Once a day, the two women I have known well in my life – my mom and my wife – are transformed. Let me explain: My mother wasn’t one to raise her voice often. She has always been, more or less, the quiet type. One exception to her normal state was at the point when supper was on the table. Mom believed, as my wife does today, that supper is a family time. In fact, both women worked hard to put food on the table that was hot, ready and well made. (I may be a lot of things, but underfed is not and never was one of them!) Like my mom, my wife is not a fighter, or a loud voice. She is, for the most part, very quiet, except when she is watching someone do something really dumb on America’s Funniest Videos, or watching the “Three Stooges”.
Here is the weird thing: when supper time roles around something happens to these women. Each transforms their normally calm nature to get us to the table. For my wife, she sometimes puts her fingers in her mouth and bellows a whistle that can scare the cat – in my neighbor’s house! She has a distinctive “call to supper” that can be piercing. In a way, Heaven also has such a call, and God’s messenger will do the very same thing one day soon! Revelation 19 opens up the story of two dinners – and two calls. One is a great banquet for believers, the other a supper for birds. One is in Heaven – with tables set for a bride all dressed for the big day. The other is on earth – where a bloody battle leaves the carcasses of rebellious humanity to be the feast for vultures. There couldn’t be two more different scenes!
The Bible says that the Great Tribulation ends when the call from Heaven pronounces the arrival of the Victorious Christ to save His Father’s estranged bride from her sure and certain destruction – and that call will be viewed from two very different vantage points. Zechariah 12-14 describes the view from Jewish believers that see the coming of the “One they had pierced” – and they breathe a sigh of relief that destruction has been averted. From the standpoint of the rebellious men of the world, the battle pits them against an insurmountable foe – their very own Creator! For them, it is “lights out”! Here is the odd thing: it isn’t only important how one views the scene THAT DAY.. it is important how we view it EVEN NOW.
Key Principle: How I view Christ’s return matters – not only in the future – but it matters TODAY. The view a believer takes on these prophetic matters will affect not only his contemporary politics, but his or her view of the Bible itself.
Since chapter 16, we have been using some very graphic terms for God’s final attack and destruction of false religion. It is uncomfortable for a Pastor, who wants to use his mouth to speak truth and not invite loose thinking or ungodly speech, to painstakingly take apart the language that has been otherwise reserved for the dark trades of sleazy back streets. I have done it, because it is what the text demanded. God spoke of false religion as a substitute to a real and intimate relationship with God – and He framed it is his Word in terms of PROSTITUTION. The great harlot of Babylon was the man-made substitute of religion for the marriage relationship of intimacy God wanted to have with each of us. The goal of God’s adversary is to draw us from falling into His arms, and place us in a fake relationship with a god we sculpt – one that is palatable to us. Chapter 16 showed the demise, and chapters 17 and 18 explained the reasons and method of destruction God will use. Chapter 19:1-5 opens with the same theme, before the text moves from that event a new picture.
Revelation 19:1 After these things I heard something like a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God; 2BECAUSE HIS JUDGMENTS ARE TRUE AND RIGHTEOUS; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and HE HAS AVENGED THE BLOOD OF HIS BOND-SERVANTS ON HER.” 3And a second time they said, “Hallelujah! HER SMOKE RISES UP FOREVER AND EVER.”
In chapter 17, we saw religion as wealthy, deceptive, blasphemous, and Satanically empowered. Whether the symbol of a crescent or star – all false religion achieves the same purpose in the enemy’s plan – it fills men with false hope and robs them of real intimacy with God. Modern man ends up celebrating belief, but not the object of belief.
It was reported that when Prince Charles was recently asked if he was comfortable as the possible next monarch and head of the Church of England, he replied that rather than be called the “Defender of the Faith”, he would simply like “Defender of Faith”. He didn’t like the idea of standing for one truth – that seemed like bigotry to him. He is a personification of the modern ideal: Believe in belief – it doesn’t really matter which one. Just believe in it strongly if it helps you.
