1. When Is Jesus Christ Coming Again?

Nobody can say with any degree of certainty when Jesus is coming again, because He said clearly that even the angels in heaven do not know that day (see Mark 13:32). No man knows that day, and the Son of God, when He was on the earth, did not know either. This knowledge, the Lord Jesus said, was strictly reserved for the Father.

We can see certain signs, or clues (see Matthew 24:3, Luke 21:7), that His coming is approaching. Jesus said there would be wars and rumors of wars, revolutions, widespread famine, disease, and earthquakes in many different places (see Matthew 24:6-7, Luke 21:10-11). There would be an increase of lawlessness and anarchy. The apostle Paul said, "That day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God" (II Thessalonians 2:3-4). Along with the "man of sin" will come what is called an apostasy, or a falling away. Many of the believing people will grow cold in their faith (see Matthew 24:12). There will be persecution of Christians and a time of general trouble.  I think all these things are happening with increasing frequency.

Another event that had to happen before Jesus could return was the re-establishment of the state of Israel. The original Israel disappeared from the globe hundreds of years ago. In 1948 a new state of Israel was established.
The regathering of Jews to Israel is a clear sign, in both the Old and New Testaments, that our age is just about over. Jesus said, "Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled" (Luke 21:24). On June 6, 1967, the Jews, for the first time since Jerusalem was captured by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C., took over control of the entire city of Jerusalem, thus signaling the approaching end of Gentile world power.  These two great signs have been fulfilled and we are in the last generation that will see the 2nd coming of the Great Lord Jesus Christ Almighty Himself coming in the clouds with great power and great glory.

Jesus said, however, that the one major thing which would herald His coming would be the proclamation of the gospel. He said, "This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come" (Matthew 24:14).

These are signs of the times. We are to hold ourselves always ready for our Lord's return. But nobody knows the day and hour when that will be.

2. What Else Must Happen Before Christ Returns?

Some people teach that Jesus could come at any time because Jesus warned His disciples always to be watchful. While it is true that we do not know exactly when He will come, certain signs of His coming were discussed in my last answer. Jesus said the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah (Matthew 24:37-39). The thing that strikes me about the days of Noah is that even in the midst of terrible apostasy, evil, violence, and rebellion against God, the people went ahead with their normal lives. They planted fields, they harvested crops, they built houses, they got married, and they had children. They went about business as usual, until the very day that Noah entered the ark, and then destruction came and took them all away. That is how it will be when Jesus comes again. Business will go on pretty much as usual until the dreadful wrath of God and the Tribulation fall upon the earth. Then it will be too late to turn to God. At that point Jesus will come back again. He could come back tonight, but it is my personal feeling that some of the signs of His coming--especially the revelation of the "man of sin"--have not yet occurred (see II Thessalonians 2:3).

3. Are These The Last Days?

The Bible says that in the last days many scoffers will say, "Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation" (II Peter 3:4). On my birthday, when I was fifty-four years old, the producer of "The 700 Club" television program gave me a front page of the NEW YORK TIMES for the day I was born in 1930. The similarity between those days and these days is striking. There are the same kinds of trouble in the world, the same kinds of international tension, and the same kinds of money problems. So these days are not far different from those days. Yet, by now, we have seen the occurrences of some very significant events that convince me that these are the last days.

First of all, the nation of Israel was reborn in 1948. That nation will complete a generation of forty years in 1988. Second, the Jews now control all of Jerusalem and have since 1967. That is very significant as I have noted in previous answers. Third, we have the ability, with nuclear weapons, to obliterate all life, or to kill, as Revelation puts it, at least one third of all people in a single war (see Revelation 9:18).

Another thing that we have today is an incredible explosion of knowledge (see Daniel 12:4). Our knowledge doubles every six years. We have unlocked the atom and the secrets of the gene. We have come close to the heart of life itself, and in the process we have grown callous toward our fellow men and toward the Creator of life.

We are expanding our knowledge in many areas which could benefit all people by making their lives healthier and easier. But this same knowledge has dreadful potential for misuse. Those who work in the field of genetic engineering, for instance, are not too far from being able to clone human beings by taking parts out of embryos in order to create some kind of master race. Other scientists are working to create computers that appear to reason like men. These could open up vistas of great blessing, but they could also bring about horrors if placed in the hands of the wrong people. Add to this the ability of computers to monitor the behavior of populations and to control all of the world's money. These developments are fulfilling biblical prophecies. This tells me that we are getting very close to the time when God is going to say that the human race has gone far enough. He may be ready to step in to terminate this phase of human activity and to start another one.

That is why I firmly expect to be alive when Jesus Christ comes back to earth.

4. Who Or What Is The Antichrist?

In the book of Revelation we are told that a dictator will arise from the revived Roman Empire. He will be endued with the power of Satan himself and will take unto himself the prerogatives of God (see Revelation 13:1-18). The apostle Paul said there would be someone who would stand in the temple of God, claiming that he was God (see II Thessalonians 2:4). Revelation amplifies this subject when it speaks of a false prophet who will stand in front of this dictator and do signs in his name, and also cause a statue of this dictator to perform miraculous signs (see Revelation 13:13-15, 19:20).

We do know that the book of Revelation was written during a time when Christians were being persecuted in the Roman Empire. We also know that the Roman emperors liked to think of themselves as gods. They even made statues of themselves and asked people to fall down and worship them. There is always the possibility that the Antichrist is already in the world. I believe those earlier dictators were merely representations of the final world dictator. This man will appear as a great leader, speaking great words of wisdom, and will draw all of the non-Christian people to worship him. To them he will be the sum of wisdom, with the answers to all their problems (see Revelation 13:18).

For an antichrist figure to come into the modern world, there must be a breakdown of the world system as we know it now. There would have to be breakdowns in currency, in law and order, and in the power structures of national states.

A financial panic could help pave the way for him. So could a nuclear war. Such disasters could leave people crying out for a man of peace, who will be Satan's counterfeit to Jesus Christ. This man will seem to be like Jesus, until such time as he is ready to show his true self. Then he will be incredibly cruel. He will be like a combination of Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Genghis Khan, Mao Tse-tung, and other dictators who have butchered millions of people. The Antichrist will be the most hideous example of dictatorial power that the world has ever known.

Remember that the antichrist spirit is in anybody who tries to draw people away from Jesus, saying, "Worship me." The antichrist spirit is present now in the worship and veneration we give to governments, dictators, military leaders, and various other human figures. The humanism that is being taught in our schools, media, and intellectual circles will ultimately lead people to the Antichrist, because he will be the consummate figure of humanism.

5. Will Christians Have To Go Through
The Great Tribulation?

When we use the term GREAT TRIBULATION, we are referring to a period of suffering that the world will be exposed to in the last days coinciding with the judgment of God upon the Antichrist and his government (see Revelation 6:1-17). Some theologians think that the Tribulation has already taken place.  It hasn't yet.  There was a great persecution of Christians and Jews during the Roman Empire. It is true, too, that some theologians believe that the Tribulation refers only to Israel or the Jewish people, and not to Christians or the rest of the world.  Christians will be raptured out to escape the coming wrath of God.

The Bible teaches two comings of Jesus--one, His birth; the second, His coming again in triumph. There is no third coming for a secret rapture. The book of Matthew specifically says, "Immediately after the tribulation of those days. ... Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven ... And He will send His angels ... And they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (Matthew 24:29-31).

This is just one of many references that indicate we will be going through a time of tribulation until Jesus Christ comes back (see John 16:33, Romans 8:35, Revelation 7:13-14).

If there is no pre-tribulation rapture, then I believe that Christians will be protected in the midst of tribulation, however. After all, the Israelites were protected when the plagues fell upon Egypt. God knows how to make a distinction between His people and those who are not His people. He allowed sorrow and suffering to rain upon the ungodly in Egypt while He caused the children of Israel to prosper.

But we must recognize also that the devil and his emissaries despise Christians. There has always been a struggle between the people of God and those who serve Satan. Throughout history there have been successive martyrdoms of Christians, and it is the height of arrogance to assume that only twentieth-century Christians in the United States of America will be spared any kind of persecution. That goes against the flow of history for the last two thousand years. The book of Revelation speaks of Tribulation martyrs--those who were slain for the witness of Christ--standing near the great throne of God and crying out, "How long ... Until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth" (Revelation 6:9-10)? So there will be people during the Tribulation who love Jesus, and who will give their lives for Him.

Jesus said, "He who endures to the end shall be saved" (Matthew 24:13). Persecution is simply part of living as a Christian in this world. The saints in China, Russia, and other Communist countries have been tortured, have suffered privation, have had their jobs and their families taken away from them. Many of them have already died because of their witness for Jesus. It is hard to contemplate much worse tribulation than these great men and women of faith have already endured.

6. What Is The Mark Of The Beast?

In the book of Revelation there is reference to the number of the Antichrist, which is 666 (see Revelation 13:18). SIX, in biblical numerology, is just short of perfection, represented by the number SEVEN. SIX is the number of man, whereas SEVEN is the number of perfection. So 666 may refer to the quintessential humanist. Revelation tells us that the number 666, or the mark of the Antichrist, is going to be stamped upon the hand and the forehead of every person in the world during the reign of the Antichrist.

