On Sunday, November 5th, a man—perhaps mentally ill or demon-possessed, but for sure evil—shot up a Christian church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The shooter was an atheist, based on his Facebook posts, who seemed intent on killing everyone in First Baptist Church. The list of the 26 dead range from a pregnant mother and her unborn child to an 18-month-old baby to a 77-year-old grandmother.
We have prayed for these families and this church, and we must continue to do so. But we also don’t want to miss a couple important lessons that I believe God wants us to take from this horrible massacre.
First, one thing we are taught in Scripture is that none of us knows the day of our death but God alone. We don’t know how much longer we have to live. Tomorrow is not guaranteed to anyone. That could have been your church or my church.
And so, we are commanded to redeem the time, to make use of every opportunity, to not be weighed down with the cares of this world, to set our minds on things above, to occupy and work for our Master until he returns. Believer—are you living in light of eternity? If you were to die tomorrow, would you have regrets about your life for Christ?
The reality is, whether it’s in a shooting, a car wreck, from cancer or heart disease, or just old age, all of us have an appointment with death. The book of Hebrews tells us that it is appointed for man to die once and then comes judgment. In Luke 13, when people told Jesus about some Jews who were murdered by the Romans, his response was, “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
So, the first lesson we must learn from Sutherland Springs is that we need to repent of our sin and cling to Jesus. And we mustn’t wait because we don’t know how much time we have. So, I urge you to be reconciled to God by faith in Christ.
The second lesson for us, is that Christians are not exempt from tribulation or violence or suffering or death. In the last post, I wrote about the opening of the first five seals of the scroll in Revelation 6. And we saw that a time of tribulation is coming upon the world. Some of you may have found that post a bit unsettling or disturbing—and today’s may not be much different, because we don’t like thinking about trials, about suffering, and for certain about death and martyrdom.
I’m not just trying to be negative or morose. Actually, the Bible talks a lot about death. It encourages us to think on death, to live in light of our imminent death, and to be ready for death. And Jesus commands us to not fear death.
Luke 12:4–5 4 “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. 5 But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!
Jesus says that we should not fear someone who has only the ability to kill the physical body. Instead, he says, we are to fear the one who also has authority to cast a person in to hell. In other words, fear God.
That might not have been too reassuring for his disciples, and it may not be to you. So, right after this statement, Jesus comforts his followers with God’s love and care for them.
Luke 12:6–7 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. 7 Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Jesus says that there will be those who want to kill you, but don’t fear them. God is in control. Not even the smallest bird is forgotten by God. Not even a hair is missing from your head without God’s knowledge. So, don’t fear, Jesus says, you are of great value to God.
That there are people who want to persecute and kill Christians is nothing new to the Church of Jesus Christ. Both our Lord and his apostles were persecuted and killed, and they warned us in Scripture that times of persecution would come upon the people of God. They warned us that tribulation would follow genuine devotion to Christ.
Throughout the centuries, authentic followers of Jesus Christ have suffered greatly for their faith. They have been slandered, mocked, beaten, crucified, stoned, sold into slavery, torn apart by wild beasts, skinned alive, tortured on the rack, burned at the stake, and had their heads cut off for the sake of the gospel and because of their unwavering loyalty to Christ. Even today, in many countries around the world, Christians are suffering horrible tribulation for their devotion to Christ. And it seems that, more and more, this persecution is coming to America. Not that we are anywhere close to what’s happening in countries like Iran and North Korea and Syria and Yemen. But, we see signs that it may come here sooner rather than later. And, I’m afraid that because of poor teaching and bad doctrine, the American church is ill-prepared to deal with it. Let me explain.
Corrie Ten Boom’s Warning
I’m sure many of you have heard of Corrie Ten Boom. In May of 1940, Germany invaded Holland. The Ten Boom family decided to become a safe haven for Jews and members of the resistance movement who were wanted by the Nazis. For four years, they hid and fed Jews, and helped them escape out of the country.
