Robert Jeffress - Making Sure You're Not Left Behind
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. For generations, people have used the Bible to concoct some pretty wild ideas about the end times. Many have tried to predict the dates for the second coming of Christ and the end of the world as we know it. Well today, we'll set wild speculation aside and open God's word for solid answers to common questions about the rapture the prophetic event when God will call his church to heaven. My message is titled, "Making sure you're not left behind". On today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
Some of you, like I, are old enough to remember the name of Jeane Dixon. Jeane Dixon was a popular psychic in the 1950s and 60s who made a number of predictions - but her most famous prediction was made in 1956 when she prophesied that a democrat would win the 1960 presidential election, and that the winner of that election would be assassinated while he was in office. Of course we know in 1960 John F. Kennedy was elected president of the United States, and tragically 3 years later he was assassinated right here on the streets of downtown Dallas. Well, immediately after the fulfillment of that prophecy Jeane Dixon became a media sensation. Everybody turned to her to try to find out what was going to happen in the future.
Now what most people don't realize is Jeane Dixon also made some predictions that didn't come true. For example, she prophesied that in 1958, Red China would plunge world into the third world war. She predicted that in 1970 Fidel Castro would be banished from Cuba. But her most famous false prediction had to do with the Kennedys. After president Kennedy was assassinated, Jeane Dixon predicted that the widow Jackie Kennedy would never marry again. The day after she made that prediction, Jackie Kennedy married Aristotle Onassis.
But compare Jeane Dixon's record - or any prophet's records - to the Bible. Did you know the Bible is filled with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of prophecies of things that are going to occur in the future? Many of those prophecies have already come to pass. For example, in relationship to the first coming of Jesus Christ there are more than 250 prophecies about the first coming of Christ. Prophecies about the manner of his birth, the place of his birth, the type of life he would lead - some of those prophecies were made 1.000 years before Christ was born, and out of those 250 prophecies every one of them came to pass.
Amazingly there are 250 prophecies about Christ's first coming - there are over 1.800 prophecies in the Bible about his second coming. You can't turn a page of the old or the New Testament without a prediction about the return of Jesus Christ. And I believe every one of those predictions is going to come true. The Bible has a perfect batting average when it comes to fulfilled prophecy. Bible prophecy, what's going to happen to us in the future ought to have a very real application in how we live our lives now.
Last time we began looking at the next event on God's prophetic timetable. It's called the rapture of the church. And the definition of the rapture is the snatching away to heaven of all Christians before the beginning of the tribulation. Now, I realize - especially after this week's emails - not everybody agrees with me. About the rapture. So for full disclosure I want to share with you just for a second three different views about the rapture. First of all, there is what's called the post-tribulation rapture view. The post-tribulation rapture view. If you look on your chart there where I put the rapture, just move it over to the right seven years at the end of the tribulation.
That's what the post-tribulationist believes. Post means after: the rapture happens after the tribulation. This is the view that the church must go through the Great Tribulation. And at the end of the tribulation, the church - whoever is alive at that time - will be snatched away and then will come back at the second coming. That rapture and the second coming are almost concurrent events according to this viewpoint.
Now, proponents of this view make their argument this way. They say Christians in every age have suffered tribulation, why in the world do you believe there's a group of Christians who will escape tribulation? That just doesn't make sense. It's not true in history. Christians have always endured tribulation. Well as we'll see in a moment, during the last seven years of earth's history, the kind of tribulation that will be experienced is far different than any other kind of persecution Christians have gone through before. Secondly, they say it's very obvious when you read Revelation 6-19 that there are believers on the earth who are being persecuted by the antichrist. If these believers are not the church that was here before the tribulation - who are they? And as we'll see next week there's a very logical answer to that question.
But that's the post-tribulation view. The church will be here for the tribulation and then will be raptured at the end. Secondly there is the mid-tribulation rapture view. And that is the rapture will occur after the first three and a half years of the seven year tribulation. The proponents of this view say the first three and a half years are going to be relatively peaceful, everybody's going to love antichrist, and it's only after three and a half years that he turns against Israel and begins persecuting Israel and the church: and that the earth suffers the wrath of God. There is a variation of this view called the pre-wrath rapture, popularized by Marvin Rosenthal. Basically it's saying the first three and a half years of the seven years are natural disasters, which the church will have to experience. They're called the seal judgments in Revelation 6. But halfway through the tribulation, before antichrist persecutes the world, and God persecutes the world, Christians will be snatched up.
Now, there are three problems with this view of the pre-wrath rapture or the mid-tribulation rapture. First of all, Revelation 5-6 teaches that that first series of judgments against the earth at the beginning of the seven years are unleashed by Jesus Christ himself. So this is not just a natural disaster that just happened to happen, it's not even a satanic judgment - it is a judgment by God himself. Secondly, if the church is present during these first judgments in Revelation 6, why is there no mention of the church in Revelation 6? You find them before then. You find them in Revelation 19, but there's no mention of the church in Revelation 6. And finally as we'll see next time, Daniel 9 and other passages of scripture treat the tribulation not as just three and a half years, but an entire seven year period of time. And if we are here during any part of that, it means we have to suffer the wrath of God, which we've been delivered from.