The forehead represents our wills, our volition; while the hand represents our activities. Somehow the Antichrist will get his imprint on people everywhere, causing them, through their wills and their actions, to serve him. We already have techniques whereby an imprint can be made on the hands and foreheads of human beings. This imprint can be read by lasers and can contain all the credit information on an individual, and his blood type, his city of residence, and other vital information.

Computer technology can be used to control population, credit, and the movement of people. So-called "smart cards," which have tiny microchips in them that contain biographical data and revisable credit information, can be implanted under the skin. Every time a person makes a purchase, the "smart card" can deduct the amount from a credit balance, and every time the person deposits money, it can be added to the credit balance. Everyone's record can then be stored in a giant interconnected computer system.

It is not too far-fetched to think that the Antichrist could impose population control by the same kind of a mark. In the words of the book of Revelation, "And he causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name" (Revelation 13:16-17).

The Bible warns us that if we have the mark of the Beast, we will then share the terrible fate of the Beast (see Revelation 14:11). If we regard the forehead as the center of the will and the hand as being symbolic of what we do, it seems that the mark is more than just some computer laser imprint. What we are really talking about here is who gets our allegiance. Will we give the Antichrist our minds and our work? If our allegiance is to God, we will not serve the Antichrist, and we will not take his mark upon us.

7. When Will The Rapture Of The Church
Take Place?

The word RAPIO is a Latin word meaning "seized." As far as I can tell, the word RAPTURE does not appear in the Bible. It is a term people us to describe the catching up of Christians when Jesus comes back. Paul said that we will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air (see I Thessalonians 4:17). That is what we call the Rapture of the church.   As He comes from heaven, we will be caught up to meet Him in the air, and then we will be forever with the Lord.

I believe it will happen before the Tribulation and before the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth called the Millennium.

8. What Is The Resurrection Of The Dead,
And Who Will Be Resurrected First?

The resurrection spoken of in the Bible is the uniting of man's spirit, which is immortal and leaves his body at physical death, with a new spiritual body. The spiritual body will become immortal and will have incredible powers, such as being able to move through physical objects like walls and doors and travel great distances instantaneously. These will be the bodies that Christians will have forever.

There is confusion regarding the word RESURRECTION. Jesus raised Lazarus form the grave, but this was a resuscitation, not a resurrection (see John 11:43-44). Lazarus came back in his original body that was still subject to death. Some years later Lazarus died again and stayed dead.

When Jesus Christ comes back again, He will resurrect those who have been born again. They will then be joined with the spiritual bodies that have been prepared for their spirits.

The apostle Paul says that those who are alive will not be resurrected ahead of those who sleep (see I Thessalonians 4:16-17). So those who are dead will rise first, followed by those who remain alive when Christ comes back. Those who are still alive will be changed in a moment. These mortal bodies will be transformed into bodies like the one Jesus had after His resurrection. These bodies will be eternal and have the same qualities that Jesus Christ had, for the Bible declares, "We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" (I John 3:2).

There also will be a second resurrection, which will come at the end of the thousand-year reign of Christ. At that time there will be a great resurrection of all people. Those who have done evil will be sent to hell. Forever. But those who have lived in accordance with the righteous teachings of the Lord will live forever with God (see Revelation 20:11-15).

9. What Is The Millennium?

A millennium is one thousand years. The biblical Millennium will be a period of peace, love, and brotherhood when all nature lives in the harmony that was intended in the Garden of Eden (see Revelation 20:6). The book of Isaiah speaks of a time when the wild animals will live at peace with domestic animals, when the serpents will no longer bite. A little child will be able to play by a cobra's den or lead wild beasts around and not be harmed. Military schools will close, and implements of war will no longer be manufactured. The money and resources that now go into warfare will then be devoted to peaceful pursuits. When this day comes, every person will have his own plot of ground, his own home. All will live in harmony with their neighbors. No one will be afraid that someone will try to steal his belongings. There will be universal peace, for the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea (see Isaiah 11:6-9). I believe the Millennium is a transition period, when Jesus Christ comes back to earth to show mankind what it would have been like if sin had never entered the world. It will be a time when Jesus Christ will reign as king, and the Kingdom of God will be established on earth. There will be a one-world government under the leadership of Jesus with nation-states subject to Him.

The Bible says representatives of the nations of the earth will come to Jerusalem each year (see Isaiah 2:2-4, Zechariah 14:16). Apparently all governments will be subject to godly people and, at that time, Israel will be the key nation on earth.

10. Can I Ever Lose My Place In Heaven?

Heaven is forever (see Revelation 22:5). In order for heaven to be heaven, there can never be the nagging possibility of a revolt which would cause us to lose the glory of it again. There will be no doubt, no confusion, and no fear in heaven. God will remove from the scene the cause of all rebellion--Satan and sin.

Consequently, God cannot allow people who rebel against Him to enter heaven. Everyone must be born again before he or she can enter heaven. Anyone who has not been transformed in his spirit would be a source of spiritual contagion, contamination, or rebellion in heaven. A little tendency to sin today could grow into a hideously dangerous nature in, say, a million years. Therefore, the seed of rebellion will never be allowed to enter heaven.

11. Will I Have My Family In Heaven?

I see no reason to suppose that there could not be families in heaven. However, all Christians are part of God's family now, and the bonds that draw human families together probably will not be necessary in heaven. There, we will all be part of one enormous family, and we will all feel a deep love for everyone else. There will not be the idea that "I am here with my wife and the two of us are separate from everyone else." We will all be one in Christ.

Having said that we will probably have families in heaven, however, let me add two things. First, your husband or wife or child or parent will be in heaven with you--if you are a Christian--only if they have been born again by the Spirit of God. If you are saved, your closeness to God will not save the members of your family. They must have their own personal relationships with Jesus Christ.

We should understand that there will no longer be human procreation in heaven. The necessity of mating and child nurture will cease. Jesus said of the resurrection, "They neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven" (Mark 12:25).

12. What Is The Great White Throne Judgment?

The Great White Throne Judgment (see Revelation 20:11-15), according to the book of Revelation, will take place at the end of the Millennium, prior to the time when God will "make all things new" (Revelation 21:5). This will be the final and irreversible judgment of Satan and his angels and of all the redeemed. According to the Bible, the great books recording the deeds of all mankind will be opened. Those people whose names were not recorded in the "book of life" will be cast into the lake of fire reserved for the devil and his angels. This experience is called "the second death" to distinguish it from mere physical death.

However, Jesus taught that anyone who believes in Him "shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life" (see John 5:24). We therefore must conclude that those who have been "born again" by receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will be transformed into a heavenly state when Jesus Christ comes back again. All of these people, according to the apostle Paul, will answer for their Christian service and stewardship at the "judgment seat of Christ" at that time (see Romans 14:10, II Corinthians 5:10). None of these true believers, however, will face eternal condemnation at the Great White Throne, because Jesus Christ has already paid for their sins at Calvary.

Everyone else will have to come before God and account for the way he or she has lived. It will be an awesome day of judgment. Some people think there may be those who lived before Christ, or who never had a chance to hear of Christ, who will be judged worthy of heaven. This is extremely doubtful, because the Bible says none has lived righteously (see Romans 3:10). But God, who is the judge of all the world, is going to judge by the standard of righteousness. He will allow each person to come before Him and present his case. In each case, the accuser or excuser of the individual will be his or her own conscience (see Romans 2:15). What did each one do in relationship to what he or she knew to be right or wrong according to the revelation they had of God's will?



Signs of Christ's Return

The Sign of the Son of Man
John MacArthur
All Rights Reserved

(A copy of this message on cassette tape may be obtained by calling 1-800-55-GRACE)
Matthew 24:29-31    Tape GC 2371


Those of us who know the Lord and study His Word are aware that man's dominion over the world will end with the glorious return of Jesus Christ. The first time He came, He came to die on a cross, but He will return to reign as King of kings and Lord of lords. After Christ ascended into heaven, two angels said to the disciples, "This same Jesus, who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11). Jesus will return bodily, just the way He went away.

Throughout all the history of the church, believers have looked for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul writes in Titus 2:11- 14, "The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present age, looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a people of his own, zealous of good works." The hope of Christ's return should motivate us to live holy, obedient lives, for when He returns, our bodies will be changed and made like His glorious body (Phil. 3:21).

The world is familiar with the details of Christ's first coming, but it is far less familiar with the circumstances of His second coming. In Matthew 24:29-31, our Lord describes the very moment of His second coming.



Verse 29 tells us where the second coming fits into the chronology of end-time events: "Immediately after the tribulation of those days." That verse in its context clearly states the second coming will immediately follow the time period called the tribulation.

"Tribulation" (Gk. thlipsis) means "trouble," "difficulty," "tribulation," or "distress." To make clear what tribulation He was talking about, Jesus describes it as the tribulation "of those days." That refers to the days He described in verses 4-28. Note especially verse 21: "For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be." The tribulation Jesus referred to is the worst the world will ever know-- the period of intense tribulation that will follow the abomination of desolation.


