At Gateway Church in Austin, we are exploring topics which may be a source of confusion or resistance. Week two, Ted Beasley talked about “The Apocalypse”.
Watch Ted’s message here:
Check out the discussion questions here:
Next Steps – discussion questions for your family, running partners, or life group.
Here are notes from the message Ted shared:
So, on a scale of 1 to 10, how ready are you for the Apocalypse? Today the term Apocalypse is a punchline.
But what’s it really going to be like? Let’s look at a scene of the last days depicted in Scripture.
For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words. – 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18
My question for you today is: Do you look forward to that day? Does it ever cross your mind? Did the hope that the world will end and Christ will return affect the way you live today?
Here’s the goal of this message:
Encourage you about the end times
Build some anticipation
Cause you to wonder and investigate on your own more
Not About Predictions
I’m not here to give an exhaustive treatment or make any bold predictions. Too often people try to predict specific dates. Jesus says in Mark 13 that even he doesn’t know the time that the Father has prepared.
There is one truth I am absolutely sure of. It’s a truth contained in that passage we read from I Thessalonians, that the end of the world is coming. We will be caught up together with the Lord in the air and we will be with the Lord forever.
The Book of Revelation
The Apostle John wrote Revelation – not to communicate to the seven churches HOW the world is going to end, but to remind them that one day it IS going to end.
These were a group of Christians, living in the first century under an intense persecution by the Roman government. The Roman historian Tacitus records that Christians were being thrown into the Coliseum to be torn apart by wild animals. In the closing decades of the first century, it looked like Christianity was going to be wiped off the face of the earth by its enemies. So, John chose to use a literary genre known as an Apocalypse. That’s a Greek word that combines two roots apo meaning “away from” and calypsos meaning “veil.” It it’s the word for unveiling, like you would unveil a work of art.
Apocalypses are imaginative books with symbolic numbers and beasts and natural disasters. The point of these symbols is to communicate that a great spiritual battle rages between good and evil. Though things may seem dark right now, one day God will bring his judgment on the world. One day you will meet the Lord and reign forever in heaven. According to John, that knowledge should fill you with hope and lead to preparation. So, when you read Revelation, don’t get lost in all of the beasts and the 4 Horsemen and stars falling from the sky. They are literary devices drawn from the Old Testament to fill you with hope and get you prepared.
Today I want to talk to you about hope and preparation, and I want to do it in the context of what is known as the Great Tribulation, which is described in Revelation chapters 6 through 16. These chapters describe a series of seals and trumpets and plagues and bowls that will be unleashed on our planet as an act of God’s judgment.
In Revelation 7:13-14, John gives us a picture of a scene he sees in heaven where the people of God are standing before the throne in worship. Now John is having this vision, and in the vision he’s a participant in this heavenly worship service made up of 144,000 people. There is a lot of debate about who these 144,000 people are. If you have any Jehovah’s Witness friends, they believed that there are literally 144,000 true Christians in history that get to go to heaven, and the last spot on the team was filled about 1935. So I guess that means the rest of us are sort of on a really long wait list. They believe the other Christians who aren’t quite as holy as the 144,000 get to live in an earthly paradise for all eternity. Other Christians think this number represents 144,000 Jewish Christians who try to preach the gospel of Christ after the rest of us are raptured into heaven.
For what it’s worth, my opinion is the number is symbolic for the church. There’s numerology in the Bible. Numbers symbolize themes, and 12 is the number of completeness – the completeness of the people of God. I think this is a picture of all of us in the church one day worshipping God in heaven.
Look at what happens. Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes– who are they, and where did they come from?” One of the heavenly beings asks John what he thinks is going on here in heaven. John’s like, “I don’t know, you tell me.” I answered, “Sir, you know.” And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. So, these people who are worshipping Jesus for eternity, these people have gone through something called “The Great Tribulation.”
