so, than for God's people who think they are on the right side of God's law, and He's a righteous and all-powerful God.
So, how come justice is not happening for us? Yes, ma'am.
Female 1: But they were constantly disobeying -
Female 1: God's word, and He kept reminding them -
Female 1: Over and over again, and they kept -
I know. I know. But you know what, lets take it personally for a minute. Don't you ask, sometimes, the question, "Lord, why is this happening to me? I didn't deserve to have that car accident, did I? Why is this happening to me? I mean, I'm a good Christian. Come on, now."
Right? You get the point? They weren't claiming to be sinless. They just didn't understand why their captors, who were more wicked than they were, were faring better than they were. Right? How come? Why? And how come justice is not being done? We're being enslaved. We're being killed. We're being horsewhipped. Why?
Female 1: You just said they didn't get it.
You could say that, but that would be unfair because there were some of them who recognized and repented of their sins when they went into exile, and said, "Lord, okay, we've done the repentance dance. How about some justice now?" You know?
"How about at least lets return from exile?"
And it didn't happen. And it didn't happen for a long time. Then when it did happen it was a shocker. [chuckles] They were sent home by Cyrus, who is called in the Book of Isaiah "my anointed one". [chuckles]
The only person in the Old Testament my anointed one by God is not King David; it's Cyrus, the pagan ruler of Persia. That's a shocker. He's called the messiah. That's the word. Mashiach. Cyrus was my mashiach. My messiah - Cyrus. He sent his people home. Right?
Well, so here's the deal. Apocalyptic literature arises when justices is deferred. Apocalyptic literature arises when there are profound questions of theodicy.
Why are God's people suffering disproportionately since they are proportionately better than other people? Okay? Why is this happening?
And so what happens, here is the profound thing that happens in exile, is that they begin to develop an actual theology of the afterlife. If things are not corrected in this lifetime, then they'll be connected when? In the life to come.
And what happens in Apocalyptic literature is a development of a profound theology of the afterlife. Not merely life in Heaven. I mean, before the time of Ezekiel you pretty much had to have your names start with "e" to get beamed up into Heaven. You're either Enoch or Elijah or you don't go. Right?
What did Jews actually believe about the afterlife prior to the exile? They believed you died and you were gathered to your ancestors and you lived in Sheol. You're just in the land of the dead.
Unless you're some superhero prophet you just in the land of the dead. Abraham's in the land of the dead, was gathered to his ancestors. Isaac's in the land of the dead; he was gathered to his ancestors. Jacob, Joseph, Moses - all the big dogs. Okay?
What happens in exile is they begin to have a more viable and positive view of the afterlife. They begin to have an actual theology of Heaven and not Heaven.
And not only that, more importantly perhaps, they begin to have a theology of Heaven come on earth at the end of human history. And of course, you can certainly see this in Isaiah.
By the time you get to Isaiah, and Second Isaiah anyway, Isaiah 40 through 60 something was probably written from exile. You have the visions of lions lying down with lambs and swords beaten into plowshares. You know, endless vineyards and olive trees, and the sky is not cloudy all day. You know, all of that good stuff. Right? Oh, home on the range. Are you with me now? You get the picture?
So, what happens in exile is a much more vital, vibrant and positive view of the afterlife. It begins to develop in Apocalyptic literature. It is not an accident that the first place that the idea of resurrection arises in Jewish literature is in Apocalyptic literature.
The first place we even hear this concept is in [musically] "Dem bones, dem bones, them dry bones, gonna rise up one day." That would be Ezekiel.
The only other place that resurrection is really talked about is in the Prophet Daniel. Daniel 12:1-2, "You will rise from the dust of the earth and shine like the stars." It's Apocalyptic literature that begins to talk about the other world and the afterlife.
Now this is the distinction I want you to get hold of, because when they were thinking about a better place, they thought about it in two ways. They thought about it vertically, in terms of the other world, and they thought about it horizontally, in terms of the afterlife. The life after this life, in the future. Okay?
And the emphasis was on the afterlife, not the other world. In fact, in the New Testament that is where the emphasis is. About 10 percent of the New Testament talks about Heaven or Hell. Ninety percent of the eschatology of the New Testament is about what is going to happen in the future down here.
It's all about what's going to happen when Jesus comes back and He rules on the earth, and there is a new Heaven and new earth, etc. The finish line is not [musically] "Somewhere, out there [regular voice] in Heaven."
No, in the New Testament Heaven is seen as an ultra clean bus station on the way to the new Heaven and the new earth. It's an interim condition. It's not the final destination. It's not God's final answer on you.
Final answer on you is you will be conformed to the image of Christ by resurrection, on the earth, in this world, in the new Heaven and new earth. Okay?
Now this whole theology of the afterlife, of resurrection, of a judgment day in the future that will resolve all justice issues, all of that - this really begins to be developed during the exile and you see it in the Apocalyptic literature of the exile in Ezekiel and in Daniel and in Zechariah.
There became a very strong view that if God is not going to rectify things now, He will in the afterlife. He will fix it later, so that by the time you get to the New Testament there is a profound theology of the afterlife running. But there are some old school people. They are called the Sadducees. They were the ones who sang [musically] "Give me that old time religion." [coughing]
Their theology was the theology of Sheol. When you die, you're gathered to your ancestors and you're just in the land of the dead, and that's the end of that.
They didn't believe in resurrection. They didn't believe in dying and going to Heaven. They just believed you went to Sheol. Right? That's the Sadducees.
What about the Pharisees? Did they believe in resurrection? Yes. That's what distinguished them, chiefly, from the Sadducees. That's why they were so sad, you see, because they didn't believe in resurrection. There was a problem here.
If I were to ask you who was Jesus more like in terms of the afterlife theology, the Sadducees or the Pharisees, you would say no question He was more like the Pharisees. And so was Paul.
In fact, Paul was a card carrying Pharisee before he became a Christian. So some of His belief system carried over quite nicely into his Christian faith. Namely the idea of resurrection.
I don't think I need to emphasize to you, but I will say to you, that the word resurrection does not refer to dying and going to Heaven. And it does not refer to some purely spiritual experience.
Resurrection to an early Jew always meant something that happened to a physical body. We're not talking about a visionary experience when we're talking about the resurrection of Jesus. We're not talking about something that's in the eye of the believing beholder. We're talking about something that actually happened to the dead Jesus and was promised to happen to His followers.
This is why Paul, in First Corinthians 15 says, that Christ is but the first fruits of the resurrection. And who would be the latter fruits? This is the only chance I get to call you fruits. [chuckling] Okay?
