E W Rogers, Oxford
As we have been reviewing the development of things on earth, doubtless men both now and then forget that there is One in the heavens. For long He has kept silence, but in His own time He will break that silence. “I have long time holden my peace”, He says, “I have been still, and refrained myself: now will I cry”, Isa. 42. 14. “I will go and return to my place, till they (Israel) acknowledge their offence, and seek my face”, Hosea 5. 15. But we now have to consider how He breaks His silence.
War in Heaven
The first step is the casting out of heaven of one who is variously described as “the dragon”, “the great dragon”, “that old serpent”, “the Devil”, “Satan”, “the deceiver of the whole world”, “the accuser of our brethren”.
We shall not describe the history of that fallen created dignitary, nor of the hosts that followed him. But the reader should carefully study Revelation 12. 7 ff. Indeed, the whole of the chapter should be studied for it speaks of events both on earth and in heaven that precipitate the “great tribulation”. The woman which brought forth the man-child is the nation of Israel “of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came”, Rom. 9. 5. The “casting down” of the devil occurs in the middle of Daniel’s prophetic last week, Dan. 9. 24 ff., so that “for a time, and times and half a time”, for “twelve hundred and sixty days”, for three and a half years, the Jewish people are made the particular butt of the enemy’s venom. The reader should refer to Isa. 10. 22; 28. 15; 8. 7-8; 59. 19, throwing light on the serpent’s casting “out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood”, Rev. 12. 15. By comparing Scripture with Scripture, much light is thrown on what at first appears to be obscure.
All this is confirmed by the threefold occurrence of the word “wrath” in 1 Thessalonians. It is that wrath spoken of in Romans 5. 9; Revelation 6. 16, 17; 11. 18; 14. 10; 16. 19; 19. 19.15. Jesus is our Deliverer from it, 1 Thess. 1. 10; God has not appointed us to it, 5. 9; the Jews are the special object of it, consequent upon their rejection of their true Messiah, 2. 16. Yet, as we might expect, in those terrible days God has special regard for His faithful remnant. He provides a place for them, Rev. 12.14; His “pavilion” is always available to them, and He causes even nature itself to come to their aid.
If the reader goes carefully through the book of Revelation and notes what it says concerning what transpires “in”, “from” and “out of” heaven, he will readily be able to glean those things which occur there after the rapture and before the Lord actually comes to earth.
The Great Tribulation
In the middle of the last week of “the times of the Gentiles”, the head of the Roman empire with whom the covenant was made will not, as is commonly asserted, break the covenant, but will deprive the Jewish people of their religious liberty and an idolatrous system will be set up in its stead. Daniel 3. 2; 2 Thessalonians 2. 4 and Revelation 13. 14 all shed light on this. An image will be set up in the temple at Jerusalem and, should anyone refuse to bow to the image, or should they worship any other god, their punishment will be of like severity to that of the three godly men in the heated furnace and Daniel in the den of lions.
The whole of Revelation 12 relates primarily to the last half of the last week of Daniel’s prophecy. It is “in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease”, Dan. 9. 27, and in its stead he will set up the “image” which represents the deification of the political head of the revived Roman empire, to which image everyone will be required to give worship. That this passage relates to the same period as that mentioned in Revelation 12 seems clear from the fact that the half of “the week” is 3I years, 1,260 days, 42 months, “a time, and times and half a time”. It will be a time of trouble unequalled at any time in the world’s history. If the reader will consult Daniel 12. 1; Joel 2. 2; Jeremiah 30. 7 and Matthew 24. 21 he will see that all the passages refer to the one period, since there cannot be more than one period the like of which has never been before nor shall ever be again.
It is the time of “the tribulation, the great one” as Revelation 7. 14 reads literally. Throughout the whole of human history the godly have always known “tribulation” from the hand of the ungodly, but none has ever been like that which is yet to come. It will be Jacob’s trouble—the time when God will take that nation at their word when they said “His blood be on us, and on our children”, Matt. 27. 25. Divine wrath has come upon them to the uttermost, 1 Thess. 2. 16. The crime at Calvary has yet to be avenged on those who will not repent.
It will be terminated by the coming to earth of the Lord Jesus, delivering the persecuted godly remnant who have been waiting for Him, and inflicting judgment on His and their foes. He that endures to the end of that time will be saved bodily by the active intervention of the Lord from heaven. Were it not so, were those days not thus delimited and shortened, no flesh would be saved. For note carefully, it is here a question of the salvation not of the soul but of the body - the “flesh”; (see Matt. 24. 22).
The Lord’s Return in Judgment and Glory
Then “they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory”, Matt. 24. 30. So spake the Lord concerning His return to earth. Oftentimes, one word of Scripture becomes the key with which to unlock its secrets, and this is the case with the word until. It is found in Matthew 22. 44, “Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool”. When the Lord returns to earth, it will inaugurate the period of His reign which will be unbroken “till he hath put all enemies under his feet”, 1 Cor. 15. 25. He will then present, though not relinquish, the kingdom in a subjugated state to “God, even the Father”.
