Are We in the Tribulation Now? Luther & Calvin Would Say YES.
Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, July 26, 2020
The troubles going on in the world around us today
make many Christians wonder
if we’re seeing fulfillment of Bible prophecy
before our very eyes.
A recent poll found that 2/3rds
of Americans who believe in God
see the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic
as a message from God,
calling people to change their lives.
Many feel that God sent this plague
to call people to repent of their sins, and turn to him.
But, we’re not hearing that
from prominent Christian leaders.
Could the pandemic
be in fulfillment of what we read at Revelation 6:8,
where one of the
Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
unleashes epidemic disease?
In the figurative language of the signs and symbols
that our Lord Jesus
showed the Apostle John in his vision, John says,
"I looked up and saw a horse whose color was pale green. Its rider was named Death, and his companion was the Grave. These two were given authority over one-fourth of the earth, to kill with the sword and famine and disease ..."
Could the wildfires that have burned
across Australia and California
and the deforestation of the Brazilian Rain Forest
be in fulfillment of Revelation 8:7?
That passage says,
"...One third of the earth was burned up, and one third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up."
Here in New Bedford, Massachusetts,
the fishing community has been hurt
by all sorts of governmental restrictions
on how many fish they can catch,
because fish stocks in the world’s oceans
Could that lack of fish in the sea
be in fulfillment of the Bible prophecy
at Revelation 8:9? There it says,
"...one third of the living creatures which were in the sea died"
The world has also been troubled
by pollution of fresh water
needed for drinking and for farming.
Could this pollution of the water be in fulfillment
of Revelation 8:11?
There it foretells,
"One third of the waters became wormwood. Many people died from the waters, because they were made bitter."
Coastal communities around the world
have been hit in recent years
by devastating tsunamis and coastal storms.
The threat of another hurricane Sandy or Katrina
strikes fear in the hearts of many coastal residents,
and many seacoast cities worry about
that rising sea levels
will leave them under water.
Could this be what Jesus was referring to
when spoke of his coming again?
He said at Luke 21:25 that
the time leading up to his coming would be marked by
"anxiety of nations, in perplexity for the roaring of the sea and the waves."
And now we see a wave of lawlessness,
violence, disorder and rioting
sweeping across, not only the U.S., but the world.
For many Bible readers, it calls to mind
the Apostle Paul’s words at 2 Timothy 3:1,
where he wrote,
1 But know this, that in the last days, grievous times will come. 2 For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 without natural affection, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, not lovers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; 5 holding a form of godliness, but having denied its power.
And so we see religious and historic statues
being torn down, and churches attacked,
even here in the United States.
A June 1st article reported,
“Church buildings in California, Minnesota,
New York, Kentucky, Texas,
and Colorado were attacked.”
And a July 18 “Daily Signal” article
carries the headline,
“Churches Across the Country Attacked.”
It tells how San Gabriel Church, in San Gabriel, California,
was destroyed by arson that weekend.
And Florida’s Queen of Peace Catholic Church
was set on fire by an arsonist
who crashed his car into the foyer
while congregants were worshiping.
The article says 5 churches were hit within 48 hours
by a wave of destruction.
That included Calvary Baptist Church in San Diego,
where the children’s ministry building
was burned to the ground.
At Luke 21:26 our Lord Jesus described
"men fainting for fear, and for expectation of the things which are coming on the world"
during the days leading up to Christ’s return.
Are people feeling that way today
in fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy?
And, what about the restoration
of the nation of Israel to the Promised Land?
Do all of these things fulfill Bible prophecy?
No, “they are just a coincidence,”
many church leaders will tell you.
“Nothing to do with Bible prophecy being fulfilled.”
It reminds me of when Jesus came to earth
and trained theologians failed to recognize him
as the promised Messiah.
They had been trained in theological schools
that taught a different theology
about who the Christ would be
and what he would be like.
Their theological training led them to look for
a warrior who would lead an army
to throw the Gentile Romans out of Jerusalem.
When Jesus showed up as a street preacher
leading a group of fishermen,
they didn’t recognize him
as fulfilling the prophecies of the Messiah.
Could something like that be happening today
when prominent Christian leaders
fail to see today’s events as fulfilling prophecy?
