The home where the Bible study was to take place was in the foothills to the west of Denver on a street named Eagle Ridge Drive. It wasn’t hard to find, given that about three dozen cars were parked up and down the street in front of the house. The road up into the foothills had been narrow and winding, and as soon as I saw all the cars, and realizing I probably wouldn’t find a parking spot up ahead, I pulled over and parked behind the last car in line. We would have to walk the rest of the way. We got out of my car, and hustled past all the parked cars.
It was the first day of December and the night was chilly, and the hint of the winter to come was in the air. Katy took my arm and as we walked, her hip brushed against mine.
“Are you cold?” I asked.
“Just a little,” she said. “It feels good, though. This cool weather is a welcome change. I love the seasons. I love the holidays.”
The house was located in a spectacular setting. The rugged Rocky Mountains were to the west and the city of Denver lay below to the east. The view of the city lights glistening and shimmering in the distance was spectacular.
Katy looked up at the house as we walked through the driveway’s open front gate. “Nice place,” she said. “It looks like it must have cost a fortune.”
“Sure does,” I agreed. “I wonder why these people go all the way to Aurora just to go to church. It’s a long way.”
“They’re old friends of the Townsends,” Katy explained.
“How do you know?” I asked innocently.
“Oh, I’ve been talking to Corinne. She’s told me about some things that are going on at the church. Of course,” she laughed, “she doesn’t know who her new minister really is!”
I didn’t respond, but I wasn’t sure how to respond. I didn’t feel like telling her I still had serious doubts about Nathaniel. I had to admit that he was a charismatic individual, though in my mind I stubbornly refused to believe that anyone could live for two thousand years. Katy’s touch, her body brushing against mine, and knowing I was in love with her made everything somehow okay. Being with her seemed so logical, and was evidently meant to be. So, in spite of my doubts, I was looking forward to this Bible study, but more than anything else, I simply wanted to spend time with Katy.
We walked up the long circular drive and up the steps to the front door. I rang the doorbell and a moment later we were let inside by a young altar boy we recognized from the church. His face was shining and he seemed innocent. For some reason, seeing his face brightened my mood considerably. My doubts suddenly vanished.
“Through there and to the right,” he said, smiling at us.
We followed his directions, finding our way to the living room. As large as the house was, the living room was crowded. People sat on the furniture and all along the floor, but we spotted an open area near the fireplace. We tiptoed through ankles and feet and made our way to the front of the fireplace. A fire burned quietly, but efficiently, throwing lots of heat into the living room. We sat down on the plush carpeted floor as far from the hearth as we could sit.
Nathaniel was sitting in the center of a large sofa, and he was surrounded by several women from the church. Across from them, the couple who apparently owned the home sat on another large sofa with several people I didn’t recognize. Between the two groups there was a large ornate coffee table. Near these two sofas, I saw Elena Valencia with a group of her friends sitting on the floor. Everyone held open Bibles on their laps. Katy pulled her Bible out of her large duffel purse.
Several lamps were on throughout the room, including ceiling lights and built-in lights below art hanging on the walls, but still the light was relatively dim and reading the fine print of a Bible seemed as if it would be difficult. I noticed one young man holding his Bible right up to his face, studying intently. We were late, but almost everyone there had ignored us as we stepped over them and found a place to sit.
Nathaniel was speaking, and the entire group was listening intently. He mentioned a passage from the Book of Revelations and then he quoted from the Book of Mark.
“And so my friends, please look at Mark 13:19: ‘For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will be.’
“The great tribulation! It will be a time of terrible distress, a time like no other the earth has ever seen. Mankind has witnessed tribulation many times, but this will be the great tribulation. It will be a terrible time on earth. It will be so terrible that most of us will die, I believe. Jesus himself told us this.
“It will also be a time of great fear. Luke 21:25: ‘And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth distress of nations in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and waves, men fainting with fear and foreboding of what is coming on the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.’ ”
Nathaniel looked over at Katy and me, arching his eyebrows, as if we should make special notice of his words. It was then that I realized Nathaniel had spoken those same words before, during dinner at his duplex. For a moment the room was quiet, but Mrs. Ashby spoke up, her voice loud and defiant.
“But we won’t have to go through it,” she said. “Jesus promised that his church would be raptured.” She smiled at Nathaniel. “Only the wicked will be forced to go through the tribulation at the end of the age.”