We would be the latter fruits. Right? A resurrection. We will be conformed to the image of Christ by means of resurrection when He returns. We will be the rest of the crop. Very important.
"We shall be made like Him, in the flesh just as we are now being conformed internally to His character. So that He will have brace of kinsmen, risen brothers and sisters like unto Jesus. And we will see Him face to face and reflect His image."
That's an afterlife theology. I can't wait for the day that I'm really a lot more like Jesus. That's an afterlife theology.
Well, the Book of Revelation has a full-blown afterlife theology and other world theology and we're going to get some of both. It's minority literature and that means you need to understand symbols.
You need to understand the code of language. You need to understand the symbolic numbers. There are all kinds of symbolic numbers. Unfortunately, the Jehovah's Witnesses didn't get the memo. One hundred forty-four thousand is not intended to be the exact number of the saved. It is a multiple of 12 and up to 12 tribes and it simply means that all of God's "chilluns" are going to be there. That's all. It's a symbolic number that's a multiple of 12.
You need to understand the symbolic numbers. What are the big symbolic numbers in the Book of Revelation and in early Jewish Gematria? That would be three, and seven, and 12 and multiples of these numbers. Forty would be another good one, yes.
So, 70 is - 10 by the way. Ten is also a big symbolic number. So, when we hear about 70 weeks of years you're not supposed to just count to 70 or 700, you're supposed to think of this as a big honkin' number that is complete. The point of the number is it's a complete number. It's a perfect number.
The same with the thousand year reign. Thousand is a multiple of what? Ten and a hundred, and he's not saying it's going to be exactly a thousand years when Jesus comes back and reigns on the earth before the new Heaven and earth. He's saying it's going to be a long old honkin' time.
These are symbolic numbers; they are not literal numbers any more than the image of the dragon head in Revelation - Mr. Dragon Breath is a literal description - either.
They are symbolic numbers and the most important of the symbolic numbers we are going to decode now, so stick with me. I was saving this for a moment when you were flagging. He we go. [chuckling]
Here's the number: 6-6-6.
Now the first thing to say about this number is it's just shy of seven. So if seven means completion what does 6-6-6 mean? It is the number of chaos; of incompletion. Of destruction. Very important. But there is so much more to this number and now the truth is about to be told. So here we go.
It is deliberately a coded number. Now let me explain to you about Gematria for a minute. [writing on board] Gematria is the practice of turning names into numbers. You with me now?
You assign numerical value to letters of an alphabet. It could be the Hebrew alphabet. It could be the Greek alphabet. It could be the Latin alphabet. Are you with me now?
It's assigning numbers to names. So, for example, in the catacombs you see this graffiti. It says, "I love a girl whose name is 6-1-4." That's not her cell phone number. That's her name. It's Gematria. It's turning names into numbers.
Now, I wish my sister was here who could actually draw, but you'll have to put up with me.
Here is a coin. This is a Roman coin. Got a good Roman nose there. This is Nero. Are you with me now? We'll put a little laurel wreath on his head. Here he is. This is a denarius; a silver denarius. On the silver denarius of Nero, which by the way, he had these little spiky things on the laurel crown which indicated his divinity. If you get spiky bits on the laurel crown it indicates that you have and you are radiating divine glory. Alright?
Now, here's what the inscription says: [writing on board] Neron Caesar divi filii Augusti. Nero Caesar the divine son of the divine Augustus. You with me now? It's a claim to divinity, and here's where I tell you that if you add up the numerical value of all of the letters on the front of this coin, it equals: 6-6-6
So who is Mr. Six-Six-Six according to John of Patmos? That would be Nero. Who was the first person who instigated a persecution of Christians? That would be Nero. He was the archetypal image of the anti-Christ. But here's the thing. Notice I said the archetypal image of the anti-Christ. What they believed was that in every age of the eschaton there were false Christs and false prophets and all kinds of nefarious dudes running around.
Nero sits for the portrait of Mr. Six-Six-Six and when he wants to describe the final Mr. Six-Six-Six, he says he's going to be like that bad boy. You get the picture?
Now everybody knew about Nero, and he was not anybody Christian's hero. But then what happened is the Nero legend. According to the Nero legend Nero came back from the dead. He had a fatal wound in his head and he rose from the dead and he reappeared in the emperor's chair as Domitian; as Domitianus.
The ruler in the '90s who did guess what? Also persecuted Christians. There were two emperors in the first century A.D. who persecuted Christians. Nero and Domitian. One in the '60s, one in the '90s and what was whispered by Jews and Christians about Domitianus is he's Nero back from the dead. He's Nero redivivus. He's Nero, the sequel. A little bit louder and a little bit worse.
You see, the thing about these archetypal symbols that are being used is that they are multivalent. [writing on board] What does the word multivalent mean? Any of you know this word? We need a definition, right?
Multi" means more than one, right? "Valent" means value. So multivalent would mean that this symbol is deliberately, deliberately more universal. It's deliberately vague; it's deliberately more universal because why?
It's not just describing one person. It's describing a kind of person. A type of person. A world ruling, tyrannical, Christian-hating dictator. That's what it's describing. And there are a lot of people that could sit for that portrait.
How about Stalin or Mussolini or Adolph Hitler, or Idi Amin? We could keep going. There are a lot of people that could sit for this picture. No question. In every age of church history.
What John is saying is once the eschaton begins you're going to have people like this. The battle of good and evil is going to keep on going until its brought to a close. And what's going to bring it to a close is not any preliminary events that happen. What's going to bring it to close is the return of the thief in the night.
So whatever the mess is that we're suffering now and wherever we are on the eschatological time clock is really quite irrelevant. The bottom line is, God is still in His Heaven and all will be right with the world when Jesus comes back.
And that's the message. And in the meantime, don't be silly little naive Christians who put your faith in any worldly empire or country or nation or government, or principles or constitutions. Don't do that because the kingdom that you owe allegiance to is the Kingdom of God and the citizenship that matters to you is the citizenship you have in Heaven.
That's the message to the Christians. So it's deconstructing any kind of idolatrus loyalties to particular earthly systems. And it's intended to do that. One of the ways it does that is it depicts an emperor who is like Darth Vader. It's an archetypal multivalent symbol.
Now, does John believe that there will probably be one ultra big, ultra bad emperor at the end of human history that Jesus is going to have to come deal with? Yes, he probably does. But he's not trying to give you a description of who that will be by name. He's trying to give you a character description of what kind of person he will be.
