The Great Escape, the Blessed Hope

By Bishop Bro. Eddie C. Villanueva

Many are reported missing all over the world. Drivers suddenly vanish; vehicles on land, water and air collide against each other. Many people are rushed to hospitals due to accidents or mishaps. Medical people are in great panic as they attend to countless emergency patients while recovering from the fact that some of their colleagues have just disappeared into thin air. People in all the world make haste here and there in extreme terror. Family members groan as they realize some of their loved ones are gone and could not be found. Media headlines scream, “The world is in chaos!”

This is just a glimpse of what the world would be like after the Rapture.

What is the Rapture and who will be raptured?

The Rapture is the first phase of the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is God’s great rescue of His believers from the wrath to come, the Great Tribulation, wherein the Anti-Christ would rule wickedly in seven years as one-world ruler, as prophesied in the Scriptures. An imminent event that will happen suddenly in just a twinkling of an eye, the Church will be snatched away from earth to be with God in heaven.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, the Apostle Paul spoke of the Rapture to comfort the bereaved ones. He wrote:

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died. We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died. For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17)

The Rapture will be a great reunion for all believers both dead and alive during that time. The dead in Christ will be resurrected, with their old mortal bodies miraculously changed into glorified, immortal bodies. Then the bodies of the believers who are alive during that time will also be miraculously changed into glorified bodies and will be caught up together with those who are resurrected (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). And there in heaven they will face the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10), where all the believers will receive the due rewards as promised (1 Corinthians 3:13-15; Matthew 25:14-30), and join the Marriage Supper of the Lamb for seven years. (Matthew 25:1-13; Revelation 19:5-10)

How and when is Rapture going to happen?

Nobody knows the date or the time. The Bible actually says that it will happen at the least expected time. Apostle Paul wrote, “Now concerning how and when all this will happen, dear brothers and sisters, we don’t really need to write you. For you know quite well that the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. When people are saying, “Everything is peaceful and secure,” then disaster will fall on them as suddenly as a pregnant woman’s labor pains begin. And there will be no escape.” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3)

Therefore, we must live as if the Rapture would happen right now. Because any moment, it may actually happen.

Why must everyone prepare for the Rapture and, in essence, for eternity?

The event that will immediately come after the Rapture is the Tribulation of seven years under the rule of the Anti-Christ, which the Bible declares to be terrifying. The Lord Jesus said, “if not shortened, not a single person will survive. But it will be shortened for the sake of God’s chosen ones.” (Matthew 24:22; Mark 13:20)

Therefore, to be included in the Rapture should be the heavenly goal of all the believers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

For the 42nd anniversary of the Jesus Is Lord Church Worldwide, the Lord has impressed upon my heart to declare at this point of history, in the midst of this long pandemic, a call for all to “Prepare for Eternity.”

The novel coronavirus had adversely shaken all the nations of the world and it gives a warning to the entire human race. Aside from this, false Christs or Messiahs and false prophets had already showed up and had been hiding in all the religions of the world since the birth of the Church. Wars and rumors of wars keep sending an alarm of fear. Famines and earthquakes shattered and continue to shatter many nations. Many believers had suffered severe persecutions in the past and it continues till today. Sin increases its speed so that the love of many has grown cold, and acts of unfaithfulness and rise of heinous crimes are but a few pieces of evidence. Most importantly, the Gospel today is being spread widely because of the internet. These are all preludes to Christ’s Second Coming.

Therefore, the time now is more than fit to call all people to repent, to go back to the Creator, to submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ because we are now living in a very dangerous time. And if we fail to prepare for eternity, if we get left behind from the Rapture, our one precious soul would be at stake.

Let us remember that eternity is timeless, everlasting, forever, immeasurable, without end. And there are only two destinations of man: either eternal life with God in heaven or eternal death in hell with Satan. As Hebrews 9:27 tells, “And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment.” And that judgment will bring us to our final destination, whether in heaven or in hell.

Existence on earth is very temporal. Sadly, millions of people exist only for the sake of existence. They do not understand that their destination is permanent and without end. It is not for one million or even one trillion years only but throughout eternity.

Who is the Anti-Christ and what is the Tribulation?

The identity of the Anti-Christ has been speculated for so many years but the Bible did not say anything specific about where the Anti-Christ will come from. But one day, the Anti-Christ will be revealed [although the spirit of the anti-Christ had been here already since the birth of the church (Matthew 24:5, 24; 1 John 4:3; 2 John 1:7)].

2 Thessalonians 2:3-5 tells us how we will recognize the Anti-Christ. “Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.”

What prevents the Anti-Christ from being revealed? Paul said, “Don’t you remember that I told you about all this when I was with you? And you know what is holding him back, for he can be revealed only when his time comes. For this lawlessness is already at work secretly, and it will remain secret until the one who is holding it back steps out of the way. Then the man of lawlessness will be revealed… (2 Thessalonians 2:5-8a)

The Bible scholars agree that it is the Church endued with the Holy Spirit that holds back the revelation of the Anti-Christ. When Christians are taken away on the Rapture, that will be the only time that he will be revealed, then the Great Tribulation, a seven-year reign of the Anti-Christ in the whole world, is ushered.

