Could Christ Come at Any Moment?
by A.J. Pollock (1864-1957)
There is one golden rule in the interpretation of Scripture, and a most helpful one it is, and that is, if a truth is rightly interpreted, every Scripture, bearing on the same truth, will always be found confirmatory, forming part of a connected and harmonious whole. On the other hand, if Scripture is wrongly interpreted, every scripture, bearing on the same truth, can only produce more and more confusion, as scriptures have to be twisted to suit an unscriptural theory, or else ignored. The surest way to expose error is by stating the truth. In that way departure from the truth will be seen to be error, and to be therefore refused.
It will be helpful to present to our readers a diagram, showing the great landmarks in the Scriptures, which present to us an orderly unfolding of the divine mind, leading up to the supreme revelation of God Himself in our Lord Jesus Christ, and the spiritual blessings He would confer on mankind. In so doing, we shall arrive at an answer to our two questions. A diagramme, as an appeal to eye-gate, is most useful, and should be carefully studied, and checked by Scripture. The Scriptures praise the believers at Berea, ” These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). We do well to emulate such a good example.
The reader will notice in the extreme left of the diagram a short line with the words, “Line of prophecy in Old Testament times”. In it we find the most momentous call of God to an individual, Abraham, involving a history, which has affected the world ever since, and which shows the beginning of God’s dealings in relation to the divine plan for the ages.
It is at this point, we begin to trace the course of events. God said to Abraham, “I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great…and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Gen 12:2-3). “The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia” (Acts 7:2). This vision found him a heathen idolater, a worshipper of “other gods” (Josh 24:2). This glorious vision altered his whole life, making him a stranger and a pilgrim in a strange land, which God promised should be his in his descendants (Gen 17:8).
In the visitation of a terrible famine, which affected the whole of the then world, and in the overruling providence of God, Joseph, a great-grandson of Abraham, was elevated to a position in the land of Egypt, only second to Pharaoh himself. He was thus in a position to settle his father, Jacob, accompanied by his sons and their families, about seventy persons in all, in the rich pasture lands of Goshen, there to be nourished and cared for under his son’s powerful protection.
In course of time Joseph died. Generations came and went, until the Egyptians were alarmed at the rapid increase of the Hebrew children, and in order to keep them in servitude, subjected them to bitter bondage. That great leader, Moses, was raised up of God to deliver His people from their cruel slavery, the lash of the taskmaster’s whip forever sounding in their ears. Under his leadership they arrived in the wilderness of Sinai on their way to Canaan, the land promised to Abraham, that it should be theirs. But alas! the backslidings of the people (witness the golden calf incident, and their clamouring to return to Egypt) were so evil, that in the government of God, they wandered for forty years in the wilderness, till all the men who had left Egypt, perished in the wilderness, save two faithful men, Caleb and Joshua (Num 22-38).
Meanwhile the inhabitants of Canaan had filled the cup of their iniquities full to the brim (Gen 15:16). In the righteous government of God these wicked and idolatrous nations were dispossessed of their own lands, and their place was taken by the children of Israel under the leadership of Joshua, and thus God’s promise to Abraham was fulfilled.
Prophets Raised up of God to Communicate His Mind
The Bible is the only book in the world that can stand up to the test of prophecies, consisting of many details, being fulfilled to the very letter hundreds of years after their pronouncement. This puts these prophecies clean outside the possibility of their being of human origin. They stamp the sacred page with the irrefutable mark of divine inspiration. Such prophecies and their fulfillments are a challenge to the modernist and the infidel. They generally say nothing about them, or else try to explain them away by making out they are the product of natural causes. Their explanations are generally fantastic, and more difficult to believe than the testimony of Scripture. It is the choice between credulity and faith.
Israel was a divinely chosen nation, the only nation so honoured. Through that nation God worked out His counsels concerning His blessed Son, and through Him the blessing of mankind. This is plainly foreshadowed in many an Old Testament prophecy, preeminently in the following most striking prophecy, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called wonderful counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the prince of peace” (Isa. 9:6). The fulfillment of this was seen in the holy babe at Bethlehem in His virgin-mother’s arms. That lowly babe was none less than the mighty God, the eternal Son in the unity of the godhead with the Father and the Holy Spirit, three in one, one in three – one God, blessed forever.
We read that our Lord was, “God manifest in the flesh” (1 Tim 3:16); “Of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen” (Rom 9:5); “Whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Mic 5:2). No mind of man could have soared to such transcendent heights. Divine revelation alone could have furnished such a divine communication.
And when we come to the inspired record of the life of lives, even that of our blessed Lord, we find these Scriptures fully confirmed. Manhood, perfect and sinless, and deity, self-sustained and eternal, were seen in one blessed person. To give one instance, manhood was seen, when the Lord, tired and weary, sought refreshment in sleep in the hinder part of a fishing craft on the sea of Galilee. A boisterous tempest arose, lashing the waters with such turbulence as to put the little craft and its passengers into imminent jeopardy. The affrighted disciples awoke their master, crying out in wild terror, “‘Lord, save us: we perish’. Then He arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm” (Matt 8:26). Here shone out most unmistakably His godhead glory – the Creator commanded and creation hastened to obey.