By chapter 18, we traced God’s secrets about the harlot. We noted that God took a LONG TIME explaining her destruction. When we open Revelation 19:1-5, where the text shows that God finishes her destruction:
False “Relationship” Destroyed
The voices of Heaven’s choir spoke in unison – “God you are RIGHT!” Salvation belongs to You – or – Rescue is YOUR THING. The judgment of the false religions of the world that bound and captivated millions and billions showed the power of God to rescue deceived creation and eliminate all other voices claiming to be “god”.
- The harlot’s teachings were FALSE and SLANTED. His justice is TRUE and RIGHTEOUS.
- She CORRUPTED the world with IMMORALITY. He showed FIDELITY to those who trusted Him.
- She TOOK LIFE from those on the earth who trusted their Creator and worked for His message. He GAVE LIFE to those who lost their bodies on account of their testimony for Him.
- She BLOCKED the smoke of sweet sacrifice to the nostrils of God and CUT DOWN those who prayed. He MADE HER A PERMANENT SACRIFICE that wafted up to His throne room.
The response of believers of the church age, and of the Four Living Creatures that guarded the throne was to agree: Revelation 19:4 And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sits on the throne saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!”
Without a moment’s hesitation, the call went out to all of Heaven, all who serve God to join in the great chorus of praise. What a relief!
- No child would ever again be drawn away into a false religion or cult and crush a mother’s heart!
- No compromise will ever be allowed to corrupt the truth of God’s message again.
- All the other so called ”holy books” will be abandoned and destroyed.
- All shrines that point to anything but the Most High will be incinerated.
The call goes out: Revelation 19:5 And a voice came from the throne, saying, “Give praise to our God, all you His bond-servants, you who fear Him, the small and the great.”
The very next event that Revelation unfolds is at the time of the END of the Tribulation Period. Two scenes unfold – the Heavenly marriage banquet, and the return to the earth of the Victorious King. Both of these will occupy us in coming studies. Before we move to them, I want to address the importance of our approach to the events of the Tribulation. I am not selling anything, and you are free to disagree with my analysis. At the same time, I want it to be clear why we have been approaching the text the way we have – and why that makes a difference in more than just our view of the end times.
I believe that those who have trusted Christ in this age will not pass through the Tribulation. I believe the description of 1 Thessalonians 4 is not the same description as that of the Return of the Victorious King we are going to see in Revelation 19, and I want to explain why.
First, it is worth noting that the Bible is not silent that Jesus will return, and it isn’t always clear when reading each place, that Jesus will return twice. In fact, in the Hebrew Scriptures it wasn’t clear that He would come as a servant and die long before He would return as Victorious King. What is clear to anyone that takes the Christian Scriptures serious is that Jesus is going to return. In fact, one scholar claimed the Bible offered 129 prophecies of the first coming, but 329 prophecies regarding the Coming of the Victorious King to reign. If that is true, we have nearly THREE TIMES the promise of His second coming as we did for His first coming!
The Scriptures are replete with the promise of Jesus’ return:
- “I will come again!” said Jesus in John 14:3.
- “This same Jesus that left will return!” said the angel in Acts 1:11.
- Paul promised He would “descend from Heaven” in 1 Thessalonians 4.
- Jude said: “Behold He comes!” in verse 14.
- The writer to the Hebrews affirmed “He will not tarry” in Hebrews 10:37.
- 1 Peter stated “when the Chief Shepherd appears” in 1 Peter 5:4.
- Revelation 1:7 said: “Behold He comes in the clouds!”
Why do we think this is TWO EVENTS, not one. To put it simply, the details of the events don’t appear even reasonably the same
In the Rapture, or “snatching away” recorded in 1 Thessalonians 4 it appears this way: 1 Thessalonians 4:15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.
- The event described in these verses seems to be Jesus COMING FOR HIS OWN, whereas the events of Revelation 19 are Jesus returning WITH HIS OWN, those who have been prepared and dressed for the wedding BEFORE the return to the earth.
