The Certainty of Christ’s Return
Many believe that Christ’s imminent return to earth, His ‘Second Coming’, involves the prior removal (rapture) of true believers in Christ. See Rapture Forums
Jesus Himself said He would return and His return would be sudden and unexpected. Jesus said:
The sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven … and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory … therefore … be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect (Mat 24.30,44)
The angels verified His statement. As the disciples watched Jesus ascend into heaven, two men (angels) clothed in white appeared and confirmed Christ’s words:
Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus … will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven (Acts 1.11)
These are just two of some 1500 prophecies relating to the Second Coming of Christ. Contrast this with over 300 Old Testament prophecies that relate to Christ’s first coming, all of which were fulfilled, link, link. Surely, on these figures alone, the Second Coming of Christ is absolutely certain!
Signs of Christ’s Second Coming
Jesus said no one knows the day or the hour of His return (Mat 24.36). But He gave signs of His return for believers to observe; He said “Watch (the signs) … be ready”. One of these signs is the regathering and restoration of the people and land of Israel, link.
The Restoration of Israel: the ‘Fig Tree’ Blossoms
Many Bible prophecies speak of the restoration of Israel – both the nation of Israel and the Land of Israel, link. This is a very clear and important sign of the Second Coming. It occurs at the end of this age, just prior to Christ’s return. Whilst speaking of His return, Jesus gave the parable of the fig tree, link:
Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors! (Mat 24.32-33)
Aliyah: Many take this parable to refer to the “blossoming” of Israel (in terms of her people and the land itself) just prior to Christ’s Second Coming. In the context of His return and the setting up of the Kingdom of God on earth, the God of Israel says:
Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone … and bring them into their own land (Ezek 37.21)
Over the last 100 years there has been mass immigration (aliyah) of Jews to Israel. In 1915 there were just 83,000 Jews in Palestine, link, but this increased to 6.2 million in 2015, corresponding to an amazing 7400% increase! As of 2017, out of the 14.3 million Jewish people in the world, 43% resided in Israel, link. So the prophesied regathering is well underway.
When it comes to the literal “blossoming of the land” in the last days, prophecy says:
Israel shall blossom and bud and fill the face of the world with fruit (Isa 27.6)
I will plant in the wilderness the cedar and the acacia tree … the cypress tree and the pine(Isa 41.19)
There is plenty of evidence for this. Despite the fact that over half of Israel’s saline soil is arid or semi-arid and only 20% is arable, the land has still blossomed. Since Israel’s establishment in 1948, the country has almost tripled the territory used for farming, and production has multiplied 16 times. And since 1900 some 250 million sub-tropical trees have been planted in all regions of Israel, from the Golan and Galilee in the north to the Negev in the south, link. Surely, Jesus is coming soon!
World-wide Gospel Preaching
Another sign Jesus gave is the world-wide propagation of the gospel. To His followers He said:
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world … and then the end (of the age) will come (Mat 24.14)
Technically speaking, the gospel can be preached to virtually the whole world using the internet, satellites or short-wave radio. For example, in India, 99% of the population has radio access link, and by 2016 some 97% of the world population were covered by a mobile-cellular network, link. In this sense, the gospel has already been preached in most of the world. But this does not mean that virtually all of the world has heard the gospel. In fact, two-thirds of the world’s population live in the 10/40 Window, and 90% of the people living in this window have never heard the Gospel, link. This could be due to political/religious blocking of broadcasts, the lack of suitable technology, or the lack of scripture translation. As of 2015 there were about 500 million people with no scripture translated in their language at all, link.
So, to-date, it seems billions have still to hear the gospel. Nevertheless, gospel penetration is progressing and prophecy implies many will respond to the gospel right at the end of the age:
Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth—to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people, saying with a loud voice, “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come” (Rev 14.6-7)
See also Revelation chapter 7.