I noticed most of the people in the living room nodding their agreement. Nathaniel, however, began to frown, ever so slightly. “Please turn to the book of Matthew, 24:9,” he said, pausing while everyone opened their Bible to the designated spot.
After a moment, Nathaniel said, “This is what Jesus himself said, speaking to his apostles: ‘Then they will deliver you up to tribulation, and put you to death; and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away (or stumble) and betray one another, and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.’ And now, if you’ll turn just a bit farther, to Matthew 24:21: ‘For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been shortened, no human being would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. Then if any one says to you, ‘Lo, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.’
“Matthew 24:21 through 24 is a continuation of the thought given in verse 24:9. The apostle Matthew has quoted Jesus as saying even the elect could be led astray during the great tribulation! Why would anyone consider the elect to be non-believers? Jesus is quite clear about this. He is telling us that his elect, the best Christians of all, will be here on earth during the great tribulation. And because of them, and only them, will the days of the tribulation be shortened.
“My good friends,” and as he said these words Nathaniel smiled sincerely, “this is from the Gospel of Matthew. These verses, I believe, must be given priority over any other scripture when considering whether Christians will suffer through the great tribulation.
“Please go back to Luke 21:25. Just after that frightful verse, in Luke 21:27 it says, ‘And then they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’
“Jesus, in these verses, said that there would be great distress upon the earth, men fainting with fear and with foreboding, and that he will be returning, that as all this begins to take place we should hold up our heads, for our redemption is at hand!
“He told us that we should hold up our heads during this time of great fear, for we will be redeemed. Our redemption! What else can redemption mean to you? Only those who follow the gospel of Christ will be redeemed, so it is clear to me that he’s talking about his flock on earth, his church; his elect; believers who will be on earth during this time of great trouble.
“No, my dear,” looking directly at the woman sitting across from him, “I’m afraid there will be no rapture of Christians prior to the great tribulation. Our redemption will come only afterward, after this terrible period of distress and great fear.”
“But...,” the woman started to say, but Nathaniel held up a hand, stopping her.
“Now then,” he went on, “let me tell you the circumstances under which Jesus made these prophecies. For days, he had been teaching in the temple, and then came a series of confrontations with the Sadducees and the Pharisees. They tried to draw Jesus out and make him appear to be a fool, but instead he turned the tables on them, and they looked foolish when he was done with them. And when he left the temple, having castigated the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus was angry. He called them hypocrites, indeed, even called them serpents! Why, he even called them a ‘brood of vipers!’
“I can tell you this; Jesus was so angry that as he left the temple he told all the apostles who were with him that someday the temple would be totally destroyed, not one stone left standing.
“In his righteous anger he made a simple prophecy, but it so aroused the curiosity of his apostles that they insisted on knowing more, and so he took all of them up to the Mount of Olives. Biblical scholars refer to this moment as the Olivet Discourse, where Jesus gave his prophecy about the end times. Now remember, he was speaking only to his apostles for no one else was there.
“He told them about the end of the world as we know it, the time on earth just before he would return. Jesus spoke prophetically, because he was also speaking to future generations of Christians. This was his message to his people. It wasn’t a message meant to fall on deaf ears, in other words upon the sinners and the unbelievers who would never repent of their evil ways. This was his message to his church. Obviously it was also a warning.”
Nathaniel’s voice grew ominous. He turned to the women on either side of him. “It was his warning to you,” he said. “...they will deliver you up to tribulation!” As Nathaniel said the word ‘you’, emphasizing it, one of the women sitting next to him jumped nervously, startled by his words.
But, Mrs. Ashby immediately protested. “But I’ve read so much about this,” she said, her lips pouting. “Christians will not go through the tribulation. We will be raptured. Everyone knows that!”
Nathaniel smiled briefly at her, then frowned. “I understand it is a common belief these days,” he said, his voice gentle. “But, it is wrong. First, let me tell you something you may find interesting; the word ‘rapture’ appears nowhere in the New Testament. It’s a modern invention.
“If such a rapture prior to the great tribulation is to be believed, then Jesus would have to appear a second time to rapture his church, but then also a third time, his final appearance, to bring judgment upon the world.” Nathaniel held up his Bible for all to see. “Nowhere in this good book does it make mention of three comings. I can show you this easily enough. Please turn to Hebrews chapter eight,” and after a moment’s pause, Nathaniel read aloud the entire chapter.
His inflection was perfect and he brought alive what the writer of Hebrews was trying to communicate. I thought that even I understood it. Nathaniel, I realized, was making this Bible study interesting.
