I have just updated my paper entitled “Closing Events of the Church Age,” and I am attaching a copy to this letter for your consideration. You might want to publish it on your web page, since it advises the readers what to expect during the coming days and years ahead. However I will leave that decision to you and the Holy Spirit.
May God continue to bless you and your important ministry.
CLOSING EVENTS OF THE CHURCH AGE
By: Edmund Berkeley
On the morning of December 31, 2005 God waked me up at 5:30 am, and I felt His presence quite intensely. This was unusual for me, for I usually begin to open my eyes at around 7:00 am.
After getting my attention, God began to bring to my memory several verses or passages of scripture with which I was familiar, but which I had not fully understood. Then He began to give me His interpretation of these scriptures and to show me the way in which they were related to each other. After He had completed this training session, He instructed me to prepare a new paper to be distributed to those who to whom I would be directed, and the title for the paper was to be, "Closing Events of the Church Age."
The entire month of January 2006 was spent in preparing this paper under God's direction, and I pray that it will be of real benefit to all those who read it. Since its first release, the paper has been updated several times, and I hope that this will be the final version. The scenario that is presented for the close of the church age is quite different from that which has been taught in our churches for many years, and it will be difficult for many to accept. However, the basic ideas and interpretations that are presented herein were given to me by the Holy Spirit; they are not my own.
This paper replaces one of my previous papers entitled "Supernatural Events Preceding the Tribulation," which was written to interpret the passage of scripture that describes the coming baptism with fire (Rev. 8:3-5). The first paper covered only a part of the complete subject, whereas this new paper covers not only the baptism with fire, but also the special events that follow this baptism.
In the following discussion there are many references to scripture, and all quotations are taken from the New King James Version of the Bible, unless otherwise specified.
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Tablr of Contents
To date there have been many different interpretations of scripture passages which relate to events that God has planned for the closing years of the church age. It seems that most of our church leaders today would agree that Christ Jesus will return some day and establish His government over all of the nations of the earth. Perhaps a majority of those also believe that He will visit the earth prior to that time and take some or all of the Christian saints up to heaven in what has been called the "rapture" of the church. However, there is much disagreement within the church with regard to the timing of these events. The purpose of this paper is to present a Biblical approach to the study of these questions in order to develop an end-time scenario that should be acceptable to most Christians today.
The approach to be taken in making this study will be based on (1) the Revelation to John, and (2) a statement found in Rev. 19:10 to the effect that "... the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." The words "the spirit of prophecy" in this passage could be interpreted as the life or the essence of prophecy. This text seems to indicate that as the church age comes to its conclusion, the Christian church will have to collectively experience the major events that Jesus encountered during at least the latter part of His previous life on earth. Since only those events in Jesus' life that have not yet been experienced by the church are of prophetic significance, they will be addressed in this paper and used to generate an end-time scenario.
Before exploring the events in Jesus' life that foretell coming events in the life of the church, it will be necessary to examine what the Revelation to John has to say about the final destinies of Christians in heaven. The Revelation describes two distinct groups into which Christians will be divided when they enter into heaven (or
Paradise). The first tremendously large group is described in Rev. 7:9-17 as Christians who have been taken out of the "great tribulation." Their duties are outlined in Verse 15, which reads as follows: "Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them." This group can be called God's "serving Christians."
The second group is described in Rev. 20:4, which reads: "And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshipped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years." This group can be called Christ's "ruling Christians." These passages of scripture make it quite apparent that these two groups of Christians are mutually exclusive.
There is another verse of scripture that indicates the relative size of these two groups. This text is found in Matt. 22:14, which reads as follows: "For many are called, but few are chosen." Since this statement is given as an addendum to a parable that describes the selection of individuals for participation in the divine wedding feast in heaven, it seems to refer to the two groups of Christians that have just been identified. This verse could probably be amplified to read: "For many are called to be serving Christians, but few are chosen to be ruling Christians in Christ's millennial government on earth." The fact that many are called is supported by Rev. 7:9, which states that the group of serving Christians will be so large that no one can count the number of them. No such statement is made with regard to the ruling Christians.
