Politics & Prophecy: A Lawyer’s View of the End Times
Part 2 – Judgment of the Nations
by Gerald R. Thompson
Rev. 6:9-11 (summary) – The 5th Seal – The souls of martyrs for the word of God cried out for vengeance. They were told to wait a little longer, “until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete,” who will also be martyred.
Rev. 7:9-17 (summary) – A great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, stood before the throne of God clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Rev. 13:7-10 (summary) – Also it [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. … Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.
Rev. 15:2-3a – And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb.
Rev. 20:4 – Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
According to the humanist belief system, when a person dies that is the end (there is no immortal soul). So upon your death, you are gone, lost. But that is not God’s perspective. To Him, when you die, you are transitioned, either to eternal life, or to eternal death. When a believer dies they are not lost, they are redeemed.
The Tribulation will certainly be a time of great transition – what the Bible likens to a harvest – that is, massive numbers of human death where the fate of immortal souls is forever determined. It will be a time of great harvest for God when in all likelihood many millions of people turn to Christ. We don’t know how many people will become believers at that time, or how many will be martyred, but the Bible simply says the martyrs alone will be a great multitude that no one can count. Rev. 7:9.
I was taught as a youngster that the Rapture would occur before the Tribulation so the Church would not have to go through it. A supposedly big clue in support of this position was that the Church is nowhere mentioned in Revelation after the letters to the churches (chapters 2-3) and prior to the marriage supper of the Lamb in Chapter 19, when the Bride of Christ (the Church) is presented. In other words, the Church is supposedly never mentioned in the chapters dealing with various judgments on the earth. But this is simply not true.
The word church is nowhere mentioned in those chapters, to be sure, but there are plenty of instances of the word saints. And who are the saints, if not the Church, the Bride of Christ? If you have read other commentaries on biblical prophecy you have probably come across the theory that the Tribulation saints are saved individuals, but they are different from, or separate from, the Church. I caution you not to accept as truth what is in reality mere conjecture. Let’s see where the textual evidence leads us, first.
The Bible uses the word saints and sometimes holy ones to refer to individual Christians. We’re not talking about heroes of the faith who have been canonized as saints because they have performed three miracles – the Bible never talks about saints that way. We are talking about ordinary Christians. Every single Christian.
Early Christians were often called saints, such as in Acts 9:13, 32, 41. When Saul persecuted the Church, he referred to them as saints. Acts 26:10. The book of Romans was written to the saints in Rome. Rom. 1:7. Similarly for the books of Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians. But perhaps 1Cor. 1:2 says it best, “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” In other words, saints = Christians = Church.
On the other hand, the Bible never uses the word church to refer to an institution, or an organization. Church simply refers to the body of individual Christians or a local group of them. To wit, 1 Cor. 14:33 – “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints …” So when Revelation speaks of the saints, this is the Church.
And what we see happening to the saints – the Church – in Revelation isn’t pretty. Rather than sitting in a heavenly observation deck somewhere, behind safety glass in an air conditioned room, the saints are on the ground suffering plenty. This is summed up in Rev. 13:7-10, where it is said the Antichrist will make war against the saints. There are a couple of things worth noting from this text. First, it refers to the endurance and faith of the saints, which necessitates they actually suffer the effects of war in order for them to endure.
Second, the Tribulation saints are numbered among those whose name has been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb. This phrase, before the foundation of the world, should call to mind Eph. 1:4 – “he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him,” a verse universally associated with the Church, the body of Christ. In other words, the people who the Antichrist will wage war against will be the Church.
We have the first mention of martyrs for Christ in Rev. 6:9-11. That Tribulation saints are in view is strongly suggested by verse 11: “Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.” The parallels with other texts relating to the Tribulation saints cannot be ignored. For example, each of these saints has a white robe, the same as the saints mention in Rev. 7:9, 13, the latter specifically referred to as coming out of the Tribulation. Rev. 7:14.
Another parallel is the implication that the martyrs in Rev. 6 were all killed in the same manner, and thus not likely to be martyrs from prior centuries who would have died many different kinds of deaths. This tracks with Rev. 20:4, referring to martyrs who had all been beheaded and who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands, necessitating that the martyrs of Rev. 20 were also Tribulation saints. Rev. 20:4 does not use the words church or saints, yet the context is clearly a description of Christians who will be alive when the beast kingdom rules the world.
