Gathering

One of the distinctive emphases of the Christian and Missionary Alliance from the beginning was that of “Christ the Coming King.” It was fourfold gospel as presented by Albert Benjamin Simpson. He saw it as part of the truth of the gospel for all times and all places until Jesus returns. He wrote, “The Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is a distinct and important part of the apostolic gospel. The truth and hope of the Lord’s return is the church’s great and blessed hope.”

The literal, physical and visible return of Jesus Christ to this world has been a part of the hope of believers in Christ for over two thousand years now. It is something that is to be expected and longed for, as we grow in Christ. Yet I fear that the reality and impetus of this hope has waned in the church over the past generation in the lives of many. So there is still a need for renewed preaching and teaching on the return of Jesus to the church today, lest our hearts grow lukewarm and comfortable here and our hopes are turned to things that are second best rather than the best that is yet to come. And I give what follows from an unabashedly premillennial and posttribulational perspective, as a part of ethical disclosure of what is to come. If you come from a different perspective, please read this with a willingness to understand the perspective I put forth.

Jesus himself gave strong and clear predictions as to what would happen before his coming in glory. What he has said has been written down, passed down and preserved for us today, so that we would not become distracted and deceived as to the true hope for our broken and fallen world. In the week that preceded his death on the cross and resurrection he spoke to Peter, James and John of his return in glory to this world. This teaching session happened on the slope of the Mount of Olives facing Jerusalem and the Temple, probably around March or April of A.D. 30. Three men heard these words, and the account of Mark is probably mostly that of the apostle Peter, who was there to hear these things. So here is what he had to say:

“But when you see ‘The Abomination of Desolation’ standing where it ought not to be! Let the reader understand – then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the roof of the house not come down nor go back into the house to take anything from the house. Let no one who has gone into the field turn around and go back to grab a coat. Alas for those who are pregnant and nursing in those days! Pray that it will not be in the time of winter, because those will be days of catastrophe such as have not happened from the beginning of creation when God created until now and will not be again. And except the Lord had cut short those days, nothing living would have survived. But on account of the chosen people he has chosen he will cut short those days. And if anyone then says to you, ‘Look the Messiah is here!’, do not believe that person, because false Messiahs and false prophets will arise and give out signs and wonders so that, if it were possible, to deceive God’s very own people. But you watch! I have already told you everything.”

“But in those days after that catastrophe,

‘The sun will be darkened,
And the moon will not give out its light,
And the stars will be falling from the sky,
And the powers in heaven will be shaken.’

And then they will see the Son of Man as he comes in the clouds with much power and glory. And then he will send out his angels, and he will gather together his chosen people from the four winds, from the farthest point of the land to the farthest point of the sky.” (Mark 13:14-27, Dale’s sight translation.)

Before the return of Jesus Christ there will be unparalleled religious deception in the person of the Antichrist. Make no mistake, he is a real person who is yet to be definitely and openly revealed to this world. His appearance will then foment the great persecution of believers that will come before the end. This will be the time of the the Antichrist who is to come. This will be the worldwide worship of a single wicked man, and it will be imposed worldwide by deception and by military power. There will then be a particular blatant attempt to set up this worship of the Antichrist in Jerusalem itself.

Jesus starts out this part of the prophecy with a statement that would be strange if it stood alone: ““But when you see ‘The Abomination of Desolation’ standing where it ought not to be! Let the reader understand . . .” ‘The Abomination of Desolation’ is an allusion to the previous prophecy of Daniel 9:27. It is considered to have been fulfilled by many in 168 BCE when the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes caused the regular Jewish sacrifice to cease in the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and set up pagan worship there. But Jesus brought this up again many years afterward, and he evidently didn’t believe that it was completely fulfilled at that time. Rather, he points to a fulfillment that was yet to come in the future. And the early church definitely believed that there was a fulfillment in the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, when the pagan standards,which in themselves were idols, were raised over the Holy City.

