THE BIBLE: ONE BOOK IN TWO PARTS
Whenever we divide the Scriptures into the Old and New Testaments, we bear witness to the fact that God has divided His program of dealing with mankind into two basic covenants (the word “testament” literally means “covenant” and a covenant means a promise or agreement). We call the Old Testament the “covenant of law” and the New Testament the “covenant of grace”. By looking at history, throughout these two covenants, we see that God revealed Himself to mankind, gradually and progressively.
GOD IN HISTORY
Within this progress of revelation throughout the Scriptures there are also certain historical distinctions. These “Biblical distinctives” are defined by the different ways God chose to reveal Himself to mankind.
For instance; the relationship God had with Adam and Eve before their sin was different from His relationship with them afterward. There was also a clear distinction in His relationship to mankind before and after the giving of the Law. The difference between the sacrifice of animals in the Old Testament and the sacrifice of Christ in the New Testament is another example.
In the Old Testament age God obligated Himself to promises (or covenants) made to the Jewish nation, some of which are yet to be fulfilled. Most of these promises revolved around the coming of Jesus as the Messiah (lit. Anointed One). His purpose in coming was to provide the sacrifice through His death, necessary for the forgiveness of our sin. This single event marked the close of the Old Testament and an introduction of the New Testament. Rather than the blood of animals, the blood of Jesus on the cross is the foundation of this new covenant. In 1 Corinthians 11:25, Paul wrote telling of that “Last Supper” Jesus had with His disciples, “This cup is the new testament in my blood.”
GOD’S PLAN FOR TODAY
The new covenant, announced by our Lord, became actual after the Holy Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1 3). God began this new, divine program, not to replace that older program for Israel but to interrupt it for a period of time. We call the new covenant; “the age of grace”. This does not mean that God interrupted or replaced His Law. The Law and His commandments have always been, are, and always be the standard by which He judges humanity. This does mean that, rather than the legal system offered only to Israel, God is able to offer a relationship with Himself to all mankind based on the blood of His own Son. There is a time (yet future) when God will fulfill all the covenant promises He made to Israel in the Old Testament.
The end of this present new covenant and the fulfillment of those promises under the old covenant are the basis for the study of all the future events in God’s timetable. God’s plan for this “age of grace” is to gather together people from every nation, every language barrier and every race of people. This is completely different from the old covenant limited whereby God revealed Himself only to the Jewish nation.
This group of people make up what the Bible refers to as the “body of Christ”, of which He is the head (Eph. 1:22 23). The divine purpose in this age is the offer of salvation to all mankind to all who will believe in the sacrifice of Christ for sin.
GOD IN THE FUTURE
This present age (beginning with the rejection and crucifixion of Jesus), will end with the return of the Lord Jesus. This return of Christ is presented in Scripture as actually being two events.
JESUS COMING WITH HIS SAINTS: The next event is a period of intense persecution lasting 7 years, called the Tribulation (more about this later).The second part of the return of the Lord Jesus, we call His Second Coming. At this time He will return for the nation of Israel and will establish His kingdom on earth, fulfilling all those promises (covenants) He made with Israel in the Old Testament. This chapter in our study attempts to put into order, future events regarding the return of Christ and the sequence of events.
GET READY FOR “FOREVER” (The Rapture of the Church)
What is the event on God’s “prophetic calendar” called, the “Rapture”? Our word, “rapture”, comes from the Latin translation of the Bible. Centuries ago, when the Bible was translated from Greek into Latin, they used the word, rapturo in 1 Thess. 4:17.
The Greek word in 1 Thess. 4:17, is translated “caught up”. It can also be translated, “to snatch or take away”. It is used in Acts 8:39 to describe how the Spirit “caught up” Philip near Gaza and brought him to Caesarea. It is also used to describe Paul’s experience of being “caught up” into the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:3,4). The word is used in 1 Thess. 4:17 to indicate people being “caught up” from earth to heaven.
1. Read 1 Thess. 4:13 18. According to verse 13, Paul didn’t want these folks to be uninformed about loved ones who had already died. Why?
2. When the Lord returns (v.14), who will He bring with Him?
3. What authority is Paul appealing to in v.15?
4. In v.15, what does he say about those who are alive at the Lord’s coming?
5. In v.16; who will return for us?
6. How will He return for us?
7. According to v.16; what happens to the “dead in Christ”?
8. What happens to the “rest” (v.17)?
9. What’s our destination (v.17)?
10. According to 1 Thess. 4:18; how are we to feel about this promise?
Now read 2 Thess. 2:1 12. In this section, Paul is correcting some misunderstanding about the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and “our gathering together unto Him.” (v.1).
