And in the midst of the week

by Phillip Wareham

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We should pay attention, of course, to everything we read in the bible. We should pay extra attention when the Lord goes to the trouble to repeat himself. But when the Lord repeats the same thought numerous times then we should stand to attention and take the most earnest heed. This is precisely what we see the Lord doing when he clearly divides the seven year tribulation period, prior to his return to the earth in triumph, into two distinct halves of three and a half years each. We read of these three and a half year periods expressed differently, as 'time, times, and half a time', (Daniel 12:7 & Revelation 12:14) or 'forty two months' (Revelation 11:2 & 13:5) or 'a thousand two hundred and threescore days'. (Revelation 11: 3 & 12:6) All different ways of referring to the same period of time. Why should the Lord go to such lengths to focus our attention on the division of the seven years into two halves? What is the event that delineates the two halves, or what happens in the middle of the seven years? Well, when we read in Daniel: 'and he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease',(Daniel 9:27) we understand that this is precisely when the antichrist is revealed. And he will set up in the place of the daily sacrifice, 'the abomination that maketh desolate.'(Daniel 11:31) Remember, this seventieth week in Daniel corresponds to the last seven year period in Revelation."revealed for whatfor what he isn year period And it is in the midst of this week, or in other words, when the first three and a half years are ended, that then the antichrist reveals his true colours.

But why then? What is the catalyst for this event? For the answer we need to turn to 2 Thessalonians chapter two. Paul is talking about the same period of time when the antichrist will sit in the temple in Jerusalem and be worshipped as God. But there is something restraining him or withholding him, or hindering ('let' in the old English of the Authorised Version) his full revelation. Something that is thwarting his full purposes until he be taken out of the way. What is that? It is the Church of God. The only thing that is preserving this world as 'the salt of the earth' is the presence of the Lord's people ' his bride. When the Lord comes for his bride in the midst of the week, and takes her to himself, only then 'shall that wicked (one) be revealed'. (2 Thessalonians 2:8) All restraint is gone. All opposition is silenced. All of scripture is consistent. We may not always see it at first. But if we wait, the Lord shows us in his time. And so it is with the Lord coming for this church. If we turn to Revelation chapter ten, we see the period spoken of is near to the end of the first three and a half years. The trumpets of God's judgments have been sounding, and the angel with the seventh or last trumpet is beginning to sound. And the angel sware, 'that there should be time no longer'. (Revelation 10:6) This does not mean that we are entering some dream like period where time does not exist. There will always be time in that regard. No, it simply means 'time's up'. Time's up for what? Time's up for his church to be completed and taken up. This is the time when, 'the mystery of God should be finished'. (Revelation 10:7) There are many mysteries in the bible, but there is one referred to as 'a great mystery'. Christ and the Church.' (Ephesians 5:32) That is the whole focus of the Lord. 'I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it'. (Matthew 16:18)That is what he is doing, and, when he says it is complete, he will come for it. 'And then that Wicked (one) shall be revealed', (2 Thessalonians 2:8) and then, 'woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! For the devil is come down unto you having great wrath because he knoweth that he hath but a short time'. (Revelation 12:12)

And this was in the days of the voice of the seventh angel. Seven trumpets, and this it the seventh. Or in other words, the last trumpet. This is just what Paul tells the church at Corinth: 'Behold I shew you a mystery; we shall not all sleep but we shall all be changed; in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed '. (1 Corinthians 15:51 & 52) Now you might be saying: 'But this is not what I have heard. I have heard that the Lord comes for his church before the seven year tribulation period.' Yes, I have often heard that proclaimed, but I cannot recall it ever being properly taught from the bible. It is just proclaimed and accepted. And it is easy to accept isn't it? No suffering or tribulation. Just caught up.

To the best of my recollection there have been three areas of scripture taken in support of this position, of the Lord taking his church out before the seven year tribulation period. So, let us look closely and honestly at each of them. Firstly, the distinction is made between the tribulations which all saints must go through, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, this period of time which is described as, 'the great day of his wrath.' (Revelation 6:17) The question is asked: 'the Lord would not pour out his wrath on his people, would he?' And the Lord's message to the church at Philadelphia is taken in support of this, 'I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation (testing) which shall come upon all the earth'. (Revelation 3:10)