But there would be one that would be yet to come, a final appearance in the coming of the Antichrist. The ‘Abomination of Desolation’ seems to be the description of when an idol is raised on the Temple Mount in contradiction to the worship of the one true God in Jerusalem. It is something that is an utter and destructive abomination and affront to the one true God. So Jesus is predicting that this would happen yet again in the future before his return. And the parallel passage in II Thessalonians 2:3 seems to point to this as well. This is where the apostle Paul wrote, “[the day of the Lord] will not come unless the falling away comes first and the Man of Lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who will stand against and lift himself up over everything that is called God or something to be worshipped, so that he sits himself down in the Temple of God and sets himself up to be God.” In fact, much of II Thessalonians 2:1-12 can be considered to be parallel to Mark 13:14-23. It’s not unreasonable to see the apostle Paul in II Thessalonians 2:1-12 expanding on and applying these very statements of Jesus from the Olivet Discourse, and indeed, providing us with an apostolic commentary on this part of the Olivet Discourse.

Jesus
Mark 13:14-23
Paul
I Thessalonians 2:1-12
Abomination of desolation – 13:14 Antichrist setting himself up in Temple – 2:3
False, deceiving miracles / signs and wonders from the antichrists and false prophets to come
13:22
False, deceiving miracles / signs and wonders from the Antichrist to come
2:9-12

So then, it’s possible also to see, as many do, that the Antichrist will be the ultimate example of many antichrists who have come throughout history. I’ve heard others say that it seems like there have been candidates for the post throughout history, and that Satan seems to have had someone eligible for the post throughout history. It’s reasonable to think so, when you consider

  • Adolf Hitler: He proclaimed himself the emissary of the Almighty and the Founder of the Reich. Nazi soldiers died invoking his name.
  • Joseph Stalin: His propaganda was that he was the wisest, most beloved and genial man of the world, and that he was the only one who was caring for the poor and protecting the oppressed.
  • Mao Tse Tung: He proclaimed himself the ultimate power and accepted worship as people bowed before him, and there was a widespread belief that he healed.

And so on. It’s reasonable from scripture to see that the last great counterfeit of Satan, his great masterpiece of cunning, will use demonic power to deceive people into believing his self deification. And at any time the question must come to believers to consider whether the stage is being set for the appearance of the Antichrist. But then Jesus goes on to give more explicit instructions on what to do when this happens. The appearance of the Antichrist will then mean the beginning of a worldwide wave of persecution, beginning at Jerusalem. This will be the start of the period of worldwide catastrophes, otherwise known as the Great Tribulation. So these are the directions that Jesus gave: “ . . . then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the roof of the house not come down nor go back into the house to take anything from the house. Let no one who has gone into the field turn around and go back to grab a coat. Alas for those who are pregnant and nursing in those days! Pray that it will not be in the time of winter, because those will be days of catastrophe such as have not happened from the beginning of creation when God created until now and will not be again. And except the Lord had cut short those days, nothing living would have survived. But on account of the chosen people he has chosen he will cut short those days.”

The sign to flee will simply be the appearance of the Antichrist in Jerusalem as he sets himself up as God. It looks like it will be on a restored Temple, but it may well be that in the place of the Holy of Holies on the Temple Mount, without necessarily being a physical Temple there may be sufficient to trigger fulfillment of the prophecies. But this prophecy was taken by the Christians in Jerusalem in AD 70 as the sign to flee to the town of Pella, but that doesn’t seem to be the complete fulfillment of the prophecy. The flight from Jerusalem come in a situation where no hesitancy is possible. The prayer for that not to happen on a Sabbath is a real recognition of the restriction of services to travellers in that time, such as the current lack of activity in modern Israel on the Sabbath.  And the horrors of that time will make the blessings of motherhood seem like a liability. These statements of Jesus show that the tremendous difficulty, brutality and horror of what was to come. The escape from persecution was not an end in itself, though, but rather itself a determination not to be caught in a compromising position.

The promise of Jesus is that God will cut short those days of persecution and the series of catastrophes to come. The Ruler of history will intervene to end history at its lowest depth of human depravity under Satanic direction. The period will be allowed to show what happens when God allows people to choose freely, and the refusal of mankind to receive his truth will erupt in depravity, deceit and violence without parallel. But God will not allow this time of evil to continue forever.  It will happen only for a short time and then the end will be final. Though from our perspective these words may not be comforting, for the people suffering in that time there will be great comfort in the knowledge that God is cutting it short.

