Does the Church Still Believe in the Rapture? – Program 7
|By: Dr. Renald Showers, Dr. Paul Feinberg, Dr. Earl Radmacher, Dr. John Feinberg; ©1995|
|Can we automatically assume from the Bible’s description of the tribulation time that Christians will be removed from the earth before it begins?|
Seven Years of Really, Really Bad Luck
John Ankerberg: In a recent U.S. News & World Report, sixty-one percent of Americans said they believed Jesus Christ will return to earth, and sixty percent said they thought the world will end sometime in the future. Today on the John Ankerberg Show, does the church still teach that Jesus Christ will someday suddenly return to earth and thus set in motion terrifying end-time events?
[Movie clip—Future Tense]
- Narrator: According to the Bible, there will be a day when Jesus Christ comes again to gather from the earth all the people who truly believe in him. Now, there are different opinions among Christians on the exact order of the events surrounding his return. But one thing is certain: he is coming back. There are over 300 passages in the Bible that deal with the return of Jesus Christ. Many of these passages indicate that he could come at any moment.
- Radio Announcer—“Steve”: At approximately 5:37 a.m., Central Standard Time, an event of catastrophic proportions occurred as millions of people have apparently disappeared from the face of the earth. I repeat, the Federal Government has declared a state of national emergency. We go now to Bob Lawson, live from our eyewitness helicopter.
- “Bob”: Steve, I have never seen anything like this! It looks like a war zone from up here! We are currently approaching the downtown area….
- Ankerberg: In this series you will hear from nine prominent theologians and biblical prophecy scholars. From our conference in Dallas, Texas, we’ll hear Dr. David Breese, Dr. Zola Levitt, Peter LaLonde and Dr. Randall Price. From our own studios you will hear theologians Dr. John Walvoord, Dr. Renald Showers, Dr. Paul Feinberg, Dr. Earl Radmacher, and Dr. John Feinberg. Join us and discover what the Bible teaches about the return of Jesus Christ to this earth.
Program 7 [from Dallas, Texas]
- Ankerberg: Welcome. Today we’re going to pick up where we left off last week. We’re going to answer three very important questions. First, can it be shown in the Bible that the wrath of God will be poured out on the earth throughout the entire seven-year tribulation time period? Well, if so, all Christians know that God has promised they will be spared, delivered, rescued from God’s wrath to come, according to Revelation 3:10 and 1 Thessalonians 1:10. Now, if it can be shown that God’s wrath is poured out during the entire seven-year tribulation period, this would also automatically indicate that the rapture of the Church must take place before that wrath falls, thus, before the tribulation even begins.
- Well, to look at this, I’d like you to listen to Dr. Renald Showers, who serves on the faculty of the Institute of Biblical Studies, and listen as he sets the case for all that we’re going to talk about today.
- Showers: We noted earlier that the Scriptures teach that the Church saints will be raptured out of the world before the wrath of God begins to be poured out upon planet earth. Will the wrath of God be poured out on planet earth throughout the seven-year tribulation period? If the wrath of God will be poured out throughout the entire seven years, 70th week of Daniel 9, and the Church is to be removed before the wrath of God begins, then that would clearly indicate a pre-tribulation rapture, a rapture of the Church out of the world before the wrath of God begins throughout this whole seven-year period of time, the 70th week of Daniel 9. Are there any implications in Scripture to the effect that you will have the wrath of God here on the earth even during the first half of this seven-year period of the 70th week of Daniel 9? I’m convinced that there are implications to that effect.
- Ankerberg: Alright, now what passage of Scripture tells us that the wrath of God will be poured out on the earth during the entire seven-year tribulation time period? Well, Dr. Showers finds this proof in Revelation 6, which, as you know, describes our Lord Jesus breaking seven seals which, each one unleashes the wrath of God and terrible judgment upon the earth. Now, Dr. Showers also shows us that the first four seals of Revelation 6 parallel “the beginning of birth pangs” that Jesus describes in Matthew 24. And this is very important. So please listen:
- Showers: When we go to Revelation 6, we have the record of the Lord Jesus beginning to break seals from a sealed scroll. And as he breaks each seal some incredible things transpire upon the face of the earth. What I want to point out, at this point before we begin next examining the seals and what happens, is that when you compare the first four seals with what Jesus called the beginning of birth pangs in Matthew 24, you will find that by comparison they are referring to identically the same thing.
