The Mystery and Eternal Purpose of God
The Bible clearly teaches us that “God has not appointed” the church “to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9). We are, as Paul exhorts us, to wait therefore for the return of the resurrected Jesus, who will deliver “us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10). Unfortunately, many contemporary Christians confuse God’s coming wrath on a Christ-rejecting world, from which Christ’s church will be saved at His Second Coming, with God’s coming judgment on an end-time world, by which Christ’s church will be prepared for His Second Coming.
According to the Bible, the church will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air “at the last trump” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15:51-53). This “last trump” or “trump of God,” as Paul calls it in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, is the seventh trump of the book of Revelation, which is sounded to signal the completion of “the mystery of God” (Revelation 10:7), which Paul identifies elsewhere in the New Testament as the church. For instance, according to Ephesians 3:2-13, the church is not only the mystery of God, but also the eternal purpose of God. It is what God has been about all along and why He has done all that He has done.
Why did God create the universe? So that He would have a place to hang the earth. Why did God create the earth? So that He would have a place to put man. Why did God create man? So that He could choose for Himself a chosen people. Why did God choose for Himself a chosen people? So that His Son could come into the world through them. Why did God's Son come into the world? So that He could secure for Himself an eternal companion, a bride, a forever lover, the church! The church is the mystery and eternal purpose of God! It is what God has been about all along and why He has done all that He has done.
In order to be prepared for her Bridegroom’s return, as well as properly adorned and readied for the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6-9), the church will not be spared from end-time judgment, but end-time judgment will actually start in the church (1 Peter 4:17). It is in the fiery trails of end-time judgment, symbolized by the seven seals and seven trumpets of the book of Revelation, that the church will be refined and readied for Christ’s Second Coming, as well as for the consummation of her eternal union with her forever Lover. Although she will be spared from the pouring out of God’s wrath upon a Christ-rejecting earth, represented by the seven bowls or vials of the book of Revelation, she will not be called up into the safety of her Savior’s arms until the last or seventh trumpet of Revelation is sounded; in other words, until all of the seals of Revelation are broken and all of Revelation’s trumpets are blown.
That God will use the consummate and cataclysmic judgment of the end times, represented by the seven seals and seven trumpets of the book of Revelation, to completely and conclusively fit the church for her never-ending nuptial bliss with Christ is totally consistent with the teaching of the rest of Scripture. For instance, throughout the sacred pages of Holy Scripture we are taught repeatedly that God uses the fiery trials of judgment to refine and purify His people. Although sinners are consumed in the fires of God’s judgment, the saints are chastened and cleansed by them.
But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold. (Job 23:10 ESV)
Bless our God, O peoples; let the sound of his praise be heard, who has kept our soul among the living and has not let our feet slip. For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; you laid a crushing burden on our backs; you let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water, yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance. (Psalm 66:8-12 ESV)
How the faithful city has become a whore, she who was full of justice Righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers. Your silver has become dross, your best wine mixed with water. Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts They do not bring justice to the fatherless, and the widow's cause does not come to them. Therefore the Lord declares, the Lord of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel: “Ah, I will get relief from my enemies and avenge myself on my foes. I will turn my hand against you and will smelt away your dross as with lye and remove all your alloy. And I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.” Zion shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness. But rebels and sinners shall be broken together, and those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed. (Isaiah 1:21-28 ESV)
Yes, I will tell you of things that are entirely new, things you never heard of before. For I know so well what traitors you are. You have been rebels from birth. Yet for my own sake and for the honor of my name, I will hold back my anger and not wipe you out. I have refined you, but not as silver is refined. Rather, I have refined you in the furnace of suffering. I will rescue you for my sake—yes, for my own sake! I will not let my reputation be tarnished, and I will not share my glory with idols! (Isaiah 48:8-11 NLT)
The king of the north will…set himself against the people of the holy covenant…Then at the appointed time he will…vent his anger against the people of the holy covenant and reward those who forsake the covenant. His army will take over the Temple fortress, pollute the sanctuary, put a stop to the daily sacrifices, and set up the sacrilegious object that causes desecration. He will flatter and win over those who have violated the covenant. But the people who know their God will be strong and will resist him. Wise leaders will give instruction to many, but these teachers will die by fire and sword, or they will be jailed and robbed. During these persecutions, little help will arrive, and many who join them will not be sincere. And some of the wise will fall victim to persecution. In this way, they will be refined and cleansed and made pure until the time of the end, for the appointed time is still to come. (Daniel 11:28-33 NLT)
But he said, “Go now, Daniel, for what I have said is kept secret and sealed until the time of the end. Many will be purified, cleansed, and refined by these trials. But the wicked will continue in their wickedness, and none of them will understand. Only those who are wise will know what it means.” (Daniel 12:9-10 NLT)
In the whole land, declares the Lord, two thirds shall be cut off and perish, and one third shall be left alive. And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, “They are my people”; and they will say, “The Lord is my God.” (Zechariah 13:8-9 ESV)
Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap: And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.” (Malachi 3:1-3 KJV)
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing…Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. (James 1:2-4, 12 ESV)
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7 ESV)
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been. (Revelation 6:9-11 ESV)
Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4 ESV)