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Yahusha/JESUS gave signs of what must happen before His Return: "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:" Matt. 24:29 (KJV)
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We have attempted to make some chronological sense of the period immediately preceding the seven-year Tribulation, as described in Scripture. We began with the observation that the prophets Joel, Zephaniah, Malachi and others, state in plain language that certain key events will begin to happen before the Tribulation. These upheavals of nature, we commonly associate with the Tribulation, itself.
But they are pretribulational, as well. For example, Joel writes of an astronomical cataclysm of the type that is commonly thought of as being part of the Tribulation. But he places it before that time, using the term “day of the Lord,” which is accepted as the Old Testament term for the Tribulation.
“The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come” (Joel 2:31).
Zephaniah sends a warning to latter-day Israel, urging them to organize themselves for the dreadful days just ahead of them in the Tribulation. Without a doubt, the Jews who read this are those who will have been regathered into their own territory, just as are the Israelis in today’s Israel. He warns them to devote themselves to worship God in the true spirit of God’s Word:
“Gather yourselves together, yea, gather together, O nation not desired;
“Before the decree bring forth, before the day pass as the chaff, before the fierce anger of the LORD come upon you, before the day of the LORD’s anger come upon you.
“Seek ye the LORD, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the LORD’s anger” (Zeph. 2:1-3).
Zephaniah’s intended audience is national Israel as a people, as they experience a specific period in history. That period is the one in which we are currently interested … the time before the Tribulation, at the very end of the Church Age. By inference, those to whom he directs his warning are living in a state of bliss, ignorant of the fact that God’s judgment is about to fall upon them. He urges them to prepare for that which is soon to come.
Similarly, the prophet Malachi, whose writing is appropriately placed at the very end of the Old Testament, declares that there will be a way to determine that the Great Tribulation is very near. He does this by making the emphatic declaration to Israel that they should look for Elijah before the Tribulation:
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD” (Mal. 4:5).
One of the central truths about Israel and the Jews in general is their powerful connection with God through the Torah and the annual cycle of the seven feasts they observe. Their annual observation of the cycle begins with Passover, which is both a retelling of the Exodus miracle and a prophecy of the latter-day miracles that will bring Israel into the prophesied Kingdom period.
It is well known that a key element in the observation of this first feast, is the prophecy of Elijah. A place is set for him at the table, and toward the end of the meal, the dinner host even pours a cup for him, should he appear. At one point, children are urged to go to the door and peek out to see if he has arrived.
As Elijah’s cup is poured, the host utters words that invoke prophetic Scripture. He would say something like, “Blessed are you O Lord, our God, King of the Universe, who has created the fruit of the vine. Pour out your wrath upon the nations who fail to recognize you. They have demolished Jacob and his land. Let the fire of your wrath destroy them from beneath your heavens.”
In other words, in the direct context of Elijah’s coming, the host calls for the judgments of the Tribulation!
The truth of the Passover prophecy becomes clear. The coming of Elijah marks a great turn of history. Before his arrival, the presence of the body of Christ and the cultural influence incumbent upon the church age is the most significant force on the planet. Elijah’s rise to prominence changes all that. Before he leads Israel to the center of the historical stage, the church must be moved out of the way.
A great many prophetically significant events are prophesied to befall Israel and the world before the Tribulation, and by definition, the church must be absent from the world scene. This leads to the inescapable conclusion that the rapture occurs long before the initiation of the seven years, which are set in motion by the Antichrist’s affirmation of a covenant with Israel.
We have demonstrated that many prophecies of the Old Testament coalesce into a fairly complete picture of the dramatic period before the Tribulation. It is the period of Israel’s regathering, which began in the latter years of the nineteenth century and extends to the present. This phase of prophetic development will necessarily grow more and more dramatic, until it finally reaches the point of open conflict in a series of wars and the structuring of a global government. The world will assume its prophesied form. The prophesies of Daniel and Revelation will be played out to the end. Long before that, the church will have been taken out of the world.
Old Testament, New Testament
The New Testament also speaks volumes about this same period. We may not ordinarily think of it this way, but New Testament prophecies that expound upon the nature of the church in the end times are actually focused on the transitional period we’re currently examining.
And amazingly, the imagery of the Mosaic Law provides a beautiful picture of the transition that must take place in the unfolding of the latter-day prophetic drama. A single, dramatic ritual at the center of Israel’s seven feasts brings together the two Testaments in a single, perfect visual symbol – two loaves of bread on Pentecost.