Ah, but someone will say, “the Tribulation saints are merely those people who became Christians after the Rapture.” Well, the Bible only says when these people died, not when they became Christians. It is entirely consistent with the text and context of Revelation to understand the martyred saints coming out of the Tribulation as including those who became Christians prior to the Tribulation. The real question is whether there will even be a Rapture before the end of the Tribulation. Since this is a significant topic, I will devote a full chapter to discuss it shortly.
Another curious idea with a wide circulation (supposedly based on 2Th. 2:7) is that the Holy Spirit will be “taken out of the way” prior to the coming of the Antichrist. According to proponents of this view, people cannot be saved during the Tribulation in the same sense they can now. In other words, the entire ministry of the Holy Spirit will be changed and God will be unable to save people by His Spirit. Thus (supposedly), the martyrs coming out of the Tribulation may be saints, but they are not part of the Church, the body of Christ because a person needs to be indwelt by the Spirit to be part of the Church.
Nothing in the text of 2Th. 2:7 even remotely suggests this reading, and it is a prime example of eisegesis – reading something into the scripture that isn’t there. But as this idea is widely taught today, I will also devote an entire section to dealing with the Ministry of the Holy Spirit later on.
For me, it is enough to know that Rev. 20:4 describes the Tribulation saints as those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God.” If that description was given for anyone living in the 11th century or the 16th century, that would be enough to label them a Christian. So the Tribulation saints must be Christians, too. Say it out loud: C-h-r-i-s-t-i-a-n-s. Who else could they possibly be? Saved believers who are saints in Christ but are not part of His body the Church? There ain’t no such thing.
A Resurrection Of The Body
Mat. 24:30-31 (summary) – “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
Mat. 24:36, 42, 44 (summary) – “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. … Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. … Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
1Cor. 15:12-28, 35-58 (summary) – Resurrection from the dead an essential part of Christian faith. The nature of the resurrected body as a spiritual (immortal) body.
vv. 23-24 – But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.
vv. 35-44 – But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel…. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. … So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
vv. 51-52 – 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.
1Th. 4:13-18, 5:1-11 (summary) – But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. At the coming of the Lord, Jesus will descend from heaven with a shout, the voice of an archangel, and a trumpet. The dead in Christ will rise first, then those who are alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds.
2Th. 2:1-4 – Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, … that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.
Rev. 20:4-6 (summary) – Following the Tribulation, the dead in Christ are resurrected and reign with Him for a thousand years. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.
When Jesus returns, He will gather His elect from around the world, both dead and alive, and meet them in the air. 1 Th. 4:17. A core Christian doctrine is the belief in a resurrection of the body. As Paul said in 1 Cor 15:12-19, if there is no resurrection from the dead for Christians, then even Christ has not been raised, and then he makes these statements:
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (vv. 17- 19).
Thus, the resurrection from the dead is a central doctrine of Christianity. There is no life everlasting, no heaven and no hell, unless there is a resurrection of the dead (i.e., an afterlife).
But it goes even deeper that this. In Mat. 22:31-32, Jesus said, “And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.”
In other words, it is the very character of God that He is a God of the living, not the dead. In order for this to be true, from God’s perspective, all the past saints must be alive – there are no saints who are dead to God. Which is to say, it is the very nature of man that every individual is immortal. Not having an immortal body, but an immortal spirit (which needs a body).
But once you get past this central truth, people disagree about almost everything else. Most Christians agree there will be at least two resurrections, but only premillennialists believe both of these will be physical. Historic premillennialists believe in two physical resurrections, the first at the Second Coming, the second after the Millennium. Dispensationalists believe in a secret Rapture before or during the Tribulation, a final resurrection after the Millennium, and in many cases a separate resurrection of Tribulation saints and/or Old Testament saints coincident with the Second Coming.
According to Rev. 20:4-6, the resurrection which occurs at the time of the Second Coming (Rev. 19) and immediately precedes the Millennium is the first resurrection. The first resurrection involves only the righteous, not any of the wicked. Following the Millennium, after Satan is again defeated and history wraps up, there is a second resurrection when all of the dead are raised, both righteous and wicked, and judgement rendered to each one accordingly. Rev. 20:11-15.
