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A Strictly
Limited Time!
A reading of Christ's instructions to His disciples (Mat.24) makes it clear that Daniel's prophecies underlie much that Jesus taught. Daniel described the period initiated by the Jerusalem sacrilege as –
"there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time"
Daniel 12:1.
Two such periods there clearly could never be, in the light of Jesus' statement. So terrible is this time that Bible prophecy measures its duration to the very day –
1260 days of hell on earth, in the fullest sense!
The Bible measures this time by Daniel's calendar as 3½ years of 360 days each, and as 42 months of 30 days each, to emphasize the importance of its exact length of –
1260 days.
Prevents It Now?
It begins, not at the start of Antichrist's reign, but at the sacrilegious revelation of himself as Antichrist. By God's sovereign wisdom, something or someone has held back this moment – till now. Paul had explained this directly to the young Thessalonian Church, but in his letter to them he avoids repeating it in writing, for good reason:
"Do you not remember that while I was with you, I was telling you these things?
And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he may be revealed.
For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work;
only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way."
2 Thessalonians 2:5-7.
This restraint of Antichrist's sacrilege, and therefore of the horror which it initiates, is both a "what" and a "he". Some have speculated that this restrainer is the Holy Spirit who, with the Christians, in some way leaves at this time, and that this allows the Antichrist to then begin his career. This theory ignores too many factors in Paul's statement – not the least of which is that Christianity's apostasy and Antichrist's sacrilege are the events that must precede our gathering to be with the Lord, according to this Scripture.
The contradiction is not hard to see. How can the apostasy and sacrilege precede the rapture of the Church as a sign to it of the nearness of Christ's coming if these same events can only happen after the Holy Spirit is withdrawn in the departure of the Church to be with the Lord? The very structure of thought in this passage contradicts this. The Bible is crystal clear that these events are preconditions to the rapture, the catching-away of God's people (2 Thess.2:1). But we are not left to speculate on what prevents Antichrist's premature arrival.
The first factor that helps us identify the restrainer is the characteristic that is emphasized in this passage – i.e. lawlessness; to quote, the "man of lawlessness," who comes by the "spirit of lawlessness," is the "lawless one" to be revealed (2 Thess.2:3,7,8). That which prevents lawlessness hinders Antichrist! God mandated human government (Genesis 9:6; Romans 13:1), and its first call is social order! (Daniel has already told us that the time Antichrist arises is when the final world powers will be exceptionally unstable like pottery and iron mixed (remember?)).
Secondly, Paul's reticence to repeat the identity of this restraint through his letter in the political climate in his situation at that time – after his Phillipi imprisonment, for preaching one who had been executed for treason (the king of the Jews). This is the reticence that moved John to use certain symbols in his prison writing.
Thirdly, inasmuch as the Holy Spirit did not 'arrive' when He was given at Pentecost to God's people, for He was already here, He also does not leave either. At Pentecost, He was given no more than as a bride is given in marriage. It was a change of relationship that occurred on the day of Pentecost. He cannot be "taken out of the way" as the restraint is. Thus, the weight of evidence lies with good government as the restrainer, personified in the Roman Caesar of that time.
Remember, years after Paul wrote these words, it was the Roman Senate that sentenced Nero to death (although he escaped into suicide), and pulled government back into order when he was leading it to ruin. But as the end begins, orderly government ends! This time ahead is incomparably worse than any past national crisis. Daniel's changing empires of the dream-image were symbolized in four metals (Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Grecian, Roman). These transitions in themselves were unstable times of wars and intrigue. But, these difficulties did not even warrant prophetic mention in comparison to the 'ten-toes' condition in the final confederation of empire. Social structure now comes apart as never before. This is Antichrist's platform of opportunity; the setting for the beginning of his horror.
The "Beast that comes up out of the Abyss" now arises!

