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For two thousand years, the Church has been waiting for the return of Jesus. This is a good thing. We are to hope in the coming glory and eternal life in God’s kingdom. We are told to expect Jesus to return quickly. We are taught to be ready. Let’s take a large bite of this I-don’t-understand-it-but-it-sounds-glorious reality: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19).1 Do you know what that means in any detail?

Yeah. I don’t, either.

However, we also know—or should—is that those last days will be perilous. It will not be easy for the saints who are alive at that time. I am familiar with the narrative that the Church will be taken away before the tough times come, and proponents of a theory called the rapture say that the Church will not suffer God’s wrath. I will not argue that point, but we are nowhere taught that the Church will not experience tribulation, even in our normal, everyday lives. To think that we won’t experience it in the days approaching the return of Jesus, is misguided.

In addition, Paul told us that before Jesus returns, the man of lawlessness will be revealed and the one who restrains lawlessness will be taken out of the way. I do not know if there are degrees of lawlessness. I don’t know if the lawlessness we now see in the United States is any worse than other times in its history. However, as you can bear witness, the current lawlessness is vicious and unsettling, and any future lawlessness will be as well.

The Book of Revelation says this about a being who will appear at the end of things.

“And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. If anyone has an ear, let him hear: If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints” (Revelation 13:5–10).

If the Church has been raptured before these events, then we must ask what to call the Christians who are present in the above passage. If the Church isn’t to suffer difficult times, then we must ask why Scripture itself says that the beast will make war with the saints and conquer them. If the one who restrains is taken out of the way is the removal of Holy Spirit from the earth, then how did these Christians get saved? And if the Holy Spirit is gone, how does Jesus uphold all things by the word of His power? “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb 1:3). One must do some fancy dancing to claim that the Church will be raptured out of tribulation.

I read a piece recently about a Christian who claimed to have had a dream or a vision about what will happen in the fall of 2020. He saw banks with their roofs torn off and money flying into the sky. He saw chaos, and no one was able to deal with it. His advice in response to what he saw was to buy a gun, buy gold, and hoard food. The way I felt after reading the article was fear. There are wise fears, like not trying to pet a grizzly in the wild or smoking three packs of cigarettes a day. However, the fear that was engendered from what this man said is not of God. It indicates a lack of trust in God. If we think that our gold and stored-up goods will save us in the last days, we are not thinking clearly. If circumstances are chaotic and lawless, how will we prevent our hoarded gold and food from being taken? Buy a gun, you may say. If we think we are going to hold off, by ourselves, fierce, frightened, and hungry people, we have some hard thinking ahead. These kinds of self-preservation tactics are how the world deals with trouble.

We will be called upon to trust the Lord in ways we have not been called upon to do before. It will be a difficult, challenging time. Except for the violent upheaval of the Civil War, we Americans have not experienced this tumultuous national and cultural breakdown as so many peoples have throughout the history of the world. Is God concerned about the tribulation we will experience? Yes. But He is so much more concerned about our response to it. Will we trust Him? That is a grand question. I’m having a little trouble answering it. 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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