If indeed the greatest hope of every believer is the second coming of Christ, something this important should be clearly taught in Scripture, especially in the New Testament. And, more important, this is something that every true child of God should know and understand! What the great hope of the church universal shouldn’t be is a topic cloaked in confusion or a subject of heated debate that splits congregations and churches apart. Paul explains to Titus that those who are saved, should be “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (Titus 2:13; cf. 2 Pet. 3:12; 1 Thess. 5:4-6). That would be difficult to do if the Word of God didn’t tell us specifically what to look for, or if His instructions concerning His second coming were so confusing that any attempt to understand “when” would be met with such heated debate that the true child of God would prefer to be ignorant on the issue rather than face the consequences. The truth of the matter is, Scripture could not be clearer on this issue, not only as to the fact of Christ’s coming and the judgment that will occur when He comes, but also the timing of His coming as it relates to other end time events.1
Biblical prophecy provides some of the greatest encouragement and hope available to us today. Just as the Old Testament is saturated with prophecies concerning Christ’s first advent, so both testaments are filled with references to the second coming of Christ. It has been calculated that over 25% of Scripture is devoted to prophecy. It has been estimated that there are 1,845 references to Christ’s second coming in the Old Testament, where 17 books give it prominence. In the 260 chapters of the New Testament, there are 318 references to the second advent of Christ–an amazing 1 out of every 30 verses. Twenty-three of the 27 New Testament books refer to this great event. For every prophecy in the Bible concerning Christ’s first advent, there are 8 which look forward to His second!
This means that next to the Gospel message, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ is the largest subject recorded in the New Testament. In the not too distant past, eschatology was a somewhat favorite topic. Today, many recoil from extremes and treat the subject with undeserved neglect. The social gospel trends of today tends to concentrate upon the practical, and not the prophetical implications of New Testament truth.2 In the study of Eschatology, we have the witness in Scripture of a progressive revelation. Old Testament Saints looked beyond this present life possessing the hope of the eternal future. Abraham, looked for a city whose builder and maker is God (Heb. 11:10). The Old Testament Saints, not having received the promises, saw them afar off, and embracing them they confessed they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth (Heb. 11:13). Moses, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt, for he looked to the reward (Heb. 11:26). Moses looked away from everything in order to look intently on one object, he looked away from the wealth of the worldly Egyptian system toward the messianic future. While Jesus Christ is categorically the most important individual ever to walk the earth, the Bible shows clearly that the gospel that Jesus brought was not just simply about Himself, but about “the kingdom of God” (Matthew 4:23; 9:35; 24:14; Mark 1:14-15; Luke 4:43; 8:1; 16:16-17).
A.W. Tozer stated; “A reason for the absence for real yearning for Christ’s return is that Christians are so comfortable in this world that they have little desire to leave it.” We have no greater evidence of Christ’s return than His own promise in John 14:3; “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” These are the most comforting words in all of Scripture, from Jesus’ own mouth we have the promise of His return. Think of it! Jesus’ personal signature is on our salvation; as we have received Him, He is coming to receive us.3 The Greek word for “receive” in John 14:3 is paralambano meaning “to embrace or to receive intimately, to or for oneself.” It is a compound word, formed from lambanō (“to receive from”) and para (“beside” or “alongside”). Christ used this word only six times when referring to end time events: twice in the Olivet Discourse passage (Matt. 24:40-41), three times when the same comparison is made concerning the coming of the Son of Man (Luke 17:34-36), and one time in John 14:3. “I will come again and receive you unto myself” is strictly referring to His personal appearing to receive His people to Himself. Paul amplified this promise in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 emphasizing the certainty of Christ Coming to gather together both the dead and living in Christ in the clouds unto Himself. This then is the “blessed hope” of the Church universal (Titus 2:13), a present living hope, an enduring hope. And as Hebrews 9:28 so eloquently puts it; “To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.” Jesus Christ appeared first to accomplish His atoning work on the Cross opening the way of access to God the Father, and He will appear a second time to consummate our salvation as we put off the garments of mortal flesh for a heavenly garment.