We must be very careful lest we fall into the same mistake that Peter and the other disciples often made: telling the Lord how he should respond, or what he should, or should not, do. This is always dangerous, and the Lord sharply rebuked Peter on one of those occasions saying, 'thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.' (Matthew 16:23) We may not always understand what he is saying to us, but we should not presume that we know better. 'He is not a tame lion'. (C.S Lewis 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe') This is not the eternal wrath of God in the fires of everlasting destruction, referred to as, 'the wrath to come', (1 Thessalonians 1:10) but this is God's righteous anger upon a world in open rebellion against him. But still he wants his people here as a witness against the ungodly, and to testify to them that this is the hand of God. And still, 'in his wrath he remembers mercy.' (Habakkuk 3:2) He is God, not man. Still he is longing for man to repent. Still the gospel is to be preached. The Lord has allowed in the past, great persecutions against his people. As Tertullian wrote in the second century: 'the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.' (Tertullian of Carthage around 150 AD to 220 AD) And does not God 'know how to deliver the godly out of temptations (or testings)?' (2 Peter 2:9) And do we not remember that one of the signs of his near coming is that they 'shall deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you'? (Matthew 24:9) And what if God, in his own infinite wisdom and love, allows one saint to be killed and another to survive? In Acts chapter twelve we see James executed but Peter rescued. Did James do something terribly wrong, or did the Lord love Peter more than James? No, of course not. So we should not think that, because the Lord sometimes allows his people to suffer much tribulation, that he does not love us.

Moreover, there is a qualitative difference between the judgments during the first three and a half years, and what happens in the second. As bad as the first period will be, with the judgments coming along with the seven seals and seven trumpets, the second period will be terrible. The antichrist will then be fully revealed, and Jesus warns, 'then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world, to this time, no, nor ever shall be.' (Matthew 24:21) This is the time, this second three and a half years, that Jeremiah speaks of when he says: 'Alas, for the day is great, so that there is none like it: it is even the time of Jacob's trouble.' (Jeremiah 30:7) And this is the time spoken of by Daniel: 'and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that same time.' (Daniel 12:1) It is this time, this second three and a half year period, that the Lord does not want his people to go through. And the message to the church at Philadelphia? Well, it was just that: a message to the church at Philadelphia. It is true that what the Lord says to his people at one time, is of spiritual benefit to his people of any time, as the Lord tells us: 'He that hath an ear, let him hear what the spirit saith unto the churches.' (Revelation 2:7) He says 'churches' (plural). That is, to all churches regardless of geography and time. But it is wrong to take the promise to that church at that time and apply it to our own position in this time. Great suffering and persecution against the saints was about to fall upon the known world at that time. God says he would keep the church at Philadelphia from that time of great persecution.

And why just select that message? Why not select the message to the church at Smyrna? The Lord's message to that church was somewhat different. He said to that church: 'Behold the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.' (Revelation 2 :10) So we must be careful how we read, making sure we take all the counsel of God, not just the bits and pieces that suit us. The second point often raised, is the apparent chronology of events in the book of Revelation. We see the church in heaven in Revelation chapters three and four, before we see the antichrist coming, and the commencement of the Lord's judgments, in chapter six. Now we should understand that the God of eternity often declares in his word, things from the past, present, and future, and not always in that order. He can, and does, move from the immediate present to the near future, and to the far off future, and back again, in the space of a few verses. This is not with the intention of confusing us, but we must remember that, 'one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.' (2 Peter 3:8) He is the God of eternity. For example, in Revelation 11:15 we read the triumphant 'voices in heaven saying, the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.' Now, from our perspective of time, this is a bit premature, for the Lord will have to wait another three and a half years for this to be a reality. But from the Lord's perspective it is done. His bride is in heaven, and the rest just a formality, so to speak. That is just what the Lord wants us to have: a heavenly perspective, to 'sit together in heavenly places.' (Ephesians 2:6) And so he calls John up into heaven by the spirit, and shows to him, that all that is going to happen on the earth, beginning from chapter six on, is being orchestrated from heaven. The Lord is in charge. His timing is perfect. Just as we see in the opening chapters of Job, the enemy can only do just so much as the Lord permits. We read in Revelation, especially from chapter thirteen on, when the antichrist is reigning in the second three and a half years, the little phrase, 'was given to him'. For example, 'And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months.' (Revelation 13:5) Who is giving? It is the Lord himself, so that even the devil shall fulfill the will of the Lord. We see the same principal operating in the destruction of Babylon, the apostate Roman church , by the European kings, when we read, 'For God hath put in their hearts to fulfill his will.' (Revelation 17:17)

There is certainly a chronology of events from chapter six through to the end, but even then it is not always consistent, as we have seen. But Revelation chapters four and five are not part of the chronology of this seven year tribulation period, but a statement of the Lord's power in heaven and in earth, of the sure and final victory of our Lord Jesus Christ. The third point often raised is that Paul himself expected the Lord's return in his lifetime, as we read in his letter to the church at Corinth: 'and we shall be changed.' (1 Corinthians 15:52) Along with that, is the thought of millions of saints since, that the Lord could come at any time. The Lord could come today. So we should be ready. Implied then in this, is the thought that if I say that the Lord is not coming till the midst of the seven year tribulation period, then, firstly, I am saying that I know more than Paul, and, secondly, I am compromising the readiness of his saints for his return. This would be a grave accusation indeed, if it were so, and must be looked into with all seriousness.

