Many Christians today believe there is going to be a great revival among believers and that the Church period is going to end with a glorious finale consummated by the coming of Christ for us. They think that Christ will not come back to claim a weak and sickly bride from this earth, but rather, a bride that has been cleansed of every spot by severe persecution from this world, a persecution that will arise as a reaction to the faithfulness of the revived Church. I feel that this expectation is not supported by scripture, and therefore, not the proper hope of the believer. Perhaps the reason that many are gripping this hope is a product of spiritual energy, a desire to see a wholesale revival of the Testimony of God on the earth, and the absorption of some appealing but misleading teachings. Following are several reasons why this idea is not sustained by scripture.
Reason #1: The way the Apostles used the Term “Last Days”
In every place where the apostles write of the “last days” (referring of course to the times that we live in) they predict by inspiration a downward path for the world and, in parallel, a downward path for the Christian profession in general. The apostles suggest an accelerating moral and doctrinal declension, never a revival of the Church on a large scale.
“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy…” 2 Timothy 3:1-2
“Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” 2 Peter 3:3-4
“For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” Acts 20:29-30
Note: the term “last days” is used in two different ways. In the New Testament epistles, the “last days” refer to the end of the Church Period. In the prophetic scriptures, the “last days” refer to the last days of Israel, or the Great Tribulation.
Reason #2: Mistakes Concerning Fulfillment of Old Testament Prophecy
One particular scripture that I have been given by a supporter of this doctrine, is Joel 2:28-31, which they believe supports a final revival of
the Christian profession:
“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the LORD come.”
Next, they turn to the second chapter of the book of Acts where the Apostle Peter says that the wonders and miracles displayed on the day of Pentecost were a partial fulfillment of Joel’s prophesy:
“But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions…” Acts 2:16-20
They believe that the day of Pentecost was only a partial fulfillment of the prophecy, and that the remainder of the prophecy is about to be fulfilled (in this, the Church period). In one sense they are correct; Acts 2 was only a partial fulfillment of the prophecy. But they are wrong about when it will be fulfilled. Joel 2:28-31 will be completely fulfilled at the end of the seven-year tribulation [described by the seven seals in the book of Revelation] when the Jewish remnant [faithful Jews who survive the tribulation] turn to the Lord.
The prophecy is found in the Old Testament, therefore it is strictly Jewish! That is one thing that we are encouraged to spend our time doing; learning to distinguish the interpretation of scriptures (both Old and New Testaments). Paul wrote to Timothy, who was a young man:
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15
Rightly dividing the word of truth, or cutting it in a straight line, requires distinguishing what verses apply to the Church or Assembly, and which verses concern Israel. A good place to start might be understanding that Paul’s Mystery (the truth that Jews and Gentiles, having been saved and sealed, now compose one New Man – the Body of Christ – and united by the Holy Ghost to a resurrected Christ now gone back to heaven) was a mystery “hid in God” (Ephesians 3:9). In other words it was not previously disclosed – it was not found in the Old Testament! So how could a prophecy about the Church be found in the book of the prophet Joel? The answer is clear: the prophecy does not directly concern the Church at all.
So the obvious question follows: if that is true, then why did the Apostle Peter say, “But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel…” on the birthday of the Church? That is because the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost was not just a sign to the unbeliever of the power of God, but it was more importantly a sign to the Jews that God was doing something new. When they rejected this sign (made evident in the stoning of Steven), the gospel went out to the Gentiles, bringing them also into the Assembly, and unfolding the Mystery – note that it is after Peter is told that the gospel was to go out to the Gentiles that the Apostle Paul (to whom was committed the truth of the Mystery) comes on the scene.
So, the outpouring of the Spirit was a sign to the Jews on the day of Pentecost, and it will be a sign to the Jews at the end of the tribulation; not a sign to the Church just before the coming of Christ to receive His bride.
Reason #3: The Rapture is Not Contingent on a Bright Latter-Day Testimony
It has been said to me, “Christ won’t come to claim a weak and sickly bride, full of worldliness and doctrinal evil; first, He will cleanse her first through persecution.” I think the verses they refer to are in Ephesians 5:
“…Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” Eph. 5:25-27
They simply reason that because the Christian profession is so weak in North America, for instance, that there must be a cleansing and an improving of ourselves before Christ will come for us. The key with this passage is that in Ephesians Paul gives us the eternal, heavenly view of things, where all is seen through the efficacy of the work of Christ. Look at chapter two and verse twenty one, for instance. There the building of God is seen as “fitly framed together”. How could Paul say that the building of God is fitly framed together when the testimony, even at that time, was becoming disjointed and corrupted? The answer is: that verse gives us the eternal view where God is the builder, and through the work of Christ, all the corruption, etc. does not appear to mar the House of God.
The same principle applies to the passage in chapter five. The bride of Christ may appear weak and sickly to the human eye, but to our waiting Savior she is all glorious, “not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing.” Once again, we need to be careful to rightly divide the word of truth.
Also, this statement can be an attempt to defer the believer’s hope of the Lord’s coming (it suggests that Christ will not come until after the Testimony of the Church is purified), a thing that God’s Word never does for us. This idea could easily lead to a post-tribulation rapture theology – something that is scripturally wrong, but spreading like wildfire in Christian circles.
Reason #4: Look at Church History (Rev. 2-3)
From the teaching in Revelation chapters two and three, we find no inkling of a “last day” universal recovery. Each of the seven assemblies (Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea) have challenges, weaknesses, and characteristics that together make a comprehensive picture of Church history. I won’t go into it here, but look it up yourself; the course of the testimony is steadily downward, ending in a state of general lukewarmness (Laodicea) and disregard for the persistent knocking of Christ, who is outside the door (Revelation 3:20). No revival is pictured there.
Remember that while universal recovery is not supported by scripture, recovery on the local level is very possible and something that a believer is encouraged to intelligently pray for! How wonderful to think that despite the failure of the Christian Testimony, there is always room for spiritual energy (virtue), and room for the exercise of anyone who is willing to stir up the gift that God that is in them.