THE QUESTIONS NEEDING AN ANSWER
Does the Bible provide an orderly list of signs and events which mark the close of this present age, and what are the events surrounding the Second Coming of Jesus Christ? These answers can be found depending on which lens one is viewing the Scripture through. If you approach the Word of God objectively using an impersonal and unbiased approach the answers present themselves. However, if you approach this subject subjectively using your own perspective or through a bias or predetermined approach, error is inevitable and you will miss the mark. One of my favorite authors, Robert Van Kempen said; “If the plain sense makes sense, then you have the right sense.” In other words, we can only discover truth when we interpret and except Scripture in its most normal, natural, customary sense. If you are one who spiritualizes and allegorizes prophecy contiguous to Eschatology, real truth becomes evasive, but if you except Scripture with a face value hermeneutic the truth of Christ’s Second Coming is Scripturally uninterrupted and harmonious.
Events Surrounding Christ’s Return
Jesus, in His Olivet Discourse give us the sequence of events surrounding His return of which there are four main divisions. In the chart above I have provided three; “The Beginning of Sorrows,” “The Abomination of Desolation,” and “The Cataclysmic Signs in the Sun, Moon, and Stars.” The fourth is “The Day of the Lord” and we will now look briefly at these four divisions.
THE BEGINNING OF SORROWS
The Beginning of sorrows in the Greek means “labor pains,” and is better translated “birth pangs” (Matthew 24:8) These labor pains are expected to precede the end, marking the transition from this age to the Age to Come. The picture Christ gives is that of a women in labor who’s “birth pangs” intensify, followed by hard labor then delivery and fulfillment. “The end” (Matt. 24:6,13,14) is not the end of the world as some suppose, but merely the end of this dispensation or age. The Greek word for “end” in Matthew 24:6,13,14 is telos and means the limit at which a thing ceases to be, it always refers to the end of some act or state, its not the end of a period of time but the last in any succession or series of events. Only after false Christ and false prophets appear on the world scene, only after the wars and rumor of wars, the famines, pestilences, and earthquakes, only after the Great Tribulation and persecution of God’s Elect, only after the Son of Man is seen appearing in the sky will the end come. “The end,” is identified by Scripture as the Day of the Lord when God’s Wrath falls upon mankind and His fury is seen in the earth illustrated by the trumpet and bowl judgments of Revelation.
The four divisions given in the Chart below, if viewed in light of a women giving birth can be seen as follows:
Beginning of Sorrows = Labor Pains
Abomination of Desolation/Great Tribulation = Hard Labor
Cataclysmic Signs in the heavens/Sign of Son of Man = Delivery/Rapture of the Church.
Then the Day of the LORD’S Wrath = The End
Within the Beginning Birth Pangs we find seven subsequent events:
False Christ’s – Matt 24:5
Wars and rumors of wars – Matt 24:6
Nation against nation Matt 24:7
Kingdom against Kingdom – Matt 24:7
Famines – Matt 24:7
Pestilences/Disease – Matt 24:7
Earthquakes in various places – Matt 24:7
Religious deception is to be expected, however Jesus is speaking of a time when the world will witness many saying “I am Christ.” The definite article “the” is not found in the Greek and those spoken of here cite the name of Jesus. They come “in Jesus’ name,” and because they come in His name we see it is with the intent to deceive by misrepresenting Christ. The Greek word Christos (Christ) means the anointed one. It is clear by the text that the “many” who come in Jesus’ name are not saying they are the Messiah, but rather, they are “anointed” as they come “In His Name” claiming special anointing and we have no short supply of them today. There is such an encroachment of teachers and teachings that claim prophetic authority today, but fail to present and honor Jesus Christ in a way consistent with the whole of the Scriptures. According to 1 John 4:1-6 we should reject any prophesying that preoccupies itself with mystical ideas. And 2 John tells us the genuine is recognized by the orthodoxy of their message. We are seeing a gradual shift away from the true person and message of Jesus Christ and it is getting more recognizable. It pains me to say that today the Charismatic/Pentecostal segments of the church provide some of the most fertile soil for spiritual deception.4 See Apocalypse Now: Signs Which Can’t Be Denied
ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION
When Jesus said in Matthew 24:15; “Therefore, when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place,” He spent the next five verse giving warning to flee. Why? “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matthew 24:21). There has been a lot of confusion and wrong teaching centered around the word “tribulation.” Too often, the 70th week of Daniel (seven years in duration) is recognized as the “tribulation period.” However Scripture never emphasizes this, in fact, the “great tribulation” mentioned in this text is a shortened period of time (Matt 24:22) beginning 3 1/2 years into Daniel’s 70th week, in the middle of the week, and is cut short by the cataclysmic signs in the Sun, Moon and Stars and the appearing of Jesus Christ in the sky (Matt 24:29-30). It is clear by verse 29 that the tribulation is over by the time these signs are witnessed.
