Johan Malan, Mossel Bay, South Africa (July 2014)
Read Luke 17:26-37.
The Bible draws a comparison between the utter sinfulness that prevailed during the ancient times of Noah and Lot, and a similar situation which will be evident just prior to the second coming of Christ. History repeats itself in various ways – also with regard to the divine wrath which is poured out upon people who blaspheme God by continuously despising and rejecting the spiritual and moral principles of His kingdom. The following aspects of the comparison between ancient and modern times are pointed out in the Bible:
· Apostatising. In the times of Noah and Lot spiritual decline was widespread as virtually all people had forgotten God and gave free reign to the dictates of their depraved nature. They were wicked in every intent of their thoughts and not inclined to pursue God’s righteousness (Gen. 6:5). The same situation is characteristic of our time: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons (1 Tim. 4:1). Under the influence of the devil, extreme evil will prevail in the lives of people, and they will be “led away with the error of the wicked” (2 Pet. 3:17).
· Moral depravity. In the times of Noah and Lot the most licentious lifestyles were socially acceptable, among which was also sodomy. The men of Sodom took no interest in the daughters of Lot but were violently intent on sodomising the angels (Gen. 19:1-10). Sexual perversion, particularly with reference to homosexual relations and practices, will again become the socially acceptable norm rather than the exception (Rom. 1:26-27). The family structure of society inevitably starts crumbling when government and church leaders also condone and openly accept these practices as the natural consequence of the freedom of choice which is seen to be part of basic human rights.
· An apostate culture becomes dominant. In the times of Noah and Lot, the extensive apostatising and moral decline in society gave rise to an utterly sinful culture which was completely averse to God and His holiness. These wicked people persecuted those who promoted God’s standard of honourable conduct. When Lot tried to oppose them they shouted at him and said: “Stand back! ... Now we will deal worse with you ... and [they] came near to break down the door” (Gen. 19:9). Lot had to lock his door and hide himself in the house. In the end-time, an extremely sinful culture will again become dominant and people will generally be “without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, treacherous, rash...” (2 Tim. 3:3-4). These distorted inclinations will move the nations to conclude a covenant with the Antichrist who is described in the Bible as “the man of sin” and “the son of perdition” (2 Thess. 2:3; Rev. 13:3). During his reign, sin and unrighteousness will proliferate. The small minority of true believers will be heavily persecuted and forced to hide from the perpetrators of evil behind locked doors, while also trying to evade hostile governments that will hunt them down.
· Anarchy and violence. In the times of Noah and Lot anarchy prevailed as people in these lawless and promiscuous societies did just as they pleased. Violence was the most common means used to resolve conflicts: “... the earth is filled with violence through them” (Gen. 6:13). That means that there was no central government with the capacity to maintain law and order, and for that reason people took the law into their own hands. Gangsterism, robbery and terrorism were the inevitable consequences of this state of affairs. In the end-time, communities will also become disorganised and lapse into a state in which nobody would be safe – not even children on their way to school, or within the school premises itself. Terrorism, military coups, wars and rumours of wars will dominate the news scene (Matt. 24:6-7). Violent behaviour will occur in conjunction with other forms of immorality and apostasy, and even when God starts punishing and judging these wicked people during the tribulation period they will not stop sinning and rebelling against Him: “But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues ... did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts” (Rev. 9:20-21).
· Materialism and vanity. In the times of Noah and Lot people were excessively materialistic and only lived for the things of this world – particularly with regard to making big investments, amassing wealth, attending parties, revelling in eating and drinking and enjoying all the pleasures of life. They did not come to their senses before it was too late: “Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed” (Luke 17:28-30). In the end-time, many people will also indulge in drinking and licentious pleasure-seeking in an effort to forget the sorrows of life. To them, the sudden coming of the heavenly Bridegroom for His bride will be like a snare which will take them captive for the judgements of God during the subsequent tribulation period: “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth” (Luke 21:34-35). The wealth of rich people, who practise corruption and exploit others to achieve their goals, will be of no avail when the judgements of God are poured out upon the earth: “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! ... You have heaped up treasure in the last days. Indeed the wages of the labourers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter” (Jas. 5:1-5).
· Scoffing at believers and at the Word of God. In the times of Noah and Lot people scoffed at the believers and chose to ignore the prophetic warnings of forthcoming judgements. They regarded them as far-fetched speculation and continued with their reckless lives of fleshly pleasures and covetousness. Only Noah and his family (eight persons) were not guilty of this attitude and were worthy to escape God’s judgement of the Flood. A similar situation of the despising of biblical prophecies will repeat itself in the end-time: “... knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of His coming?” (2 Pet. 3:3-4). Those on the narrow way are a small minority.
