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A Den of Thieves

Thief

Ever since I was a kid, one of my favorite Bible stories has been the one where Christ overturned the tables of the men who were exchanging money and selling animals in the temple area and physically drove them out, because it utterly belies the image of Jesus that many people in the Church and in society have created over the years: a soft, wimpy, almost girlish Jesus who sobbingly pleads with people to believe in Him.

"Oh, won't you p-l-e-a-s-e invite me into your heart?" (sniff)

But that's not exactly the Jesus of the Bible. When we read about Christ physically throwing that "den of thieves" out of the temple area, we see a side of Jesus that often gets obscured in the Church today: a man's man; a man who was absolutely fearless in the face of evil and corruption; a man who looked the most virulent opposition in the eye and never blinked; a man who boldly took matters into His own hands and unflinchingly stood for and demanded righteousness and obedience to His Father, and who wasn't afraid to kick a few butts and take a few names in the process.

We could use a little more...no, make that a lot more of that in the Church these days.

What motivated me to write this article, however, is the fact that I see a new den of thieves growing and thriving in the Church today; but unlike the thieves Jesus threw out of the temple, these guys are not just after money:

This modern-day den of thieves is not merely robbing believers of their money, but they are robbing them of their hope in God's promises as well as a crown of reward in heaven.

What I want to do is to warn you about these thieves and the methods they use to ply their trade...and I may just kick a few butts and take a few names in the process.

The old den

In Old Testament times, every adult Jewish male was required by the Law of Moses to present himself at the temple during three of the seven feasts celebrated by Israel: the Feast of Unleavened Bread (which immediately follows Passover, the first feast in the spring), the Feast of Weeks (the fourth feast, which comes nearly two months later), and the Feast of Tabernacles (the seventh and final feast which comes in the fall). When Jesus entered Jerusalem a few days before He was crucified, it was also a few days before Passover and so the city would have been packed with many thousands of people from all over the region, both Jews and Gentiles, who had come to worship at the temple.

Talk about timing: Jesus is our Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7), the Lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8), the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), and was literally crucified on the Feast of Passover. In fact, Jesus died at 3:00 p.m. (Mark 15:33–37), which is the exact time a priest was sacrificing an actual lamb over at the temple to cover the sins of the people.

Each man was required to bring an animal to offer as a sacrifice at the temple, and also to pay a temple tax of one-half shekel. The only currency accepted at the temple, however, was the local Jewish shekel. Since the entire region was under Roman control, most coins from the surrounding areas were Roman coins bearing the image of Caesar, which were considered idolatrous by the Jews and unfit as an offering to God.

But whaddya know—luckily there were plenty of Jewish moneychangers who would set up tables in the Court of the Gentiles to change foreign currency to Jewish shekels, and they were free to, shall we say, adjust the exchange rate as they saw fit.

Not only that, but any animal brought to the temple to be offered as a sacrifice had to pass inspection. If an animal brought to the temple was judged to be flawed or of insufficient quality, the owner had to see about purchasing a better quality animal. Otherwise, he would not be allowed to worship as required.

But whaddya know—there were vendors galore at the temple selling just such animals at markups that ran as high as 1,000 percent.

As you can imagine, over the years the changing of money and the selling of animals at the temple to visiting pilgrims developed into quite a lucrative enterprise, as unscrupulous Jews would routinely take advantage of people who had traveled long distances to worship at the temple in obedience to God, and were desperate to fulfill the requirements of Jewish law. Corruption and abuse became commonplace, as visitors who had come to worship would be cheated in the exchange of currency and effectively blackmailed into paying exorbitant amounts for more "suitable" animals to offer as a required sacrifice.

But on this particular spring day, someone showed up at the temple who had not come to merely worship God.

He was the Son of God.

Jesus cleansing the temple

When Jesus and His disciples came to the temple, Jesus saw what these men were doing. He saw the moneychangers cheating people. He saw priests quibbling with people about the alleged "defects" in the animals they had brought to the temple. He saw vendors charging people outrageous amounts for "temple-approved" specimens to offer as sacrifices. In other words, Jesus saw these men troubling people who had come to obediently worship His Father, and in some cases preventing them from approaching the temple to do so. And when Jesus saw that, He did something He rarely did.

He got angry.

15And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; 16And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. 17And he taught, saying to them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but you have made it a den of thieves. 18And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine.

(Mark 11:15–18 AKJV / emphasis added)

The same event is also described in Matthew 21:12–13 and Luke 19:45–46. Jesus was consumed with maintaining the sanctity of the temple, referring to Isaiah 56:7 in reminding them that the temple was to be known as a house of prayer. Then He expressed His righteous anger over the fact that they were defiling the temple with their dishonest commercial activities and hindering people from worshiping the Father.

