“ . . . and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God,” 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4.
The Lord Jesus was most willing to answer the enquiries of the apostles when they asked: “Tell us, when shall these things be? and what [shall be] the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” However, it is to be noted that He began His response with these solemn words: “Take heed that no man deceive you,” Matthew 24:4.
There are few portions of God’s Word which have been more systematically subjected to attempts to distort and twist them than their teaching on the return of Christ. Men’s notions have been widely embraced by Christians with scant regard to what the Bible says. When discussing the matter with them you will be told, ‘Rev. So and So says this’ or ‘Pastor So and So said that’!
There are but a few who follow the example of the Bereans. “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so,” Acts 17:11.
Oh how many have neglected to have ‘searched the scriptures’ to test out thereby what men said about the return of Christ. Paul had to say to the church of Thessalonica: “Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and [by] our gathering together unto him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand,” 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2. Even mere years after the beginning of the apostolic age, error was emerging about this wonderful subject.
Well, over the two millennia that have followed, the errors have multiplied despite such warning as that of the Saviour.
I encountered one of the more recent ones a few days ago. There is something of a concern arising amongst some of God’s people that the advent of ‘artificial intelligence’ may prove to be a device of Satan and the beginnings of the ‘take over’ of human affairs by the Antichrist.
AI, as it is commonly known, has somewhat crept up upon us and we encounter it daily if only in the form of the spelling and predictive text features of our email and word processing applications.
Recently, the BBC carried an article entitled: Nigel – the robot that could tell you how to vote. The article states: “The creators of a new artificial intelligence programme hope it could one day save democracy. Are we ready for robots to take over politics?”
Apart from the truth that undoubtedly a robot might be an improvement on some of the ‘dummies’ presently occupying parliamentary positions, there is in such a statement that which is grounds for alarm.
Nevertheless, whatever fanciful dreams men may have of a ‘utopia’, where robots are our slaves, ministering to our every need, it is all poppycock and there is no reference whatever to such developments in the last days in God’s extensive and detailed revelation of the events amongst men in the closing days of this age.
In truth, AI is not within a ‘beagle’s gowl’ of what the Bible says about the ‘beast’, the ‘Antichrist’ that is to come.
It is to the Bible we must ever turn to discover what the purpose of God is amongst men as this age draws to a close. Nothing can take place OUTSIDE the purpose and will of God. Men have ever aspired to overthrow God’s purpose and direct the course of events to their own pleasing. It is this ‘fantasy’ that the Psalmist David in Psalm 2 (see Acts 4:25) refers to: “Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, [saying], Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us,” Psalm 2:1-3. The reaction of the Lord to this notion is very noteworthy. “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision,” Psalm 2:4. In the light of God’s declaration in Jeremiah 51, all such foolish schemes are laughable. “Set up the standard upon the walls of Babylon, make the watch strong, set up the watchmen, prepare the ambushes: for the LORD hath both devised and done that which he spake against the inhabitants of Babylon. . . . . . And the land shall tremble and sorrow: for every purpose of the LORD shall be performed against Babylon, to make the land of Babylon a desolation without an inhabitant,” verses 12 and 29.
Let all note that EVERY PURPOSE OF THE LORD SHALL BE PERFORMED against His enemies and that in the day of the zenith of their power!
I. CONSIDER THESE VERSES WHICH IDENTIFY THE PERSONIFICATION OF SATANIC ACTIVITY TO COME AS A HUMAN BEING
1. “Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number [is] Six hundred threescore [and] six,” Revelation 13:18.
2. “Let no man deceive you by any means: for [that day shall not come], except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition,” 2 Thessalonians 2:3.
3. “And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone,” Revelation 19:20.
“And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet [are], and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever,” Revelation 20:10.
An artificial intelligence cannot be damned!!!
II. JUST AS FANCIFUL IS THE NOTION, BORN OF J N DARBY’S FALSE TEACHING, THAT THE PEOPLE OF GOD WILL BE ‘SECRETLY RAPTURED AWAY BEFORE THE DAYS OF THE ‘TRIBULATION’ REFERRED TO BY THE SAVIOUR IN MATTHEW 24:21.
Many do not know that there never was any notion of such an event as a ‘secret rapture’ believed amongst the people of God since Adam, until the views of J N Darby were published as part of his ideas on ‘Dispensationalism’. His notions split the early Brethren Movement in Plymouth. He was answered by Benjamin Wills Newton but he chose not to reply to BWN – ever!
However, the matter is not settled by what men believe but by what the Word of God teaches.
