Robert Jeffress - Getting The Big Picture
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and I'm so glad you joined us for another edition of Pathway to Victory. Have you ever been traveling and gotten lost? You've been confused about which way to go or struggled to find your way to your desired location? Looking at a map can help by letting you see where you are in perspective to where you need to be. Well for many Christians, discussing the end times can evoke similar feelings of being lost and confused, struggling to find direction. Well today, as we continue our series on Bible prophecy, perfect ending, we're going to get the big picture. We're going to look at a map of Bible prophecy that I think will be a great help to you. Join us today for our study, "Getting the Big Picture", here on Pathway to Victory.
Maps can be very important, especially when you're traveling in an unfamiliar territory. To many people Bible prophecy is such a territory. I'm convinced one reason people are so confused about Bible prophecy is they've never seen the big picture before. They've never seen the map and so they're confused about it. You know most Christians have a vague understanding about the end times: they know things are supposed to get worse and worse: Jesus is coming back and we're going to live happily ever after. But if you ask most Christians to explain the events of Bible prophecy - what are those major events? Put them in order: define them: what is the key scripture that talks about each one? Most Christians would break out in a cold sweat, they couldn't do that. And not only that, they would wax eloquently why it's unimportant to know all of that stuff. They would say well when it comes to the return of Christ I'm not on the planning committee: I'm on the welcoming committee.
Today we're going to try to get the big picture of Bible prophecy. And what we're going to do is we're going to look at each of these seven events and where they fit at in God's prophetic timetable. You'll notice that there's a cross here representing the death the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus Christ, and immediately after that cross you see the first event or time period we're going to look at called The Church Age. I want you to write this down as the definition of The Church Age: The Church Age is that period of time from Pentecost in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit came, until the rapture during which gentiles are invited to participate in the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant. Let me say it again, The Church Age is that period of time from Pentecost until the rapture during which gentiles are invited to participate in the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant.
We saw last time in Genesis 12, God made a promise to Abraham and his believing descendants, Israel. And for thousands of years God has been dealing with Israel trying to bring her into a right relationship with himself. But when Israel rejected Jesus Christ, God temporarily set aside Israel and he's opened up his invitation list to include anyone non-Jews like you and I who would like to become a part of the Kingdom of God. That's the period of time we're living in right now. Notice I said God has temporarily set aside Israel. Is God finished with Israel? Has he given up on them? Not at all, there's going to be one final period in earth's history that God gives Israel one last chance to be saved and we're going to talk about that period of time in just a moment, but turn over if you would to Romans 11:1 and 25 where Paul talks about what we call The Church Age, this temporary hardening of Israel so that gentiles can be saved. Paul makes it very clear that Israel's hardness of heart is only a temporary condition.
Look at Romans 11:1, "I say then has God rejected his people? Has he? May it never be. For I too am an Israelite the descendant of Abraham of the tribe of Benjamin". And then verse 25, "For I do not want you brethren to be uninformed of this mystery". What is the mystery? It's the mystery of the church, The Church Age that we're living in that God has temporarily set aside Israel so that gentiles can be a part of the Abrahamic blessing. "I don't want you to be uninformed of this mystery lest you be wise in your estimation that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the gentiles has come in".
We're living in that time of the gentiles, when gentiles can become a part, a joint heir, of the Abrahamic blessing. Yes, it's a real hardening but it is only partial. One day God is going to resume his program with Israel, but before God can return to Israel something else has to happen. The end of The Church Age, the end of this time of gentile blessing is going to be the second event that is on your chart called The Rapture of the Church. This is how The Church Age ends. It ends with The Rapture of the Church. The word rapture comes from a latin word "Rapturo" that in turn comes from a Greek word "Harpazo" which means to snatch away. And here's the definition of the rapture, write it down. The rapture is the snatching away to heaven of all Christians before the beginning of the tribulation. It is the snatching away to heaven of all Christians before the beginning of the tribulation.
And the key passage in the Bible about the rapture is 1 Thessalonians 4. Turn over there if you would to 1 Thessalonians 4. Verse 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 shall rise first, and then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up", harpatso, rapture there's the word, "We shall be raptured together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and thus we shall always be with the Lord, therefore comfort one another with these words".
Now, there's a lot of difference of opinion amongst Christians about the rapture, many fine evangelical Christians do not believe in The Rapture of the Church. They believe in the second coming, they don't believe in the rapture and they ask all kinds of questions. All of which we're going to answer next week and the next week after that. But this is The Rapture of the Church and following the rapture comes the third event on your chart there - the tribulation. The time we call the tribulation. Now here's the definition of the tribulation. This isn't just a time of persecution: it's not hard times: there's a very specific seven year period of time that are the final seven years of earth's history and here's the definition of the tribulation. The tribulation is that seven year period that begins when the antichrist signs a peace covenant with Israel and it ends with Armageddon and the second coming of Jesus Christ.