The Greek word for tribulation is thlipsis and is used dozens of times in the New Testament. It usually has to do with the hardship or persecution of Christians that results from the cosmic battle between good and evil.
Let’s look at one of these usages of the word. This is Jesus talking to his disciples in John 16:33: I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
Jesus says, if you are one of my followers, you have a 100% guarantee of trouble or tribulation. Honestly, sometimes I get a little concerned about the impression that people get around here. I think sometimes people who come on Sunday morning get the impression that Christianity will help them achieve a pain-free, happy, blissful life. Love God and love people, then pass the margaritas. We won’t take a poll on this one, but how many of you discovered that life got real easy after you became a Christian? None of us.
Jesus makes a forecast. There is a 100% chance of trouble in your life. Be prepared, but also have hope. Jesus says, I’ve overcome the trials and so will you.
Some of you here know all about tribulation. When we face hardship it’s real tempting to feel like God has abandoned you. But I want to tell you today, he’s never been more near. He’s coming for you. He’s coming to make this old world new. And when you suffer silently there in your chair, when you want to curl up in a ball sometimes because of the pain, he whispers, “In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart! I have overcome this world. You’ll see.”
So now you have a picture of what the word tribulation means, but this passage in Revelation 7 talks about the Great Tribulation. What’s that? Well, there are two primary schools of thought in Orthodox Christianity today. In other words, good-thinking, Bible-believing people can have two different perspectives on the nature of the great tribulation described in Revelation and other places in Scripture. Debates about this kind of stuff get real heated, and I have a perspective on what I think, but you should know that I sort of hold the minority view about the Tribulation.
Before we can talk about the two views of Tribulation, let me define terms, or rather events.
- The Church Age. This is the age we’re living in. In Matthew 28, as Jesus is ascending to heaven, he says, “Go into the world and make disciples.” So, A.D. 30 to now is the church age. Jesus isn’t here in the flesh anymore. We have God’s Spirit. It’s our mission to live for God and help the world see him in a transformational way.
- The Great Tribulation. This is a period of suffering coming to the earth that is far greater than anything that has yet been experienced. It’s described in Revelation 6-16. Jesus talks about it when he says: For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again (Matthew 24:21). The point of the Tribulation is to signal the end. “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (Matthew 24:30-31).
- The Second Coming. This will be a dramatic, sudden unmistakable event viewable by everyone on earth. So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him (Hebrews 9:28).
- The Rapture. Depending on what you believe about the two views I’m going to show you in a minute, we’re either going to literally be raised into the sky with Christ for a final judgment or Christ-followers are going to suddenly disappear and be raptured into heaven, while those who are not saved will be left behind. We who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. -1 Thessalonians 4:17
- The Final Judgment. One day we will all stand before God and give an account for our lives. For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: “As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, “every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.” So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God (Romans 14:10-12).
- The Millennium. After the Tribulation, some believe that Satan’s power is going to be bound and Jesus and all the saints who were raptured are going to rule in a bodily form on earth for a thousand years of peace and harmony. During that time, people on earth who originally didn’t believe in Christ would have a chance to turn to him. I saw an Angel descending out of Heaven. He carried the key to the Abyss and a chain—a huge chain. He grabbed the Dragon, that old Snake—the very Devil, Satan himself!—chained him up for a thousand years, dumped him into the Abyss, slammed it shut and sealed it tight. No more trouble out of him, deceiving the nations—until the thousand years are up. After that he has to be let loose briefly (Revelation 20:1-3).
- The Eternal State. Scripture says Satan, along with those who have do not want to be with Jesus are separated from Him. Here’s the beautiful part: the description of this event that strikes a longing in me every time. Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:14).
