Saturday, September 02, 2006

The following is an excerpt from
The End Times Passover
By Joe Ortiz

The Purpose for Tribulation!

In the last few chapters, we covered extensively those scriptural passages that deal with tribulation, trials, persecutions, etc., for the purpose of familiarizing our reader to a subject that many theorists choose to avoid while they build their secret pre-tribulation escape to heaven scenarios. Obviously they fail to address the subject of tribulation because it is their contention that the Christian Church will not experience persecution, in their staunch belief it will be removed from earth to heaven during the so-called Great Tribulation. Therefore why even bother. But, God’s word clearly tells us that we must experience much tribulation to enter the Kingdom of God.

After reading all of these verses concerning tribulation, the reader is probably tossing hands in the air and hopelessly lamenting, “Why become a Christian? Who needs all that suffering?” Life is bad enough as it is, why program us to a belief system that includes having to accept the fact that horrors loom before those that believe in Jesus Christ?” Agreed! There is much validity in those questions, if viewed solely from a secular or humanist perspective. True! Why become a Christian if the only thing immediately in store is trials and tribulations, persecutions from non-believers, which may include family, friends, fellow church members and neighbors, and the distinct possibility that we might even end up having to die for the cause? “Besides,” say many Christians, “I thought that once I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I wasn’t going to have to suffer any longer as I did in the past, but rather, as a new Born Again believer, the next thing in store for me is an any-moment Rapture to heaven to be with Jesus Christ, at least for a 7-year period of time before He returns back to reign on earth!”

These questions and comments are valid, if a secret pre-tribulation escape to heaven is what the Bible clearly teaches. But if a pre-tribulation escape is not in store for the called out ones, then what purpose is served by the ecclesia having to experience great tribulation?

Let’s read two significant verses in the Bible to help us set the tone for this chapter. First, in John 3:16, Jesus is telling Nicodemus (and all mankind, too) that, For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life, (NIV). This one verse encapsulates the totality of God’s purpose for mankind and the manner in which He accomplished His reunification program for His creation.

Most Christians know the basic history of Adam and Eve, their fall in the Garden of Eden, their separation from God and the chronology thereafter. We then see in the Old Testament where God chose a special person (the Hebrew Abraham) and a group of people (Israel) as His entity to reveal Himself and to fellowship with His creation once again, as He had with Adam and Eve. But many of the chosen descendants of Abraham rebelled against the laws and rulers He had provided for their own protection, and heeded not His words sent forth through His prophets. But yet (by virtue of His omniscient nature), God had a plan of reunification with His called out ones from the very beginning of time, knowing full well that redemption would be needed. He chose to step down from His majestic abode in heaven and took the form of man, offering Himself (in the person of Jesus of Nazareth) as a propitiatory sacrifice to pay for the sins of the world. All He asks is that, by faith, we should believe in the person of Jesus Christ so as to not perish, but have eternal life and fellowship with the Creator of all things.

Throughout history, God continues to reach out to mankind to accept this gift of salvation, but His creation continues to rebel, thinking of itself as a god, rather than accepting this precious gift. The natural man, skeptical and not understanding the things of God, laments: “If man is fallen, why doesn’t God simply wave His Almighty hand and remove all evil and restore His creation to Himself. Why doesn’t God simply speak (as He did when all things were created) and bring in everlasting peace?” The answer is found in 2 Peter 3:9, the second significant verse, which reads:

The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance, (2 Peter 3:9, NIV). [Bold and underline is by the author, solely for emphasis]

True! Those who have already come to the Lord by faith know and understand the reality of the Gospel. They know that the only way anyone can become reconciled to God is by faith, and by believing that Jesus Christ paid the price for their fallen state. But millions have yet to see (or accept) this reality. Even more so, as the Day of the Lord approaches, mankind in general and even many of those called out ones (who should be trusting in Jesus for all things) are being seduced by power, money, prestige, greed, lust and the satisfying of self, rather than seeking meaning for the true purpose of life. Rather than seeking reunification and fellowship with God (which was His original plan and purpose for mankind), humanity has charted its own course, a course of self-destruction:

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ 29 Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone – an image made by man’s design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead, (Acts 17:24-31, NIV). [Underline and bold is by the author, solely for emphasis]

Two important verses in this group of scriptures to note of their importance include verses 27 and 31. Verse 27 states that God established times and places so men would seek Him, and perhaps reach out and find Him, even though He is not far from each one of us. Verse 31 states that God has set a day when He will judge the world with true justice in the person of Jesus Christ, and He has proven this to all mankind by raising Jesus Christ from the dead.