- The event of 1 Thessalonians 4 appears to be FOR BELIEVERS, where clearly has first the bodies of the dead who are IN CHRIST and then living believers are snatched UP TO JESUS in the clouds to remain with Him. In the Revelation event there is not a word about believers going to the clouds, though there is a resurrection. The event of Revelation seems angled toward VERY CLEAR JUDGMENT of the earth.
- The event of 1 Thessalonians 4 appears to bring comfort, because believers who are “absent in body but present with the Lord” will gain their bodies BEFORE those of us who are alive at the time of His coming will be with Him. This is the source of the encouragement. The event seems to suggest that believers will hear the trump of God and rise – but the Revelation event has the whole world transfixed on His return.
Why does it matter?
First, how you view the narrative changes how you view the PURPOSE of the Tribulation and Millennium in the story of mankind.
God’s explanation of the Tribulation must be set inside the revealed purposes of the Tribulation period in the Bible. From that context, the period of time has two specific end goals:
- Get Israel to bow her neck and see that the suitors of the world do not love her, the Father does.
- Crush the rebellion of religious but deceived men, that started on the plain of Shinar, and will finish in the plain of Jezreel.
Second, how you view the narrative changes how you view an essential PURPOSE of the Church today!
With these two primary goals in mind, the message was entrusted to the church for safe keeping and thorough explanation so that much could be understood before our departure from the scene. In a way, you could say that the role of the church has many aspects of PREPARATION to it. The church of Jesus Christ primarily exists to prepare people. We are to prepare the lost for the darkness ahead, pleading with them to take the small door of Jesus and not the wide gates of religion, works or entrenched agnosticism. We are to prepare people who have trusted Christ, to ready themselves for the coming of the Holy One by preparing their garments of right deeds in response to His love. We are to prepare Israel for her coming final humbling and eventual restoration to her estranged Husband in Heaven.
God purposed that the church would have a positive impact on Israel, and would teach the wandering bride of the Father how to be a bride, while refraining from feeling elevated over the wandering nation (Romans 11). This addresses God’s purpose for the Tribulation in the life of His estranged wife called Israel– and the church’s job in preparation of her. Though we will not reach most of them for Jesus – that will be the ministry of two witnesses and 144,000 bond servants during that time yet to come, we can prepare her by modeling a walk with God and comfort her as God’s people that take His Word literally and seriously.
Third, and MOST IMPORTANT, how you view the narrative changes how you view Scripture itself.
It is no secret that in the church there are other interpretations of the narrative. Yet, on close inspection all of them has one singular trait – they cannot take the text literally.
The preterist view identifies all the prophetic materials of the book as having been completed by the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE. The view argues that the book is a spiritual tale of the early church and the fall of the Jewish Temple. If you follow that view, you must acknowledge that the three rounds of judgment – seals where one quarter of man is killed in Revelation 6; trumpet judgments where one third of men left are killed in Revelation 8 and 9; an finally bowl or saucer judgments – where all the sea dies are quite an extensive and detailed metaphor for the fall of Jerusalem. You must acknowledge that the fractions have virtually no meaning, and the logic of the progression of chapter 6-18 in the grips of the three rounds of judgment contain tremendous details that could just as easily be omitted with no essential damage to the meaning of the narrative.
The Amillennial view (Latin: a- “no” + millennialism) is named for its rejection of the literal reading of the text of Revelation 20 – that Jesus Christ will have a thousand-year long, physical reign on the earth. This view holds that the thousand years mentioned in Revelation 20 is a symbolic number, and that it has already begun. In this view the Millennium is identical with the current church age, and Christ’s reign during the millennium is spiritual in nature – not physical. In this view, at the end of the church age, Christ will return in final judgment and establish a permanent physical reign in the glory described as “Heaven” . In this view, Jesus is presently reigning from heaven, seated at the right hand of God the Father, and He will remain with the church until the end of the world, as he promised at the Ascension. The view interprets Peter’s recitation of the prophecies of Joel to demonstrate that the church is Christ’s Kingdom. The view annunciates that reality that Jesus used the words Kingdom of God in spiritual ways, as did the Apostles on occasion (Romans 14:17). One key to this view is that Amillennialism teaches that the binding of Satan described in Revelation has already occurred; he has been prevented from “deceiving the nations” by preventing the spread of the gospel. This view is optimistic –that Satan will be gradually pushed back by the Kingdom of God as history progresses though good and evil will remain mixed in strength even in the church, (as in the Matthew 13 “Parable of the Wheat and Tares”).
