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We are a Christian Fellowship meeting in North London with a strong interest in teaching the Bible and understanding our time in

the light of Bible prophecy

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The Rapture and the Millennium


I spend a lot of my time travelling around the country speaking on issues relating to the end times. I can almost guarantee that after such a talk someone will come up to me and say, “We never hear about this in our church.” Perhaps one reason why many pastors do not like to speak about this issue is that they know that there will probably be a number of different views on the subject in the church and they do not want to create controversy. But Jesus was never bothered about creating controversy and if we neglect the subject for this reason, we have given Satan the victory and have to ignore a large amount of the Bible!


The two major issues, which divide Christians, are the Rapture of the Church and the Millennium. The questions are:


1. ‘Will the believing church go through the Great Tribulation or be taken out before it begins?’


2. ‘Will there be a literal 1000 year reign of Jesus Christ on the earth after his second coming?’


The Rapture


I have already raised this question in a previous article. The point at issue is, ‘Does the Rapture of the Church described in 1 Thessalonians 4.16-17 coincide with the coming of the Lord to the earth or is it separated in time by a period of years?’ In the most common understanding of this view, the period in question is seven years. In other words, ‘Is the Second Coming of Christ in two stages?’


The view that the second coming is in two stages is known as the pre-tribulation rapture, because this event is said to precede the final seven years of the Great Tribulation described in Matthew 24.15-31 and in Revelation 6-19. Critics of this view say that the second coming is all one event and that the idea of a separation in time between the two stages of the second coming is a ‘novel idea’, which the early church knew nothing of.


The usual criticism is that the pre-tribulation rapture theory originated around 1820, ascribed either to Emmanuel Lacunza (1812), Edward Irving (1816), Margaret Macdonald (1830) or John Darby (1820). Dave MacPherson in ‘The Incredible Cover Up’ stated: ‘Margaret Macdonald was the first person to teach a coming of Christ that would precede the days of Antichrist. Before 1830 Christians had always believed in a single future coming, that the catching up of 1 Thessalonians 4 will take place after the Great Tribulation of Matthew 24 at the glorious coming of the Son of Man when He shall send His angels to gather together all of His elect.’


However there is evidence of an understanding of the coming of the Lord in two stages in the early church. I am not claiming that this proves the case, but it does show that this is not just an idea which has been around only from the 19th century onwards. The writer Ephraem the Syrian was a major theologian of the early Byzantine Church. He lived from 306 to 373. In his work ‘On the Last Times, the Antichrist and the End of the World’, he wrote ‘For all the saints and elect of God are gathered prior to the tribulation that is to come, and are taken to the Lord lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of our sins.’


Ephraem’s text shows a literal method of interpreting scripture and teaches the pre-millennial return of Christ. It reveals a clear statement about the Lord returning before the tribulation to take his elect saints home to be with him to escape the coming tribulation. In addition Ephraem declares his belief in a personal Antichrist who will rule the Roman Empire during the last days, a rebuilt Temple, the two witnesses and a literal Great Tribulation lasting 1260 days.


Ephraem’s writing concludes: ‘And there will be a great tribulation, as there has not been since people began to be on the earth … and no one is able to sell or buy of the grain of the harvest, unless he is the one who has the serpentine sign on the forehead or the hand. And when the three and a half years have been completed, the time of the Antichrist, through which he will have seduced the world, after the resurrection of the two prophets, in the hour which the world does not know and on the day which the enemy or the son of perdition does not know, will come the sign of the Son of Man, and coming forward the Lord shall appear with great power and much majesty, with the sign of salvation going before him, and also even with all the powers of the heavens with the whole chorus of the saints.’


So the teaching that the second coming is in two stages was not unknown to the early church. It may have been little known and understood, but that is not a bar to it being true. At the time of the first coming of the Messiah Jesus, it was not understood even by his closest disciples that there were to be two stages in his Messianic mission, the first to suffer and die as a sacrifice for sin (in fulfilment of prophecies such as Isaiah 53), the second to rule and reign over the redeemed earth (in fulfilment of Isaiah 2.1-4 and other prophecies). After the Day of Pentecost they understood the truth, that there was to be a time gap between his first and second coming during which time they were to evangelise the world (see Acts 1.6-8).


The literal understanding of the prophecies also demands that there is a time gap between the first and second stage of the second coming of Christ. The first stage, the rapture of the church, happens unexpectedly, as a thief in the night. Even from the point of view of the writers of the New Testament it could happen at any time:


‘You also be patient, brethren. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand,’ (James 5.8). See also 1 Corinthians 1.7, 16.22, 1 Thessalonians 1.10, Titus 2.13, Hebrews 9.28, 1 Peter 1.13, Jude 21 and Revelation 3.11, 22.7,12,17,20. If the rule of Antichrist, the Great Tribulation and the Mark of the Beast system had to come first it would be impossible for Christ to come at any time as was the expectation of the early Christians.