They built a secret room behind a false wall which became the hiding place and refuge for Jews and members of the resistance movement. This small space could hold up to six people at a time. There was a buzzer in the house which signaled danger as security sweeps came through the neighborhood, giving the refugees just over a minute to safely hide.
On February 28, 1944, Corrie and her family were betrayed by a man who was an informant. The entire ten Boom family and other members of the resistance were arrested, 30 people in all. Although the Secret Police suspected that there were more persons hiding in the house, even after careful search, six were kept hidden until they were rescued by other members of Corrie’s network several days later.
After a few months, Corrie and her sister Betsie ended up at the notorious Ravensbruck concentration camp in Germany. The sisters were able to stay together throughout their imprisonment, until Betsie died on December 16, 1944. Twelve days later, Corrie was miraculously released from prison due to a “clerical error.” A week after her release, all the female prisoners from her age group were killed in the gas chambers.
Two years later, at the age of 53, Corrie started a worldwide ministry that took her to more than 60 countries over the next 33 years, and gave her the opportunity to share God’s love and hope with many people. She visited believers in many countries where persecution was widespread and encouraged them with stories of her life and endurance in terrible conditions. Don’t think you’re too old to be used by God.
One thing you may not know is that Corrie warned the western church about coming persecution and to be prepared for tribulation. In 1974, Corrie penned a letter, and I’d like to read a couple portions of it:
Sometimes I get frightened as I read the Bible, and as I look in this world and see all of the tribulation and persecution promised by the Bible coming true. Now I can tell you, though, if you too are afraid, that I have just read the last pages. I can now come to shouting “Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” for I have found where it is written that Jesus said, “He that overcomes shall inherit all things: and I will be His God, and he shall be My son.”
There are some among us teaching there will be no tribulation, that the Christians will be able to escape all this. These are the false teachers that Jesus was warning us to expect in the latter days. Most of them have little knowledge of what is already going on across the world. I have been in countries where the saints are already suffering terrible persecution.
In China, the Christians were told, ‘Don’t worry, before the tribulation comes you will be translated – raptured.’ Then came a terrible persecution. Millions of Christians were tortured to death. Later I heard a Bishop from China say, sadly, ‘We have failed. We should have made the people strong for persecution, rather than telling them Jesus would come first. Tell the people how to be strong in times of persecution, how to stand when the tribulation comes–to stand and not faint.’
I feel I have a divine mandate to go and tell the people of this world that it is possible to be strong in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are in training for the tribulation.
You may have heard this teaching—that Christians will be raptured to heaven before the Great Tribulation begins. This view is called the pretribulation rapture view and is probably the main view held by conservative, Protestant churches in the US. The rapture is considered imminent—it could happen at any time, and then the tribulation period will begin, but the church will be removed before it begins.
This view believes that the Great Tribulation—what we started to look at last week with the rise of the antichrist and the persecution of God’s people—is equal to the Day of the Lord, the wrath of God. And since believers are not destined for wrath, they reason, then we must be raptured before the Tribulation period begins.
A second view is called the Posttribulation rapture. This view holds that Christians will be here on earth during the persecution of the antichrist and during the Day of the Lord’s wrath, but we will be supernaturally protected from God’s wrath. And then, just before the battle of Armageddon, the church will be raptured.
A third view, which has been gaining more and more adherents in the last 25 years, is called the Prewrath rapture. This view sees a clear distinction between tribulation and God’s wrath, between the persecution of God’s people and God’s judgment on the wicked, between the Great Tribulation, inspired by Satan, and the Day of the Lord. Believers will experience the persecution of the Great Tribulation, but they will be delivered by the coming of Christ before God’s wrath is poured out.
I used to believe in the pretribulation rapture. I was taught that in seminary. But after studying this topic in depth, over a period of months, and now having had 20 years to continue my study, I no longer believe it. I feel like the Chinese pastor who spoke with Corrie Ten Boom—that I have a responsibility to prepare God’s people for persecution, so that they can stand and not faint.