Incidentally, many people aren't aware of the fact that Jesus actually cleared the moneychangers out of the temple twice in Scripture. The incident I have just described occurred near the end of His earthly ministry, a couple of days before He was crucified and is recorded by Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

John, however, records a different incident entirely that occurred near the beginning of Jesus' ministry, shortly after He performed His first miracle at the wedding in Cana, where He turned water into wine (John 2:1–11):

13And the Jews' passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: 15And when he had made a whip of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables; 16And said to them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father's house an house of merchandise. 17And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of your house has eaten me up. [From Psalm 69:9, a psalm dripping with prophetic overtones] 18Then answered the Jews and said to him, What sign show you to us, seeing that you do these things? 19Jesus answered and said to them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. 20Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and will you raise it up in three days? 21But he spoke of the temple of his body. 22When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this to them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.

(John 2:13–22 AKJV / emphasis & comments added)

Notice in this incident that Jesus stopped to fashion some type of whip to use to drive the moneychangers out of the temple area. This is significant for one simple reason:

It took time.

In other words, this shows us that Jesus didn't act impulsively. He didn't lose His temper and fly off the handle. He was completely under control, as always. Yes, Jesus was angry; but it was anger born of righteous indignation, not of impetuous rage.

Also, notice that on this first occasion He didn't characterize them as a den of thieves—instead He accused them of turning His Father's house into a "house of merchandise." In other words, a marketplace.

John uses the Greek word emporion (emporium, marketplace), whereas Matthew, Mark, and Luke all use the Greek expression spelaion leston (a den, cave, or hideaway for robbers or bandits). It is worth noting that in Greek, another word for "thief" is kleptes, a word that suggests someone who steals secretly or by stealth (and you've probably already guessed that this is where we get the word "kleptomaniac").

The word used in the expression spelaion leston, however, is a form of the word lestes, and suggests someone who steals openly, typically with force or violence. Although the two Greek words communicate different shades of meaning, the King James Version of the Bible doesn't always maintain such a distinction between the English words "thief" and "robber."

The point is that in this incident near the end of His ministry, Jesus was accusing these men of openly robbing people with brazen impunity, rather than attempting to be secretive about it. In other words, rather than trying to conceal their actions, their attitude was more like:

"Yeah, I know that's ten times what this lamb is worth. Whaddya gonna do about it, pal? If you don't like it, go somewhere else. Heh heh heh..."

One could read into this shift from emporion to spelaion leston a metaphor for how sin always operates: it progresses from bad to worse. It suggests that men progressed from merely turning God's house into a place for commercial activity to turning it into a place for outright robbery.

This is also the first time Jesus prophesied His death and resurrection, an idea He tried on several occasions to get through to His disciples so that when it happened, they would remember His words and believe.

The bottom line is that the men Jesus physically drove out of the temple were little more than bandits who saw a golden opportunity to profit from innocent people who had obediently come to worship the Father. Their only god was their belly, and they filled it most lavishly at the expense of God's people.

That was two thousand years ago, but a similar phenomenon has been growing within the Church over the last few years like a malignant tumor. Today, there is a new den of thieves on the scene, and just like the thieves Jesus cast out of the temple, these thieves are creating and taking advantage of opportunities to rob God's people.

As we shall see, however, these thieves are robbing believers of much more than just cash.

A paradigm shift

Prosperity preacher

One of the most visible trends in the Church over the last forty-odd years, especially in America, has been what is often referred to as the prosperity gospel. Reaching its zenith in the 1980s, the prosperity gospel is characterized by television evangelists making emotional appeals for donations, which are characterized as "seeds" being planted in faith that guarantee ever greater blessings from God. Many such ministries are characterized by glitzy, conspicuous consumption, and the fundamental message (or perhaps I should say marketing paradigm) that is promoted is basically this:

God wants you to be rich and successful...the King's kids ought to ride in style. The more you give to God (i.e., to our ministry), the more God can bless you. Plant that seed of faith and let God provide the increase. So name and claim what you want from God and plant the biggest seed of faith you can afford, and then believe God for a 20-fold, 50-fold, even a 100-fold blessing! You can't outgive God!

Of course, you're welcome to try. With a smattering of Scripture twisted around it, Christians in America have gobbled it up and asked for seconds. Televangelists have become the rock stars of the Church, and in some cases the lifestyles of actual rock stars pale in comparison.

But in the mid-1980s, things started to come unraveled. Several prominent televangelists were embroiled in humiliating, high-profile scandals and saw their ministries either destroyed or substantially diminished, and by the turn of the millennium the prosperity gospel was clearly beginning to wane. At the same time, the American economy, which had boomed during the 1980s and 1990s, began to lose steam—and as it did, the gospel of "name it and claim it" (or "blab it and grab it") began to lose its luster.

The marketing paradigm that had worked like magic from the 1970s until the 2000s was sputtering, and they needed a new angle. A new way to induce people to willingly send a chunk of their income to televangelists had to be found.

A new marketing paradigm was needed.

Although most prosperity-oriented televangelists didn't focus heavily on end-time prophecy, it was clear that most generally held to a pre-tribulation view of the Rapture, which has been the predominant view within Evangelical Christianity for well over a century (and for good reason, because it's easily the view that best harmonizes Scripture). But as the prosperity paradigm steadily weakened along with the economy and a sin-sick world under the control of Satan spiraled increasingly out of control, the threads of a new narrative began to emerge.

