Politics & Prophecy: A Lawyer’s View of the End Times
Part 2 – Judgment of the Nations
by Gerald R. Thompson
So where does the belief in a separate and secret Rapture come from? I say secret, because any resurrection of the dead or translation of living saints coincident with the Second Coming will most definitely not be secret. When Jesus comes again, every person on earth will see it, and if believers are caught up to meet Jesus in the air, it will be part of the most non-secret theatrical event in all of history.
Belief in a secret Rapture, however, holds that Christians will be translated into their immortal bodies silently, without notice, and without any signs in the sky. No one will see them leave. Rather than returning to earth immediately to assist in the conquest of the Antichrist, believers will be in heaven until the Second Coming occurs 3½ or 7 years later. Or so we are told.
Arguments For and Against
Let’s look at a number of common arguments made to support the idea of a secret Rapture prior to, and separate from, the Second Coming:
1) The Church has to be taken away because the Holy Spirit is going to be removed during the Tribulation. This argument is based on 2 Th. 2:7 which says, “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way.”
The argument goes like this: The “he” who is taken out of the way is the Holy Spirit. The context of the verse is that the Antichrist will be revealed after the Holy Spirit is removed, meaning it must occur at the beginning or mid-point of the Tribulation (but in any event not at the end). Since the Holy Spirit will never leave believers (Eph. 1:13), if He is removed, then it can only happen if the Church (all believers) are removed first. Thus, the removal of the Holy Spirit necessitates a prior Rapture event.
If you’ve ever studied logic, you know that if the premise for an argument fails, then all the conclusions which follow it must also fail. Here, the premise is that the Holy Spirit can, and will be, removed from the earth for a time in the future. So if that premise fails, the whole argument for a secret Rapture being necessary fails. And that premise does fail, as I address in some detail below (Things That Will Not Change – Ministry of the Holy Spirit). Let me skip the analysis here and state the conclusion: all that is meant by 2 Th. 2:7 is that the Antichrist will not be revealed until God decides to allow it pursuant to God’s own timetable. Nothing more.
Do you really think, if this verse was intended to mean the Holy Spirit (a person of the Godhead) would have a radical change in ministry such as this, it would be stated in such an oblique fashion, with the real meaning unstated and only inferred with wild leaps of logic and uncorroborated assumptions? If something this important was going to happen – the removal of one person of the Trinity from man’s presence – wouldn’t God (in inspiring the writing of the scriptures) state it clearly and unambiguously, make it obvious, and repeat it elsewhere in the Bible? Why take something this huge and cloak it in veiled language in only one place?
The Holy Spirit will never be removed from the earth, and the very idea that God would do something like this is absurd. Why is it absurd? Because it requires that the people referred to as Tribulation saints will be saved, but without the Holy Spirit – a non-sequitor that goes against all sound Christian doctrine. Plus, if the argument is pressed to its logical conclusion, the Tribulation saints aren’t really part of the Church, but form a separate group of believers who will get to heaven but not be part of the Bride of Christ. May I just say, there is not a single shred of textual evidence to support such a position in the Bible. Don’t get suckered by this line of reasoning.
2) The Church isn’t mentioned in Rev. Chapters 4-18 when all the bad stuff is going on. Thus, the argument goes, because the Church is never mentioned in the chapters devoted to describing the Tribulation, it must not be around (on earth) during that time. True, the word church isn’t used, but the words saints and believers are interchangeable with the word church conceptually, so when Revelation talks about the saints, these are the Church. I have already addressed this idea in detail in the discussion of Tribulation Saints, so that should be enough to settle the matter.
3) Mat. 24:36-44 is a description of the Rapture. Here is an excerpt of that text: “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. … 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.”
This text is often combined with 1 Th. 5:2: “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” The argument goes something like this: since the event is described as coming suddenly without notice, it indicates a secret Rapture event. This is confirmed by the “one will be taken and one left” language, which is repeated for emphasis.
Reading these texts in such a manner is sloppy interpretation in the extreme. The Mat. 24 text refers to the coming of the Son of Man. 1 Th. 5:2 refers to the day of the Lord. Both of these, in instances too numerous to rehearse here throughout the entire Bible, refer to the Second Coming. It is a strange hermeneutic which understands these phrases to mean the Second Coming 98% of the time, but in these two instances to understand them to mean a secret Rapture instead.