For What Reason Did Our Lord Embrace Manhood?
It was in divine pity and love; in His atoning death on the cross to take the guilty sinner’s place, satisfying thereby the righteous claims of a thrice-holy God, as to the whole question of sin, enabling Him to offer righteously to mankind the forgiveness of sins through faith in His name.
We know how prophecies were fulfilled to the letter in the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, His life, death, resurrection and ascension to God’s right hand, an indubitable proof of the divine inspiration of holy Scripture. This leads us to our diagram. On the left you will notice two columns, one indicating the ascension of our Lord; the other indicating the descent of the Holy Spirit of God, which took place, as we know, on the historic day of Pentecost.
Start of a New Era: the Glorious Birthday of the Church
You will remember when our Lord was on earth, He said, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt 15:24).
After His resurrection, and just before His ascension, He used vastly different language. He said to His disciples, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matt 28:19-20).
Thus was fulfilled the Old Testament prophecy, “I will also give Thee for a light to the Gentiles, that Thou mayest be My salvation unto the end of the earth” (Isa 49:6).
Pentecost, meaning fifty, is a word of Greek origin, the language from which our English Bible was translated. It answers to the new meal offering (Lev 23:15-21), which took place fifty days after the feast of the offering up of the sheaf of the firstfruits of the harvest, answering to our Lord’s resurrection.
What occurred fifty days after our Lord rose from the dead? We know that He remained on earth for forty days, appearing again and again to His disciples, demonstrating to them that He was indeed their risen Lord. Just before His ascension to glory He said to His disciples, “Behold, I send the promise of My Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).
On the tenth day of their waiting, the disciples, to the number of about one hundred and twenty, were found in an upper room in prayer and supplication, when the promise of the Father fell upon them.
We read, “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4).
In this impressive and striking way the church of God was inaugurated on this earth, composed of every saint of God – our Lord, the glorious head in heaven; believers, members of that body by the indwelling Spirit of God, thus united to their glorious Head in heaven, and to each other on earth, constituting the one body of Christ. So we read, “From whom [Christ] the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Eph. 4:16).
The symbolism of a body, its head and members, shows what a very close and intimate place the Church has in the mind of God. What can be closer to a man, than the members of his own body? This intimacy, and the love that made it possible, is touchingly described in Scripture, “Christ…loved the church, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:25-27).
How very dear must the believer be to his Lord, and how very near we may be to that blissful presentation day. No wonder that the Church has been called God’s masterpiece.
Prophecy Suspended, to Be Resumed in a Future Day
You will notice in our diagram, that the line of prophecy is suspended during the church period, and that the Old Testament prophecies were largely connected with God’s dealings with His chosen people, the Jewish nation. After the Church is raptured to glory, thus closing its earthly journey, the line of prophecy and its fulfillment will again be largely seen in connection with the Jewish nation, leading up to the appearing, when our Lord shall come to reign.
It has been often likened to a Jewish train, proceeding to station after station en route, being placed in a siding, until the express Church train shall have passed on its way to its terminus, the Father’s house on high; and then the Jewish train will be brought out of the siding, to pursue its way to its terminus, the millennium, when Christ shall bring peace and joy to this poor stricken and troubled world, arid reign over His favoured people for a thousand years, and as Son of Man over the whole world.
Alas! presumptuous and foolish men have indulged in date-setting, professing to be wiser than Scripture, turning the truth of the Lord’s coming into ridicule, only to find in every case without exception their date-setting of the rapture has been proved to be false.
Christ Coming for His Saints and With His Saints
This is a truth plainly established in Scripture. We read, “If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.” (1 Thess 4: 14).
The succeeding verses then unfold how to this end, our Lord will first come for them, “For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thess 4:16-17). The Lord coming for His saints, and then bringing them with Him, are two events which Scripture nowhere presents as following each other in quick succession without a moment’s break, as some teach. Even Scripture uses an illustration from nature to show that this cannot be. We read, “Doth not even nature itself teach you?” (1 Cor 11:14).
The writer vividly remembers rising one morning very early when on a steamer between the Shetland and Orkney Islands. The faint light was sufficient to fade out of the sky the shining of every star but one. There shone the brilliant Morning Star in its solitary beauty. Far away on the horizon the sun, hidden as yet, was beginning to shoot upwards beams of light, before it emerged into sight, turning night into day. The star shone by night. The sun ruled the day. It was impossible for both of them to shine together at the same time.
And this is just the illustration the Scriptures use. Our Lord presents Himself as “The bridge and morning star”, the hope of the Church, the coming of the Lord at the rapture. “He which testifieth these things saith, ‘Surely I come quickly Amen’.” (Rev 22:16, 20).
