There is a story of a farmer milking his cows one Sunday morning when a church vicar who was walking past the farm, paused and called out,
"Christ will be coming back!"
He then walked on, without saying anything else, towards his church to prepare for that morning's service.
Not long after the service had began, the vicar spotted the farmer, now changed into clean clothes, sitting at one of the pews, listening to the sermon. Afterwards, the farmer was asked what brought him here.
"When you reminded me that Jesus will be coming back, I wouldn't had wanted him to catch me milking cows when I should be at church, would I?"
And so says the Scripture:
But you know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.
1 John 3:2b-3.
The Second Coming of Christ, nowadays a belief held by nutters and crackpots - as the secular world regards fundamental Christians, or "fundies" as they are often known by. And little wonder. If the idea of supernatural creation has been robbed of any element of truth and relegated to that of a crackpot belief held by nutters and fundies, it would be of no surprise that any idea of the return of Christ would be regarded in the same manner. Just as Peter predicted:
First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation."
2 Peter 3:3-4.
By reading the above quote, it becomes obvious that supernatural creation is intrinsically linked to the Return of Christ. To admit one is to admit the other. To deny one also denies the other. And so the idea of supernatural creation keeps on getting stabbed in the back. At present, we are about halfway through a series of programmes broadcast on the BBC, Planet Dinosaur where the theory of evolution is "proved" over and over again. Last week we watched on the development of feathers on one species of dinosaur, allowing it to glide from tree to tree in order to catch its prey. Evolutionists then declared that by fossil evidence our modern bird species are direct descendants of these gliding lizards. Divine creation doesn't stand a chance!
Then just today, the Mail on Sunday carried it front page headline, the BBC is to jettison the initials BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini) out of political correctness, i.e. that these initials are offensive to other faiths. These will be replaced by the BBC with BCE (Before Common Era) and CE (Common Era). The scoffers, by winning the heart of such a worldwide broadcaster, had certainly won a victory.
The second coming of Christ had always been a topic of great interest to me, ever since the 1970s, when I found myself in discussions with some Jehovah's Witnesses on this subject. The Watchtower Society of Jehovah's Witnesses published books on prophecy with movable dates. When that particular day in human history came and went, it wasn't a case of "Whoops, not this time" but clear proof, so they said, that the Society is constantly revising and improving on their creeds as the Lord hands down more and more revelation from his "heavenly table." As such, the Society remains unblemished.
Aside from all this, my keen interest on the Second Coming has its beginnings in the 1970s. This became a study known as Eschatology (knowledge of last things). This subject certainly peaked in sales at Christian bookshops within the last thirty years of the Twentieth Century, when a new Millennium was about to dawn. I have books written on the Last Things by quite a number of authors. These include:
Hal Lindsey: Late Great Planet Earth
Hal Lindsey: The 1980s Countdown to Armageddon
Hal Lindsey: The Terminal Generation
Hal Lindsey: There's A New World Coming
Dr. De Hann: The Jew and Palestine in Prophecy.
Tim LaHaye: The Beginning of the End
Norman Robertson: Understanding End Time Prophecy
Salem Kirban: 666
Dave Hunt: How Close Are We?
Dave Hunt: Global Peace
Dave Hunt: Occult Invasion
Dave Hunt: The Cup of Trembling
Dave Hunt: A Woman Rides The Beast
More than a dozen books written by six different authors line my bookshelf, each either dealing directly with Eschatology or have some reference to it. And all agreeing with each other, one can call as truth the Pre-Trib Rapture and the Second Coming, two future events with the seven-year Tribulation period, dominated by the rule of the future Antichrist, in between. So to lay out the chronology of the Last Things as expounded by these authors, we get something like this:
1. Church Age (present)
2. Rapture of the Church (future, and on from there)
3. First 42 months after Rapture: Tribulation, Rise of the Antichrist.
4. Second 42 months: Reign of Antichrist, Great Tribulation. Total: 84 months or seven Hebrew years.
5. The Second Coming of Christ, Antichrist destroyed, wicked judged.
6. Establishment of Christ Kingdom on Earth, reigning from Jerusalem for a thousand years (hence Millennium). Israel to be the chief nation of the whole planet.
7. Final Rebellion.
8. Last Judgement.
9. Re-creation of God's eternal Kingdom.
It is important to note that the nation of Israel must be fully established before Christ can come back to reign. I believe it was first, the establishing of Israel as a nation once again in 1948 after approximately 2,530 years of non-existence - a phenomenon no other nation can claim. And secondly the winding up of the twentieth Century with the onset of the 21st Century and also the third millennium which resulted in "end-time prophecy mania" which hit the Christian bookshelf.
I for one, fully believe in a pre-Trib, Pre-Mill Rapture. But I want to base my belief in it on what the Bible has to say on it, not merely on authors' verifications, even if there is agreement between them all. First, 1 Thessalonians says this:
For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.