Jesus went on, though, to tack on strong commands not to believe the false Messiahs and prophets to come. It’s noteworthy that he changed to the plural here instead of zeroing in on the singular Antichrist and false prophet that are in the book of Revelation: “And if anyone then says to you, ‘Look the Messiah is here!’, do not believe that person, because false Messiahs and false prophets will arise and give out signs and wonders so that, if it were possible, to deceive God’s very own people. But you watch! I have already told you everything.”

So why did Jesus speak in the plural of false Messiahs and false prophets rather than in the singular, like in the book of Revelation, where there is one Beast (the Antichrist) and False Prophet? I think that it comes down to simply this: his warning not to believe a person who points out that the Messiah is a particular person and in a particular place until his visible return before the whole world applies to all false Messiahs and false prophets until his visible return before the whole world. And his warning not to believe them no matter what apparent miracles they might do applies to all false Messiahs and false prophets until his visible return. This would be consistent with the apostolic guidance here, from the apostle John himself – one of the eyewitnesses to what Jesus was saying here, and the author of I John and the book of Revelation. “Children, it is the last hour, and just as you have heart that the Antichrist is coming, and now many antichrists have come to pass. From that we know that it is the last hour . . .” (I John 2:18). “Every spirit which does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God; and this is the spirit of the Antichrist, who you have heard is coming, and now is already in the world.” I John 4:3

So at that time, when everything seems to be going toward the worst, the very best will happen. Jesus Christ himself will return gather together his people for himself. It’s understated here that this will cut short the apparent triumph of the false Messiah, but the emphasis is that the time of evil will end for the people of God. He will come to end the rule of evil and set up his kingdom over all the earth. They will be gathered together to be with him forever, and I understand this to be what is normally termed the post-tribulation rapture, though my preferred term is the Final Gathering, or the Gathering.

There will be unprecedented signs in the heavens before the Gathering takes place. The ignorance of the cosmic signs in the common preaching and teaching of the end times that are throughout scripture and which Jesus himself mentioned is amazing to me. But this thread of prophecy continues from the Old Testament prophets clear through to the end of the New Testament, and, with the emphasis that Jesus himself gave it, it deserves renewed scrutiny. I think that the reason it has been underemphasized in the past was the desire, with the emphasis on the pre-tribulation rapture, to define the word imminent in regard to the coming as ‘with no preceding signs.’ But, with the following verses, I think that imminent needs to be defined as ‘impending’ and as the next major event in God’s plan of salvation for his people.

So here is what Jesus had to say in that passage about the coming signs in the heavens:

“But in those days after that catastrophe,

‘The sun will be darkened,
And the moon will not give out its light,
And the stars will be falling from the sky,
And the powers in heaven will be shaken.’”

There can be no question that Jesus is not making a scientific cosmological statement here, but taking up the Old Testament language from the book of Joel and elsewhere to describe what will happen at the close of the time of the final catastrophes, or, what we may call the Great Tribulation. Here are the places in the Old Testament where the signs are predicted: Isaiah 13:10, Ezekiel 32:7-8, and Joel 3:15. All are signs of the wrath of God, and they are also repeated in the sixth seal of Revelation 6:12-17. The language that scripture uses here and elsewhere is simply describing, in metaphorical fashion, how these events will appear to someone who is standing on earth. It’s hard to tell exactly what the signs will be in scientific terms, since Jesus is not here giving a scientific explanation. The implication is that these phenomena will be divinely caused, and that they will be objective, visible phenomena that an earthly observer will be able to recognize them from their description. These signs, in addition to what Jesus has already described, will be visible signs that the end is near. 

After the coming signs, Jesus will return visibly to the earth as the Lord of glory. The entire earth will see him in his unveiled majesty and glory, and there will be no mistaking that it is him returning just as he said. This is his simple statement: “And then they will see the Son of Man as he comes in the clouds with much power and glory.”

This will be the same return that was just as the angels predicted at his ascension into heaven:   This will be the same Jesus of Nazareth, who walked our earth, lived with us and taught in our towns and cities. This will be the same person who was crucified, resurrected and seen by the apostles for forty days after his resurrection. He will not then be coming in the humble circumstances as he did, but with the kingly, eternal glory that he received at this exaltation. It will be impossible for anyone on the earth not to recognize who it really is, and he will be visible to everyone on the earth as he is returning. Here is the fuller description of his visible appearance from the gospel of Matthew, from his parallel account of the Olivet discourse:

“And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will wail, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30).