Many good men have been heard to say: “How can anyone believe that our Lord will let the horrors of the Great Tribulation loose on His Bride?” Humanly speaking, that would appear to be a very correct and reasonable conclusion but it is not what the Bible teaches.
I just do not know how we are to interpret the experiences of the millions of saints who have suffered cruelly at the hands of wicked men since the fall of Adam, if this notion is true? Did the Lord not love them? I think that is not so!
The Lord Jesus said in Matthew 24:21: “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” I believe that I may safely and reverently say that this time of “great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” will not be greater in CHARACTER or DISTRESS from that suffered by the saints of God on many occasions since the days of Adam. But I believe that this time of tribulation will be greater in EXTENT and SCOPE and OBJECTIVE.
Let me explain what I mean. Shortly after the dawn of time, persecution against believers began and has been ongoing. There were times that it raged more fiercely than at other times. The trials of believers under some of the Caesars were horrific. Christians leaders as well as those who did not hold office were regularly martyred, often most hideously.
From the era of Nero there comes down to us a term which is commonly used during firework displays. It is that of a ‘Roman Candle’! It has its origin in the days when the most unspeakably cruel persecution was directed again Christians.
The Roman Candle was originally a torture mechanism whereby Christians were set ablaze for the amusement of the Emperor Nero. In the year 64 AD, the Great Fire of Rome devastated large parts of the imperial city. Facing blame for both causing the blaze and providing inadequate response to the inferno, which caused widespread damage to 10 of Rome’s 14 districts, Nero blamed the fiery outbreak on religious minorities including early Christians. Among the alleged cruelties bestowed upon these religious minorities was the so-called “Roman Candle”. Using humans as the substance akin to the wax of a candle, these victims were tied to stakes in the imperial garden for the amusement of the deranged Emperor.
There, the prisoners suffered being coated in pitch, oil and other flammable substances, before being set alight. The ultimately fatal fires were started from the feet, in order to prolong the suffering for those so condemned. It has been suggested, without corroboration, that these candles were used as decorations during formal parties held by Nero. Nevertheless, the ancient Roman Candles signify the first organised persecutions of Christians under the Romans.
Now I ask, can an individual suffer any greater degree of pain than that? Or likewise, can greater affliction be endured than that of being eaten alive by wild animals. These and many other most dreadful deaths have been faced by the people of God under the cruel hands of devil-inspired men.
Therefore, when the Saviour speaks of great tribulation I believe that He means that it will be greater in its objective and extent. In Psalm 74 there is a prophecy of the tribulation and the suffering that the Jews, in particular, will face at the end of this age. Commentators have vied with each other to identify just what time in Israel’s history the psalm relates to. I am inclined simply to view it as a prophecy of the final attack upon the Jews by the Antichrist and his forces. Jerusalem is to be the location of the core of Antichrist’s rage against the Jews in that future time. This the Saviour makes clear in Matthew 24:15-21.
“When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains:let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” Here the Saviour clearly identifies Jerusalem and Judah as the centre of the tribulation.
Psalm 74 reveals the objectives of the persecutors. “They said in their hearts, Let us destroy them together: they have burned up all the synagogues of God in the land,” verse 8. And again, “O deliver not the soul of thy turtledove unto the multitude [of the wicked]: forget not the congregation of thy poor for ever” verse 19.
I insert the whole of Psalm 83, authored by Asaph, as was Psalm 74, for it very explicitly details the latter-day hatred directed at the Jewish people.
“«A Song [or] Psalm of Asaph.» Keep not thou silence, O God: hold not thy peace, and be not still, O God. For, lo, thine enemies make a tumult: and they that hate thee have lifted up the head. They have taken crafty counsel against thy people, and consulted against thy hidden ones. They have said, Come, and let us cut them off from [being] a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance. For they have consulted together with one consent: they are confederate against thee: The tabernacles of Edom, and the Ishmaelites; of Moab, and the Hagarenes; Gebal, and Ammon, and Amalek; the Philistines with the inhabitants of Tyre; Assur also is joined with them: they have holpen the children of Lot. Selah. Do unto them as [unto] the Midianites; as [to] Sisera, as [to] Jabin, at the brook of Kison: [which] perished at Endor: they became [as] dung for the earth. Make their nobles like Oreb, and like Zeeb: yea, all their princes as Zebah, and as Zalmunna: Who said, Let us take to ourselves the houses of God in possession. O my God, make them like a wheel; as the stubble before the wind. As the fire burneth a wood, and as the flame setteth the mountains on fire; so persecute them with thy tempest, and make them afraid with thy storm. Fill their faces with shame; that they may seek thy name, O LORD. Let them be confounded and troubled for ever; yea, let them be put to shame, and perish: That [men] may know that thou, whose name alone [is] JEHOVAH, [art] the most high over all the earth.” Psalm 83:1-18.
