Sermon title:

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

are depleted.

 

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

in Jerusalem,

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—

the Church.

 

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.”

 

Luther wrote,

“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

into English.

 

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

called “dispensationalism.”

 

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.

 

Some charismatics 

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?”

and subtitled,

“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.

 

Christ said,

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.

 

Paul wrote,

"...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;

and

Men's hearts failing them for fear,

because of

things which are coming on the earth:

he concluded,

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.”