In verse 29 the Lord sets the stage for the second coming: "The sun [shall] be darkened, and the moon shall not give its light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken." Just before the Lord appears, the universe will begin to disintegrate. Luke 21:25-26, a parallel passage to verse 29, adds more details of what the Lord said: "There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth; for the powers of heaven shall be shaken." Luke tells us there will be signs on earth as well as in the heavens-- signs so dramatic and cataclysmic that men's hearts will fail them. The Greek word translated "failing" in verse 26 (apopsuchonton) actually means "to expire." People will drop dead from terror.

A. As Described by Matthew

Matthew 24:29 tells us, "The powers of the heavens shall be shaken." Everything in the universe is held together by the power of God (Heb. 1:3). He prevents orbits from fluctuating. We can navigate our spacecraft with accuracy to distant planets because of the unchanging, fixed powers of the heavens. The heavenly bodies move consistently at all times and do what they are predicted to do. Scientists can even mathematically predict what heavenly bodies will do thousands of years in the future because of the uniformity from the past.

Just before the second coming, the Lord will relax the powers that normally hold the universe together, bringing about chaos. Heavenly bodies will careen at random through space as the earth becomes a victim of this cosmic breakdown.

Specifically, Jesus said that the sun will go black. The implications of that are staggering--man can't survive for long without sunlight. There would also be dramatic temperature changes. Jesus said the moon won't give its light, since its light is reflected from the sun. The changes in the heavens will cause the tides to be erratic. Revelation 6:13-14 says the stars will fall like overripe figs off a fig tree, and the heavens will be rolled up like a scroll.

Only divine intervention will prevent the extinction of life until the establishment of the Kingdom.

B. As Described by the Old Testament Prophets

1. In Isaiah 13

Many people believe Isaiah 13 relates only to Babylon's destruction, but I believe it has a broader reference than that. Note that the Hebrew word translated "land" (erets) in verse 9 should be translated "earth" in this context. Also, verse 11 speaks of God's punishing the world, not just Babylon. Isaiah 13 does predict Babylon's destruction, but, as often happens in prophecy, there is a short-range prediction that typifies another prediction for the distant future. Isaiah sees in the destruction of Babylon a microcosm of what will happen in the world at the second coming of the Lord.

Verses 6-16 describe the coming judgment: "Wail; for the day of the Lord is at hand; it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty. Therefore shall all hands be faint, and every man's heart shall melt; and they shall be afraid. Pangs and sorrows shall take hold of them; they shall be in pain like a woman that travaileth. They shall be amazed one at another; their faces shall be as flames. Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate; and he shall destroy the sinners out of it. For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light; the sun shall be darkened in its going forth, and the moon shall not cause its light to shine. And I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible. I will make a man more rare than fine gold, even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir. Therefore, I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of its place, in the wrath of the Lord of hosts, and in the day of his fierce anger. And it shall be like the chased roe, and like a sheep that no man taketh up; they shall every man turn to his own people, and flee everyone into his own land. Every one that is found shall be thrust through, and every one that is joined unto them shall fall by the sword. Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled, and their wives ravished."

Isaiah predicted a terrible time of judgment. Men will drop dead of heart attacks on account of God's terrible judgment (v. 7) and there will be worldwide slaughter to the point that men themselves become as rare as gold (v. 12). There will be signs in the heavens and on earth--just as our Lord taught in the Olivet Discourse.

2. In Isaiah 34

Isaiah again looks into the distant future and says in verses 1-4, "Come near, ye nations, to hear; and hearken, ye peoples: let the earth hear, and all that is therein; the world, and all things that come forth from it. For the indignation of the Lord is upon all nations, and his fury upon all their armies; he hath utterly destroyed them, he hath delivered them to the slaughter. Their slain also shall be cast out, and their stench shall come up out of their carcasses, and the mountains shall be melted with their blood. And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together like a scroll; and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and like a falling fig from the fig tree."

Once again it is clear from verse 2 that Isaiah is referring to the judgment of the world, not one particular nation. He predicts the great slaughter that will ensue when God destroys the armies gathered against Jerusalem at the battle of Armageddon (v. 2).

Isaiah goes on to say in verse 6, "The sword of the Lord is filled with blood; it is made fat with fatness, and with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams; for the Lord hath a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughter in the land of Edom." Bozrah was the main city of Edom. It will be the southern border of the battle of Armageddon. Revelation 14:20 tells us the battle of Armageddon will cover an area of sixteen hundred furlongs, or 200 miles. If you measure 200 miles to the north, starting with Bozrah, it takes you just past @Armageddon into Lebanon. That is the extent of the battle of Armageddon. The Bible is very accurate in describing what verse 8 calls "the day of the Lord's vengeance and the year of recompenses"--the day when God pays back sinful man.

3. In Joel 2

Joel describes a locust swarm that blots out the sun and moon. It seemed to him that the earth shuddered as they landed on the ground (v. 10). He uses that as an illustration of the ultimate shaking of the heavens and the earth as a result of divine judgment (vv. 30-31).

Haggai describes the coming judgment in the same terms (Hag. 2:6- 7). Peter, preaching on the day of Pentecost, quoted the prophecy of Joel that the day will come when the sun goes dark and the moon turns to blood--all those things are part of this coming holocaust.

Canceling the Curse

Romans 8:19-22 says the whole creation waits for the glorious manifestation of the children of God. When the Lord appears, the corrupt universe will be replaced by a purified and recreated universe that will be all that God ever intended it to be. All of creation groans, waiting for that reality. Scripture speaks often of the day when the Lord will tear down what is to put up what ought to be.


In verse 30 Jesus answers the question the disciples asked Him previously, "What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the age" (v. 3)? He gave them a list of general signs in verses 4 to 14, but He still hadn't given them the sign.

A. The Definition of the Sign

1. What it is not

a) The sign of the cross

Some early church fathers taught that the sign of which Christ spoke was a blazing cross that would fill the black heavens. This was the position of men such as Chrysostom, Cyril of Jerusalem, and Origen.

b) The Shekinah alone

Others have taught that the sign will be the Shekinah--the blazing light of God's glory. That's closer to the truth, but you can't have the Shekinah apart from the One it emanates from.

2. What it is

Verse 30 defines what the sign will be: "Then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven." That is a subjective genitive in the Greek text, indicating that the sign is the Son of Man Himself. In the midst of the blackness will appear in blazing, unveiled glory the Son of Man.

B. The Description of the Sign

1. The previews

The Bible records several instances when men received a glimpse of God's glory. In Matthew 17 Jesus took James, Peter, and John up a mountain, pulled aside the veil of His flesh, and showed them His glory; they got a taste of His second coming appearance. Adam had a glimpse of it in the Garden when he walked in the cool of the day with the presence of God. The people of Israel had a glimpse of God's glory when it dwelt between the wings of the cherubim in the Holy of Holies. They saw it as a cloud that led them by day and a fire that led them by night. But the world has never seen the full, unveiled glory that Christ will reveal at His second coming, and they will scream for mercy and cry for the rocks and the mountains to cover them up, lest they be consumed by it (Rev. 6:15-17).

2. The particulars

a) Clouds

The end of verse 30 tells us that Jesus will come on the clouds of heaven. Just as He ascended into heaven on clouds, so He will return in the same manner (Acts 1:9-11). Daniel (Dan. 7:13), John (Rev. 1:7), Mark (Mark 13:26), Luke (Luke 21:27), and Matthew all say He will come on the clouds of heaven (Matt. 24:30; 26:64).

The Old Testament tells us that clouds are the chariot of God. Psalm 104:1, 3 says, "Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honor and majesty ... who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters; who maketh the clouds his chariot, who walketh upon the wings of the wind." Isaiah 19:1 says, "The Lord rideth upon a swift cloud."

b) Light

Zechariah 14:6-7 describes the blazing light that will accompany Christ's return. Verse 6 can be translated, "It shall be in that day that there shall not be light, the glorious ones will wane," or "The bright ones will fade." Either way it refers to the stars, the sun, and the moon. All the lights in the sky will go out. Verse 7 says, "It will be one day which shall be known to the Lord." It is one day that only the Lord could explain.

Zechariah goes on to say in verse 7, "Not day and not night." Since the sun, moon, and stars have waned, there can't be day or night as we know them. He continues, "It will be at the time of closing, the time of evening, the time of the end of that day, there will be light." The light accompanying Christ when He returns will bring an abrupt end to the darkness of the tribulation.

Revelation 21:23 and 22:5 give us some idea of the brightness of the light. Those passages tell us that in the New Jerusalem, there will be no lamp or sunlight, because the lord Himself will light it up.

The Church Has a Front-Row Seat!

Some people wonder where the church will be while all those things are happening. I believe the church will be raptured before the tribulation begins (cf. 1 Thess. 1:10; Rev. 3:10), so we'll already be with the Lord. We'll be having the marriage supper of the Lamb, where we'll get our rewards (cf. 1 Cor. 3:11-15; 2 Cor. 5:10). Does that mean we won't get to see Christ's return? Not at all! Colossians 3:4 says, "When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory."