The Old Testament ends with the hope of God’s earthly people, the Jewish nation, looking for the Lord’s return to earth to reign. We read, “But unto you that fear My name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in His wings” (Mal 4:2).
What a wonderful prospect for this poor blood-stained, tear-soaked earth to find peace, quiet and security at last. The scepter will be in the right hands at last, even those of our blessed Lord.
Will the Rapture Be Secret, or Public?
This is a question that is often asked. The world does not believe that the Lord is coming, and treats the Christian’s hope as the dream of a disordered mind. But the coming of our Lord is bound to be secret, seeing it is to take place in a moment, and that measured by the twinkling of an eye. But its effects, the removal of the church of God from the earth, manifestly cannot be secret. A vast number of believers in all parts of the world, and in all positions of life, could not simultaneously and suddenly be removed from the earth to heaven without it causing amazement and frightened consternation.
Doubtless it will be a relief to the world when suddenly the kill-joys have disappeared. There will be none to oppose the course of unrighteousness. The wheels of modernism will no longer be checked by the brake of fundamentalism. Apostasy will be hailed as the greatest triumph of man’s progress.
The effect on the world of the removal of the two witnesses, as narrated in Revelation 11:3-12, will doubtless have its counterpart when the church is raptured to glory. When the bodies of the witnesses in a future day shall lie in the street of Jerusalem as prophesied, the sight will be gloated over by their enemies. We read what the effect will be, “And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth” (Rev 2:10).
Doubtless the sudden and mysterious disappearance of the saints at the rapture will be a nine days’ wonder, and produce a similar result, and then shall sweep in “the strong delusion” as prophesied in 2 Thess 2:11-12.
As to the sounds that accompany the rapture – the Lord’s shout, the voice of the archangel, the trump of God – does not Scripture bear out the thought that they may be secret, so far as anything intelligible to the world is concerned? For instance, Paul, narrating his conversion, says, “And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of Him that spake to me” (Acts 22:9).
Evidently they heard a sound, but it conveyed nothing intelligible to them. Our Lord prayed in the presence of others, “Father, glorify Thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again. The people therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said, ‘An angel spake to Him’.” (John 12:28-29). Evidently the voice, intelligible to our Lord, conveyed no information to the bystanders. Indeed some imagined what they heard was merely a peal of thunder.
In 1 Cor 15:51-54 and 1 Thess 4:13-18, the sounds are not said to affect more than the sleeping saints and the living saints. Nothing is said about the world hearing the sounds. The Lord’s shout is a signal. To whom? Not to the world. It is like the word of command of the captain to his company, that is meant for them alone, and not for bystanders.
Will All Saints Be Caught up at the Rapture?
This is a question much disputed, but Scripture furnishes us with a clear and definite answer. We read, “Behold, I show you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump” (1 Cor 15:51-52).
How students of Scripture can go astray on this point passes comprehension, for we read, “all” are to be changed, and that in a moment, and that measured by the twinkling of an eye. All surely means all, or else language has no meaning. When the Lord comes, not the feeblest saint of God will be left behind. In the same chapter we read a confirmatory Scripture, “Every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming” (1 Cor 15:23).
Here no difference is made between saint and saint. The emphasis is laid on the expression, “They that are Christ’s”. Surely that covers all saints, whether Old or New Testament saints. Of Old Testament saints we have this testimony, “These all died in faith” (Heb 2:13). Of Abraham, the father of the faithful, we read, “He believed in the LORD [Jehovah]; and He counted it to Him for righteousness” (Gen 15:6).
How confirmatory it is, when we read of the saints in the assembly at Corinth, who were anything but spiritual, and yet it is in the epistle addressed to them, that they received the testimony to the Lord’s return, and that all, not some selected ones, but all, will be caught up. The apostle Paul wrote severely to them, rebuking divisions among them. He asked them the question, “Are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” (1 Cor 3:3). He accuses them of allowing most serious sin in their midst to go unchallenged (1 Cor 5:1-13). If there were difference between saint and saint in regard to the rapture, here was the very place to state it, but no distinction was made.
It was not that this unhappy condition of things in the assembly at Corinth was not a matter of grave concern to the Apostle Paul. Witness the warnings he gave, the solemn rebukes he administered to them. Moreover God’s judgment on their condition was seen, in that His governmental hand lay heavy on the assembly. We read, “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world” (1 Cor 11:30-32).
The evil conduct which marked the many in that assembly, was of such a serious character as rendered them unfit to remain on earth to continue a testimony, so dishonouring to the name of their Lord. Many were laid aside on beds of sickness, and many, failing to judge themselves, were removed to heaven by the governmental hand of a faithful and loving God. Their conduct rendered them unfit to remain on earth, whilst the atoning sufferings of our Lord on the cross of shame alone made them fit to be in heaven, in that place of unsullied holiness.