To their credit, a few televangelists were sharp enough to pick up on this trend early on. They began to speak in vague terms about bad times ahead (and after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 and later under a president like Barack Obama, that was an easy sell). They began to warn Christians that the Church may well experience some degree of persecution before the end comes—that maybe the Church has been lulled to sleep with talk of escaping all the scary stuff that the Bible says is coming. And as the world has continued to stagger toward the apocalyptic abyss over the last 10–15 years (and the Rapture hasn't happened yet), this narrative has solidified: Prepare for tough times, Church!

"You know, friends, I think the Church may go through some tough times, and we need to be prepared! That's why we're happy to announce that for a love offering of $65, we'll send you this Solar Emergency Radio."

Goodbye prosperity gospel, hello prepper's gospel.

Pop quiz:

Q. What's the only thing that sells better than sex?
A. Fear.

Greed was the fuel of the prosperity gospel, but it was fear that fueled the new narrative that began to take shape, and out of that narrative sprouted the tender shoots of a new marketing paradigm:

Preach vague but frightening messages of impending doom and gloom about how the Church may well suffer through some really bad times before the Lord returns, and then give people an opportunity to alleviate that fear and anxiety by selling them various types of prepper products.

Then sit back and watch the money roll in, just like it did in the good old days when all you had to do is tell people to "plant a seed of faith." It's brilliant, and it works like a charm because times really are getting bad; the world really is spinning out of control.

And many people really are afraid.

As the wheels began to turn, however, they quickly realized there was one pesky little problem to deal with:

The Rapture.

Specifically, the pre-tribulation Rapture. A paradigm shift typically entails re-thinking some old ideas, and they knew they had to re-think the Rapture:

Hmm...if a lot of Christians believe they will be raptured before the beginning of the Tribulation and that the Rapture could happen at any time, that kinda puts a damper on our profit potential, doesn't it? Hey, what if we could get more Christians to think they will be on earth to suffer through the entire seven years of the Tribulation?! If we can subtly shift away from the pre-trib position and gradually sell more people on the idea of a post-trib Rapture, there will be no limit to the amount of stuff we can sell them! And it shouldn't be too hard...after all, most Christians are too lazy to actually study the Bible and tend to believe whatever a preacher tells them. We'll make a fortune!

So, it's death to the pre-trib Rapture. They slyly equate general trouble, trials, and persecution with the capital "T" Tribulation, and subtly imply or state openly that pre-tribbers are saying that "Oh, you'll be raptured outta here before you have to suffer in any way or see the first wisp of persecution." This flimsy straw man is patently false, but the technique slides by unnoticed and helps create the desired fear and uncertainty.

And there you have it: the paradigm shift is complete:

Prepper preacher

Preach messages that rip the pre-trib Rapture as a deception that has been foisted upon the Church to lull Christians to sleep so they won't be prepared for the Tribulation they are going to have to endure. Then twist some Scripture around the post-trib Rapture and urge Christians to "wake up to the truth." Next, spin terrifying, anxiety-inducing tales about Christians being hunted down and having to hide out in bunkers to survive horrific persecution by the Antichrist. Fill 'em with fear, and then sell 'em stuff to relieve that fear—survival equipment, prepping supplies, and so forth: flashlights, radios, dried food, water filtration systems, generators, emergency medical kits, solar panels, etc.

Cha-ching. The moneychangers of Jesus' day would weep with admiration. All they had to back them up was the force of Jewish law. Today, purveyors of this new paradigm rely on the power of raw fear—and fear is one of the most powerful motivators known to man.

Second only to love.

Meet the new den

I ​tend not to name names ​unless necessary when I talk about doctrinal error and so forth for the simple reason that I don't mean for what I say to come across like a petty personal attack. I typically just want to examine why I think a certain teaching is wrong and ​discuss what I believe to be correct doctrine. There's ​seldom anything to be gained by making it personal and it's seldom necessary.

For example, there are plenty of folks out there who believe in a post-trib Rapture and are convinced the Church will go through the Tribulation, and they may write articles, maintain websites, or create YouTube videos and such in support of their viewpoint. While I may vehemently disagree with them based on Scripture, I feel no need to launch some kind of personal attack against any of them​ in an article—I just disagree with them and don't hesitate to discuss why​, that's all.

But these aren't the kind of people I'm focusing on here.

This new den of thieves is a different​ animal. In this case, I want you to know ​exactly who some of these guys are so you can avoid them and others like them because I feel they pose a legitimate threat to the body of Christ. And in case you're curious, there is scriptural support for naming those who ​promote errant doctrine and pervert and/or oppose the gospel of Christ (1 Tim. 1:18–20; 2 Tim. 4:14–15).

The following are several of the names that have emerged in the promotion of this new paradigm of trashing the pre-trib Rapture, ​pushing the post-trib Rapture, filling people with fear of going through the ​looming Tribulation, and using that fear to manipulate people into purchasing various types of survival gear and prepper supplies that they just happen to be peddling.