Please note verse 4. “Come, and let us cut them off from [being] a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance.”
Hitler tried to exterminate the Jewish people within Germany and the lands he conquered. However, we know that tens of thousands escaped his evil plans, even though he most wickedly slaughtered six million of God’s ancient people. This psalm deals with a determined attempt to wipe out the entire NATION of the Jews, something much more evilly ambitious than even Hitler’s desires.
The essence of this evil scheme was seen in the desire of Pharaoh. “Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and [so] get them up out of the land,” Exodus 1:10. It was seen also in the wicked plan of Haman in the days of Esther. “And Haman said unto king Ahasuerus, There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws [are] diverse from all people; neither keep they the king’s laws: therefore it [is] not for the king’s profit to suffer them. If it please the king, let it be written that they may be destroyed: and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver to the hands of those that have the charge of the business, to bring [it] into the king’s treasuries,” Esther 3:8-9.
In both these and many other instances of the hatred directed against the Jews, the schemes fail for God preserved His people. But in the last days, the Lord will use the cruel persecution of the Antichrist as a means of humbling the Jewish nation and causing them to turn to Himself.
Of this Zechariah spoke.
“And it shall come to pass, [that] in all the land, saith the LORD, two parts therein shall be cut off [and] die; but the third shall be left therein. And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It [is] my people: and they shall say, The LORD [is] my God,” Zechariah 13:8-9.
I would ask for a careful consideration of what I say on this matter.
Please consider with me what we read in the Bible regarding God’s past dealings with His people in the midst of tribulation.
1. Noah was not removed to heaven when the flood came but the Lord sheltered and kept him and his family in the VERY MIDST of the storm!
2. The Lord did not deliver the Hebrews out of Egypt until they had been SAFELY KEPT THROUGH THE JUDGMENTS WHICH FELL UPON THAT NATION.
The Lord Jesus said: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world,” John 16:33.
“Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast [some] of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life,” Revelation 2:10.
How can such clear statements by the Lord Jesus be ignored and the very opposite to what He says be embraced? In both these verses the word ‘tribulation’ is exactly the same Greek word which is translated ‘tribulation’ in Matthew 24:21. “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.”
What will come in the end-time is nothing new to the experiences of the people of God, through which the Lord brought them victoriously?
III. NOWHERE IS THERE ANY REFERENCE IN THE BIBLE TO A TWO-FOLD COMING OF CHRIST OR A SECRET RAPTURE OF THE CHURCH.
1. The Saviour taught us in the parable of the Wheat and the Tares, the very opposite of that advocated by the champions of the secret rapture theory. In the parable the servants of the owner of the field asked, “Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn,” Matthew 13:28-30. We must note these words of the Saviour and His teaching by this parable. “Let both grow together until the harvest.” And, “ . . . in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares. . .” The TARES AND THE WHEAT GROW TOGETHER UNTIL THE HARVEST which is the end of the age. Again, I must emphasise that the TARES are reaped BEFORE the wheat, not the reverse as the notion of the ‘secret rapture’ would have us believe.
2. Paul taught the Thessalonians that which overturns the notion of a secret rapture. The Thessalonians were troubled by deceptions about the return of Christ, circulating in those days: “Now we beseech you, brethren, by (or about ) the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and [by] (or about ) our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for [that day shall not come], except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God,” 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4.
Paul clearly says that the ‘man of sin, the son of perdition’, the Antichrist in other words, will first come and exalt himself as God before the return of Christ and the gathering of the saints to Himself. This is the VERY OPPOSITE to what the teachers of the notion of a secret rapture claim!
3. Remember that it is clearly stated that the saints will suffer in the times of the great tribulation. “And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and [I saw] the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received [his] mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years,” Revelation 20:4.
Here we see that there were those who were redeemed who suffered under Antichrist and paid the ultimate price for their faithfulness to the Saviour. There had been no ‘rapturing’ of them away before the ‘great tribulation’!
It was this verse which directed my wife’s father, Charlie Beattie, way back in the 1930s, away from the secret rapture view and it is also the verse which, when he showed it to old Pastor James Kyle Paisley, in whose church he was a founding elder, confirmed the pastor in his growing realisation of the error of the secret rapture. He thenceforth continually preached against the error of the secret rapture and a leaflet containing a message on the subject that he preached at a Sovereign Grace Advent Testimony conference, may be had from the SGAT or from myself.