On the other hand, postmillennialists and amillennialists both believe that the first resurrection is spiritual only (at the time of each person’s salvation), and only the second resurrection is physical (at the Second Coming and the Great White Throne Judgment which, in their way of thinking, both occur at roughly the same time at the end of history). Under both of these views, there is no physical resurrection, of either the righteous or the wicked, prior to the end of history. There is only one common resurrection for all people (i.e., the second resurrection). This view is based, in part, on Dan. 12:1-2 and Acts 24:14-15, which simply refer to the resurrection of both the just and the unjust.
One of the reasons I reject the postmillennialist and amillennialist positions is that in their way of thinking, the first resurrection is merely spiritual – not acquiring a spiritual body, but simply an awakened spirit. True, the Bible speaks of being made alive when one was spiritually dead (Eph. 2:5; Col. 2:13), but this eschatological view equates resurrection with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Resurrection is the process by which our present mortal and corruptible bodies are exchanged for immortal and incorruptible bodies. Yet, personal salvation makes no changes to the body.
The whole point of a resurrection is to change the nature of the body. 1 Cor. 15:35-49 (excerpt):
But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. … What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. … It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. … But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
You can see how some people can take this text to support the idea that the first resurrection is spiritual only. However, there are at least three reasons why such a reading is not warranted by the text. First, the text plainly says spiritual body. It does violence to the meaning of words to interpret spiritual body as an awakened spirit apart from any kind of body. Plus, the whole discussion begins with the question of what kind of body people receive in the resurrection.
Second, the end of this particular text likens our resurrection bodies with the image of the man of heaven, i.e., the resurrection body of Jesus. Note that following His own resurrection, Jesus was not a free floating spirit, but He had a new body. Thus, Mary and Mary Magdalene took hold of Jesus’ feet. Mt. 28:9. When Jesus appeared to the disciples, He said, ” See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” Thus, the image of the man of heaven was physical, not spiritual only.
Third, the immediately following verses (1 Co. 15:50-58) continue the discussion of the resurrection in the context of the sound of the last trumpet. So we have four choices: 1) if the first resurrection is the same as personal salvation, then a trumpet sounds each time and each time is the last trumpet; 2) the text switches from discussing the first resurrection in v. 49 to the second resurrection in v. 50 without giving any indication that two resurrections are in view here in 1 Cor. 15; 3) the purported trumpet sound is merely allegorical and not real; or 4) the first resurrection cannot be spiritual only. Which choice makes the most sense?
Plus, whenever the Bible talks about a resurrection, it is referring to a common event for all saved or unsaved people, not a series of one-by-one experiences, i.e., individual conversions. As 1 Co. 15:51 says, “we shall all be changed.” If the first resurrection is merely spiritual and does not involve the body, then it really doesn’t qualify as an event at all. “Hey, we had an altar call at church yesterday where people could come to Jesus.” “Really? How many were resurrected?”
The single biggest question concerning the whole matter of the first resurrection among premillennialists is whether it is part and parcel of the Second Coming (end of the Tribulation and not secret), or a separate event at the beginning or middle of the Tribulation and secret (commonly referred to as the Rapture). There are so many confusing and conflicting interpretations of the matter that it is hard to get a handle on it. Whose interpretation can you trust? To resolve this question, I propose to go to the scriptures, exclude all interpretations of men, and put aside (to the greatest extent possible) any predispositions or presuppositions I might have about the matter.
But, how can I (or anyone) do this? I suggest the following methodology (see if you can come up with a better one): 1) pull out all the scriptures regarding the Rapture and/or first resurrection; 2) list them in the order in which they are found (to be as unbiased as possible); 3) note all references indicating either timing or sequence in connection with the same; 4) look for patterns and/or inconsistencies in timing or sequence references; 5) group consistent texts with each other and separate inconsistent texts to determine, first and foremost, whether the scriptures as a whole are describing one event, or more than one event; and 6) determine from those groupings how many events are described and what the characteristics are of each.