He will be like Nero. He will be like Domitian. I mean, that's the point.
So, what you can tell people is, I have no idea who this is going to be, but I sure know what kind of person he's going to be. And I sure know what kind of empire he's interested in building. And it sure ain't Christian."
You know a lot about the character of the future. You don't know the particulars about times and dates and personal names. And that's okay. I'd rather know the character of how it's going to come out than all of the particulars. It's alright with me. I can trust God for the particulars.
Now, as I say here, many of these symbols are deliberately multivalent. They are referential but they could refer to a variety of persons and things because they are so generic in character, and that's by intention. It's be design.
It's not because John practices fuzzy math. It's not because John has fuzzy thoughts about the future. It's because he's only revealing what God told him to reveal. Enough about the future to give us hope.
Not so much that we have this enormously detailed blueprint about exactly everything blow-by-blow and how it's going to happen because we don't. We don't know.
Now, here's where it gets interesting and it shows you how plastic these images are. I read to you Ezekiel 1, right? Remember Ezekiel 1? [chuckling] Now I'm going to read to you Revelation 4. This should sound eerily familiar, but not identical. [sound of page turning] Listen to Revelation Chapter 4. [sound of pages turning]
"After this," says John, "I looked in there in Heaven and doors did open. And the first voice which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, 'Come up here and I'll show you what must take place after this.' At once I was in the spirit and there in Heaven stood a throne."
Now, just for a moment - this has nothing to do with the bodily Rapture of John of Patmos into Heaven. He's on the Island of Patmos. This is about a spiritual visionary experience. He sees into Heaven when he becomes in the spirit and is inspired to see a vision into Heaven.
So this is not about flying Air Ruach to Heaven. Right? He's in the spirit and he sees into Heaven. He's still firmly planted on Patmos and he's in exile. He's in exile. He's out there saying [musically] "You load 16 tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt. Saint Peter don't you call me, 'cause I can't go. I owe my soul to the Roman Empire." Or something like that. [murmuring] Right?
He's in exile. He's in a mining colony on the Island of Patmos in exile, but he has a vision of Heaven. So what does he see? Listen to what he sees.
"I was in the spirit and there in Heaven stood a throne with one seated on the throne and the one seated there looks like" - I want to ask you to count again, Sam, we're going to get a lot of likes here. Right?
"And the one seated there looked like jasper and carnelian. And around the throne was a rainbow that looks like an emerald and around the throne were 24 thrones and seated on the throne were 24 elders dressed in white robes with gold crowns on their heads.
"And coming from the throne are flashes of lightning and rumbles and peals of thunder. In front of the throne burnt seven flaming torches which are the seven spirits of God. And in front of the throne there is something that's like a sea of crystal like glass.
"And around the throne on each side of the throne are four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. The first living creature is like a lion. The second living creature is like an ox. The third living creature has a face like a human being. The fourth living creature like a flying eagle."
By the way, this is where you get the four medieval symbols for the gospels. It's from these four critters in Ezekiel and in Revelation.
The lion is the symbol for which gospel? [muttering] No. That would be the eagle. The eagle eye view of the gospel. The ox is the symbol for Luke. The human face is the symbol for Mark, and so the lion gospel is -
Male 1: Matthew.
Matthew. That's right. And that's where the medieval symbols for the gospels come from. They come this Revelation which has nothing to do with the gospels, but that's okay.
"And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings are full of eyes all around, inside, day and night without ceasing they sang Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.
"And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne who lives forever and ever, the 24 elders fall down before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives there forever and ever."
They are casting down their crowns before the throne, singing [musically] "Thou art worthy, thou art worthy, thou art worthy, oh, Lord. To receive glory, glory and honor and glory and honor and power."
"For by you we were all created and by your will we exist." Amen
Now, if you compare Ezekiel 1 which is much longer to this vision than Revelation 4, are there striking similarities? Yes. Absolutely so. Are they identical? No.
For one thing, the eyes are in different places. Got eyes in the wheels back there. Got eyes elsewhere here.
For another thing, the four living creatures are described differently. It seems in Ezekiel the four living creatures each have four faces. Here we have one living creature per face.
Now what that is telling you is, that these images are plastic. They're not literal descriptions. They are metaphorical descriptions, and therefore they are malleable. They can change.
Throne chariot vision, yes? Identical description? No, because this isn't a literal description anyway. It's a flexible description.
Now, here's where it gets exciting. This is an image of worship. Worship going on in Heaven, and guess who's worshipping? Everybody. All creatures great and small.
You've got the angels. You've got the critters. You've got the human beings represented by the elders, and they are all lifting up the throne of God. Wow!
This is a vision of worship. That's what it is. Heavenly worship. You know, in the Orthodox tradition they believe that what we're doing on earth is participating in Heavenly worship if we do it right.
So we are joining with the saints in Heaven worshipping God. Right? But that image is of all of creations. The animal creation, the angelic creation, the human creation. All of those things that are not the creator are worshipping the creator. This is an image of worshipping the creator. In the next chapter we have the worshipping of the redeemer. The lamb.
So, this is the worshipping of the creator god, and in the next chapter it's the worshipping of the redeemer god. It's a powerful two chapters that go together - Revelation 4 and 5.
And it gives you a powerful start to this whole book, because what is going on here is God is being worshipped for what He is about to do to transform the world into His kingdom. And these folks were all thanking God for both the justice and the redemption that is yet to come.
Remember, we get to this Revelation and the saints under the altar in Heaven are cranky. They go, "How long, oh, Lord?" You remember this?
They're not up there going, [musically] "I've been redeemed by the blood of the lamb. I've been redeemed." You know?
No, they're going, [musically] "My mama done told me, I'm havin' a bad day. How long, oh, Lord [regular voice] before the redemption comes on earth?"
How long before the justice is unloosed upon the earth, and they are given a choir robe and they're told to hush. All in God's good time. All in God's good time.
You see, the saints in Heaven aren't finished and they know they've not reached the finish line. They know that God's not done yet. Those who are up there are awaiting what happens down here to finish, and we will be joined with them when Jesus returns with the saints.
It's a powerful image in the Book of Revelation. It's a powerful theology of the afterlife and what that theology of the afterlife in the end times does, is it comes back and changes the way we look at things now, like worship.
Worship in light of the eschaton should look different. It's part of what Revelation is trying to teach us.
Now, if you compare the throne chariot vision in Ezekiel 1 and the one in Revelation 4, it's perfectly clear that these images are flexible and plastic. They can be modified. They are not liberal descriptions of anything. We're dealing with analogical language. "It was like" and metaphorical language.