We know what the day of the Lord means. This is not an unfamiliar phrase with multiple meanings. It always means the Second Coming. And to interpret the coming of Jesus to mean only a secret Rapture, when Jesus doesn’t actually come to the earth at all but only meets believers in the air (at 1,000 feet – 10,000 feet – 100,000 feet?) and then to immediately return to heaven is cheating. How convenient, when we can interpret the coming as either the Rapture (when Jesus doesn’t come to earth) or the Second Coming (when He does), depending on what we want it to mean! That isn’t bringing clarity to the text, rather, it brings confusion.
So what are we to understand, then? That the Second Coming will come suddenly, and no one will know when? That’s exactly what these texts mean. But won’t people know when the Tribulation is going to end – won’t they just have to count seven years from its beginning to know when Jesus will return?
Frankly, that assumes a lot. It assumes, among other things, that the Tribulation is not only seven years long, but that people will be able to calculate it with mathematical precision. But as I will show in my examination of Daniel 9 in the next chapter, [spoiler alert!] there isn’t going to be any seven year peace treaty, Daniel’s 70th week is most likely a literal seven days long, and the exact duration of the Tribulation is never stated anywhere in scripture.
Oh sure, we have various time periods (See Appendix B) of 1,260 days, 1,290 days, 42 months, 3½ times, etc. given for various end times prophecies, but scripture never says these will all run concurrently. I’m sure these will overlap to some extent – but we cannot say exactly to what extent. Nothing in scripture limits God to any time period for the length of the Tribulation that can be calculated down to the day. People will able to discern the season, but no one will be able to calculate the day or the hour. And that’s all Mat. 24:36-44 and 1 Th. 5:2 mean.
That, and the fact the Second Coming won’t happen gradually, but in an instant, all of a sudden. A secret Rapture isn’t even in the picture.
4) The Tribulation is about Israel, so God won’t deal with the Church at that time. Ah yes, the old God can’t do two things at the same time argument. It’s the same logic that says believers can’t be translated (raptured) at the Second Coming because in the Rapture we will meet Christ in the air (true), but at the Second Coming Jesus will touch down on Mt. Zion (also true). And, according to this argument, doing those two things at the same time doesn’t make any sense.
According to who? Is there some great logical or scriptural inconsistency with raptured believers meeting Jesus in the air and then immediately coming to earth with Him? No. Is there some great logical or scriptural inconsistency with God dealing with Israel and the Church at the same time? No.
The whole organizational structure of this book assumes that in the end times God will do four things at the same time: judge the nations, restore Israel, conquer evil, and establish an earthly kingdom. Dan. 9:24 assumes that the prophesied 70 weeks will be used by God to accomplish six things at the same time. See The Sum of All Things below for more on Dan. 9:24. So, can God deal with both Israel and the Church during the Tribulation if He wants to? Sure He can. Why would anyone believe in a god that is so puny he can only do one thing at a time?
5) Strange interpretations. To be sure, there are other arguments made for why there will be a secret Rapture, many of which fall into the category of strange interpretations.
One of my favorites is based on 2 Th. 2:3, which says that the day of the Lord will not come “unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed.” In other translations, the word for rebellion is translated as falling away or as apostasy. But lo and behold, that word, as used in the German translation of the Bible, when translated back into English, means departure. And departure, as everyone should know, means Rapture, so what the verse really means is that the day of the Lord cannot come unless the Rapture occurs first.
Surely, this is one of the weirdest convolutions of logic and interpretation I have ever heard. The very idea, that for us to know the true meaning of a text, we should translate the original Greek language into German, and then translate that translation into English, is ridiculous – especially when the original text is available for us to translate directly into English.
If the proponents of this argument are right, then why not translate the Greek into German, then translate the German into Spanish, the Spanish into Russian, and then translate that into English. That should get us even closer to the original meaning of the text, right? Or perhaps we should use Ukrainian instead of German? Just to say it is enough to contradict it.
But on a substantive level, the word departure is like the word deviation, which can have various meanings, depending on the context, relating to statistics, navigation, optics, or ideology. So the word departure can refer to a ideological departure, not necessarily a navigational departure or a physical leaving. Reading 2 Th. 2:3 as referring to a secret Rapture is not merely misleading, or erroneous, it is deviant.
6) There is one additional “major” argument in favor of a secret Rapture, namely, that the Church isn’t destined for God’s wrath which will be poured out in the Tribulation. I’m going to discuss this subject in detail in the next section (Will The Church Be Spared?), so let’s skip it for the moment.
