Christians have been looking for and expecting Lord’s imminent return since the days of the apostles. Many New Testament texts indicate that even the apostles were fully expecting the Lord to return at any time. For example, James, addressing the Christians of his day, wrote: (James 5:7-9) “Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near . . . behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.”
In his first epistle, Peter wrote: (1 Peter 4:7) “The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.”
St Luke records these words of the apostles just before Jesus ascended back to the Father: (Acts 1:6) “So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?”
As I shared last week, it ought to be clear from Scripture that faithful followers of Christ WILL NOT be subject to the wrath of God that He WILL bring on a globe of unbelieving men and women who reject God's offer of forgiveness of their sins through obedient faith in His Son, Jesus.
So terrible, so deadly, so horrific will be that time that the Lord Jesus said, “Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.” (Matthew 24:22
But while I believe Christians will be saved from the GLOBAL wrath of God as described in texts of scripture such as Revelation chapters 6-18 – our Lord has made no promises that we will be spared global persecution by non-believers. Indeed, Scripture makes it very clear that we should EXPECT persecution. I’ll talk about that later in this message.
Closely aligned with this subject of global persecution of Christians is the subject of the sudden removal of the Church from planet earth. In this instance, the Church carries the meaning St Paul used to describe it in the first chapters of Ephesians and Colossians – the entire Body of Christ, and not limited to only a small group regardless of their label.
The sudden removal of the Church is called The Rapture of the Church. The belief in the Rapture is held by many Christians – BUT it is also rejected by a large swath of Christians, as well.
One of the texts which seems to suggest a sudden removal of God's faithful sons and daughters is found in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17) - “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.
Now, my purpose today is not to spend a lot of time talking about whether the Rapture will occur, or if it does, the timing of the Rapture – whether it will occur before the seven years of global tribulation, in the middle of those seven years, or it will occur after the seven years.
Such questions are not the focus of today’s message. What IS the focus of this message is the troubling reality that world events are racing across the theological landscape at such speed that I feel it necessary to remind all of us – myself included here – in how we must, must, must prepare ourselves for what is certainly coming to American cities and towns.
On October 6 of last year, no one expected Israel’s mortal enemies would the next day suddenly swoop in like carrion vultures and rape, mutilate, and murder innocent Jews living on the border of what is called Palestinian territory.
On March 13, 2023, no one expected Satan’s servants to kidnap more than 100 Christians in Northern Nigeria. But the next day saw the sudden invasion of terrorists into their community.
On November 4, 2017, no one expected another of Satan’s children to walk into the First Baptist Church in Texas on November 5 and murder 26 Christians and wound another 20. But it happened suddenly.
As I said a moment ago, world events are racing across the theological landscape at such speed is that even those who know nothing about prophecy sense there’s something happening on planet earth. And it is very unsettling.
Many evangelical theologians believe the Rapture is a Biblically accurate doctrine. But – and this is very important to our safety – there are also many theologians who do NOT believe there will be a rapture of the Church before the tribulation and world-wide persecution.
And that means one of these groups of Christians is wrong.
Let me repeat that for emphasis. One of these groups of Bible-believing Christians is wrong. And because one of these groups is wrong, I am obligated to Christ – and to you – to err on the side of extreme caution and to warn us to prepare for the worst.
Just as local, state, and federal governments have established websites for people to access and to learn how to prepare for natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, and massive fires, so also God has given humanity a source to access and to learn how to prepare for the persecution that is coming to the entire Church.
Corrie Ten Boom, former prisoner in a notorious Nazi concentration camp, spoke of meeting she had with a Chinese church leader after the Communist take-over of the country. He told her: “We have failed [our churches]. We should have made the people strong for persecution, rather than telling them Jesus would come first. [We should have told] the people . . . .how to stand when the tribulation comes, to stand and not faint.”
A report by the Family Research Council stated that between January 2018 and September 2022 there were nearly 400 attacks on individual churches across 45 U.S. states and Washington, D.C. Those acts include vandalism, arson, gun-related incidents, and bomb threats. The report also stated: "There is ample reason to be concerned about rising hostility to Christianity by a Western culture that increasingly rejects Judeo-Christian values.
Anyone paying even marginal attention to the news channels understand how our freedom to speak freely about Christ and sin and righteousness is no longer welcome on many of our public schools, colleges and universities – and most certainly not in halls of government. And do not think for a moment that anti-Christian persecution will not devolve into imprisonment on fabricated charges of sedition against the government.
As I have said only briefly, many Christians in the west expect the Rapture to save them from fiery persecution. But such a DANGEROUS idea is not only unbiblical but is easily proven false by a plethora of not only New Testament scriptures, but also by Church history, right up to this present moment. Talk to the Christians in North Korea about how they will escape bloody persecution. Or those in China, Iran, Egypt, Nigeria, and other nations throughout the African continent. The streets of those nations are saturated with the blood of the martyrs.
How dare we be so naïve and so willfully ignorant of scripture and Church history to think that Christians in American and other Western nations will not experience wide-spread bloody persecution?
Which brings us now to the crux of my message: How then will we prepare for terrible persecution?