Jim Bakker — I'm going to take my time with this guy, because Jim Bakker has become the de facto ringleader of today's new den of thieves, if indeed there is such a thing. ​At least I can't think of anyone more deserving of the dubious distinction of heading up this list.

Jim Bakker and his wife Tammy founded The PTL Club ("Praise the Lord," aka "Pass the Loot") in 1974, and during the '70s and '80s PTL was the premiere televangelistic juggernaut. Raking in donations to the tune of over a million dollars a week in its heyday, ​Jim and Tammy were the undisputed crown prince and princess of the prosperity gospel. In 1978, they opened Heritage USA, a Christian theme park which included a large luxury hotel.

In the mid-1980s, however, it all came crashing down. Bakker was caught in a tawdry sex scandal (which involved drugging a young female church secretary so Bakker and another minister could have sex with her), and it was discovered that Bakker paid her ​over a quarter of a million dollars to keep quiet about it. Then, after a lengthy investigation into his shady bookkeeping practices and the vast overselling of $1,000 "lifetime memberships" ​which included a​n annual three-day stay at Heritage USA, Bakker was charged with a total of 24 counts of mail fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy, ​convicted on all 24 counts, and in 1989 was sentenced to 45 years in federal prison.

His sentence was later reduced and he ended up being released in 1994, after serving a total of only five years. ​Tammy divorced him in 1992 while he was in prison (she died in 2007), and after he was released he got involved in ministry once again. He published a book entitled I Was Wrong (Thomas Nelson, 1997), and by all appearances he had come clean, had been duly humbled, was truly repentant, and had straightened his life out to a great extent. In 2006, he started hosting a new religious television talk show based in Branson, Missouri called The Jim Bakker Show. And just like that...

He was back in business.

His new show features a somewhat more rustic, toned-down setting—gone is the gaudy opulence of his former prosperity gospel empire. By far the biggest change, however, is in the overall thrust of the message being promulgated on a regular basis:

Aarrghh! The Tribulation is coming! The Antichrist is coming! And we still haven't been raptured outta here! Start prepping NOW!!

Bakker himself doesn't normally delve deeply into Scripture (frankly, I doubt that he can)—his role is to set the tone by sounding uncertain about the Rapture and anxiety-ridden about the future, and he invites guest teachers and preachers onto his show to deliver more "scripturally detailed" post-trib teaching to solidify the message and drive it home. For his part, Bakker manages to remain somewhat ambiguous about the timing of the Rapture, and as far as I know doesn't come right out and say that pre-trib is wrong and post-trib is right—he lets his guests do the dirty work, and the reason is something well known to magicians: misdirection.

He's not there to scare you
(that's his guests' job),
he's there to help you...

Having other people deliver the "crushing blows" to the pre-trib Rapture creates the illusion that the disheartening anti-pre-trib details are not coming from Bakker, but from another source. That allows those who lean toward the pre-trib view to continue to identify with Jim.

Like a master craftsman, Bakker plays the role of a member of his target audience: a frightened, befuddled believer who always leaned toward a pre-trib Rapture, but who has watched the world get worse and worse and can't help but wonder why the Rapture hasn't happened yet and just isn't sure what to think anymore. And he plays it to the hilt. He's not there to scare you (that's his guests' job), he's there to help you by making survival gear and prepper supplies available "just in case."

And he pulls the whole thing off with a gut-wrenching gravitas that can bring himself and his studio audience to tears.

A good con man can make you believe his lies.
A great con man believes them himself.

The bottom line is that you cannot watch Jim Bakker's show without coming away with the idea that the pre-trib Rapture is a lie (so don't you feel silly for still believing it), the Church will indeed go through the Tribulation, we will probably have to rummage through trash cans to survive (assuming we can avoid being beheaded by the forces of the Antichrist), and so for heaven's sake you'd better start prepping today!

Speaking of which, Bakker's website offers an impressive array of survival gear and prepper supplies—and after watching some of his shows, you're liable to be nervously considering them as a sound investment in your family's security during the coming apocalypse.

Cha-ching.

Michael Snyder — An economic doom-and-gloomer by trade and a welcome guest on The Jim Bakker Show, Michael Snyder runs a blog called The Economic Collapse, which stridently trumpets imminent global economic catastrophe on a daily basis. He is also the author of The Beginning of the End (self-published, 2013), a novel set in the apocalyptic end times featuring the global economic meltdown he preaches about daily.

More recently, he wrote a book called The Rapture Verdict (self-published, 2016), which, as the title suggests, is passed off as the "final word" on the Rapture by someone who is in the know on such things.

Well, it isn't, and neither is he. And if I were in the mood, I might be tempted to say something about the fact that his books are self-published—but I'm not, and so I won't.

Oh, forgive me for keeping you in suspense—the "verdict" is that the pre-trib Rapture is a delusion that will sorely disappoint millions in the Church, and that the Rapture will most definitely be post-trib. He offers up the same tired old scriptural straw men with an occasional twist as "proof" and uses the opportunity to preach the same message of fear.