Persecution of Believers in Yeshua
Jesus said times will be hard for believers just before He comes. They will be brought before courts, some will be imprisoned and some will be martyred, as in many countries today (Lk 21.12-19). Persecution will have spread to all nations – there will be no escape and many will fall away from the faith (Mat 24.9,10, 2 Thes 2.3). And many will be deceived by false prophets and cults (Mat 24.11). Christ’s message to the end-time church is ‘hang on in there’ (Mat 24.13). So Jesus foresaw a falling away from the true faith. He said:
When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth? (LK 18.8)
Here, Jesus seems to be looking for His true church. Probably after the church has been taken to Christ (the rapture) it appears that many turn to Christ during troubled times – the very last years:
I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands (Rev 7.9)
It appears that many of these saints will suffer martyrdom at the hands of a godless world government (Rev 13.7, 14.12-13).
Persecution of Israel – Jacob’s Trouble
To those living in Israel at the end of the age, Jesus says:
Just prior to the second coming of Jesus (Yeshua), in the last few years, the nation Israel suffers extreme persecution. It occurs after Israel has been gathered from out of the nations. Whilst in a sense embracing all nations, it is essentially a time of great trouble for Israel herself:
Alas! for that day is great, there is none like it; And it is the time of Jacob’s distress, But he will be saved from it (Jer 30.7)
Jesus gave a very clear sign to watch out for at this time:
When you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place … then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains … for then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short (Mat 24.15-22)
Whilst Jesus here foresees the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple by Roman armies in 70 AD, He also foresees the suffering of Israel at the very end of this age. The “abomination of desolation” probably refers to the betrayal of Israel by the end-time world ruler when he takes His seat in a Jewish temple in Jerusalem and stops Jewish sacrifices (Dan 9.27). New Testament prophecy fills in some detail here:
[The second coming will not come] unless the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God (2 Thes 2.3,4)
This despicable person is probably the “beast from the sea” who blasphemes against God (Rev 13.3,6). He draws all Gentile nations against Jerusalem for war (Zech 14.2) – the battle of Armageddon (see later). But God empowers Israel and defends Jerusalem (Zech 12.8).
The Significance of Daniel’s 70-week Prophecy
When Jesus referred to the “abomination of desolation” in Mathew 24.15 (above), He was referring to one of Daniel’s major end-time prophecies. It concerns Daniel’s “Seventy Weeks”:
Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make an atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place (Dan 9.24)
The ‘people’ here are Daniel’s people, Israel. The ‘seventy weeks’ refers to a period of 490 years (with 1 week = 7 lunar years, each of about 360 days). To be compatible with historical and modern-day events, many take the futurist view and see an unspecified time period between the end of week 69 and the start of week 70, with week 70 imminent. For a detailed justification for this prophetic interpretation, see Daniel’s 70th Week. The significant point is that at the end of Week 70, all visions and prophecy have ceased, ‘everlasting righteousness’ has been established on earth, and ‘the holy place’ (Christ’s temple in Jerusalem) has been ‘anointed’. Christ will have arrived! The Second Coming of Christ is therefore strongly associated with Daniel’s 70th week, a period of 7 (360 day) years or 2520 days. For more on this time period see The 1290 days.
What happens to Believers when Christ Returns?
The Pre-Tribulation Rapture
There is strong biblical support for the view that born-again believers (whether Jew or Gentile, alive or ‘asleep’), will be supernaturally removed from the earth around the time of Christ’s Second Coming. This is often referred to as the ‘rapture’ or the ‘taking out’ of the church. Here we refer to the ‘true’ church of Christ (as in Rev 3.7) and not to end-time ‘apostate’ church (as in Rev 3.14). The apostle Paul puts it like this:
Behold, He is coming with clouds,
and every eye will see Him (Rev1.7)
There will be … the sound of God’s trumpet, and the Lord himself will come down from heaven. Those who have died believing in Christ will rise to life first; then we who are living at that time will be gathered up along with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord (1 Thes 4.16-17)
The Greek for ‘meet’ here is apantesis, meaning ‘a friendly encounter’. Jesus appears to say the same thing:
Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill, one will be taken, and one will be left (Mat 24.40,41)
Here, the Greek word for ‘taken’ is paralambano, which means ‘to take into close association with oneself’, in a positive sense. The Greek word for ‘left’ is aphiemi and means ‘to leave, forsake, omit or lay aside’. So just as Noah was taken out of the world before the judgement of the Flood (see Mat 24.37), so believers will be taken from the earth before God judges the world. John Wesley interprets Mat 24.40 as “One is taken into God’s immediate protection: and one is left to share the common calamities”, link.