Now the third view is the one I presented to you, and that's the pre-tribulation rapture view. That is, the rapture will occur before the beginning of the seven year tribulation. I heard somebody say one time: well, I don't know which view is correct - pre, post, or mid - but I just assumed beyond the first flight going out of here. Well, I would too. I don't only hope, I plan on being on the first flight out of here. And there's a good reason to believe that we who are believers will. Let me share with you, there are many reasons I could share with you, but let me share with you why I'm absolutely convinced that the church is not going to be left behind for the Great Tribulation, why we are going to be spared not only the wrath of antichrist, but the wrath of God.
Four quick reasons: number one, the purpose of the tribulation. The purpose of the tribulation. What is the purpose of these final seven years of judgment on the earth? The scripture says, first of all, the salvation of Israel as well as gentiles. Revelation 7 says there will be a multitude of people saved during the tribulation. It's their one last chance to be saved. God's a merciful God: he doesn't wish anyone to perish. This is a final opportunity for Israel as well as gentiles to be saved.
Number two, the condemnation of unbelievers. This is God's pouring out his wrath upon the earth. Now the fact is neither purpose applies to the church. We who are Christians do not need salvation. We've already experienced it through Jesus Christ, and we certainly don't need God's condemnation. The Bible has promised that we would be spared from that. So there is no reason for the church to be here during these final seven years. The tribulation is a time of God's correction of Israel and God's wrath against unbelievers. Neither of those purposes applies to the church, which is one reason I'm convinced the church will not be here.
Secondly, why am I convinced the church will not be left behind for the tribulation? The lack of reference to the church in Revelation 6-18. When you study the Book of Revelation, the church is prominent in chapters 1-5. And the church is prominent again starting in chapter 19 when Christ returns and we return with him, but in chapters 6-18 that describe these seven years of horrific persecutions not once do you find the church mentioned. Isn't that interesting? No mention of the church, the bride of Christ, in Revelation 6-18. Why is that? It's because the church isn't here. We're in heaven. It's unbelievers who have been left on the earth. But the church, the bride of Christ will not be there.
Number three, why do I believe the church won't be left behind? Because of the teaching of Revelation 3:10. Turn over to Revelation 3:10. Remember the Book of Revelation though applicable to all of us was written originally to seven specific churches in Asia Minor. But even though they were literal churches - people believed that parts of the message to these churches extended beyond the present situation into future generations. And that's true in Revelation 3. God's addressing the church at Philadelphia, but when you get to verse 10 it's obvious the message is expanding beyond the church of Philadelphia to a future church. Look at verse 10, "Because you have kept the word of my perseverance", the angel said, "I will also keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell upon the earth".
God said to the church at Philadelphia: there is a time of worldwide testing that I am going to save you from. Now there was not worldwide testing during the time of the church at Philadelphia. He is talking about a future time, I believe the Great Tribulation. And he is saying not just to the church at Philadelphia, but to all Christians who are living in that age right before the tribulation, I am going to spare you from that time. That word "from" - that's our English word. The Greek word is the preposition 'ek'. I will also keep you out of the hour of testing that is about to come upon the earth. We have been delivered not just from all testing, but from the testing, the persecution that comes from God.
And finally, and perhaps most importantly the reason I am absolutely convinced we will not experience the Great Tribulation is because of the promise of God that believers will be spared his condemnation. The promise of God that believers, Christians, will be spared God's condemnation. In John 16:33 Jesus said, "In this world you will have", what? "tribulation". Jesus said every follower of Christ in every generation is going to suffer problems. That tribulation, that problem, part of it is just the difficulty of living in a fallen world. Because we live in a fallen world, we suffer everything from broken relationships to broken health. We have personal problems because we live in this sin-infested world.
Not only that, I think Jesus when he said, "You're going to have tribulation" was talking about the persecution that every follower of Christ is going to endure for his faith. Certainly Jesus' followers experienced it. All of the apostles except one were martyred for their faith. Listen to this description of what happened to the first century Christians who were Christ followers. Hebrews 11:37-38 says, "They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword: they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, and ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground".
That was the first century church. Ladies and gentlemen, the 21st century church around the world isn't doing much better. Christians everywhere are being persecuted because of their faith. For example, we see our Christian brothers in Africa, in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East who are being slaughtered because of their faith in God. That's the kind of suffering and persecution that is going on in the world right now against Christians, and we as a church ought to be speaking up and out against it. We ought together as Christians say: this cannot stand.
Let me tell you what's happening right now, and has happened for 2.000 years is nothing compared to the horrific things that are going to happen during the Great Tribulation. The Bible says there is going to be a time when not just man pours out his wrath upon man, but God for the first time since the flood pours out his wrath upon the earth. That's what makes the tribulation different than any other time in history. The tribulation will not just be man persecuting man - it will be God pouring out his wrath on mankind. And ladies and gentlemen, you and I have been promised to be spared from that wrath.