So what is the great tribulation? And again we must look at the Greek to get a proper definition. Thlipsis, Greek for tribulation means “to press together, pressure and oppression. Another word used in our Bibles which is translated from the Greek word thlipsis is persecution. In Acts 11:19 the church is seen being scattered because of the “persecution (thlipsis)” that occurred in connection with Stephen. When we compare Scripture with Scripture we find that what surrounds this event is indeed a great persecution. In Revelation 7, the only other place in the New Testament where the term “great tribulation” is used we find a group of people standing before the throne of God who had come out of Great Tribulation.
“After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, off all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands…then one of the elders answered, saying to me, ‘Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?’ And I said to him, sir you know. So he said to me, these are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9,13-14).
This great multitude cannot be anyone other than the raptured saints of God. I have several reasons for saying this: First, the timing of the great multitude arriving in heaven precisely parallels the timing Christ gave His disciples in the Olivet Discourse (Matt 24:29,31). Secondly, the great multitude are described by John as coming “from every nation, tribe, peoples, and tongues. Mark sheds some light on this when describing the coming of Christ to gather His elect; “And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of the earth to the farthest part of heaven” (Mark 13:27). “The farthest part of the earth” is speaking of a gathering from or out of every part of the earth, this means every nation, tribe, people and tongue. Third, the fourth and fifth seals parallel the Olivet Discourse and what Jesus describes to be the Great Tribulation. Those spoken of in the fifth seal are the martyrs who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held (Rev. 6:9). The testimony which they held can be nothing other than the Name of Jesus. Two reason for why I say this: First, Acts 4:12 says “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” No other authority or personality, no other system or philosophy can rescue the human soul other than the name of Jesus Christ. Secondly, Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 24:9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake.” Only believers in Jesus Christ keep the word of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. The martyrs were told to rest a little while longer until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who would be killed was completed (Rev. 6:11), giving us the backdrop that this is an ongoing persecution. The fifth seal describes the great tribulation in progress while Revelation 7 illustrates those coming out of it. And last of all, the great multitude who are standing before God are clothed in white robes having palm branches in their hands. This means they have bodies, unlike those in the fifth seal who are addressed as “souls” this great multitude have resurrected bodies!
The Olivet Discourse was begun with the Disciples asking Jesus a question; “Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives the disciples came to Him privately, saying, tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?“
We find they wanted to know three things, “When will these things be?,” “What will be the sign of your coming?” and “What will be the sign of the end of the age?” I will briefly cover these in the chronological order Jesus gave. First, when the disciples asked, “when will these things be,” they were referring to the temple and it’s destruction, which Jesus said would happen (Matt 24:1-2). This of course is ancient history, the temple was destroyed in A.D. 70 and I will not converse any further on it.
The second is the Sign of the end of the Age which Jesus describes in Matthew 24:29; “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” Let me first point out that this sign is not given until “immediately after the tribulation of those days.” By the urgency of this sign it can be said that the sign itself abruptly ends the Great Tribulation. This makes sense when you consider this to be a worldwide event, all of humanity will now focus and respond as this event is catastrophic. But this sign does more than just get the attention of humanity, this sign announces two things, the coming of Jesus Christ and the Day of the Lord.
To the Believer, God’s elect, this sign will serve as the source of hope and expectation, of redemption; “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring…Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near” (Luke 21:25,28). The redemption spoken of here refers to the completion of Christ’s saving work, the redemption of the purchased possession (Eph. 1:13-14), the redemption of our body (Rom 8:19-25), when death is swallowed up in victory and this mortal has put on immortality (1 Cor 15:50-58).
To the unbeliever, this sign will serve as the thunder of an approaching storm, however, as horrific as the biblical description is of this sign, it pales in comparison to what is coming upon the earth, namely, the Day of the Lord. Joel tells us this sign will occur just prior to the Day of the Lord; “And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD” (Joel 2:30-31).