It is also interesting to note that reference is made to these two groups of Christians in Rev. 17:14, which reads: "These [the armies of the Antichrist] will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful." This passage refers to the battle of Armageddon, which will take place after the final rapture of the church, and it shows that both the called and the chosen groups of Christians will be with Christ at that time. The word "faithful" was apparently added to reinforce the need for Christians to be faithful and "endure to the end." (see Matt. 24:13)
This division of the responsibilities of the saints in heaven or on earth may come as quite a surprise to many Christians who have been taught that after Christians are removed from the earth they will constitute one unified body. However, the texts quoted above from the Revelation do not support this idea. Just as the Holy Spirit decides which of the various spiritual gifts to give to each Christian, God also decides which Christians are needed to be servants to Him in His temple in heaven, and which ones are needed to assist Christ in governing the people of the earth during the Millennium. We should always remember that God is a sovereign God, and that He said: "... My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:9)
It will be well to keep these two groups of Christians in mind, for the events to which they will be exposed at the close of the church age will be quite different. Both groups will eventually arrive at the same place – the New Jerusalem – but the paths that they will travel to get there will be quite different.
The purpose of the Book of Revelation is given in Rev. 1:1, which reads as follows: "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants--things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John." Thus the purpose of this book is to present to God's servants a scenario of future events in their proper chronological order (1-7 seals, 1-7 trumpets, 1-7 bowls of God's wrath, etc.). Furthermore, in Rev. 22:18-19 severe punishment is promised for anyone who changes any of the words of this book.
Of course it is apparent that before we can properly interpret the messages of this book we must first comprehend its format. The book is divided into eight basic sections as follows:
· Chapter 1 – Proclaiming God as the true author of the book and proclaiming Jesus as the One to pass His messages on the John, the writer.
· Chapters 2-3 – Introducing the seven churches to whom the book is to be sent.
· Chapters 4-5 – Describing John's visit to God's throne room in heaven.
· Chapter 6 – Introducing (1) the four demonic spirits that will be released to torment the citizens of earth during the seven-year tribulation period, (2) the Christian martyrs, and (3) the severe cataclysmic events that will be encountered during the tribulation.
· Chapter 7 – Describing two major events to occur during the tribulation period – (1) the selection of the special 144,000 Jewish bond-servants to be transported into heaven, and (2) the final harvest rapture of the Christian saints.
· Chapters 8-19 – Describing in detail the events that will take place on earth and in heaven during the tribulation period. These events are listed in chronological order.
· Chapter 20 – Outlining briefly the series of post-tribulational events that are destined to occur during the time of Christ's millennial reign on earth.
· Chapters 21-22 – Describing the wonders of the new heaven and the new earth, which replace the old heaven and the old earth.
From this outline it is apparent that if we want to explore the events near the start of the tribulation period we must begin by examining Chapter 8.
The sounding of the first tribulational trumpet in Rev. 8:7 marks the beginning of the final seven-year period of tribulation, but from Rev. 8:3-5 it is apparent that there is a very special supernatural event which will precede the start of the tribulation. These verses read as follows: (3) "Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. (4) "And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel's hand. (5) "Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth. And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake." This is not an easy passage to interpret, but whatever the events described in this passage may be, we can be certain that they will happen just before the tribulation period begins.
The action part of this passage is contained in Verse 5. The events described therein will be initiated when an angel throws fire from the altar in heaven down to the earth, and this would seem to be a "baptism with fire" for the citizens of earth who receive it. Remember also that John the Baptist predicted a "baptism with fire" to follow the baptism with the Holy Spirit in Matt. 3:11 and in Luke 3:16.
It seems that the baptism with fire may be similar to the Holy Spirit baptism, experienced by the first disciples at Pentecost, in that tongues of fire may fall only on those who have been chosen to receive this baptism. But what will be the differences between these two baptisms?
