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Rapture, Millennium, Wrath

Question
We are in the end days. Before the rapture, I am certain we shall go through tribulation, but not through God's wrath (Rev. 13:7-10; 14:9-13). Is the church going to be ready when this comes? What is your understanding on these Scriptures?
Answer
If I understand you correctly, you understand the Bible to teach that there will be a future period of tribulation, followed by the return of Christ and the rapture of the church. Generally, when those who hold this position say that we are now in the "end days," they mean that the period of tribulation will come in the not too distant future. This view typically is incorporated into a larger theological system known as "dispensational premillennialism." This doctrine includes such views as: we are not currently in the kingdom of God/heaven; there will be a seven-year tribulation immediately prior to Christ's return; Christ's return will usher in the literal thousand-year reign of Christ; and after this thousand-year reign will come the final judgment of mankind. A debated issue in dispensational premillennialism is the timing of the Rapture. Some believe that the church will be taken out of the world at the beginning of the tribulation (pre-tribulation), some believe this will happen at the halfway point of the tribulation (mid-tribulation), and some believe it will not take place until the end of the tribulation (post-tribulation).

At Third Millennium, we affirm a doctrine called "amillennialism," which differs from dispensational premillennialism in some very significant respects. Amillennialism affirms that Jesus is already reigning as king over the kingdom of God/heaven, that he inaugurated this kingdom during his earthly ministry, and that his current reign is the millennial reign described in Revelation 20. According to this view, the entire period of Jesus' millennial reign, spanning the time between his first and second advents, is the "end days." Amillennialism takes its name (it means "no millennium") from its denial that the thousand years spoken of in Revelation 20 are to be interpreted literally. Rather, we believe that "thousand" is a symbolic number, especially given the highly metaphoric context of Revelation in general and of chapter 20 in particular. We cannot know when Jesus will return in the future, but we do know that he will return. When he does, the final judgment of all mankind will take place.

Regarding the period of tribulation, amillennialism does not see this as a future period. Amillennialism is not entirely united regarding the proper interpretation of the tribulation (just as dispensational premillennialism is not united on the timing of the rapture relative to the tribulation). Two interpretations worth considering are: 1) the tribulation was something that took place during the time this letter was written (compare Rev. 1:9; 2:9,10,22); and 2) the tribulation is characteristic of all life in the millennium. In both cases, amillennialism agrees with the post-tribulational-rapture dispensational view that Christians must endure the Tribulation.

On a related issue, at Third Millennium we do not believe that any believer ever suffers the wrath of God. This wrath fell on Christ at the cross, and will never be poured out on us. We commonly distinguish between "judgment" (based on wrath) and "discipline" (based on love, cf. Heb. 12). Though the outward appearance of the two may be the same, they are in fact quite different. Within this framework, believers suffer God's discipline, whereas unbelievers suffer his wrath. Since the church at large contains both believers and unbelievers, the church receives both judgment and discipline. Of course, both judgment and discipline may come through the agency of the systems of the world. If Christians expect to avoid suffering in this world, they are going to be sorely disappointed. Suffering is part of being a Christian (2 Tim. 3:12).

One basic question that impacts how we read Revelation is "Why was Revelation written?" At Third Millennium, we believe that the prophecies of Revelation were written primarily to the seven churches that received the letters in Revelation 2-3 in order to motivate them to obey these letters (e.g. Rev. 22:6-7,11-12). We also believe that prophecy in general is not intended to predict what must necessarily happen in the future. Rather, it predicts what might happen (see for example Jer. 18:1-10) in order to motivate its readers to pursue blessings, avoid curses, and take heart in the midst of turmoil, all by being faithful to God's covenant. The modern church must learn the meaning that the prophecies had for the original audience before trying to understand the meaning for modern Christians.

Dispensational premillennialism understands a very different purpose for Revelation, and for prophecy in general. It sees the prophecies primarily as predictions to tell us what will happen in the future in order that when they come to pass we might see that they were predicted long ago, and in order to prepare us for these things before they come to pass. We agree that there are some prophecies that are sure to come to pass as predicted, but insist that these are limited to prophecies which specifically claim to be unconditional, or which are included as part of a covenant or oath. All other prophecy is conditional (see the article Historical Contingencies and Biblical Predictions by Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr.).

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Creative Delivery Systems at Third Millennium Ministries.