Some of you have heard me preaching on some parts of what follows, but have not heard it all “put together” as I will try to do here. You may also have heard Dr. Meredith discussing this, as he did briefly at the Feast of Tabernacles in Panama City Beach, Florida, last year. In fact, much of what Dr. Meredith and I have preached, and what I discuss in this article, follows closely from what Mr. John Ogwyn wrote in 2003 in his powerful booklet, Revelation: The Mystery Unveiled! Please be assured, brethren, that Dr. Meredith and I, and the many other faithful ministers in the Living Church of God, are not “departing from the truth.” We are simply striving to fulfill the biblical imperative to grow in grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18), and to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).
In doing so, we should consider the example of Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong. Many of you may remember his booklet, Pagan Holidays or God’s Holy Days—Which? Note the humility with which Mr. Armstrong presented the following discussion of Christ’s return:
“And perhaps the glorious second coming shall occur, in whatever year it may be, on this very day of the Feast of Trumpets—who knows? While we cannot say for certain, yet cannot we see this possibility?… Repeatedly Jesus warned us to watch, regarding His second coming! Could it be possible that, unless we are observing the Feast of Trumpets, as the first-century Church of God was observing Pentecost, that we shall not be ready, or caught up to meet Him? We do not—we cannot, of course, say; but we do ask the question. Is it not possible? Let us humbly and willingly yield to walk obediently in all the light” (p. 40, 1974 edition; p. 34, 1976 edition).
Today, some scattered members of God’s Church insist vehemently that Christ will come for His saints on Pentecost—something that the Living Church of God does not see in Scripture and, as a result, will not teach. Others proclaim, far more ardently than Mr. Armstrong, that Christ will and must set His feet on the Mount of Olives precisely on the Feast of Trumpets. Many who assume they are “holding fast to the letter” of what Mr. Armstrong taught are, in fact, relying on the unspoken assumption that God has given them clear answers He did not reveal to Mr. Armstrong.
For that reason, this article will endeavor to stay particularly close to Scripture. If some of its conclusions involve details that Mr. Armstrong did not discuss, we should not be fearful of considering them, as long as we can recognize that they are biblically correct, and in harmony with what the Church has taught and will continue to teach.
Heaven Is Not Our Reward!
God’s true ministers have for many years emphasized the vital biblical truth that heaven is not the “reward of the saved.” We in the Living Church of God continue to teach this essential understanding. Contrary to the false ideas of “mainstream Christianity,” which teaches nonsensical ideas about “floating off to heaven when you die,” the Church of God has proved from Scripture that today’s Christians will spend the Millennium and Great White Throne Judgment ruling under Jesus Christ on the earth.
We understand that God has called today’s Christians to prepare to become kings and priests to reign with Christ on the earth for a thousand years (Revelation 5:10; Matthew 5:5; Revelation 20:4–6). We know that our service in this capacity will begin when the true saints of God are resurrected at the “last trumpet” (1 Corinthians 15:52) to meet Christ in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:17). At that point in the end-time prophetic sequence, the wife will have finished making herself ready for her marriage to Christ (Revelation 19:7).
Darby’s False “Pre-Tribulation Rapture” Theory
In the 19th century, Protestant theologian John Nelson Darby introduced a false teaching that has become widespread among today’s Protestants. Contrary to clear scriptural statements showing that the resurrected saints will be caught up into the air to meet Christ long after the Great Tribulation has begun—in fact, very near its end—Darby promoted the idea that Jesus would “rapture” Christians away so that they would be absent from the earth during the events of the Great Tribulation. Of course, this misunderstanding forces Darby and his supporters into all sorts of erroneous conclusions. If all Christians were taken to heaven before the Great Tribulation, Darby’s theory could not account for the two groups of Christians remaining on the earth—one in a place of safety, the other being persecuted by the great false church. Darby’s theory also relies on the false teaching of the “immortal soul”—since, in his theory, the “raptured” are supposedly kept in a disembodied state in heaven, awaiting a coming judgment, contrary to the clear biblical account.
By contrast, Scripture teaches that when the saints are caught up into the air, at the seventh trumpet, to meet the returning Christ, they will be Spirit Beings—God’s literal children who have overcome and been born into the Kingdom of God. And the reward they receive will not be heaven—their reward will be to serve under their Elder Brother as kings and priests in the Kingdom of God on planet Earth.
The Truth of the Matter
If anyone doubts that the Living Church of God is teaching this point correctly, I urge that they watch two of our recent Tomorrow’s World telecasts. Mr. Rod King’s powerful program, “Is The Rapture Coming Soon?”—with its most recent airing scheduled from August 23–29, 2012—shows that the Living Church of God rejects the world’s false doctrines and has the correct understanding. Also Mr. Wallace Smith’s “Will Christians Be Raptured?”— last aired in October 2011, but still available for viewing on the TomorrowsWorld.org Web site—confirms our clear understanding of this point.