The Premillenial View
This view contends that the Great Tribulation describes a literal period of seven years in which there will be a tremendous outpouring of God’s wrath upon the earth and great suffering. Premillenialists point to passages in Daniel and Matthew 24, and Rev 6-16 to support the idea that plagues of enormous proportions will destroy much of the earth – famines and wars and diseases and natural disasters. Most Premillenialists would say that it would be inappropriate for Christians to have to stay around during these horrible events, so before the Tribulation actually begins, the church will be raptured or removed from the planet. Other Premillenialists, called Post-Tribulationists, look at a passage in Matthew 24 and say, “No, the church is going to have to hang around and endure the Great Tribulation through all the Tribulation.”
The Amillenial View
This view contends that the Great Tribulation is probably not meant to be taken literally but describes the persecution and suffering that the church has been going through since it first began all the way until the moment Jesus returns. In other words, Amillenialists believe that we are currently living in the Great Tribulation described in the book of Revelation. All of the horrible images of God’s judgment in Revelation are actually a symbol of the pain and destruction and war that the people of the earth continue to endure to this very day. The word for tribulation is used 45 times in the New Testament, usually to describe what the church is going through. For example, look in Revelation 1:9. I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering (tribulation) and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. John refers to himself as a companion in the tribulation. He is saying that at that time the church is going through a tribulation.
Even though we aren’t keenly aware of it, the Church in our day faces even more gruesome tribulations than they did back then.
- According to the Manila Conference on World Evangelism, since 1950, 10,000,000 Christians worldwide have died for their faith – mostly coming in China, Africa, and Muslim nations.
- Paul Marshall estimates in his book “Their Blood Cries Out” that today in 60 countries around the world, 200 million of our Christian brothers and sisters are harassed, abused, tortured or executed specifically because of their faith in Christ.
Though we don’t see it, there is tribulation in this world for the Church. If I stood in a Roman Coliseum or was made to walk into fiery furnace or was hoisted atop a cross, would I cave? Jesus says in this world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, because I have overcome. Will you be prepared for the day of tribulation when it comes? The Amillenialist view says it’s already here. It’s been happening since day one.
Hope and Preparation
What’s most important as you read through Revelation and consider the Tribulation is that you respond in two ways: with hope and with preparation.
The hope that runs throughout the book of Revelation is that one day justice will be done. We don’t see a lot of justice done in our day. The point of the tribulation in Revelation is that moral justice will come for this planet. There will be a final accounting.
After all of the plagues, there is a majestic scene.
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. – Revelation 20:11
John gives us this image of the day we will stand before a great white throne, which is a symbol of purity and impartiality. And before that throne all of us will be equal. I love that phrase, both great and small – CEO’s next to factory workers, kings next to peasants, Roman persecutors next to the Christians they killed. And books are opened. The stories of our lives are read. And for each one of us who were made right with God through the death of Jesus Christ, our name will be written in what is called the book of life. All throughout that book are names of people of every tribe and tongue and people group. And your name is written in there, and that, for you will be a moment of unimaginable joy.
It will all be worth it in that moment. Every sacrifice you made. Every tribulation you endured. Every act of obedience. Every sin you said no to. Every pain that you struggled with. It will all be worth it when justice is done before that throne and your name is listed among those who are saved. That’s hope, friends. Do you live with that hope? If you know that day of judgment is coming, should that hope change what is important to you today? Should it effect the way you live, what it is that you devote yourself to?
John wants these pictures of judgment not just to fill us with hope, he wants them to push us towards being prepared. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. – Revelation 20:15
Not everyone is prepared for God’s judgment. Not everyone has taken the time to deeply assess their life and see that their sin has caused a rift between them and their creator. Not everyone has had a conversation with God in which they accepted the gift of grace and salvation and eternal life offered through Jesus Christ. And for those who are not prepared. There is justice. God says to them, you didn’t want me during this life. So have it your way. Have it your way for all eternity apart from me. Are you prepared for that day? Are you sure you are right with God?
The book of Revelation reminds us that even as we are engulfed in a cloud of tribulation, the apostle John says: “Have hope, be prepared. Jesus Christ is coming soon.”