As you read this letter, it becomes apparent that believers in Thessalonica were under intense persecution (1:4 7). They were being taught by “someone” (note: v.2; “either by spirit or word or by letter”), circulating the erroneous idea that they were already in that great and terrible period of anguish and tribulation called, “the Day of the Lord”, (some translations say, “Day of Christ”). Paul makes mention of it by saying, “as if” or “as though” that day had come. The context makes it clear that his intent is to deny this teaching. This “Day” HADN’T COME YET!
The “Day of the Lord”, is a term rooted in the Old Testament. It is not just a single event but is rather a period of time associated with the divine judgment upon sin and the deliverance of God’s people. It is a Jewish expression for the day when God would intervene in history to vindicate His chosen people, destroy their enemies and establish His kingdom.
The Old Testament speaks of that day as a day of darkness and severe judgment, a day of trial to men (Is. 13; Joel 2; Amos 5:18). It was to include the tribulation time preceding the second coming of Christ as well as the whole millennial reign of Christ. It will end with the judgment of the great white throne (Rev. 20:11).
The Day of the Lord is really an extended period of time lasting over one thousand years. The distress of these believers was actually two fold. They were in distress not only because the conditions of the time WERE so difficult but they’re beginning to think they’ve missed the Rapture and are already in the Tribulation period because they were being taught the “Day of the Lord” had come.
Paul appeals to them in the interest of the hope of “our gathering together unto Him” that he has already established in the first letter (1 Thess. 4:13 18) and this section with (2 Thess. 2:1). To correct the false teaching, Paul stresses that certain events must occur before the “Day of the Lord” can TRULY said to have come. The reason the difficult time period they are in is NOT the Tribulation period is because these certain events have NOT taken place yet! What are these events that must first take place? Let’s take a look…
The First Event: A “falling away” (2 Thess. 2:3a)
The first “sign” which MUST precede the Day of the Lord is the “falling away”. We get our English word “apostasy” from this term. It denotes a deliberate abandonment of a formerly professed position or view- in other words, a “defection”. The falling away indicates a tragic movement within the sphere of professed Christendom, the treason of the “alleged” friends of Christ. The only other place where this noun is used in the New Testament points to something sinful. In Acts 21:21, it asserts an apostasy from Moses.
The Second Event: The “man of sin” is revealed (2 Thess. 2:3b, 4, 9)
Coupled with this first “sign” in v.3 is the man of sin being revealed, this term indicates his evil character. Sin has such absolute domination over him that he seems to be the very embodiment of evil. This is the actual disclosure of his true identity in the arena of human history. This one (v.4) opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshipped. He will come depending upon the power of Satan and supporting his claim with power and signs and lying wonders (2:9). We have here the individual that is prophesied in other Scripture as the “Antichrist” (Satan’s imitation of the true Messiah).
The Third Event: The Restrainer must be taken out of the way (2 Thess. 2:6-8)
From v.6, it’s clear there is a present “restraint” in the world to insure the time appointed for Antichrist’s coming is not premature; that he will be manifested at the time ripe for his “unveiling”. In v.6 it states that these people “know” the present restrainer. It’s clear from v.7 that the present restraint is needed because there is already a “lawlessness” at work in society. This expression connects with the “lawless one” in v.8. That sinister individual has not yet been revealed to the world but the spirit that will dominate his career is already being experienced by all of us!
But there is a time limit to this restraint. It will continue only “until he be taken out of the way” (v.7). The identification of the “Restrainer” must be determined by the question, “Who is able to hold back the efforts of Satan?” Only a supernatural person can overcome the supernatural workings of Satan. The fact that the Restrainer will be “out of the midst” seems to speak of One who is now “in the midst”. The Bible points to the Holy Spirit (now here in Person as the indweller of the saints) as the One who currently restrains evil in the world. He is the “Restrainer” and will be taken out when the church is Raptured. Then the man of sin (the Antichrist), will be free to begin his holocaust on earth. This period of the “Church Age” began with the descent of the Holy Spirit from heaven (Acts. 2) and will come to an end with His return to Heaven.
Verse 8 of 2 Thessalonians begins, “…and then…”, and recounts the events that follow the Rapture of the Church. The career of the lawless one will run its course following the removal of the restrainer.
An interesting side note
If this body of believers had been taught that the Rapture was to occur AFTER the Tribulation period, why would they be in distress about their condition?
If Paul had taught them a “post Tribulation Rapture”, they should rather REJOICE because since they WERE in distress it could mean only one thing: the Rapture was soon to occur! Verse 2 tells us clearly, they were NOT rejoicing.
JUDGMENT OF BELIEVER’S WORKS AFTER THE RAPTURE
The Judgment Seat of Christ is mentioned in Rom. 14:10, 1 Cor. 3:9 15 and 2 Cor. 5:10. The term “judgment seat” (Greek: bema; in Rom. 14:10 & 2 Cor. 5:10), is taken from the Grecian games where successful athletes were rewarded for victory in athletic contests. Paul used that idea to denote the giving of rewards to Christians for faithful service.