Romans 8:1 says, "There is therefore now no condemnation awaiting those who belong to Christ Jesus". If you and I have to experience some future wrath of God then it means the death of Jesus Christ was ineffective and absolutely unnecessary. The fact is Jesus when he died on that cross he took the wrath of God that you and I deserve for our sins. And that's why we have the promise that there is no condemnation awaiting us if we have trusted in Christ Jesus.
I remember reading the story about a group of cowboys who were out in the middle of nowhere, and they found themselves caught in a raging prairie fire. As the fire rapidly approached them, it became evident that no escape was possible. Finally one of the cowboys said: quick, let's burn all of the ground around us: let's just burn this ground around us. The other cowboys thought he was ludicrous. Why would we burn ground around us when the fire is already approaching us? This man said: because the fire cannot come where it has already been. The fire cannot come where it has already been. Ladies and gentlemen, the fire of God's wrath burned: it was poured out on Jesus Christ when he died on the cross. He by his own choice decided that he would take the punishment from God that you and I deserve. God's wrath was poured upon Jesus Christ, and we never have to fear that wrath if we trust in him. Why? Because the fire cannot come where it has already been.
That story not only illustrates why we don't have to fear some future wrath of God on the earth, but it also explains how we can escape not the seven years of God's punishment, but an eternity of God's punishment that we all deserve for our sins. Not long ago I was being interviewed by a secular talk show host who wasn't a believer, and he asked me a question, and he said: "Now pastor, do you believe we're living in the last days? I hear you talking a lot about the last days. Do you believe we're living in the last days"? He was kind of mocking me in good nature. I said "I absolutely do. In fact I'm certain that you and I are living in the last days". He said: "Well, how can you be so certain of that"? I said: "Well just think about it. You and I are both in our late 50s. Now 20-40 years from now one of two things are going to happen. Either we're going or he's coming, but soon we're going to meet him one way or the other".
And that's true for every one of you here today. Most of you are living in your last days. It may be 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, 40 years, 50 years: but compared to eternity it's a short amount of time that we have left before we face God. Either he's coming, or we're going: but in a relatively short amount of time you and I are going to stand before God. Hebrews 9:27 says, "It is appointed unto every one of us once to die, and then the judgment". Every one of us in this room, everyone watching on television - we're all going to stand before God in judgment.
There's some people say: "Well, that's ok. That's ok, I'm not fearful about standing before God in judgment. I'm a pretty good person, actually. I'm not perfect, nobody is, but I'm sure better than those Islamic terrorists you talked about who certainly deserve to go to hell: and I understand why they're going to hell. But I'm a pretty good person. I don't have to fear about going to hell". See, our problem is - and we all do this - we judge ourselves based on other people. We use other people as our standard of judgment. And we always like to find somebody who's worse than we are to compare ourselves to, and that way we feel pretty good about ourselves.
Well folks, God doesn't judge us according to our relative righteousness compared to other people. He judges us compared to the righteousness of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus was perfect. God is a holy God. He demands absolute perfection, and by that standard we all fall short. The Bible says in Romans 3:23, "For all of us have sinned". You have, I have, the pope has - we've all sinned and we've all fallen short of the glory of God. Now here's the problem with our sin: sin creates a debt that we owe God. Did you know that? God is a holy God, and our sin, every time we sin against a holy God: it increases our debt toward God. It increases how much we owe God every time we sin.
Now, there is a day coming when you and I are going to have our loan called in. We're going to stand before God, and God's going to look at that long list of indebtedness we all have to him because of sin, after sin, after sin. But God's a holy God - he just can't write it off, and say: oh, we'll just forget about it. His justice will not allow him to do it. He demands, he has to demand payment. And if you and I come before God at the day of our death with a long list of indebtedness to God we will spend eternity trying to pay off that debt, separated from him in hell forever, and ever, and ever.
Now that's bad news, but that's the news that Jesus told. That's what the Bible tells about. You say: "Well, I don't believe in hell". Well then you have to call Jesus a liar because Jesus taught more about hell than he did about heaven. And we all deserve to go there because we all have a debt toward God. But here's the good news - God says: I understand the predicament you're in. I know you're spiritually bankrupt and can't pay off this debt, but I offer to pay it off for you. In fact, I'll pay your debt off early if you'll let me do so before you die. I'll let your debt be paid off completely by what my Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, did for you.
Now don't miss this, the most important decision you ever make in life and eternity is this: who's going to pay for your sin debt to God? Do you want to spend all eternity trying to pay off that note, that loan to God that we can never pay off? Or do you want to accept God's offer to allow Jesus to pay that debt for you? If you wait until you die to stand before God and make that decision - you've waited too long. It's a decision we have to make on this side of the grave. And hear me this morning, when you choose to allow Jesus to pay that sin debt for you, you never have to fear the wrath of God during the tribulation: and more importantly, you never have to fear the wrath of God for eternity. Why is that? Because the fire cannot come where it's already been.