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Saturday, 01 October 2011 00:32

Does the Church Age End with the Day of the Lord?

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But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: "Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day; but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel:

"˜And it shall be in the last days,' God says,
"˜That I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
And your young men shall see visions,
And your old men shall dream dreams;
Even on My bondslaves, both men and women,
I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit
And they shall prophesy.
And I will grant wonders in the sky above
And signs on the earth below,
Blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke.
The sun will be turned into darkness
And the moon into blood,
Before the great and glorious day of the LORD shall come.
And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.' (Acts 2:14-21)

On the day of Pentecost, the event which most would agree inaugurates the beginning of the Church Age, Peter provides a scriptural context from Joel 2:28-32 to properly explain what is taking place. Curiously, only the first half of Joel's prophecy actually and literally has come true, which pertains to the pouring out of God's Spirit; the last half, however, describing supernatural signs associated with "the great and glorious day of the Lord" have NOT been actually and literally fulfilled. There have been many explanations offered as to why this is and what it may mean. But what if Peter, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is describing not just the beginning of the Church Age with the fulfillment of the first half of Joel's prophecy for Pentecost, but is also identifying the end of the Church Age as being that time when the day of the Lord finally comes? In other words, because the first part of Joel's prophecy has  literally come true, we are therefore assured that the second part will also literally come true when the Church is removed and provides the scriptural basis that the Church will enter into and experience at least part of the Tribulation before the Rapture takes place.

The Day of the Lord

Throughout Scripture, the use of the term "the day of the Lord" describes something very specific. [Note: You can read online or download for free Jacob Prasch's excellent sermon, "The Day of the Lord" for a more comprehensive look on how it is spoken of in detail in Joel.] It does not refer to a single twenty-four hour day but a time period when the world enters the final phases of God's judgment characterized by His wrath. It is not an event, Scripture warns, that anyone should look forward to.

Alas, you who are longing for the day of the LORD,
For what purpose will the day of the LORD be to you?
It will be darkness and not light;
As when a man flees from a lion
And a bear meets him,
Or goes home, leans his hand against the wall
And a snake bites him.
Will not the day of the LORD be darkness instead of light,
Even gloom with no brightness in it? (Amos 5:18-20)

Near is the great day of the LORD,
Near and coming very quickly;
Listen, the day of the LORD!
In it the warrior cries out bitterly.
A day of wrath is that day,
A day of trouble and distress,
A day of destruction and desolation,
A day of darkness and gloom,
A day of clouds and thick darkness, (Zephaniah 1:14-15)

The "day of the Lord" is best understood as that final period of human history when God brings about final accountability for sin. It is a time which is visibly recognized by everyone living on the earth because it is initiated with unmistakable supernatural signs followed by great turmoil and destruction.

Wail, for the day of the LORD is near!
It will come as destruction from the Almighty.
Therefore all hands will fall limp,
And every man's heart will melt.
They will be terrified,
Pains and anguish will take hold of them;
They will writhe like a woman in labor,
They will look at one another in astonishment,
Their faces aflame.
Behold, the day of the LORD is coming,
Cruel, with fury and burning anger,
To make the land a desolation;
And He will exterminate its sinners from it.
For the stars of heaven and their constellations
Will not flash forth their light;
The sun will be dark when it rises
And the moon will not shed its light.
Thus I will punish the world for its evil
And the wicked for their iniquity;
I will also put an end to the arrogance of the proud
And abase the haughtiness of the ruthless.
I will make mortal man scarcer than pure gold
And mankind than the gold of Ophir.
Therefore I will make the heavens tremble,
And the earth will be shaken from its place
At the fury of the LORD of hosts
In the day of His burning anger.
And it will be that like a hunted gazelle,
Or like sheep with none to gather them,
They will each turn to his own people,
And each one flee to his own land.
Anyone who is found will be thrust through,
And anyone who is captured will fall by the sword.
Their little ones also will be dashed to pieces
Before their eyes;
Their houses will be plundered
And their wives ravished. (Isaiah 13:6-16)

Notice the similarities to Joel when it comes to supernatural events associated with the day of the Lord. Isaiah says"¦

For the stars of heaven and their constellations
Will not flash forth their light;
The sun will be dark when it rises
And the moon will not shed its light"¦
"¦Therefore I will make the heavens tremble,
And the earth will be shaken from its place
At the fury of the LORD of hosts
In the day of His burning anger. (Isaiah 13:10-11, 13)

And likewise Joel says"¦

"The sun will be turned into darkness
And the moon into blood
Before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.  (Joel 2:31-32)

This terrible time of the outpouring of God's wrath is specifically identified by supernatural signs which will take place to provide a visual testimony of the greater spiritual forces at work. The most vivid and terrifying signs and wonders provide the closest means possible for mankind to understand the extent and power of the spiritual move of God which is about to take place from the heavenlies.