The Great Tribulation
In Matthew 24 we read how Jesus predicted a coming Great Tribulation, where believers would be hated and killed. But those says would be cut short, he said, by his arrival in the clouds to gather together his elect.
The Apostle Paul, in Second Thessalonians, wrote about the coming of the man of lawlessness with his false signs and wonders and the deception that would bring. He said that Jesus would not come until the man of lawlessness was revealed. And then, during their persecution, Jesus would come from heaven to rescue believers and punish their persecutors during the Day of the Lord.
And when one studies the book of Revelation, we see the same sequence of events.
Revelation 12 & 13
Revelation 12 and 13 speak about this time period called the Great Tribulation. Chapter 12 tells us about the red dragon, Satan, who is thrown down to the earth and begins to persecute Jews and Christians. In chapter 13, we learn about two beasts—the antichrist and his evil minion, called the false prophet.
This evil Trinity—Satan, the antichrist, and the false prophet—will deceive the world and persecute and kill anyone who doesn’t fall in line. Let’s read chapter 13, where we get more details about this future time of persecution and tribulation.
Revelation 13:1–4 1 And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. 2 And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. 3 One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. 4 And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”
This beast rising out of the sea is the antichrist. He operates with the power and authority of the dragon—Satan. And he’s worshipped by the people on earth.
In Revelation 5, we saw a Lamb with ten horns; now we see a beast with 10 horns. We saw all of creation worshipping the lamb who was slain. Now we see those on earth worshipping a beast who had a mortal wound. This antichrist is just that—he seeks to replace Christ, to imitate Christ. He comes as the supposed savior of the world.
Revelation 13:5–8 5 And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. 6 It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. 7 Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, 8 and all who dwell on earth will worship it . . .
This antichrist, the beast, is allowed to exercise his satanic authority for 42 months, that’s 3 ½ years. He blasphemes God and deceives the world. And notice that he is allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them.
Later in chapter 13 we are introduced to the second beast, the false prophet.
Revelation 13:11–14 11 Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. 12 It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. 13 It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, 14 and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth.
This second beast looks like a lamb but is really a dragon. He seems to be a religious leader who enforces worship of the antichrist. This false prophet performs miraculous signs—even calling fire down from heaven. And as a result, the people on earth are deceived. Remember Jesus warning us in Matthew 24 about false prophets and false signs and wonders?
Revelation 13:16–18 16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. 18 This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.
One thing this beast does is create an economic system that requires that everyone have a mark on their right hand or forehead if they want to buy or sell. We don’t know exactly what that mark is—there’s a lot of speculation—but when the system is rolled out, there will be no doubt as to what it means. Taking the mark will be part and parcel with worshipping the beast.
This becomes clear when in chapter 14, we are told that at this time an angel will fly in heaven and proclaim to everyone on earth:
Revelation 14:9–11 9 “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”
As Jesus said, don’t fear the one who can only kill the body, fear the one who can throw your body and soul in hell.
This is the Great Tribulation, a time that Jesus called an unparalleled time of tribulation unequaled in human history. But mark this, this is not God’s wrath. Back in chapter 12 after Satan was thrown down to earth, a loud voice in heaven proclaimed:
12 Rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”
The Great Tribulation is not the time of God’s wrath, but Satan’s wrath against God and his people.
The Early Church
In the early church, there were many martyrs for Christ. One of them was Justin Martyr. He was born in the year AD 100, just a few years after the book of Revelation was written. He was told to renounce his faith and make a sacrifice to the Roman gods. He refused and was beheaded at the age of 65. Here is one thing he wrote about the persecution of Christians:
Now it is evident that no one can terrify or subdue us who have believed in Jesus over all the world. For it is plain that, though beheaded, and crucified, and thrown to wild beasts, and chains, and fire, and all other kinds of torture, we do not give up our confession; but the more such things happen, the more do others and in larger numbers become faithful, and worshipers of God through the name of Jesus. For just as if one should cut away the fruit-bearing parts of a vine, it grows up again, and yields other branches flourishing and fruitful; even so the same thing happens with us.