Revelation from the Lord is always progressive, and successive generations of saints have had the benefit of earlier revelations. With respect, then, to the Lord's coming; firstly Enoch 'the seventh from Adam prophesied' saying, behold the Lord cometh with ten thousand of his saints.' (Jude 14) Then the lord revealed more to ones like Daniel and Zechariah, then more understanding to Paul in the New Testament, and finally a fuller revelation to John. It is never contradictory, but always fuller and progressive. Paul himself said: 'For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.' (1 Corinthians 13:9) Paul certainly longed for, and, yes, expected the Lord's return for his church imminently. But he also knew that this must also be preceded by the rise of the antichrist, the man of sin, as he wrote to the Thessalonians in chapter two of his second epistle. Now, from Paul's perspective, this could easily have occurred in his day. After all, the nation of Israel was in the land, the temple was still there, and Rome was the undisputed power of the day. But we, having the benefit of John's fuller revelation, and around two thousand years of history, know that the signs we looked at in chapter four are only now being seen. We must read the Lord's word carefully and prayerfully. I don't mean by this, that we all need to go to bible college to learn how to analyse and dissect the scriptures. But we do need to 'take heed what ye hear'. (Mark 4:24) John, when he wrote his gospel, needed to correct a misunderstanding that many of the early Christians believed, that the Lord would come during John's lifetime. This wrong belief came about by not carefully listening to what Jesus said. And so John recounts what Jesus said to Peter, after his resurrection, concerning John himself: 'If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me. Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee.' (John 21:22-23) John did die, and the Lord has not yet come.

By the time Paul wrote to Timothy the second time, he knew that his 'departure was at hand', (2 Timothy 4:6) and that the Lord was therefore not returning in his lifetime. We do not see him despairing about this. On the contrary, his great heart of love for his Lord still longed for his return, and he could say, 'Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them that love his appearing'. (2 Timothy 4:8) You see, he loved his appearing, though he knew by that stage he himself would not be living on this earth. My dear fellow saint of God, the church must go through the first three and a half years of the tribulation period. The Lord will not come today for his bride. But, beloved, he might come for you or me today to call us home. Therefore I must be ready today. No, there is no room for carelessness here, but a 'looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God', (2 Peter 3:12) that whether I am awake or asleep in Jesus, I will be with him. I recall to mind that beautiful story of Mephibosheth, who had been slandered to David, yet who loved him and longed for his return. When David finally returned in triumph over the usurper, Mephibosheth met him, and, despite still losing out personally, could say: 'Yea, let him take all, forasmuch as my lord the king is come again in peace unto his own house.'(2 Samuel 19:30) I encourage you all to again read this story in the light of our Lord's coming again. Then ask ourselves, how much do we really love our Lord just for himself alone, and the delight he will have, and not how we personally will gain. I think, when we are at that point, we have lost all sight of ourselves. And that is a blessed point to come to.

So, the Lord is coming for his bride, the church, at the last trump. But the Lord has further surprises for us, for the seventh trump also introduces seven thunders. And God tells John to 'seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not'. (Revelation 10:4) There are things still sealed that are going to happen at that time. Things yet to be revealed, as we get closer to that time. Further reason for each of us, not to be careless, but to keep very close to our Lord. Further reason for us to remain very humble, even like David who said, 'Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother.' (Psalm 131:2) For we know not when we will have reached the end of the first three and a half years, or what these thunders are, and therefore Jesus says to us: 'therefore be ye ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh'. (Matthew 24:44)

Now, in closing this chapter, I would like to share with you a beautiful illustration in the night sky of what we have been looking at. If you care to get up early one morning before the dawn, you will see the moon shining and a very bright star in the east, called the morning star. As you wait, you will then see further to the east the first light of the rising sun. As the new day dawns and the sun rises in the sky, the moon and the morning star are no longer seen, with the brilliance of the sun. The moon is a picture of the church shining in the darkness of this world. It has no light of it's own, but reflects the sun's rays, just as we reflect the light of the Lord within us.

The morning star shines forth only at the darkest part of the night, in the early morning. Jesus says, 'I am...the bright and morning star'. (Revelation 22:16) He comes just before the dawn, at the darkest time in the history of the word for his bride the church. And then shall the 'Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings'. (Malachi 4:2) The Lord Jesus Christ shall then shine as the sun, in the glory of his kingdom.