Here's one of the more comforting remarks from the book:

"Unfortunately, there isn't going to be a pre-Tribulation rapture. In fact, millions of Christians are going to die waiting for a pre-Tribulation rapture that is never going to happen."

— Michael Snyder
The Rapture Verdict

(Cue scary music...) So start prepping now! And as luck would have it, Mr. Snyder offers a vast array of survival gear and prepper supplies on his blog.

John Shorey — Another welcome guest on The Jim Bakker Show, Rev. John Shorey is the author several books devoted to apocalyptic speculation, including The Window of the Lord's Return 2012–2020 (HigherLife Development Services, 2010) and Unlocking the Mystery of the Book of Revelation (self-published, 2014).

What bothers me most about John Shorey (and many others are guilty of the same thing) is the way he constantly says things like "I was fasting and praying, and the Lord spoke to me," or "the Holy Spirit downloaded all this into my spirit," ad infinitum, ad nauseam, and then he'll blurt out something that is easily refuted from Scripture. These little spiritualisms, of course, are designed to impress upon you that whatever he is about to say comes straight from God Himself and so cannot be questioned or doubted.

Well, call me a doubting Thomas...

In effect, he serves as yet another of Jim Bakker's sounding boards. He doles out the requisite post-trib despair, and then sells a lot of survival gear and prepper supplies on his website, including items as an affiliate for Jim Bakker.

Alex Jones — I would be remiss if I didn't give a shoutout to Alex Jones, conspiracy theorist extraordinaire. He has a syndicated radio talk show called The Alex Jones Show, has made numerous documentaries, runs a website called InfoWars, and is a vocal proponent of every conspiracy theory in existence.

Which apparently includes the pre-trib Rapture.

Alex Jones claims to be a Christian, but that's about where it ends as far as I can tell. But he has teamed up with post-trib preachers in an effort to add an air of biblical legitimacy to his message that people need to wake up to the fact that the pre-trib Rapture is a lie and that Christians will go through the Tribulation, and so should hunker down and start prepping for the apocalypse. To that end, he offers prepping supplies on his website.

As I have stated before, I am absolutely convinced that the virulent wave of attacks on the doctrine of the pre-tribulation Rapture that has overtaken the Church like a tsunami in the last decade or so is being orchestrated by Satan to (a) fill born-again believers with fear of coming events and (b) get their eyes off Jesus and onto their flesh. Our adversary the devil knows one thing:

Fearful, flesh-centered believers are defeated believers.​

So, although today's den of thieves certainly includes the above-mentioned individuals—men who misinterpret, mishandle, and misapply the Word of God to deliberately frighten sincere believers in order to make money, it indirectly includes anyone who attacks the pre-tribulation Rapture. Even if they don't sell prepper supplies themselves, they are still contributing to the climate of fear that motivates believers to buy them elsewhere.

It is worth noting that the apostle Paul had to deal with such men two thousand years ago, and the description still fits like a glove:

17Brothers, be imitators together of me, and note those who walk this way, even as you have us for an example. 18For many walk, of whom I told you often, and now tell you even weeping, as the enemies of the cross of Christ, 19whose end is destruction, whose god is the belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who think about earthly things. 20For our citizenship is in heaven, from where we also wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21who will change the body of our humiliation to be conformed to the body of his glory, [btw, this confirms Paul is talking about the Rapture] according to the working by which he is able even to subject all things to himself.

(Philippians 3:17–21 / comments added)

Notice how Paul sharply contrasts these men, who focus on earthly things and whose god is their belly, with believers who are waiting for the Rapture.

Some things never change.

A one-two-three punch

Three fists punching the Church

I'll tell you the truth: When I see people like this artfully twist Scripture into a lie in order to frighten sincere believers into buying survival gear, it never fails to remind me of Jesus driving the den of thieves out of the temple. And I'm certainly not trying to compare myself to Jesus in any way, but I will openly and unashamedly admit to one other thing. Yeah, yeah, OK...I'm takin' it easy. It's cool, but...

It makes me angry.

Jesus got angry because a den of thieves was hindering people from worshiping His Father: they were harming people spiritually, not just in terms of money. It's much the same with today's den of thieves. They are not just taking Christians' money—they are also robbing them in a spiritual sense. They are inflicting upon the body of Christ a one-two-three punch, and scaring them into parting with their cash is only the first punch.

Here's the second:

The blessed hope 

The Bible tells born-again believers to strive to deny sinful desires and to live in a manner worthy of what we have already received (Phil. 3:16), which is the forgiveness of sin and eternal life in heaven with a holy God in a perfected, glorified body.

But as everyone knows, that's easier said than done. Since we still have a sin nature in our flesh and our flesh constantly wars with our spirit (Gal. 5:17), we need all the help we can get. Of course, we have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin and empower us to overcome it. But we all still fail from time to time (pretty much every day, truth be told). We still go off the reservation once in a while, and the Lord has to bring us back like the Good Shepherd that He is, possibly with a healthy dose of His discipline.