They were not to be condemned with the world, but to learn in a deeper sense that the precious blood of their Lord had cleansed them from all sin (1 John 1:7). We know no more striking passage in Scripture where the grace of God and the government of God are blended together to exhibit the triumph of God’s grace, in that He could take a sinning saint righteously to heaven, and nowhere else. The contemplation of this scripture fills one with amazement that God can do this, and yet uphold His righteousness in doing so to the full. Needless to say that every saint who enters heaven is perfectly suited to that holy place, all that is unsuitable will be left behind. Indeed there is no other way for any one of us to enter that holy place, even the most saintly and consistent child of God. We go there entirely on the ground of imputed righteousness. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph 2:8-9). Did not our Lord Himself say, “I am the way…no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me” (John 14:6).
And this brings us to the point where we are in the position of giving from Scripture a definite answer to the first question of the title of this article; “May Christ come at any moment?”
May Christ Come at Any Moment?
We have had the advantage of a bird’s-eye view of the Old Testament’s presentation of an ordered plan, beginning with the call of Abraham up to the revelation of God Himself in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have pondered over the record of our Lord’s atoning death, resurrection and ascension to God’s right hand, leading to the descent of the Holy Spirit of God on the Day of Pentecost, and the formation of the Church of God upon earth, and the subsequent going forth of the gospel of the grace of God to the Gentiles. Finally we have the revelation of the mystery of the Lord’s coming for His saints (1 Cor 15:51-57).
God has set no time limit to the period of the church’s sojourn on earth, nor is there any fixing of a date for the rapture. Moreover we have arrived at the last days, the perilous times, that should come (2 Tim 3:1-5), and there is no Bible prophecy waiting to be fulfilled before the rapture can take place. There is nothing to prevent our Lord coming at any moment. He Himself said, “Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown” (Rev 3:11). “Behold I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book” (Rev 22:7). “Behold, I come quickly; and My reward is with Me, to give every man according as his work shall be.” (Rev 22:12). “He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen.” (Rev 22:20). Notice how the word “quickly” occurs again and again.
That the Lord may come at any moment has for long, and rightly, been the cherished hope of multitudes of the Lord’s people. Surely our Lord’s strong emphasis is on the word quickly, repeated no less than four times in the last book of the Bible, which proclaims the fact that the Lord may come at any moment. How glad is our response, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus”. That blissful moment draws nearer and nearer every day, blessed be His holy name. The practical result of this living hope is that, “Every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure” (1 John 3:3).
Will the Church of God Go Through the Great Tribulation?
The tribulationist school of doctrine takes up the position that not till the judgments of God have swept over this poor world, not till the seven seals, the seven trumpets, and the seven vials have run their course, will the rapture and the appearing take place, and that together without a break as to time, ending in the coming of the Lord to reign over His earthly people, the Jewish nation, and over the whole world as Son of Man.
A tribulationist writer says, “We search in vain for one single text telling us, either expressed or implied, that the church will be taken away prior to the Great Tribulation.” We are happy to present to this writer two scriptures that most clearly state that it will – that the saints will be raptured to glory, before the Great Tribulation bursts upon a godless world. For this statement we present the most positive and unequivocal proofs from Scripture.
We read in the address to the assembly at Philadelphia, “Because thou hast kept the word of My patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown” (Rev 3:10-11).
The expression, “The hour of temptation” covers the whole period of God’s governmental judgments, as recorded in the book of Revelation (chapters 5 to 19 inclusive), necessarily including the time of the Great Tribulation. Particular attention should be paid to the word hour in this Scripture. It is a word vital to its right understanding. Hour is a measure of time. Will there ever be a time on earth, when we shall not need to consult our clocks and watches? How then can we be kept from the hour of temptation, which will leave no part of the world exempt? Mark well, not kept through, but kept from the hour of temptation. There is only one possible answer. Out of time there is nothing but eternity, which is timeless; so to be kept from the hour, the church of God must be taken out of time and placed in eternity. There is no other way. This is what the Scripture plainly asserts, and which will assuredly take place at the rapture, and that clearly prior to the time of the Great Tribulation.
The well-known teacher, the late F. W. Grant (Numerical Bible, Vol. 5, p. 358), gives the true meaning of the passage. He writes, “Notice not merely out of temptation, but out of the hour of it. To be kept out of the hour is a vital promise of being taken to be with the Lord, and thus it follows here, ‘Behold I come quickly’. ‘Quickly’ is the word now. Things are hastening on to the final catastrophe, and the Lord is about to take His people to Himself, and this intensifies the urgency of the appeal, ‘Hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown’.” (Rev 3:11).
What we have said is amply supported by another Scripture. We read, “Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you: and to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess 1:6-8).
This Scripture does not refer to the rapture of the saints, but to the appearing of our Lord to put down all opposition, and set up His worldwide dominion. This clearly points to the time, when the Great Tribulation will burst forth upon an unbelieving world, “to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you” (2 Thess 1:6).
