THE word, culmination, implies a series of experiences under discussion, which reaches its climax in an intensified and heightened form. A glance at the ebb and flow of events during the period of the judges shows clearly that Israel's history at that time ran in six cycles of apostasies, servitudes, cryings to God, and deliverances. In a former study we saw that there have already been six great revivals in Israel. There is yet one more. A survey shows that Christian history has also been fluid through the centuries. There have been times when an entire nation has been led to accept the Lord Jesus Christ. The spiritual life of multitudes from time to time has been deepened and heightened. Following each of these high tides of spiritual awakenings there have been times of moral declension and spiritual bankruptcy. Life is never static but is always either advancing or slipping backward. History renders this verdict.
In this study we shall not take a backward glance at history but shall look forward to the culmination of apostasies and revivals. On the chart, below the central line, there are listed five items of paramount importance, which refer to the Christian Dispensation, the Tribulation, and the Millennial Age. Let us look at each of these and see what is the scriptural teaching regarding it.
GOD'S PURPOSE FOR THE CHRISTIAN AGE
THE Christian Age began with the coming into existence of the church on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Those followers of the Lord Jesus who had accepted Him during His personal ministry were brought together and welded into a spiritual organism by the coming of the Holy Spirit. On that day the apostles in the power of the Spirit of God proclaimed the risen Christ as Lord and Messiah. The preaching was done with such power and demonstration of the Spirit that about three thousand souls accepted Jesus as Lord and Messiah, were baptized, and were brought together into a spiritual unity which we call the "church of the Lord Jesus" or "the body of Christ."
Let it be understood that God at the present time is not attempting to convert the world but is rather taking out from among the nations a people for His name. It is the will of God that none should perish, but that all should come to repentance (II Pet. 3:9). Jesus gave the invitation to all who labor and are heavy laden and promised rest (Matt. 11:25-30). For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). But the Lord does not force anyone's will. Jesus commissioned the apostles to go forth into all the world and preach the gospel in order that all might have an opportunity. Those who accept Him during this age are regenerated and saved. That God is simply taking out from among the nations a people for His name is seen from the scriptures given in the chart above.
This Christian Dispensation ends--so far as the church is concerned--with the rapture, which occurs when Jesus descends from heaven to the air, raises the dead in Christ, and catches up the living saints. This event occurs before the Tribulation. We know neither the day, nor the hour; therefore we should be ready. (See I Cor. 15:50-58; I Thess. 4:13-18.)
THE GREAT APOSTASY
THE Christian Age, like all preceding ones, will end in apostasy and disaster. Nevertheless we are told by some students that the world is getting better, that we are making wonderful strides in material advancement and in education, that eventually the evils which plague the world will pass away, and that there is a glorious future out before the human family. Such is the message of the social gospel, but it is not the one of which we read in the Scriptures. Instead of the world's becoming better the farther we advance in the dispensation, it is positively growing worse. The biblical writers are unanimous in asserting that in the last days perilous times will come. This teaching is set forth in the scriptures referred to above under the subject of apostasy.
In addition to these passages which give us the darkest and gloomiest outlook for the closing scenes of this era, I wish in particular to call attention to II Thessalonians 2. When a person reads and studies carefully both letters to the Thessalonian church, he comes to the conclusion that someone was troubling those brethren concerning the rapture of the church and the Tribulation, claiming "that the day of the Lord has already come" (literal rendering of phrase in verse 2). The expression, the day of Jehovah, in the Old Testament refers to the Tribulation, which is the seventieth week of Daniel's prophecy (chapter 9). The Thessalonian brethren were alarmed by the error. Their course of reasoning was that, since their sufferings were those of the day of Jehovah, the rapture had already occurred and they had been left behind. Such teaching was enough to disturb them. In order to correct the evils of this doctrine, Paul gave the wonderful prophecy found in this second chapter. The fact that they were distressed by the identification of their sufferings as those of the day of the Lord shows conclusively, especially in the light of all that we know on this subject, that these Thessalonians expected the rapture to occur before the Tribulation. They had a right to take this position, because, in Paul's first letter to them, he spoke of the rapture in 4:13-18 and followed this prophecy, in chapter 5, with the statement, "For God appointed us not unto wrath, but unto the obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ ..." (I Thess. 5:9). We learn from the last verses of the sixth chapter of Revelation that, when the sixth seal is broken, the people upon the earth at that time will correctly recognize their experiences as those of the great day of God's wrath. They will therefore cry to the rocks and the mountains to fall upon them. Thus, the wrath of God will be poured out upon the entire world from the opening of the first seal at the beginning of the Tribulation to the pouring out of the seventh bowl at its end. The Apostle Paul said that God has not appointed Christians unto that time but unto their obtaining deliverance from it.
I am aware of the fact that sometimes an argument is made which is based upon the Greek preposition, ek, the literal meaning of which word is out of. The Lord promised to the church at Philadelphia to keep it "from the hour of trial, that hour which is to come upon the whole world, to try them that dwell upon the earth" (Rev. 3:10). The preposition rendered "from" is ek. From this fact it is argued by some that true believers will enter the Tribulation but will be delivered out of it in the middle of that period. Others assert that Christians will be kept "from the hour of trial" in the same way in which Daniel's three comrades were protected from injury when they were cast into the fiery furnace. These and similar views are supported largely by insisting upon a rigid adherence to the primary meaning of the preposition.