Again in Matthew 23. 39 we read, “Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord”. For when the Lord returns to earth the nation of Israel will have gone through the furnace of affliction, and their heart will turn to the Lord. Meanwhile, “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled”, Luke 21. 24. At the same time it is said of the Lord that “the heaven must receive (Him) until the times of restitution of all things”, Acts 3. 21. He is in heaven, whilst of the nation to which He first came it is said “blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in”, Rom. n. 25. So that “even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart. Nevertheless when it (their hearts) shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away”, 2 Cor. 3. 15-16.
From these passages, we learn that the return to earth of the Lord Jesus will have effects upon the nation of Israel and upon their capital city Jerusalem, as well as upon the world at large. God does not intend that His Son should remain unvindicated in the world where He was so grossly dishonoured. He decrees that the very city that cast Him out will be that which will let Him in, Psalm 24. The very people who said “We will not have this man to reign over us” will say “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for Him”, Isa. 25. 9.
The writer may refer the reader to his book Jesus the Christ wherein is discussed the Olivet discourse of the Lord given in Matthew 24. This discourse relates to the return to earth of the Lord Jesus and nowhere is there to be found in it any reference to the rapture. Although verse 14 has been referred to the present-day aspect of the Gospel, yet as a matter of fact it refers to what is there called “this gospel of the kingdom”, a term defined in the preceding verse 13. It has to do with bodily salvation, not that of the soul (cf. v. 22), to be realised when the Lord comes. Of course, all aspects of God’s good news for men are based on the cross, whether prospectively or retrospectively, but the word “gospel” merely means good news. The particular kind of good news implied must be understood from any other words attached to the word “gospel”. It will always be true that blessing can only come by faith in Christ, but verse 13 presupposes that. In this present day, we are waiting for the Lord who shall change our bodies of humiliation and fashion them like unto His body of glory. Our citizenship is in heaven, Phil. 3. 20,21; but those to whom Matthew 24 refers will be waiting for the Lord to come to earth.
Further, verses 40 and 41 have been construed, as we judge entirely wrongly, as relating to the rapture. But the very reverse of what occurs at the rapture is the case. Then “one shall be taken” in judgment “and the other left” for blessing, the blessing of the millennial kingdom. This contrasts with the rapture, when one is taken away for blessing and the other is left for judgment. That this interpretation of the verse is sound is proved in the context by the citation of Noah and the flood, when “the flood came, and took them all away” in judgment while Noah and his family were left for the blessings of the then new earth, Matt. 24. 37-39.
The contrast with the rapture is very marked. Here in Matthew 24 there is no mention of any resurrection, the Lord comes to people living on earth. But at the rapture, which takes place earlier, sleeping saints will be raised. Here in Matthew 24 there are both sign-marks and time-marks, but none is given for the rapture. In the upper room, the Lord did not say anything about “one this and another that”. They were wholly one company, not to be divided when He comes. At the rapture there is no discrimination, but there will be at the coming to earth with which Matthew 24 deals. In this Olivet discourse, the Lord speaks of Himself as the Son of man, a title which, when used prophetically, implies judgment. But that title is not used in John 14; in the upper room the Lord uses pronouns in the first person, but in the Olivet discourse He speaks in the third person.
The First and the Second Advent to Earth
When the Lord first came to earth it was in humiliation and in poverty. When He comes next it will be in power and great glory. At His incarnation a multitude of the heavenly host expressed His praises. But “when he (God) again bringeth in the firstborn into the world (inhabited earth)”, that is, His beloved Son, “aZZ the angels of God” will worship Him, Heb. 1. 6 r.v. and marg. For God has resolved that the One who had a cross outside Jerusalem shall yet have a throne inside the city. The crucified “King of the Jews” shall yet reign on earth as King of kings and Lord of lords. The people who once rejected Him will then, as a purged and regenerate nation, welcome Him.
The Final Clash
“The kings of the east’’, Rev. 16. 12, and the “king of the north” and the “king of the south”, Dan. 11. 40, will with others all make their attack on God’s earthly people and on His land. This will necessitate that the Roman power, having made a military pact with Israel, will consequently be brought into the conflict. Zechariah 14.2 shows that the attacks will result in terrible distress, but the victory is assured as verse 4 of that chapter indicates. All the details do not appear to be made plain, though doubtless at the time of fulfilment all will be clear. But the two beasts of Revelation 13 - “the beast” and “the false prophet” will be sent alive, body and soul, direct into the lake of fire, Rev. 19. 20. There will be no intermediate state in hades for them. Such psalms as Psalm 46 will be particularly appropriate at such a time as this. At the same time, we recognize that many prophecies that relate to this victory also have a historical background, since past events adumbrate the future and ultimate triumph of the Lord. Therefore many prophecies may be read historically and prophetically. When read historically, it should always be borne in mind that that does not exhaust their implications.