Note that nowhere here does scripture say that Christ actually stands on the earth. He meets His church ‘in the air’ or ‘in the clouds’. What we have just described is commonly called the Pre-Tribulation Rapture. It fits well with many other prophecies.
Will You be one of those Left Behind?
Will you go through the coming world-wide tribulation? This is a very serious question. According to the book of Revelation you certainly would not want to be left behind on earth! Jesus made it clear that this present age (sometimes called ‘the church age’) will end suddenly and the door to blessings with Christ at this time will shut. In His parable of the wise and foolish virgins, Jesus said:
those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast, and the door was shut (Mat 25.10 emphasis added)
The parable of the virgins symbolizes the rapture and the end of the church age. Prophecy says that, at the very end of this age, those who are left behind on the earth will suffer God’s judgement. There will be a traumatic time on the earth with financial, political, social, geological, climatic and cosmic disturbances. Serious stuff is just around the corner! For example, on 12 October 2017 a small asteroid some 15-30 meters in size passed by the earth at just a fraction of the distance of the earth to the moon [Asteroid 2012 TC4, JPL, NASA, 2017]. This traumatic time on earth is probably a 7-year period corresponding to Daniel’s 70th week, link. Details are found in Isaiah 24 and Revelation chapters 6-19.
For an open-minded look at what’s coming, click HERE
Why such trouble? Because those left behind had rejected the one who came to help them – Jesus. They heard the gospel, but turned their back on the ultimate act of love (God dying for mankind). In contrast, prophecy indicates that the true church will be kept from such things (Rev 3.10, 1 Thes 5.9), as in a pre-tribulation rapture. And those who never actually heard the gospel will be treated justly. More ….
The Resurrection of the Saints, Rewards, and the Bride of Christ
Immortality: What happens to true believers once they meet the Lord in the air? As they rise they are suddenly changed from mortality to immortality:
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye … for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For what is mortal must be changed into what is immortal (1 Cor 15.52-53)
Rewards: The Bible refers to this supernatural event as ‘the first resurrection’. This is also the time of rewards for the saints:
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed (rewarded) for his deeds in the body (2 Cor 5.10. See also Rev 22.12)
Judgment implies a time of testing the works of the saints (1 Cor 3.10-15) – was all work done under the direction of the Lord? The test is one of quality not quantity and appears to determine the authority of a believer in the Messianic Kingdom (Lk 19.11-27).
Marriage of the Bride: Having been immortalized, rewarded and perfected, the saints are now ‘clothed in fine linen, bright and clean’ (symbolizing their righteous acts) as a bride ready for her husband (Rev 19.7,8). But who is the bride of Christ? Whilst there is some debate, the New Testament Church has been traditionally identified as the bride of Christ. The apostle Paul likens the relationship between Christ and the Church to that between a husband and his wife (Eph 5.22-24). And in his letter to the Corinthian church Paul says:
For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ (2 Cor 11.2)
After the marriage, the bride is now ready to return to earth with Christ (1 Thes 3.13). She joins “the armies of heaven … riding on white horses and dressed in clean white linen” (Rev 19.14, Mat 25.31).
A Broader View: We have assumed the true church is the bride of Christ. But prophecy suggests a broader view. Surely, those who come to believe in Christ after the rapture, and those Old Testament saints outside Christ’s church must also be described as the bride if they are to take part in the marriage supper of the Lamb? We see this in the vision of the New Jerusalem:
Then one of the seven angels … came to me … saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, (Rev 21.9-10)
The New Jerusalem is called the bride because it embraces the bride (all the redeemed from all the ages), and because it is the bride’s everlasting home.