“And so,” he said, “we see the writer of Hebrews talking about the first and second covenants God made, but that the second is so much more important. After all, it is the covenant with Jesus himself. And then, if you’ll go on to Hebrews 9,” and once again, Nathaniel read much of chapter nine, stopping finally after verse 12. “And then if we go on just a bit farther to verse 24: ‘For Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the Holy Place yearly with blood not his own; for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.’ ”
Nathaniel looked up, smiling at the woman who sat across from him. “Hebrews makes no reference to a third appearance by Jesus, but does make a specific reference at the end of verse 28, that Jesus is to ‘save those who are eagerly waiting for him.’ So the question is, who will be eagerly waiting? I will tell you my good friend, only Christians will be eagerly waiting. And it will be only those Christians whose faith sustained them right up to the end, through the entire tribulation. The wicked on the earth at that time, those who hate Jesus and everything he stands for will not be eagerly awaiting him. I can assure you of that.”
I looked around at the faces in the room. Katy stirred beside me. There seemed to suddenly be a high discomfort level among everyone. I didn’t quite understand it all, and I wondered what Nathaniel was saying that could be so disturbing. I elbowed Katy gently.
“What is he saying?” I whispered. “Everyone looks like they’ve just developed a bad case of constipation.”
“Sssshhhhhh!” Katy shushed me up. “I’ll tell you later,” she whispered.
I nodded, chagrined, suddenly wishing I knew more about this subject.
“There’s more about this,” Nathaniel continued. “I would like you to turn to the first letter of Peter. Peter in chapter 4, verse 12 gives us a hint of what we can expect. This is what he said: ‘Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.’ Peter specifically mentions the word ‘fiery’ and so we can expect the tribulation to be a time of fire, or perhaps the use of the term ‘fiery’ might be symbolic, as some think in terms of refining gold and silver, to purify it, though I sometimes wonder if the tribulation might be the era of global warming that so many scientists today speak of. Or, could it be the fire of nuclear weapons? Perhaps, in our lifetime we’ll know the answer to that.
“Now mind you, in this letter Peter was writing to Christians, exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappodicia, Asia, and Bithynia. Those were trying times for everyone. Peter was in Rome, unable to escape, persecuted by Nero. The Christians he wrote to were in what is now Turkey, many being persecuted by the local population, and so their faith was foundering. Peter’s faith remained firm, even though he expected to soon die at the hands of Nero.
“Peter wrote just two letters, but they are magnificent documents. In his letters, Peter, like Jesus in the Olivet Discourse, was speaking to the Christians of the time, dispersed as they were in exile, but he was also speaking to future generations of Christians. His letters were also warnings. Peter was warning what the end time would be like and what we should expect.
“Please turn to 2 Peter, 3:1: ‘This is now the second letter that I have written to you, beloved, and in both of them I have aroused your sincere mind by way of reminder; that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles. First of all you must understand this, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own passions and saying, ‘Where is the promise of his coming?’
“Now, listen carefully! Pay attention to what I’m about to tell you. Peter’s letters were written to good Christians of strong faith. He’s telling them that in the end, scoffers will come, scoffing to the people of those end days. And so you must then ask yourself, if the church has already been raptured, as some would argue, why then would there be scoffers? To whom will they be scoffing? To unbelievers and to other sinners? I think not. They will be scoffing because times will be hard. Very hard. And so their scoffing will be directed at the good Christians who are trying to maintain their faith, and I will tell you, in the days of the great tribulation, maintaining strong faith will not come easy.
“As I have said, nowhere in scripture does it say that the church, the final group of Christians alive on earth, will be raptured prior to the great tribulation. In fact, this is what I believe: to say that the church will be raptured in such manner is a false teaching.”
“Why?” someone asked, somewhat indignantly.
“Paul warned us,” Nathaniel said. “In 2 Timothy 4:3: ‘For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. As for you, always be steady, endure suffering...’
“Anyone who believes that they won’t suffer through the great tribulation is guilty of having those itching ears Paul spoke about. Yes, I understand that no one wants to suffer. No one wants to endure suffering. No one will want to go through tribulation. And I know it’s so easy to dream about rapture, to be taken away before all that. But it won’t happen! Christians have always suffered, and as long as they’re on this earth they always will!”
Nathaniel’s last words were forceful, jolting the room into total silence. No one dared contradict him.