The description of Christ in the Book of Revelation is very interesting and it's metaphorical. Jesus is not Bar am You in Heaven. Jesus is a human being in Heaven, but he's described as the lamb. The slain lamb who has yet triumphed and is on the throne.
This image here is the central image or way of depicting Christ in this book. It's the most frequent image of Christ in this book, by far. He's only called the lion of the Tribe of Judah once. He's called Alpha and Omega once at the beginning of the Book of Revelation, once at the end. He's called Christ and He's called Lord, and you know, Son of God, now and again, in the Book of Revelation
But the central and most important image is of the slain lamb. Now why do you think that is? Why would the slain lamb who has yet triumphed and risen and is reigning from above is the central image and message to be conveyed to this seven churches?
Male 2: Could that be because of persecution and harm that they are experiencing and that they are slain?
Absolutely because Jesus is the witness who sets the pattern for Martus, thus as witnesses, who will faithfully witness even unto death. Listen to the promises given to the seven churches just for a minute. And the promises, of course, all come at the end of each message.
"To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God."
This is verse seven of chapter 2. The end of the message to the church in Ephesus. Now, by the way, the verb "conquer" is nikao from which we get Nike, as in victory. Are you with me? As in Nike tennis shoes. Nikao is the Greek word. Here is the verb, and there is the goddess Nike. The goddess of victory.
What does he mean by conquering? He means being faithful unto death and dying with your boots on for the Lord. Conquering doesn't have to do with military victory over other peoples in this book. Conquering has to do with remaining faithful even unto death for the Lord. Everyone who conquers I will give permission to eat from the tree of Life that is in the paradise of God.
Or take the message to Smyrna, the end says: 10B - "Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life and let anyone who has ears to hear, listen to what the spirit is saying to the churches. Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death."
Notice you are not promised exemption from the first death. This is the Book of the Martyrs, friends. This is the book of the martyrs.
Listen to the end of the message to Pergamum. [pages turning]
"To everyone who conquers I'll give some of the hidden manna. I'll give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it."
Or the end of the message to Thyatiera, verse 28: "Even as I also received authority from the Father to the one who conquers I will also give the morning star. Let everyone who has ears listen to what the spirit is saying to the churches."
Or verse 26 even. "To everyone who conquers and continues to do my work to the end I will give authority over the nations. Only hold fast until I come."
Or the end of the Revelation to Sardis, verse of chapter 3. "If you conquer you will be clothed like them in white robes and I will not blot your name out of the book of life."
By the way, this implies that your name could be blotted out of the book of life if you commit apostasy. These chapters 2 and 3 are strong warnings against apostasy.
A positive outcome would be faithful unto death even if you have to be martyred. The negative possible outcome would be apostasy, and if you commit apostasy, guess what. Your name may have been provisionally in the book of live, but it can be blotted out. In other words, you're not eternally secure until you're securely in eternity.
Short of that, apostasy is possible. That's the warning here. It's intended to be a strong warning.
The message to Laodicea, the last of these. Listen to the end, verse 21. "To the one who conquers I'll give a place with me on my throne just as I myself conquered."
Did you hear that? We're going to conquer in the same way that Jesus conquered. And how did Jesus conquer? By dying on the cross. Conquering comes through dying, not through killing.
"To the one who conquers I'll give a place with me on my throne just as I myself conquered, and sat down with my father on his throne. Let anyone has ears hear what I have to say to the churches."
What we're dealing here, then, is a church that's being pressured, persecuted, in some cases prosecuted, in rare cases executed - I'm not talking about mass persecution in the sense of mass execution. We don't have any historical evidence for that.
But what we do have is evidence of Christians having their property confiscated, being thrown into jail for a period, being harassed, being shunned, being - having their businesses burned down. All of that sort of stuff, and occasionally there was martyrdom as well.
Well, our author is saying get ready for it. Are you ready to rumble? This is what's going to happen to you. Right? And he's saying, if need be, you need to be prepared to die with your boots on. You need to be prepared to be faithful unto death like Jesus was, and die a martyr's death. This is the Book of Martyrs.
Now, I've talked to you about Gematria. I've talked to you about the symbolic numbers three, seven, 10, 12, 6-6-6. Here's where I want to talk to you about how different John's revelation is from other early Jewish Apocalypses of which we have about 15.
You know, this is often a revelation to Christians. There are about 15 other early Jewish Apocalypses that you can read to compare to the Book of Revelation and you discover very quickly what kind of literature this is.
For example, you could read the Book of Enoch. In particular you could read the so-called Parables of Enoch and what you discover is, that Enoch is taken on a heavenly journey, given a tour of Heaven very much like some of the descriptions of Heaven in the Book of Revelation. There are plenty of other early Jewish Apocalypses. This is just one of them.
What makes this book stand apart from these other early Jewish Apocalypses is they seem to be almost all pseudonymous. Now, do you know what I mean by pseudonymous?
What does the word "pseudo" mean? [muttering] Yes, right. So, a pseudonym would be what? A false name. Right? It's attributed to somebody who didn't write it. You with me now?
So, for example, the Testament of Abraham, a Jewish Apocalyptic book - not written by Abraham. The Testament of Isaac - not written by Isaac; the Testament of Jacob - not written by Jacob; Testament of Levi - not so much.
These were documents written in the first century B.C. or the first century A.D. who are attributed to ancient worthies and the reason they are attributed to ancient worthies is so that they will be books that look like prophecy but are in fact, not.
Let me say that one more time so it sinks in. These documents that have pseudonymous authors appended to them are made to look like prophecies given from really a long time ago when in fact they were written in the first century B.C. or the first century A.D., and so instead of being prophecy presented, they are actually history written up as if it had been prophecy from long time ago. You see what I'm saying?
So, there is a pseudo character to these other early Jewish Apocalyptic works. What stands out about John of Patmos is he's not claiming to be Enoch. He's claiming to be - wait for it - John of Patmos! He's speaking in his own voice. He's using his own name and he is indeed offering genuine prophecy, not pseudo prophecy.
There was a lot of pseudo prophecy out there. As a consequence, what we're dealing with in the Book of Revelation is actual Apocalyptic prophecy like that of Ezekiel and Daniel and Zechariah. What we are not dealing with is Apocalyptic prophecy like that in the pseudonymous early Jewish books that are called Apocalyptic books. We're dealing with genuine prophecy, if you will, in the Book of Revelation.