· Despising the time of grace. In the times of Noah and Lot God gave the degenerate sinners reasonable time to repent of their evil ways. They refused to repent and thereby sealed their own fate. They had only themselves to blame for their downfall and punishment. In the end-time, the great majority of people will not repent from their evil ways but rather embrace the false hope of manmade peace initiatives until it will be too late to escape divine judgements: “For when they say, Peace and safety! then sudden destruction comes upon them. ... And they shall not escape” (1 Thess. 5:3).
· The escape of believers. In the times of Noah and Lot God offered a way of escape to the believers at the critical moment before He turned on the wicked with wrathful punishment (Gen. 6:13-14; 19:15-17). The order of events was: First the prophetic warnings about the impending judgements, then the safeguarding of the believers who took heed of the appeal to repent, and ultimately the outpouring of wrath upon the wicked. Now, in the end-time, the world has repeatedly been warned against the impending judgements of God during the coming great tribulation. Since believers are not destined for these judgements we should prepare to escape them by expecting God’s Son from heaven, “even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10; cf. 5:9).
· The tragedy of religious formalism. In the times of Noah and Lot there was no security for nominal believers whose hearts were still devoted to the things of this world. Lot’s wife was a type of those believers who only have an outward form of godliness, but are still spiritually dead. This false pretence cost her the loss of her life at the last moment (Gen. 19:26). At the time of Christ’s second coming a similar situation will prevail. For that reason we are warned in the parable on the ten virgins that those among them whose hearts are not filled with the oil of the Holy Spirit will be left behind when the Bridegroom comes (Matt. 25:1-13). Self-justifying, lukewarm Christians who are deceived and erroneously regard themselves as “very good” are abominable to the Lord (Rev. 3:15-17; 2 Cor. 11:2-4).
· Sudden disaster. In the times of Noah and Lot an awful disaster struck this world soon after the evacuation of the believers. Death and destruction occurred as never before in history (Gen. 7:4; 19:24-25). After the rapture, God’s judgements will again be poured out upon the wicked: “Behold, the day of the Lord comes, fierce, with wrath and raging anger, to make the land and the whole earth a desolation, and to destroy out of it its sinners” (Isa. 13:9; AB). The Lord Jesus warned that shortly before His second coming there will be a great tribulation as never before on earth, and if those days had not been shortened nobody would survive that terrible time (Matt. 24:21-22; 29-30).
· The blessing offered through withholders. In the times of Noah and Lot the wicked did not realise how many privileges and blessings they enjoyed due to the presence of a few believers in their midst. God was prepared to pardon a whole city if there were only ten believers in it (Gen. 18:23-32). When this small group of believers were suddenly removed to a place of safety, the wicked were rapidly enfolded by the darkness of divine judgements. In the end-time, true believers also act as the withholders of evil, but the world will only appreciate the value of their role when they are gone. The church dispensation will continue until “he who now restrains [the true church indwelt by the Holy Spirit] is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one [the Antichrist] will be revealed. ... The coming lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, ... that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess. 2:7-12).
· Prophetic blindness. In the times of Noah people scoffed at the builders of the ark, and in their ignorance were unaware of their peril “until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Matt. 24:39).
God’s end-time judgement upon sinners is a fact which cannot be denied. The physical deliverance of believers before the beginning of judgements is an equally important biblical fact which should always be kept in mind: “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36). Paul further explains this wonderful promise: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:16-18). What a wonderful future to look forward to!
We should react to the promise of the rapture in a number of ways if we wish to enjoy its full blessing. People who deny this promise are out of touch with the prophetic word, they forfeit many of its blessings, and are in danger of remaining behind and mistaking the Antichrist for the true Christ. We should watch out for spiritual deception and always be ready to stand before the Son of Man: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming” (Matt. 25:13). “Therefore also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not expect Him” (Matt. 24:44).
The following are the blessings that are in store for believers who heed the command to be ready for the rapture:
Good news in the prophecies
The pretribulation rapture is the good news element in a dark scenario of end-time prophecies. Without this promise Christians would be left only with the bad news about the coming of the Antichrist and the tribulation period which they will have to face before Jesus comes. Their chances of surviving all the apocalyptic disasters of the great tribulation, as well as the battle of Armageddon, will be slim indeed. A situation like that can be equated to the Flood without the ark, or the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah without any provision for the escape of the believers from the scene of God’s wrath. Such a situation would be highly demoralising and contradict a clear biblical principle that true believers are never the objects of God’s wrath: “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation …” (1 Thess. 5:9). The righteous will not be destroyed with the wicked (cf. Gen. 18:23).