At the time of creation, the Holy Trinity consisted of three divine Beings – God the Father, the "Word," and the Holy Spirit – and each of these was a spiritual Being. It is difficult to differentiate between these three spiritual Beings except on the basis of their functions. God the Father was the architect for the universe, the "Word" (the Spirit of Christ Jesus – John 1:1,14) was the builder (see John 1:3; Col. 1:15-16), and the Holy Spirit provided the spiritual power needed to support the building process.
John the Baptist said that Christ Jesus would give us two baptisms – a baptism with the Holy Spirit and a baptism with fire. As of today many Christians have received the baptism with the Holy Spirit, giving them the necessary spiritual power to combat the evils of this world and to live a victorious life here on earth, but the baptism with fire is yet to come.
Some believe that the baptism with fire simply refers to the suffering and persecution (demonic or otherwise) that Christians can expect to encounter after receiving the baptism with the Holy Spirit. However, it is not likely that anyone has received the baptism with fire as of this time. Since the baptism with the Holy Spirit occurred initially as a single supernatural event, then it seems likely that the baptism with fire will occur in a similar fashion, in just the way that it is described in Rev. 8:5.
According to Hebrews 12:29, "... our God is a consuming fire." Also in Deut. 4:24 we are told: "For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God." It seems clear that the name "God" in these verses refers to God the Father, the God of Israel and the spiritual Father of all born-again Christians. Therefore, being baptized with fire from the altar in heaven (as in Rev. 8:5) must mean being baptized with the Spirit of God the Father. The ruling Christians who are chosen to receive this baptism should receive the love, wisdom and other major characteristics of God the Father, thus qualifying them to be rulers under Christ during the Millennium.
According to Rev. 8:5 the baptism with fire will be accompanied by "noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake." It should be noted that except for the earthquake, these audible and visual signs are identical to those that St. John the Divine experienced when he was allowed to visit God's throne room in heaven (see Rev. 4:5). Then in Exod. 20:18 we see that these events were also displayed when God visited Moses and the children of
Israelon Mount Sinai. Therefore we may conclude that "noises, thunderings, and lightnings" are true signs of the presence of God the Father at the place in which they are experienced. The earthquake mentioned in Rev. 8:5 apparently shows how the earth will tremble at the presence of Almighty God.
Now that the supernatural events that will precede the final seven-year tribulation period have been identified, let us now explore the scriptures that show how this experience relates to Jesus' testimony.
The first event in Jesus' life that has not yet been experienced by the church is His death on the cross. Although it may not be pleasant to consider, all Christians will have to die physically before they can be taken into Paradise, via a rapture event, natural death, or otherwise. However, Jesus' tragic death on the cross was an event that only He will ever have to endure. It was an event that brought salvation and eternal life to those who yield their lives to Him subsequently and believe in Him, and He is the only One qualified to sacrifice His life in this manner to remove the sins of future believers. Therefore, members of the Christian church will not need to experience a tragic event of this magnitude in the future, and for this we may all be thankful!
Then following His crucifixion, Jesus spent three days in Hades, and according to 1 Peter 3:18-20 He preached to the souls and spirits of certain residents of Hades during the three days following His death. His visit to Hades was apparently necessary for Him to be liberated from the sins of the world that He had taken upon Himself, before He could return to earth via His resurrection. However, Christians do not have such a sin burden to be removed – their sins have all been forgiven as a result of their belief in their Savior, Christ Jesus. Therefore, Christians should not have to experience a trip to Hades, as Jesus did.
