Episode 11: End Times, Part 1- The Rapture & Tribulation

Peace to Live By Episode 11: End Times, Part 1- The Rapture and Tribulation - Daniel Litton
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[Transcripts may not match broadcasted sermon word for word, and may contain extra material that was cut from the broadcast due to time constraints]

       A number of you likely have been to a sporting event of which there was a weather delay that occurred during the gameplay. Perhaps at the soccer game or football game you were at, there was a lightning flash and a referee suspended play for a while. The lightning, in this case, was the cause of the delay. Well, I want you to understand that just like the lightning strike suspended gameplay, so the Nation of Israel 's rejection of the Lord Jesus Christ led to a suspension in God's program with the Israelites for the time being. That is, God suspended his program with the Nation of Israel for awhile, and is now focusing on saving people from the whole world. Right now in human history, we are in the Church Age. But, just as weather usually ultimately clears at a game, so God will again shift his focus again to the Nation of Israel. God will establish his kingdom here on the earth, as he originally promised in the Old Testament and reiterates in the New. God always does what he says he's going to do.

       But before that kingdom is established, God will display his wrath to all mankind living on the earth at the end of time as we currently know it. Before his wrath is displayed, though, God has promised that he will take up all Christians from the earth, sparing them of his wrath, as Christians are never destined for God's wrath. This event is the start, the beginning, of the end of the world as we know it now. And this event has become known as The Rapture of the Church. Today, I want to discuss this Rapture so we can have a better understanding of it, and look forward to our being gathered together with Jesus, escaping death. Alongside this, I also want us to discover the time of The Great Tribulation, also known as The Times of Jacob’s Troubles. This time will be a time of great distress on the earth and its inhabitants, and I think it is important for us to consider.

       So, first, let's discuss the Rapture. You may have seen a movie or two which illustrates the Rapture on film. Often times the people raptured just disappear, no matter what they are doing, whether they are at home, work, in traffic, and the cars are sitting in the roadway empty. Actually, this may indeed be an accurate picture of what the Rapture will look like, though, God is able to take everyone orderly if he wants to. There doesn't have to be chaos if God doesn't allow there to be. When talking about how people will be raptured, often a passage of Scripture from Matthew 24 is brought up where it talks about one person being taken and another left. It says, “Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:40-42, ESV). But these verses are not talking about the Rapture, but rather the Second Coming of Jesus after the Tribulation period. Jesus didn't talk about the Rapture during his earthly ministry as he focused on end times events from a Jewish perspective. The Rapture, while it will include Jewish people, is mainly focused on the Gentiles, since it occurs at the end of the church age, which is also called the Times of the Gentiles. The Rapture was a mystery that was revealed to the Apostle Paul after Jesus went back to heaven.

       I want to look at the first of two foundational passages from the Bible that talk about the Rapture. The first is found in 1 Corinthians 15. Turn with me there in your Bible, or tap in your Bible app. Here, the Apostle Paul is sharing a special revelation to the Corinthians that has been made know to him. The passage reads as follows:

“I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell 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 trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” (1 Corinthians 15:50-54, ESV)

God, in his great love for the church, desires to save Christians right before the end times from the great troubles of the Tribulation that are to come. He does this in his gracious mercy. When this Rapture occurs here on the earth, believers who are alive will be given new resurrected bodies, those that have been promised to us in other areas of Scripture as well. It is necessary for us to get these new bodies because the bodies we have now are failing because of sin. So, we are brought together with Christ at this resurrection.

       But really to understand this Rapture in a little further detail, it is good for us to consider a passage found in 1 Thessalonians 4. Turn or tap there please, if you would. Here, Paul is again discussing the details of the Rapture. The Scripture reads:

“For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18, ESV)

Here, Paul adds some valuable details to the Rapture. First, we learn there will be a cry from heaven, which involves a command. This will be from an archangel and will be accompanied by God’s trumpet sounding. We can note from this passage that the dead in Christ are the people who will rise first and receive their new, resurrected bodies. These are the people who have died after Christ’s resurrection, in the past 2,000 years. Since the Rapture is a ‘church’ event, these are the people of the Church Age. God will gather up all the remains of every Christian during this period. Now, he has the ability to gather these remains, even if they are dust, or decomposed in the oceans, or transformed into other particulars. God has the ability from the particles that exist now to gather people’s remains and give them new bodies. This is something we cannot truly understand.

