Special Report: Through a Glass, Darkly
Vol: 40 Issue: 28 Friday, January 28, 2005
“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (1st Corinthians 13:12)
There are as many interpretations of Bible prophecy out there as there are interpreters. Surely, they can’t ALL be wrong, or deliberately teaching falsehood, or doing the work of Satan.
[Although I am accused of all three — virtually every time I write a column teaching Dispensationalism or a pre-Trib Rapture.]
All of them are reading the same Scriptures, and presumably, all of them are sincere. It is incomprehensible to me that a person could trust Jesus for his salvation and then go out and deliberately teach error.
That is not to say that there aren’t false teachers deliberately teaching error, but I don’t believe that they are sincere Christians.
There is a lot of money to be made by telling people what they want to hear, and there are plenty of TV evangelists willing to bend the message to their advantage.
(For example, the guys who tell you if you send them $100, God will immediately send you $1000 in return.)
I bet I’ve seen Robert W. Tilton on TV a hundred times. I used to watch him whenever I ran across him, and marvel at his chutzpah.
He would cry, babble, and twist Scripture in an effort to demonstrate that God needs your money through the whole broadcast, going so far as to offer his used ‘prayer hanky’ to whoever would send him $1000.
In all those programs, I never once heard him give a Gospel message. Or ANY message, for that matter, apart from God needs you to keep Tilton on the air.
I say all that to say; Tilton is not the kind of guy I am talking about when I talk about ‘sincere Christian’ teachers.
But, the fact remains that there ARE sincere Christians who read the same Scriptures everybody else does and come up with entirely different understandings of Bible prophecy. To the preterist, all Bible prophecy, including that contained in the Book of Revelation, was fulfilled in AD 70 with the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jews.
To a futurist, Bible prophecy has yet to completely unfold. Even among futurists, there is dispute about when certain events take place. Some believe that the Rapture takes place at the conclusion of the Tribulation. Others believe it takes place at the mid-point in the Tribulation.
Others, me included, believe the Bible teaches the Rapture of the Church takes place before the Tribulation period can begin.
But, again, we are all reading the same Scriptures. And, presumably, we are all sincere in saying we believe our understanding is the correct one. After all, things that are different are NOT the same, and the Rapture can only occur once.
Is it before, during, or after the reign of antichrist? Hal Lindsey would confidently answer, ‘before’ and I know the depth of his sincerity first-hand.
Marv Rosenthal teaches something called the ‘Mid-Wrath” Rapture. I’ve met Marv, spoken with him at length, and I am as convinced as I can be of his sincerity.
I don’t know any post Tribulation teachers personally, but I would like to assume at least some of them are as sincere in their beliefs as Hal or Marv are.
About the only Christian doctrine upon which there is more or less universal agreement is that we are saved by grace through faith in the shed Blood and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
BUT, that is the only doctrine, in the final analysis, which really and truly bears eternal consequences. Preterists that trust Jesus for their salvation will meet up in heaven with futurists who trusted Jesus, who will fellowship with pre-tribbers, mid-tribbers and post-tribbers, who will fellowship with Calvinists and Arminians together.
Because if you trust Jesus Christ for your salvation, then you will go to heaven. That is the central message of the Gospel. The rest is the product of our longing to know God, and know the things of God, while blinded by the limitations imposed on us by our earthly perspective.
As the Apostle Paul put it, seeing the things of God ‘through a glass, darkly’. Paul says we know only ‘in part’ but the part that we all agree on is the only part that really counts. Salvation by faith.
In the story of the Tower of Babel, God explains how the various ethnic nations came to be.
“And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” (Genesis 11:6-7)
By scattering man ‘among the nations’ and removing the common bond of language and ethnicity, God ensured that no one man could ever again rule all men, as Nimrod did until the construction of the Tower of Babel.
It prevented any one culture or worldview to dominate all mankind. That diversity is what allowed Christianity to flourish at the point when it was introduced into history. Because Christianity is a personal relationship with Christ, rather than a commonly-accepted cultural duty.
God built that same diversity into the Church, which accounts for how and why sincere Christians can read the same Scriptures and come up with such widely divergent doctrines as preterist historicism and pretribulationist futurism. It prevents any one teacher from becoming the only accepted source of information of the things of God.
If everybody agreed on every point of doctrine, then the guy who articulates it the best becomes the Great Oracle of God. (And what if he was wrong?)
So we have diversity of understanding, but the same Scripture. And we have diversity of teachings, but share the same salvation by grace through faith. And we are equally sincere, because we share the same awesome responsibility of accountability before the Lord.
In the end, we will be judged by how we used the doctrine God delivered to us to lead others to salvation in Christ.
The necessity of diversity of understanding in the Church Age is adequately demonstrated by a peek across the divide into the coming ‘Time of Jacob’s Trouble’ after the Church Age is concluded.
During the Tribulation, that diversity of understanding is replaced by a universal religion imposed by the false prophet and directed toward the worship of antichrist.
Because there are no (surviving) saved Christians, indwelt and guided by the Holy Spirit during the Tribulation, the efforts of the false prophet are amply rewarded with results that are unattainable in the Church Age:
“And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations. And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” (Revelation 13:7-8)
(The ‘saints’ referred to in verse 7 are the ‘tribulation saints’. Theologically, they are distinguished from the Church Age saints because, unlike Church Age saints, they are NOT indwelt at salvation by the Holy Spirit — that is reserved for the 144,000 Jewish evangelists sealed in Revelation Chapter 7)
The point is, the success of the false prophet comes from the loss of that spiritual diversity that is unique to the Church.
On doctrinal issues like the Rapture, for example, no matter what view one holds as doctrine, the essential fact that they are going go to heaven is not in dispute. So, in the eternal sense, it doesn’t really matter.
So why include it at all? Because we DO see through a glass darkly, because that is the way God intended things on this side of eternity.
I believe that the Bible teaches a pre-trib Rapture and I believe it because to me, it is utterly obvious from the plain reading of Scripture. But I don’t believe that those who disagree with me are deliberately teaching falsehood.
When the Rapture happens, we’ll all go at the same time. Whether they got the timing right or not.