|A358 : by Tony Garland |
It is always a blessing for me to hear how our ministry is blessing others and helping them with a deeper understanding of the Scriptures—especially how the "big picture" fits together. Your experience is pretty close to my own—I was saved in a church which only focused on the New Testament and taught that the Church was the new Israel. It was through continued study of the Scriptures that I came to realize the problems with this common teaching.
To take each of your follow-up questions in turn:
1. Concerning the Rapture
I don't think it is likely that Christians will be wiped completely out any any point in history (other than there being none for a very short period following the removal of the Churcha at the Rapture—but I don't consider that due to persecution). The reason has to do with the effectual work of the Holy Spirit and God's desire to continue to witness to the unsaved. We already have more than two "comings" of Christ—even without the Rapture. To be sure, there are only two physical comings (when born of a virgin and at the Second Coming), but Christ also "came" on the Day of Pentecostb, when the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of Christ) came to indwell the Church in His absence (John 14:18-20). So, by my count, the Scripture describes 4 "comings" of Christ—two where the world sees His physical presence (the well-known "First" and "Second Coming") and two more where the word does not perceive his arrival (the formation of the Church on the Day of Pentecost and the removal of the same at the Rapture). If you undertake some of my teachings regarding the significance of the Day of Pentecost (e.g., The Promise of Pentecostc, the Book of Actsd), then it may help clarify things. A key to understanding the rapture is to gain a clear understanding of the nature of the Church—its technical definition as "the body of Christ" which ministers in His absence. With that comes an understanding of when the Church formed (on the Day of Pentecost, shortly after His ascension) and an related appreciation that the unique ministry of the Spirit through the Church will also come to an end at the Rapture.
I don't believe that 17 we . . . shall be caught up . . . to meet the Lord in the air (1Th. 4:17) could be referring to death: 1) Paul writes: that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord . . . we who are alive and remain — those who are alive at the time of this event are caught up without seeing death; 2) Paul states that it is a single group event involving not just living believers, but all the dead in Christ will rise. This is a single, massive, resurrection event involving all the dead (who have already died, some long, long before) in Christ.
We have numerous resources related to the Rapture on our website:
2. The Ten Kings / Ten Toes
My own view is that it is still too early for the 10 kings. The 10 kings correspond to the 10 horns on the head of the fourth (dreadful) beast of Daniel 7. The sequence in Daniel 7 implies: 1) 23 A fourth kingdom on earth, which shall be different from from all other kingdoms and shall devour the whole earth, and trample it and break it in pieces (Dan. 7:23); then 2) the ten horns are ten kings who shall arise from this kingdom.
The horns are on the head of the fourth beast, but the implication is they don't arise until the beast itself exists and it has shown itself to be uniquely vicious and has achieved global domination. It is hard to be dogmatic on this point, but the implication is that the fourth beast must first be present—and it will be uniquely manifest (uniquely vicious in comparison with all other historical kingdoms)—out of which the ten horns arise "from this kingdom" (Dan. 7:24).
As long as I've been a believer, people have been suggesting that the ten horns are present in the Europe in various manifestations—none of which I've found convincing.
Of course none of us has the "inside scoop" on exactly how God will bring this all to pass. But it has been my experience that most students of prophecy try to "fast forward" what these passages teach in their tendency to try and find near fulfillment. Keep in mind that these predictions have stood without fulfillment for nearly 2,000 years so far. Including through two world wars when many believers thought they were on the brink of happening.
I do believe that the growing inability of democratic movements to hold together cohesively—and the lack of control over the electorate which is inherent in democratic institutions—may well bear upon the "weakness" suggested by the clay mixed among the iron. I write about this in my commentary on Daniel, in the topic Sequence of Kingdomsj.