       The people who experience the flight of the Rapture actually escape dying, like Ezekiel did in the Old Testament. That sounds pretty good to me (not that death is to be feared, but it would nice not to have to go through it). The believers who go up into the sky will also be transformed, being given new resurrected bodies, as I already stated. What will these new bodies look like? Well, we really don’t know, but they will be perfect, free from sin, deformity, and disease. Some theologians have suggested that we will all be the same age, like say thirty-three, the same age when Jesus died and rose again. But that's mere speculation. Jesus did say in Matthew 22:30 and Mark 12:25 that we would someday be like the angels in heaven, and they are at times referred to in the New Testament as young.

       Now that we see that the Rapture exists within Scripture, at what time should we say that it will take place? I think it is best to say that the Rapture will occur before the revealing of the antichrist on the earth, who is the one world leader, leading the one world government. So, the Rapture occurs before the seven year Tribulation, and not within the Tribulation period or at the end of this period. We know this because Christians are not designated for God’s wrath. Consider what Revelation 16:1 states: “Then I heard a loud voice from the temple telling the seven angels, “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.” (Revelation 16:1, ESV). So, this verse states that the seven bowls during the Tribulation period are “of the wrath of God.” Paul also states in Ephesians 2, that we, as Christians, in the past “were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ―“ (Ephesians 2:3ex-5ex, ESV).

       But with all these people leaving the earth to go and be with the Lord Jesus Christ, wont the people of the earth then wonder where these people have gone? This is an interesting thing to think about. I would say, though, that not a lot of people will probably be leaving. So, the gap shouldn't be as noticeable as one might assume. I don’t think it is possible to get a number of people from the whole world of who will be leaving. If we look at the United States, and the Rapture were to occur now, I think we would be surprised at how few people would be exiting. Jesus stated in Matthew 7:13-14: ““Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (ESV). Therefore, Jesus noted that only a “few” people would be saved (that is, accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior). Consider also the following lengthy passage:

“He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” (Luke 13:22-30, ESV)

       However, the number of people to be raptured really doesn’t matter when discussing what the people will think, who are left on the earth, about the missing. God says in 2 Thessalonians that after the Rapture, when the antichrist is here on the earth, that those who knew the truth before the end times started will in fact have no hope of ever being saved. It is noted by Paul, “Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2:11-12, ESV). So, the people who are left who knew about the Rapture beforehand won’t see the truth behind what actually happened. They will accept the antichrist and receive his mark, and be condemned forever. Besides, Jesus asked the following question about when he comes back to the earth at the Second Coming: “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8ex, ESV). So, many people during the Tribulation aren’t going to have faith anyway to figure out the truth behind the Rapture.

       Now I want to shift gears here and focus on the Tribulation period, which starts after the Rapture of the Church. The Tribulation period is the period of time on the earth after the Rapture to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. This period is seven years long (see Daniel 9). The first three and a half years will likely be peaceful here on the earth, with the antichrist and false prophet giving people a false sense of peace. But then, things will turn to sudden despair for the last three and a half years. The world, the earth as we know it, will face its most daunting troubles since it ever existed. This event will encompass the entirety of the earth, not just part of it, just like the Flood of Noah. People will try to escape the ferocity of the wrath of God, but they will not be able to, again just like during Noah’s flood (see Matthew 24:15-28).

       I want to start in our journey through this Tribulation period by looking at a verse from the Book of Daniel. In the ninth chapter of Daniel, the prophet Daniel is being told by the angel Gabriel about the future of the Nation of Israel. Gabriel talks about the immediate future for Israel up into the time of Christ’s death and resurrection, and then talks about the destruction of Jerusalem that occurred in 70 A.D. The final period of time he talks about is the last seven years of the current system of the earth, as we know it today. Daniel chapter 9, verse 27, states, “And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator”” (Daniel 9:27, ESV). Now, weeks in this passage represent years as many theologians agree. So Gabriel points out that the antichrist, the leader of the one world government, will establish a peace treaty for the Israelites. The Jewish people will have their land back, the Temple mount, and will again setup the system of sacrifices for sins from the Old Testament. The Jewish people will think they have peace and protection from the antichrist’s treaty. But halfway through the seven years, the antichrist will march into the temple of God that the Jews have rebuilt and declare himself as God, bypassing God altogether, just like Satan did when he fell. The antichrist will become a traitor, setting himself against the Jewish people. He will start persecuting them instead, declaring himself to in fact be God.

       The Apostle Paul discusses some of things related to the time in the Tribulation period when things go bad here on the earth. He says in 1 Thessalonians 5:

“Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers and sisters, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-5, ESV)

This shows the sudden intensity that is sure to come from the wrath of God. Paul compares the Tribulation to coming on like that of the pains of a pregnant woman. But he encourages the church that this time is not something they need to be concerned about. He also says a few verses later, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:9-11, ESV).