Now let’s consider the flip-side. We have already seen how belief in a secret Rapture necessitates a belief in some untenable positions, such as Tribulation saints who must become Christians without the Holy Spirit and who aren’t really part of the Church or the body of Christ. Another logical consequence of a secret Rapture is that there will be separate resurrections for the Church saints and the Tribulation saints, when the Bible never says any such thing.
Here are a couple of additional problems created by belief in a secret rapture:
1) Certain things must take place before the Rapture which necessitates that it comes at the end of the Tribulation. For example, 1Co. 15:23 clearly links the resurrection of the saints with the Second Coming. “But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” Note: There is no separate treatment of Church saints versus Tribulation saints. It is simply those who belong to Christ are resurrected at his coming. And His coming, of course, comes at the end of the Tribulation.
Another key clue comes to us by way of 1Th. 4:13-18. That text tells us in what order the saints will be caught up to meet Jesus: the dead rise first, and then the living are translated. 1Th. 4:15 specifically says, “that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.” In other words, no believers alive at the time can be raptured (translated) before the dead in Christ are resurrected. If 1Co. 15:23 is true, then the dead will not be raised until the Second Coming, and if 1 Th. 4:15 is true the rapture of living saints cannot precede this.
Thus, the Rapture and the first resurrection both have to occur at the time of the Second Coming. It’s not that difficult, people.
But that isn’t all. 1 Cor 15:51b-52 inextricably links the translation of the saints with the last trumpet. “We shall all be changed … at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised.” Note that these verses link the Rapture (we shall all be changed) and the first resurrection (the dead will be raised) to the same trumpet call. In other words, the Rapture and the first resurrection must occur at the same time, and in reality they are the same event. There is simply the first resurrection, which also includes the translation of living saints. But there is more.
We have already seen that the 2nd Coming is associated with a loud trumpet call. Ask yourself why 1 Cor 15:52 refers to the trumpet as the last trumpet. It is because there are other trumpet calls that it follows, namely, the seven trumpets of judgment, which all take place during the Tribulation. The only way the trumpet of 1 Cor. 15:52 (supposedly about the Rapture) can be the last trumpet is if it follows the seven trumpets of Rev. 8:6-11:19. If the trumpet call of the Rapture occurs before the end of the Tribulation, it won’t be last.
The end result of which is, the so-called rapture (in reality, the first resurrection) cannot take place before the end of the Tribulation.
2) The Bible limits resurrections of the dead to two, so it does no good to posit a theory which requires three. By definition, the purpose of the Rapture (according to its proponents) is to take the Church out of the way before the time of God’s judgment on the earth. Of necessity, as the previous scriptures show, the Rapture requires that the first resurrection immediately precede it (although perhaps only by a few seconds). But then we also know that a great many people will turn to Christ during the Tribulation, and there will be a great number of martyrs during that time.
What happens to these Tribulation saints? If the Rapture precedes the Tribulation, are they left unresurrected at the Second Coming, as if to say they are not really part of the Church (not entitled to reign and rule during the Millennium)? That is a view held by some. Yet, such a view plainly contradicts Rev. 20:4, which clearly includes the Tribulation saints as among those who will rule and reign with Christ for a thousand years.
Or, alternatively, are the Tribulation saints resurrected at the Second Coming, which introduces an additional resurrection into the mix? That is, three total resurrections, with the first at the time of the Rapture (at the beginning of the Tribulation), the second at the Second Coming(at the end of the Tribulation), and the final resurrection after the Millennium being a third.
Yet the Bible clearly teaches there will only be two resurrections, not three. Rev. 20:5, 13. To get around this, I have heard some commentators claim the saints raised from the dead at the Rapture and the Second Coming are really part of a single resurrection, just in separate parts. Oh, the word games people play! Can we please just acknowledge that events occurring seven years apart are not the same event?
Some commentators argue that the Rapture only relates to living saints, not the dead in Christ, so it is not a resurrection event at all. But 1Th. 4:15-16 clearly says the dead in Christ will rise first. The living saints cannot be translated unless and until the dead are resurrected. So it does no good to argue they are separate events if you cannot have the one without the other.
Will The Church Be Spared?