Now here's the other thing. To interpret the Book of Revelation you need a lot of prior understanding up front of the kind of literature we're dealing with. You need more contextual help, not less. What I tell young Christians is, start easy; work up to the more complex literature in the Bible. Start with something simple like the Sermon on the Mount.
"Blessed are the poor." Okay. Let's start with that. If you don't have the prior knowledge, if you don't have the contextual understanding it's like dealing with a fractured fairy tale. It doesn't have coherence.
What do you think John of Patmos assumes about the understanding of his audience before he writes these 20 plus chapters of prophecy? Do you think he assumes there are enough Jews in his audience that understand Apocalyptic literature? That somebody is going to get this and understand it and help the rest of the church to understand it?
Yes, I think he absolutely has to assume that. If he was writing to a purely Gentile audience they would have been going, "Say what?" If they did not know the Old Testament, if they did not know Jewish Apocalyptic [coughing] literature, this would not make a whole lot of sense.
And indeed, here's the other interesting thing. By the time you get to the middle of the second century A.D. the church is largely Gentile. Into the third and fourth century A.D. even more so. Are you with me now? The more Gentile the church becomes the less it understands the Book of Revelation.
And this ignorance continued well into church history. John Calvin said, and I quote, "I have written a commentary on every other book of the New Testament but frankly I don't understand the Book of Revelation, and so I'm not writing a commentary on it."
God bless him. An honest scholar who says, "I don't understand it. I'm not writing a commentary on it."
Martin Luther had a little chutzpah. He said, "You know, it's hard to understand, but I think I've got it. The anti-Christ is the pope. Lets start there." On further review, he was wrong, but I understand why he said it.
John Wesley, on his notes on the New Testament, he said, "You know, fool's rush in where angels fear to tread."
I'm going to give you some notes on the Book of Revelation, but what I'm doing is simply repeating what that great German scholar Johannes Bengel said. "Take it for what it is. I don't claim this is a perfect interpretation. I simply think it's better than the other ones I've read."
So he's not sure what's going on with the Book of Revelation, either. And the reason, dear friends, is we are so far removed from being a Jewish group who understands early Jewish literature and Jewish ways of thinking and Jewish Apocalyptic thought in general, that we are clueless and bound to misinterpret it.
And of course, this is what has drastically happened and in dispensationalism. Which leads me to take just a little side turn and deal with this dispensationalism and the theology of the Rapture, so, it's time for some Rapture theology. I promised you more excitement as we went on, so we're going to have the more now.
Lets deal with the history of dispensationalism first. You need to know the backdrop to get the fore drop, so we're going to deal with the history of dispensationalism and then we're going to deal with the text that they think talks about a Rapture.
So, a little background. It starts with a wee Scottish girl named Margaret McDonald in 1830. She went to a revival in Glasgow and she had a visionary experience. There was at that revival a very famous preacher. His name was John Nelson Darby. He was the founder of the Plymouth Brethren.
John Nelson Darby was the found of the Plymouth Brethren which was an important low church Protestant movement in the 19th century that led to all kinds of things. What Margaret McDonald had a vision of was of a pre-tribulation Rapture of the church out of the world before all of this gnarly stuff happens to happen before Jesus comes back.
She's the first person in church history that we know of who talked about a Rapture of the church out of the world during some terrible period of tribulation, or right before a terrible period of tribulation.
Now this idea might have died completely except for John Nelson Darby. Darby was an evangelist both in the U.K. and in the U.S. So follow the bouncing ball now.
He comes to the United States before the Civil War. He runs into a man named D.L. Moody, the most famous evangelist of his day in the 19th century; the Billy Graham of his day. And the Civil War was breaking out in 1860 and tearing our country to shreds.
Do you know that more Americans died in the Civil War than in all subsequent wars we have fought combined? More Americans died in those 4 1/2 - 5 years than in all World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, etc., etc., etc. We lost more humanity in that one war on our own soil than all subsequent wars combined since.
It was a horrific period of time and Christians could be forgiven for saying, "Beam me up, Scotty. I want out of here. This is horrible. I'm watching all of my relatives be killed off."
In terms of the history of this dispensationalism let me tell you right now, any time America gets into a crisis, dispensational theology plays really well. The sales of dispensational books go way up. No question.
A good example would be a book by John Walvoord, Armageddon and Middle East Oil. It was first published in the '70s during the oil crisis; sold well. When the Gulf War came around, new edition. When you get into a crisis mode the comfort food that lots of conservative Christians want is dispensational theology which promises there is a way out of here. You're going to be beamed up. You don't have to suffer. Or at least not much.
So this theology of Rapture which led to the whole system of dispensationalism begins to spread during the American Civil War and then after the Civil War, but that's by no means all.
Let's talk about the ideas that are involved. One of the ideas which the early church didn't believe in at all is that Christ was coming back twice. Once invisibly to the Rapture of the church and once visibly to judge the world.
The early church didn't believe that. The first century church didn't believe that, the second century church didn't believe that. They believed there would be only one second coming, not a second and a third coming. They believed in only one second coming.
And here's part of the problem with the dispensational hermeneutic. The hermeneutic divides up ideas and texts into two piles. Here are prophecies meant for Israel; here are prophecies meant for the church. Here are prophecies about the invisible return of Christ; here are prophecies about the second coming for judgment that will be visible. Okay?
There's a lot of bifurcating of things that the early church all thought referred to one thing and not two things. What we are told by Miss McDonald and then Darby and then D.L. Moody is that the former of the two returns will coincide with a Rapture of the church into Heaven for at least seven years or we could debate how long it's going to be.
However, the real second coming is called the Glorious Appearing, which is mentioned in Titus 2:13 when the New Jerusalem will be established on earth as it is in Heaven. That's the second coming that everybody agrees is going to happen.
Here's what happened. The harmonic convergence of the message of Darby, between 1859 and 1977, and the desire to escape from the horrors of the Civil War were so strong that it was during this period of time - especially in the south, because the whole Civil War except Gettysburg, was fought basically in the south, right? It became so ingrained in the south that this whole Rapture theology took root in the south and grew and spread like Kudzu across the land. Like a vine in all directions, as a theological form of comfort food.
If we talk about Darby himself, you have to say about Darby that he abstained from trying to predict the exact timing of the Rapture or the timing of the second coming, or the Parousia, the Glorious Appearing.
Subsequent prognosticators did not so refrain. Dwight L. Moody, for whom Moody Bible Institute is named; form whom Moody Press is named; Moody Radio Network is named, the whole nine yards. Right? Moody was a disciple of Darby. He was a Darbyite. He was a disciple of Darby. He got this theology from Darby.