Why would the resurrected saints go to heaven to visit God the Father? We know from Scripture that God the Father will not come down to the earth until it is purified with fire (2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 21:1–3). Some have made the assumption that these New Testament references to a “sea of glass” and standing “before God’s throne” indicate the use of a portable throne, as found in Ezekiel chapters 1 and 10. But the Revelation accounts indicate the presence of the heavenly hosts who are not found in the Ezekiel descriptions.
Putting this all together, what can we conclude? When we are born into the God Family, will we be forbidden from seeing our Heavenly Father “face to face” for 1,100 years? If that is the case, how could the Father officiate at Christ’s marriage to His bride? Of course, if the Father were to come to the earth for the ceremony, this would contradict the teachings of Scripture that He will not come to the earth until after it has been purified with fire. Yet some in God’s Church have expressed discomfort at the idea of Scripture showing Christ’s bride coming before the Father’s throne in heaven for the wedding.
Since heaven is not the reward of the saved, must we assume that the resurrected saints—born into the Family of God as His full children—will be “barred” from any access to God’s throne in heaven? Or, can we determine from Scripture that the saints will appear before God’s throne for their wedding to Christ? To understand this point more clearly, we need to look carefully at what the Bible tells us.
“Standing on the Sea of Glass”
The Apostle John describes God’s glorious throne room in heaven and states: “Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal” (Revelation 4:6). Later, John describes those who “have the victory over the beast, over his image and over his mark and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God” (Revelation 15:2).
Note that the saints who have overcome are shown standing on “the sea of glass.” John sees this sign in heaven, as the seven angels are about to pour out the seven last plagues. He sees the resurrected saints, standing on the sea of glass before God’s throne, singing the song of Moses and the Lamb’s song in praise to God. Notice John’s account: “Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous: seven angels having the seven last plagues, for in them the wrath of God is complete. And I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who have the victory over the beast, over his image and over his mark and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God. They sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying: ‘Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints!’” (Revelation 15:1–3).
“Who Follow the Lamb Wherever He Goes”
One of the major proofs that the saints will see the Father is the intimate relationship the born-again saints will have with Christ, for Christ and the Father are one (John 17:22). Note this description of 144,000 saints. “These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no deceit, for they are without fault before the throne of God” (Revelation 14:4–5). As the bride and wife of Christ, the saints will be with Him. Note that these “firstfruits” follow the Lamb wherever He goes (see also John 10:27)!
Exactly who are the 144,000? Are they the Philadelphians? Are there two groups of 144,000 indicated in Scripture? Ideas abound, and this article will not attempt to resolve that question. Still, we can see clearly that—just as Christ has access to the Father instantaneously at all times—the saints will be with the Lamb, even before the Father’s throne. Notice also that Jesus’ prayer to the Father reveals that Christ’s disciples will be one with Him and the Father! “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me” (John 17:20–23).
If we are one in the Father and in Christ, we will certainly have immediate access to our Father in heaven. As God’s immortalized children, we will live in another dimension. We will be in a spiritual dimension not limited by time or space. The billions of light years to distant galaxies will not impede our instantaneous travel. And we will inherit “all things” (Revelation 21:7). However, for the sake of our calling to serve human beings for a thousand years, we will operate in time and space as kings and priests on the earth.
“Before the Throne”
We saw that the 144,000 “follow the Lamb wherever He goes.” Notice where they sing a new song: “Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of loud thunder. And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps. They sang as it were a new song before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders; and no one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth” (Revelation 14:1–3).
The ambiguous “as it were” in verse 3 does not appear in the original Greek. Several other translations such as the NIV put it simply: “And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders.” Where do the twenty-four elders reside? Before God’s throne in heaven (Revelation 4:4). Yes, even now, on the earth, we “come boldly to the throne of grace” in prayer (Hebrews 4:16). But, nowhere do we find “the twenty-four elders” anywhere else but before God’s throne in heaven. Revelation 14 is describing events at the heavenly “Mount Zion”—not a crowd gathered near Jerusalem.
From the plain statements in Revelation 14:1–3 and Revelation 15:1–2, we see that the saints are standing on the “sea of glass” and “before the throne.” We look forward to meeting Christ in the air at the seventh trumpet, and then going to God’s throne, ready for our marriage to the Lamb. “Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
The Sequence of Events
The seventh trumpet will announce the takeover of the earth’s nations by the Kingdom of God (Revelation 11:15). Then, the first resurrection takes place. Christ will come to planet Earth’s atmosphere for the saints, who will follow Him to God’s throne. Then we will rejoice in our marriage to the Lamb: “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:7). Certainly the Father will officiate at the wedding of His Son!
Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong came to believe that the seventh trumpet will take place on the Feast of Trumpets—the first day of the seventh month on God’s sacred calendar. We also know that the seven last plagues “complete the wrath of God,” beginning with the seventh trumpet. Notice again where the born-again victorious saints will stand as the seven last plagues are poured out: “Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous: seven angels having the seven last plagues, for in them the wrath of God is complete. And I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who have the victory over the beast, over his image and over his mark and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God” (Revelation 15:1–2).
After this momentous event, the seven last plagues described in Revelation 16 will be poured out for the next nine days—culminating in the putting away of Satan on the Day of Atonement. Earth’s armies will gather at Megiddo, preparing their futile attempt to fight against Christ (vv. 14–16). As Mr. Ogwyn writes in Revelation: The Mystery Unveiled!, “Most likely, the action that is described in the book of Revelation as occurring between the blowing of the seventh trumpet in Revelation 11:15 and the putting away of Satan in Revelation 20:2 will take place in a nine day span between Trumpets and Atonement” (p. 42).
Christ Comes With His Saints
As Mr. Ogwyn noted in his booklet, the Revelation 19–20 sequence indicates that, either on or just prior to the Day of Atonement, Jesus Christ will come with His army—the saints and the angelic host—to conquer those who seek to fight against Him. He will banish Satan, and will set up His Kingdom here on earth. “Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:11–16).
This is the “battle of that great day of God Almighty”—or “Armageddon” as it is popularly called (Revelation 16:14). But who are the armies in heaven? We read in a previous verse that the Lamb’s wife is “arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Revelation 19:8). Now, notice how the saints are described in the New Testament book of Jude, which quotes Enoch as stating, “Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, ‘Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him’” (Jude 14–15).
The Beast and the “ten kings” with him will fight against Christ at His coming. And who will be with Christ when He comes? “These [the Beast’s army] 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” (Revelation 17:14).
Christ and “those who are with Him”—the saints (those who are “called, chosen, and faithful”)—will come from heaven (Revelation 19:11–14) and judge the nations. Scripture describes the saints carrying out the duty described in Jude 14–15: “To execute on them the written judgment—this honor have all His saints. Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 149:9).
The King of kings will lead the charge against the world’s armies, and the beast and the false prophet will be thrown into a lake of fire. Note that this will occur just before Satan’s incarceration. “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” (Revelation 19:19–21).
Immediately following chapter 19, we read that Satan will be put away (20:1–3), and the saints will rule with Christ for a thousand years (20:4–6). The Day of Atonement will also announce the Jubilee and the second Exodus. “Note that the Jubilee began on the Day of Atonement, the day that symbolized Satan’s banishment. At this point, the remnants of all 12 tribes of Israel will begin to be regathered from their captivity to the land of Israel (Isaiah 27:1, 13)” (Revelation: The Mystery Unveiled!, p. 42).
As Christians, anticipating our destiny of being born into God’s Family as firstfruits, upon the resurrection of the dead, we look forward to meeting Christ in the air at the seventh trumpet, and then going to God’s throne, ready for our marriage to the Lamb. Then we will see our Father in heaven, and we will be one with Him and the Lamb (John 17:20–23). As Spirit beings, we will live in a dimension where time and space will not affect us, even as we serve human beings as kings and priests on earth for a thousand years. Our reward is not heaven, but we will inherit more than the earth—we will inherit “all things,” including the entire universe! “He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son” (Revelation 21:7).
Brethren, I hope you have read Dr. Meredith’s comments in the March-April 2012 Living Church News: “We all agree, as Scripture teaches and as Mr. Armstrong plainly taught, that our reward as Christians is not in heaven. After the resurrection, we are to be kings and priests on this earth for a thousand years, before God the Father comes to the earth with the New Jerusalem. But does this mean that we cannot go wherever Jesus takes us? Of course not! Revelation 14:4 shows that the 144,000 ‘go where He goes” (“Is It Wrong To GROW in Knowledge?”, p. 2).
Though some details are not yet fully clear to the Church, let us be grateful for the clarity we have received, and let us follow Mr. Armstrong’s example. As he wrote, “Let us humbly and willingly yield to walk obediently in all the light.” I hope this article has shed light on how Scripture appears to show Christ coming for His saints on the Day of Trumpets, and that He will be present on the earth with His saints on or just before the Day of Atonement. God will complete His wrath through the seven last plagues, which Scripture shows taking place between the Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement. Christ will put all His enemies under His feet, and will rule all nations, assisted by the resurrected saints, ruling under Christ here on the earth. The Prince of Peace and the saints will then re-educate the world to God’s Way of peace, love and prosperity. Meanwhile, we look forward with joy and anticipation to standing before God’s throne in heaven to see our Father and our Lord. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).