As I stated previously, the fourth and fifth seals enumerate the great tribulation while Revelation chapter 7 discloses the raptured saints before the throne of God. In between we see the sixth seal opened:
“I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place. And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, and mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?‘” (Revelation 6:12-17)
Let me point a couple of things here. When you combine all the Scripture together surrounding this momentous event in history the world, the nations, all of mankind will know its meaning. In fact, mankind gets a double dose of fear, let me explain. The sun being darkened, the moon turns to blood, the stars fall from the sky, the heavens are shaken, a great earthquake accompanied with worldwide tsunamis, every island is moved from its place, and the seas raging all together are dreadful to think about (see Matt. 24:29-30; Luke 21:25-28; Revelation 6:12-17). But all of this is not the sum of the fear gripping the world. For what the world witnesses next is the very thing that causes the great, the mighty, every slave and free to hid in the rocks of the mountains and Matthew 24:30 tells us what that is, the sign of His coming:
“Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”
When you combine Matthew 24:30 with Revelation 6:15-17 it become clear why mankind will seek to hid, they see Jesus Christ standing upon the clouds of the sky! And just for those who are skeptical, the Greek word for “heaven” in verse 30 can be translated “sky.” Revelation 1:7 adds to this thought; “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.” Jesus’ return will be definite, personal, and visible and His presence on the clouds emphasizes His coming is with judgment. The language is plain, the world not only is witnessing catastrophic signs in the heavens and the earth, but every man, woman and child will witness the visible return of Jesus Christ and His coming is twofold, to rapture His church from the earth and His coming is with judgment.
“And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and the will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (Matthew 24:31)
Robert Van Kampen, author of “The Rapture Question Answered” says; “Christ’s coming will be like lightning coming from the east and flashing to the west (Matt. 24:27). thus, the sign of His coming will be the visual manifestation of God’s glory returning to earth…Then, when Christ appears, ‘He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other”. There is your rapture of the faithful who endure to the end!”5
The Rapture! When we gaze upon what Jesus taught His disciples, the language is strikingly similar to another passage of Scripture; Jesus will send His angels, with a great sound of a trumpet, and gather together His elect. Sounds a lot like what Paul taught the Thessalonians!
“For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:15-17).
If this were not evidence enough, the Greek reveals even more truth that what Jesus is describing in the Olivet Discourse is indeed the rapture of the Church. And again, I quote from Robert Van Kampen as his presentation of Matthew 24:31 is clear and accurate:
“The classic Rapture passage recorded in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 says that when the Rapture occurs, we will “be caught up together with them [the dead in Christ] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” The peculiar Greek word episunagō (“gather together” Matt. 24:31) used by Christ when He speaks to His disciples in the Olivet Discourse will prove that point.
Sunagō comes from two smaller Greek words that together mean “to bring together, come together, gather together, or assemble.” It is the root verb from wich the noun sunagoge (synagogue) is derived. Basically, synagogue means a “gathering place,” where people assemble together.
In the Olivet Discourse, when we see the Son of Man coming on the clouds and sending His angels to gather together His elect, why is the Greek word episunagō used to describe this gathering, rather than just the root Greek verb sunagō? The answer to this qauestion is very important. Adding the Greek preposition epi to the verb sunagō gives direction to the gathering. Epi basically means “on” or “upon” (just as epidermis refers to the top layer – epi – of one’s skin–dermis). So when this little preposition is added to the verb sunagō, it gives an upward direction to the gathering. Therefore, episunagō means a gathering together in an upward direction, or “a taking up and bringing together.”6
And when you consider what Paul said to the Thessalonians; “Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together (episunago)to Him, we ask you,” (2 Thess. 2:1) more evidence is presented, for this passage of Scripture is an undisputed reference to the Rapture of the saints of God.
1 (Robert Van Kempen; The Rapture Question Answered, Published by Fleming H. Revell a division of Baker Book House Company. Preface pp. 13-14).
2 Herbert Lockyer; All the Doctrines of the Bible; Zondervan Books Zondervan Publishing House, p.267; (Edited by myself).
3Spirit Life Bible; Jack W. Hayford; Thomas Nelson Publishers; p.1602 “Kingdom Dynamics”.
4Scott: January 15, 2011
5(Robert Van Kempen; The Rapture Question Answered, Published by Fleming H. Revell a division of Baker Book House Company. Preface pp. 84,85).
6(Robert Van Kempen; The Rapture Question Answered, Published by Fleming H. Revell a division of Baker Book House Company. Preface p.184).