And so Moody set up Moody Bible Institute. And he initially did the most to spread the message of dispensationalism in the last few decades of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.
Here is the point. This is new theology. This theology is as new as Mormonism. It began in the 19th century. It's continued today, into the 21st century. Right? This is not the original theology of the early church. It's something new.
Then there's this fellow. Every hear of the Scofield Reference Bible? Probably you have. Cyrus Scofield - You know, most of these folks were good, sincere Christians. Cyrus Scofield was a scoundrel.
Cyrus Scofield was someone who ran out on his wife, committed all kinds of fraud, got himself out of hot water with his idea of selling Bibles. A particular kind of Bible. A Bible that had notes at the bottom of the page. But here was the kicker. Scofield decided to put headings in the text of the Bible. As in, "This passage refers to the Rapture." [chuckling]
Just so you get it clearly, not in the notes. In the text of the Bible there's a bold headline in all capped letters, right? Jesus predicts the Rapture. That sort of thing. Nice subtle theology. Right in the text.
He's an entrepreneur. He abandons his family. He's in jail. If you want to read the real story of this shyster read a book by J.M. Canfield entitled The Incredible Cyrus Scofield and His Book He's not a reputable person. And his story is a sad story.
The Scofield Reference Bible is published in 1909 and becomes a million seller in 1913. What happened in 1913? And '14? And '15? Here we go. Archduke Ferdinand, World War I ramping up. By the time Mr. Scofield got to 1920 and the end of World War I he had made a lot of money off our misery by giving us a Bible that says, "We can get out of here. Beam me up." It's true.
There's another person who helped the movement along, and his name was W.E. Dubois. He was a Chicago businessman who was in contact with Moody, and he wrote the best selling Christian book in the last two decades of the 19th century and the first two decades of the 20th century. No, it was not In His Steps. The best selling book is Jesus is Coming.
But this is a businessman that was afraid of the implications of losing his business if people didn't like this book, so it was published under the name W.E.B. Just the initials instead of his full name. Jesus is Coming, in 1787.
Here's where I tell you that the full-blown dispensational schema of theology, of dividing the church history up into periods comes based on not any knowledge of Greek or Hebrew at all.
Where does it come from? It comes from a particular reading of the King James Bible. Why would that surprise you? What's the number one Bible of America at the beginning of the 20th century?
It's the King James Bible, by far the most popular and most sold Bible. The dispensational schema was based on a certain kind of close reading of the King James Version and not of the original manuscripts of the New Testament.
Here's where I say it was a laity movement. Dispensationalism was carried by strong lay people, not by clergy. There was a clergy person who was worried about this. He was a Presbyterian minister and his name was Lewis Chafer.
Lewis Chafer was one of the first clergy persons that was disturbed that there wasn't more exegetical and theological underpinning to this whole theology of the Rapture, so he founded the Dallas Dispensational Training Center in 1924. Guess what it's called today? Dallas Theological Seminary. This was Dallas Theological Seminary.
And what was the purpose? The original purpose of Dallas Dispensational Training Institute? To provide a scholarly basis for a theology they already believed. Let me say that one more time. The reason for the founding of Dallas Dispensational Training Center was, that in fact, they wanted to provide scholarly underpinnings for a theology they already believed.
So with the after the fact justification by scholarship, its eisegesis before exegesis. That's exactly right. So, Dallas Dispensational Institute evolves into Dallas Theological Seminary.
Now, I have to tell you that today Dallas Theological Seminary is miles apart from the Dallas Dispensational Institute in the '20s. There are plenty of good Christian scholars there, but they do all still subscribe to the theology of the Rapture. You have to as part of the faith statement to teach on that faculty.
One of the things that this movement, that this dispensational movement did is it spawned a whole series of people who were really zealous about spreading the dispensational truth. There were a whole series of writers, some of whose names you should know, who wrote million selling books that promoted this theology. John Walvoord, who was the president of this seminary, Dallas Theological Seminary, in 1952 to '86. Charles Ryrie, maybe you've heard of the Ryrie Study Bible, which was the supplement, or replacement for the Scofield Reference Bible.
There is Hal Lindsey, the Late Great, Planet Earth, right? Timothy LaHaye, The Left Behind Series.
These folks all come out of Dallas Theological Seminary. The whole batch of them. And a few supplements from Moody Bible Institute. These are the two big in the mid-west bastions of dispensational theology and they are, you know, publishing their way into the Kingdom of God. They are big on publishing popular books that get lay people all "het" up about this theology and they have enormously succeeded.
The Left Behind Series has sold over 15 million books. Oh, yes. It's a little scary, honestly. But, you know, it's strange where you find encouragement. There was a year, 2004, when in Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code outsold the Bible in that given year in America. Do you know what he eclipsed off the best-seller list? One of The Left Behind books. [chuckling] Neither of them very helpful when it comes to eschatology.
All of these persons, whether scholars or not, has spread the hermeneutic of this system through popular books, pamphlets, [coughing] tracks, and revivals.
Here's the conclusion about the history. Dispensationalism is a theory of interpreting Biblical prophecy which does not have deep historical roots and is not well grounded in the history of the interpretation of the Bible by the church over many centuries in particular.
Now I want to stress this. No one was arguing for Rapture doctrine before 1830. No one, which is severely problematic, because you know what? When you believe in the Holy Bible it's not the "new" that is the true; it's the "old". It's not the latest that's the greatest; it's the original. And that's part of the problem here.
I want to get at the heart of the matter because the heart of the matter is, they don't understand prophecy and they especially don't understand Apocalyptic prophecy. This is really the heart of the problem that we're dealing with here. How so?
Well, several points. Point number one: They don't understand that most Old Testament prophecy was either, one - conditional; or two - has already been fulfilled; or three - was speaking about a situation in the life of Israel long, long ago, not speaking about the eschatological age. Three-pronged point.
Some of the prophecies in the Old Testament were deliberately conditional, and if Israel didn't meet the condition, they weren't happening.
"If my people call by my name, repent, I will bless them."
What happens if they don't repent? All bets are off. It's a conditional promise. It's a conditional prophecy.
Secondly, most of the prophecies in the prophetic books of the Old Testament were near horizon prophecies. They were prophecies about their own age, or shortly thereafter.
They're not about now, in the 21st century. They were never about now. They were about then. They were words on target then.
Thirdly, only a tiny minority of Old Testament prophecy is eschatological in character, speaking about the end of days. The end of the age.
