How I left PreTribulationalism
(and how my study of the Bible would never be the same again)
The day was January 1, 1990. It was early in the morning. I can see it clearly and remember it vividly, as it made an incredible impression on me. As I sat at our kitchen table engaged in my daily early morning Bible reading and private time of prayer, I read the 24th Chapter of Matthew. As I read on, I was suddenly overcome with a very distinct feeling and a great awareness. It had a profound effect on me, as (in this case) these scriptures truly did speak truth to me.
I came to the realization that Jesus Christ was warning us of the Great Tribulation that one generation of believers would experience. So terrible a time, this Great Tribulation, that it might be possible that we would have to lose even our lives over our faith and belief in Jesus Christ as Lord. The gun would truly be at our heads over this Jesus. The people of the Church would be placed under such critical scrutiny at the hand of the Antichrist, we would be forced to take a stand that would mean the possibility of losing their jobs, homes, food, and all sources of current secure living that we now take for granted. It would surely be a test of each individual's love for Jesus Christ. Would we forsake Him under such persecution? Would we try to save our own necks by succumbing to the tremendous social pressures we would experience?
Until this time I had been under the belief that Jesus would come, rapture the church, then this guy called the Antichrist would take control of the world and the government. As I understood it, sometime later there would be a great battle at Armageddon and Jesus would return at that time to defeat the Antichrist. Then Jesus would establish His kingdom of peace for eternity and the devil would be doomed forever, finally. I believed all of this, in a very general sense, because it was what I had heard from other, more "Godly" people than I. Others who had certainly studied and knew more of the Bible than I. After all, they had studied and read the Bible their entire lives, and being 50 or 60 years old or more, they were certainly more "expert" at it than I. They could quote from just about any portion of scripture! I had a difficult time remembering even John 3:16, and even that I could only remember the first part. I had never spent any time reading these scriptures myself. Revelation was that last book of the Bible that only Bible scholars who went to seminary could understand. So it was for me until this day....until this particular reading of Matthew 24.
This was beginning of my next very long sojourn into what I later came to understand as "eschatology". Until then, I didn't know much about Christ coming "again." Every day for the next two to three years I spent reading exclusively scriptures of end times. I just HAD to know if I what I thought I understood from Matthew 24 was right, if what I felt that day was real truth, or if I had gone off on an interpretational tangent somehow.
Later that year, in 1990, I had opportunity to travel to Atlanta Georgia for business. My wife's brother Arthur lives there, and because he lives so far away from us, we really didn't know each other well. I knew he was a Christian. So I decided to use the opportunity to go visit with Artie and his wife and get to know them. During the visit, we talked at great length about our faith and certain beliefs we had about what scripture said. I explained to him that I had this burning desire to learn more about the Second Coming. Artie had just finished reading a book on the subject, which he strongly recommended and he loaned me.
I am not much of a book reader, as some are. I am a "technical reader". That is, I enjoy reading from things I can learn from: technical magazines, professional journals, instructional books, etc. As I read this book more and more, and continued in my Bible daily study that corresponded with it, it made sense. It all made sense. It was logical. It flowed. It was scriptural. It had scriptural integrity. I could now see how God had planted the path of bread crumbs for us through the scriptures. Moreover, I could find NO fault with it or any portion of it. I kept searching and searching thinking that sooner or later I'll find the weak link in the chain. No such luck. It has yet to happen.
Nevertheless, I keep searching for the truth. I keep searching the Word of God, looking for a more complete understanding of eschotological scriptures, trying to understand what scriptures correlated and trying to distinguish which ones did not. To this day, I continue in this quest. Through this experience, I have learned several great lessons that have changed my life.
First, I learned that I was previously a lazy Bible reader. I only read what popped out at me. No method. Just open the book and read what God gives me. Yes, God would certainly decide for me what I should read each day. My error was that I did not search the scriptures and did not study them. Until that day in January, my Bible study habits were guided more by the people around me than by my own desire to seek God.
Second, I learned not to assume that that others knew more or better than I when it came to scriptures. I have since confirmed that many of those old, trusted friends in the Lord were very wrong in their interpretation and representations of the Bible. These dear friends, good Godly people, surely had no malice in their error. But they also had not paid close attention to the ENTIRE Word of God. They had been each influenced, in turn, by other people's teachings just as I had been influenced by them. It was a multi‑generational passing of mis‑information that was being represented as Biblical truth. People were living their entire lives in accordance with what they THOUGHT they scriptures said, not what was really said. As I searched and searched for the error of this book I had received from my brother‑in‑law, I had been learning more and more of what God had always wanted us to know. Each of us, as individuals, must read the Word of God and see for ourselves the face of God. Combined with fervent prayer, it is the only way to be nearer to the heart of God.
Third, I learned that there are a lot of Christians that know very little about end times scriptures, even though they may be well versed in other doctrines. I had ignored end times scriptures myself. I stayed away from it because I had viewed it as "difficult." After all, if Jesus is coming again, won't he come when He is good and ready, when God determines it is time? Why should I bother to study this stuff? There is nothing I can do about His return. I started to ask a few key questions of every older, mature Christian I came across in order that I might take my own informal "survey." I asked them if they knew what the Day of the Lord was. I also asked them when the rapture would occur, with respect to the Tribulation period: either before it, during it, or after it. The results astounded me. Most immediately stated, with all certainty (as I had previously believed), that the rapture would occur before the Tribulation period. Secondly, most of them had no idea what the Day of the Lord was. Of those that did, very few correctly understood its significance to the Second Coming. Most I spoke with had spent their entire Bible reading lives ignoring end times prophesy, even though prophesy accounts for about one third of the Bible.
Fourth, I believe that as a result, there is a large population of Christians that will be unprepared for the trials and tribulations ahead. There will be a generation of unprepared Christians if this trend continues. Many will fall away from the faith, according to scriptures, mostly because of their own lack of knowing God's Word. How sad it is to see people we love live in an illusion, having an optimistic yet false hope and expectation. Boy, will they be surprised!
Fifth, I became more acutely aware of the need to evangelize the world and save souls for their sakes. Those that do not know Jesus will believe the lie of the Antichrist. Their allegiance to him will cost them eternity. We must do all we can now to reach those that will listen and hear, even within the Church. Take nothing or no‑one for granted. There are members and officers of many churches who are not saved. There are neighbors, friends, relatives, co‑workers, professional acquaintances that you may have the opportunity to witness to. The more one studies the end times and the glorious return of Jesus Christ, the more one sees how God will unleash His wrath on an unrepentant world. Once that starts, its too late. The door will be then closed. We must act now while the door is open. Jesus said he stands at the door and knocks, and to whoever opens it and invites Him in, He will dine and fellowship with them. Pray for their salvation. Pray fervently, constantly. Train yourself in evangelism. You might know CPR, but can you witness? For their sake, it could be saving their life: eternal First Aid.
Sixth, and possibly most significantly, I learned that when it comes to studying the scriptures, we must throw away ALL that we had been previously taught by others. That is, do not hold on to what you THINK to be true and what you had learned from others. Learn to read from the Word of God and to listen to what the scriptures ACTUALLY say. Pay attention to the words. Look up the translations. Pay attention to the context. It is OK to use others as learning "resources", but do not hold on to the teachings of any man. We are all prone to human error. This we cannot escape. Have you always agreed with a preacher's interpretation? Haven't there been some times when you hear his scriptural interpretation and you say to yourself, "I don't quite agree. I think he's missing something here. What about so and so scripture..." To those that truly study God's word, this will happen sooner or later. None of us are perfect, including preachers and pastors.