Let me say it again. The tribulation is that seven year period of time that begins when antichrist signs a peace treaty with Israel and ends with Armageddon and the second coming of Jesus Christ. After the rapture, maybe because of the rapture itself there is going to be worldwide chaos and that chaos is going to center just as it centers right now in the Middle East, and specifically with Israel. All of the tension in the Middle East when you boil it down to its essence it has to do with Israel. And it has to do with specifically with that piece of real estate over there. And at the end times there is going to be a cataclysmic event that is going to bring the world, I believe, to the brink of the nuclear disaster and this antichrist will rise to power and he will be hailed and followed by all because he is finally able to solve the Middle East dilemma like no other leader has. And because of that people will naturally follow after him. That is the beginning, Daniel says, of this seven year period known as the Great Tribulation that will end with Armageddon and the return of Jesus Christ.
Now what is the purpose of the tribulation? Folks this is key to understand, especially to understand why I don't believe that church is going to be here for it. There is a twofold purpose for the Great Tribulation. Number one: the salvation of Jews as well as gentiles. The salvation of Jews as well as gentiles. And number two: the condemnation of unbelievers. The condemnation of the unbelievers. Let me say a word about the salvation of Jews and gentiles - remember I said God's not finished with Israel? He's going to give Israel one last chance to repent to turn to Christ and that last chance is during this tribulation time. God will bring severe discipline to Israel by way of the antichrist. Antichrist will persecute Israel but the purpose of that discipline is to turn Israel's heart toward Christ and we know from the 144,000 Jewish witnesses that John pictures in revelations 6 many people will come to faith in Christ during the tribulation.
While all Christians will have been taken away prior to the tribulation, there will be many people saved during the tribulation - many Jews as well as many gentiles. But they will pay a heavy price to trust in Christ. But secondly, the purpose of the tribulation is the condemnation of unbelievers. Throughout the Bible God promises there is a day of wrath coming for unbelievers, there is a time of judgment coming upon them, that period of time is the Great Tribulation. You say why does God allow this evil to occur and this evil to occur and this evil to occur? Why does he allow it to go unpunished? No evil's going to go unpunished. It's just means God's wrath, Romans says, is being stored up right now for a great outpouring that will occur during the Great Tribulation. And that wrath, that condemnation of God will come in the form of three judgments: the seal judgments, the trumpet judgments, the bowl judgments that are all described in Revelation 6-19.
What is the purpose of the tribulation? The salvation of Jews and gentiles and the condemnation of unbelievers. Now, then what's the purpose for the church of the tribulation? Listen to me, there is no purpose for the church during the tribulation. We don't need to be saved, we've already been saved. We don't need to be saved and we certainly don't need to face the condemnation of God. Romans 8:1 says, "There is no condemnation awaiting those who belong to Christ Jesus". So if we don't need salvation, if we've been promised to escape condemnation, what's the purpose for us in the tribulation? There is no purpose which is why we're not here during that period of time. That's the greatest argument that I believe for the absence of the church during the tribulation.
There is no purpose for the church during the tribulation. It is for the salvation of Jews and gentiles. It is for condemnation of unbelievers: now the climax of the seven year tribulation will be the second coming of Jesus Christ. Turn over to Revelation 19. Let me give you this definition, the second coming of Christ is the visible return of Jesus Christ to establish his kingdom on the earth. The second coming of Christ is the visible return of Jesus Christ to establish his kingdom on the earth. At the end of the seven year tribulation, all the world forces are going to gather together to try to defeat antichrist. Tired of his tyrannical rule, the world forces are going to decide we're going to overtake this dictator. But as they do so, suddenly the clouds are going to part and notice what everyone is going to see.
Verse 11, John says, "I saw heaven opened and behold a white horse and he who sat upon it is called faithful and true, and in righteousness he judges and wages war. And the armies which are in heaven", that's you and I, "The armies which are in heaven clothed in fine linen, white and clean were following him, Jesus, on the white horses and from his mouth comes a sharp sword so that with it he may smite the nations and he will rule them with the rod of iron, and he treads the winepress of the fierce wrath of God the Almighty, and on his robe and on his thigh he has a name written: King of kings and Lord of lords". This is the second coming of Jesus Christ and we return with him at that time. That's the climax of the Great Tribulation.
Why does Christ return visibly, literally to this planet? That's the fifth item on your chart, to establish his kingdom on earth which we call the millennium. That word "milli" means a thousand, "anum" - year. It is the thousand year period of time during which Christ will reign on the earth fulfilling God's promises to Abraham and his believing descendants.