It is like the tender compassion of our Lord, that He would assure the saints, who were enduring persecution from the hands of the world, that their portion will not be to pass through this time of sore trial, but to rest in His own blessed presence. This will be the fulfillment of the Scripture which says, “In My Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself, that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:2-3).
It was just because the church had been subjected to bitter persecution for Christ’s sake, that judgment will fall in righteous retribution, reminding us of the words, “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto Me from the ground” (Ge. 4:10).
The church of God has endured many and grievous persecutions. Did not the apostle Peter write of “the fiery trial” in his day (1 Pet 4:12)? Did not the Coliseum at Rome ring with the cry from tens of thousands of voices, “Throw the Christians to the lions”, starved, as they were, to make them ravenous and bloodthirsty? Did not the Emperor Nero, that monster of iniquity, order living Christians to be wrapped in waxed cerements to be burned as human torches to light up the public pleasure gardens at night? And what a harrowing tale can be told of literally hundreds of thousands of the victims of the Inquisition – their limbs torn from their sockets and broken under the cruel torture of the rack – its victims mysteriously disappearing, never to be seen on earth again.
And if the Church were left to endure the horrors of the Great Tribulation, surely there would be found in Scripture instructions how the saints of God should comfort themselves in such an evil case. But what do we find? Not a single line of comfort or instruction is to be found. Why this striking silence? Obviously because the Church will not be on earth to need comfort, or instruction, and will not be called upon to go through the hours of the Great Tribulation..
It will help to clear our thoughts, if we contrast the persecution the Church has suffered, and is suffering, and the tribulation the godless world will be called upon to endure in a future day.
Now, the persecution the Church passes through comes from the bottomless pit, as energized by Satan.
Then, tribulation comes from heaven, from GOD.
Now, persecution comes because of faithful witness to the Christian testimony.
Then, tribulation will come because of rejection of God, of Christ, of Christianity (Psa 2: 1-3).
Now, persecution is upon Christians.
Then, tribulation will be upon the world.
Now, believers can glory in persecution (Rom 5:3), and need not be ashamed.
Then, tribulation will be retributive and penal, men will seek for death, and be unable to find it (Rev 9:6).
Tribulationists’ Line of Argument
They argue that Peter was warned of his approaching martyrdom, and therefore could not expect the Lord at any moment. Another writes, “There is not a word as to our Lord’s return at any moment in 2 Tim 4:6, where the apostle Paul alludes to his approaching martyrdom.”
The apostle Paul makes it abundantly plain that Scripture contemplates that 1. saints may have died and 2. saints may be alive at the moment of the rapture. One could scarcely imagine that the church of God should be brought into existence on the day of Pentecost only to finish its course in its very infancy. Peter and Paul died very early on in the history of the church, and both were divinely told that their end would be martyrdom.
An illustration may help. Suppose a husband left his home on a business trip to a far-distant land. He informs his wife that it might take some time to settle his business, or it might be settled quickly, but in any case he will return by the first available steamer. True at the first, she could not expect her husband at any moment. The first two or three weeks she could safely say, “I am not expecting my husband for some weeks”, but given time for her husband’s outward steamer, a time in which to settle his business, and a few days for the homeward trip, she could then say, “I expect my husband’s return at any moment”, and as day succeeded day her expectation would deepen.
The apostle Paul, writing to the assembly at Thessalonica, concerning the coming of the Lord, says twice over, “We which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord”; and again, “We which are alive and remain shall be caught up” (1 Thess 4:15 and 17), evidently viewing that as a possibility. Yet in another Scripture he writes, “In the last days perilous times shall come” (2 Tim 3:1).
Moreover we are now in the last days, and we may expect the Lord at any moment. I can quite understand an aged Christian, for long an ardent believer that the Lord may come at any moment, on his dying bed making arrangements for the making of his will, and the carrying out of his own funeral, and yet to his very last breath exclaiming, “Come, Lord Jesus”. There is nothing inconsistent in this, and it is happening again and again.
What Did the Apostle John See in Vision in Heaven?
He was bidden by a voice from heaven, saying, “Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be hereafter. And immediately I was in the Spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and One sat on the throne…And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold” (Rev 4:1, 2, 4).
Since the saints will not be on earth at the time of the Great Tribulation, where were they? We would naturally expect them to be in heaven, and that is just where John saw them in vision, under the symbolism of four and twenty elders.
But, say the tribulationists, the four and twenty elders cannot set forth the church, for how could they wear crowns before the Lord should have His crown, as King of the Jews, and as the Son of Man over the whole earth? The answer is very simple. There are two words for crown in the Greek language. First, diadema, which signifies the kingly crown, from which we get our English word, diadem. Second, stephanos, signifying the reward or prize awarded to the successful athlete in the Olympic Games, made of leaves of wild thyme, laurel, ivy or parsley. This latter had nothing remotely to do with reigning as a king.
The apostle Paul could write, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown [stephanos] of righteousness” (2 Tim 4:7-8).