People who are cynical about the promise of the rapture and do not heed the exhortation to be prepared to escape the coming tribulation period reveal a very irresponsible attitude. What would have been the consequence for Noah and his family (and for the future survival of the entire human race!) if Noah had argued as follows: “God is a God of love and I do not really believe that He will send a flood to judge all people; therefore, I am not going to build an ark to escape this so-called judgement.” Or what would have happened to Lot and his family had he taken the following stand: “I think the prophesied judgement upon Sodom and Gomorrah should be interpreted symbolically. I do not have to escape for my life. Even if the disaster does occur I believe that God will protect us from His wrath here in this place.” Similar arguments are often heard today.
The coming judgements during the tribulation period are irrefutable biblical facts. Jesus said there will be great tribulation such as has not been since the beginning of the world (Matt. 24:21), and that we should be ready to escape it. The rapture is part of the good news of the gospel of our Lord Jesus. He came to this sin-indulging world to pay the price for the salvation of sinners. He then returned to heaven to prepare a place for us, and will come back to take us away to our heavenly abode. If we are truly born again we will be worthy to escape the horrors of the coming tribulation on earth by way of the rapture. We do not have to despair at the knowledge of what is coming upon the world since there is a wonderful element of good news in the prophetic word.
A correct future expectation
If we believe in the pre-tribulation rapture we have the assurance of a truly biblical future expectation. This belief does not in any way contradict other biblical truths. This end-time perspective honours the Lord Jesus and recognises Him as the key to all prophecy in Scripture, “for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Rev. 19:10). Christians should remain focused on Him and wait for His sudden appearance – not for the Antichrist’s. Those who deny Him will remain behind after the rapture. Having rejected the way of escape and salvation offered by the true Christ, they will have to endure the Antichrist’s dictatorship and the terrible judgements to follow. What they experience on earth will be a direct result of the seals broken by the Lamb in heaven. Never deny Jesus Christ His central position in biblical prophecies. To expect His imminent return, and to arrange your life accordingly, is a command which is intended to be a strong, positive motivation to all Christians of all ages.
A motivation for steadfastness
The coming of the heavenly Bridegroom will occur during a time of religious compromise and worldliness. There will be a great falling away from the truth of God’s Word. A relatively small group of evangelical Christians will shine like lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation (Phil. 2:15). As in the times of Noah and Lot, the earth will be filled with violence, materialism, and sexual perversion. Unfortunately, the spirit of unrighteousness and immorality will also take its toll among Christians. They will relax their vigilance and make downward adjustments to their spiritual standards: “And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold” (Matt. 24:12). Some Christians will become backslidden or discouraged in the work of the Lord.
Inactive Christians often compromise their dedication to the Lord and their responsibility to serve Him faithfully. Their spiritual decline may manifest itself in various ways. The most common way of backsliding is to abandon the need for sanctification and to become pleasure-seekers who attend worldly parties where people eat and drink to excess. They also become critical of evangelical Christians who do not approve of their depraved ways. The Lord Jesus warned against such sinful behaviour and countered it by using the prospect of His sudden, unexpected return as a positive motivation to remain steadfast to the end: “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. … But if that evil servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, and cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites” (Matt. 24:45-51).
Correctly determining and prioritising works
To expect the coming of the Lord Jesus before the tribulation period, guides your actions in the right direction. You prepare for His coming and not for the coming of the Antichrist. The concept of the rapture explicitly confronts you with your responsibility to give account of yourself before the judgement seat of Christ immediately after being caught up to heavenly places (2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 14:12). The following crowns will be awarded to the faithful:
· The incorruptible crown for holiness (1 Cor. 9:24-27). A life of this nature is characterised by the power of the Holy Spirit which enables a believer to abide in Christ, resist the temptations of sin and spiritual deception, and to keep on serving the Lord despite severe adversity and opposition. All the other crowns are dependant upon the believer’s sanctification.
· The crown of rejoicing for soul-winners (1 Thess. 2:19). When the saving grace of the Lord Jesus is proclaimed, people are invited to accept it by faith, thereby obtaining the promise of eternal life. We were commissioned to be Christ’s witnesses everywhere on earth (Acts 1:8) but not all believers are engaged in fulfilling their calling.