Revelation 19:7-8 describes the marriage supper of the Lamb, where the Lord is joined to His redeemed church, His bride. When the wife (the church) comes into the presence of the Lord, to her it is "granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white; for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints" (v. 8).

John tells us in verse 14 that we will return with Christ at His second coming: "The armies that were in heaven [the church and the Old Testament saints] followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean." We'll each have our own robe and our own white horse. We'll be there, only we'll be coming down with Christ, not on earth looking up at Him.


Matthew 24:30 says Jesus will return "with power." It will take tremendous power to set the universe reeling and the earth rocking on its axis. He has power over all creation. He has power over Satan. He has power over demons. He has power to slaughter all Christ-rejecting unbelievers. He has power to establish His Kingdom. And He has power to redeem His elect. That is power without equal.

A. To Judge the Wicked

Zechariah 14:4 tells us Christ will return to the very place He left--the Mount of Olives. According to Revelation 19, He will destroy many of the ungodly, and subject the survivors to the sheep-and-goat judgment (Matt. 25:31-46). Then He will establish His Kingdom.

B. To Restore the Earth

Zechariah 14 describes some of the changes the Lord will make on the earth when He returns. Verse 8 says there will be a channel cut between the sea in front of the Mount of Olives (the Mediterranean) and the sea behind it (the Dead Sea). When I was in Israel, I was told the Israelis are trying to dig a channel or build a pipeline to bring water from the Mediterranean to the desert. The Lord will accomplish that when He returns, and the desert will then blossom like a rose (Isa. 35:1).

The canal from the Mediterranean to the desert is just one manifestation of the Lord's power to restore the earth. The book of Isaiah mentions these things in addition: the wolf will lie down with the lamb (Isa. 11:6), children will play with poisonous snakes and not be bitten (Isa. 11:8), and people will live long lives (Isa. 65:20).


The Jewish nation will mourn at Christ's return. Zechariah 12:10 tells us "they shall look upon [Christ] whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son." They will mourn that they have crucified their Messiah. Zechariah 13:1 says that when they do that, a fountain of cleansing will be opened to them. I believe it is at that moment when all Israel will be saved (cf. Rom. 11:26).


In verse 31 our Lord tells us angels will be used by God to gather men in the end times: "He shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." In the parables of Matthew 13, our Lord spoke of angels being sent out to gather people for judgment (v. 41). In Matthew 24:31 however, they're not gathering unbelievers for judgment, but the elect for glory. Sounding a trumpet was the familiar Jewish of calling an assembly. When the trumpet is blown, the angels gather God's elect from their hiding places.

"From the four winds" is a colloquial expression similar to "from the four corners of the world"--it's another way of saying from everywhere. None of the elect will miss the Kingdom; the godly survivors of the tribulation will enter it with the Old Testament saints (who are resurrected at this time).


Matthew 24:29-31 is the Lord's own description of the very moment of His second coming. Are you ready for His return? Will you be one of those who return with Him in glory, or will you miss out on His Kingdom and be sent to an everlasting hell? Your eternal destiny is at stake. I pray you respond to the Savior.

Pondering the Principles

1. When Christ returns in judgment, the manifestation of His glory will be so terrifying that unbelievers will cry for the mountains and rocks to fall on them to hide them from God's wrath (Rev. 6:15-17). The apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:11, "Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men." How will the knowledge of the coming judgment affect your attitude toward the unsaved people in your life? Is there someone you have put off sharing Christ with? Ask God to give you an opportunity to share Christ with an unsaved friend or loved one today.

2. Do you live in the light of eternity? Philippians 3:20-21 tells us Christ will change our bodies into glorious bodies like His. Colossians 3:4 says, "When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory." How should knowing that affect how you view suffering in your life? Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:17 that our afflictions are temporary, and will bring us eternal glory. Memorize that verse and use it the next time you encounter trials in your life to keep them in perspective.

Added to the John MacArthur "Study Guide" Collection by:

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Chapter 9 - The Sign Of The Son Of Man In Heaven

Jesus plainly asserted that at the time of his coming again there will be “signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars, and upon the earth distress of nations”. The words in the first part of this quotation are usually (and rightly) given a figurative application, but the conjunction with words, which are starkly literal, is somewhat startling. And when it is considered how the element of literality has so often obtruded itself in the fulfilment of figurative prophecies (see for example, 2 Peter 3:10), the student can hardly refrain from wondering if there will not be a literal as well as figurative fulfilment here also. Modern developments in rocket science make sensational phenomena in the sky not so much a possibility as a probability.

The words of Jesus in Matthew 24 continue: “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (v. 30).

This sign of the Son of man in heaven has provoked many widely differing speculations. The one, which has most recommended itself, is the idea that this sign is the return of the Jews to Palestine. The parable of the fig tree coming two verses later is doubtless a recommendation in this direction. But why should this sign in particular be labelled the sign of the Son of man? For could it not be argued that every sign which heralds his coming is a sign of the Son of man? Again, how is the return of the Jew to Zion a sign in heaven? To explain this figurative element has to be imported once again, and somewhat awkwardly here. The rest of the verse is literal enough. Also it may be asked: Where or what is the connection with the rest of the passage if it is the Jewish sign which is alluded to?

These are not insuperable obstacles, but it must be granted that an interpretation which avoids these snags, and which takes the words as meaning just what they say, and which ties all the phrases of the context together has much more to recommend it.

It is worthwhile, then, to recall that when Jesus came the first time there was a sign of the Son of man in heaven—the star seen by the wise men. It was a literal sign in the literal sky. This immediately suggests a similar appearance in the day (or night) when he comes again.

It is useful also to observe that whilst that first sign is called a “star” it was not literally a star but was so called because of the similarity to a star and because “star” afforded the best brief description of it. The fact may have eluded the notice of readers that since this “star” came and “stood over where the young child was” (Matthew 2:9) it could not possibly have been any normal heavenly body. The star, which appears to be directly over my chimney-pot at 9 p.m., also appears to be directly over my friend’s chimneypot five miles away, at the same moment.

This “star”, then, must have been quite low in the sky—as low, probably lower, than the altitude of a modern aeroplane. The guess may be hazarded that it was a manifestation of the cherubim of glory, “the chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof”.

Yet when the angels announced the royal birth to the shepherds their word was: “And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger”. To them the sign was to be Christ himself—but, let it be noted—not a Christ in royal splendour but one wrapped and surrounded by all the signs of human weakness and destitution —swaddling clothes, appropriate to the nature which he then bore.

The two ideas, combined together, are readily transferable back to Matthew 24:30. The sign of the Son of man will be a literal sight in the sky. The sign will be the Son of man himself as he comes to the earth. But whereas he came before with all the symbols of our pathetic fallen nature, he will come this second time “in power and great glory” appropriate to his royal dignity. He will come “on the clouds of heaven”—not ordinary nimbus or cumulus clouds, but in the Cloud of the Shekinah Glory which shepherded Israel out of Egypt, the Cloud which was transferred from Moses and Elijah to himself and his disciples on the mount of Transfiguration, the Cloud which received him when he ascended to the Father’s right hand. It cannot be emphasized too strongly that there is no Biblical warrant for taking “clouds of heaven” to mean “clouds of people”. Hebrews 12:1 uses a different Greek word. And in any case Jesus does not come with his glorified ones, but to them.

In short, then, the sign will be Jesus himself coming in the vivid visible Glory of God, and seen in the sky by all the world as he comes to his inheritance.

This topic of the actual coming of Christ has been much befogged by strange nebulous ideas of a two-fold manifestation—first, in secret to his saints, and then in full power and majesty to his enemies. This is another notion, which can hardly be too strongly reprobated. The only Bible evidence one ever hears cited in support of it is: “The day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2). Yet the very next words make it plain that to those who are prepared and watchful the second advent will be in no sense thief-like. The same figure of the thief in the Letter to Sardis makes it clear that it will only be the unprepared who find the Lord’s coming a nasty shock.

The Lord’s own words elsewhere refute utterly and completely the idea of a stealthy or secret advent: “Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert (of Sinai!!?); go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:26, 27). It would be difficult to find more explicit words than these. Lightning is unmistakeably lightning; it has never been mistaken for a house on fire or even for a photo flash bulb. The coming of Christ will be clear, impressive, majestic, seen by all, but understood only by a few.

“The Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels” (Matthew I6: 27). “The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God . . .” (2 Thessalonians 1:7, 8).

Such passages speak for themselves. They are reinforced by Matthew 24:30 “Then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they (the tribes of the earth) shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory”.

Yet another phenomenon will add to the awe-inspiring grandeur of this majestic visitation. Some prophecies suggest that the day of the Lord’s coming will be a time of unnatural darkness comparable with that, which was experienced on the day of crucifixion.

The preceding words, if to be taken literally have this very idea: “the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven . . .”

In strange mysterious language Zechariah 14 hints at the same thing: “His feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives . . . And it shall come to pass in that day, that the light shall not be clear, nor dark: but it shall be one day which shall be known to the Lord, not day, nor night; but it shall come to pass that at evening time it shall be light” (w. 4, 6, 7).

Joel describes the day of the Lord as “a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness” (2:2).