But God gave us something more than the Holy Spirit (as if that wasn't enough). He gave us an added bonus to help keep us on track and to help motivate us to live in manner pleasing to Him: He gave us a special hope. And not just the hope of eternal life (as if that wasn't enough).

He gave us the blessed hope—the hope of being changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.

He gave us the hope of the Rapture, and that hope is intended to serve as an extra motivation to purify our lives and live in a manner pleasing to God:

11For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12instructing us to the intent that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we would live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world; 13looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ; 14who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify for himself a people for his own possession, zealous for good works.

(Titus 2:11–14 / emphasis added)

2Beloved, now we are children of God, and it is not yet revealed what we will be. But we know that, when he is revealed, we will be like him; for we will see him just as he is. 3Everyone who has this hope set on him purifies himself, even as he is pure.

(1 John 3:2–3 / emphasis added)

But why does the hope of the Rapture motivate us to purify our lives?

I'm glad you asked. It motivates believers to purify their lives because the Rapture could literally occur at any time—it is a signless event and no right-thinking believer wants to be ashamed at His coming. This is called the doctrine of imminence, and it is clearly taught in several places in Scripture.

But if the Rapture is not imminent, none of this makes any sense. It is the imminence of the Rapture that is the very thing that is intended to have a purifying effect on believers. How is this unclear? It is the imminence of the Rapture that is intended to keep us on our spiritual toes, so to speak. And as I have explained in a previous article, only a pre-tribulation Rapture keeps imminence intact while every other Rapture position blatantly violates it.

A sign for the signless? Although I have always fundamentally believed in the doctrine of imminence as a general principle (because I believe Scripture clearly teaches it), I don't think we should allow it to blind us to the reality of the coming fulfillment of the Revelation 12:1–2 sign of September 23, 2017. This sign is clearly and undeniably a prophetic picture of the coming catching away of the body of Christ (whatever specific date it may actually occur), but unfortunately some sincere believers are allowing rigid adherence to this traditional doctrine to cause them to dismiss the Revelation 12 sign as being meaningless. Although I know their hearts are right, I honestly feel this does a disservice to God's Word and to the Church.

In other words, where's the blessed hope—the purifying hope—in knowing full well we're going to have to slog through the horrors of the Tribulation? In hoping that we don't get captured and beheaded by the forces of the Antichrist first? The above verses of Scripture don't make a lick of sense in the event of a post-trib Rapture.

This "blessed hope" business only makes sense if the Rapture is pre-trib.

So when these guys push their harrowing post-trib messages in order to scare believers into buying survival gear, they're not just taking their money—they're stealing their blessed hope, a hope that is intended to keep believers focused on living overcoming lives.

Now, let's put on our thinking caps: Who do you suppose would want that?

And here's the third:

The crown of righteousness 

Crown

There are five different crowns (stephanous) that are mentioned in Scripture that believers can earn during their earthly lives, and these will be awarded at the Bema Seat, or judgment seat of Christ in heaven at some point after the Rapture. They are all awarded above and beyond salvation and are sometimes explained in slightly different ways, but here's a quick rundown:

1. The incorruptible crown or the victor's crown (1 Cor. 9:24–27).

Paul often uses the analogy of an athlete in a sports competition in talking about the way believers should live. Here, Paul is exhorting believers to be like athletes who get in shape and go into training in order to come in first place in their particular event. What athlete is satisfied with merely qualifying for the competition (which all believers do by virtue of the fact that they are in Christ)? No, they want to excel and win the prize.

This crown will be given to people who aren't satisfied with merely being saved by grace—these are believers who strive to live overcoming lives and crucify the flesh and its lusts, and make a sincere effort to live in a manner that pleases and honors God out of gratitude for what they have freely received from Him.

2. The crown of life or the martyr's crown (James 1:12; Rev. 2:10).

This crown will be given to believers who have suffered real persecution for the name of Christ, even to the point of martyrdom. And Americans should be aware of the fact that there are millions of Christians in this day and age in countries around the world who will be in line for this crown.

3. The crown of glory or the elder's crown (1 Pet. 5:1–4).

This crown will be given to those who are called into the ministry and are faithful in caring for the flock God has put them in charge of. These are individuals who study to show themselves approved and rightly divide God's Word and faithfully minister His Word to their congregations, thus tending to their flock's spiritual needs and fostering their spiritual growth and maturity.

4. The crown of rejoicing or the soul winner's crown (1 Thess. 2:19).

Paul rejoiced greatly to see people come to faith in Christ as a result of his preaching and teaching. This crown will be given to those who are faithful in their efforts to share the message of salvation through faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ with others in order that they may come to a saving knowledge of the gospel.

You don't have to be Billy Graham to win this crown, but at the very least you need to obey the following:

15But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts; and always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, with humility and fear.

(1 Peter 3:15)

In other words, do your job. Then let the Holy Spirit do His.

Last but not least, the crown I want to focus on in relation to the topic of this article:

5. The crown of righteousness or the watcher's crown (2 Tim. 4:7–8).

First of all, let's look at the pertinent passage of Scripture:

7I have fought the good fight. I have finished the course. I have kept the faith. 8From now on, there is stored up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day; and not to me only, but also to all those who have loved his appearing.