Strategically placed between the three spring festivals (Passover, Unleavened Bread and Firstfruits) and the three fall festivals (Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur and Tabernacles), is Pentecost, symbol of the redemptive process. In particular, this observance symbolizes God’s Spirit, in act of sanctification. As originally observed, this festival features a beautiful and meaningful ritual, performed by the High Priest:
“And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be complete:
“Even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the LORD.
“Ye shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth deals: they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baken with leaven; they are the firstfruits unto the LORD” (Lev. 23:15-17).
Balanced at the centerpoint of the seven feasts, we find this beautiful symbol that includes both houses of the redeemed, held aloft and waved before the congregation of Israel as a sign that what God as begun, He will complete. The loaves are formed, risen and baked.
Though Israel could not have imagined its true meaning in those days, it speaks of two separated covenants – Old and New – and two separate houses – the Jew and the church.
The two covenants are separately fulfilled. The sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob have a different prophetic destiny than does the elect of the body of Christ, the church.
A good example of this is found in Romans, where Paul prophesies of a future day when Israel will reach spiritual “fulness:”
“Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fullness?” (Rom. 11:12).
In the same chapter, he goes on to say:
“For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.
“And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:
“For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins”(Rom. 11:25-27).
Here, Paul invokes the term “mystery” to explain the events that will unfold as the church age comes to a close. At the rapture, the church will be complete, but Israel’s appointment with destiny will only have begun.
On the basis of this idea, which is the subject of his discourse, we interpret this mystery as that of the two houses of the redeemed. This is precisely the message of Pentecost.
A Subtle Change
In the near future, the transitional period from Gentile Christian dominance to Jewish dominance will pass. It is precisely this current zone of change that draws our attention. We recall similar period in the early church, during the forty years from Pentecost to the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. This phase of history witnessed the formative years of the church, while the ritual sacrifices were still taking place in Jerusalem. Judaism declined as Christianity rose.
At the present time, we are witnessing a similar period, as Israel rises once again toward a period of war that will precipitate the radical reshaping of the world, as it moves into the Tribulation.
Changes take time. Again and again, history shows us that before a major changes takes place, hundreds of small details must transpire, until all is in readiness for something that to the uninformed observer, seems to happen in an instant. At present, those with eyes to see are watching a passing parade of just such details. Soon, when enough of them have come as preparation, Israel will be ready. Before that time, the church will have been raptured.
Dispensationalists believe that the era or dispensation of Mosaic Law ended at Pentecost. Few realize that it had begun fifteen centuries earlier, on the same day. Then came the era of the church, which will end with the rapture. Many believe that the catching-away will also come on a future Pentecost. Whether or not this is true, it will certainly come before Elijah’s arrival, which Malachi tells us, takes place before the Tribulation. We remember his words:
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD” (Mal. 4:5).
And it is also a certainty that the rapture takes place before or at the beginning of a great war (Ezekiel 38) and a wave of astronomical disturbances (Joel 2). Furthermore, Jesus told the men who were to be the founders of the early church that before the Tribulation there would be geophysical upheavals:
“And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
“For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.
“All these are the beginning of sorrows” (Matt. 24:6-8).
These words are specifically directed toward the Israel of the latter days, and are indicative of conditions that will develop just before the Tribulation. In the context of this statement, Jesus interjects, “but the end is not yet,” literally meaning that the Tribulation has not yet come as these things begin to happen.
At the present time, we have already endured two global wars. Now, we hear of military escalation, agricultural shortfalls, disease (including biological warfare) and increasing earthquake intensity. The preliminaries are underway. We are well along in the transition, which is so well illustrated in the book of Revelation.
Philadelphia and Laodicea
The letters to the seven churches at the beginning of Revelation culminate in the two churches that are diametric opposites. Philadelphia is the church of sound doctrine and brotherly love; Laodicea is the church of humanism and wealth. The chasm between them is wide and deep. There are many good reasons to believe that this great divide falls within the chronological zone that includes the rapture.
Many preachers have uttered words to the effect that the first Sunday after the rapture will witness some of greatest numbers in church attendance history. Something will have happened; a strange fear of unfathomable proportions will grip the hearts of men. They will want answers to the questions that they never asked before the church was caught away. Among those questions, the first and foremost was, “What must I do to be saved?”