Zephaniah has almost identical language: “The great day of the Lord is near . . . a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness” (1:14, 15). Passages in Amos and Isaiah carry the same idea.

If this comes to pass literally the effect on the nations of the world will be electric. Imagine the entire globe wrapped in gloom. As Jesus approaches the earth in radiant splendour, the visible manifestation of the Shekinah Glory, all—literally all—the peoples of the world will witness this unique mysterious, startling spectacle. Only a few will know the meaning of this, which they behold. To them it is “the sign of the Son of man in heaven”. The rest will stare in amazement and terror: “then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the Clouds of heaven with power and great glory”.

Glorious Appearance - Second Coming of Christ

The Glorious Appearing will take place “immediately after the distress of those days,” that is, at the end of the Tribulation and before the Millennium. Our Lord will time His coming at the most dramatic point in all history. The Antichrist, the False Prophet, and Satan will inspire the armies of the world to invade Palestine in a gigantic effort to rid the world of the Jews and to fight against Christ. This coming battle before Christ sets up His millennial kingdom is often called “the Battle of Armageddon.”

THE RETURN OF CHRIST – This is the most dramatic moment in world history! After winning four successive battles, Christ will set His feet on the Mount of Olives. “A day of the Lord is coming when your plunder will be divided among you. I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it; the city will be captured, the houses ransacked, and the women raped. Half of the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be taken from the city. Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights in the day of battle. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south. (Zech. 14 v.1-4)

When Christ consumes all before Him through the earthquakes, lightnings, and the sword that proceeds out of His mouth, not only will the Holy Land be destroyed but the entire country will be literally bathed in the blood of unregenerate, God hating, Christ opposing people. It is hard to envision the hordes of troops from all over the world that will oppose Christ. Who can conceive of a time when the blood of Slain men will flow as high as the horses’ bridles by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs? That is just about the length of the entire land of Palestine! Naturally many skeptics and those who do not take the book of Revelation literally find it difficult to believe that so much blood could be shed. A point to be kept in mind is that part of the destruction of the troops around Jerusalem will include a hailstorm “From the sky huge hailstones of about a hundred pounds each fell upon men. And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible” (Rev. 16 v.21). Millions of pieces of ice will fall to the earth weighing a hundred plus pounds each, melting in the torrid heat of Palestine, and mingling with the blood of those slain until the land of Palestine will be literally bathed in a bloody liquid that is almost too horrible to describe. What a price human beings will pay for rejecting Christ!

Nearly every prophecy concerning the Second Coming is directly tied to Israel as a nation and to the land she must inhabit when her Messiah returns. The angels said that Jesus would come back to the Mount of Olives. When and Why? Certainly not at the Rapture. He doesn’t come there to catch away His bride, which is composed of the redeemed from every nation scattered all over the earth. Neither the Mount of Olives nor the land of Israel has any special significance for the Church. Christ would have no reason to return to Israel unless His people were there and unless He intended to occupy the throne of David and rule over them from Jerusalem. That He would do so was stated repeatedly by the prophets as a solemn promise from God. Those prophecies must and will be fulfilled at the Second Coming, and are unrelated to the Rapture.

The message of the angels at Christ’s ascension, to which we have referred, was another New Testament reference to the land. They declared that it would be to the Mount of Olives just outside Jerusalem that He would return. That statement was a reaffirmation of Zech. 14 v.4, which is all about the land of Israel. Furthermore, promises such as Jeremiah 31 v.35-37, which we have earlier quoted, hardly need to be reaffirmed! Why does Jesus come back to the land of Israel? He comes to rescue Israel at Armageddon. For that to be the case, God’s ancient people must have been reestablished there. How then, dare anyone say that Israel’s national presence in her land today means nothing! Yes, even an unbelieving Israel.

In the Old Testament, there are over 100 prophecies regarding the coming of the Messiah. There is over 5 times that prophesizing Jesus Christ will return physically to the earth to set up his Kingdom. There were some who understood this and welcomed His birth but most missed it. How many will again not understand and not be ready for His Rapture and second coming?

Two angels stood by the “Men of Galilee” when Jesus ascended and ask them, why do your stand gazing up into Heaven? “This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1 v.11) Interestingly, He will also “touch down” on the same mountain from which He left, the Mount of Olives.

Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle. And his feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south. And ye shall flee to the valley of the mountains; for the valley of the mountains shall reach unto Azal: yea, ye shall flee, like as ye fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah: and the Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with thee.

The Glorious Appearing of Christ. The transfiguration of Jesus (Matt. 17 v.1-8; Mark 9 v.1-8) was a miniature and premature revelation to three of the apostles of the essential glory, which belongs to Jesus (Heb. 10 v.20) that will be displayed to the world at His Second Advent. The second coming of Christ will be heralded by the appearance of the “sign of the Son of man in heaven”. (Matt. 24 v.30) Thus these three apostles were given a revelation at the Transfiguration as to who this Person actually is. (Matt. 12 v.24)

At His ascension, the veil was removed and the Son appeared in glory, (Acts. 7 v.55-56) never to have that glory veiled again. When He returns to this earth to set His feet on the Mount of Olives, (Zech. 14 v.4) all who dwell on the earth “shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory”; (Matt. 24 v.30; Rev. 19 v.11-16)

When the Son returns in glory, (Rev. 1 v.13-16) He is fulfilling His God given role as Judge. (John 5 v.27) He is portrayed in that role throughout the book of Revelation. Christ is the one (Rev. 5 v.5) who looses the series of judgments described in the breaking of the seals (Rev. 6 v.1-17) and the blowing of the trumpets. (Rev. 8 v.2 – 9 v.21) The seventh trumpet is actually the Second Advent of the Judge back to the earth. (Rev. 11 v.15) The form of the judgment associated with His advent is revealed in the emptying of the vials in judgment. (Rev. 16 v.1-21) His right to judge is vindicated. (John 5 v.27) Upon the Second Coming, He will assemble living Israel for judgment (Matt. 24 v.31; 25 v.1-30) and will judge living Gentiles to determine who will enter the covenanted kingdom. His glory will be revealed through His judgments.

Also upon the Second Coming, Christ will fulfill the role of a Savior or Deliverer. (Rom. 11 v.26-27) Because of lawlessness and idolatry, Israel was delivered into the hand of Gentile oppressors who would rule over them and their land until “the times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21 v.24) should be fulfilled. The Son’s glory will be revealed as a Savior, and the nation of Israel shall look in faith upon the One whom they rejected and will give Him the glory due Him. (Zech. 12 v.10)

Christ returns the second time to fulfill His God given role as King, a role appointed to him by His Father at His ascension. (Psalms 2 v.6-7; 110 v.1) He was introduced in that role by His appointed forerunner John the Baptist, (Matt. 3 v.2) and claimed that right Himself. (Matt. 4 v.17) When the multitudes witnessed a spectacular miracle, they acknowledged that Christ was the Messiah, the son of David. (Matt. 12 v.23) At the Second Advent, He appears as “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS”. (Rev. 19 v.16) His glory will be revealed throughout the thousand years of His reign here on earth (Rev. 20 v.2-3) as David’s “son” in David’s kingdom as covenanted by God with Israel. (2 Sam. 7 v.16; Psalms 89 v.3-4)

The believer anticipates the glory that will be revealed at His coming, (see Titus 2 v.13) for we will share His glory. This hope (settled assurance) is a source of blessing while we await the revelation of His glory: His glory as a Judge, His glory as a Deliverer, and His glory as King.


The Coming King of Kings

by Ray C. Stedman



Last week we looked at a great group of passages that set forth the coming of what the apostle Paul calls "The Man of Lawlessness," the Man of Sin. He is the epitome of all the wide spread philosophy of a lost humanity that man is his own god and that he alone is capable of working out the problems of earth. I want to spend our time this evening on a discussion and a look together at passages that set forth the answer to the man of sin, the "Son of man" who is coming again to earth.

I would like to begin by reading to you a couple of brief paragraphs from a little book I ran across the other day. It deals with this subject of the last days, and in it is found this paragraph:

It is not only the Marxists who think man needs remaking, but also the scientists of the West who propose to turn man from a human being with an unpredictable will and an unmanageable conscience into a robot or a marionette, a compliant human vegetable. The result of these trends is completely predictable. Without realizing it, and certainly without desiring it, man in his incredible blindness has already begun to tip the delicate balance of life. Like a drunk in a canoe, he has thrown his weight around with gay abandon and, perverted by his drunken joy, he cannot see how much water has already been shipped, and that one more violent lurch is sufficient to take him to the bottom.

The apostle Peter tells us that once before in the history of the world this has happened. There was a time when man, in arrogance and pride, boasting of the civilization which he had built, quite unwittingly tripped the lever which held the world of his day in delicate balance. Before he knew what had happened, the clouds began to gather, the sky to darken, the heavens poured down floods of water, the earth heaved, the seas raised and swept across the mountain tops in monstrous waves, and all the world of man perished, except for eight souls who were safely preserved in an ark.

