I don't usually do too much teaching on the Second Coming of Christ. This is not because it is not an important subject or because I do not believe I know at least some of the answers to the questions that must be answered. Mostly it is because I feel that personal preparedness is more important than exact doctrinal understanding. Doctrinal understanding can encourage us to be prepared, but there are many who may have right understanding and yet still be unprepared, also there may be some who lack correct doctrinal understanding, but whose relationship with Christ still makes them prepared for whatever may come. Having heard a friend of mine asking about Christ returning on May 21st I decided it was time to show why this is not possible, and hopefully to prevent young Christians from being shaken in their faith when yet another prediction fails.
As we look at this the most important thing is to remember is that it is not just doctrinal knowledge that we need but a relationship with Christ. This is true not only in light of the end-times, but in everything. Our understanding can be flawed in many ways and yet we can still be saved by Christ. Indeed when I look at some men, such as Charles Finney and George Fox, I see some really strange ideas that could have totally made a shipwreck of their lives, yet even some of their wrong ideas were held in check to a large degree by their relationship with Christ. We should never mistake the light given in doctrine for the source of light. We can all err in many things, but the Light of the World can show us and even restrain us in spite of our miscomprehension. So our focus should be on pleasing Him and He can handle the future, even if we misinterpret it.
With that written I would like to look now at events which must take place before Christ's second coming and the rapture.
1. Wars, Earthquakes and other calamities
We see these calamities happening now, and they will intensify. They are prelude to the end, but Christ specifically prophesied that they would come, but that the end was not yet.
And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. (Matt. 24:6-8).
And he said, "See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, 'I am he!' and, 'The time is at hand!' Do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once." Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. (Luke 21:8-11).
As we see these earth changing events unfold, we should remember two things. First they are not a surprise to God. Second they are not the end that is still to come. The judgments we have seen in the last decade have been enormous, and yet if we believe Christ we must say that worse is still to come.
We need to seriously take stock of ourselves as we view these things. We are surprised at the multitudes that are destroyed in one disaster, the tsunami in Sumatra for example, many of whom were eternally lost. Yet we forget, or choose not to acknowledge, that on a normal day without any high profile disasters, thousands still die and slip into hell. If these events actually mobilize Christians to be serious about our mission, and result in salvation to many who otherwise might perish eternally than even these disasters will be worthwhile in the ultimate end, and whatever disruption, discomfort, suffering and even danger they cause to Christians will be actually a blessing.
2. Wide spread persecution and apostasy
This has yet to happen. How far it is in the future only God knows, but it is coming. There are nations where Christians are being persecuted now, but Christ referred to world-wide persecution.
"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 and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (Matt. 24:9-13).
Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion (apostasy) comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? (2 Thess. 2:1-5).
The apostle Paul elaborates more on what form this falling away will take in 1 Tim. 4:1-3, 2 Tim. 3:1-5, and 2 Tim. 4:3-4. This corruption of Christian life and doctrine is necessary to bring the iniquity of the false church to completion. In addition to declension from the faith, the false church will also be actively involved in the persecution of the true church (Rev. 17:3-6).
Yet Peter encourages the true Christians to continue to fervently love each other even in the midst of this cooling of the love of many (1 Pet. 1:22, 4:7-8). In the midst of all the defection and sin abounding it will be easy to let our love grow cold and to cease to care for others, but as Christians our love must come from God, and continue to pour out in spite of the failings and faults we see.
3. The preaching of the Gospel in all the world
And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations (ethnos), and then the end will come. (Matt. 24:14).
Lest we think that the end times will be all gloom and doom, it is important to remember that the best times are yet ahead as well. It when the church suffers that the glory rests upon her (1 Pet. 4:12-14). It is God's sworn intention that His glory will fill the earth (Num. 14:21; Hab. 2:14). This will be done through the church. The glory will exceed by far anything seen in the Old Testament in the same way that a permanent building is far more valued than a temporary structure (2 Cor. 3:7-11). If the Old Testament which was temporary and intended to be superseded saw dramatic miracles and wonders, shall not the New Testament church which is to remain. Haggai prophesied that the glory of the latter house (the second temple) would be greater than the former (Solomon's temple) (Hag. 2:9), this referred to the presence of Christ in that temple and the raising up of the Church which must supersede all the glory manifest in Solomon's temple.
Before the return of Christ the fullness of the Gentiles must come in (Rom. 11:25). This will take place after the former and latter rain have come (James 5:7). The former or early rain softened the ground for planting, the late or latter rain ripened the crop for harvest. Joel prophesied that both would be given in the first month, together (Joel 2:23). Thus you would have a rapid sowing and maturing of the crop, this is prophesied in Amos 9:11-13, and verse 11-12 was specifically quoted as applicable to the church in Acts 15:16-17. There have been scattered instances of some of these things in certain locales at certain times in history, but it must happen on a global scale to prepare the Church for Christ's return. The fact that Christ is returning for a Bride without spot or wrinkle (2 Pet. 3:9-15; Eph. 5:26-27; Rev. 19:7-8) tells us that His return is not yet, to give us time to prepare, and we desperately need a fresh outpouring of His Spirit to iron out our wrinkles and remove our spots.
4. The appearance of the antichrist and rebuilt temple
"So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. (Matt. 24:15-20).
Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? (2 Thess. 2:1-5).
The Bible has a lot more to say about the antichrist, which might be a subject of a later post, but for now I will only mention that he is not here now. Revelation tells us that he is a man who has lived before and will return from the pit.
The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come (Rev. 17:8).
And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear's, and its mouth was like a lion's mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. (Rev. 13:2-3).
It is thus folly to predict that any living man is the antichrist. There are many antchristian leaders in the world, but the antichrist won't sneak in, he will very visible when he comes.
Another indicator given by Christ which is important in regards to the appearing of the antichrist is the rebuilding of the temple. This has not yet happened, but the 2004 reconvening of the sanhedrin, with one stated goal as rebuilding the temple shows that times are drawing closer. One note on this temple, it may not require the demolition of the dome of the rock, because there is some ambiguity as to where the Holy of Holies actually stood on the Temple Mount. Things will become clearer as events progress. Things may take decades or years, but all in God's timing it will unfold.
5. The Great Tribulation
"Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, 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. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matt. 24:29-31).
I realize this is not a popular teaching in the Church today, but Christ is unambiguous here. His elect are gathered to Him after the tribulation. The noun form of the verb used for gather in Matt. 24:31 is what Paul uses in 2 Thess. 2:1 for our gathering unto Him at His second coming. These are referring to the same event.
The fact that Christians will be on the earth during the tribulation can be shown by several Scriptures:
"But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and worries of life, and that Day come upon you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, praying always that you may be counted worthy to escape everything that is about to happen, and to stand before the Son of Man." (Luke 21:34-36).
Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of temptation which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those that dwell upon the earth. (Rev. 3:10).
If all Christians are to be kept from the great tribulation than these promises and warnings make no sense. Furthermore both Daniel and Revelation state as plainly as possible that the antichrist will kill Christians.
And the wise among the people shall make many understand, though for some days they shall stumble by sword and flame, by captivity and plunder. When they stumble, they shall receive a little help. And many shall join themselves to them with flattery, and some of the wise shall stumble, so that they may be refined, purified, and made white, until the time of the end, for it still awaits the appointed time. (Daniel 11:33-35).
Many shall purify themselves and make themselves white and be refined, but the wicked shall act wickedly. And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand. And from the time that the regular burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that makes desolate is set up, there shall be 1,290 days. Blessed is he who waits and arrives at the 1,335 days. (Daniel 12:10-12).
And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, "If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name."Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. And I heard a voice from heaven saying, "Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on." "Blessed indeed," says the Spirit, "that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!" (Rev. 14:9-13).
Notice these saints are specifically said to have faith in Jesus! These are not Jews. This is seen again in Revelation 12, where the language is symbolic, but it is clearly taught that there is one company caught up to the throne of God (v5 – the male child), another that is hidden in the wilderness (v6 the woman), and a third group that are persecuted (v17 the rest of her offspring).
Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea. (Rev. 12:17).
Notice that these cannot be Jews, because the Jews do not have a Testimony of Jesus until they are restored at His Second Coming. Clearly these are Christians!
To finish this long post I should mention the element of the pre-tribulation rapture theory that bothers me the most. That is the interpretation of 2 Thess. 2:6-7 as the removal of the Holy Spirit from the earth along with the Church for the duration of the tribulation. This interpretation is seriously flawed. If the Holy Spirit is gone from the earth, then in what power are these saints enduring martyrdom? Even assuming, as the theory demands, that these are special "tribulation saints" and not ordinary Christians as an unbiased reading of the passage would indicate, do you honestly believe that man unaided by the empowering Spirit can withstand a persecution far worse than anything that pagan Rome ever perpetrated? We know and have seen in history what the Spirit of God can do in His people in the midst of persecution and it is what Christ promised in Luke 21:12-15, "I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict." However there never has, and I can confidently say, never will be anyone overcoming the devil in his own power and strength, during the tribulation or at any other time. If we can only stand in our minor struggles now in the power of the Holy Ghost do we honestly believe that others will be able to overcome the devil in his greatest time of power in their own strength? To think so is borderline blasphemy!
Since I clearly reject the Pre-tribulation rapture interpretation of those verses I should offer my own. First let me give two versions of the Bible that translate them in a slightly different way from the majority.
And now you know the thing holding back, for him to be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness already is working, only he is holding back now, until it comes out of the midst (2 Thess. 2:6-7 LITV).
And now you know that which is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will continue until one comes out of the midst (EMTV).
Notice that in both these translations, there is one restraining until something comes out of the midst, not until something is removed out of the way. The Greek could be rendered either way. If this translation is allowed then it is the Holy Spirit restraining the mystery of lawlessness, until it is time for it to fully come forth. Lawlessness has been working for centuries, but it has been set back many times. The Wesleyan Revival brought England back from the abyss of anarchy in its day. The evil of the roaring '20's was met by the great depression and WWII which effectively recalled nations to God for a time. Yet there will come a time when the mystery of lawlessness will be fully allowed to manifest itself and once it has the antichrist will come. Even now lawlessness is accelerating in the world. People call for liberty but many of them really want license, and lawlessness. It is not tyranny they oppose, but any moral restraint at all. God may restrain this again, but if He does not this spirit will result in the manifestation of the antichrist. When it does, may God's people endure and overcome in His strength and power! Amen.