But there is something extremely important which we cannot afford to miss here. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Peter says that these verses in Joel, which describe the day of the Lord, apply to the Church. The day of the Lord is an actual and literal event just as Pentecost was an actual and literal event, and Peter ties them together. This is why I believe his quote of Joel is describing not just the phenomena we associate with the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was outpoured so as to identify the beginning of the Church Age, but Peter quoted the as yet unfulfilled part of Joel to identify the phenomena which will identify the close of the Church Age, which is the onset of the day of the Lord. Just as the "day of the Lord" describes a time period when God works in a certain way by the wrath of His judgment, so Peter at Pentecost describes the time period when God works a certain way through the Church.

There is an extremely practical side to this discussion. Just as Scripture documents the day of Pentecost as the historical inauguration of the Church Age, Scripture also documents the advent of the day of the Lord which is the visible culmination of the Church Age: the opening of the sixth and seventh seals in Revelation. Signs associated elsewhere with the day of the Lord are said to occur when the sixth seal is opened and as a prelude to the first of the seven trumpet judgments.

I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. (Revelation 6:12-14)

It is immediately after this, and just prior to the opening of the seventh seal which embodies all of the trumpet and bowl judgments, when the Church is removed:

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, "Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, "Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen."

Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, "These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?" I said to him, "My lord, you know." And he said to me, "These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them. They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes." (Revelation 7:9-17)

So What Is the Big Deal?

Why am I making such a fuss over all of this? Within Christianity, particularly in academic circles, there has been a great debate growing in intensity for the past 60 years or so when it comes to the Last Days and the Return of Christ, and it rages ever more fiercely to this very hour. While very few would disagree with the notion that Scripture teaches the Last Days will culminate with a seven-year period called "The Tribulation", there is all manner of disagreement of its relationship to the Church. It is a far more intensive discussion than can be accommodated here, but there is one specific aspect of the debate which I am addressing: "Will the Church go through the Tribulation?"

Some scholars and respected brethren view the Tribulation as a seven-year whole. Because they also believe that the Rapture of the Church must take place prior to this seven-year period, they are fervent in their belief that the Church is removed before the events described beginning in Revelation 4 and those subsequent. In other words, they believe the Church Age comes to an end when God removes the Church just prior to that final seven-year period. (Many of these would say "the day of the Lord" is the whole seven year period to make a case the Church does not enter the Rapture, but clearly the day of the Lord signs are found inside the Tribulation.) This is best identified classically as "Pre-Tribulationism".

There are those who hold to the view that the Church goes through nearly all if not the entire seven-year period and, if God removes the Church at all, does not do so until the end of the Tribulation. This is commonly known as "Post-Tribulationism".

There are other scholars and equally respected brethren, however, who view the Tribulation as what they most often describe as "the seventieth week of Daniel". Daniel describes this final week of seven years as being divided into two distinct halves of 3-1/2 years each. (Dan. 7:25; 12:7) Many of these adherents believe that while the term "Tribulation" describes the whole seven-year period, the second half has a much different character than the first and they often associate it with "The Time of Jacob's Trouble" and may also refer to the second half as "The Great Tribulation". This is a time when in the wake of the removal of the Church, God once again turns His focus on Israel, the nations and the final conflict with Satan through the person of the Antichrist. Proponents of this school of thought believe the Church enters the seven-year period but is removed before the wrath of God judgments associated with the opening of the seventh seal in Revelation 8. This is a view often called "Pre-Wrath". (Moriel's view is closest to this one, but Jacob is working on his next book to explain it in proper scriptural detail because we also hold to some tangible and significant differences.)

The crux of the matter among all these positions is the question of the relationship of the Church to the Tribulation: Will the Church be exempt from the Tribulation? Will the Church have to go through the whole Tribulation? Will the Church endure only part of the Tribulation? I believe the Holy Spirit through Peter, on the very first day of the Age of the Church, provided the answer by quoting Joel to show the literal events on the day of Pentecost are God's plan for the Church just as sure as the literal events that have yet to come true reveal when the Church will be removed. What began on the day of Pentecost will culminate with the day of the Lord. The Church enters the seven-year period known as "The Tribulation", but is removed as the second half gives way to "The Day of the Lord" and "The Time of Jacob's Trouble".

An Example Provided by Christ Himself

Let us look at something which might relate to the way Peter quotes Joel to explain a specific time of God's working.

Luke records that when Jesus visited the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth that He read from Isaiah as an explanation for what God was doing at that time:

And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written,

"The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD."