The remaining events in Christ Jesus' life on earth that at least some Christians will have to experience are:
· His resurrection
· His receipt of God's post-resurrection blessing
· His 40-day post-resurrection ministry to His disciples
The first supernatural event the Jesus experienced following His death on the cross was His resurrection from the dead. For Christians,, the event that seems to duplicate this condition best is the rapture of the church, described by Paul in 1 Thess. 4:13-17 and in 1 Cor. 15:51-52. In another of my papers entitled "The Rapture of the Christians" it was shown that there will be two future rapture events – a partial rapture and a final harvest rapture. Jesus predicted the partial rapture in Matt. 24:40-43 and in Luke 17:34-37, and the harvest rapture is predicted in 1 Thess. 4:13-17, John 6:39-40 and Rev. 14:14-16.
In the partial rapture, only the Christians that have been chosen to be ruling Christians will be taken, and all other Christians will be left to be taken in the final harvest rapture, about six years later. However, in either of these two events the Christians who are taken will die physically, just as Jesus did, and they will be given spiritual bodies similar to Jesus' post-resurrection body. In 1 John 3:2 John is quoted as saying: "Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is."
Since there will be no further use for the physical bodies of the raptured Christians, they will be left on earth as food for the eagles (see Matt. 24:27-28 and Luke 17:37). However, please note that this will be one event that is not in accordance with the testimony of Jesus. Presumably, Jesus' physical body was actually changed into a spiritual body, since His body did not remain in His grave. This was apparently necessary in order to prove to those who saw His wounds that He was really the risen Christ Jesus. Furthermore, He had committed no sins while living in His physical body, so there was no reason for it to be discarded.
Jesus' Post-Resurrection Blessing – The Baptism with Fire
Immediately following His resurrection Jesus had a conversation with Mary Magdalene, which is recorded in John 20:14-17. In Verse 17 Jesus told Mary: "… Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, 'I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.'" He did not give a reason for having to ascend to heaven and meet with His Father, but He very probably needed to receive a blessing from Him prior to continuing in His ministry on earth and thereafter.
In this verse Mary was told not to cling to Jesus, but in John 20:26-27 we find that when Jesus met with His disciples in the upper room Thomas was invited to touch His wounds. Therefore we may conclude that at some time between His conversation with Mary and His visit to the upper room, He did ascend to heaven to meet with His Father and receive a special blessing from Him.
When the ruling Christians are taken in the partial rapture and given the baptism with fire, the blessing that they will receive will no doubt be similar to the blessing that Jesus must have received when He first ascended to God the Father after His resurrection. They will receive a special blessing from God, enabling them to serve as rulers under Christ Jesus during the Millennium. They will be made true "sons of God" at that time (see Rom. 8:19).
The Post-Resurrection Ministries
After spending three days in
Paradise, Jesus was resurrected and brought back to live on earth for forty days. During this time He met with His disciples on several occasions, encouraging, exhorting and teaching them things that they needed to know. There seems to be no record of His talking with anyone other than His disciples during this period of time.
In a similar fashion the ruling Christian candidates are likely to be left on earth as spiritual ministers after being baptized with fire, having the same kind of bodies that Jesus had following His resurrection. It is likely that they will be expected to advise, assist, encourage, exhort and teach the serving Christians that were left on earth at the start of the tribulation. Considering the fact that these serving Christians will be living under the rule of the Antichrist, they should welcome any help that can be provided by their spiritual brothers and sisters.
Although Jesus remained on earth for only forty days before His ascension into heaven, it is likely that the ruling Christian candidates will continue their ministry for approximately six years, until the entire Christian church is removed from the earth via the final harvest rapture.
After spending forty days on earth ministering to His disciples, Jesus ascended into heaven and disappeared into a cloud (see Acts 1:4-9). The description of His ascension is similar in many ways to Paul's description of the rapture (the catching up) of the Christian saints, given in 1 Thess. 4:13-18. Therefore it seems logical to conclude that the final rapture of the church corresponds to Jesus' ascension.
The final rapture event is described quite clearly in Rev. 14:14-16, and since it describes the harvesting of wheat (representing Christians), it has been called the "harvest" rapture. It will occur after the sounding of the last (the seventh) tribulationnal trumpet (in Rev. 11:15) but before the outpouring of the seven bowls of God's wrath, described in Chapter 16.