The Marriage Supper of the Lamb
Many distinguish between the marriage of the church to Christ (which appears to take place in heaven after the rapture), and the “marriage supper” itself. In whatever form it takes, either literally or symbolically, the book of Revelation says it will definitely take place:
Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev 19.9)
We distinguish between the marriage and the marriage supper because, as just discussed, there are many Godly believers outside the true New Testament Church and who do not take part in the pre-tribulation rapture. Nevertheless, they are still part of the first resurrection – the resurrection of the saints – and they too will be at the marriage supper of the Lamb. So let’s complete the picture. Who are these other saints?
Daniel’s End-Time People, Israel: We have not mentioned those end-time believers in Israel who come to the LORD during the great end-time tribulation following the rapture. Jesus and the prophet Daniel both refer to the suffering of Israel in the great end-time tribulation. Whilst involving the whole world, it is essentially Jacob’s (Israel’s) trouble (Jer 30.7):
In all history there has never been such a time of terror. It will be a time of trouble for my people Israel. Yet in the end they will be saved! (Jer 30.7)
And there will be a time of distress like never before … at that time your people (Daniel’s people), everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake (Dan 12.1,2 emphasis added)
For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now … but for the sake of the elect (Daniel’s people, Israel) those days will be cut short (Mat 24.21-22)
It seems that at the very end of this age, as Christ returns to stand on the earth, traumatic times in Israel will turn many Jews (Jew in the broadest sense) to acknowledge Christ as their true Messiah, their true “Mashiach”. The tribes of Israel mourn for the One who they pierced (Zech 12.10-14).
A Multitude of Gentiles: As mentioned, after the rapture, the book of Revelation describes a time of great trouble on the earth. It is perhaps this suffering, and the preaching of the 144,000 Jews chosen by God (Revelation 7 and 14) which brings a multitude to the LORD from all the nations:
After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands (Rev 7.9)
These believers suffer persecution and martyrdom at the hands of an evil anti-Christian world government led by the two ‘beasts’ of Revelation 13. The first beast, the beast from the sea is a secular and military world leader, and the second beast, the beast from the earth is probably an ecclesiastical leader (the Antichrist) headed by the Papacy. For the reasoning here, see world government. Many new believers will be killed (Rev 13.7-10,15 Rev 14.12-13, Rev 20.4). But through their suffering they are clothed with white robes and take part in the first resurrection:
Blessed and holy is the one who has part in the first resurrection … they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years (Rev 20.6)
Summary So Far: So the first resurrection and the marriage supper of the Lamb involves not only the raptured true church, but also all the Old Testament saints and those saints who come to Christ after the rapture and before Christ actually returns to earth (the tribulation saints). A brief 7-year period right at the end of this age sees new believers from the twelve tribes of Israel, and new believers from the Gentile nations. These events must include all ‘perfected saints’, anyone with their name in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Rev 21.27), anyone who is worthy to be part of the New Jerusalem (Rev 21).
Some believe this great feast and celebration begins the millennial age on earth (the Church co-reigning with Christ), link.
Christ does not Return Alone
The Armies of Heaven: Revelation 19.11-21 gives a dramatic vision of Christ’s return to earth at the end of this age (the end of Daniel’s 70th Week). Christ comes as King and LORD to judge and rule the nations, and with Him come the armies of heaven:
Behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war … and the armies of heaven were following Him, riding white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean (Rev 19.11,14)
The white horses and white linen, symbolize purity and righteousness. Righteousness comes to banish unrighteousness on earth, and Christ brings with Him armies of ‘holy’ angels (Mat 25.31).