       One foundational passage to cite in understanding this time of trouble, the last three and a half years, is from the words of the Lord Jesus Christ himself when he spoke about this time. We are going to consider a lengthy passage here. Turn with me in your Bibles, or navigate in your Bible apps, to Matthew 24, and were going to start at verse 15. Jesus states the following:

“So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” (Matthew 24:15-28, ESV)

There are several things I want to note from this text. When the antichrist decimates the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, Jesus gives instructions to the Jewish people living on the earth at that time--as he talked about the people fleeing. As some will expect Christ's Second Coming, he warns people that there will be “false christs and false prophets.” This time will be a time of great activity for Satan and his demons, indeed more so than there has ever been on the earth in the past--for they will “perform great signs and wonders.” Many people will be deceived. They will think these miracles are coming from God, when in fact they are coming from Satan. Really, I think this is part of God's wrath toward unbelievers in that he allows them to be so deceived by these signs and wonders. But Jesus also notes that his Second Coming will be unmistakable, as it will light up the whole sky when he descends to the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem.

       One thing to consider is whether people will be saved during the Tribulation period (that is, will people accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior?). The answer to this is, yes, people will be saved. However, many who are saved will face hardships, like being martyred for their faith. Since the antichrist will make it mandatory to have his mark to receive food, etc, during this time, these saved people will have a harder time getting food (see Revelation 13:17). The following is noted in Revelation 13:

“And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. If anyone has an ear, let him hear: If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.” (5-10, ESV)

Jesus stated in Matthew 10:22-23 that, “and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes” (ESV). Granted, the primary focus here is likely on the Church Age, however, I think the passage is still applicable to the time during the Tribulation.

       The details of the Tribulation period are found in Revelation chapters 6 through 19, and involve judgments from God from the seals, trumpets, and bowls. God saves 144,000 Israelites, who are sealed, as noted in Revelation 7. There are judgments that come from seven seals that are found on a scroll. These judgments involve battles and food shortage (which includes one-fourth of the people in the world dying). Also, people who have believed in God will be martyred. There will also be various troubles and instabilities in the universe, in space. The seventh seal marries into the Trumpet judgments. Then, there are the Seven Trumpet judgments, which cause utter destruction to the earth and its inhabitants, both people and animals. These judgments are seen in Revelation chapters 8 through 11. Finally, seven bowls of wrath are dumped into the world. There are seven angels with seven plagues, and angels pour out the seven bowls of the wrath of God, noted in Revelation 15 and 16. These bowls of wrath bring severe punishment to the followers of the antichrist. Unfortunately, I do not have time to go through all of these events from Revelation today in more detail. I would encourage you to read the book of Revelation again if you get the chance, as it will definitely be profitable for you to do so.

       In conclusion today, maybe you are thinking about these end times events of the Rapture and Tribulation period and believing that they are true. Perhaps you want to make sure you're not left here on the earth if the end does indeed come. Maybe you don't know God, don't know Jesus, as your personal Lord and Savior, and you would like to know him. Well, today, you can become part of God's family by repenting of your sins, the things you know are wrong and of which are against God, and by believing in Jesus' perfect sacrifice on the cross for you sins. Jesus came into the world as a man and died on the cross and rose again, some 2,000 year ago, so that we, as humans, would not have go to the place of torment, after this life, for our sins. By accepting Jesus' sacrifice in your place, paying the penalty that you deserve, you can escape from God's wrath. God will accept you completely, and he will transform you to be like Jesus.

       Remember what we learned today in that anyone who knows the truth but refuses to believe and obey it, that if the Rapture does indeed take place, and the end comes, you will have no chance for repentance of your sins and hope of believing in God. It is very important you do not pass up God's nudge on your heart to do what is right, to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. The writer of Hebrews noted to some Jewish people of his day:

“Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’” Take care, brothers and sisters, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” (Hebrews 3:7-12, ESV)

       If you would like to accept Jesus today, then follow my lead in this prayer:

God, I am a sinner. I have sinned against you in many ways in my life. But now I turn from my sins and want to accept Jesus' death on the cross as a substitute for what I deserve. I believe Jesus died on the cross for me and that he rose from the dead so that I might have a new life in you. God, I turn from sins and give my life over to you, so that you are in control because you know what is best for me. Please change me, Father, and make me good like Jesus. In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.

-Daniel Litton