THEE END – FACING THE FINAL FRONTIER
AT THE END OF YOUR HOPE
NOVEMBER 15, 1998
Millions of conversations will end in mid-sentence. A husband will turn to embrace his wife and she will be gone. A young mother will reach into a bassinet expecting to cradle her newborn, yet all she will feel is warm sheets. A pilot will turn to his co-pilot while taxiing down the runway expecting to carry on a conversation with him, yet all he will view is an empty leather seat. These situations I just described to you are events that will take place during the rapture, an instantaneous act of God which will move His followers from this planet into eternity. And on the heels of the rapture, the Bible describes our world as a panic-stricken world, a pandemonium-laden planet, and a planet where horror and pain and sorrow are rampant. And this will usher in a seven-year period of hell on earth known as the Tribulation.
I am in the second part of a series called “Thee End – Facing The Final Frontier”. If you missed last weekend, please pick up the tape because each message builds on the one that precedes it. Volumes of books, reams of articles and thousands of lectures have been churned out concerning the end. Everybody is talking about it these days; even Hollywood is getting into the act. Movies like Contact, Armageddon and others focus on the future. Why is there preoccupation with the future? Why is everyone worried about what will happen next? Why are we thinking about the end time?
The Bible comes along and says in Ecclesiastics 11 that God has set eternity in the hearts of men. It is almost like reading a suspenseful novel. You begin to freak out a little bit. And although you don’t tell a lot of people, now and then you turn and read the last couple of pages so you will know the end. You say to yourself, oh, they do fall in love. Oh, they do live happily every after. That is why God has gone through detail after detail regarding the final days. He can give us comfort and hope as we read the last couple of pages.
The bottom line for all of us who know Christ is – we win. We have the victory. We are on the winning team. And that is so great. It gives me such confidence. It gives believers a hope beyond hope. I will say it one more time. The rapture will occur without warning, an instantaneous act of God moving us from this life to the next. Are you rapture ready?
You see, the rapture is nothing hard for God. He doesn’t have to work at it; it is effortless for Him. It is as easy for God as it is for Michael Jordan to shoot a free throw. It is no problem. You can look throughout the pages of scripture and see how God moved people from this existence to the next. Consider a couple of Old Testament characters. In Genesis 5, Enoch was transferred in a nanosecond from this life to eternity. In II Kings 2, Elijah was transferred from this life into eternity. And it will be no problem for God to do the same for you and for me if we know Him personally. Believers have had in their minds a hope beyond hope, a vision in their minds of how at any time during their existence they could be raptured.
And what we are talking about today is the second most prominent theme in scripture. Do you realize that there are eight times more predictions of the Second Coming of Christ than His first? So we wait expectantly, we wait with urgency because we as Christ followers are into living together forever with the Lord, Himself. But I have got to be honest with you. There was a time in my life when I wanted Jesus to delay the rapture for just a little while. I will tell you what happened. It was ten days before my wedding. And I talked to a theologian friend of mine, Dr. James R. DeLoach. Dr. DeLoach had spent most of his life studying eschatology, end times, the book of Daniel and Revelation. He had a good grip on this subject. I asked him if he thought that the rapture would occur between then and my wedding night. He smiled and answered that he didn’t think that would happen. I was glad to hear that news because Lisa and I had remained pure for seven years and we were really looking forward to going to Hawaii together for the act of marriage, if you know what I mean.
Jesus also said that we will be able to discern the time, that we will be able to check out some things and thatthese signs will point us to the end. A lot of signs are out there these days. One sign in particular I believe points to the end times as coming very, very soon is. When a group of citizens electing a former professional wrestler, Jessie, the Body Ventura, as the governor, you know that the rapture could take place any day. Kidding, just kidding.
I want to explain to you today, though, some events, a succession of events, that will take place regarding the rapture, this instantaneous act of God where He moves Christ followers from this life to the next. I also want to explain to you the Tribulation, how this seven-year period of pandemonium will play out in your life and mine. Will we be there? Will we experience it? Let’s see what the Bible has to say about it.