In 1 Thessalonians 5.3, people are saying ‘Peace and Safety’ at the time of the Lord coming as a ‘thief in the night.’ They will hardly be saying this after all the plagues of Revelation have been poured out and as the armies of the world gather at Armageddon. Also if you take the times given in Daniel and Revelation literally you should be able to work out the date of the second coming, something Jesus says we cannot do. Once you get to the peace treaty being signed with Israel you know there are seven years to go. Once you get to the Mark of the Beast system being set up worldwide you know there are 3 ½ years to go.


Expecting Jesus to come at any time means that we as believers should keep our lives in continual readiness for this event as John taught in his epistle: ‘We know that when he is revealed, we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure’ (1 John 3.2-3). This is also a tremendous hope for those who are suffering in this body: ‘For our citizenship is in heaven from which we eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to his glorious body. … The Lord is at hand’ (Philippians 3.20, 4.5).


The Millennium


The controversy about the Millennium centres on the question of Chapter 20 in the Book of Revelation and a number of passages in the Old Testament. The word Millennium is in fact taken from two Latin words, ‘mille’, meaning 1000 and ‘annus’, meaning year. According to Revelation 20 this is the 1000 year period when Satan will be bound (unable to influence the world) and Jesus will reign on the earth (along with true believers who will be resurrected at this time): ‘Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Messiah, and shall reign with him a thousand years’ (Revelation 20.6).


There are also a number of Old Testament passages which deal with this subject, notably Psalms 2 and 72, Isaiah 2.1-4, 11-12, Ezekiel 40-48, Daniel 7.13-14 and Zechariah 14. According to these passages Messiah will come in the clouds of heaven with all the power of God at His disposal to destroy all that opposes His rule. All international conflicts will cease and there will be world peace in which even the animal kingdom will be at peace with itself. His dominion will reach to the ends of the earth and all nations will come up to worship Him and learn from Him at the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem. Israel will be regathered and at last know peace and safety as Jewish people recognise Yeshua (Jesus) as the promised Messiah.


The question is ‘Should these passages be taken literally as events which will take place on earth, or are they allegorical of the life of the believing church on the earth now or of the future life in heaven?’ The main views on this subject are known as ‘pre-millennialism’, ‘a-millennialism’ and ‘post-millennialism’. Such words are no doubt a big turn off to many, but it is not so difficult to understand them. ‘Pre-millennialism’ means that Jesus comes back ‘pre’ (before) the Millennium. ‘Post-millennialism’ means he comes back ‘post’ (after) it. ‘A-millennialism’ means there is no (‘a’ is the Greek prefix meaning ‘no’) millennium, but the prophecies about this are now happening symbolically through the church.


Perhaps the main view in the church today is ‘a-millennialism’. For those who take this view the second coming is the end of the world and the beginning of heaven and hell. Therefore there is no time when Jesus reigns in person on the earth.


If one takes this line there are a number of passages in scripture, which have to be taken allegorically rather than literally. For example the text in Isaiah 2.4 says, ‘Nation will not lift up sword against nation’. Taken literally this means that there will be a time when conflicts between nations will cease. Clearly this has not happened since Jesus came the first time. For pre-millennialists this is not a problem because it will happen literally after the second coming. For a-millennialists it has to be interpreted symbolically. One way of looking at it is to point out that former enemies who come to faith in Jesus are often reconciled and become friends, rather than meaning that all conflict itself will cease. By this logic it can be said that this is happening now in situations where, for example, an Israeli and an Arab believer in Jesus have fellowship in the Lord.


According to this view the second coming itself seems to be a bit of a wasted journey – a walk through the ruins of a shattered world after the time of great tribulation, only to blow up the planet and make a new one. God could do this without Jesus having to leave heaven at all.


Another view is called ‘post millennialism’ which means that the second coming happens after (post) the church has succeeded in establishing the kingdom on the earth through a great revival which, it is claimed, will convert all the nations to Christianity.


Dave Mansell wrote in Restoration Magazine, January 1991: ‘A new order is emerging in purity and power - the kingdom of God. The people of God, united in love and submission to Jesus Christ, will fill the earth as they take the kingdom and as all nations are brought beneath the feet of King Jesus.’