At his visible return Jesus Christ will receive his people left on earth to himself. There will definitely be a rapture at his visible, worldwide return! And we have the word of Jesus himself about it:

“And then he will send out his angels, and he will gather together his chosen people from the four winds, from the farthest point of the land to the farthest point of the sky.”

Personally, I’m not fond of the term ‘rapture’ for this part of the return of Jesus. The term describes the action of being caught up, but the term that I prefer for his aspect of his return is ‘The Gathering.’ And I think if we consider the scriptures on his coming, there are a number of other scriptures that place the gathering of his people together here, at his visible appearance. And it’s noteworthy that Jesus’s emphasis here on the gathering of his people to himself, not on judgment. In several other passages the two aspects of gathering of Christ’s people together to him and judgment of the unbelieving world in opposition to the return of Jesus are joined together. It’s noteworthy that the metaphor of harvest and threshing is applied to the Gathering and pressing wine is applied to the judgment of the wicked opposing the return of Jesus in these passages elsewhere in scripture.

The first passage where I think that you can find the prophetic thread about the Gathering is an Old Testament passage, in the book of Isaiah. I’ve never seen this passage cited in any previous discussion of the rapture, though I’ve seen it mentioned in the side references to the New Testament passages that mention the rapture. I was definitely surprised one day years ago when I was working my way through the book of Isaiah in the Hebrew and then the Greek from Alfred Rahlfs’s version of the Septuagint (the common Greek Old Testament in the first century AD). Here’s what Isaiah 27:12-13 had to say (Dale’s sight translation):

“In that day the LORD will thresh from the torrents of the Euphrates to the Wadi of Egypt,
And you will be gathered up one by one, sons of Israel!
And on that day a great trumpet will be sounded,
And those who were as good as dead will come from the land of Assyria and the outcasts from the land of Egypt,
And they will worship the LORD on the holy mountain, in Jerusalem!”

Here, in this passage, we find the common elements of the Gathering that are later mentioned throughout the New Testament. These may be omitted or underemphasized due to what emphasis the speaker or author had at the time, but they are common themes:

  • Judgment of the wicked depicted as pressing wine in a winepress 
  • The sounding of a great trumpet
  • Gathering of the people of God to Jerusalem out of great distress and affliction depicted as a harvest

I don’t think that it’s too much at all to see this passage as the passage where Jesus was taking up, explaining and expanding the Old Testament promises to his people for all ages. It’s also noteworthy that the word used for ‘gather’ here in the Septuagint is the same verb as Jesus used in the passage in Matthew and Mark and in the noun form in I Thessalonians 2:1, where the apostle Paul discusses “ . . .  the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to him . . .” The word itself is not either terribly common or uncommon but I think that it is significant that it carries through in these passages.

Then there is the similarity of the I Thessalonians 4 passage, which is often cited as the authority for a pre-tribulation rapture, but is notably similar to the passages in the Olivet discourse where Jesus describes his appearance before the world. There are some common elements, especially between the Matthew 24 and Mark 13 descriptions of the visible appearance of the Lord from heaven.

“We don’t want you to be unaware, brothers, concerning those who have fallen asleep, that you would be pained as those who have no hope. Because if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also God will bring those who have fallen asleep in Jesus with him.”

“For I have this to say to you – based on an utterance of the Lord – that we who are alive who are left until the coming of the Lord will not get ahead of those who have fallen asleep, because the Lord himself, in a cloud, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven. And the dead in Christ will rise first, then those of us who are alive and left around will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort each other with these words!” I Thessalonians 4:13-18

So Paul emphasis on gathering and on resurrection is more detailed about those who have died in Christ being resurrected as the same time as living believers are caught up and gathered together from the earth. Here are the similarities in the three passages. These s

Jesus
speaking personally as the Lord
Paul
basing his explanation on a direct utterance of the Lord
Lord coming in clouds Lord coming in a cloud
People who are alive are caught up by angels to be with the Lord People who are alive are caught up to be with the Lord (agency not explained)
Emphasis on rescue of living believers Emphasis on resurrection of living believers with believers who have died
Great trumpet (Matthew 24:31) Great trumpet

There have been a number of attempts to find a pre-tribulation rapture in the book of Revelation, but, in light of the previous passages, it’s easy enough to find the post-tribulation rapture:

“And I looked, and see there, a white clouds, and sitting on the cloud someone who was like a Son of Man, who had a golden crown on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. And another angel came out of the Temple and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Put forth your sickle and reap, because the hour has come to reap, since the harvest of the earth is ripe.’ And the one who was sitting on the cloud put forth his sickle on the earth, and the earth was harvested.” (Revelation 14:14-17).