Persecution and martyrdom did nothing but GROW the early church. The incredible witnesses of Christ who were willing to give their lives for their faith had a huge impact on the culture around them. Even though Satan tried to extinguish the church, God used it for its growth and for his glory.
God’s Promises in Tribulation
We don’t like trials and tribulation. We certainly don’t like persecution. But, as followers of Christ, we are told throughout Scripture that those are things we must expect. But we don’t lose heart. God has some amazing promises that are meant to strengthen us during times of trial. Here are a few of them—and some verses that you should look up and memorize:
- God comforts us in all our affliction (2 Corinthians 1:4)
- Our affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17)
- When we are persecuted and reviled we have a great reward in heaven (Matthew 5:10–12)
- Trials demonstrate the genuineness of our faith and bring glory to God (1 Peter 1:6–7)
- Trials develop character (James 1:2–4)
- Nothing can separate us from God’s love—not tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword (Romans 8:35–39)
- If we are faithful unto death, Jesus will give us the crown of life (Revelation 2:10)
Do Not Fear
But some of you may wonder if you can indeed endure tribulation, if you can stand up under persecution, if you can joyfully accept the seizure of your property, if you, like Justin Martyr, and thousands of others, can stand firm in the face of death.
When she was young, Corrie Ten Boom wondered the same thing, and she shared a story to encourage those who feared what might come upon them.
Several years ago I was in Africa in a nation where a new government had come into power. The first night I was there some of the Christians were commanded to come to the police station to register. When they arrived, they were arrested and that same night they were executed. The next day the same thing happened with other Christians. The third day it was the same. All the Christians in the district were being systematically murdered.
The fourth day I was to speak in a little church. The people came, but they were filled with fear and tension. All during the service they were looking at each other, their eyes asking, “Will this one I am sitting beside be the next one killed? Will I be the next one?”
I told them a story out of my childhood.
“When I was a little girl, “I said, “I went to my father and said, “Daddy, I am afraid that I will never be strong enough to be a martyr for Jesus Christ.”
“Tell me,” said Father, “when you take a train trip to Amsterdam, when do I give you the money for the ticket? Three weeks before?”
“No, Daddy, you give me the money for the ticket just before we get on the train.”
“That’s right,” my father said, “and so it is with God’s strength. Our Father in Heaven knows when you will need the strength to be a martyr for Jesus Christ. He will supply all you need—just in time.”
Let’s pray for our brothers and sisters in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Let’s pray for our brothers and sisters around the world who are being persecuted. And let’s prepare ourselves so that when the evil day comes, we can stand firm with the full armor of God.
We are in a battle for the souls of men and women, boys and girls. We are involved in a cosmic, unseen conflict with the forces of darkness. But one day those unseen forces will manifest themselves, and terrible times will come.
What these realities should do for us is to give us a little perspective. Listen, whatever little problems and disagreements the members of Sutherland Spring First Baptist Church had last Sunday morning are a distant memory; they mean nothing now. Do you think that during the Great Tribulation, we’ll be concerned about the color of the carpet? The style of worship music? The condition of our parking lot?
Do you think Syrian believers living in areas under the control of ISIS have little squabbles over the church budget?
Yes, we must be good stewards of what God has given us. Yes, we need to pay the electric bill and the staff, and have a place to park our cars. But really, these things are not primary. They are not important. And they must not divide us. Style of music, the size of the children’s program, whether they have good coffee, even a bad sermon now and then—these are NOT reasons to leave a church body.
Please don’t let little quarrels sidetrack you. Don’t get easily offended. Don’t turn on one another. Don’t complain about the little stuff. Instead, encourage one another, pray for one another, help one another, support one another, forgive one another, strengthen one another, love one another. We need each other.