“Paul,” he went on, “also warned us to prepare for tribulation. Romans 8:35: ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?’
“My good friends, does that sound like rapture to you? Paul goes on to say in verse 36: ‘As it is written, “For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” ’ Does that sound like rapture? It certainly doesn’t to me. No, Paul is preparing us. He is warning us. And further in Romans 12:12 he writes: ‘Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.’
“And in the Gospel of John, during the last supper Jesus warned again of tribulation. Please look at John 16:33: ‘I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.’
“How important is this verse? I’ll tell you this; those were the very last words of advice Jesus gave to the apostles at the last supper. He then said a prayer to his Father in heaven, and after that prayer departed for Gethsemane, where he was betrayed by Judas.
“So sitting there at the last supper, Jesus told his apostles about tribulation, as he had done over and over before that. If the apostles were to suffer tribulation, how could ordinary Christians who have never seen Jesus, never ate with him, and never walked and talked with him, somehow think they will escape tribulation?
“Ladies and gentlemen, Paul, Peter and John are telling us what will happen to us. How can anyone have any doubts about their words? The great tribulation is coming! We must be prepared for it!”
Mrs. Ashby flipped through her Bible, not willing to give up so easily. “But what about this verse?” she asked. “Revelation 3:10? ‘Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial which is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell upon the earth.’ Doesn’t that mean that the church will not have to go through the tribulation? That they will be kept out of it?” The woman looked triumphant, as if she had just completely destroyed Nathaniel’s argument.
“No my dear,” he said patiently. “That’s a common misinterpretation, and it’s not what Jesus meant. In the beginning of the Revelation to John, Jesus has a message for each of seven churches. In 3:10, the verse you’re referring to, he is speaking to the church in Philadelphia. Now, I can tell you, literally, the city of Philadelphia is not to be saved. It’s impossible for that to happen because it’s in Western Turkey. I’ve been there on numerous occasions. Today, its name is Alasehir and there are few if any Christians living there.”
“But why would it be impossible?” the woman protested, her lips still pouting.
“Because now the population of Turkey is almost entirely Muslim. Since, today, most Muslims will not tolerate Christians, and unless there is a miraculous conversion of Muslims in Turkey to Christianity, which I for one do not foresee, then we must assume that God will not keep these people from the hour of trial. Actually, quite the opposite. I’m sure the Turks, and all Muslims, will suffer the wrath of God.
“Indeed, all of the seven churches mentioned in the book of Revelation are found in modern day Turkey. So the verse you quoted must not be taken literally. There’s something else at work in these verses at the beginning of the Book of Revelation.
“Jesus is speaking about the end of time, so he must be using these churches symbolically, in essence really talking to the future church, the church that will exist just prior to his second coming. Would you agree with that?”
“Yes,” Mrs. Ashby said.
“Well, then, since Jesus has something different to say to each church, I think we can safely say that he is speaking to the seven faces of Christianity that will exist on earth before he returns. In fact, Jesus says it best himself. Revelation 2:23: ‘I will give to each of you as your works deserve.’
“Indeed, my dear I’m very glad you brought up the book of the Revelation to John. Please allow me to quote at will from the first three chapters. I memorized them long ago, because I think you should know that just possibly, it might be the most important sermon Jesus ever gave.” Nathaniel put his Bible in his lap and closed it. He began to quote from memory:
“Revelation 2:7: ‘To him who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’
“Revelation 2:10: ‘Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.’
“Revelation 2:26: ‘He who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, I will give him power over the nations, and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received power from my Father.’
“Revelation 3:3: ‘Remember then what you received and heard: keep that, and repent. If you will not awake, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you.’
Revelation 3:11: ‘I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. He who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God; never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and name of the city of my God, the New Jerusalem which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.’
“Revelation 3:15: ‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.’
“Revelation 3:20: ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.’ ”
Nathaniel looked at everyone sitting around him. “In the first three chapters of the Revelation to John, the word tribulation is used four times. The phrase ‘great tribulation’ is used once, to the church at Thyatira. The word ‘conquers’ is used seven times, once each for each of the seven churches.
“So what is Jesus really saying to the church of Philadelphia? Yes, he tells them he will keep them from the hour of trial, but in the same breath he warns them that they must hold fast, for he is coming soon, and that they must conquer. He does not tell them they will be taken out of the tribulation, only that they will be kept from it.
“I can only conclude that this particular group of Christians will go through the great tribulation unscathed. Yes, Jesus will protect them, but they will not be raptured.”
