Part One of a Two Part Bible Study by Jack Kelley
If you’ve been visiting this site for any length of time at all you know I believe that once we’re saved we’re saved forever. I base this belief on a number of verses that say so in no uncertain terms.
But as I study the conditions on Earth just before the Second Coming, I can find no such assurance for those who become believers during the time of the Great Tribulation. It appears that the promise of an indwelling Holy Spirit that guarantees our eternal destiny is uniquely given to the Church. No Old Testament believer enjoyed such a relationship. Even King David, a man after God’s own heart, prayed that God would not take the Holy Spirit from him following his sin with Bathsheba. (Psalm 51:11) Old Testament believers were not promised that the Spirit of God would be sealed within them as a guarantee of their destiny.
Likewise there’s not a single verse that makes such a promise to Tribulation believers. What I do find for them are verses like the following. Speaking of the time when the whole world will be forced to take the Mark of the Beast or die, John wrote:
This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus. Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”
“Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.” (Rev. 14:12-13)
Here the Lord admonished Tribulation believers to obey the Commandments and remain faithful, knowing that those who refuse the mark will either be martyred or forced out of the world’s economic system, denied access to life’s necessities. Those who die for their faith will be blessed, because their ordeal will be over.
And in Rev. 16:15 the Lord said,
Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed.
If you’re familiar with the symbolic reference to clothing, you know what this verse means. If not, let’s review it. Isaiah 61:10 says, I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
Just as clothing provides physical covering, righteousness provides spiritual covering. God has clothed us in garments of salvation and a robe of righteousness.
Now look at Zechariah 3:3-4. In Zechariah’s vision, Joshua, the High Priest, is standing before the angel of the Lord, obviously Jesus.
Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.” Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.”
Removing his filthy clothes symbolized taking away his sin. Putting rich garments on him made him righteous.
Rev 19:8 tells us that the Bride had been given garments of fine linen bright and clean to wear and that the fine linen stands for her righteousness. But again, the clothing isn’t hers. It was given to her.
This use of clothing to symbolize righteousness is the main issue in the parable of the wedding banquet (Matt 22:1-14) The King (God) prepared a wedding banquet (Kingdom Age) for his son (Jesus) and sent his servants (prophets) to inform the invited guests (Israel) that all was ready. After first ignoring the invitation, they finally set upon the servants he sent and killed them.
Enraged, the King sent his armies and burned their city (Jerusalem). Then he sent his servants to find anyone they could and invite them to the banquet. The servants gathered up everybody they could find (gentiles) and the banquet was begun. The King noticed a man not dressed in wedding clothes. When the man had no excuse for his improper attire, he was thrown out into the darkness.
In the context of the parable, the wedding clothes represent the righteousness with which God clothes believers when they accept His invitation into His kingdom. The guest trying to gain admittance wearing his own clothes (in his own righteousness) was expelled.
(Remember, the banquet follows the wedding, so it has already taken place when the King comes in. There’s no mention of a Bride anywhere in the parable, and in any case, the Bride is not a guest at her own wedding. The Church is not in view here. According to Rev. 19, the wedding banquet will take place after the end of the Great Tribulation at the time of the Lord’s return in glory. That makes these last-minute guests Tribulation survivors, some of whom will not have maintained their righteousness and will be expelled.)
What’s The Meaning Of This?
From all this, we can safely assume that the Lord isn’t speaking of literal clothing in Rev. 16:15, but of the spiritual clothing that represents salvation and righteousness. Rather than guaranteeing salvation for Tribulation believers and assuming responsibility for their safety like a shepherd does for his sheep, He warns them to stay awake and alert lest they be caught naked when He comes. It’s a clear message that maintaining their salvation is their responsibility and if they’re not careful they could miss out. This warning is given on the threshold of the Bowl Judgments, the final and most devastating cycle of God’s Wrath.
We get another clue of this in Matt 24:12-13.
Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.
As He listed the signs indicating that the End of the Age has come, the Lord alluded to the fact that Tribulation believers will have to stand firm to the end in order to ensure their salvation.
You may ask why the Lord would not grant guaranteed salvation to Tribulation believers. But remember, He didn’t grant it to Old Testament believers either. This was because the Old Testament was full of obvious signs of His presence. I could fill this whole document with ways in which the Lord revealed Himself to His people. They believed because of the evidence He provided them for His existence.
During the Church Age, these public displays of His presence have for the most part been missing, so the Church hasn’t had this kind of evidence to support our belief. We believe by faith, and we receive very special blessings because of that, one of them is our eternal security. That’s why Jesus told doubting Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)
Once the Church is gone and the 70th week of Daniel begins, the Lord will begin providing obvious signs of His presence again in the form of the judgments He will visit upon the world. And this time all the evidence will have been documented in advance. His presence will be so obvious that it won’t require very much faith to believe that He exists. Their faith will be needed for the patient endurance required in a time when it will literally be a blessing to die instead of remaining alive.
What Time Is It?
With this background, we can begin to understand that the Olivet Discourse Parables can only be meant for Tribulation believers. By confirming their timing, we’ll have all the proof we need.
In Matt 24:15-21 Jesus explained that the Great Tribulation will begin with the Abomination that causes Desolation, the anti-Christ standing in the Temple declaring himself to be God. That’s the signal for the Jews to flee into the mountains.
Then in Matt 24:29 He says that immediately after the tribulation ends, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. It’s now 3 1/2 years later. The Great Tribulation has ended.
Matt 24:30 has people on Earth seeing the Sign of the Son of Man in the sky, and then His visible return to Earth with power and great glory, and all the peoples of the Earth mourning. It’s now too late for them to be saved and they intuitively realize it. This is the Second Coming.
Matt 24:36 begins with “No one knows about that day or hour …” What day? What hour? The day and hour of His Second Coming. Stay in context. That’s been His subject since verse 30. I believe the reason He said “day or hour” is so we would know for sure that He was talking about the actual Day and Hour of His Coming, not the general time. All of the Olivet Discourse parables describe conditions on Earth following the day of His return.
By the way, Matt. 24:42-44 tell us that although it will be possible for the people on Earth at the time to accurately plot the end of the Great Tribulation, they won’t know the exact day of the Lord’s return. This is mentioned twice in these 3 verses. It could only mean that there’ll be an unspecified span of time between the appearance of the sign of the Son of Man that will signal the end of the Great Tribulation and His actual return in Power and Glory.
With this background, we’re ready for the Olivet Discourse Parables. The first one is in Matt. 24:45-51 and tells the story of the two servants. We’ll pick it up there in our conclusion of this study. See you next time.