Meanwhile, the Anti-Christ known as the Beast, will appear in the midst of chaos and anarchy. The world will need a “superman” in that era and many will be deceived, believing that he is the Messiah. Even the Israelites will believe him. There is no wonder in that for they have rejected the real Christ who had already come (Romans 10:1-4). The Anti-Christ’s regime will forge partnership or peace pact with Israel and during this time, the third temple will be built and a graven image will be constructed for the Anti-Christ. After 3 ½ years, the Anti-Christ will be revealed because the false prophet will require all men to worship him (Revelation 13:8, 12, 15). In full exercise of his power, he will require all men to receive the mark of the Beast, which is 666, in their right hand or forehead, for them to be able to buy or sell. (Revelation 13:16-18)

The Lord Jesus Christ substantiates that the Tribulation is going to be unsurpassed, a time of uncontrolled evil. “For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.” (Matthew 24:21). This dreadful period is narrated in Revelation chapters 6 to 18. During the first 3 ½ years the condition of the world will worsen and God’s anger will burn against the wicked. In the last 3 ½ years, the Anti-Christ will be empowered to sit at the center of Tribulation’s evil (Daniel 9:27; Matthew 24:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:4).

Extreme natural disasters will occur during the Great Tribulation: the sun will turn black, the moon will turn red, great earthquakes will become common, stars would fall out of the sky, mountains and islands would be moved, oceans would become blood, and waters would be poisoned.

How will the people be saved during the Tribulation? Those who will refuse the mark will be subject to torture, even horrible death. These people who will become martyrs for Christ will have the chance to be saved (Revelation 17:6).

Christ’s Second Coming and the Battle of Armageddon

Christ’s second coming is spoken of in greatest detail in Revelation 19:11-16, “And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, ‘KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.’”

During Christ’s actual Second Coming, a great battle, the Battle of Armageddon, would occur. The Anti-Christ would gather kings in a place called Armageddon, and they will gather their armies to wage war against Israel. Christ ultimately will win this battle, even if the enemy pulls armies from all the ends of the earth.

How will Christ defeat the Anti-Christ? Paul wrote in 2 Thessalonians 2:8b, “… (He will) consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.” Revelation 19:17-21 further tells, “Then I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in the midst of heaven, ‘Come and gather together for the supper of the great God, that you may eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, both small and great.’ And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh.”

What happens in and after the Millennial Reign of Christ?

This judgment of God executed in the Battle of Armageddon is described to be so sudden because Scriptures say it will last one day or one hour (Revelation 18:10, 17-19). This will end the reign of the Anti-Christ, who will be thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 19:20; 20:10) and Satan will be bound in the bottomless pit for a thousand years (Revelation 20:1-3).

This ushers the Millennial (or a thousand-year) Reign of Christ on earth (Revelation 20:4, 6). This will be a welcomed time of peace for all mankind. This will also be a fulfillment of prophecy where He will sit on the throne of David, ruling over Israel (Luke 1:32-33), and the world (Isaiah 9:6; Daniel 7:14), manifesting His glory. The words “one thousand years” are mentioned six times in Revelation 20:1-7, confirming that this kingdom would be literal, and very peaceful (Isaiah 11:5-7). And to reign with Him are His saints and the martyrs who died during the Tribulation. (Revelation 20:4, 6)

The 1,000 year-reign of Christ seem to be limited but it actually begins His everlasting dominion that will continue from the millennial kingdom into the eternal state in the new heavens and new earth (Revelation 20:4, 6). But before the eternal kingdom comes, Satan will be loosed from the bottomless pit for a short while and then comes the final judgment throwing him at last to the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10).

Then the wicked dead will be raised again to be judged and thrown finally in hell. This is called the Great White Throne Judgment. Revelation 20:11-15 says, “Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.”

After such, finally, eternity will begin. “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.’” (Revelation 21:1-4)

How should we prepare for eternity?

  1. We must become a citizen of heaven or a child of God. It is not automatic that all creation are children of God. There is only one Son of God, the begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:16). Our religion is not relevant. We should be adopted as a child of God. John 1:12 says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.” This assures us that we can be accepted, an immigration or adoption paper as citizens of heaven being given to all who would receive Jesus as personal Lord and Savior. This is far better and beautiful. There is no charge to pay. It’s absolutely free, because Jesus paid for it. As 2 Corinthians 5:21 puts it, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
  2. We must accept the redemptive work of Christ. He bore our sins on the cross, as Romans 3:23 and Romans 6:23 attest. 1 John 5:11-13 also says, “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.” Salvation is simplified by God Himself; we can go straight to His Son. Jesus says in John 14:6, “…I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” It is the religious system that made salvation complex. What we need is right relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
  3. We must come back to God if we have backslidden, or else we will lose such a great salvation. If we were adopted as American or Canadian citizen and we violate the rules of the land, our natural citizenship will be canceled. So we must be warned. Let us not subscribe to the belief that once we are saved, we are always saved. Let us keep a right relationship with God and repent and return if we must, before it is too late.

What are God’s last marching orders?

Let us accelerate the fulfillment of God’s marching order to you and me: the Great Commission. Let us redeem the time as we anticipate the Rapture, allowing for more and more souls to hear this blessed hope we are looking forward to, that they, too, might experience it.

Let us also be excited in learning the truths of God in the last days. We should not be afraid of studying the books of Daniel, Matthew 24 and 25, Revelation, and other books that are eschatological. Let us seek the truth for nobody can duel with the truth. It will happen. That is why there is an urgency to prepare for eternity.

Furthermore, let us seek to study heaven, the place where we shall be. Heaven is an extremely beautiful place, beyond words. The heavenward people of God ought to seek to study it since it is our final destination, the eternal home of God.

More importantly, let us heed what Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:1-5, “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, [b]unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” Hebrews 12:14 is also exhorting us, “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.

Inevitably, we are now in the last days whether we like it or not. Let us be prepared every single moment of our lives.