The argument is commonly made that the Church simply cannot go through the Tribulation (and must be raptured first) because God has promised numerous times that the Church will be spared from God’s wrath. This is based primarily on 1Th. 1:10 (“Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come”); 1 Th. 5:9 (“For God has not destined us for wrath”); Rev. 3:10 (“I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world”) and additional scriptures.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean the saints are absent when God’s wrath is poured out. When God sent the plagues against Egypt, Israel was largely spared, but they weren’t removed from the situation. And in some cases, such as when the Nile River was turned to blood, it wasn’t just for Egyptians – everyone was affected. There was no “Jews only” exemption zone on the river banks. And if the Tribulation saints are (by definition) going to be on earth during the Tribulation, how are they any different from the rest of the saints? In other words, why won’t they also be spared from the time of God’s wrath? Clearly, some of the saints are going to see the wrath of God poured out during the Tribulation while they are still in their mortal bodies.
We must also be careful to distinguish between God’s wrath and His judgment or discipline. The purpose of God’s wrath is the destruction of His enemies. The purpose of God’s discipline and judgment is for the correction and ultimate good of His people. But when God’s discipline comes it often feels destructive, sometimes resulting in the death of people, even though it is not designed to destroy, but to build up.
There are plenty of instances in the Bible where the people of God have suffered as a result of God’s judgment. All Israel except for Joshua and Caleb were condemned to die in the wilderness as judgment for the disobedience of the people. Discipline or wrath? All Israel suffered defeat at the battle of Ai because of the forbidden treasure of one man. Joshua 7. Discipline or wrath? The righteous (Daniel and his three friends) were deported to Babylon right along with the wicked when Israel was conquered. Discipline or wrath?
What shall we say to the Tribulation saints who will be beheaded for the testimony of Jesus? Discipline or wrath? When a righteous person dies, does he go to destruction? No. When an unrighteous person dies, does he go to destruction? Yes. Does the one case look any different than the other to a third party? Not necessarily. When a person dies a horrible death for any reason, can we say for certainty they went to destruction or not? Only God knows. So too, when Christians are put through the fire, how it looks to us is not necessarily how God sees it. From God’s perspective, He never loses a believer.
A common Christian fairy tale, as I like to call it, is that God is going to treat the Church better in the future than God treated Israel in the past or will treat Israel in the future. We know from history that God judged Israel for its sins, the end result of which was the destruction of the Temple (twice), displacement from the land (twice) and dispersion among the nations where Jews were almost universally mistreated.
We know that in the coming Time of Jacob’s Trouble (discussed later), before God regathers and restores the nation of Israel, He will first subject that nation to an even greater time of testing, when Jerusalem will be attacked, significant portions of Jerusalem will be destroyed, and thousands of Jews will perish. When the restoration finally comes, only a minority remnant of the nation will survive and be saved. And yet, the scriptures repeatedly tell us that God’s love for Israel endures forever, Jerusalem is His most holy place, and Israel will continue to be the most favored nation on earth for all time. But to human observers, the time of Jacob’s trouble will look like God’s wrath.
So why is it, when God plainly tells us that “it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God” (1 Pe 4:17), most Christians shrug that statement off as a form of spiritual discipline of individuals in the present age only and do not regard it as an end times scripture?
What, you don’t think the Church will be judged by God? Most, if not all, of the Christians alive in the Tribulation will suffer horrible deaths – which includes all Christians entering the Tribulation, not just people becoming saints during the Tribulation, since there won’t be any prior Rapture of believers. All the edifices and structures (physical and organizational) of religious institutions will be shaken and turned into rubble in the great earthquake.
Everything the Church has ever built or organized will be destroyed – not by the Antichrist, but by God Himself. Cathedrals, seminaries, temples, denominations, colleges, you name it – all man-made structures and institutions will be wiped away. All true believers will be translated at the Second Coming, so only the pretenders will be left alive in their mortal bodies when Jesus returns. And Jesus isn’t going to use any of them to build His Church. He will literally start the Church over from scratch and leave all organized religion that came before in the dust. Still don’t think the Church will be judged?
An often unstated assumption made by many Christians is that Israel was selected and defined after the flesh (i.e., biologically), but the Church was selected and defined after the spirit, so we Christians will be spared the types of earthly judgments that Israel suffered (which are supposedly after the flesh). If I may say, it is a type of spiritual superiority complex to think that just because we are citizens of heaven, we are less liable to suffer the deprivations of this world.
That certainly isn’t what the scripture teaches. We suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. Rom. 8:17. For the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake. Php 1:29. We kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass. 1 Th. 3:4. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 2 Tim. 2:3. But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 1 Pet. 2:20. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. … Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. Rev. 2:10.