4. Two final verses on this point may be found in Isaiah 43:1-2. “But now thus saith the LORD that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called [thee] by thy name; thou [art] mine. When thou passest through the waters, I [will be] with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee,”
There is not a suggestion here of God delivering His people out of trouble and affliction but RATHER of His keeping of them in the MIDST OF TRIBULATION.
Matthew Henry says of this passage: “Those who have God for them need not fear who or what be against them. What are Egypt and Ethiopia, all their lives and treasures, compared with the blood of Christ? True believers are precious in God’s sight, His delight is in them, more than any people. Though they went as through fire and water, yet, while they had God with them, they need fear no evil; they should be borne up, and brought out.—The faithful are encouraged. They were to be assembled from every quarter. And with this pleasing object in view, the prophet again dissuades them from anxious fears.”
John Gill, the great Baptist scholar says: “The afflictions of God’s people in general are meant by waters, as by rivers also, in the next clause: “ . . . and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee; because of the variety and multitude of them, as persecutions from men, those proud waves that go over them; the temptations of Satan, that enemy who comes in like a flood, and various others; and because of the rapidity and force of them, and their overflowing and overwhelming nature: now there are paths through which the people of God pass: their way lies through them to eternal glory; and though they are of some continuance, yet have an end, as paths have; and having a good guide, and sufficient strength given them, they wade through them safely; for they do not and shall not “overflow” them, so as to cause their faith utterly to fail, or to separate them from the love of God, or so as to destroy them; for though they come nigh them, and upon them, and may greatly affect and distress them, yet shall not hurt them, but turn to their advantage; for their God is with them, to sympathise with them, to comfort and revive them, to teach and instruct them by their afflictions, and to sanctify them to them, as well as to support and bear them up under them, and to deliver out of them: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burnt: neither shall the flame kindle upon thee; afflictions are compared to fire and flames, because very grievous and troublesome to the flesh; and because of the apprehensions of God’s wrath in them sometimes; and because of their trying nature; grace is tried by them as gold and silver in the fire; but yet the saints are not consumed by them, they lose nothing but their dross; their principles and profession are tried, and they are supported through all; which has been abundantly verified in the martyrs of Jesus.”
John Gill touches upon that great passage in Romans 8:35-39: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? [shall] tribulation, (the first trial mentioned and it is the same word as Matt 24:21) or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Paul is clearly saying in these verses that the Lord in LOVE allows His people to pass VICTORIOUSLY through tribulation.
IV. THIS THE LORD DOES TO GLORIFY HIS GREAT NAME
Nothing glorifies the Lord as does His people triumphantly enduring affliction and persecution joyfully!
“Our fathers understood not thy wonders in Egypt; they remembered not the multitude of thy mercies; but provoked [him] at the sea, [even] at the Red sea. Nevertheless he saved them for his name’s sake, that he might make his mighty power to be known,” Psalm 106:7-8.
I could find other scriptures which state the same truth, ie, Psalm 143:11, Jeremiah 14:7, 21, etc, but this verse sufficiently illustrates this truth.
There can be no comfort found in a false notion of a secret rapture, but there is joy and peace when we see the purpose of God to work confusion to His enemies by bringing His people triumphantly through the worst that the devil can devise to destroy them. Daniel 3:23-30, 6:16-28 surely pictures this truth and the triumph we are referring to.
So it has ever been throughout the ages. God, as He did with Job, has shown the victory of His grace in the life of a true child of His in the midst of trials and also sets forth His power to preserve His beloved in the midst of all the devil may throw at them.
I personally believe that there is a dwindling adherence to J N Darby’s foolish error, even in the ranks of the Brethren movement from whence it first emerged. What is happening today is clearly perceived by many former believers in the secret rapture to be the very things they were led to believe would only happen after the secret rapture had taken place. That is a growing conviction ever since the confident prediction by some pastors that the Lord would return for His people very soon after the rise and triumphs of Hitler, the German dictator, and his cruel persecution of the Jews.
Of course, such expectations proved wrong and were the means of undermining the confidence of many in the doctrine of the secret rapture.
The Christian should, even as the Saviour instructed us, WATCH the events taking place and examine them in the light of God’s Word, rather than pinning our hopes on notions that are born of human speculations.
Rev Ivan Foster (Rtd)
22nd November 2021.