I would say less than 15 percent of all prophetic text in the Old Testament are dealing with eschatology. They're not. They're mainly dealing with the history of Israel at some point or other juncture.
Female 2: Is that the same?
Yes, maybe 10 to 15 percent. And guess which portion is most likely to give us something that's about the end of age. Apocalyptic prophecy. Ezekiel, Daniel, or Zechariah. Or, Second Isaiah; Isaiah 40 and following. That's pretty much it.
Now here's the other thing. When you get to the New Testament era Jesus is saying that all of this is being fulfilled in Him and in His movement. Now this is the crucial thing. This is the most important problem with dispensationalism other than the idea of the Rapture. Paul puts it this way.
"The promises and prophecies of God are all yea and amen in Christ Jesus."
And did you catch that? Let me say it one more time. I'm going to lay it out to you in lavender.
"The promises and prophecies of God are fulfilled in and through Christ and His people and not elsewhere."
Are you beginning to get the picture here? There are not two peoples of God at any one time in human history. There is only one people of God. Who is the people of God? Jew and Gentile, united in Christ. That's it. There are not two peoples of God right now on the earth. There is only one.
And Paul is very clear about this. He says that Jews who have rejected their messiah are temporarily broken off from the people of God. Go back and read Romans 9 through 11. He's perfectly clear about this. Where are the people of God on earth? Answer: In the New Testament there is only one answer. It's Jesus and His people. That's the only people of God.
There are not two, three or 10 peoples of God. There is only one, and therefore, the promises of Abraham, says Paul, are fulfilled through Christ and for Christ's people. The promises of Moses, and Isaac, and Jacob and David are fulfilled into Christ, and in His people and for His people. Not elsewhere.
So, should we be looking for the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem? No. We should be looking for the return of Christ. Shouldn't we be looking for a battle between Iraq and Iran and Israel? No. We shouldn't. We should be looking for the return of Christ.
Should we think that in 1947 when a secular, socialist state was set up in Israel based on the theories of David Ben-Gurion, that we have now gotten back to Biblical Israel? No.
Even the Orthodox Jews in Israel say, "Oy, vey! We are not living according to the Bible." The Knesset is not the Sanhedrin. You need to understand that Israel as it is now constituted is a modern, secular democracy. It's not Biblical Israel and even Orthodox Jews do not think it's Biblical Israel. Okay?
None of the Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled in 1947 when the secular state of Israel was set up. That's not what it's about. This is all dispensational theology. This is all dispensational interpretation. The signs of the end times. Israel has been set up. This is going to happen. This is going to happen.
You know? If the prophets were here today they'd all say, "You know, this is a surprise to me, because this is not what I had in mind."
And even more so, the writers of the New Testament would say, "This is a big surprise to me because honestly, I thought all the promises and prophecies of God were fulfilled in Christ and in His people and not somewhere apart from Christ."
It's an incredible hermeneutic that divides the promises and prophecies of God into two piles and says one is for secular, or non-Christian Israel, and the other is for the church. That's not how the Old Testament reads.
All the promises and prophecies in the Old Testament are simply for the people of God. And all the promises and prophecies in the New Testament are simply for the people of God. And that's it. There is no such division of labor between the promises for Israel and the promises for the people. It's just not there.
Even more problematic is the failure to recognize that the writers of the New Testament are unanimous. They are unanimous. All the prophecies and promises of God are fulfilled in Christ and in His people. Jew and Gentile united in Christ. Not two different peoples of God. Not through two different comings of Christ. Just one in each case.
In other words, what's going down in dispensationalism is that their authors of dispensational books do not agree with the hermeneutics of the New Testament writers. They do not agree that all these prophecies are fulfilled in Christ and in His people, which is exactly what the New Testament writers are claiming. As Paul puts it, "All of this is 'yes' and 'amen' and Jesus Christ and in His people."
I'm not going to go through all of that. I do want to look just for a couple of minutes, because I know you're tired, about a couple of Rapture texts. We need to look at these so-called Rapture texts and have a little bit of understanding of the Rapture texts just for a minute.
I've already dealt with this one. "I was in the spirit on the Lord's day and I heard and I saw."
Is this about a Rapture into Heaven? It is not. It is about a visionary experience. We could look at a parallel to that in Revelation 17 where John says "I was taken in the spirit to see something by a lake where there was this beast in the water." Revelation 17.
Again, he's not moving from the Island of Patmos. He's seeing in the spirit. This is not about a Rapture or about flying Air Ruach.
Revelation 17:3, "The angel carried me away." Not in the flesh. He carried me away in the spirit, into the desert. Not in the flesh. This is not about Holy Spirit Transportation System. It's not about that. It's about having a vision.
In other words, what's going in dispensationalism is a failure to recognize the character of Apocalyptic visions. That's the problem. Now, I'm really going to get to the coup de grace. Up to now I have been teaching, and now I'm going to start meddling. I'm working my way to a climax here.
Remember all of those "one was left and the other was taken" texts? Let's deal with them for a minute. Matthew 24. Only we're going to have to hear them with first century ears to get the point. Matthew 24:36-41. A very favorite text for dispensational theology.
"But about that day and hour no one knows. Neither the angels in Heaven nor the Son, only the Father. Whereas the days of Noah were, so will be the days of the coming of the Son of Man.
"For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, and marrying and giving in marriage until the day Noah entered the ark. And they knew nothing until the flood came, and took them all away.
"So, too, will it be like this in the coming of the Son of Man. There will be two in the field. One will be taken away and the other will be left behind."
Now, in the Noah story, who was swept away? The lost. Who was left behind? The good guys. Noah and those in the ark. Are you with me now? The left behind are going "Whew! I'm glad I missed that judgment."
The taken away are the ones taken away for judgment. This is not about a Rapture, pre-, post- or mid-tribulation. This is about judgment on those who were taken away and those who were left behind are going, "Thank God I was left behind."
This has nothing to do with the pre-tribulation Rapture. It has to do with escaping the final judgment. Praise God for those left behind.
But then, the real coup de grace comes - In other words, they've interpreted these verses exactly the opposite of what they mean. The left behind are seen as the poor slobs who are going to get zapped. Quite the opposite of that.
But the real coup de grace comes with the misinterpretation of First Thessalonians 4. We got to finish with a bang here. We're going to finish with First Thessalonians 4, so get on your jet boots. We're going up to rise up into the air and meet Jesus. Here we go. Listen closely. I'm going to start with verse 13 of chapter 4.
"But we don't want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died."