- For example, in Matthew 24 Jesus talked about, as part of the beginning of birth pangs, false messiahs coming upon the world scene. Parallel to that in Revelation 6:1-2, we read this: “And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard as it were the noise of thunder one of the four beasts saying, ‘Come and see.’ And I saw, and, behold, a white horse and he that sat on him had a bow and a crown was given unto him and he went forth conquering and to conquer.” Some have said that the rider on the white horse is the Lord Jesus and that this is giving a preview again of his glorious second coming after the tribulation period. When you go to Revelation 19, where we clearly are given a preview of his second coming, Christ comes riding out of heaven on the back of a white horse.
- But it must be noted that there are several things different about the rider on this white horse than the Lord Jesus in Revelation 19, although both are riding on a white horse. This rider has a bow. Jesus, by contrast, had a sword. This rider has one crown on his head. Jesus, by contrast, had many crowns on his head in Revelation 19. The rider on the white horse here in Revelation 6, the name that’s used for the crown is an altogether different name than that for the crowns that Jesus has on his head, indicating this is not the Lord Jesus. But the very fact that he’s riding a white horse as Jesus will at his second coming may be the idea that this is a false messiah, one who is coming in place of the true Messiah who will come out of heaven to rule the world in his glorious second coming. You notice as well that this rider goes forth to conquer and to conquer. Jesus is going to conquer Satan and all his forces at his glorious second coming so this seems to be an imposter, a false messiah. That parallels what Jesus said for part of the beginning of birth pangs, the false messiahs. Now, we’re going to come back to this later on and give a more specific identification of this rider.
- But we go on to the second seal, Revelation 6:3: “And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, ‘Come and see.’ And there went out another horse that was red and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth and that they should kill one another, and there was given unto him a great sword.” Here we have the sword, which is the idea of warfare taking place when Christ breaks the second seal, and people killing one another. When you go over to the beginning of birth pangs that Christ describes in Matthew 24, he talks about war, rumors of wars; nation rising against nation. The idea is of warfare and people being killed.
- Ankerberg: Now, if you’re following along with Dr. Showers in the book of Revelation, in chapter 6, when Jesus breaks the third seal, it brings famine to the earth which parallels the third birth pang mentioned in Matthew 24:7. Then, the breaking of the fourth seal in Revelation 6:7-8, results in war, hunger, pestilence and death by the wild beasts of the earth. This parallels the birth pangs of Matthew 24:27-28 where Jesus said, “and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes; but all these are merely the beginning of birth pangs.” Now, what is the significance of all this? Dr. Showers explains:
- Showers: We go on to the third seal here in Revelation 6:5. John said, “When he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, ‘Come and see.’ And I beheld, and lo, a black horse, and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts saying, ‘A measure of wheat for a penny and three measures of barley for a penny and see you hurt not the oil and the wine.’” The third seal brings famine to the face of the earth and food is scarce, not totally gone. People are able to buy food, but it’s so expensive because of scarcity, and so this implies famine. When you look at the beginning of birth pangs Jesus described in Matthew 24, he indicated that part of the birth pangs will be famine. That’s parallel.
- Then we come to the fourth seal, Revelation 6:7, “And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast saying, ‘Come and see.’ And I looked and, behold, a pale horse, and his name that sat on him was Death and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth to kill with sword and with hunger and with death and with the beasts of the earth.” When you go over to Matthew 24, Jesus talks about famine and pestilence taking place again, a parallel to the fourth seal. So when you compare the beginning of birth pangs in Matthew 24 with the first four seals of Revelation 6, it’s apparent we are dealing with the same thing.
- Now here’s the significance of that. We noted earlier that Jesus refers in Matthew 24 to the beginning of birth pangs before he refers to “the abomination of desolation” in the middle of the seven-year period of the tribulation. The implication is that the beginning of birth pangs will take place during the first half of the seven-year tribulation period before that mid-week abomination of desolation. Since the beginning of birth pangs of Matthew 24 are in the first half of the 70th week, and since they are the same thing as the first four seals of Revelation 6, then we can conclude rightly that the first four seals are also in the first half of that seven-year, 70th week period of time.