James, a servant of God, and of the Lord Jesus Christ, could write, “Blessed is he that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown [stephanos] of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him” (Jas 1:12).
The Apostle Peter could write, “Feed the flock of Christ which is among you…neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown [stephanos] of glory that fadeth not away” (1 Pet 5:2-4).
This last Scripture evidently is a contrast between the wreathen crowns placed upon the heads of the successful runners in the Olympic games, which would soon wither, and the crown (stephanos) of glory, which will never fade, thank God.
On the other hand we read of our Lord, “His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns [diadema]” (Rev 19:12), for will He not be King of kings, and Lord of lords, supreme above all? He alone has title to wear these many diadems, and how infinitely worthy He is of them all.
Who Are the Four and Twenty Elders?
If you will turn to Rev 5:8-10, you will find the answer. When the Lord, as the slain Lamb, took the book with the seven seals, preparatory to breaking them, and releasing their judgments upon the earth, we read, “When He had taken the book, the four beasts, and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials, full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. And they sung a new song, saying, ‘Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us unto our God kings and priests; and we shall reign on the earth’.”
Here the saints are “kings [basileus] and priests”, who will reign in a future day, when associated with our Lord in His reign.
Angels cannot sing the glad song of redemption. Sinners saved by grace are alone entitled to take such language upon their lips, and the church is composed of sinners saved by grace, so we have the four and twenty elders telling us themselves who they are. Such testimony cannot be gainsaid.
And yet in face of all this a tribulation writer has the audacity to tell us, “There is absolutely no evidence, that these twenty-four elders are human beings at all, or have any connection with the redeemed.” There are none so blind, as those, who are willingly ignorant. It is simply childishness to ask us to believe a statement so far removed from the plain teaching of Scripture.
Quite recently there appeared in a well-known religious magazine a letter from a correspondent, saying after 28 years’ study of prophecy he would furnish a “personal testimony for believing that the church of God will be given the honour of witnessing right through the Great Tribulation”. We will only examine No. 5 of his nine reasons. These are his words, bold type and capitals as they appear in his letter: ”
(5) Resurrection, NOT rapture, is the first great event after the Lord Jesus rises up from God’s right hand (1 Thess 4:16, last clause).
We turn to 1 Thess 4:16, the last clause, to ascertain what is the Scripture he relies on for his bold statement. We read, “The dead in Christ shall rise first,” and there he stopped.
This tribulationist would have been saved from making a most egregious blunder, if he had only read on, and noticed the context of the Scripture which he quoted. We read, “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them (the raised saints) in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thess 4:16). Here it is plainly resurrection and rapture, in spite of his saying “resurrection not rapture.” How much is his 28 years’ study of prophecy worth, when he can make such a blunder on such a serious matter.
Why Are There Four And Twenty Elders?
It is interesting to see in the Old Testament how this unusual number was seen in the Jewish priestly service, setting forth the whole range of Tabernacle and Temple ritual worship (1 Chron 24:7-19). Twelve, however, is the number that characterises both Jewish and Christian economies. As a number it signifies administration.
There were twelve tribes in Israel. Twelve was the symbolic number of the stones, that shone in the breastplate of the High Priest, representing before God the whole nation. Twelve was the number of the loaves on the Table of Showbread, signifying how God would sustain His people.
The number twelve is just as prominent in the New Testament. Twelve was the number of the apostles of the Lamb. In the vision that John saw, “that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God” (Rev 21:10), he tells us of its cubic measurement. Its length, breadth and height was 12,000 furlongs, that is one thousand times twelve. It had twelve foundations, with which the twelve apostles were identified. It was garnished with twelve manners of precious stones. Twelve pearls were its gates. The wall was 144 cubits high, the square of twelve.
Everything points to the twenty-four elders, representing the dead saints raised, and the living saints changed, all caught up together at the rapture – twelve representing the Old Testament saints, and twelve the New Testament saints. How happily this is brought out in 1 Corinthians 15: 23, where we read, “Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming.”
Surely, “they that are Christ’s” includes Old and New Testament saints alike – all who have found pardon and peace and shelter by faith, and by Christ’s most precious blood.
The Line of Prophecy Resumed
If you will refer to the diagram, you will find that the line of prophecy is resumed between the circle, marked Pentecost, and the circle, marked Millennium. The Church will close its earthly journey, when the rapture takes place, and it will be removed to heaven. The Millennium is still more in the future and will be ushered in at the appearing, when our Lord shall come to earth with His heavenly saints and set up His kingdom over the Jews, His ancient people. This is indicated by the two upward lines, indicating the rapture and the appearing.
It is just at this point tribulationists go far wrong. They teach that the rapture and the appearing will happen together without any time break. One tribulation writer says, “Christ comes FOR His saints, and WITH them at the same crisis.” The idea of a non-stop rush for the Church to be raptured to heaven, and without a pause to be rushed back to earth, and all happening in the twinkling of an eye, sounds utterly unlike the reasonableness and sanity of Holy Scripture. This we certainly proved to be untrue in our examination of Rev 3:10-11, and the confirmatory scripture, 2 Thess 1:6-8. These Scriptures plainly declare, that the church of God will not go through the Great Tribulation period.