- Amillennialism gained ground after Christianity became a “religio licita” (legal religion). It was systematized by St. Augustine in the C4th CE, and became the dominant eschatology of the Medieval and Reformation periods. It was also the dominant view of the Protestant Reformers. Amillennialism is the accepted view of the Orthodox Churches. It is the official position of the Roman Catholic Church, which generally embraces an Augustinian eschatology and which has deemed that premillennialism “cannot safely be taught.”
- Lutheran Churches that follow the Augsburg Confession— “Art. XVII., condemns the Anabaptists (of Munster — historically most Anabaptist groups were amillenial) and others ’who now scatter Jewish opinions that, before the resurrection of the dead, the godly shall occupy the kingdom of the world… Reject the idea.
- Heinrich Bullinger wrote up the Second Helvetic Confession which reads “We also reject the Jewish dream of a millennium, or golden age on earth, before the last judgment.“
- John Calvin wrote in Institutes that the view I am teaching you is a “fiction” that is “too childish either to need or to be worth a refutation.” He interpreted the thousand year period of Revelation 20 non-literally, applying it to the “various disturbances that awaited the church, while still toiling on earth.”
- Amillennialism is also common among Protestant denominations and is prevalent in most Methodist Churches, the Amish, Old Order Mennonites, Churches of Christ, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
If you are a part of any of those groups, you are welcome to study along with us and we love you as brothers and sister in Christ if you have asked Him to be your Savior. It may be, however, that you weren’t aware that we LOVE EACH OTHER, but aren’t on the same page on this study.
I believe what one of the Early Church Fathers, Justin Martyr (who died 165), wrote in his Dialogue with Trypho, chapter 80: “I and many others are of this opinion [premillennialism], and [believe] that such will take place, as you are assuredly are aware; but, on the other hand, I signified to you that many who belong to the pure and pious faith, and are true Christians, think otherwise.“
The issue is NOT SALVIFIC, but not unimportant.
We don’t think that one must believe in the literal Tribulation and literal Millennium to be a real Christian. Knowing Christ is a whole different matter. If this doesn’t matter in one’s salvation, then why do we study it?
- Because only 15% of the Bible is about FINDING GOD, the rest is about FOLLOWING GOD.
- Because our parsing of the book of Revelation reveals our approach to Scripture – whether literal or figurative.
- Because if Israel has no literal future, and we are her replacement – then God’s everlasting love is dependent upon our performance, not His character.
It is because of the view we have of Scripture – literal or allegorical – that most churches are turning away from support of any sense that the Jewish people should have a homeland. The evangelical church is quickly shifting away her support from Israel – and that changes the whole story of the Bible.
What is truly at stake, in my view, is the literal fulfillment of God’s promises. Daniel and Revelation in the literal view promise a full restoration of Israel to an intimate walk with God. Paul saw it as a future even to the church age he was living it.
He said in Romans 11: 11 “I say then, they did (Israel) not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. 12 Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be! … 15 For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? … … 25 For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, “THE DELIVERER WILL COME FROM ZION, HE WILL REMOVE UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB.”
In point of fact, the Millennium (whose purpose is to fulfill the land contract to Israel) makes no literal sense to a non-literal reader, and therefore he is forced to allegorize the six times the term “1000 years” are found in the first seven verses of Revelation 20. He has no need of a time for God to fulfill the land covenant promises to Abraham – for the church has taken her place. A literal seven years of Tribulation to get Israel to bow her neck quickly becomes allegories of morality – for Israel is stripped of any special relationship to the future.
I am deeply concerned about the demise of the literal rendering of the text of Scripture – an issue that is worth an open disagreement among loving brothers in Christ.