First of all, this is an attempt to offer pastoral comfort. You with me now? Pastoral comfort, to a church that's persecuted. If you read all of First and Second Thessalonians, these Christians are being persecuted. They've lost some of their loved ones. Some of them have been killed. And yet, they are still hanging in there. They are still remaining faithful.
"But we don't want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do, who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have died."
You see? It's comfort that's going on here.
"For this we declared to you by the word of God that we who are alive who are left until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those have died. For the Lord Himself, with the cry of command, with the archangels' call and the sound of God's trumpet will descend from Heaven and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up into the air and the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air."
By the way, footnote: "Air" does not equal Heaven. He's talking about in the atmosphere. This is not about a Rapture into Heaven. It's about going up to meet Him in the air. Very important.
"And so we will be with the Lord forever."
Alright. Now, let's get the picture here. And in order to get the picture, you're going to have to understand something about the way a king came to a town. So, let's see if we can get this.
The second half of Psalm 24 is an entrance liturgy, so I'm going to give you a part. You're going to help me out here. Alright?
Your line is "Who is the King of glory?" Are You with me now? I think you can handle this. [chuckling]
"Lift up your heads, o ye gates. Be lifted up ye ancient doors, so the King of glory may come in."
Audience: "Who is the King of glory?"
"The Lord, strong and mighty. The Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, o ye gates. Be lifted up ye ancient doors, so the King of glory may come in."
Audience: "Who is the King of glory?"
"The Lord. The Lord. He is the King of glory."
Now this is an entrance liturgy which talks about the process of how you welcome a king into a city. Alright? And this is the image Paul is going to use here in this passage to describe the return of the king, Christ Himself.
Here's the process. Before the king comes the herald, who has a trumpet. [imitates trumpet]
And the herald says, "Lift up your heads, o ye gates, so the great and mighty King may come in."
And there's a watchman on the wall. You played the part of the watchman on the wall. The watchman on the wall says, [musically] "Who is the King of glory? Who is the King of glory?" Okay?
That's the watchman saying stand and deliver. Tell me who you're talking about. We're talking about your king, buddy, you'd better open the door. You better let him in.
Then what happened? When the identification was clear, and everybody knew who it was, the doors of the walled city would open, and the greeting committee came out to meet the king on the road where he was. Right?
Then where did they go? Did they just hunker down on the road and say, "You know, we're enjoying meeting you out here on this dirty trail, here. Where shall we go from here? Shall we go back where you came from, or shall we welcome him into the city?"
Answer: They're all going back into the city to party down. Are you with me now? That's a royal welcome. That's how the welcome committee works. That's the entrance liturgy.
It was well known throughout the ancient Near East. It's mentioned in Psalm 24 and this is the image that Jesus uses. He says, "When Jesus returns from Heaven, there will be a trumpet blast and a cry of command."
What is the cry of command? In this case, "Wake up all you people. The king is coming to town. You need to come out and greet him."
So where do they go and greet him? They go and greet him in the air. Are you with me now? They are greeting him in the air. Then the question is, where do they go from there?
Not up into Heaven. They go back down to earth to rule with Christ on the earth. This is not about a Rapture into Heaven. It's about meeting the Lord in the air and returning to reign with him on the earth.
After all, who were the first who got to meet the Lord? Those who were raised from the dead. They get to go up first. The living go up second, and all God's children reign with Christ upon the earth, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with a pre-tribulation Rapture. Nada, zilch, zero. Nothing. [chuckling]
There isn't a single church father in the second, or third, or fourth, or fifth or six centuries who thought it did and they knew the Greek New Testament before we even knew there was a Greek New Testament.
So, I'm simply saying, this is wrong. It's w-r-o-n-g. It's not debatable. It's not a matter of opinion. It's wrong. Here at the end of the day, I feel like being a little emphatic. [chuckling] Are you getting the picture?
Male 3: Yes.
I'm glad, because I don't usually go to preaching. [chuckling] But you know? This exercises me as they would say in England. This exercises me a little bit.
And here's the problem. A text without a context is just a pretext for what you want it to mean. They don't know the context. They don't understand the epiphany of a king theology, the Parousia of a king theology. And Paul understands it.
Let me tell you right now, the Thessalonians understood it. You know why? They lived in a walled city. Guess who founded it? Alexander the Great. It's named after Alexander the Great's sister, Thessalonike.
And they knew very well about welcoming kings, say, starting with Alexander. After that they welcomed Cicero. They welcomed Mark Anthony. They knew how to do up a party for a king. And they knew perfectly well what Paul was talking about - a royal welcome for King Jesus when He comes back.
They knew he was not talking about pre-tribulation Rapture. And so should we. Now what happens if you don't have the escape clause? What happens to your theology if you suddenly learn Christians in every age of church history have had to suffer, and some have been martyred?
Why should we think that the last generation of Christians should be exempt from suffering before Jesus's return? What makes us special? Nothing, according to the Bible. We're just another generation of Christians.
So, we are not exempt from this. Indeed, dear friends, our greatest honor would be to suffer for the sake of Jesus Christ and die in His name. These persons, says the author of Revelation, are the ones who conquer, and have a special place in Heaven. And it would be our highest honor to follow in their footsteps. That's the truth.
One of the things I pray regularly when I'm in dangerous places is, "Lord if it's my time to go, let me be faithful to the last drop."
And here's where I tell you the story of Adoniram Judson and we're going to call it a day.
Adoniram Judson was a great missionary to Burma. He went there and evangelized the tribes in Burma for 19 years with not single convert. I don't know about you, but I don't think I could do it. [chuckling] What do you think, Rob? A vineyard church that had not a single attender for 19 years. Would it work? I'm thinking not.
And in the 19th year of his sojourn with people who did not understand, he was tied to a stake by one of the tribal chieftains who was sick and tired of hearing about King Jesus. They were about to have him for lunch. The tribal chieftain looked one more time into the eyes of Adoniram Judson and he said, "What do you think now of your God and your future?"
And Adoniram Judson said in words that are famous, "The future is as bright as the promises of God. Go right ahead."
And at that point, guess who blinked? It was the tribal chieftain. That was the day that the door of the gospel was opened by that tribe and Christianity came to Burma.
We embark today. It's a powerful story, but it reminds [coughing] us that when Jesus calls someone as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, "He calls us to come and die. He calls us to take up our cross and follow Him."
Don't you understand that that was in the contract from day one? In principle, you have given up your life. Brothers and sisters, I beseech you by the mercies of God to present yourselves as a living sacrifice, wholly and acceptable to God for this is your logical and spiritual worship. Think on these things and we'll see you soon. God bless.