- Now, let’s take the significance of this a step further. With the first four seals being in the first half of the 70th week, an issue we have to grapple with: Do those first four seals involve an outpouring of God’s wrath upon the world, or are they just man’s wrath? Why is that so critical to answer with regard to the timing of the rapture? The reason it’s critical is this. We’ve noted earlier, according to 1 Thessalonians 1:10, 1 Thessalonians 5:9, Revelation 3:10, implications to the effect that the Church will be removed from the earth by rapture before the wrath of God begins to be poured out—the Day of the Lord wrath of God begins to be poured out upon planet earth. If the wrath of God is being poured out in these first four seals during the first half of the 70th week of Daniel 9, this would indicate then that the Church must be removed from the earth before those first four seals—or to put it another way—before the first half of the 70th week of Daniel 9.
- So the issue we must address is this: Do these first four seals involve the wrath of God? Yes, they do. How do we know? Well, we notice that with the first seal there’s a rider on a white horse that comes forth with a bow and a crown on his head and his goal is to conquer, apparently to conquer the world. We noted earlier, it’s a false messiah. In essence, he’s trying to mimic what Christ will do in essence at his second coming after the seven-year tribulation period.
- Can we identify this particular false messiah more specifically? Yes, I believe we can. The Scriptures indicate that Satan is going to have a false messiah in the world, the Antichrist. Remember when we were looking at Daniel 9:27? We know that the Antichrist, at the very beginning of this seven-year, 70th week of Daniel 9, will enforce or establish a covenant with the nation of Israel. We also saw that then Antichrist during the first half of the 70th week will appear to be Israel’s friend and ally and defender, but then we saw that in the middle of the 70th week he will commit “the abomination of desolation”—he’ll go into Israel’s new temple, set himself up as God there, declare that he’s God, then he’ll turn against Israel and desolate it severely. It’s very clear this is Satan’s man and that he’s a false messiah to the world, the Antichrist.
- Now, some would say, “But if this first rider that comes as a result of Christ’s breaking the first seal is the Antichrist, then are you not saying that Christ is the one who is unleashing the Antichrist upon the world? How could that be? Wouldn’t that be self-defeating? Why would Christ unleash upon the world the man who belongs to God’s great enemy, Satan?” And they would say, “This is a war against yourself, and a kingdom divided against yourself could not stand. God would never do something like that.” Would not God do something like that? He would do something like that if it would suit his sovereign purposes.
- Let me ask you this. According to Exodus 9 and Romans 9, who is it that raised up upon the earth and put into place of power the Pharaoh who is described in the opening part of Exodus 1 who knew not Joseph. The Pharaoh who passed that horrible decree that every boy baby born to a Jewess in the land of Egypt was to be put to death. The Scriptures clearly state that it was God who raised up that particular Pharaoh and we read in Romans 9:17, “For the scripture says unto Pharaoh,” and here it quotes from Exodus 9, “even for this same purpose have I raised you up that I might show my power in you and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.”
- God clearly declaring that he’s the one who raised up that fiendish ruler who would unleash a devilish attack against the nation of Israel. Satan, through him, tried to annihilate the nation so that the Redeemer couldn’t come into the world through that nation.
- But the Scriptures clearly declare—and God is the one saying that—that he raised up that devilish Pharaoh there in the land of Egypt for his sovereign purposes, to display his glory. And God did display his glory through that Pharaoh because as a result, that Pharaoh decreed these terrible things and stubbornly rebelling against God, God unleashed his ten supernatural plagues upon the land of Egypt during that time and displayed his great glory through that. That brought about the exodus of the Jews from their slavery in Egypt. He miraculously parted the waters of the Red Sea, again displaying his glory. God will have his sovereign purpose for raising up the Antichrist.