Let’s start with the word why. Why the rapture? Why does this deal take place? Why does Jesus have to collect His followers from the earth? As we learned from the last series, “On Purpose”, the church is known as the bride of Christ. If we are the bride of Christ, then Jesus is the bridegroom. Think about a bride, how eagerly she a waits being joined together with her groom. She is counting the days, the minutes until two become one. The church, those of us who know Christ personally, should be waiting eagerly and expectantly for this union. One day the bridegroom, Jesus, will take His followers, the church, to eternity. And in eternity, two shall become one. A marriage shall occur between the church and Christ. So that is why Christ has to come back. That is why He has to rapture us, so that the marriage can take place and eternity can begin. Why the rapture? Because we matter to God that much.
When? When will this deal take place? Will the rapture take place prior to the seven-year period of pandemonium, prior to hell on earth? Or will we experience it? There is great debate on this issue. Many scholars and many theologians feel like it will occur before the Tribulation, some think it will occur in the middle of the Tribulation and a few think that we will actually endure the Tribulation. If you believe one of those three views, that is fine, that is cool. The good news is, remember, we have read the last couple of pages. We have read the final chapter. We win. We are going to take the victory lap. So the end is incredible no matter what. However, I do want to share with you my view on the end and exactly when this will take place.
Most of the scholars and Bible students that I know, like myself, believe that the rapture will take place before the tribulation, before the seven year period of pandemonium, before hell on earth. The Bible says this in Romans 8:1, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” In other words, once I take that step of faith, once I ask Christ into my life, it says that there is no condemnation for me. Consider Romans 5:9. “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him.” See the verse? Are we saved from wrath or not? Are we saved from condemnation or not? When Jesus died on the cross for your sins and mine, God exacted from Him everything. Right before Jesus breathed His last breath He said, It is finished. My job is complete; the work has been done. Now do we owe God anything more if we have applied this gift of salvation to our lives? Do we have anything out there hanging in the balance? No. And to add something to salvation, to add going through the Tribulation, to add the condemnation and the wrath of God and the judgment of God on top of salvation is adding something, I believe, that is not in the Bible, that is not a part of the doctrine of salvation.
This is God’s agenda. This is God’s flow throughout the Bible. Remember when God was going to rain fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah? What did God do before the judgment? God reached in and spared Lot and his household. What did our Lord do right before He was to obliterate Jericho? He reached down and saved Rehab and her household. This is God’s pattern, taking us out. And I believe He will take us out prior to the Tribulation.
The Book of Revelation talks a lot about the end times. The Book of Revelation confuses a lot of people. It has some symbolic language, but basically the Book of Revelation is easy to understand. You get information from John, the writer, and then he gives you the interpretation. The first three chapters of Revelation deal with the seven churches and their future. The word church is used 17 times. Turn to your neighbor and say, that is a big 17. Now stay with me. Revelation 6-18 deals in detail with the Tribulation. But there is something interesting about chapters 6-18, there is something missing. There is a word that is not there. What do you think the word is? Church. The word church is not found in Revelations 6-18. Why? Because we are out of here Jack, we are history. We have been transferred from this life to the next. We have done the Enoch thing. We have done the Elijah thing. We are now joined together forever with Jesus in heaven. It is the groom and the bride in union. That is why I believe that we will be raptured prior to the Tribulation.
The event I am describing, known as the Tribulation, is a hellish time on the planet. You multiply all the wars, all the disease, all of the pain and all of the sorrow that you have seen in your life exponentially and it falls miserably short of what the Tribulation has in store for those who have to endure it.
The Tribulation will be ushered in by a charismatic figure who will conquer the world without violence and he will be known as the Antichrist. The Antichrist will be a man so alluring, so inviting that people will follow him, worship him and take his mark. There is a great chance that the Antichrist is alive and well on our planet today.
Each day that ticks off the clock in the Tribulation escalates the horrors, the unimaginable things that will come down. For example, the Bible says that the Tribulation will be a time when famine rocks our planet. I am talking about hunger that we can’t even comprehend, hunger beyond our finite and feeble minds. The Bible also describes the Tribulation as a time when economic disaster will hit. Business people, I am not talking about a little downturn of the market. I am not talking about a bear market. I am talking about when the whole economic system is up for grabs. The Bible also says that deadly diseases will be rampant, diseases that will make the AIDS virus seem like the common cold. Mass killings will take place, killings that will make wachos like Jimmy Jones seem like Mr. Rogers. We are talking about wheels off. We are talking about stuff that we don’t even want to think about. And the Bible says that people will try to kill themselves. They will try to commit suicide but the guns won’t go off, the knives will be dulled, the poison will be diluted. They will scream and beg for God to take their lives, but it will not happen. They are going through the Tribulation.