Also read Isaiah 26:16 to 27:6. Don't let the chapter break throw you. It is one passage, as it has been for the first two thousand years after it was written. The whole of Eschatology can be contained here, in a nutshell.
Breaking it down, it says first, that Israel as a nation mourns over its own history, 26:16-18.
Then the "dust of the earth gives up the dead, verse 19.
The living told to "Go, hide themselves from the wrath to come, verses 20, 21. Where they are told to hide cannot be on this planet because they could still be found by someone. This "hiding away" must be a heavenly transfer. Note that first, the dead is raised. Secondly the living saints disappear. This tallies exactly with Paul's version in his letter to the church in Thessaloniki.
27:1, Judgement of Leviathan, tallying with Revelation 20:1-3.
27:2-6, Christ's Kingdom established, as with Revelation 20:4-6.
So there is a Biblical reason on why I believe in a pre-Trib Rapture. But how did this teaching develop? Actually it comes as a surprise that some Calvinists reject this branch of Eschatology altogether. It is believed that during the Reformation started by Martin Luther and endorsed by John Calvin, many Christians who began to read and understand the Bible for themselves soon discovered that the Great Whore of Babylon of Revelation 17 was the Roman Catholic Church with its Pope as Antichrist. Both Luther and Calvin believed this, as did their followers. The Reformation, as a result, denounced the Church of Rome as counterfeit Christianity.
It was in 1590 that Jesuit Francisco Ribera, in order to protect the Papacy from these accusations, formulated the pre-Trib Rapture and the rise of Antichrist as something deep in the future. As a result, the Pope was seen as innocent from the accusations aimed at him by the Protestants. Ribera formulated a doctrine which is known by present theologians as Premillennialism.
Ribera's thesis was taken up by Cardinal Bellarmine, the same individual who convinced the scientist Galileo that the Earth could not possibly orbit the Sun. Also, Edward Irving, a Scottish Presbyterian minister, also accepted Ribera's thesis as authentic, therefore also shielding the Pope from being the beast riding the whore of Revelation chapter 17.
A leader of the Plymouth Brethren, lawyer James Darby also accepted the views of Ribera, Bellarmine and Irvine, and developed the doctrine of Dispensationalism, which features the Rapture, Tribulation, the rise and reign of the Antichrist and the Second coming of Christ, followed by his reign from Jerusalem. I feel it is necessary to expound exactly what dispensationalism is, for the reader who is not acquainted with theology or church history and teachings. In a nutshell, I could describe the dispensation system, which means that human history is divided by a series of dispensations, or time periods which were defined by James Darby. They are as follows:
1. The age of Innocence - Adam and Eve
2. The age of Conscience - from the Fall of Adam to the Flood.
3. The age of Human Government - from the Flood to Abraham.
4. The age of the Promise - from Abraham to the Exodus.
5. The age of the Law - from Mt Sinai to the death of Christ.
6. The age of Grace (Church Age)- from the Resurrection to the Rapture.
7. The age of the Kingdom - from the Second coming to the end of history.
In 1909 Cyrus Scofield published his Scofield Bible, based on Darby's work, which became central to most American seminaries. So, according to some Calvinists, the doctrine of Dispensationalism was from a Jesuit, Francisco Ribera, exonerating the Papacy from Protestant's accusations of being the Great Whore of Babylon.
There are Christians who will believe that the seven time periods are simply too many, and argue that there were only two, Law and Grace. But I dare to go a step further - the dispensation of Grace spanning the whole of human history. In reality, nobody can keep the Law of Moses perfectly. And absolutely perfect obedience is required for everlasting life. But since it's impossible to keep the Law, that's where the death and resurrection of Christ plays the major role. Eternal life is a free gift of God given through faith alone. It has always been a free gift of Grace, from the fall of Adam and Eve into sin to the very end of history. Faithful men of God were saved by Grace even before Jesus Christ came along. They were saved by faith in the promise of the coming Messiah, as depicted in Genesis 3:15. Today one is saved by looking back at the Messiah crucified.
I will ask: Is the knowing of the Return of Christ necessary for Christian living? Yes, absolutely.
As with the story of the farmer at the beginning of this article, the thought of Christ's return spurs the soul to holiness and greater purity in his life. It plays a big role in Christian living, giving greater motivation to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit, to reach for the lost, to encourage love and bonding between brothers. It is also an ingredient for church growth.
I could be called a preMillennialist. I could even be accused of defending Roman Catholicism, or to be tainted with the lies of a Jesuit, or even be called a Catholic and be classed as a partaker of the Whore of Babylon. But none of these are important to me. Just as I believe that there are many Catholics who have trusted in Jesus Christ and are actually saved, so it does not matter whether I believe that the Rapture will come or not, or Christ will come with another method. What is important to me is, am I reconciled to God through faith in Jesus Christ? Am I filled with the Holy Spirit? Do I delight in reading the Bible? Do I love the brethren? These are the most important questions we all need to look at. Getting your points in Eschatology is lower on the list, but nevertheless, knowing that Christ will come back spurs us to holiness.