In the short period between the rapture and the appearing, Scripture prophecies give us the revival of the Roman Empire; the emergence of Antichrist, as the wilful king of Israel (Dan 2:36-39); leading up to the decisive battle of Armageddon, and the advent of Christ to reign.
The Prophet Daniel’s Seventy Weeks
The prophet Daniel announced his famous prophecy of seventy weeks. Between the building of the wall at Jerusalem (Neh 2:1), and the crucifixion of our Lord, sixty-nine weeks were to elapse, counting each day as a year, amounting to four hundred and eighty-three years. This has been fulfilled to the letter. Our Lord was “cut off, but not for Himself” (Dan 9:26), for He died an atoning death. Then we find the people of the Prince, that is to come (that is, the head of the revived Roman Empire, who is yet future) would destroy the city and the sanctuary, that is, Jerusalem and the Temple, and this took place in A.D. 70, when Titus, the Roman general, at the head of a huge army, fulfilled unwittingly this prophecy (Dan 9:26).
There remains yet to be fulfilled Daniel’s seventieth week. We find it in the interval between the rapture and the appearing. It is prophesied that the head of the revived Roman Empire will make a covenant with the Jews in the land of Israel for one week, that is for seven years. All will go smoothly for the first half of the week, when the great act of sacrilege will take place, referred to by our Lord, “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand):…for then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matt 24:15, 21).
Thus will burst forth the Great Tribulation in the middle of the broken covenant week, that is, it will last for three-and-a-half years, completing Daniel’s prophecy of seventy weeks.
It is worthy of special note, that not till Israel became a recognised republic with sovereign rights was it possible for the Jews to make a covenant or treaty. We see how things are gradually preparing for the last days.
The Revived Roman Empire
Revelation 13 tells us of the Roman Empire, the fourth and proudest of the four world-empires, under the symbolism of a beast having seven heads and ten horns, and that Satan will give him his power and great authority. History records how this proud Empire was broken up about A.D. 476. The Huns and Goths crossed the Alps with their armies, descended into the plains of Lombardy, marched on Rome, and captured that great capital of the Roman Empire. From that hour the Roman Empire ceased to exist.
The Apostle John writes, “And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death: and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast” (Rev 13:3).
There are signs in Europe today that look like the beginning of the healing process. Fear is driving the nations to band themselves as the United Nations of Europe. Russia’s boundless resources of materials and man-power, with the knowledge of her possession of atomic weapons of war, makes the nations of Europe feel, that if they don’t hang together, they will hang separately. Fear, sickening fear, is the only cement to bind these defensive nations together.
Who can fail to see signs of a revived Roman Empire? When it arrives we are told they will worship Satan, and the beast, the head of the revived Roman Empire. Power is given to this head for 42 months, that is, for three-and-a-half years, and he will make war on the saints, God’s earthly people, in those terrible times.
Revelation 13 goes on to tell us of another beast, who will rise up. He is called the false prophet and the Antichrist, the willful king of Daniel 2:36-39. He will be friendly with the head of the revived Roman Empire, and make this covenant with him. He will cause an image to be made of the head of the revived Roman Empire, and decree his worship, as well as claiming worship for himself. We read of him, that he “Opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the Temple of God, showing himself that he is God…” (2 Thess 2:4). The refusal to worship these apostate men will mean death.
We have come to the point when the doom of these guilty men is not far off. The dragon, Satan, the beast, the head of the revived Roman Empire, and the false prophet, a Jew in power in Israel, make a formidable trinity of evil. We are told, “They are the spirit of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty…And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue, Armageddon” (Rev 16:14, 16).
At this juncture Scripture tells us the Lord will intervene in person, in symbolic language riding on a white horse, the armies of heaven likewise riding on white horses. Here is described the result of the great battle of Armageddon. We read, “And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him that sat on the horse and against His army. And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone” (Rev 19:19-20).
Without going into many details, let us consider for a moment the course of the three series of judgments, we read of in the book of Revelation, the seven seals, the seven trumpets, the seven vials, which lead to the same point, the battle of Armageddon. These three series run their course between the rapture, which closes the Church’s history on earth, and the appearing, beginning our Lord’s reign upon the earth, the Millennium.
The seven seals seem to be more a visitation of men reaping what they sow, following the course of sanguinary war in which none is a gainer, though they are distinctly set forth as the beginning of the end, God using them to the fulfillment of His own will in preparing the earth for Christ’s reign.