Once again, Jesus suggests, man in his clever insanity will go too far. The sign of it will be a world gone mad with self conceit, permitting and even encouraging its leaders to state publicly what almost everyone secretly believes; that there is no real God, that man is his own god and he does not need any other. Then the deadly lever will be tripped by man's own hand, the dark forces of nature will be released, the seals of nuclear power will be removed, the trumpets of human cruelty will sound out, and the vials of a demented biology will be poured out upon the earth. It is all described in detail in the book of Revelation.

I'm reading from a little book called "What on Earth's Going to Happen" by an unknown writer [Ray Stedman], and I commend it to you for your further reading.

Now, let's go back to the section of Scripture that we were concerned about a bit last week, the second letter of Paul to the church at Thessalonica. In the second chapter of the second letter, the apostle is dealing with a misconception which these Thessalonian believers held about how they were related to the coming time of trouble on the earth, the predicted "Day of the Lord," which the prophets had described in terrible terminology. Certain false teachers evidently had come among them and had taught them that they were then in the midst of that tribulation. They were going through persecution, as Paul himself and his companions had experienced when they were in the city. These believers, too, were being hounded and driven about and persecuted by Roman authorities. Evidently false brethren coming to them had told them this was the fulfillment of "The Day of the Lord." So they had written to the Apostle about this, and he is writing this letter now to correct that misapprehension. We read some of this chapter last week. I am only going to point several verses within the chapter which deal specifically with how the "Man of Sin," the predicted Anti-Christ, described in many passages, will finally meet his end. This is Paul's word about it in verse 7.

II Thessalonians, chapter 2, verse 7:

For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, and the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by his appearing and his coming. The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God send upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe [THE lie] what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

It is clear from this brief reference that the answer to the "Man of Sin" and the coming reign of lawless terror culminating in what Jesus described as "The great tribulation which shall be a time of trouble such as never has been seen on earth before or ever will be again" is the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. The hope of earth is in the return of Jesus Christ.

Both Testaments confirm this very strongly. There are very few truths which are strongly emphasized in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Only those that are basic to the very program of God and fundamental to the understanding of people in all ages are clearly emphasized in both Testaments, but this is one of them.

If you are familiar with the book of Daniel, you will remember Daniel had a great vision in which he saw the Ancient of Days seated on his throne in the heavens and hundreds of thousands of angels gathered before him. It is very much like John saw at the opening of the book of Revelation and as Ezekiel describes in some of his great visions and as Isaiah saw when he saw the Lord "high and lifted up and his train filled the whole temple." In the great vision of Daniel's he saw one whom he calls "The Son of man" who came to the Ancient of Days and was given all the kingdoms of the earth to be his possessions. So there in the prophet Daniel is a clear indication of the time when Jesus Christ, the Son of man, the prophesied Messiah, will claim the kingdoms of earth to be his.

Then David, remember, in the 2nd Psalm speaks of God saying how the nations rage and the peoples imagine a vain thing and the kings of the earth take counsel together against the Lord and against his anointed, but he who sits in the heavens shall hold them in derision and shall laugh at them for their feeble efforts to withstand the program of God. The word of God comes in that great Psalm, "Behold I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill," and he urges the nations, "Kiss the Son lest he be angry and you perish in the way." There again is a clear definition of the coming of the promised Messiah to claim the earth as his rightful inheritance from his Father.

Zechariah, almost the last prophet of the Old Testament, in the last chapter describes how "his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives...," a very literal place, a literal spot on earth, "and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west" so that part of it removes to the north and part of it to the south. Then he will fulfill the promises of the prophets concerning the establishment of his kingdom among men. Israel shall be gathered and mourn for him as one mourns for his only son.

Our Lord Jesus himself in that well known passage in Matthew 24, along with the parallel passages in Mark 13 and Luke 21, tells us that the whole earth shall see the "sign of the Son of man in the heaven," and then they shall see him "coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." In the Revelation, John the apostle tells us that every eye shall see him. So Scripture is replete with many passages that describe the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In II Thessalonians you have a very vivid description of this in the first chapter of this same letter, verse 7. In I Thessalonians, chapter 1, verse 7, the apostle says the Lord is coming,

To grant rest with us to you who are afflicted, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

I merely mention these in order to show you how widespread is the hope in Scripture of the coming of Christ again to this earth. This is what we pray for when we pray in the Lord's prayer, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." The hope that God himself will dwell among men, and mankind itself will be his dwelling place. He "shall wipe away all tears from their eyes," and then shall be introduced and fulfilled all the glorious dramas and visions of the prophets. If there is any one truth, therefore, that we ought to hold clear and sharp in our minds, it is this great hope of the coming again of Jesus Christ.

Most people, I have found, think of this as a single point of time, a great event which will occur within a reasonably brief period of time. They think this mean Christ will visibly appear, come again to this earth, stand upon it, and beginning at the Mount of Olives will begin to reign throughout the earth, and they feel this is a single great event; one event seen throughout the earth. But a careful study of many Scriptures, both Old and New Testament alike, raises certain questions about that. One question is, "Where does the prediction of Paul in I Thessalonians, chapter 4, verses 16-17, fit in when he describes the Lord 'coming with a shout and the voice of the archangel and the sound of the trumpet and the church being caught up together with him in the air?'" This is a very clear description. It is one that has often been quoted and has resulted in describing this event as the "rapture" of the church. Now, the word rapture does not appear in the passage, but it comes from the Greek word which is translated here "caught up." The Latin word for that is "rapere." It is from that that we get our English word rapture. It literally means "to snatch away." I remember during the days of the Jesus movement the hope of the rapture was called the "Great Snatch." I don't think many of them knew what the Greek word meant, nevertheless, they were right on when they described it that way. It is the great catching away of God's people to join the Lord in the air, not on earth, in the air, and as Paul adds, "so shall we ever be with the Lord."

Now, when does that occur, and how does it fit with this sudden appearing of Jesus Christ in great power and glory with flaming fire taking vengeance? There are many question raised here. Another question that that passage awakens in our hearts is, "How could Christ's coming be preceded by unmistakable great signs in the earth, signs in the heavens, darkening of the sun and of the moon, signs on the earth, distress among nations, terrible events in the political and economic world, and at the same time be described as a coming "like a thief in the night" with nobody anticipating him. How could that be? Surely after the fulfillment of visible dramatic signs anybody who has ever had a Bible at all, or known anything about it, would be expecting Christ's return. It could hardly come, then, as an unexpected event, coming as a "thief in the night." This raises some questions.

Another question concerns the passage we are looking at here in II Thessalonians. It speaks of someone or something "restraining" the appearance of the Man of Sin. What is holding him back? Why did he not come during the days of the Holocaust? Or before that during some of the great times of trouble that the earth has gone through?

With lives of false prophets and false teachers in the past, why didn't Christ return then? Why didn't he come in the First Century when the church was obviously expecting him, when the City of Jerusalem was destroyed, the temple torn down and the Jewish people scattered among the nations of the earth which seemed to fulfill so exactly our Lord's words as described by Luke in chapter 17. Why didn't he come then? What is it that restrains his coming? This and other questions like this make people wonder whether the coming of Christ can be so simplified as to be just a single event suddenly occurring since it does not explain some of these other questions.

A closer study, therefore, of all the prophetic passages has given rise to the hope of what has been called a "Pretribulational Rapture." I want you to get familiar, if you are not already, with several different terms. There is a term called "pre-millenialism." These jaw-breakers are simply terms that are derived from certain words in Scripture. You will recognize the word "millenial" here. The Millenium is, of course, the predicted thousand year reign of Jesus Christ upon this earth before the final destruction of the heavens and the earth and the establishment of the new heavens and the new earth. We will look at that next week. Then there is a series of beliefs or teachings that are called "post-millenialism." "Pre," of course, means before. "Post" means afterward. This concerns the return of Christ. Is it before the Millenium, before the thousand year reign? Or does it come after the thousand year reign? Then there is still a third division called "a-millenialism," which prefixes the word the millenium with the little prefix "a" which means no millenium, and there are many Bible teachers and Christians today who claim to be amillenialists, i.e., they do not believe in a literal millenium at all. They believe it is now being fulfilled by the church. All those are general divisions of the subject of "eschatology, "the subject of the last days. You will hear those terms thrown around, so that is why I give them to you.

However, I want to look at another two terms which are part of the first one. Pre-millenialism divides itself into two camps. One is called "Pre-tribulationalism." [Forgive me for this kind of donkey work we are doing here, but I am not sure everyone knows these terms.] The other is "Post-tribulationalism." These are both a division of premillenialism. They mean does Jesus come before the Tribulation? Or does he come after the Tribulation? That is essentially the question we are going to discuss tonight. Which is right? If he comes after the tribulation, then the world is looking forward to the "Time of Trouble." That is the next event in the prophetic history of earth, and we cannot expect Jesus Christ to return until the end. He comes, then, to end the tribulation. That is very much as described here. There is some warrant for this view because it does speak of the coming of Christ at the end of the tribulation when he answers and destroys the Man of Sin. But there is also arisen this other view called "Pre-tribulationalism" that says there is an aspect of his coming that is before the tribulation.