Immortal Saints: As mentioned, the holy angels may not be the only ones to come back with Christ. Recall the multitude of perfected saints dressed in white robes (Rev 7.9):
Jesus comes back with all His saints (1 Thes 3.13)
See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of His holy ones (Jude 14)
Many believe that these resurrected saints return to reign with Christ for 1,000 years (Rev 20.6). Jesus seems to make a reference to the ‘reigning saints’ (Mat 19.28) and Paul says that the saints will “judge the world” (1 Cor 6.2). Moreover, the resurrected saints “shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thes 4.17). All these texts imply that the resurrected saints return to reign with Christ. An alternative view is that the resurrected saints remain in Heaven and do not come back with Christ. It is argued that the word ‘saints’ or ‘holy ones’ (Gk: “hagios”, pure, morally blameless)) refers only to holy angels, link.
The Battle of Armageddon
Christ and His armies wage war against the armies of Gentile nations gathered at Jerusalem (Rev 19.11-16). This is commonly known as the battle of Armageddon. This is the last world war, when the world dictator (the war-like beast of Rev 13.1-10), the Antichrist (the false prophet of Rev 13.11-18), and the gathered armies of the nations are all defeated (Zech 14):
And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. And the rest were killed … (Rev 19.19-21)
A Time of Mourning for all Nations
Jesus said that all the world will see Him return; it will be like lightning in the sky; there will be no mistake; every eye will see Him; He comes unmistakably “on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory”. We are told to be ready, “for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect”. The fact that Christ’s second coming will be seen by all, unmistakable, and awe-inspiring is also a warning not to follow false Christs.
The Second Coming of Christ will be a time of judgement for rebellious Gentile nations – especially those nations who have mistreated Israel and “divided up” the land of Israel (Joel 3.2). Today, the Gentile nations are busy trying to do precisely that! It is also a time of mourning by rebellious Israel (Jews) who rejected Him some 2,000 years ago:
All the peoples of the earth will mourn because of Him (Rev 1.7)
… they will look on Me whom they pierced … they will mourn for Him … in that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem (Zech 12.10,11)
Yeshua (Jesus) Returns to the Mount of Olives
Where does Christ return to; New York, London, Brussels? No. He returns to the exact place from where He ascended, to the Mount of Olives, also known as Mount Olivet (Acts 1.11,12). This is a long ridge to the east of Jerusalem, and at 820 meters it is Jerusalem’s highest peak. In Jesus’ day it was covered with olive trees.
In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives … which faces Jerusalem on the east …
and the LORD will be King over all the earth (Zech 14.4,9)
As Christ returns, the Mount of Olives splits in two, from east to west, making a large valley. It is well known that a geological fault runs through the Mount of Olives and just south of the Temple Mount, link. Zechariah chapter 8 describes His return in more general terms. It says Christ returns to ‘Zion’. In the Old Testament Zion came to mean Jerusalem, and the temple area in particular, link:
Thus says the Lord, ‘I will return to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the City of Truth, and the mountain of the Lord of hosts will be called the Holy Mountain.’ (Zech 8.3)
Why is Jerusalem called ‘the City of Truth’? It is because Christ (the Truth) will rule the earth from there as King. Chapter 8 goes on to describe life around Jerusalem at that time – a time of great blessing to those Jews who have returned to Israel. And a time when the Gentile nations honour God’s people, the Jews.
Israel in the Millennial Age
Many see this as the start of the millennial reign of Christ on earth, a time of universal peace and a Sabbath rest for the earth. They see this age as essentially Jewish (centered around Israel) and reigned over by Christ and His resurrected saints.
Others question whether such a scenario is a correct interpretation of prophecy. For example, since the returning saints now have immortal bodies (like the body of Jesus) we might ask ‘Exactly how do they reign over human (mortal) beings?’ The millennial scenario appears paradoxical to say the least! On the one hand we have the remnant nations and remnant national Israel – all ‘in the flesh’ – whilst on the other hand it appears that earth’s ranks are to be swelled by a multitude of immortal beings!
The concept of a millennial age on this earth, with the real Jewish Messiah, Jesus, ruling the nations from Jerusalem is much debated. Is it real or symbolic, and if real, what will life be like?