Tuesday, November 8, 2016

What is the tribulation about, anyway?

With all of the talk about end times, predictions, discussions of what different signs mean, when the church will be raptured, etc., it’s easy to get lost in the purpose behind all of this. I’m going to give two illustrations to help you understand more fully what God’s purpose behind the tribulation is. I’m not going to speculate as to when rapture is to take place, but only point out what God intends to do with His people. To start, I want to refer to Paul’s warning to Timothy.

“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power.” – 2 Timothy 3:1-5

There are those who profess Christ, perhaps go to church every Sunday, give their tithes and present the proper forms of godliness, but in secret, they are corrupt and impure, in essence, they “deny [godly] power.” For Christ to bring His pure bride to Himself, he must purify her. James tells us to “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse yourselves you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8) The eleventh chapter of the Book of Daniel speaks specifically of the tribulation:

“Those who do wickedly against the covenant he shall corrupt with flattery; but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits. And those of the people who understand shall instruct many; yet for many days they shall fall by sword and flame, by captivity and plundering. Now when they fall, they shall be aided with a little help; but many shall join with them by intrigue. And some of those of understanding shall fall, to refine them, purify them, and make them white, until the time of the end; because it is still for the appointed time.” – Daniel 11:32-35

The church must be purified. There can be no double-mindedness. How will God purify us? Let’s look at two examples. The first comes from the book of Malachi:

“But who can endure the day of His coming?
And who can stand when He appears?
For He is like a refiner’s fire
And like launderers’ soap.
He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver;
He will purify the sons of Levi,
And purge them as gold and silver,
That they may offer to the LORD
An offering in righteousness.

“Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem
Will be pleasant to the LORD,
As in the days of old,
As in former years.” – Malachi 3:2-4

We will be refined like gold. Let me explain the process of refining gold. There are different types of mining, two of which are placer mining and hard rock mining. In the former, gold is typically separated from other gravel through panning or a sluice box. That gold is gold dust or nuggets of gold. It is, for the most part, ready to be refined. I’ll get to that process in a moment, but first let me explain how gold is gotten from hard rock.

In hard rock mining, gold ore is typically found with a very hard, crystalline rock known as quartz. When gold bearing ore is brought out of a mine, it is put into a machine that crushes it into gravel that is about the size of a marble. That gravel is then put into a drum filled with steel balls. Those steel balls crush the ore into a powder called slurry. The gold has to be separated out of the slurry. It is mixed with water to create a pulp. Cyanide is mixed into the pulp, which dissolves the gold. Carbon is then introduced and the gold clings to the carbon, which allows the gold to be filtered through screens.

Gold dust that comes from placer mining goes through the process of separating it from the slurry as well, but then the gold must be refined. It is put into extremely hot fire in order to liquefy it. Borax and soda ash are added to the liquid which helps separate out the gases and other metals. The remaining gold is pure gold.

You ought to understand, through that illustration, that the tribulation isn’t meant to be easy, but it is meant to get rid of the impurities that exist within the church. It is frightening, I do not deny you that and I won’t lessen your fear, because true Christians will allow their fear of the Lord to drive them to their knees and to their purification. Those who do not deny the power of Jesus Christ will have the strength of His Holy Spirit to endure the process. Those who do not will be crushed or removed in some other way as the Lord purifies His bride.

Another example, which isn’t quite as extensive, but equally direct, is the example of the vineyard. Jesus gave us a perfect picture of God’s desire for us as Christians in Chapter 15 of John:

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.” – John 15:1-8

I’m going to get sappy for a moment. The bride of Christ will abide in Christ and bear fruit. How do we do that? Within a grape vine, or any other vine or tree, there is sap. The sap is what provides the nutrients to the branches, leaves, blossoms and fruit. The branches are entirely useless without that sap. In fact, the dead wood on a vine, is dead because it does not have the sap of the vine running through it. It is that dead wood that is cut off and thrown into the fire.

The bride of Christ will be purified as fine gold. The dead wood of the vine will be cut off and burned. Those whom God has set aside to be the Bride of Christ will be completed in perfection. We know, because of the promises of God that we who are set apart will endure the tribulation as Paul says, “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:6

Though it is right to be fearful of the Lord, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7),”” we can be confident that we can endure, in fact, it is my bet that we will more than endure, but thrive in our faith during that time. We will glisten as a shining example that we’ve never been before. Before closing, let me drop one more bit of scripture on you as encouragement. This is also from the book of Daniel:

“Then Nebuchadnezzar was full of fury, and the expression on his face changed toward Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. He spoke and commanded that they heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated. And he commanded certain mighty men of valor who were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, and cast them into the burning fiery furnace. Then these men were bound in their coats, their trousers, their turbans, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Therefore, because the king’s command was urgent, and the furnace exceedingly hot, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.

Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished; and he rose in haste and spoke, saying to his counselors, ‘Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?’

They answered and said to the king, ‘True, O king.’

‘Look!’ he answered, ‘I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.’” – Daniel 3:19-25

Christian, be of good cheer, for the Son of God, our own Lord, Jesus Christ, will stand with us as we go through the process of tribulation.