John Giminez wrote in New Wine Magazine, January 1986: ‘We believe it’s God’s will that the righteous should reign on this earth, and we’re seeing people preparing themselves to be lawyers, doctors, generals, admirals, presidents, and congressmen. The righteous will rule and the people will rejoice.’


The evidence of this happening on this side of the second coming of Christ is thin to say the least. Jesus taught in Matthew 13.24-43 that good and evil will co-exist until the end of this age and according to Revelation 13 the second coming will be preceded by the vast majority of people turning to Antichrist not Jesus Christ.


I believe the pre-millennial view, which means that Jesus comes back pre (before) the Millennium. Jesus will come back in person to the earth at the time of the Great Tribulation, and then establish the glorious reign of the true Messiah, showing how the world should be run under God’s authority.


The pre-millennial view was the expectation of the early church, as is testified by a number of sources. Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), author of ‘The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’, stated, ‘The ancient and popular doctrine of the Millennium was intimately connected with the second coming of Christ. ... It was inferred that this long period of labour and contention would be succeeded by a joyful Sabbath of 1000 years; and that Christ, with the triumphant band of saints and the elect who had escaped death, or who had been miraculously revived, would reign upon earth till the time appointed for the last and general resurrection. Though it might not be universally received, it appears to have been the reigning sentiment of the orthodox believers.’ Gibbon was a historian trying to uncover the facts and was not sympathetic to Christianity, so his comments do not come with any bias of his own belief.


In his writing ‘Dialogue with Trypho’, Justin Martyr, who lived from approximately 100 to 165 AD, stated, ‘But I and others, who are right minded Christians on all points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be adorned, and enlarged as the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and others declare. ... And further there was a certain man with us, whose name was John, one of the apostles of Christ, who prophesied, by a revelation that was made to him, that those who believed in our Christ would dwell one thousand years in Jerusalem; and that thereafter the general and in short the eternal resurrection and judgement of all men would take place.’ Justin’s use of the phrase ‘right minded Christians on all points’ indicates that this view of the Millennium was the prevailing one in his day. He also gives as his authority the Apostle John who was ‘with us’ (i.e. known to him).


This view began to lose influence in the third century of the Christian era with the teachings of the Greek theologian Origen who adopted an allegorical method of interpreting the prophets. In other words he taught that instead of speaking about a time when Jesus would literally rule the earth from Jerusalem and swords would be beaten into ploughshares, the prophecies indicate a spiritual kingdom in which Jesus would reign from heaven in the hearts of believers and there would be peace in their relationships with each other. One of Origen’s disciples, called Dionysius, went so far in opposing the idea of a literal reign of Messiah on earth that he influenced the Greek Church to remove the Book of Revelation from the New Testament. It was not restored until the late Middle Ages.


The major influence on the Roman church, Augustine, also rejected the idea of a literal reign of the Messiah on the earth. In his book ‘City of God’ he wrote that the abyss into which Satan is cast in the Millennium (Revelation 20.1-3) is not a literal location. Instead he said, ‘By the abyss is meant the countless multitude of the wicked whose hearts are unfathomably deep in malignity against the Church of God.’ He said that the binding of Satan in the abyss ‘means his being unable to seduce the church.’ He was convinced that this binding of Satan in the abyss is a reality in this present Church age.


This teaching led into the rise of Roman Catholicism as the Church ruling and reigning for Jesus in this age and the Pope as the Vicar of Christ on earth enforcing His will (i.e. ‘binding’ or preventing the influence of evil). Unfortunately far from being ‘unable to seduce the church’, by the Middle Ages, Satan was more or less running the show, with the true Gospel suppressed and real Christians ruthlessly persecuted, along with Jews and others who stood in the way of the so-called ‘Church Triumphant.’


With the Reformation there came a renewed interest in studying the Bible, but end time prophecy was not high on the agenda of the Reformers. Many of them tended to take on board the Roman Catholic view that the Millennium should be applied to the spiritual reign of Christ in the Church, not a future event to take place after His second coming. That is why today belief in the literal Millennium remains a minority view among Christians.


Fortunately what will happen does not depend on what we believe, but on what God decrees. He is not going to let Satan have the last word in the affairs of this planet by making the reign of Antichrist and the Great Tribulation the end of the world. Rather He will show through the glorious thousand year reign of the Messiah just how wonderful life on this planet can be when God, not Satan and human sin, are in control. This prelude to the eternal state (Revelation 21-22) is something to look forward to as the days of this age become darker and the forces of evil become stronger.


Satan will have his brief day in the coming Great Tribulation (7 years), but the Lord Jesus will rule and reign for 1000 glorious years on earth and then for eternity in heaven. The choice to the human race is whether to join the loser in his eternal doom or to get on the winning side.