I find it difficult to get around the plain meaning of Mat. 24:9 – “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.” Who is the “you” if not the Church? Was Jesus speaking to Tribulation saints when He spoke those words? We have already discussed the fact that Tribulation saints will be beheaded during the Tribulation, and these saints are the Church. Can you not see where this is leading?
History confirms the scriptures. Do I have to list here the many persecutions, oppressions, tortures and martyrdoms imposed on Christians throughout the ages? I’d rather not, because they are so obvious. What should be our attitude toward these Christians of the past? Well sure, you had to go through extreme suffering and testing even to the point of death, but that’s because it was only discipline for your good. When we modern-day Christians get to the end, God is going to let us avoid all the really bad stuff and skip to the end where everything is good because at that time dying for the sake of Christ will be an aspect of God’s wrath. Too bad for you. Is that really what you believe in – a double standard – whereby past Christians had to suffer but Christians living in the end times won’t have to? Where do you find that in your Bible?
Rather than promising the Church will be spared the trials of the Tribulation, prophecy clearly indicates Christians will suffer greatly during that time due to persecution. “[The Beast] 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 that was slain.” Rev. 13:7-8. Naw, that can’t possibly refer to the Church, can it?
If, as Rev. 20:4 notes, the people ruling and reigning with Christ are those Christians who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands, then it means they had to be there, during the Tribulation, right in the thick of things. Or, to put it bluntly, not exempt, not removed from the situation, and not taken away.
You may protest: But these are only the people saved after the Church is raptured. The Bible never says that. It never says when these people who are yet to be beheaded became saved, nor that these consist only of new believers. So, don’t assume. And don’t teach your assumption as truth.
Commentators spend so much time trying to figure out why the Church should not go through the Tribulation that they miss the potential benefit (from God’s perspective) of going through it. Namely, that it will be a form of testing to see if each person’s faith is genuine.
The scripture says that,”not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.” Rom. 9:6. Also, “no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.” Rom. 2:28-29. Why, you may ask, will God require the Jews to go through the time of Jacob’s trouble and end up saving only a minority remnant? Because, as Romans tells us, not all physical Jews are spiritual Jews. It just may be that the time of Jacob’s trouble is not so much designed to punish Israel, as it is to separate the sheep from the goats, as it were, and to thin the ranks to those whom God chooses.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” Mt 25:31-32. “As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats. … I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.” Ezek 34:17, 22-23.
Now consider this: Not all people who claim to be Christians truly belong to Christ. How many people among the many millions of churchgoers, church members, clergy and staff are true believers? Dare I say it? Only a minority remnant. You heard me. And deep in your heart, you know it, too. “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” 2 Tim. 2:19. But, the organized church is full of iniquity, is it not?
Isn’t that a key principle of the Parable of the Ten Virgins – that not all who name the name of Christ are truly His? “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. … the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.'” Mt 25:1-2, 10-12.
Might this not be a reason for the Church to go through the Tribulation – to winnow the grain and separate the wheat from the chaff? Mat. 3:12. Friends, there’s a lot of chaff out there. “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” Prov. 3:11-12; Heb. 12:5-6. Wouldn’t you welcome the opportunity to share in suffering for the sake of Christ? Php. 3:10; 1 Pet. 4:13. No? What’s the problem?
God has not destined the Church for wrath (that is, for destruction), but He has destined it for discipline and judgment. The same as He has done for Israel, as Jews and Christians are both under the same general standard. If you don’t believe this – if you think Israel deserves to be disciplined because of its sins, but the Church gets a pass – it is a subtle form of anti-Semitism.
In Deut. 30, God set before Israel a choice between life and death. Follow His commands and live. Disobey His laws and die. Is not that same choice before Christians today? Is the worldwide Church today following the laws of God? Do Christians today even know what the laws of God are? Why shouldn’t they be judged? Where does the Bible ever say Christians (or the Church) will not be judged in this life? Getting a pass from eternal judgment doesn’t entitle anyone to get a pass from earthly judgment.
Swallow your pride and admit that the Church as a whole has sinned as least as great as Israel has, in essentially all of the same ways. The Church that the scripture speaks of – without spot or wrinkle, holy and without blemish, clothed in white and presented as the Bride of Christ – isn’t the amalgamation of all people who call themselves Christians today. That Church, the holy one without blemish, is only the remnant which passes through the time of testing with their faith intact. No one gets a free pass to avoid earthly suffering.