“The prophecies won’t be fulfilled,
until after the Church is raptured to heaven,”
they will tell you.
“And then the prophecies will be fulfilled
during a 7-year-long Tribulation after the Rapture,”
according to their thinking.
A whole generation of church people
have been raised with this thinking,
on account of the popular Left Behind novels
written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.
Christians grew up watching the Left Behind movies,
and cartoon series,
which made that thinking come to life
on the screen.
More than One Billion Dollars’ worth of Left Behind
books, videos, games,
and action figures were sold—
One Billion Dollars!
According to the Left Behind story line,
true Christians are suddenly raptured to heaven,
leaving behind all the unbelievers
and the half-hearted church-goers
who went to church but didn’t really believe.
Among these is Rev. Bruce Barnes,
the assistant pastor of a church,
who held the job but wasn’t really a believer.
Others, too, who used to go to church,
but never committed their lives to Christ,
are also “left behind” according to the story.
And they’re left behind
to face a 7-year-long Tribulation, during which
all the prophecies about Israel are fulfilled
and all the apocalyptic scenes in Revelation are fulfilled.
And, during that time
the Secretary General of the United Nations
becomes the Antichrist.
It takes a dozen volumes of novels—
—a whole series of movies and cartoon videos—
to relate the characters’ adventures as they form
a para-military Tribulation Force
to fight the Antichrist.
So, that’s when all these prophecies come true,
according to the Left Behind story—
the epidemic diseases and natural disasters
in the Bible’s Book of Revelation
all find fulfillment by events
during that 7-year Tribulation.
And not before!
Certainly not in our days, today,
according to Left Behind theology.
And that’s why so many churches today
don’t teach that current events
have anything to do with Bible prophecy.
Christians who’ve grown up with the Left Behind view
dominating the churches
think this is normal.
But few realize that this isn’t the way Protestants
looked at things for centuries.
Pastor Roger Williams,
who settled Providence, Rhode Island,
and founded the first Baptist church in America
back in the 1600's,
was a trained Bible preacher,
but he never saw
a post-Rapture seven-year tribulation in the Bible.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon is viewed as
the greatest Baptist preacher of all time,
but he didn’t teach that the Tribulation
would wait until after the Rapture.
The great Protestant Reformation leaders
Martin Luther and John Calvin
didn't teach a seven-year tribulation
after the Rapture, either.
Nor did the famed Bible teachers Jonathan Edwards,
John Knox, William Tyndale
or John Wycliffe.
The fact is that the "left-behind" view
became widespread among clergy 100 years ago,
and captured the imagination
of large numbers of people
after the Left Behind books and movies
began to come out 25 years ago.
But Left Behind is not
the historic Protestant approach
to Bible prophecy.
The traditional Protestant teaching
was expounded by Luther and Calvin
who identified the Vatican of Rome,
and at Mohammed’s Islam
as enemies of the Gospel of Christ.
A whole series of Popes insisted
on keeping the Bible in Latin and Greek,
so that ordinary people could not read the Bible,
but instead would depend on the Hierarchy.
And the Popes branded Bible translators as heretics
and imposed the death penalty on them.
They killed thousands of believers
for putting faith in Christ rather than in the Hierarchy.
At the same time the popes
were rising to power in the West,
Mohammed’s Islam rose to power in the East.
Muslim armies swept across the Christian lands
of the Middle East and North Africa,
even taking over Spain, Portugal and Eastern Europe.
The Muslims imposed Islamic belief
on those formerly Christian lands,
and killed millions of Christians.
Even to this day, it is official Islamic teaching
that a Muslim who chooses to follow Christ
must be put to death.
Calvin wrote about the Pope and Mohammed
and called the Pope and Mohammed
“the two horns of Antichrist.”
And Martin Luther spoke of the Pope and Mohammed
as “the two legs of Antichrist.”
But the Left Behind view is
that Antichrist has not yet come—
and won’t come until after the Rapture—
so Christians don’t need to
watch out for such enemies.
Left Behind teaches that Antichrist will come
during a 7-year Tribulation after the Rapture,
and that the Jewish Temple will then be rebuilt
and Antichrist will sit down
in God’s place in that Temple.