Remember we saw last time God made an unconditional promise to Abraham and his believing descendants of a land, of a seed, and of a blessing. God has to fulfill that promise to believing Israel. And the millennium is the time when all of believing Israel will inhabit all of that real estate God has planned for them. It will be a time, according to 2 Samuel 7, when one of Abraham's and David's descendants, Jesus Christ, will sit on the throne of David in Jerusalem and rule over all the earth. It will be a time when the earth, now at the end of the millennium, Revelation 20 tells us satan who has been bound for a thousand years will be loosed for a little while. He will lead one final rebellion and at the end of that rebellion God will judge all unbelievers at this sixth event on your outline called the Great White Throne judgment. This is a time when God will judge all unbelievers who have ever lived, but specific definition is this - the Great White Throne judgment is God's final judgment against all unbelievers who have ever lived.
Now so you don't think I'm making any of this up I want you turn over to Revelation 20 where you can see this for yourself. This judgment, God's final judgment, against all unbelievers who ever lived. Look at Revelation 20 beginning with verse 11, John says "And I saw a Great White Throne and him who sat upon it from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the Book of Life: and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and hades gave up the dead which were in them: and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. And if anyone's name was not found written in the Book of Life, he was thrown into the lake of fire".
And there like the devil, the beast, and the false prophet, they will be tormented day and night forever and ever, John says. And after that event, the final event that awaits everyone is eternity future. What is eternity future? It is that permanent state of both believers inhabiting the new heaven and earth, and unbelievers inhabiting the lake of fire. After this Great White Throne judgment the present heaven and earth that have been renovated for the millennium, they're ultimately going to be destroyed by fire. Did you realize everything in this earth is eventually going to melt away one day? This entire planet, this entire universe is going to be destroyed.
Peter talks about that in 2 Peter 3:7 and 10, he says, "But the present heavens and earth, by his word, are being reserved for fire kept for the Day of Judgment and destruction of ungodly men: but the day of the Lord will come like a thief in which the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up". And once this present heaven and earth have been completely destroyed, then God is ready for the new heaven and the new earth.
Turn over to Revelation 21, look at it with me in verses 1-4, after the present heaven and earth are destroyed notice what John says, he says, "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and he shall dwell among them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be among them, and he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes: and there shall no longer be any death. There shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain: for the first things have passed away'".
John said: I saw a new heaven but I also saw a new earth and I saw this heavenly city coming down out of heaven to earth. As we'll describe in detail in the weeks ahead, the greatest misconception about eternity future for Christians is that we're going to spend all of eternity up there someplace: floating around on a cloud plucking the harp. No wonder so few people are interested in going to heaven. No, we're not going to be up there, that's not where we are. John said: I saw the new heaven and the new earth, the new Jerusalem was coming down here. I didn't see people going up to dwell with God, I saw God coming down to dwell with man. This earth is going to be our eternal home, this newly recreated earth just like God planned for it originally but even better. That's where we're going to spend eternity.
Now we can buzz around other places if we want to but our primary home is going to be right here, just as God created us. Doesn't that make you excited to think about what this world's going to look like once the curse has been removed, once the tears and the heartache is gone, and we're going to experience life as God intended it? That's what John says he saw. Eternity future is the eternal future not only for believers but for unbelievers as well. Revelation 20:15, "If anyone's name was not found written in the Book of Life he was thrown into the lake of fire". His eternity is just as long as the eternity of believers.
I had somebody call me last week on a radio call-in show and said: pastor, why is it God would torment unbelievers forever and ever? That seems so cruel. It only seems cruel to us because we are so unlike God. We don't have the same righteousness and holiness that God had has. God's holiness demands punishment. But I said the truth is, God's word does say unbelievers will be tormented forever and ever: and that word forever, "Aionios" is the same word that is used to describe the eternality of heaven. We're going to be in heaven with Christ forever and ever: unbelievers separated from God forever and ever, and the reason they were separated is because of their own choice not to trust in Christ, not to have their name in the Lamb's Book of Life. If anyone's name was not found written in the Book of Life he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Now I know we've covered a lot of ground, you may be thinking: pastor, do we really need to know all of this stuff? Is it really even our business about what's going to happen in the future? The last time I stood on the Mount of Olives, I read Matthew 24 and 25 when Jesus and his disciples were there at that very same spot, and the disciples said, remember, "Lord when will these things be? And what will be the sign of your coming in the end of the age"? Jesus didn't rebuke his disciples for asking that question: instead he went into a detailed explanation covering two chapters of Matthew of exactly what was going to happen. He started talking about the Great Tribulation, and then he talked about the coming of the son of man visibly for all to see: and then he talked about the judgments that would occur in his second coming: and then he talked about the kingdom that believers would be welcomed into. But curiously Jesus never said anything about the rapture. Didn't speak about it.
Now you would think if the disciples wanted to know, Lord tell us what things are going to happen. You would think Jesus would talk about the rapture. Why didn't he mention the rapture? Is it because the rapture is simply a figment of our imagination and it's really not going to happen and we are going to go through the Great Tribulation? Before you go out and build your bomb shelter in the backyard and start loading up on peanut butter and tuna fish, I encourage you to come back next week because next week we're going to talk about The Rapture of the Church, and why I am absolutely convinced that no Christian is going to be left behind for the Great Tribulation.