Here is the purpose of life! God has allowed mankind to follow in its own footsteps, if for no other reason than to prove to it that without a personal relationship with God it is doomed to fail the human experience! Throughout the Bible, we see God forever exhorting mankind to return to Him, but yet, there is continued rebellion. But as we have seen, God does not give up on His creation, but continues to draw it back to Him through the agency of the Holy Spirit, and those who now believe. The most important task of those that now believe is to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God so no one shall perish. But as we can see by the Book of Revelation, many will not turn to God regardless of the sanctifying power of the word of God, nor will they turn back from the results of the horrific atrocities that will befall unbelievers when God’s wrath is poured out.

“But,” the Christian says, “If I believe now, and I’m doing the work of a true Christian, is it also necessary for me to endure tribulation?” “Of course not,” say theorists. “God is not a cruel God. He will Rapture you to heaven for seven years and spare you from all these things.” Unfortunately, many Christians (and their leaders) still do not understand God’s ways. Unfortunately, this escapist mentality is extremely prevalent in the evangelical community because theorists have expounded on it for so long, and so often, that they fail to see what God truly has in store for His ecclesia. Unfortunately, the Christian (leadership) of today has lost sight of what God wants to accomplish with His called out ones during the intensified period of tribulation that will precede The Second Advent. Although it appears that God will accomplish many more tasks during and through the remainder of history, one of those tasks will be to bring many more people to His Kingdom before He pours out His wrath, and He will accomplish this goal by using His called out ones like never before.

How? Let’s go back to the time (in Acts 26:1-29) when Paul was incarcerated and was brought before King Agrippa, which paints (through one of Paul’s ordeals) a perfect example of Christian testimony that resulted in people coming to repentance and receiving salvation. The author is including the entire chapter in order that the reader may experience one of the greatest testimonies and sermons (along with Stephen’s in Acts Chapter 7) of all time:

Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” So Paul motioned with his hand and began his defense: 2 “King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews, 3 and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently. 4 The Jews all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. 5 they have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that according to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived as a Pharisee. 6 And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our fathers that I am on trial today. 7 This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. O king, it is because of this hope that the Jews are accusing me. 8 Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead? 9 I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 and that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even sent to foreign cities to persecute them. 12 On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 About noon, O king, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around my companions and me. 14 We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It’s hard for you to kick against goads.’ 15 Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. 16 ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. 17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ 19 So, then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from Heaven. 20 First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. 21 That is why the Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. 22 But I have had God’s help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen – 23 that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.” 24 At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.” 25 “I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. 26 the king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know you do.” 28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” 29 Paul replied, “Short time or long – I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains, (Acts 26:1-29, NIV). [Underline and bold is by the author, solely for emphasis]

The author believes with all his heart that when tribulations become more intense than they are now, a myriad of Christians will be brought before various officials and other governmental authorities throughout the world to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Like Paul our declarations of faith before these governing bodies will be similar testimonies that will have the very same results: bring more people to the knowledge of God’s saving grace before the Lord’s return! For those theorists who contend there will be a secret pre-tribulation escape to heaven, seven years before Christ returns, this last phase of history would then make any preaching of the gospel a virtual impossibility. Theorists who see only semi-converted Jews or genetic Israelites as being those persecuted, tortured, thrown in prisons, or even killed during the end times, miss one of God’s greatest displays of witnessing and testimony that God’s ecclesia could possibly be involved with. Let’s read again what is stated in Matthew 24:

Then you will be handed over to the persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false Prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come, (Matthew 24:9-14, NIV). [Underline and bold is by the author, solely for emphasis]

This is the same message that we find in Mark’s account of tribulation at the hands of the antichristian forces. However, in Mark’s account, we read about the beautiful power that the Holy Spirit will display through the Christian at that time:

You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit, (Mark 13:9-11, NIV). [Underline and bold is by the author, solely for emphasis]