And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." (Luke 4:16-21)

Just as Peter quotes the Prophet Joel to reveal what God is doing for Peter's time, so Jesus quotes the Prophet Isaiah to explain what God is doing in Jesus' time. But unlike Peter, Jesus does something very different. Look at the verses quoted as provided originally in Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
Because the LORD has anointed me
To bring good news to the afflicted;
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to captives
And freedom to prisoners;
To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn, (Isaiah 61:1-2)

Jesus does not merely stop at the end of a verse, but actually cuts off His quote in the middle of the sentence! He ends with, "To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord" and sits down without continuing on with the rest of the sentence, "And the day of vengeance of our God".

Most commentators will rightly point out that Jesus did this because He was explaining this was the time of His first coming when He would fulfill the messianic duties of the "Suffering Servant", dying on the cross to bring spiritual liberty and spiritual healing; He stopped short because the rest of the verse referred to the time of His second coming as the "Conquering King", to bring about final judgment and the Millennial Kingdom. The "day of vengeance of our God" had nothing whatsoever to do with Christ's first coming and therefore was omitted from the scriptural explanation of the purpose of Jesus' first time on earth.

If the day of the Lord had nothing to do with the Age of the Church, Peter would not have quoted that part of Joel. But unlike Christ's purposeful omission, we have the Holy Spirit's purposeful inclusion. Peter is inspired to quote the whole of Joel's prophecy because it identifies not just the beginning but the end. From God's point of view, the whole Church Age is seen in its entirety as if already fulfilled from beginning to end.

Other Examples to Consider

I derive much more comfort in such discussions if I can find scriptural confirmation of repeated, supporting patterns. Are there examples from Scripture we can draw upon which are not only relevant and similar, but reaffirm the teaching? In this case, we are looking for examples of a period or time coming to a close with the advent of God's wrath. The first one that comes to mind is Noah.

Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. The LORD said, "I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them." But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. (Genesis 6:5-8)

Things were bad, but Noah and company were not immediately evacuated, were they? It is interesting that just as Peter at Pentecost will state as long as the Church is operating that, "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Acts 2:21), Peter later notes in his epistle that Noah was "a preacher of righteousness" (2 Pe. 2:5)"”someone who would preach the way of salvation up until the Lord shut the door and began the flood of the wrath of His judgment just as the Church will up to the very moment of its removal. Noah entered and lived in a time of tribulation, but escaped before it turned into the expression of God's wrath.

And the LORD said, "The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave. "I will go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know." (Genesis 18:20-21)

The same pattern appears to be present with Lot in Sodom and Gomorrah. It is most interesting that Abraham, in the course of bargaining with the Lord because he knows there are a righteous few still remaining, describes what we might interpret as a situation that is getting worse and worse: "Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city"¦Suppose the fifty are lacking five"¦Suppose forty are found there"¦suppose thirty"¦suppose twenty"¦suppose ten"¦?" (Gen. 18:24, 28-32) Just like today, the remnant was getting smaller. Lot lived in a time of tribulation and escalating darkness, but escaped just as things turned into the expression of God's wrath.

It is no small coincidence that at Israel's inaugural event to begin their conquest of Canaan"”the battle of Jericho, that we have a mirror of the book of Revelation. Just as revelation begins with seven individual seals whose seventh seal is itself comprised of a "seven" (the trumpets), so Jericho is identified with seven single daily trips around the city, the last one comprised of seven circles in a single day"”a "seven" which begets a "seven". Rahab and company are rescued on the heels of the expression of God's wrath.

I believe the most notable of all these examples is Israel in the course of being freed from Egypt. Talk about things going from bad to worse"”it was an incredibly difficult time of tribulation; things got much worse for God's people before they began to turn around. And at first, everyone in the whole of Egypt endured the judgments of God. Everyone experienced the water turned to blood causing the Nile to become foul and resulting in all the fish dying (Ex. 7:20), everyone experienced the frogs that came upon the land (Ex. 8:5-6), and then the plague of gnats (Ex. 8:16-17), but something different occurred beginning with the plague of flies.

"For if you do not let My people go, behold, I will send swarms of flies on you and on your servants and on your people and into your houses; and the houses of the Egyptians will be full of swarms of flies, and also the ground on which they dwell. But on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where My people are living, so that no swarms of flies will be there, in order that you may know that I, the LORD, am in the midst of the land. I will put a division between My people and your people. Tomorrow this sign will occur."'" (Exodus 8:21-23)

The repeated biblical pattern is for God's people to enter the time of tribulation and spiritual darkness, experiencing what we might call God's "judgment", only to be withdrawn as judgment accelerates into the character of God's wrath. Noah, Lot, Rahab and Israel all prefigure the same thing that will be experienced by the Church.

