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This is the time of year when the world publicizes the birth of our Lord—but mostly in order to make merchandise of Him. Christmas is big business, generally promoted by godless merchants whose only interest is in using the occasion to make a profit. One day they will stand before the Christ of Christmas as their Judge.
Rather than pointing the finger at others, however, each of us ought to examine carefully his own heart. Are we, too, attempting to use Christ for our own ends? Do we embrace Him merely as an escape from hell to heaven while basically living for self? Or are we truly eager for His will to be “done on earth as in heaven,” beginning with complete submission of ourselves to Him in everything?
Let this Christmas season be a solemn reminder that the One who was born in Bethlehem is soon to return to this earth in power and great glory to execute judgment. First, however, He will take His own to His Father’s house of “many mansions,” where “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor 5:10). Then will come that heavenly marriage and honeymoon. We could be caught up at any moment to meet Him in the air. That “blessed hope” causes this earth to lose its attraction, purifies our lives and motivates us to win the lost because we believe the time is short.
Our removal from earth to heaven in the Rapture will allow the Antichrist to be revealed to rule over the revived Roman Empire. It has been exciting to see the worldwide dimensions of that “last days” kingdom begin to take shape. We have noted that the collapse of communism opened the door for the fulfillment of a dream first voiced by Gorbachev and the Pope: a United Europe extending “from the Atlantic to the Urals.” From that base of power a “new world order” will emerge—a concept long ridiculed as Utopian nonsense but now accepted and even taken for granted. Talk of a new world ordernow falls naturally from the lips of President Bush and other world leaders, who seem unaware that their brave new world will be ruled by the Antichrist.
Plans call for earth’s division into ten regions (the “ten toes” of Nebuchadnezzar’s image signifying the revived Roman Empire), each with its own security council and a strategic strike force for maintaining peace and preventing a recurrence of events similar to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Thus, the stage is being set for the fulfillment of an amazing prophecy: “And in the days of these kings [represented by the ten toes] shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed…it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms” (Dan 2:44).
Christ’s birth in Bethlehem came at the precise time God had planned (Gal 4:4) and, like His death, was initially related to the Roman Empire. Likewise the revelation of the Antichrist will be at a pre-ordained time (2 Thes 2:6) and will require the presence of the revived Roman Empire. (See TBC July 90 for details of the fascinating link between Christ, Antichrist and the Roman Empire in relation to the timing of His second coming.) It is only fitting that the evil Empire which crucified Christ should be revived so that He can destroy it at His second coming.
We have previously given numerous reasons why the church must be raptured at the beginning of the seven-year tribulation period. Once the dominant belief among evangelicals, the pretrib Rapture is falling increasingly into disfavor. The latest attack upon this belief is found in Marvin Rosenthal’s book The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church: A New Understanding of the Rapture, the Tribulation and the Second Coming. This book’s novel ideas cannot be supported by Scripture, and Rosenthal’s attempts to do so create numerous contradictions. Nevertheless, we have received so many letters asking about the book from people who were swayed by it that a brief critique seems necessary.
Rosenthal, long a confirmed pretribulationalist, has abandoned that position and “now believes that the Church will have to endure the persecution of the Antichrist.” His basic thesis is that the church will “not escape all of the oppression of the ‘Tribulation’ period,” but “will escape the wrath of God, which will be poured out…during the second half of the ‘Tribulation’ period.”
Numerous problems immediately arise. Since the Antichrist, according to Rosenthal, must appear first, the church is no longer watching and waiting for Christ but for Antichrist. Moreover, even after the Antichrist takes control of the earth the church cannot look for Christ until she has suffered considerably under that “Wicked” one. Yet the early church was definitely watching for her Lord, not for Antichrist: “From whence [heaven] also we look for the Saviour” (Philippians 3:20); and to wait for his Son from heaven” (1 Thes 1:10); “and unto them that look for him shall he appear” (Heb 9:28), etc. If Rosenthal is correct, then one can no longer expect Christ at any moment. Imminency has been lost, and with it the “blessed hope” that sustained believers for centuries.
If the church must remain on earth to face Antichrist, then Christians would refuse to take his mark or worship his image. As a result, they would all be put to death. We are told,
And it was given unto him [Antichrist] to make war with the saints, and to overcome them…and he [the false prophet] had power to…cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed…And that no man might buy or sell, save [except] he that had the mark…of the beast…(Rev 13:7;15-18).
Clearly the church, Christ’s bride, must have been removed, for the Antichrist could not make war with and overcome her against whom our Lord said “the gates of hell shall not prevail” (Mt 16:18). Then who are these “saints”? They can only be those who have not come under the strong delusion (2 Thes 2:10-12) because they previously never heard and rejected the gospel. Millions will believe in Christ during the Great Tribulation and they will pay for their newfound faith with their lives. John tells us,
After this I beheld…[in heaven] a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues…before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes….
These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Rev 7:9,14). A “prewrath rapture” would hardly be a “blessed hope.” In fact, it would be a non-event, for there would be few if any Christians left alive to rapture at that time. Could any Christian take Antichrist’s mark and thus survive to be raptured? Indeed not! Revelation 14:9-10 makes it clear that those who “worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark” will be consigned to hell.