It is commonly held that the Philadelphian church of Revelation, chapter 3, symbolizes the faithful church of the latter days, roughly the chronological era from the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries. This is the church that promotes the sound doctrine and practice of the Apostles. It is obvious, however, that it also extends into the twenty-first century, since the rapture has not yet occurred. Members of his church are still on earth.
The Lord speaks of an “open door,” historically affirmed by the rise of world missions during this period. It also speaks of those who presumptuously adopt the role of Jews, assuming that they have inherited the Kingdom promises that the Bible guarantees to Israel alone. To this branch of the church, the Lord promises that the world will one day be made to understand the truth that has evaded them for so long. In the following passage, one of those truths is that the Jews, not the church, will inherit the Kingdom:
“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth;
“I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.
“Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee”(Rev. 3:7-9).
It should be emphasized that of all the seven churches, the Philadelphian church is the only one to whom the Lord makes the promise to “come quickly.” No doubt, this is a reference to His promise to come to them and take them home in the rapture before the Day of the Lord … the Tribulation, which He calls, “the hour of temptation [trial].”
“Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.
“Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.
“Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” (Rev. 3:10-13).
The Philadelphian church is juxtaposed with the church of the Laodiceans, a word meaning roughly “the people’s victory.” This is the church of humanism, which had its beginnings in the nineteenth century in the school of “higher criticism.” Its heart and core is the philosophical position that man, not God, is the measure of all things.
This church enthrones human potential. It is the church of environmental consciousness and diversity. It is the church that leans toward evolution as the explanation of life’s origin. It is the church of “social justice,” the proposition that health and wealth must be distributed fairly throughout society by human means.
But most of all, it is the church that has departed from the passionate devotion to the doctrines of Holy Scripture. It is this zeal for the divine inspiration of God’s Word that has maintained the vitality of the church over the centuries:
“And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;
“I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
“So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth” (Rev. 3:14-16).
The gradual turning-away from sound doctrine is here branded as being “lukewarm.” The Lord likens it to an unpalatable food or drink, which one anticipates with enthusiasm, but upon tasting it, spits it out. Except here, the Greek word is stronger than that. “Spue,” is translated from the Greek emeo, meaning “to vomit” or “throw up.” It suggests more than merely being unpalatable. Instead, it tends toward violent rejection. Chilled or heated foods are not only more palatable, they are more likely to be sanitary, and more free from contamination.
This would be perfectly descriptive of an unbelieving church, which has lost its objectivity, thinking itself to be rich and blessed, while in reality, it is naked and blind. Both of these conditions, by the way, are expressions for the condition of being unsaved.
To complete the metaphor, its members are thrown up – hurled into the stark severity of the Tribulation. This would be the same as being rejected from the body of Christ. The membership of this church cannot in any way be construed as having experienced salvation.
To make the point clear: Laodicea’s members may attend what they call “a church,” but they are unsaved. Their real allegiance is to the world system. One can think of many churches that fit this description.
Finally, they are called naked and blind. Nakedness is the opposite of being clothed with a robe of righteousness, the Bible’s way of depicting justification by faith. And blindness is the common condition of those unable to see the truth of God’s Word and their need for redemption. These are further proofs of their unsaved condition:
“Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:
“I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.
“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.
“Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
“To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.
Rev. 3:22 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” (Rev. 3:17-22).
A strong lesson to be learned from these two churches is that Philadelphia, the church keeps God’s Word, is accepted; Laodicea is rejected. The issue is the rapture; one will be taken, while the other is left. This conclusion has nothing to do with a “partial rapture” theory. Laodicea is a blind church; as such it is unsaved. Within its walls, it may harbor a few believers. Certainly, they will be taken in the rapture, leaving the majority of their congregation on earth.
And while it is impossible to be dogmatic on the following point, it seems likely that the Philadelphian church will at some point have been taken home, leaving the Laodicean church to be vomited out into the Tribulation. This is yet another suggestion that the rapture takes place a considerable time before the Antichrist initiates the seven years.
As many have already pointed out, the next event in Revelation that follows the letters to the churches is that a door is opened to heaven. John is taken through it to heaven, where he witnesses a number of significant events that unfold before the Tribulation.
As we have pointed out in past studies, Christ’s acceptance of the seven-sealed scroll, the antichrist’s advent, and the four horsemen are all pretribulational.
Prophecy in the News