Well, what does God do? I’ll tell you what God does. While we are in heaven, being united with Jesus, God is working. God has to choose a bunch of people who can endure, people who can really articulate their faith. And as God looks at different people groups, take a wild guess as who He picks to be His evangelists. You guessed it, the Jews. Have you ever met a converted Jew? We have some in our church. You talk about people who walk with God. You talk about people who pray for others. Jews have an incredible capacity for God and Christ once they bow the knee to Him. Well, the Bible says that God will have 144,000 Jewish Billy Graham type evangelists and they will be talking the talk and walking the walk. And many people will get saved because of their fire, because of their creativity, because they are communicating the Bible in a compelling and relevant way. I also believe many will get saved when they experience the Rapture. Suddenly they will be talking to a friend and reach to give him or her a pat on the back and the friend is gone. Whoa. They will try to remember a message or a Bible study that would apply and they may decide to get right with God.
But I have got to tell you this. Don’t roll the dice. Don’t even think about rolling the dice concerning the Tribulation because you don’t want to be here. You don’t.
Next weekend the title of the message is “Trial and Terror”. People ask, all the time, if Christians are judged. They ask what happens at the time of judgment. We talk about that next weekend. Let’s talk, now, about the chart on the side screen. We have Christ’s death, burial and resurrection 2,000 years ago which I mentioned earlier was the total package, the work being done, finished and complete. Now we have this present age called the church age or the age of grace. Then occurs the Rapture of Christ’s followers. And I believe that the Rapture will occur before the seven-year period of pandemonium. Then the Antichrist appears, this charismatic figure who brings everybody together. Then you have the hell on earth taking place. Then Armageddon. Armageddon is a battle of all battles. It is the mother of all wars. Our little bitty brains can’t even understand the supernatural event that will take place in this battle.
A couple of years ago we took about 40 people from our church to Israel and we all stood over the valley of Jezereel, over the place where this battle will culminate. It was an awesome experience to know that one day everything would play out at that place. And just kind of a sidebar here, we are considering taking another trip to Israel, not this December but next December for Y2K. So if you are a risk taker and the trip holds up and we decide to do it, sign up and we will have a great time. But I can promise you, we will not be flying on January 1. We will be on the ground. We will probably return on about January 5 of the year 2,000.
Then after Armageddon, what happens? Christ returns. You see, the Rapture will be an invisible thing but Christ’s glorious returning will be a visible thing. When Christ returns at the end of the mother of all battles, all of us who have been raptured will come back with Him. All of the 144,000 Jewish Billy Graham evangelists on steroids and people who have come to know Christ during that time will be together. We will rule and reign for 1,000 years on this earth.
And I will stop right there because next weekend we will continue with what happens after the 1,000-year reign. But I can tell you this. Satan does a one-two punch, which does not affect Him, and Jesus takes Satan and puts him into that lake of fire for eternity. But then that is next weekend.
I have said throughout this series one thing and I want you to remember this. Information is good. It is important. It is vital for us to understand the Rapture and the Tribulation. But information is useless unless there is transformation, unless there is life change. So it is fine and dandy to study this stuff and to know it but information must bring about transformation.
I want to share four things that you need to do because of the Rapture and the Tribulation. Now the first three are reserved for those of us who know Christ. If you are a Christ follower, pay attention to the first three. The last one is for seekers, skeptics and Christ followers. If you are a seeker and skeptic pay attention to all of them but really concentrate on the last one.
The first thing is that the Rapture and the Tribulation should give me an infusion of hope. What is the hope? Well, the Bible says in Titus 2:13 that it is a blessed hope. Paul referred to the coming of Christ as a blessed hope. And this word blessed does not mean…well I hope so, maybe it will pan out. No. No. No. It means a future event, something special to anticipate. Christians should be hope driven. We should have that confident anticipation of how things are going to turn out, that we win and that we have taken the victory lap. What kind of hope shall I have? First, I should have a hope that I am not going to endure the Tribulation. Isn’t that great news? I believe the Bible backs it up. I am not going to endure the Tribulation, if I am a Christ follower.
Also, I know that I am going to heaven. Jesus said, I go to prepare a place for you and He is preparing a mansion for every single Christ follower here. And I will explain that to a greater degree next weekend. Also it should give me a confidence for living. I have a confidence to face difficulties, times when my faith is really stretched. Why? Because I have this blessed hope. So this should drive us to have a hope, beyond hope. It should give us an infusion of hope.