- But even more significant, you have a great prophecy in the Old Testament. It’s found in Zechariah 11 where God himself declared that he is the one who would raise up the Antichrist upon the face of the earth. When you read the early part of Zechariah 11, God says that he would send a Good Shepherd to the people of Israel and then that Good Shepherd would say to the people of Israel, “You give to me what you think I’m worth.” And it’s foretold that the people of Israel would give their Good Shepherd 30 pieces of silver, and that 30 pieces of silver in turn would be cast into the potter in the house of the Lord. Very clear prophecy of God giving Jesus Christ, the true Messiah, to Israel, but Israel saying, “he’s only worth 30 pieces of silver,” which under the law, in Israel was the value of a gored slave who was totally worthless to his master. God foretelling here that he would give Israel its Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ the Messiah, but that Israel would reject him and evaluate him as being worth no more than a useless slave.
- After that God says in Zechariah 11, beginning in verse 15, “And the Lord said unto me, ‘Take unto you yet the instruments of a foolish shepherd, for, lo, I will raise up a shepherd in the land which shall not visit those that be cut off, neither shall seek the young one, nor heal that that is broken, nor feed that that stands still….” In other words, he’s not going to do the work that a shepherd is supposed to do to its sheep, but here’s what he will do: “…but he shall eat the flesh of the fat and tear their claws in pieces.” In other words, this foolish shepherd is going to devastate the nation of Israel. He’s going to tear it to shreds.
- And then God went on to say in verse 17, “Woe to the idle shepherd,” and the word “idle” here in the Hebrew is referring to one who is not a god but is worshipped as a god. “Woe to the idle shepherd that leaves the flock. The sword shall be upon his arm and upon his right eye; his arm shall be clean dried up and his right eye shall be utterly darkened.” God here is foretelling the future Antichrist. And notice, he’s saying, “I will raise up this foolish shepherd who will tear the nation of Israel to shreds.” What he is saying is, he is going to use the Antichrist as his tool to persecute the nation of Israel so severely during the second half of the 70th week of Daniel 9 that Israel will be backed so tightly into a corner that he will have no means of escape from total annihilation unless it repents of all its rebellion against God and willingly acknowledges God’s Son, Jesus Christ, as its true Messiah and Savior.
- God will use the Antichrist as his tool to break Israel’s stubborn rebellion against him and bring Israel into right relationship with God by the end of the 70th week of Daniel 9, to repentance. So, yes, God would unleash the Antichrist upon the earth for the purpose of bringing Israel to repentance, and I’m convinced for other purposes as well.
- Ankerberg: Does the Bible teach that God’s wrath will be poured out during the entire time period of the tribulation, that is, all seven years? Well, Dr. Showers now explains why Revelation 6, where you have Jesus breaking open the sealed judgments, why this proves that God’s wrath is being poured out upon the earth and this is not just man’s wrath upon man. He then shows that God will use even the Antichrist as a tool to deliver his wrath upon humanity. Listen, as what he has to say next is very, very important:
- Showers: When we read the passage in Revelation 6 earlier about the second seal, we noted that the second seal removes peace from the earth and people killing one another. In other words, there is going to be warfare upon the face of the earth. When you go through the Old Testament, a number of times God declares that the removal of peace or the lack of peace in the world is an expression of his wrath or judgment upon the earth. By contrast, he declares that the presence of peace is evidence of his blessing upon the earth. And so this removal of peace, again, will be an expression of God’s wrath upon the world.
- Granted, that removal of peace will involve human instruments, as we saw with the beginning of birth pangs—wars, rumors of wars, nations rising against nations—but when you go to the Old Testament, God indicated he raised up the Assyrians to wage war against the northern Kingdom of Israel as the rod of his wrath against the northern Jews for rebelling against him. God indicated that he raised up Babylon to wage war against the southern kingdom of Judah as an expression of his judgment or wrath upon the southern kingdom of Judah so that the wrath of God through human beings or nations waging war against each other it is often carried out through those kind of human instruments.
