MORE ABOUT BIBLICAL PROPHIECIES
THE KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS IS COMING
IT IS IMMINENT
HE IS AT THE DOOR
ABOUT PROPHESIES AND THE LAST TIME
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.
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
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.
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
5. Will Christians Have To Go Through
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.
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
7. When Will The Rapture Of The Church
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.
8. What Is The Resurrection Of The
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The Sign of the Son of Man
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(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.
I. THE SEQUENCE OF THE EVENTS
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.
II. THE SCENE IN THE HEAVENS
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.
III. THE SIGN IN THE SKY
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
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."
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.
IV. THE STRENGTH OF THE LORD
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).
V. THE SORROW OF ISRAEL
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).
VI. THE SELECTION BY THE ANGELS
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.
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Chapter 9 - The Sign Of The Son Of Man In Heaven
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:
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:
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,
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:
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:
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,
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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,
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:
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:
But it really is not. Much more true are the words of the poet James Russell Lowell when he said:
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:
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.
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.