The second thing the study does is help us see the temporary contrasted with the eternal. People all the time these days are saying that we live in such a materialistic society. Greed has such a vice grip on our lives. How do you break the grip of greed and hold things lightly? How do you give some glancing blows to the monster of materialism? Contrast your possessions with what you possess. Contrast the things of this world, the temporal things with the things of eternity. Once we do that, things begin to change. One of my favorite hymns is Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus. The words go something like this. Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace. When I have an eternal perspective, it radically changes everything I do. It changes the way I treat my spouse. It changes the way I mark my children. It changes the way I view my vocation. It changes the way I steward my finances. It changes my schedule to make it orbit around the purposes of the church.
But there is something else this study should do. It compels me to pray for the irreligious. The study of the Rapture and the Tribulation should compel me to talk to God about those people who are facing a Christless eternity, those who will be left behind. It gives me an urgency. And I have got to ask you, Christ followers, are you praying strategically and regularly and intentionally for those you rub shoulders with every day who are outside the family of God? That is why this church is so white hot about evangelism. That is why we are so into communicating the uncompromising message of Jesus Christ. The stakes are sky high. People without Christ are going to hell and we love them like Christ loves them. We will do whatever it takes without compromise to reach them and teach them. But it starts with prayer. People all the time say that they want some adventure in their lives, some excitement. So they go skiing, hunting, fishing, go on a trip, on an adventure. All that is great, but there is nothing like praying for people who are outside the family of God. There is nothing like building relationships of integrity with them. There is nothing like inviting them to this church. There is nothing like sharing your faith with them. There is nothing like it. And if you pray, watch out, hold on brother and sister, because God will give us the words to share Christ with them.
People say that they won’t know what to say, that they don’t know the Bible well enough. Guess what? Many times I don’t know what to say and there is a lot in the Bible that I need to learn but somehow God works through my stumbling and fumblings and stutterings and He will work through yours too, if you begin to pray strategically, intentionally and regularly for the irreligious. Who has God put in your life, who you know who I don’t know, that He wants you to pray for? You might be the only link for this person to spend eternity with Christ, for this person to be raptured, for this person not to go through the Tribulation. Most of the people who will be left behind after the Rapture will not spend eternity with Christ because the forces will be too powerful and many won’t be able to take it. So the time is now.
The following is for seekers, skeptics and Christ followers. The study of the Rapture and the Tribulation should develop and bring about life alteration. You could just say, good old life change. This study should change our lives. It should change the skeptic’s life. It should change the seeker’s life. It should change the Christ follower’s
life. But a lot of people these days are not really tuned in to God’s word. They are not tuned in to His voice. They are kind of like the father that I met last weekend at my son’s soccer game. It was Sunday afternoon about 2pm. I rushed home from church, had a bowl of soup and cruised over to watch EJ go up and down the soccer field.
I saw a father about 15 feet away with gigantic headphones on. He was watching his son play with headphones. He was listening to the Dallas Cowboys while he was watching the soccer game. Now you know that I have a loud voice. I have always had a loud voice and a low voice. My voice never really changed. My Mom said that when I was about 8 months old in the church nursery, the workers would tickle me just to hear my deep laugh. Anyway, I look down at him and we made eye contact. I shouted, “Hey, how are you doing.” I could tell that he had no idea that I was talking to him. I called one more time, “How are you doing.” He starts to cheer, “They scored a touchdown.” He was tuned into something else and I was trying to communicate with him. A lot of us are tuned into something else. Even right now. We are thinking about Monday morning at work. We are thinking about that date. We are thinking about that game. We are thinking about that trip. We are tuned into something else. Yet God is trying to communicate with us. Sometimes He is yelling at us but we are zoned out, oblivious. We watch the game of life go up and down the field.
About 15 minutes later this man walked up to me, took the earphones off and put them around his neck. “Hey, Ed, how are you doing? I haven’t spoken to you today.” Then we began to talk, to converse. It has been my prayer this week for the seeker, the skeptic and the Christ follower that you would take off those earphones, put them around your neck and hear the voice of God. I also pray that you would not only hear the voice of God but that you would respond to it and that you would respond to the information by transformation. Because once you do, you will be at thee end of your hope.