The description of this rapture event in Rev. 14 contains no hint of a judgment or a selection process. Therefore we may conclude that this rapture represents the fulfillment of Jesus' statement given in John 6:39 declaring: "This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day." When this harvest rapture occurs, both ruling and serving Christians will be taken to heaven, and no true Christians will be left behind. Subsequent to this rapture the previous works of all Christians will be judged at the judgment seat of Christ (see 2 Cor. 5:10).
With regard to the timing of the final events that have been predicted for the church, only our sovereign God in heaven knows just when they will occur. That being the case, why would it be necessary to estimate or even consider the schedule which God has set for these events?
It seems that some consideration should be given to the probable timing of these events in order to evaluate the relative importance of the teaching that has been given. If the occurrence of these events could be shown to be imminent, then the teaching would be of much more concern to the readers than if their occurrences were thought to be remote. For this reason, some consideration should be given to any scriptures that relate to the timing of this series of events.
The timing of these events was explored in detail in another of my papers entitled “God’s Three Special Levitical Feasts,” and for the sake of brevity only the conclusions presented in this paper will be given here. It was shown that the partial rapture, the harvest rapture, and the Second Coming of Christ Jesus will each occur during a Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, but in different years. Furthermore it has been shown that these events are likely to take place during the eighth and final day of the feasts.
As for the year in which the partial rapture will occur, it is very likely to take place during the year 2010. This is based on the conclusions reached in another of my papers entitled “God's Eschatological Schedule Limitations.” In this paper it was shown that the partial rapture would have to occur prior to May 14, 2011, and since the Feast of Tabernacles is a fall feast, the partial rapture would have to occur during the year 2010. In this year the Feast of Tabernacles begins on Sept. 23rd and ends on Sept. 30th, (the eighth day). Therefore Sept. 30, 2010 appears to be the most likely time for the partial rapture to occur.
In case you may think that I am being too bold in suggesting a date for this event, remember that the prophet Elijah was told the day of his rapture prior to its occurrence. I believe that as we approach the time of the rapture its date will become more and more obvious to all of us.
Please do not let this discussion of the timing of these events detract in any way from the basic message of the paper concerning the sequence of end-time events. Regardless of when they begin, I firmly believe that they will definitely occur soon and in accordance with the scenario that has been presented.
Before investigating prophecies that relate to the future of the Christian church it was necessary to recognize that the church is composed of two separate and distinct groups – the ruling Christians and the serving Christians. The ruling Christians are those who have been chosen to reign with Christ on the earth during the Millennium (see Rev. 20:4), and the serving Christians are those who have been called to serve God in His temple in heaven day and night (see Rev. 7:9-17). Both groups will eventually arrive at the same destination after the Millennium – the tremendous city called the New Jerusalem, described in Rev. 21:9-27. However, their routes to this destination will be quite different.
The angel's declaration, contained in Rev. 19:10, to the effect that "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy," leads to the conclusion that the major prophetic events to be experienced by the church at the close of the church age will be similar to those experienced by Jesus, beginning in the week of His crucifixion. On this basis a scenario for the close of the church age has been developed.
These events are directed primarily to those persons chosen to be ruling Christians, although the prophecies relating to the final harvest rapture of the Christian saints apply to both ruling and serving Christians alike. It appears that before a Christian who has been chosen to be a ruling Christian can take his or her position as a member of Christ's government during the Millennium, the person must first experience the major events that Jesus faced during the latter part of His first visit to earth.
The primary events predicted for ruling Christians in the future are:
The Partial Rapture
Corresponding to Jesus' death and resurrection the ruling Christians are expected to experience the partial rapture, in which their physical bodies will be translated to a remote location on earth and replaced by spiritual bodies, similar to the body that Jesus had following His resurrection. Their dead physical bodies will be left on the earth as food for the eagles or vultures. At this time other ruling Christian candidates who died prior to this time will join them.
