Friday, March 7, 2014

Next Big Thing #3: Earth's tribulation and Christian rewards

Revelation 19:1-2 "After these things I heard something like a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying,
“Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God; 2 because His judgments are true and righteous; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and He has avenged the blood of His bond-servants on her.”

Revelation 19:7-8 "Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” 8 It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints."

We have been doing a periodic series called; "Next Big Things" - that is to say - events that will impact every person living or who has ever lived.In the two passages we just looked at above, we see two simultaneous events that will take place following the rapture of the church: the tribulation period, culminating in the judgment of the world system that is typified in what is called "Babylon the Great" in Revelation 19:1-6. As the tribulation is occurring, the scene switches up to heaven and a raptured church getting ready to be wedded to Jesus in Revelation 19:7-10. On earth the final seven years of history will experience tribulation, with the church up in heaven undergoing reward and preparation. In today's post we want to understand this "Next Big Thing" following the catching away of the church, namely "Earth's Tribulation and
Christian Rewards". 

Earth's tribulation following the rapture and preceeding the Lord's Return to earth.
When one scans through the chapters of Revelation 6-18 leading up to the crescendo of hallelujahs in 19:1-6, the rejoicing is over the fact that the enemies of God have been soundly defeated. The late Dr. W.A Criswell notes: "What a passage! What a consummation! What an anticipation! The passage begins with four Hallelujah choruses. Two of them are retrospective, two of them are prospective. The first Hallelujah is over the destruction of .... Mystery Babylon, the scarlet woman with the golden cup in her hand. When she is destroyed, all heaven says, “Hallelujah!” 2

In a series of repeated cycles we see the seven year tribulation period described in Revelation 6-18.3 All these chapters of course lead up to the reason as to why all of heaven is praising God for the fact that God's purposes on planet earth have been fulfilled in the tribulation period. The chart below summarizes what we are talking about:

________      ^    _________________________
Now           Rapture?  First 3 1/2 years  Second 3 1/2 years  Return
                                               7 year tribulation period         of Jesus
                                       Rev 6-11; 12-14; 15-18; 19:1-6

As we scan the nearly 20 passages of scripture in both Old and New Testaments regarding this time of earth's tribulation, here is what we discover:

1. Extreme. It will be an unprecedented time of human history, occurring at the end of this age. Daniel 12:1; Matthew 24:21

2. Judgment. Over five times we see reference to the wrath of God on this world in Revelation 6-19.

3. Preparation. The preparation of Israel to meet her Messiah. Revelation 1:7

4. Rebellion.  A Tyrannical ruler will attempt to blaspheme God and lead the whole world astray in outright rebellion again God. Revelation 13

5. Intensity. It will be divided into two equal halves, with the latter half called the "Great Tribulation" and ending in a most intense way called "The day of the Lord", which will occur when Christ returns to earth. Revelation 19:1-6.

6. Warning. For those who evidence no concern about the impending coming tribulation, this truth can expose their false profession and be used of the Spirit of God to grant them repentance whereby they may believe and be saved. Romans 5:8-9

This is what will be taking place on earth during the tribulation period.  But what about the events in heaven? What will be occurring simultaneously in heaven during this same time period? It will be during this period that the church, having been raptured or caught up by Jesus, will be standing before Him to receive heavenly rewards.

Heavenly rewards to raptured Christians
We read in Revelation 19:7-8 "Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” 8 It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints." It would seem then that the church will be raptured for two main purposes spelled out below: 

Christians' rewards in the future serve to motivate Christians in the present
Christians being rewarded for the works they did following their salvation is revealed in scripture to provide motivation for Godly living in the present. I recall one night we had a talent night for the children at the church. All of the adults had gathered together on one side of the gym, with the other half reserved for the various talents to be displayed. A table full of ribbons & rewards was situated next to the event.  As soon as a child would perform their talent, the crowd would cheer and the children would run over to claim their prize. No one could fault neither the church nor the children for receiving rewards for their willing participation in that event. 

1 Corinthians 3:14-15 states: "If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire." What will be entailed in these rewards? Scripture describes the rewards in various ways. One way is through the notion of various "ornaments" or "crowns" that Christians will be given to cast at the Savior's feet as represented by the actions of the 24 elders in Revelation 4:10.4 Just as we saw in the case with the children above, it should not be thought improper for Jesus to want to use rewards to motivate His people unto godliness.  Ultimately we discover that the true reward behind the rewards will be to see Him as He is. (1 John 3:1-3)

A Heavenly wedding in the future should increase the Christian's love in the present

As we mentioned a moment ago, one of the terms used to describe the reward system at the judgment seat of Christ is that of "crowns"  or "ornaments". Quite interestingly enough the word for "crown" in the passage listed above can refer either to an award received at an athletic competition or ornaments worn by a bride and groom in a Jewish wedding. As the church is brought up to heaven in the rapture to the Father's house (John 14:1-3), she appears before the judgment seat of Christ to be prepared and "decked out" in wedding garments befitting her completion of redemption won for her by her Bridegroom.

I can recall years ago watching a wedding show with my wife where the wedding exceeded a million dollars.  The people were so opulent that the father of the bride had hired a person called a "bride dresser", whose job was to put expensive jewelry on the bride herself and her dress.  Why the expense? To prepare the bride for the meeting of her groom. 

The reason why the scriptures combine the imagery of rewards with that of decking out a bride is that in-as-much we are being rewarded for good works done here on earth, the energy used in performing those works is provided by the Father of the bride. Each Christian in their glorified resurrected body, having been rewarded, will shine in various levels like sequins on the gown of the bride - the church.  All will be enjoying Christ's presence in differing measure and yet be loved all equally by Him both as individually chosen people and corporately as His chosen bride. Knowing that we will be escorted out of this world into heaven should motivate us to live for and love Jesus Christ. 

We have considered today the earth's tribulation and heavenly rewards for Christians following her rapture into heaven. To picture what we have discussed, we can now add to the diagram we had mentioned earlier:
                -----Christians rewarded & prepared------
                                      for what will be their marriage to Jesus
                                                  Revelation 19:7-10

________        ^    _________________________
Now           Rapture?  First 3 1/2 years  Second 3 1/2 years  Return
                                               7 year tribulation period         of Jesus
                                       Rev 6-11; 12-14; 15-18; 19:1-6

As the reader can see, both events will occur simultaneously following the rapture event. The earthly tribulation, when studied throughout the scripture, can be described in six words: extreme, judgment, preparation, rebellion, intensity & warning. The simultaneous heavenly rewarding or Bema Seat for raptured Christians will aim at reward and preparing the church for her eventual wedding to Christ. Knowing such truths should motivate Christians to both live for and love their Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 


3. From Revelation 6-11 we see Christ acting forth to unfold the seals and trumpets in his conquering of the world's kingdoms. Then in Revelation 12-14 we see more focus on the same time period yet again, with the emphasis being upon Jesus' decimation of Satan's plots and his rulers the Anti-Christ and false prophet. Then once more we see in Revelation 15-18 the same period, particularly the latter half, being the time of God's judgment upon the world system or regime Anti-Christ, Babylon the Great.

4. Five such crowns are mentioned throughout the New Testament: imperishable crown (1 Corinthians 9:25); crown of glory (1 Peter 5:4-5); crown of life (Revelation 2:10); crown of righteousness (2 Timothy 4:8) and a soul-winners crown (1 Thessalonians 2:19). These "good works" are those deeds done by believer's post-conversion up until the time of death. 

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