Here is the complete list of relevant scriptures, most of which I have reproduced or summarized at the beginning of this chapter: Mat. 24:29-31, 36-44; 1Cor. 15:12-28, 35-58; 1Th. 4:13-18, 5:1-11; 2Th. 2:1-12; Rev. 20:4-6. Ancillary (possibly related) scriptures include: Dan. 12:1-12. Commentators have used many other texts to make arguments bolstering their point of view, but these are, to the best of my knowledge, the only texts expressly and directly on point. So before we consider tangents and sidetracks, let’s first deal with the obvious texts which, I assume, will be the most relevant – and the most important.
Here are all references to timing and sequence contained in the above scriptures:
Dan. 12:1-12 – The Tribulation is described as lasting 3½ times (v. 7), and “at that time” “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” (v. 2). It is not clear (by any method I can determine) whether v. 2 refers to the beginning or end of the Tribulation, or even whether it merely refers to the end times in a general way.
Mat. 24:29-31, 36-44 – After the Tribulation the sun and moon will be darkened, and then Jesus will return on the clouds of heaven. There will be a loud trumpet call, and at that time His angels will “gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
1Cor. 15:12-28, 50-58 – “In Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” (vv. 22-23). “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.” (vv. 51-52).
1Th. 4:13-18 – “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.” (vv. 15-17).
2Th. 2:1-12 – “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, … that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction.” (vv. 1, 3).
Rev. 20:4-6 – “I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection.” Rev. 20:4-5.
As we examine these scriptures, it is not clear (by any method I can determine) whether Dan. 12:2 refers to the beginning or end of the Tribulation, or even whether it merely refers to the end times in a general way. Thus, I regard this text as generally unhelpful in determining a precise sequence of events.
The sequence of Mat. 24 is pretty clear: Tribulation, then trumpet, then gathering the elect. Some have suggested that because the elect are gathered “from one end of heaven to the other” it means the elect have already been raptured and are waiting in heaven. But you have to read this text together with Mk. 13:27, which is another account of the exact same teaching of Jesus, that “he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” In other words, the saints have not already been taken off the earth.
The sequence of 1 Cor. 15, except for Christ who has already been raised, is that the resurrection of the saints will occur at the Second Coming. Again the resurrection is associated with a trumpet sound, but not just any trumpet – it is specifically the last trumpet. By this I assume the text is an implicit reference to the seven trumpets of Rev. 8:6-11:19, the last of which will sound near or at the end of the Tribulation, not its beginning or middle, as has already been commented on. True, the 1 Cor. 15 text refers only to the resurrection of dead saints, however (see next verse) …
1 Thess. 4 makes it clear the translation of saints who are alive will follow, not precede, the resurrection of dead saints. Although, I see no reason why both events cannot occur on the same day, perhaps only moments apart. This text also links the resurrection/rapture with the Second Coming and a trumpet sound. The necessary logical consequence of which is that the translation of living saints cannot precede the Second Coming.
2 Thess. 2 links both the Second Coming and the gathering of the elect to a single day which comes after the revealing of the Antichrist.
Rev. 20 indicates that the Tribulation saints will come back to life at the beginning of the Millennium, which as we already know from many other texts will follow the Tribulation. It also precludes the possibility these saints will be resurrected separately from the saints of the Church who died prior to the Tribulation (who many claim will have been raised previously), since the Tribulation saints will be raised in the first resurrection. If their resurrection is first, and it follows the Tribulation, then the resurrection of Church saints must also follow the Tribulation.
I see no inconsistencies between the above texts whatsoever. They are each perfectly consistent with a single chronology: First the Antichrist is revealed and the Tribulation comes to an end, then Jesus will return on the clouds of heaven with a loud trumpet sound, then His angels will gather the elect from everywhere they may be (alive or dead, whether Church or Tribulation saints), raising the dead in Christ first, then translating those saints who are alive, all of which will meet Jesus in the air, and then rule with Him for 1,000 years.
Inasmuch as all scriptures are consistent with a single chronology, what they are describing is not two or more events, but a single event coincident with the Second Coming. May I suggest at this point if you read the above texts and conclude they are describing more than one event, you are reading something into the texts that isn’t there.