Since these raptured individuals are destined to rule over certain assigned areas of the earth during the Millennium, it is likely that they will be sent immediately to their assigned areas of jurisdiction. In that way they will be able to become familiar with the life and customs of those living in their assigned areas before being asked to rule over them.
The Baptism with Fire
The baptism with fire, prophesied by John the Baptist in Matt. 3:11 and Luke 3:16 and described in Rev. 8:5, will give those persons chosen to be ruling Christians the love, wisdom and other characteristics of God the Father (the "consuming fire"). This will enable them to adequately perform their duties as ruling Christians under Christ during the Millennium.
There are several reasons to believe that the baptism with the Holy Spirit is one of the prerequisites for being selected to receive the baptism with fire. However, the first and foremost requirement is that the person must have been chosen by God to be a ruling Christian.
Final Exit via the Harvest Rapture
After the seventh tribulational trumpet has been sounded (about six years after the start of the tribulation) then both the ruling and the serving Christians will be taken to heaven via the harvest rapture (described in Rev. 14:14-16), just as Jesus was taken up on the day of His ascension. Therefore no true Christians will be left alive on earth when the seven bowls of God's wrath are poured out on the inhabitants of earth during the final year of the tribulation period.
It may seem unfair to make the serving Christians suffer through the events of the first six years of the tribulation, while the ruling Christians are allowed to move into the spiritual world before the tribulation begins. However, many Christians seem to be going through intense periods of suffering at the present time, and some pastors have observed that this suffering seems to be heaviest for the most devout Christians. Could it be that those who are suffering the most now are the ruling Christian candidates who will escape the tribulation, and that those who are suffering the least now are the serving Christians who will suffer the events of the tribulation at a later time? Only God knows the answer to this question.
Since the events listed above have been derived on the basis of Jesus' testimony while He was alive on earth and immediately thereafter, it must end with His ascension, corresponding to the final harvest rapture of the entire Christian church. As for the timing of this rapture event, only our sovereign God in heaven knows the exact day on which it will occur.
The events that will follow the harvest rapture are covered in the Revelation, Chapters 19-20. These chapters reveal that immediately following this rapture the ruling Christians will be bonded to Jesus in a divine wedding ceremony. Since the Christian martyrs are shown in Rev. 6:9 to be residing under the altar in heaven, they most likely constitute the true bride of Christ. They are uniquely qualified for this position since they have given their lives for Christ, just as He gave His life for them and for us at
Calvary. The other ruling Christians, excluding the martyrs, would then constitute the body of Christ.
It is interesting to note that except in the book of Revelation, the church is never referred to as the Bride of Christ – instead, it is called the Body of Christ (see
12:4-5). Apparently this is because prior to a Christian's death, there is no way to know whether or not he or she will be qualified to be a part of Christ's bride through martyrdom. Rom.
This distinction between the bride and the body of Christ can only be made prior to the time of the divine marriage ceremony, for at that time the body and the bride will "become one flesh," and will no longer be distinguishable one from the other. As for the serving Christians, they are likely to be invited to the marriage supper as guests of the Bridegroom (see Rev. 19:9). After the wedding ceremony has ended, the ruling Christians will return to earth with Jesus to assist in establishing His millennial kingdom, and the serving Christians will begin serving God in His heavenly temple.
Christ's kingdom on earth will exist for 1,000 years, after which a new heaven and a new earth will replace the old heaven and the old earth. The new heaven will contain an enormous city called the "New Jerusalem," which will be the final home for both the ruling and the serving Christians.
The scenario presented herein is quite different from that which is being taught in our churches today. However, it has been presented in just the way that it was received, and it is my prayer that the Holy Spirit will reveal the truth about the final events of the church age to all those who read this paper. Its purpose is to prepare all Christians for the supernatural events to come, so that they will understand their significance when they occur.
May God bless all those who read this paper, and may He make it a means for bringing more unity into His church.
Initial Release: February 2006
Last Revision: September 2010