This intensified period of tribulation immediately before The Second Advent will see some of the boldest evangelizing ever seen in the history of mankind. Matthew 24:14 clearly states, and this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come! Theorists, who merely see Jews as finally being converted through tribulation and or God’s wrath during this period of time, miss the point. The tribulation at the hands of antichristian forces is not God’s punishment or wrath for past transgressions. It is an opportunity for called out ones to make one final stand for Jesus, resulting in many unbelievers turning to God before the Lord’s return. The great “testing” to come about during this period is not to see who can withstand the most pain-until-you-repent; but, rather, this testing through persecution will be to see who will remain faithful to Jesus and the power of His word to bring as many more people to the Kingdom of God before His return. The man of lawlessness will be keenly (and diabolically) aware of this effort by called out ones. Henceforth, he will pull out all stops to silence the ecclesia. Satan, knowing that his time is short, will do everything in his power to destroy Christians throughout the world. The fact that the Christian will be boldly preaching the gospel during this intensified period of tribulation is proof that the Holy Spirit could not possibly be seen as being removed before this period of time. This intensified tribulation will result in one of the most glorious manifestations of the power of the Holy Spirit that has ever been seen. Even though scripture (in Daniel 12:7) records that the power (the missionary undertaking) of God’s holy people will eventually be shattered, shortly before the Lord’s return, the intended works of the Holy Spirit through the saints (Daniel 12:3) will result in millions of people converting to Jesus Christ. Many of these called out ones will be martyred, but many also will be alive to see The Second Advent of Jesus Christ. Here then we have one of the main purposes for not seeing the Christian Church removed before The Second Advent.

It boggles the mind to see how theorists can argue for the removal of the Christian Church (and the Holy Spirit as well), and then see people heretofore uncommitted to Jesus Christ, all of a sudden turning to the Lord due to persecutions from the Beast (and or God’s wrath) and then suddenly proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. If anything, it appears that those who have trusted and depended on their wealth and material goods (rather than God) will be more inclined to bow before the man of lawlessness when pressure is applied to them. If unbelievers have suddenly noticed that a myriad of Christians have been secretly Raptured from the face of the earth along with the Holy Spirit, the author is inclined to believe that their loyalty and allegiance will be more to the Beast system than to Jesus Christ. But yet, those true believers who patiently endure these trials will obviously be so convinced that Jesus will eventually rescue them, that they will joyously stand up for their savior under any circumstances. There will be many who will say they believe, and actually will call themselves Christian at that time (See Daniel 11:34), but will not have the power of the Holy Spirit working in them. In John 12:42, we see a perfect example of those who profess to believe in the Lord; however, they still cling to those things that they feel will bring them the security and the glory they seek for themselves:

Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved praise from men more than praise from God, (John 12:42, 43, NIV). [Bold and underline is by the author, solely for emphasis]

Matthew 24:9-14 and Mark 13:9-11 are portions of scriptures that are echoed in Luke 12:4, 5 and Luke 21:12-19; however, in Luke 21:12-19, we specifically see that called out ones will not experience these end-time tribulations as punishment from God, but rather, to be witnesses to the unsaved:

But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 This will result in your being witnesses to them. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 All men will hate you because of me. 18 By standing firm you will save yourselves, (Luke 21:12-19, NIV). [Bold and underline is by the author, solely for emphasis]

In verse 15, we see once again the power of the Holy Spirit working as never before, providing the called out ones with words and wisdom that none of their adversaries will be able to resist. Even though this experience will be reason for great sorrow (especially in the knowledge that some friends, family, and even fellow church members will betray us), the Lord exhorts us not to worry beforehand because not a hair on our head will perish, even though some of us may have to die.

What a glorious period that will be. Not necessarily to experience death, but, if one has to face death, the author can envision no greater honor than to stand up and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, to be found faithful to Jesus, to face death squarely in the eye and say “O Death, where is thy sting?” Then, to look at our Savior’s face and have Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” as He hands us our stephanos, the martyr’s crown of life! What great glory for God! To realize that, like Stephen, our death might possibly result in another person’s salvation has to be the ultimate Christian experience:

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them, (Acts 7:59, 60, NIV). [Bold and underline is by the author, solely for emphasis]

In verse 60, we see where Stephen, in his last dying breath, was praying for God to forgive his enemies, a prayer the author believes God honored. Here we see a glorious picture of the disciple Stephen, preaching the word of God to the Sanhedrin, unto death, looking up to heaven and surrendering his God-breathed, life-giving spirit back to the Lord. The Greek word for crown is stephanos, and the author believes the word of God states that those who witness for the Lord in that period of time will receive a greater reward. Is this willingness to die for the Lord’s glory being a “super macho Christian” as brother Hal Lindsey states? If so, then that is what the author is. If wanting to serve Jesus with such zeal and fervor is wrong, then the author stands convicted. If being a member of God’s ecclesia means that the called out one has to shrink back from the face of death, then all that Christ performed on the cross has gone for naught.