In building his unbiblical thesis, Rosenthal falls into a number of other errors. He insists that 2 Peter 3:10-11 “is not talking of total annihilation of the earth” because Peter earlier said that the world of Noah’s day perished, yet it was not totally annihilated. The analogy fails, for Peter includes in the future judgment the heavens, which he specifically says “shall pass away with a great noise” while the very elements of which all is composed “shall melt with fervent heat.” It certainly sounds like the destruction of the entire universe, during which “the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” In its place, God will create a “new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (v 13). It is gross error to interpret specific language calling for the complete consumption by fire of the entire universe as merely a surface cleansing of the earth because that was what happened at the flood. He also suggests that this “cleansing of the earth” will take place before the Millennium, whereas Revelation 21 clearly places it at the end of the Millennium.
Rosenthal goes to the noncanonical Book of Maccabees to try to prove that the “falling away” that Paul refers to in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is a Jewish apostasy and has nothing to do with the church. Yet Paul is writing to Christians, not to Jews. He has already given warning many times about the coming “falling away,” as have Peter and Jude. They repeatedly refer to apostasy among professing Christians. The writer to the Hebrews deals with the same theme in Chapter 6. To suggest that because the Book of Maccabees refers to a Jewish apostasy, this is then what Paul is talking about, is insupportable. Most of those whom Paul was addressing at Thessalonica were converted Greeks who would have no reason to associate “apostasy” with an incident in Jewish history involving Antiochus Epiphanes, a story they probably didn’t even know. Moreover, Israel was already in apostasy when Paul was writing: she had rejected and crucified her Messiah and was persecuting Christians. So to suggest that Paul is declaring that some future apostasy is coming to an already apostate and unbelieving Israel is illogical.
One error leads to another. The author asserts that signing the pact with the Antichrist “will be Israel’s great apostasy” (pp 205-207). That an already spiritually apostate Israel would be going into apostasy by signing a political/military pact with the world ruler again makes no sense. Moreover, Paul says that the apostasy precedes the revelation of the Antichrist (2 Thes 2:3). To avoid the obvious contradiction of having Israel sign a pact with Antichrist before he’s been revealed, Rosenthal proposes a new meaning for “revealed.” He says that it doesn’t mean when Antichrist steps from obscurity into power, but when he puts his image in the temple and Israel recognizes that he is the Antichrist. Yet Paul says that the Antichrist will be revealed not through the placing of his image in the temple, but when “He who now letteth [hinders) [i.e., the Holy Spirit in Christians]…be taken out of the way…” (2 Thes 2:7-8).
Rosenthal’s further explanation only increases the confusion: “Speaking of that future day when the Antichrist will seek to get the Jews to bow to his image and many will refuse, the Lord said, ‘Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you; and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake’ (Mat 24:9).” How could apostate Jews who have rejected Christ be hated of all nations for Christ’s name’s sake?! It is one thing to recognize that the Antichrist is evil, and something else entirely to believe that Jesus is the Christ. That will only happen to Israel when He appears to rescue her at Armageddon (Zech 12:10).
Rosenthal suggests that “the Antichrist is a man who lived before….He will literally be raised from the dead” (p 208). In fact, he suggests that this man ruled an ancient kingdom that impacted Israel, so he has been dead for at least 2,500 years. Marvin tries to prove this “resurrection” from the scripture which says, “I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death” (Rev 13:3). Now, to recover from what seemed to John “as though it were” a mortal wound is a far cry from bringing back to life a totally decomposed 2,500-year-old corpse! He then uses the same scripture to say that this man will suffer a mortal head wound in the middle of the seven-year pact with Israel and be raised from the dead. By what rule of exegesis does one prove two contradictory theories from the same scripture? Lack of space prevents dealing with the many other errors in The Pre-Wrath Rapture.
Christ’s repeated warnings that He would come at a time when one would least expect Him (Mat 24:44; Lk 12:40; 21:34-36) cannot be reconciled with Rosenthal’s thesis. Surely as Antichrist’s persecution and slaughter of the church proceeded, the dwindling number of surviving Christians would long for and expect the Rapture. Yet Christ depicted conditions upon earth during the last moments before the catching away of His bride as a time of such ease and boredom that “While the bridegroom tarried, they all [even the five “wise” virgins] slumbered and slept” (Mat 25:5). Either Christ was mistaken or Rosenthal is.
Even though God’s wrath had not yet been poured out, a church that was enduring Antichrist’s wrath, involving the most vicious persecution and slaughter of Christians in history, would not be sleeping any more than a church that found itself in the midst of Armageddon! Rosenthal’s prewrath theory thus suffers from the same contradictions as a “post-trib” Rapture.
Much of the Christmas scene promotes false concepts that will help Antichrist pretend to be “Christ.” The promise of “peace on earth” announced by the angels at the birth of Christ will not be realized until He personally reigns from David’s throne in Jerusalem, as the prophets foretold. Be not deceived by any call for a “new world order” that promises peace without the presence of the Prince of Peace. May His joy be your strength as you seek to glorify Him in your body and spirit, which are His (1 Cor 6:20). Let us maintain a pure witness until His return. He’s coming soon!