“Who are they? Where do they live?” someone asked.
“I don’t know,” Nathaniel replied. “I have an opinion, but it would only be speculation.”
“So speculate!” the person said, and everyone laughed, including Nathaniel who probably laughed the loudest and the longest. He was in good form this evening, apparently having won many of them over. But his next words stunned them.
“I think it might be a group of Christians here in America,” he said. “Philadelphia is now Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that it’s in Pennsylvania that the Amish live, good Christians who grow their own food and could probably withstand the great tribulation independently. Of all the groups of Christians throughout the world, none except the Amish can claim such a simple lifestyle. And further, unlike so many others, they are not a cult. They have held to the old ways, and the true beliefs. They are not tempted by the lure of modern society.”
“But couldn’t it be the rest of America, too?” the same person asked.
“I think not!” Nathaniel said. “How could it? You must take a good look at yourselves. In America, sin is pervasive, even among Christians.” Nathaniel suddenly stopped talking, looking somewhat dismayed. “Perhaps, that could be the subject of another Bible study. ‘Sin in America.’ However, I didn’t want to digress. The topic of tonight’s Bible study is the end times.”
“My Bible doesn’t use the word tribulation as yours does,” a young woman said.
“Can you give me an example?” Nathaniel asked.
“I just don’t see it,” the woman said, “anywhere in the first three chapters of Revelation. My Bible doesn’t specifically mention tribulation.”
“I see,” Nathaniel said seriously. “Well then, look at Revelation 2:22. There Jesus speaks of great tribulation. ‘Behold, I will throw her on a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her doings; and I will strike her children dead.’ Have you found it in your Bible?”
“Yes,” she said, “but it doesn’t say that.”
“What does it say?”
“It reads: ‘ So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead.’ It’s almost the same...”
“No it isn’t!” Nathaniel said vehemently. “It isn’t the same at all! I’m reading from the Revised Standard Version. When it was written, the Greek to English translation of the New Testament was nearly flawless. I know, because I speak Greek. It’s this Bible that most accurately depicts the words of Jesus and all the others.” Nathaniel looked over at Katy and me, and I thought I saw him wink at us. “I’ve spoken and studied Greek for a long, long time. The Bible you’re reading from is undoubtedly the New International Version. Its methodology is seriously flawed. The translations are not accurate.
“Look, every one of you. The word of God must be expressed truthfully, even if it means bad news. Definitions and meaning are critical to proper understanding. When Jesus speaks of tribulation, he means just that—tribulation! Not some other word! To put different words in the mouth of Jesus is tantamount to a lie! The word of God cannot be altered by mere men!
“You won’t have a proper understanding of the last days unless you’re reading a Bible that speaks truthfully of the last days! Young lady, please get rid of your Bible. I will gladly get you a new one, one that tells the true story. Words and their meaning are so very important, and I must warn you that some of these new Bibles simply gloss over the truth.
“Now understand this! Jesus used the word ‘tribulation’ on numerous occasions while speaking to his apostles, telling them that they would have tribulation. Again, I must ask you, if the original apostles won’t be spared tribulation, then how can present day Christians possibly think that they will be spared tribulation? Who are they kidding?
“Go to Acts 14:22: ‘... through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.’ Here again, the word tribulation is used. Brother Luke, who wrote the Book of Acts, is telling us that only through tribulation can we enter the kingdom of God. If Luke says that, then how can present day Christians somehow think that they will avoid tribulation?”
“Excuse me, but why isn’t all of America the church at Philadelphia?” someone asked. “I mean, symbolically speaking?”
“Mark 4:16,” Nathaniel said, sighing audibly. “Let’s turn to that,” and he waited as everyone turned the pages of their Bibles. “Please don’t take this personally, and I sincerely hope that none of you are like this, but let me read to you what I suspect American Christians, or at least many American Christians are like.
“I believe their faith is shallow and not deep. When the great tribulation comes, many of them will stumble, just as Jesus predicted. In Mark 4:16 he said, ‘And these in like manner are the ones sown upon rocky ground, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; and they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.’
“In America, I feel your lifestyle is much too extravagant. When the great tribulation begins, as prophesied, I’m convinced many Christians will bail out, choosing themselves and their lifestyle over Jesus. To me this is the greatest of ironies, because in the end if they would simply hold on until he returns, they would have the best lifestyle anyone could possible ever want—a life in paradise.”
There was a silence in the room that was eerie. No one moved and for a moment no one spoke.