In Revelation 12:11, it describes a loud voice in heaven speaking about those who were willing to give up their lives to preach the gospel of Christ. This is not describing solely those who will be martyred during the end times. It describes those who throughout history overcame the accusatory powers of Satan and times of great tribulation through the blood of the Lamb:

They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death, (Revelation 12:11, NIV). [Bold and underlines is by the author, solely for emphasis]

Back in Philippians 3:10, we see a clue from Paul’s attitude toward death that should be the attitude of all Christians:

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead, (Philippians. 3:10, 11, NIV). [Bold and underlines is by the author, solely for emphasis]

Was Paul being a “super macho Christian?” If so, then the author finds no shame whatsoever in being identified with Paul, Stephen, Peter and all the other called out ones who laid their lives down so others can have eternal life.

As the author concludes this important chapter, please indulge him to share a very personal message. On many occasions, one of the sermons that the author preached in various churches during his brief ministry as an evangelist, he used an extremely graphic example of how he saw himself drowning in a pool of filth before coming to Christ. He described a gory scenario that included them picturing a giant vat filled with decaying dead animals, mixed amongst rotten meat, mingled with live venomous spiders, scorpions and snakes, all floating atop a pool of bodily waste material, generating the most odoriferous stench imaginable. He used this graphic example in order for the audience to get a more profound picture of how decrepit the author felt about himself before turning to the Lord. He told his audiences how he once was down in the bottom of that vat, bound by alcohol, drugs, and illicit sex, almost to the point of suicide because he could not see any way out of the devil’s trap. But, after it was explained to him that Jesus Himself became sin in order for all of us to have eternal life, when he finally turned his life over to Christ, he told his audiences that he could actually see Jesus Christ diving head first into the vat, becoming all of its content, just so the author could be set free. This was the only way the author could make his audience see and feel how the author felt as he turned his life over to Jesus. Make a mental picture of this scenario. Picture Jesus diving head first into that abysmal stench. Not only becoming all of the individual filth you have personally committed throughout your entire life, but also becoming the putridity of all of mankind’s combined sins throughout history. This thought simply boggles the mind. But, yet, that’s exactly what Christ did. He willingly leaped head first into humanity’s vat of sin, not only drowning in it, but also becoming the despicability of humanity’s waste.

The author has often wondered why Jesus Christ cried out, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me, (Matthew 27:46)? Was it because the physical pain was too much for him to endure? Maybe that was a part of it. Death by crucifixion is known to be one of the most painful and heinous ways to kill a person. However, the author believes in his heart that the agony and despair Jesus Christ felt at that moment was due primarily because our sinless Lord was not only experiencing the sting of sin, feeling the horror and the anguish of the sins of all mankind consuming his entire human persona, He was also experiencing a separation from God for the very first time!

No Mr. Lindsey, we aren’t talking “super macho Christian” here. We’re talking about being eternally grateful for salvation. Eternally grateful for being rescued before the author experienced a physical and senseless death no one would wish on his worst enemy. Not only did Jesus Christ rescue the author from dying a disgraceful death, alone and separated apart from friends and loved ones, He actually brought the author back from among the physically dying and spiritually dead and into new life. How God could have such grace and mercy to not only restore this former decrepit soul back to life, but to even choose him to do this work (writing this book) is a mystery that will remain unsolved by this author until he sees Jesus Christ face to face.

Therefore, being eternally grateful for this salvation, if the Lord tells the author that “not a hair on his head will perish,” knowing that he will soon be spending an eternity with his savior, then dying a physical death for Jesus, as He was willing to die for the author and all of mankind, is not a thing to fear:

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death, (Hebrews 2:14, 15, NIV). [Bold and underline by author, solely for emphasis]
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