Right in What They Say, Wrong in What They Omit

I looked at quite a few commentators' and teachers' explanation of Peter's quotation of Joel in Acts 2 while considering this topic. I was quite surprised to learn how many stated their belief that nothing in Peter's quote of Joel had anything to do with Pentecost! Peter is asked to explain what is taking place and he provides an explanation that has nothing to do with what is taking place? It not only violates basic common sense, but gave me a headache trying to sort through this logic.

In fairness, I do understand part of their thinking, because they are keenly aware that in the original context of the Book of Joel, what is prophesied is for Israel. Like a great many other prophecies and promises concerning Israel which have not come true yet, we anticipate that they have a future fulfillment, in this case in the Last Days (and the last half of the Tribulation in particular) when God restores Israel and they finally accept their Messiah. But it is not at all unusual for the New Testament writers to take something which in its original context was written for someone or something else and show how it also had an additional meaning.

He remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called My Son." (Matthew 2:15)

This is a perfect example, where Matthew quotes Hosea. The original context is about Israel and I am not sure we would have ever guessed there was an additional meaning where the Messiah is concerned without Matthew stating so through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. What was stated in Hosea first and foremost had a literal meaning for Israel, but it also had a New Testament meaning.

There are other examples, but you can see how this applies to Peter quoting Joel at Pentecost. Joel 2:28-32 is first and foremost a prophecy of something which will come to pass for literal Israel, but through the Holy Spirit we are shown it also has a meaning for the Church. Such multiple uses of Scripture do not cancel each other out. Peter shows us through Joel that the Church which began on the Day of Pentecost will run its course until the day of the Lord, entering the Tribulation but exiting between the sixth and seventh seals. It does nothing to mitigate the fact that these verses in Joel still await a future and literal fulfillment for Israel as well.

Conclusion

What I believe Peter to be describing at Pentecost through the Prophet Joel is actually the repeated biblical pattern that God's people enter into times of tribulation with everyone else but are provided an alternative exit strategy. But they are there, nevertheless, to a point. The Lord's people are always around as a testimony to everyone involved that there is still time to repent and be reconciled to Him. When that opportunity is exhausted and there is nothing left but the wrath of His final judgment, the removal of His people serve as yet an additional parallel and visible reminder that the jig is up for the rest.

"But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. (Matthew 24:36)

We have to understand this verse within not only the whole context of the Olivet Discourse (Mt. 24-25), but all the similar scriptural references. People love to pull this verse out by itself and make a case that this is saying Jesus could come at any time with no prequalifying hint or notice. But what they often omit is what He said just before this:

"Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. (Matthew 24:32-33)

We may not know "that day and hour", but the faithful will recognize the season, the nearness of the time when it is, indeed, about to occur. What Jesus said in the Olivet Discourse for the End Times in general and His Return, Peter provides at Pentecost in detail for the Church. Although they may not have known the day or the hour, the previously stated examples of Noah, Lot, Rahab and Israel all certainly knew from the changes in their times that it was imminent.

There are two groups of people for whom we should be very concerned and for which we should bear a burden of prayer and exhortation. The first are brothers and sisters in Christ for whom things are going to become inexplicably (to them) harder and harder as the Church progresses into the Tribulation and their hope that they were to be removed before any such hardship fails to materialize. I know that once upon a time we all "agreed to disagree" where End Time prophecy is concerned; I now believe, however, in many cases it has become a deception in and of itself which at this very hour is working "so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect". (Mt. 24:24) There may be situations requiring "blind" faith, but in matters such as this where the Lord has so amply informed us through His Word, we have to engender and encourage faith based on that Word. There is going to be a vast difference between believers who are prepared to enter the Tribulation and take to heart Jesus' admonition, "But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved", (Mt. 24:13), and those who do not think the Tribulation applies to them because they will be "outta here".

The second group are brothers and sisters in Christ who no longer feel burdened to share the Gospel. One of the reasons God strengthened Noah and Lot so as to endure their times of tribulation was to serve as messengers of His Word to the very end. From the very first day of the Church at Pentecost Peter reminded us that until God closes the door, until He finally initiates the wrath from which there is no return, "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved". Jesus Himself affirms that although we enter the Tribulation and troubles come upon all mankind, "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come". (Mt. 24:14) It has always been important to share the Gospel, but it is even more important in these final hours.

If nothing else, go back and re-read Christ's dictated letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3. Every single one of them is encouraged to aspire to being an "overcomer". If the Church is going to be raptured away without having to enter the Tribulation, what exactly is it they have to "overcome" and endure? One can only come to an alternate conclusion by not taking Jesus at His Word literally.

In Him,

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