I think it is very important to understand these terms, and we want to begin our answer to this issue tonight by viewing the key word here. It is the word "parousia" which is translated in most English versions as "the coming" of Christ. You have it here in this very chapter II Thessalonians, chapter 2, verse 1, "Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." It is the word parousia. Again it appears in verse 8, and also in connection with the Antichrist in verse 9, "the coming of the lawless one," ---parousia. When it speaks of coming, we always think of a person walking into a room. That is his "coming." He enters, and we think of it as referring to entrance, but this is an interesting word. The prefix "par" which is short for "para" in Greek means "alongside of" or "with." "Ousia," the rest of the word, is the Greek word for "being." Therefore, it means being with someone, or I think the best word in English that translates this word is the word "presence." Someone who is with us is present. This is the basic thought of this word. Therefore, if you will get in the habit of reading your New Testament translating every occurrence of this word with the word "presence," you will get much more of the meaning. You see presence is not just a sharply defined point of time. It is rather a beginning and an ending with a continuation, or a duration, in between, and the whole thing is labeled the parousia, the presence. Now that is what is speaking about with regard to the Lord Jesus. He will come, but come to be present for awhile. Then at the end there will come the "epiphaneia" of his "parousia." Now, those two words are found together in this very chapter.

II Thessalonians, chapter 2, verse 8:

And then the lawless one will be revealed, and the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by his appearing and his coming.

Notice how that is translated, "by his appearing and his coming." That sounds like it is two separate things, his appearing and his coming. Yet those are obviously so closely connected that it could be that it is one event described with two terms, his appearing and his coming.

But why would Paul describe the same event with two synonyms? The answer is that this is a rather poor translation. It is not two things at all, or if it is they are very closely related in a different way than what I have just outlined. The word "epiphaneia" which is what is translated "his appearing" is "epi" which means "out" and "phaneia" which means "to shine." It comes from the Greek word "phaino" to shine. The idea here is the "out-shining" or, as some have translated it in English, "the unveiling." It is "the manifestation, the out-shining" of something. The term is really the "out-shining of his presence." So, taken in that light and in view of the fact that parousia means a presence, a duration of time, it is an event which is simply the open visible manifestation of a presence that has been here for sometime before. If you understand that phrase very clearly, I think you will have a key to fitting together all the passages of Scripture that deal with the second coming of our Lord. It is not just one single event coming at the end of time, but it is a series of events in which our Lord is present on earth during a definite period of time, finally making his presence visible by a sudden appearing "in power and in glory," a shining out, which would fit all these descriptions of him coming with flaming fire, in power and great glory, etc. That gives you a clear clue, I think, to how to understand the coming of Christ. He is coming with a "presence."

The question that comes now is, "When does the parousia begin?" When can we expect this presence of the Lord in a rather secret, hidden way that will ultimately be revealed by the out-shining of his glory at the end of the tribulation? And to answer that I want to go back to our Lord's own words found in Matthew 24. This is the teaching of Jesus himself on that dramatic occasion when he sat with the disciples on the Mount of Olive before he was betrayed and answered some of their questions. In Matthew 24, verse 3 you have the questions the disciples asked him.

Matthew 24, verse 3:

As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will this be?"

That question relates to the previous verse when the disciples had looked at the buildings of the temple, that glorious building that was an architectural wonder, and had pointed out the great stones that were there. Jesus said to them, "Truly I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down." And it is to that answer that the disciples address the question, "When will this be?" Then they asked,

...and what will be the sign of your coming [Here they use the very word we have been discussing "parousia." Then a third question.] and of the close of the age? [So there are three questions here.]

Our Lord answers them in the following verses. I am not going to take time to read them all to you, but I want to outline the answers for you. First he answers the question, "When will this be?"---the destruction of the temple when will it be? His answer covers from verse 4 through verse 14 in chapter 24 of Matthew. What he does at this point is project himself through what we now know to be thousands of years of history; from that moment until our present moment in history and beyond. Who knows how much longer beyond. He also covers in very brief sweep the characterizations of that whole age of history. He speaks about false Christs who will come and lead people astray, about nations rising against nations, kingdoms against kingdoms, wars and rumors of wars, famines and earthquakes, increasing persecution of the people of God until many of them are delivered up to betrayal and death, love growing cold, wickedness increasing, and then the gospel of the kingdom being preached throughout this whole earth. Now these are not what are oftentimes called "signs of the times." They are not. They are signs of the whole age. They are characterizations of the whole age. And what he is saying to, "When will this be?" is that all of these signs must be fulfilled and then the temple will be destroyed. What the disciples did not realize, and could not have realized, was that he was not talking about the building that was standing at that moment. In Luke 21 he does talk about that, and he tells them, "When you see the armies surrounding Jerusalem, then you will know it's time to get out of the city because the city is going to be destroyed." But here he is looking on to another temple yet to be built which will be destroyed and a later fulfillment. He gives all these indications of what must happen in history before that time. This is a very familiar phenomenon in prophetic passages. This double fulfillment, this leap over the years must always be taken into account. If with our understanding of the New Testament, we look at the Old Testament, we now know many of the events described in the Old Testament in connection with Christ's coming were a blending of the first coming and the second coming. No one could tell them apart. It would have been impossible to separate the second coming events from the first coming events before Christ first came. So, we do not need to blame the disciples for being confused at this point or for the early Christians expecting an immediate coming of Christ. He meant it to be that way. It was very difficult to tell. So it is in this case. Anyway we have here the answer he gave to question one.

Then in Chapter 24, verse 15 he skips over the second question for the time being and answers the third question, "What will be the sign of the close of the age, the end of the age?" Daniel had spoken of a "time of the end." Other prophets had referred to this. Now Jesus answers their questions, "What will be the sign that the age is about to end?" His answer is in verse 15.

Matthew chapter 24, verse 15:

So when you see the desolating sacrilege spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place, [That is not the temple that was there on Mount Zion at the time but the one that is to be built in the last days,] then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let him who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house; ...Pray that you flight may not be in the winter...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 flesh would be saved."

He speaks of days when the entire extermination of the race was possible, but those days are to be shortened for the elect's sake. Then he goes on to warn about being deceived about these events, and his word continues through verse 28. This is the section in which he answers the question, "What will be the sign of the close of the age?" The sign is the same sign that Paul speaks of in II Thessalonians, the Man of Sin seated in the temple proclaiming himself to be God. That is the "desolating sacrilege" which Daniel also predicted. That is the sign indicating the age has reached its close. It is not the beginning of that close. It occurs actually in the middle of Daniel's seventieth week which is seven years long. A sign in Scripture does not necessarily mark the beginning or the ending of anything but the character of it. This sign will be that which marks the close of the age.

Then beginning with Matthew 24, verse 29 through verse 31, Jesus answers question number two, "What will be the sign of your coming, the parousia, your presence?" And he answers this very clearly in these verses. They are short enough I can read them to you.

Matthew, chapter 24, verse 29:

Immediately after the tribulation of those days [This follows the great tribulation] 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 the sign of the Son of man in heaven, [Now what is that sign? Well, it is not the coming of Jesus because he goes on to say]...and they will see the Son of man coming... [If it is not the coming, then what is it ?]

Well, all through Scripture there has been a special, peculiar, particular sign of the presence of God. Can you guess what it is? It is the shining cloud of glory called the Shekinah which hovered over the tribes of Israel as they passed through the desert and guarded them by day and by night. When the temple was dedicated by King Solomon, at the moment of dedication the cloud of glory filled the temple and rested upon the Ark of the Covenant as a sign that God was dwelling in the midst of his people. Now it is instructive that when the disciples were with Jesus on the Mount of Olives at the time of his ascension, it says, "They saw him ascending into the heavens until a cloud received him out of their sight." And when he comes again, he will come it says, "in the clouds." Here again you have in this very passage that he will be,

Matthew, chapter 24, verse 30b:

...coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

So the sign of his coming which is the end of the parousia, the final event of it, the out-shining of his presence is the Shekinah cloud of glory.

Then he speaks of the signs we can look for to know this day is drawing nigh, the fig tree, etc., but beginning at verse 36 he goes on. The disciples had not ask for this. They did not know about it, but he goes on to give them some information they would not have known.

Matthew chapter 24, verse 36:

But of that day and hour no one knows, [Now, if you have any tendency to set dates or to believe people who set dates, take your pen and underline this verse] not even the angels of heaven, [let alone the prognosticators of earth] nor the Son, [Isn't that amazing? In the days of his flesh our Lord himself did not know the time of his coming. He was limited in his humanity. He knew many thing that we do not know, but he did not know this] but the Father only.

There is a warning here not to set dates. It precedes the revelation he is going to give that this event he now is going to describe is an imminent event, i.e., could come at any time, but no one knows when and cannot know. He describes it.