But Islam had already built an anti-Christ Temple
on Temple Mount in Jerusalem,
in the form of the Dome of the Rock
which is filled with Arabic inscriptions
denying that God has a Son.
By occupying Temple Mount with the Dome of the Rock,
Islam is already sitting in God’s place—
taking the place of God.
And Luther and Calvin saw the Pope
doing the same thing in the spiritual Temple—
Calvin wrote that the Pope had taken his seat
in God’s Temple, as if the Pope were God.
Martin Luther spoke similarly of the Pope and Islam
as “the two legs of Antichrist.”
“The Pope is the spirit of antichrist, and the Turk [Islam] is the flesh of antichrist. They help each other in their murderous work. The latter slaughters bodily by the sword; and the former spiritually by doctrine.” (Luther’s Tischreden, Weimer ed., 1, No. 330)
It’s easy to conceive of Islam as an Antichrist enemy—
with radical Islamists even today
beheading Christians for their faith.
But the Vatican stopped killing Bible translators
and burning Protestants at the stake years ago,
so may be more difficult today
to see the Pope as Antichrist,
unless we remind ourselves
of the Vatican’s long-time cover-up
of pedophile priests—
a scandal that has caused millions of people
to give up their faith in Christ.
Actually, Luther and Calvin not the first ones
to label the Pope as Antichrist.
Godly men among the priests and bishops
in the Church
had been saying that for centuries.
And, with good reason,
because the Vatican did everything it could
to keep people from reading the Bible—
just as the Islamic powers did
in their part of the world.
Just as preaching the Gospel of Christ
results in the death penalty in strict Muslim lands,
the Pope imposed the death penalty
on translators who made the Bible available
for people to read in their own language.
John Wycliffe was a godly priest back in the 1300’s,
who translated Scripture into English
and sent out evangelists
to read the Bible out loud in public.
The Vatican sought to destroy Wycliffe as a heretic,
but he died before they could kill him,
so they dug up his bones
and publicly burned his bones,
since they couldn’t burn him at the stake.
Around the same time that they burned Wycliffe’s bones,
the Hierarchy also condemned Czech cleric Jan Huss,
who had translated the Bible into
the language of his people.
The Pope had Jan Huss arrested, jailed,
and burned at the stake.
Luther and Calvin came along 100 years after that
were and were able to make the Bible available
in the languages of the people—
in lands where the Pope’s executioners
could not reach them.
At the same time,
William Tyndale was translating the Bible
But for that crime of publishing the Bible in English,
the Pope had Tyndale hunted down,
arrested, strangled and burned at the stake.
Because Luther and Calvin protested
what the Vatican was doing,
Luther and Calvin were called Protestant.
And the churches that followed their teaching
by sharing the Bible with all the people—
those churches came to be called “Protestant.”
The official teaching of all the Protestant churches
were that the Pope was the Antichrist
and that Mohammed’s Islam was of the devil.
And that was official Protestant church teaching,
and what Protestants believed
for hundreds of years from the 1500’s
through the early 1900’s.
So, how did the new Left Behind view
come to replace the teaching of Luther and Calvin
in so many churches?
Where did that teaching come from?
Well, the Vatican had their Jesuits working hard
to clean up the image of the Pope.
They wrote books arguing that the Antichrist
was not the Pope,
but a character coming in the future.
Those Jesuit books influenced the thinking
of John Nelson Darby and Edward Irving
in the 1800’s,
and they came up with a new theology
They began teaching a 7-year Tribulation
would follow the Rapture.
Liberal thinking declared that it
wasn’t politically correct
to think of the Pope as Antichrist.
And they didn’t want to view Islam
as an enemy, either.
also based their doctrinal changes
on claimed supernatural revelations.
Pastor Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel—
a big supporter of Left Behind—
indicated that the ‘left behind’ teachings
originated with supernatural revelations
to a teenage girl
named Margaret MacDonald around 1830.
Chuck Smith wrote an article
titled “The Tribulation and the Church.”
In that article, he says,
“The story goes that in a meeting in England a woman began to exhort the Church through the gift of prophecy, and she said that the Lord was going to take His Church out and save it from the wrath to come. We’re told that men like Darby and Scofield then began to popularize this view.”
So, many clergy and seminary professors
adopted this idea
that God would Rapture the Church first,
and then “the wrath to come”
would be a 7-year Tribulation.