“We care about Jesus and what he said,” someone finally protested. “Lots of Americans have accepted Jesus into their hearts. God knows we help people more than anyone else. Americans are a very generous people.”
“Yes, but your faith must be never ending. And when the tribulation comes, it will separate the faithful from the faithless. The tribulation will be the great test. Of this, I have no doubt.”
“Excuse me, but we’re the richest nation on earth. God gave us this land. Certainly we’ll get through the tribulation. America won’t suffer God’s wrath.”
Nathaniel shrugged. “No?” he wondered. “You must remember the words of Paul. I think he said it best in the first letter of Timothy: ‘There is great gain in godliness with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs.’
“And here in America, the heart of capitalism, money is the foundation of your capitalistic system. Everyone wants it, and if they have it they want more of it. Americans love money. Most Americans have already chosen money over God. Look around you at this money-hungry society. Look at the men who run Wall Street. Look at your own politicians. Do they love God, or do they love money? Do they love their fellow man, or do they love money? Why has America fallen into the state it is in?
“How can you possibly think that when the worst time ever on earth arrives, Americans will choose a Spartan lifestyle over their current luxurious one? How many will be satisfied with simple food and clothing?
“It depends on what is in a person’s heart, but I’m sure most Americans wouldn’t choose such a simple lifestyle. Americans can’t seem to live without their oversized cars, their oversized houses, their widescreen-TVs, their sumptuous meals, their investment portfolios, and everything else that makes up their modern lifestyle. Americans’ desires are hurtful desires. This is not how God intended for people to live. And yes, America will suffer God’s wrath.”
“Is that in scripture somewhere?” a girl sitting near to us asked.
Nathaniel quickly spoke from memory. “Colossians 3:5: ‘Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.’ Now,” Nathaniel said, “you must ask yourselves; is America immoral? Is it impure? Do Americans covet and therefore commit idolatry? If these things are true, and I believe they are, then yes, America will suffer the wrath of God.”
“Is there somewhere else in scripture where it says that?” the same girl asked. “America is a Christian nation. How can you say we will suffer the wrath of God?”
“Please don’t misunderstand me,” Nathaniel said. “Of course many Americans are very generous and very giving, but when it rains, it rains on both the wicked and the innocent. But yes, there are many places on earth where the wrath of God will fall much harder upon the people who live there, much worse than here. Still, I fear that in America there is much covetousness and so much sin. How can God ignore that?
“To answer your other question, please refer to Ephesians 5:5 where our good friend Paul gave us a very stern warning. He wrote, ‘Be sure of this, that no immoral or impure man, or one who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for it is because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.’
‘‘These are some of the most serious words I think Paul ever wrote. I think it would behoove Americans to learn this verse by heart. Paul said ‘no immoral or impure man’ will inherit the kingdom of God, and from what I’ve seen of your country immorality and impurity run rampant throughout this country.
“I know America and what she has to offer. I know that most Americans don’t follow the will of God, and so they will not escape judgment day. There is too much sin here for God to ignore. I have seen it. And more than any other group of people I’ve ever come across, Americans covet what others have. America is the most materialistic, covetous society ever before seen on earth. To God, covetousness is idolatry, one of the worst sins a person could fall under. Only those in America who follow Jesus will be saved, that is if they hold their faith through the tribulation.”
“You make it sound as if there is no hope,” Mrs. Ashby said, saying it with a slightly scolding tone, all the while smiling.
Nathaniel looked at her with a gentle expression. “There is much hope, but only for those who are strong in Christ. What I am trying to tell all of you is that a time of great peril and trouble lies ahead of us. We must be prepared for it. Don’t fall into sin and temptation, snares of Satan! Be ready for Jesus, for he will come suddenly, at a time when we don’t expect him, like the proverbial thief in the night.”
His last words apparently had great impact on everyone, for the room grew very quiet, as if everyone were thinking about the sudden return of Jesus. Nathaniel’s tone indicated he believed that there was no doubt Jesus would return soon.
He closed his Bible, and then with dramatic swiftness rose to his feet. “Well, I think I’ve talked enough about the tribulation for one evening. I would ask all of you over the coming days to read scripture for yourself concerning this issue. Formulate your own opinion based on scripture, not what you read in some book or heard from someone. The Bible is a book of great teaching. Let it teach you, with guidance from the Holy Spirit, but I caution you to make sure you’re reading this Holy Book in its proper translation.”