(2 Timothy 4:7–8 / emphasis added)

Paul loved the appearing of Christ, and had for many years been anxiously looking forward to it. He had been looking forward to the Rapture for decades, because he knew it could happen at any time. In other words, Paul believed the Rapture was imminent.

But notice how this eager anticipation and expectation of Christ's appearing affected Paul: it motivated him to fight the good fight; to finish the course; to keep the faith.

The crown of righteousness is intended to reward believers who possess the blessed hope of the Rapture, and have allowed that hope to motivate them to live overcoming lives characterized by righteousness.

So, as I said, the blessed hope of the Rapture is intended to motivate us to purify our lives, and according to the above passage of Scripture, we will be rewarded with the crown of righteousness if we allow it to do that.

The point is that these guys aren't just taking believers' money: they're taking their hope and they're taking their crown.

10Because you kept my command to endure, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, which is to come on the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. 11I am coming quickly! Hold firmly that which you have, so that no one takes your crown.

(Revelation 3:10–11 / emphasis added)

And now you know who's after it.

Let it sink in

The cold, hard truth is that we are entering into some tough times, and it's clear to most people that things are only going to get worse. I don't know any other way to say it than to come right out and say it:

We are rapidly approaching the beginning of the Tribulation—the final pieces of furniture are being put into position and the actors are taking their places on stage before the curtain goes up.

Scared guy

So, selling a message of fear today is about as hard as selling Häagen-Dazs in Honolulu—take a good look at the world around us, and you see that there's plenty to be afraid of. But what about the Church?

Well, what about the Church? What about born-again believers in the gospel of Jesus Christ, filled and sealed with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit? Are we supposed to look around at what's happening in the world—at Bible prophecy being fulfilled on a daily basis with clear indications of His soon return everywhere we look, and be scared?

Take a chill pill: Do you think that we as born-again believers have any business being sucked into an ever expanding vortex of fear and anxiety over both current and coming events and as a result allow ourselves to be consumed with protecting and providing for our flesh—our food, our water, our clothing, our homes, our material possessions—when the God who created the universe has promised point blank to provide those things for us if we love Him and put Him first in our lives?

I think you already know the answer to that one.

7For God didn't give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control.

(2 Timothy 1:7 / emphasis added)

28Don't be afraid of those who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul. Rather, fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. 29Aren't two sparrows sold for an assarion coin? Not one of them falls on the ground apart from your Father's will, 30but the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31Therefore don't be afraid. You are of more value than many sparrows.

(Matthew 10:28–31 / emphasis added)

28We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.

(Romans 8:28 / emphasis added)

Christians out there who are getting sucked into this vortex of fear and are quivering at the thought of going through the Tribulation, and are allowing it to scare them into sending money to every doom-and-gloom, run-for-your-lives ministry that comes along in exchange for all manner of survival gear and prepper supplies would do well re-read the following passage of Scripture as many times as it takes for it to sink in:

25Therefore, I tell you, don't be anxious for your life: what you will eat, or what you will drink; nor yet for your body, what you will wear. Isn't life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26See the birds of the sky, that they don't sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns. Your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren't you of much more value than they? 27Which of you, by being anxious, can add one moment to his lifespan? 28Why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They don't toil, neither do they spin, 29yet I tell you that even Solomon in all his glory was not dressed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today exists, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, won't he much more clothe you, you of little faith? 31Therefore don't be anxious, saying, "What will we eat?," "What will we drink?" or, "With what will we be clothed?" 32For the Gentiles seek after all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But seek first God's Kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things will be given to you as well.

(Matthew 6:25–33)

Has it sunk in yet? OK, then turn off the TV and put away your checkbook.

Now, please don't think I'm advocating irresponsible behavior. There is certainly nothing wrong with having a reasonable amount of food, water and other various supplies stored away in case of an emergency​. For example, here in Taiwan, some people might not have electricity or running water for two or three days following a powerful typhoon, and having an emergency supply of food and water is just common sense. And the same is true pretty much anywhere.

I'm talking about full-blown prepping—and I mean prepping for the seven-year Tribulation—the most catastrophic period of time the world has ever or will ever experience:

21For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. 22And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened.

(Matthew 24:21–22 AKJV / emphasis added)

The point I want to leave you with​ is that born-again believers have no business listening to a den of thieves who slyly twist the God's Word for profit, fill them with fear by spinning graphic tales of how they are going to have to endure God's coming judgment upon the earth, and as a result frighten and manipulate them into spending their hard-earned money on useless junk to prep for the very Tribulation that God clearly promised the Church they will not go through.

And believers who are foolish enough to continue listening to them are in danger of losing not only their money, but their blessed hope in the Rapture and the crown of righteousness that blessed hope is intended to lead to.