- When we come to the third seal, and again, we read this earlier from Revelation 6, the third seal brings famine upon the face of the earth. Once again, when you go through the Old Testament, a number of times God indicates that famine, lack of food, is a form of his wrath or judgment upon human beings here on the face of the earth. It’s significant to note with the third seal in Revelation 6:5-6, that John said in verse 6, “I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, ‘A measure of wheat for a penny and three measures of barley for a penny and see you hurt not the oil and the wine.’” The implication is, whoever that speaker is, is the one who is authoritatively controlling that famine. He’s determining how scarce food will be and, therefore, how much food will cost and he’s determining what is not to be harmed and what will be harmed.
- Now, who is that person who is determining that? Well, the person has the voice that John heard from the midst of the four beasts. You go back to Revelation 4 and 5, the two preceding chapters before the one we’re looking at, you’ll find that God the Father is seated upon a throne in heaven in the midst of the four beasts and you also see that Christ the Messiah, the Lamb, is standing there before the throne in the midst of the four beasts, so that the voice here is either that of God the Father or of Christ the Lamb. They are in control of that famine, which would indicate again this is an expression of God’s wrath or God’s judgment upon human beings upon the face of the earth.
- When we come to the fourth seal in Revelation 6:7-8, we read earlier from verse 8, John said, “I looked and, behold, a pale horse. His name that sat on him was Death, Hell followed with him and power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth to kill with sword and with hunger and with death and with the beasts of the earth.” One fourth of the world’s population being annihilated through these four means: the sword, which is another way of saying war; hunger, which is another way of saying famine; and death, literally pestilence; and beasts of the earth, wild beasts attacking and killing human beings. Now, this is very intriguing. One fourth of the world’s population is destroyed through those four means. Why I say that’s intriguing is this. When you go to the Old Testament, there are places where God indicates that war and famine are expressions of his wrath; pestilence is an expression of his wrath; wild beasts killing human beings are an expression of his wrath; but even more intriguing is the fact that you sometimes have a number of those four items lumped together where God is indicating those are expressions of his wrath.
- And perhaps the most significant passage along those lines is in Ezekiel 14:21, and I’d like to read that passage for you as well. And by the way, in that context of Ezekiel 14:21, God uses one of the Hebrew words for his wrath and it’s one of the Hebrew words even used for the Day of the Lord wrath in other passages in the Old Testament. But this is what he says in Ezekiel 14:21, “For thus says the Lord God, ‘How much more when I send my four sore judgments upon Jerusalem: the sword and the famine and the noisome beast and the pestilence to cut off from it man and beast?’” Same four things described for the fourth seal of Revelation 6, and God says that those are his “four sore judgments.” I was fascinated in studying this that some very prominent, highly regarded Greek scholars declared that when John recorded what will happen in the fourth seal, he was practically quoting Ezekiel 14:21 and basing really the fourth seal on Ezekiel 14:21 so that, again, the fourth seal is an expression of God’s wrath upon the earth. We’ve looked at those four individual seals and they’ve seen they’re expressions of God’s wrath.
- Let me point something else out. Who is it that is breaking these seals? This is very important to note. It’s Jesus Christ who is breaking these seals. Not Satan, not his Antichrist, not the false prophet, nor human beings, other human beings here on the face of the earth. It is Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, who is breaking these seals. This is indicating that he, with full authority, is the one who is unleashing these different forms of God’s wrath upon the earth. Again, this is coming from Christ, this is not coming from Satan and his forces. So this is the work of God, the wrath of God, not the wrath of man that’s being described here in the first four seals.
- And as we saw earlier, those first four seals are the same things as the beginning of birth pangs in Matthew 24; we saw that Jesus is placing the beginning of birth pangs before the abomination of desolation in the middle of the 70th week—the implication is that those beginning of birth pangs are in the first half of the 70th week, that means therefore that the first four seals are the first half of the 70th week, and since those first four seals are expressions of the wrath of God, that means the wrath of God is being poured out in certain respects during the first half of the 70th week. And since, as we saw earlier, that the Church saints are to be raptured out of the world before the wrath of God begins on planet earth in that future period of trouble, sometimes called the Day of the Lord, this indicates that the Church will be raptured out of the world before the 70th week of Daniel 9 begins, before that seven-year period that many scholars have called the tribulation period will begin. That forces me to conclude again that we’re having inferred here a pre-tribulation rapture of the Church from the earth before that seven-year tribulation period.