But the contention fails completely when one sees repeatedly in the New Testament that it has lost the sharpness of its original significance and is often used synonymously with apo, the fundamental meaning of which is from, away from. In view of the two meanings of ek, the facts of a given context must be consulted to determine which idea is intended. Those who do not know these facts and who hold to the theory that the church will go into the Tribulation but will be taken out either in the middle of that period of wrath, or at the very end of it, also call our attention to such passages as I Thessalonians 1:10, in which Paul when speaking of Jesus declared that He "delivereth us from the wrath to come." These brethren insist that the primary meaning is to be understood in this case. They therefore declare that the church will go into the Tribulation--the hour of trial--but will be taken out of it either at the middle or at the end. Such arguments, in view of all the facts, are ill grounded--without any foundation whatsoever. Especially is this position evident in view of the statement that, "God appointed us not unto wrath, but unto the obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Thess. 5:9). There are many other arguments found in the Scriptures which disprove this unscriptural position.
IN RETURNING now to the principal issue before us, let us note that Paul, in II Thessalonians 2:3, exhorted the brethren saying, "Let no man beguile you in any wise: for it will not be, except the falling away come first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition," etc. What will not be? The thing about which he was speaking; namely, the day of the Lord--the Tribulation. According to this statement, the Tribulation will not be except two things come first: the falling away--the apostasy of all apostasies; and the revealing of the man of sin, who is none other than the Antichrist. These two things come before the Tribulation bursts upon the world.
In view of the many passages which describe the conditions existing upon the earth at the close of this dispensation, one cannot avoid the conclusion that there is to be a great and general apostasy. We cannot hope for a revival of pronounced proportions prior to the Tribulation. There is to be expected a quickening of the spiritual life of believers, but there is no scriptural authority for our believing that there is to be a great revival in the world prior to the rapture. I am bold to assert that there will not be any notable one before the Tribulation since God has described the conditions in the world at that time as being exactly opposite. In fact, since He has given a clear picture of apostasy in the closing of the age, one cannot scripturally hope for any great revival now.
WORLD-WIDE REVIVAL IN THE TRIBULATION
From the scriptures referred to under "Apostasy," we have seen that there is no promise of a revival prior to the Tribulation. But the prophets foretold that a mighty awakening and turning to God would sweep the world in the Tribulation. For instance, Isaiah, 24:1-20, gives one of the most vivid and graphic Old Testament pictures of the Tribulation to be found in the Scriptures. It will be a time when God makes the entire earth waste, as one can see by studying this chapter carefully. But we are told that every cloud has a silver lining. The thunderclouds of the Tribulation do, indeed, have a very bright lining, for verses 14-16 tell of the mighty awakening in the midst of the distress and the sorrows of that time. "These shall lift up their voice, they shall shout; for the majesty of Jehovah they cry aloud from the sea. Wherefore glorify ye Jehovah in the east, even the name of Jehovah, the God of Israel, in the isles of the sea. From the uttermost part of the earth have we heard songs: Glory to the righteous" (Isa. 24:14-16a). The prophet was in Jerusalem and, looking toward the west in his vision, saw people lifting up their voices and shouting for joy. Obviously these are not of the world, which will at that time be in distress and perplexity; but of this group the prophet stated that, "for the majesty of Jehovah they cry aloud from the sea." The word rendered "sea" is a term that referred to the west, because the Great Sea was west of Palestine. Thus one sees in this verse a prediction of the bursting forth of a mighty revival in a country west of Palestine. My personal opinion is that it will break forth in America where the true gospel has been generally preached. According to verse 15, the message will go forth from this western country to those in the East, calling upon the people there to glorify God, "even the name of Jehovah, the God of Israel, in the isles [nations] of the sea." This revival, like a mighty prairie fire, will spread from the west to the east. From that as a center, it will go forth unto the uttermost parts of the earth; for from verse 16 we read, "From the uttermost part of the earth have we heard songs: Glory to the righteous." There can be absolutely no doubt that this is a prediction of a mighty world-wide revival which will occur in the Tribulation. The Lord explained, in Isaiah 26:9, how it will come about: "For when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness." At that time they will be brought to their extremity. The Word of God will be preached, and countless myriads of men and women will turn to the Lord and accept His salvation and righteousness. Matthew, chapter 24:14, declared that "this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a testimony unto all the nations; and then shall the end come." There is but one message--the everlasting gospel. It is called the gospel of the grace of God, when attention is especially directed to the grace which was manifested at the cross; on the other hand, this same message is called the gospel of the kingdom when emphasis is laid upon things connected with the second coming of our Lord and the establishment of His reign of righteousness upon the earth.
Another view of this great revival and the evangelists who will conduct it is found in Revelation 7:1-17. There will be 144,000 Jewish evangelists who will rise in the beginning of the Tribulation, and who will lead a multitude which no man can number to a saving knowledge of the Lord. These come out of the Tribulation and wash their robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Since one cannot give that which he does not have, this prediction assumes that those who now have the truth will give it to these future evangelists. After the rapture of the church and in the beginning of the Tribulation--when God's judgments are in the world--this seed which is now sown in their hearts will germinate and produce this mighty army of Jewish "Pauls." They will go forth filled with the Spirit of God--and conduct this mighty, world-wide, soul-saving campaign. At the end of the Tribulation, these evangelists will lead the entire nation of Israel to accept Christ. Being convicted, she will plead for His return. He will speedily come to her rescue.
During the Millennial Age, converted Israel will become the ministers and the priests of our God, as indicated in Isaiah 61:4-6. Then ten men out of every nation will take hold of the coat of him who is a Jew and will ask the privilege of going to Jerusalem to worship the God of the Jews (Zech. 8:23).
THE GLORIFIED CHURCH
The glorified church, consisting of all regenerated believers, will reign with Christ during the thousand years, as is shown in Revelation 20:4-6. If we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him (Romans 8:16,17; II Tim. 2:11-13).