Oh, and let one other thing sink in as well. Please understand that today's den of thieves is fulfilling prophecy when they attack the pre-trib Rapture and try to convince believers that it's not going to happen:

3Knowing this first, that in the last days mockers will come, walking after their own lusts, 4and saying, "Where is the promise of his coming? For, from the day that the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation."

(2 Peter 3:3–4 / emphasis added)

"If this pre-trib Rapture business were true, we would have been raptured 10 years ago!"

Translation: "Where is the promise of his coming?"

"Hey, if we get raptured outta here, that's great...but it hasn't happened yet, ya know?!"

Translation: "Where is the promise of his coming?"

"Millions of Christians are going to die waiting for a pre-trib Rapture that is never going to happen!"

Translation: "Where is the promise of his coming?"

The point is that Jesus did promise to take us to be with Him before the beginning of the Tribulation. God's Word, when rightly divided, is quite clear. The only question is whether or not you're willing to believe Him.

But there's also something Jesus didn't promise us.

"I never promised you a rose garden..."

During a recent exchange in the comment section of a YouTube video, a gentleman of the post-trib persuasion wrote something to me along the following lines:

"You will no doubt find yourself begging for food and provisions after we enter the Tribulation, just like the five foolish virgins, only to realize you've been deceived!"

(Relax...this is a kiss on the cheek by post-trib standards.) Of course, I could have attempted to explain to him that the Parable of the 10 Virgins (Matt. 25:1–13) has to do with Tribulation survivors and not the Church, but I knew it would have been a waste of time and simply would have provoked more blustery invective.

I chose to sit on my hands and not respond to his comment, but it did start me thinking. Is it possible the Church will be here to experience some tough times? You bet! Jesus never promised us a rose garden. He told us we would suffer trials and tribulations in this life (John 16:33), and Paul tells us that we will be persecuted if we try to live holy lives that honor Christ (2 Tim. 3:12). This idea of expecting to fly away at the first sign of trouble is foolish, fleshly, and nowhere supported in Scripture.

And it's not what pre-tribbers typically believe, contrary to the overblown, misinformed objections of those who get worked up into a seething rage by the doctrine of the pre-tribulation Rapture. Why should I believe such a thing? I believe in a pre-trib Rapture because I study Scripture and I sincerely believe that's what the Bible teaches, and not because I desperately wish to cling to some escapist fantasy in which the bride of Christ won't be here long enough to get the slightest smudge on her pretty white wedding gown.

But the Church will be removed before the onset of Daniel's 70th Week—that is supported in Scripture. Irrefutably so. And it's not so much a "reward" for the Church as it is a theological necessity that requires a Church-centric scriptural myopia to miss.

If I've said it once: I've said it a thousand times, and I'm going to keep on saying it: There is a monumental difference between the general trials, troubles, and persecution we can expect to suffer as a result of trying to live godly, Christ-honoring lives in a fallen, sin-infested world and the highly specific seven-year Tribulation during which God will effect the national redemption of Israel and judge the Christ-rejecting nations of the world.

So what if the Church does see some real persecution in America? So what if it does reach the point where born-again believers are kicked to the curb and marginalized from society? It's already heading in that direction as we speak. What if I really do end up "begging for food and provisions," in the words of the above YouTuber?

Ooh...what if I'm starving?!

Then let me starve sharing with others the bread of life.

Ooh...what if I'm dying of thirst?!

Then let me die of thirst leading others to rivers of living water.

Ooh...what if I'm killed?!

Then let me die showing others the way, the truth, and the life.

I really don't care—my Heavenly Father has everything under control.

I'm all in...how about you?

I have no idea when the Rapture will occur, and I'm not going to obsess over it. It's enough for me to eagerly anticipate it and to know that it's getting close and could happen any time, and to let that hope motivate me to live in a manner that is obedient to God and honors and glorifies the Savior who died for me.

And as far as that crown of righteousness I plan on receiving is concerned, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to this:

10The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that lives for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 11You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for you have created all things, and for your pleasure they are and were created.

(Revelation 4:10–11 AKJV / emphasis added)

After we get to heaven and receive our stephanos—our crowns of reward, we will have an opportunity to worship and glorify God by casting our crowns before His throne.

I'm not about to let a den of thieves rob me of that.

 Greg Lauer / June 2016 

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Credits for Graphics (in order of appearance):
1. Deriv. of "Sunset Over Grass Field" © AOosthuizen at Can Stock Photo
2. "Burglar with a Bag Full of Money" © vchalup at Fotolia.com
3. "The Merchants Chased from the Temple" by James Tissot [PD]
4. Deriv. of "Emotional Politician" © studiostoks at Fotolia.com
5. Deriv. of "Emotional Politician" © studiostoks at Fotolia.com
6. Deriv. of "Fist Closeup" © unclepodger at Fotolia.com
7. Deriv. of "Golden Royal Crown" © Sashkin at Fotolia.com
8. "Scared Man Wearing Suit" © asierromero at Fotolia.com
(All PD works are via Wikimedia Commons.)

Scripture Quotations:
All Scripture is taken from the World English Bible, unless annotated as KJV (King James Version) or AKJV (American King James Version).