Listen a moment to the Lord Jesus on this subject: Luke 21:34-36 “Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day will not come on you suddenly like a trap; for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth. But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
I’ve often spoken in the last few years on this subject of preparation – most recently some of you may remember when I preached a series last year on the Armor of God of Ephesians chapter six. Today I want to build on that message with some additional – and yes, overlapping – suggestions to prepare us for what I believe is the inevitable persecution of American Christians.
First – and by far what I think is the most important, never forget this ultimate truth: Our loving Father is omnipotent AND He is utterly sovereign over every event of life. If we are going to successfully continue with Christ through persecution, then we must first and foremost know that absolutely critical point: God is omnipotent and sovereign. That means what He opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. As He tells us through Isaiah chapter 51: “I, even I, am He who comforts you. Who are you that you are afraid of man who dies . . . . that you have forgotten the Lord your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth, that you fear continually all day long because of the fury of the oppressor as he makes ready to destroy?” (Isaiah 51:12-13)
Let me repeat that statement for emphasis: Our loving Father in heaven is utterly sovereign over every one of our life events – including what He permits to test our faith with fiery trials. St Peter (among other New Testament writers) addressed this in his first epistle: (1 Peter 4:12-13) “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.”
Point number two: The time for spiritual laziness is long past. The strength of our faith must be rooted and nourished in God’s word. There are no other viable and effective options. “Faith comes by hearing,” St Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome, “and hearing comes by the word of Christ.” (See Romans 10:17)
So, are you faithfully reading or listening to God's word? If not, why not? Are you memorizing portions of God's word? If not, why not?
PLEASE, do not be lulled into complacency or into a deadly sense of security by listening to false teachers – regardless of their degrees, the sizes of their congregations, or their popularity. Solomon tells us: “Go to the ant, O sluggard, observe her ways and be wise, which, having no chief, officer, or ruler, prepares her food in the summer and gathers her provision in the harvest. How long will you lie down, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep?” (Proverbs 6:6-9)
The time to start CONSISTENLY reading, meditating on, AND memorizing scripture is NOT when you need to have scripture hidden in your heart. Do you realize if you memorize only ONE NEW VERSE of scripture every week – ONE VERSE – you will have memorized 52 NEW verses a year from today?
Third: EXPECT persecution. Such a plea and warning is not what you will hear in most churches today. But there was good reason the Holy Spirit inspired Peter to write to his first century readers who were enduring severe persecution those words I quoted a few minutes ago about the fiery trials.
Persecution can take many forms and many degrees – from simply being ridiculed for our faith, all the way to the extreme of torture and death for our faith. The degree to which any of God's true children suffer persecution will depend entirely on what our omnipotent and sovereign God permits into our lives. But be certain of this promise: He will never permit any of us to be tried beyond our ability through Christ to endure (see 1 Corinthians 10:13).
I plead with you: Do not give a moment’s credence to liars – regardless of their titles, position in the Church, or the size of their churches – liars who deceive their congregations by telling them God will never send hardship to His children. In other words, they think Paul was wrong when he wrote, “It has been GRANTED to us not only to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, but also to suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:29). And Paul was wrong in this text: “All those who live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12)
And Jesus didn’t know what He was talking about when He said: (Matthew 10:21-22) “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.”
But there is yet one more important point I need to make before I close. In the 13th chapter of Revelation, the Lord highlighted the appearance of what theologians call the unholy trinity: The Dragon (who is the devil), the Beast (the Antichrist), and the False Prophet. Here is a portion of chapter 13 that speaks of the Antichrist and his false prophet. John writes:
Then I saw a beast (the Antichrist) coming up out of the sea [I.e. the mass of humanity]. . . And the dragon [e.g. Satan] gave him his power and his throne and great authority . . . It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them . . . Then I saw another beast (i.e. the false prophet) . . . [Who] performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform . . . And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six.
Listen, PLEASE. Just because a person works miracles DOES NOT always mean that person is from God. Remember the magicians in Pharaoh’s court. Rather, what does the ‘miracle worker’ teach about Jesus? If it is not His full deity and simultaneous humanity, if it is not about His historical virgin birth, sinless life, atoning death, His resurrection, and His promised literal return – do not follow that lying miracle worker.
The supernatural danger every Christian faces today from virtually every corner of society ought to be clear to anyone paying attention to the spiritual, medical, political, financial, and educational deceptions rising like an unstoppable tsunami just outside our doors. The time is long past for Christians to hold a ‘church as usual’ approach to our walk with Christ. We must not – MUST NOT – let ourselves be caught off guard for what may be coming to the faithful in America. As our Chinese brothers and sisters tragically learned in years past – expecting the Rapture to rescue us from this impending horror can prove to be a most DEADLY error.
Whatever may happen and whenever it may happen – it will likely come SUDDENLY. And we each need to be preparing ourselves for such an eventuality.
I believe these strategies I’ve shared with you today will help all of us – myself and Nancy included – to stand firm for Jesus even in the worst of times. Please, I beg you, take them to heart. The time is rapidly growing short.