Then, immediately following that, there comes the emphasis on judgment that is also a part of the return of Jesus:

“And another angel came out of the Temple which is in heaven who also carried a sharp sickle. And another angel came from the altar who had charge of the fire, and he cried out with a great voice to the angle with the sharp sickle, ‘Put forth your sharp sickle, and gather the grapes from the vine of the earth, because the bunches of grapes have come to fruition. And the angel put forth his sickle on the earth, and he gathered up from the vine of the earth and he threw them into the winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was stomped down outside the city, and the blood of the winepress flowed up to the horses’ bridles for about 300 kilometers!” (Revelation 14:17-20).

And it’s not too much at all to see this as then pointing to the climax of the book of Revelation, to the description of the Lord’s visible coming with his people and the judgment upon the world which opposes him:

“And I saw heaven opened, and see there! A white horse! and the person who was sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and he judges and makes war with righteousness. And his eyes are like a flame of fire, and many crowns are upon his head.  He has a name written down which no one but he himself knows,, and he is dressed with a tunic dipped in blood, and his name is called, ‘The Word of God.’ And his armies in heaven follow him on white horses and are clothed in clean white linen. And a sharp sword comes from his mouth, so that he strikes down the nations, and he shepherds them with a rod of iron.  And he stomps down the winepress of the wine of the wrath of the almighty God. And he has on his tunic and on thigh a name written: ‘King of kings and Lord of lords.’” Revelation 19:11-16 emphasis on judgment

Just by way of passing – there are some scriptures, such as Revelation 3:10, outside the normal passages which cited as evidence for the pre-tribulation rapture. The thing is that they do not demand the interpretation that they apply to a pre-tribulation rapture. Rather, it’s a circular form of exegesis to apply them to a pre-tribulation rapture, since it’s necessary to assume a pre-tribulation rapture to see them as applying to a pre-tribulation rapture.

So then, the goal of our hope in Christ is coming closer every and every day. The Lord’s return is nearer now than it was a moment ago, a day ago or a year ago. The real future of the believer in Christ is there with him. With the return of the Lord Jesus coming nearer and nearer, it is crucial for each one of us to settle the issues of salvation and Lordship. So if you have never made a heart commitment to Jesus Christ, now is the time to do so! And if you have, make sure that he remains as the Lord of your life until the end. Don’t waver from the hope that will bring such unspeakable and unimaginable joy and reward. And as that day comes closer, if you have made certain that Jesus is your Lord and Savior, live each day in love and holiness, in the image of Jesus himself. That will demonstrate to him and before all the world that you believe with all your heart that Jesus is returning!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I was first persuaded that the post-tribulation rapture was the scriptural teaching by the exposition of J. Sidlow Baxter in his volume Explore the Book. Later I became aware of these more scholarly works:

George Eldon Ladd, The Blessed Hope: A Biblical Study of the Second Advent and the Rapture.

Robert H. Gundry, Church and the Tribulation: A Biblical Examination of Posttribulationism.

The Wikipedia article gives a reasonable summary: Post-tribulation rapture.

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One thing that many people may not be aware of: there is a great hymn on the return of Jesus which is thoroughly post-tribulation and co-authored by none other than Charles Wesley himself! Unfortunately, I think that the emphasis on the pre-tribulation rapture in the past century and a half has often deprived the church of this great hymn of the Second Coming of Jesus. The hymn “Lo! He comes with clouds descending,” is decidedly post-tribulation in its outlook. Charles Wesley himself reworked the lyrics to the present form. Here the Cambridge Singer perform Lo! he comes with clouds descending. And here are the lyrics and history.

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Amen, come, Lord Jesus!

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