Then we come to the seven trumpets. Angels use the trumpets, with their loud call, commanding attention. These trumpets indicate a visitation of a more intense nature, than that of the judgments of the seals, as if man unrepenting, must have some sorer visitation from heaven. These seven trumpets are divided into four and three, the three described as “woes”, evidently still more intense. The seventh trumpet, the third woe, brings us up to the end when the world-kingdoms of the Lord and His Christ will have come. Lightnings and voices, and thunderings and an earthquake and great hail occur. The last woe will descend on a quivering earth, and out of its utmost travail will emerge the blessed rest and peace, that comes when our Lord shall reign on the earth in righteousness.
Then we come to the seven vials, which angels will pour forth. They run increasingly parallel with the seven trumpets, until when we come to the seventh vial, we find it is co-incident with the seventh trumpet, like a double clap of thunder. The seventh trumpet is said to bring us to the point when our Lord shall enter upon His earthly kingdom, and the seventh vial brings us to the same point, so they must both take place together at the end of the judgments. This brings us in our diagram to the circle marked the golden age of peace and righteousness.
The Golden Age of Peace and Righteousness
The one bright spot to be seen in the judgments is, that God by them will not only punish the nations for their sins, but will have in His mind the bringing of His earthly people, the Jewish nation, to repentance, and their entering into all the blessings promised to Abraham, for we read, “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (Rom 1:29).
That means whenever God calls, or gives gifts, He will never change His mind. His promises are without repentance on His part. How certain then are His promises!
So we read of the happy results on the Jewish nation of all the purifying judgments, they will be called upon to pass through in God’s governmental chastisement. We read with gladness of the mighty change that is to come upon God’s earthly people, “I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for Him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn…In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and uncleanness” (Zech 12:10 and 13:1).
What a glorious day that will be! In that day, “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isa 2:4).
In that wonderful day, “They shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer 31:34).
What a day of peace for all creation in that day! “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” (Isa 2:9). “And the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick: the people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity” (Isa 33:24). Repentant Israel with joy shall reach the glorious terminus, that God promised to Abraham, and through him to all His chosen people.
The government shall be in the right hands at last. “Behold the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In His days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is His name whereby He shall be called, the LORD our righteousness” (Jer 23:5-6).
What a glorious time that will be! Even Satan, the great instigator of sin and rebellion against God in the world, will have been shut up and confined in the bottomless pit for a thousand years (Rev 20:1-3). Even with the absence of Satan’s sinister influence from the millennial earth, things will not be perfect. God tested man. in grace when He first came to this earth, and they crucified Him and cast Him out. There will be a second testing when our Lord shall come to earth to reign in majesty and power and glory. Still it will be a testing of man. Scripture tells us of that time, “There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that bath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed” (Isa 65:20).
Evil will be summarily dealt with. It will not be, that all the nations will desire to serve the Lord reigning over them, for we read, “As soon as they hear of Me, they shall obey Me: the strangers shall submit themselves unto Me” (Psa 18:44). This refers to the millennium age, for the preceding verse speaks of the Lord as “head of the heathen”. But the margin in our Bibles throws a fuller light of the passage. The margin reads, they shall “Yield feigned obedience, Hebrew: lie”.
Moreover there will be a rapid increase in the population in that time, and not all the increase will be loyal to the Lord. Whilst multitudes will rejoice in the reign of their Messiah, there will be hidden rebellion in the hearts of many. Such is man, whether tested in grace, or in government.
The thousand years’ reign of our Lord upon earth will come to a close. Once His strong hand is removed, the test for man will come for the last time. What will be the response?
You will notice on the diagram a short period is marked between the end of the millennial age and the beginning of eternity, when time shall be no more. Alas! we read of man’s rising in revolt, the greatest in all his sad history. We read, “And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. And the devil that deceived them was cast into a lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev 20:7-10).
Thus graphically we read of Satan’s last and greatest revolt, and how it will be utterly and forever crushed, never to rise again.
John continues his vision of the last days of this earth. We read, “And I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it: and death and hell (literally, Hades) were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:11-15).
With the passing away of heaven and earth, time will have ceased to be, and the judgment of the dead will take place on the very threshold of eternity.
Then at last there rises before us the blissful vision of a new heaven and a new earth, new Jerusalem, likened to a holy city, coming down as a bride adorned for her husband. It is reserved for the eternal state to announce the Church as the bride of Christ, using a simile setting forth the closest deepest affection, that we know on earth. Never shall we be allowed to forget how we are indebted for this favoured place of nearness to our beloved Lord, when the Church is described as the Lamb’s wife. We shall ever be reminded at what a cost our Lord secured His ransomed bride, even to the shedding of His precious atoning blood.
The Tabernacle of God will be with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and He will be their God. All tears will have been wiped away. Death shall never intrude on heaven’s bliss. Sorrow and pain will be unknown. The former things will have passed away, and the One who sits on the throne will announce, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev 21:5), never to grow old, but retaining their first freshness forever and ever.
There in effulgence bright,
Saviour and Guide with Thee;
I’ll walk, and in Thy heavenly light
Whiter my robe shall be.
God and the Lamb shall there
The light and temple be,
And radiant hosts forever share
The unveiled mystery.