The sins of each believer in Christ have already been judged at the cross. To bring the believer into judgment concerning his/her sin (whether sins before becoming a Christian, since becoming a Christian or even un-confessed sins since becoming a Christian), is to deny the efficacy of the death of Christ and to nullify the promise of God that “their sins and iniquities will I remember no more”. All sin, whether committed before or after we accept Christ as our Savior have been paid for, once and for all.
However, the Bible teaches that each believer will be judged according to the quality of his or her works done here on earth. This is the judgment that occurs from the “Judgment Seat of Christ”. Only the Lord could be able to judge our motives for service.
11. Read 1 Corinthians 3:10 15
a. What is the warning of v.10?
b. v.12; What would you call works of gold, silver and precious stones?
c. v.12; What do you think might be works of wood, hay and stubble?
d. v.14; What happens to the person whose works “remain”?
e. v.15; What happens to the person whose works are “burned”?
f. v.15; What evidence do you see that even though his/her works are burned, they are still going to heaven?
12. According to 2 Cor. 5:10, where is the believer to appear?
13. How is the believer to be judged?
Interestingly, Paul did not use the usual word for “bad” in this verse. He carefully chose a word that did not denote an ethical or moral evil but rather a word meaning; that which is acceptable and that which is worthless.
From the “Judgment Seat” it is not the Lord’s purpose here to chastise His child for his sins, but reward for the believer’s service.
THE TRIBULATION PERIOD
The Tribulation Period involves the judgment of God upon an unbelieving world; detailed in Revelation 6 19 (a written record of a vision received by the Apostle John while exiled by Romans on the island of Patmos). The consecutive series of seals, trumpets and bowl judgments of Revelation detail God’s judgment upon unbelievers, climaxing in the triumphant return of Christ to earth (Rev. 19:11 21).
At the beginning of chapter 4; John is told to “come up here” into heaven, where he is to view the circumstances of a terrible time on earth from a vantage point in heaven. It is the sense that John being taken up into heaven is an illustration of the church being taken up into glory at the Rapture. Chapter 5 records Johns experience in heaven as he views the Lamb of God being given authority to inflict judgment upon the earth. It is then that the Tribulation period begins (chapter 6 through chapter 19.).
The Tribulation is the seventieth week of Daniel (Dan. 9:27), a week according to the prophet’s terminology equaling seven years. The seventieth week of Daniel, the Tribulation, has particular reference to Israel (not the Church), because Daniel was told, “Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people” (Dan 9:24). When Jesus detailed the events of the Tribulation in Matthew 24 25, He explained to the disciples what would happen to the nation Israel.
Read Matthew 24.
14. What do the disciples ask Christ in 24:3? (We refer to THIS as the “Second Coming” of Christ, unique from the Rapture)
15. What sort of things did Jesus say would occur before His coming
16. What did He call this period of time? (v.21, 29)
17. How will the people of the earth be affected? (v.30)
THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST
Those martyrs during the Tribulation period will have a place in the reign of Christ (Rev. 20:4). At the end of the Tribulation, Christ will return to earth with all the believers in Christ, introduce His Kingdom on earth & establish His righteousness in all the earth.
At this time He will fulfill all the promises made to Israel in the Old Testament, beginning with Abraham regarding a nation, the number of his descendants, plus One in whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed (Gen. 12:1 3; 15:1 7; 17:1 18). There will also be the fulfillment of the promise to David concerning One who would sit on his (David’s) throne to rule the nations of the earth (2 Sam. 7:12 16; Psalm 89:3, 4). For God’s promises to be fulfilled literally there must be a future time in which they will occur. This could only happen when Christ returns establishing His Kingdom on earth, while at the same time removing the curse on creation (Isaiah 11; Romans 8:18 21).
18. At this time what does the Bible say He will do to Satan (Rev. 20:1 3)?
19. How long will this Kingdom period last? (Rev. 20:2,3,5)
20. What will happen immediately after this Kingdom period? (Rev. 20:7,8)
21. How will God put down this final rebellion? (Rev. 20:9,10)
22. Read Rev. 20:11 15. This is a judgment of all the wicked dead from all time. How are these people judged (v.12)?
At first it seems to teach that entrance in heaven (to have one’s name in the Book of Life) is based upon works and not the blood of Christ. But, this is a judgment of the wicked to pronounce condemnation upon them. Their wicked works reveal they were never believers at all. This “Great White Throne Judgment” concerns all unbelievers from all history.
Finally, Christ will destroy the old order (2 Peter 3:7), create a new heavens and earth, ushering in the eternal state when Jesus Christ will deliver up His rule to God the Father (1 Cor. 15:24 28; Rev. 21:1 22:5).
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