Christian Evacuation?  
But what about Christians? Didn't God promise to deliver us from the wrath to come? Yes, hallelujah! But remember, the rage of Antichrist is not the Wrath of God! In the 19th century Darby among the Plymouth Brethren developed a theory, popularised through the notes of the Scofield Bible, that Jesus will rescue His Church from Antichrist's oppression by taking them out of this world seven years before His return. Effectively, this idea of a pre-tribulation rapture of the Church split the second coming of Jesus into a second and third coming. A second coming to take His people out of the world and who then return with Him to heaven, and a third coming with them seven years later to rule on earth. Various Scriptures have been made to fit this scenario.
Unfortunately, this "novel doctrine", as David Pawson calls it, ignores the consensus of the early Church's understanding of the issue, and uses bad or incomplete exegesis of holy Scripture to 'prove' its idea. Stranger still, it is argued by its proponents that after the Church and the Holy Spirit have left, at the Rapture, a Jewish elect (144 000), (thus without the baptism of the Spirit), will evangelise the world with innumerable results (the innumerable multitude from the great tribulation).
This strictly limited number of believing Jews are thus able to do in seven years, under terrible conditions, without the Holy Spirit, what the whole Christian Church, in more favourable conditions, and with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, apparently could not do! This is utterly inconsistent with basic New Testament teaching on the nature of the Spirit, the Church, and the gospel.
The Bible is very clear that Christians will enter their "rest" only when the Lord comes with His angels in fiery judgment upon the world (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10). There is not the slightest hint in Scripture that this is seven years prior to His return to rule. The book of Scripture that, more than any other, focuses on this terrible time makes repeated allusion to Egypt under the plagues of divine judgment (Revelation 11:6;15:3-16:21) and encourages its readers (Christians,1:9) to be steadfast in the face of the troubles of this end-time (Rev.13:10;14:12). Remember that Israel, as God's people, was in Egypt during this judgment. Pharaoh's oppression and the subsequent outpouring of God's judgment is an analogy for this time. Similarly, Antichrist's horror is submerged in the wrath of God.

Alertness Produces Endurance  
Jesus told us to pray for spiritual "strength" in this time, (surely not a requirement for those being evacuated?).
"Be on your guard,
that your hearts may not be weighted down ... and that day come on you suddenly like a trap;
for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth.
But keep on the alert at all times, praying in order that you may have strength
to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."
Luke 21:34-36
Strength to endure this time lies in the faith of the saints, faith depicted in the lives of the spiritual heroes held up to us as an example:
"tortured, not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection"
Hebrews 11:35
An example that was emulated in our brother, the apostle Paul, who counted –  
"all things to be loss... in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
... Brethren, join in following my example..."
Phillipians 3:8-21.
The Honour
of Identification with Him
But, Jesus said,  
  "If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you" John 15:20.
Billy Graham quoted Martin Luther, from his 1520 book 'Freedom of a Christian':
"The more Christian a man is, the more evils, sufferings, and deaths he must endure"
(Graham 1981:100).
This accords well with the Word of God which says,
"And indeed, ALL who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse..."
2 Timothy 3:12-13.
Accordingly, an increase in godliness in the Church in the past has been associated with an increase in persecution. At this climax of the Church's obedience, persecution at its most intense will appropriately concludes the Church's pilgrimage.
"Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great,
for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
Matthew 5:10-12.
"you will be hated by all on account of My name,
but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved. ...."
Matthew 10:22-26.
God's people have a rich heritage of handling and triumphing in persecution. The painful experience of the early Church is perhaps our best example, for its historical distance makes it a more objective reflection than the persecutions of sectarian conflicts that blurred Christian identity in later centuries. Prof. E.W. Benz, writing for the Encyclopaedia Britannica, notes that –
"persecution strengthened a consciousness of the unity of the church among Christians, who mutually assisted each other through organizations concerned with aiding those arrested, imprisoned, and condemned to labour in the mines."
It also led to –
much necessary traveling by Christians to avoid the Roman law-enforcement officers and mobs;
the acceptance of refugees into local congregations outside regions of acute persecution; and,
the formation of a very effective news network among Christians scattered in the various imperial and senatorial provinces. 
(Encyclopaedia Britannica 1978, 4:463).
In all these things, the Church was purified, the gospel spread further, and the unity of the Christians increased.   Glory to God!
How much more then in a Church ready for Christ's coming will this not bring a final refining triumph to the "riches of the glory", the "surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe"? (Eph.1:18,19).
The 'Two Witnesses' of the Book of Revelation are a sign of the Church's ministry at the end. When the testimony is complete (a point already made so strongly in this paper) the Beast conquers them.
"And when they have finished their testimony,
the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them and kill them."
Revelation 11:7.
Jesus said that this worst-of-all-times in human history will be cut short – for the sake of His elect, His own (Mat.24:22) – not an elect safely in Heaven, but an elect triumphant – in the face of unprecedented opposition. Hallelujah!

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