Matthew, chapter 24, verse 37:

As were the days of Noah, so will be the parousia of the Son of man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the parousia of the Son of man. Then two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left. Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

My question now is, "Could this possibly, by any stretch of the imagination, be the same coming that is described just a few verses earlier as the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory preceded by a terrible time of trouble and with terrible signs in the heavens and on the earth?" Could it be the same? I don't see how anybody could say this is the same event being described here. Our Lord begins by likening it to the days of Noah. He says, "In the days of Noah before the flood life was going on as usual." That is the meaning of this paragraph. In Luke's account you will find that Luke adds the days of Lot and Sodom and Gomorrah. In the same way, he says. Lot and the people of Sodom did not know any judgment was intended. They were just doing what comes naturally, and that is what our Lord describes here. Before the flood, although it was a time of violence with wickedness widespread throughout the earth and a time of a troubled civilization, nevertheless people were doing the usual things. They were getting married and eating and drinking, etc. That is a vivid description of life going on as usual. Nothing unusual occurring. Nothing that had not been occurring for centuries in the history of man. But suddenly, when they did not know, a flood came and swept them all away. So, he says, in like manner will be the parousia of the Son of man.

So, we have here in this one discourse both the ending and the beginning of our Lord's parousia, his presence on earth. It ends in the out-shining, the manifestation of power and glory. It begins with a secret coming seen only by the believers who hear the voice of the Lord, the command of the Lord, the archangel's cry and the trump of God and suddenly disappear to be with the Lord, to meet the Lord in the air, as Paul says. Remember how he also amplifies that in I Corinthians 15, verse 51. He says,

"Behold, I show you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed," [That is a word to believers.] "We shall not all die, but we shall be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye."

It is the event called the "rapture" or the snatching away, the departure of the church. And, as our Lord tells us, it will be highly selective. Two men will be in the field working, one taken, one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill, one taken, one left. And Luke adds in his account, two men will be in the same bed, one taken, one left. It is very interesting that you have a description of an event which finds the earth in darkness at one place, where men have gone to bed, and another place where they are out in the field working. This is an indication that the great snatch is a simultaneous event happening all over the earth with part of the earth in darkness and part of the earth in light, part daytime, part nighttime. Our Lord comes without the world's knowledge. They do not know what has happened, and according to the hints that are given in various Scriptures, Christ remains, in a sense, behind the scenes of the great tribulation, the day of wrath, appearing and disappearing to those who are his own. The church is with him. "So shall we ever be with the Lord," says the Apostle. So we enter into the fulfillment of some of these words the Apostle speaks as we share the judgments of the Lord. We shall judge angels. We shall judge among the nations, etc. This is the beginning of that time when the church enters into the Lord's ministry in a kind of secret presence here on the earth.

Now, if you see it in that way, you will understand what our Lord says the world will be saying at that time. For 40 days after his resurrection, our Lord appeared and disappeared to his own. Remember the accounts in the gospels? Suddenly he would be in the room, and then he would be gone. They would be walking down a road, and he was with them. They were up in Galilee, and there he was up there. He appeared and disappeared and the whole ministry of the post resurrection period is what occurs again when he comes back, and he begins to appear and disappear. This is why he says in the account here, "People will say, 'Where is he?'" Rumors of his appearance will be widespread, rife on the earth, and people will go around saying, "Where is he?" Some false prophets will say, "He is in the desert." Others will say, "No, he is in the inner room. We have a special contract with him. He only appears in our meeting," and our Lord's word is, "If they say that, do not go with them. Do not pay any attention to them, because as the lightning shines from the east to the west so will be the parousia of the Son of man." What he means by that is not that a bolt of lightning actually covers the whole of the heavens. It never does. But when it strikes, its effects are worldwide. That is what he means here, and he warns that this will be the case.

144,000 Jews, called out of each of the 12 tribes of Israel, will openly bear witness during this time. A multitude of gentiles---greater number than anyone can number---out of every tribe and nation on earth, will come to believe in him at the cost of their own lives in many many cases. John sees this in the book of Revelation. At the end of it there is an unveiling of his appearance. After the Man of Sin, at the middle of this week, reveals himself in the temple and the terrible judgments of the tribulation come down during this last 3-1/2 year period, at the end our Lord reveals himself in the clouds of the heavens as the one who has come to take over the kingdoms of this earth.

Now, one final question, "Who is the restrainer?" I go back to II Thessalonians for that. There is a word here that is very important.

II Thessalonians, chapter 2, verse 5:

Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you this? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time.

You know, I used to read that passage and get very angry with Paul. "Why tell these people they know, and not tell us because we want to know too?" I used to do that with some of the things our Lord said too. I would get very upset that he did not say the whole thing until I realized that when the Scripture does not specifically tell you something, it is usually because that something is obvious, well known. I want to say to you tonight, "You know what restrains him too." The mystery of lawlessness is already at work. It is not only working in the world but it is working in you and in me. What restrains that mystery of evil in our own nature? Galatians 5:17 tells us very plainly. "The flesh lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh so that you cannot do what you would do." That is a restrainer. The flesh under control, limited by the Spirit. This takes us back to our Lord's words when he said in the Sermon on the Mount those amazing words, "You are the light of the world. You are the salt of the earth." Light dispels darkness, and God's people in any age or time or clime are the light of the world. Jesus said later, "As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world," but when he left physically, the continuous light would be manifested through his people, "You are the light of the world."

Now salt is a different ministry. What does salt do? It arrests corruption. It restrains decay, moral decay. We put salt on meat to preserve it from corruption and decay. The ancients knew that very well. Every bit of fish that was sent from Galilee down to Jerusalem was packed in salt to preserve it during the long journey down to its marketplace. They knew this well. This is what Jesus meant, "You are the salt of the earth." It is the Spirit working in us and through us that is the restraint against the world being taken over by evil.

You and I often sing the blues about what is going on in our world. We listen to the 6 o'clock "Blues" every night, and then we echo it in our own feelings, "How terrible things are getting." Oftentimes I think we are tempted to think that evil is rampant, that it is in control. It really is not. It never has been. There has never been a time on earth when evil was in control. Do you know how I know? Because to this very day evil has to disguise itself as good in order to be accepted. Is that not true? Politicians can not get away with outright lies. They have to appear to be good. They have to sound like they are telling the truth. Prostitutes want to be known as "ladies." Evil cannot manifest itself widely. Desperadoes and gangsters and others have to appear as good well-meaning persons, salt-of-the-earth. Evil has to disguise itself because good is in control. That may sound rather amazing, but it is true. I know we often feel like the little rhyme that says:

Our race had a splendid beginning,
But man spoiled his chances by sinning.
We hope that the story will end in God's glory,
But at present the other side's winning.

But it really is not. Much more true are the words of the poet James Russell Lowell when he said:

Though the cause of evil prosper,
Yet 'tis truth alone that's strong.
Truth forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne.
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And behind the dim unknown
Standeth God within the shadows
Keeping watch above his own

You see there is a restraining force on earth. It is the presence of the church, the Spirit of God in his people, and God cannot bring about the terrible judgments of the tribulation until that force is taken out of the way. When it is the Man of Sin shall be revealed. That is why there has been born, supported by other passages I do not have time to go into here, the hope within the church that we will be spared the judgment of the great tribulation, not spared tribulation because we all have that in various degrees. Some generations of Christians have gone through terrible tribulation, but as to the great tribulation, there is the promise given to us that we shall not be part of it.

I Thessalonians, chapter 5, verse 9:

For God has not destined us for wrath, [That is what the great tribulation is, the wrath of God] but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we wake or sleep we might be together with him.

That is the hope he holds out in this whole section. Well, my time is gone but I want to point this out. We are not, therefore, waiting for tribulation. What are we waiting for? We are waiting for the Lord Jesus. I want to close with reading a beautiful expression of this in a rhyme by Annie Johnson Flint.

It is not for a sign we are watching,
For wonders above and below,
The pouring of vials of judgments,
The sounding of trumpets of woe.
It is not for a day we are looking,
Not even the time yet to be,
When the earth shall be filled with God's glory,
As the waters cover the sea.
It is not for a king we are longing,
To make the world kingdoms his own.
It is not for a judge who will summon
The nations of earth to his throne.
Not for these, though we know they are coming,
For they are but adjuncts of him,
Before whom all glory is clouded,
Beside whom all splendor grows dim.
We wait for the Lord, our beloved,
Our comforter, Master and friend,
The substance of all that we hope for,
Beginning of faith and its end.
We watch for our Saviour and Bridegroom,
Who loved us and made us his own.
For him we are looking and longing,
For Jesus and Jesus alone.

Well, what are we to do while we wait? Our Lord tells us. In one of his parables he says he gave certain talents to various individuals and said to them, "Occupy until I come." Keep busy. Get to work. Live as he told you to live with the power that he himself gives. Utilize what he has given you, the gifts of the Spirit that are yours, the opportunities that are found around you. "Occupy until I come." That is the hope of the church.


We thank you, our Father, for the blessed hope that burns in our hearts as we read these Scriptures that our Lord is going to come for his own. We understand, Lord, that he knows the hearts. We cannot fool him. We cannot hide behind pretensions and spacious claims of religious possession or knowledge which we do not really have. When he comes to claim his own, he will know exactly who they are. Lord, how this makes us take a look at ourselves and like those disciples in the upper room confronted with the possibility of betrayal say to you Lord Jesus, "Is it I?" Grant, Lord, that we might be true and sure and real and genuine in our faith and living it day-by-day that we may stand before the Lord of Glory when he comes. We thank you for that promise and hope is Jesus' name. Amen.