They set aside the traditional Protestant teaching
of Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Wycliffe and Tyndale
to accept those new teachings
that came from the Vatican’s Jesuit apologists
and a teenage girl’s claimed supernatural vision.
So, that’s where we are today,
with 2/3rds of Americans who believe in God
seeing God’s hand in current events,
but most clergy ignoring the prophecies,
or saying they won’t really
be fulfilled until after Christians
are raptured away to heaven.
So, do we Christians face Tribulation now,
before the Church is raptured to heaven?
Are today's events what the Bible foretold
would happen in the days leading to Christ’s return?
What happens next?
What evidence is there
that the "left-behind" view is wrong,
and that prophecy is being fulfilled
right now by today's events?
To help answer those questions, I’ve written a new book.
It’s titled, “Tribulation NOW, Rapture Next?”
“Are today’s troubles part of what the Bible foretold?”
In this book I show that
the Bible actually foretells
more than one 'tribulation':
(1) The centuries-long tribulation of the Jews
(2) The centuries-long tribulation of the Church
(3) The apocalyptic events leading up to Christ's return
The Tribulation of the Jews lasted centuries—
beginning with the Roman destruction of Jerusalem,
when a million Jews were killed,
and the rest sold as slaves
throughout the Roman Empire.
The tribulation on the Jews
climaxed with the Holocaust,
when Hitler killed 6 million Jews.
Hitler would have killed all the Jews left in the world,
but that Tribulation was cut short.
At Matthew 24:21, Jesus described it this way:
“For at that time there will be great tribulation, unmatched from the beginning of the world until now, and never to be seen again. 22If those days had not been cut short, nobody would be saved. "
No Jewish flesh would have been saved alive,
if that Tribulation hadn’t been cut short.
We know that Jesus was talking here about
Great Tribulation on the Jews,
because the parallel passage at Luke 21:23
makes it clear.
Where Matthew’s Gospel says “great tribulation,”
Luke’s Gospel says
“great distress in the land and wrath upon this people”
that is, the Jews.
Luke goes on to show it would begin
when Jerusalem was destroyed
and Jews killed and
taken “captive into all nations.”
This is a key point
proving the Left Behind teaching wrong.
They use this passage in Matthew for
their Great Tribulation after the Rapture,
but Jesus was actually talking there
about the Great Tribulation
on the Jewish people—
which began 2000 years ago.
And that’s how Protestants traditionally understood it,
before so many adopted the new Left Behind teaching.
But, as I mentioned,
Scripture also talks about another Tribulation.
And we need to pay special attention to this one,
because it affects all of us believers.
This is the Tribulation of the Church.
Like the Tribulation of the Jews,
the Tribulation of Christians
has also lasted centuries,
and continues today.
Jesus warned about it at John 16:33 when he said,
"These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."
Jesus did not say Christians would escape Tribulation,
as the Left Behind believers are fond of saying.
“In the world you will have tribulation.”
And this refers to the persecution and other sufferings
that Christians must endure,
as we pick up our Cross and follow Jesus.
At Acts 14:22 the Apostle Paul reminded Christians
that we must go through it.
"...we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God."-Acts 14:22 KJV
Many people don’t want to hear that.
And, so, many churches don’t preach it.
But, understanding what Scripture really says
about tribulation and the Rapture
will help you face today's anxieties
with hope for tomorrow.
And that brings us back to the troubles
this world is facing today—
which we listed at the start of this sermon.
Besides the Tribulation on the Jews,
and the Tribulation on the Church,
Jesus also warned about the terrible times
that would signal the end of this world—
when Christ will return.
And I believe that’s what we see today,
as this world is brought to its knees
by the coronavirus epidemic, riots in the streets,
political instability, climate change,
and a host of other problems
that none of our leaders
can cope with.
I believe the end-of-the-world prophecies of Revelation
are happening today.
Jesus spoke about epidemic diseases, food shortages,
wars, earthquakes, and ocean storms.
But his words also assure us.
He said that when we see
distress of nations, with perplexity;
Men's hearts failing them for fear,
things which are coming on the earth:
Luke 21 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 But when these things begin to happen, look up, and lift up your heads, because your redemption is near.”