· The crown of life for Christian martyrs (Rev. 2:10). All those who have suffered or even died for their faith, will be rewarded. This category also includes believers who were severely tested but carried their cross with perseverance (Jas. 1:12).
· The crown of glory for faithful shepherds (1 Pet. 5:2-4). Peter makes it clear that the faithful shepherds are those who did not fulfil their ministry by constraint, or for dishonest gain, or for status considerations. False teachers who proclaim lies will not share in the rapture to appear before the judgement seat of Christ, since they do not belong to Him and are destined for perdition (2 Pet. 2:1; 2 Tim. 4:3-4).
· The crown of righteousness for those who loved the appearing of the Lord (2 Tim. 4:8). To love His coming calls for dissociation from the depraved world and its (mostly) corrupt leaders while pursuing the kingdom of Christ. Believers are citizens of this heavenly kingdom over which Christ will reign as King on earth after His second coming (Phil. 3:20-21).
The fact that our works will be judged after the rapture, and that only those with eternal value will be rewarded, is of great significance in helping us to devote ourselves to objectives that are higher than the material things of this perishable world. After conversion, our lives should yield the fruit of the Spirit and we should not waste time and resources on earthly things, pleasure or futile works. After the foundation of faith in the Lord Jesus has been laid in our lives we should take care to walk according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh: “… let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. … Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble, every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire” (1 Cor. 3:10-13).
Will you be found a worthy servant or will you stand before the judgement seat of Christ on that day empty-handed, saved as by fire? (1 Cor. 3:15). If you lose sight of the possibility of the Lord’s imminent return you may lapse into complacency, spiritual inactivity, and even into sin: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night. … You therefore, beloved, since you know these things beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and for ever” (2 Pet. 3:10, 17-18).
The faithful and wise servant keeps himself busy with the work of the Lord, always realising that the time to work for his Master is running out. The Lord Jesus Himself said: “I must work the works of Him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work” (John 9:4). The night of God’s judgements during the great tribulation is fast approaching. Spiritually speaking, the tribulation will be one of the darkest periods in the entire history of humanity – and that should motivate us to work with greater dedication and commitment to the Lord while we are still in the day of grace.
Motivation for holiness
One of the strongest motivations that the promise of the rapture instils into a Christian is that of holiness. As members of the bridal church we should commit ourselves to the challenge of being presented to the heavenly Bridegroom as chaste virgins. That implies the responsibility to be vigilant by not allowing the wicked one to pervert or corrupt our minds and lives (2 Cor. 11:2-3). Jesus Christ gave Himself to sanctify and cleanse the church that He might present it to Himself holy and without spot or blemish (Eph. 5:25-27). We have a distinct responsibility to use the means of grace at our disposal to walk in the ways of the Lord and to become holy in all our conduct (1 Pet. 1:15). “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord” (2 Cor. 7:1).
If we abide in Christ, we will have confidence when He appears and not be ashamed before Him (1 John 2:28). However, should we lose sight of His imminent coming and fail to live accordingly we may lapse into complacency, spiritual passiveness, and even into sin (Matt. 24:48-51).
Hope during trials and afflictions
Under the dark shadow of trials and afflictions, when our prospects on earth look bleak, the belief in Christ’s coming for us at the rapture is a light at the end of the tunnel. Through many sorrows and suffering, millions of Christians have clung desperately to the promise of the resurrection and our union with the Lord at the rapture. It gave them strength to endure, counting earthly things and even their own lives as of no account so that they might win eternity with Christ. So, take courage, lift up your head, and expect the coming of the Lord, knowing your future is safe and sure in His hands.
A sense of destiny
Like Abraham we should see ourselves as strangers and sojourners in a world that “lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John 5:18). Since our future is not here, we need a vision of the city with foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Heb. 11:10). In our pilgrimage through this world, we need a strong sense of destiny. When the Lord comes for us at the rapture, He will take us to our eternal home in the new Jerusalem (1 Cor. 2:9; John 14:2; Rev. 21:2).
We should not identify ourselves with this world and become one with its materialism, pleasure-seeking and moral and spiritual depravity. We should proclaim the praises of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvellous light. The unbelievers around us are in spiritual darkness, but through our testimony we should show them the way to the Saviour, who is the light of the world.
While serving the Lord as faithful witnesses, we should always keep our eye on Him as “the bright and morning star” (Rev. 22:16) that shines above the dark horizon of a troubled and hostile world. The morning star tells us the night is far spent and the day is at hand. Before Jesus appears as the Sun of Righteousness, when every eye shall see Him, Christians will have an awesome meeting with Him, the Bright and Morning Star, in the air!