Here is the bottom line of the importance: Either “everlasting” means everlasting when it comes to God’s love and promise – or it doesn’t (Isaiah 59:21). Either “sons from your loins” means genetic Israel, or it artfully means “people with a spiritual designation of ‘sonship’ that has nothing to do with the gene pool”. Either “one thousand years” of Kingdom on the earth means a literal fulfillment of a land agreement or it is a spiritual marker of a spiritual battle of light and darkness. Either seven years of tribulation is a literal feature of time or some unspecified allegory of judgment. What is at stake is nothing less than how we read the Bible – literally or allegorically.
If the words of the page after page are nothing more than a fanciful way of saying, indeterminate “bad stuff happens” – then I don’t understand the purpose of the whole letter to the churches. It is confusing and picture laden – but in the end means very little. Fractions like ¼ of the earth destroyed in the seals, and 1/3 in the trumpets aren’t for any particular purpose.
The Call to the Wedding Dressing Room
Though Heaven is not unaware of the pummeling of the Great Tribulation, we need to remember that those who have been taken there already by resurrection – the Raptured church – are also busy doing some things. God doesn’t turn His attention to her dressing for the wedding in the text until He has completely destroyed the prostitutes that beckoned to men in the past. When all other false suitors or men are gone, God turns His complete attention to the bride of the Son.
The church is judged, and the garment of her right and acceptable works is woven into a wedding gown. The description of her call to dress takes into account other passages about her judgment, such as 1 Corinthians 3 and 2 Corinthians 5. She is being judged at what we call Christ’s bema seat, and that judgment is also her opportunity to get the garments of her righteousness fully ready for the coming wedding. John records these words heard in Heaven:
Revelation 19:6 Then I heard something like the voice of a great multitude and like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns. 7 “Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” 8 It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.
A close look at the imagery allows us to recall the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 3, concerning the believer’s judgment. Look at 1 Corinthians 3:14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
The context of the passage is to and for believers in Jesus Christ. The works in question are the efforts these believers made to please their Savior after they knew Him as Savior and were already assured of eternity with Him. Even in such a state, some works were done selfishly and in the flesh, while other were performed rightly. The judge in that moment is Jesus alone.
When you look carefully at what Paul says about the day of judgment for believers, you will be reminded that the real test of ministry is not its temporal popularity, but its spiritual endurance at the scrutiny of the Master. The point is simple: If Jesus doesn’t deem it correct and healthy – than it simply isn’t. Heaven isn’t a place where a vote will be cast by the members of a theological academy or angelic choir. We serve a committee of ONE – a Master Who will inspect all of the work that we have done. There is NO OTHER treasure higher than HIS SATISFACTION. At the same time, His satisfaction is often paired by the satisfaction of other godly men and women. People who have a healthy walk with God can “sniff out” teaching and leadership that is healthy – because we have the selfsame Spirit within.
Confusion of John: It is IRONIC THAT EVEN HE WAS CONFUSED BY THE SCENE
Funny, but even John found the end times revelation to be difficult to grasp, and he was the commissioned co-author. Look at his confusion:
Revelation 19:9 Then he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.” 10 Then I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”
The angel’s words are the key. Let’s finish on something that EVERY BELIEVER can get excited about! Jesus is the real center of the prophecy of what is to come. When the world sees the Savior, they will know the truth about everything God’s Word taught. We will be back here, but I can’t leave without taking a glimpse at the Victorious One!
Glimpse of Savior: WHAT IS CLEAR IS WHO JESUS IS
Revelation 19:11 And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. 13 He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. 15 From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. 16 And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”
How I view the end times matters, but how I view Jesus matters much more than anything else.
My friend, Jesus is coming. He truly is! All theological debate will burn off in an instant. All that matters is that you know Him and that you follow Him. I believe it is best and safest to do so by taking the Bible literally – that these things we have been describing will be as real some day soon as the room you are in right now. How I view Christ’s return matters – not only in the future – but it matters TODAY. The view a believer takes on these prophetic matters will affect not only his contemporary politics, but his or her view of the Bible itself.