Many of the Old Testament prophecies mentioned in an earlier study actually refer to both the first and second coming. The distinction between them was difficult to make for a variety of reasons, as discussed previously. However, in retrospect, we can see some key differences between those references. Christ's first coming is associated primarily with grace and healing, whereas the second coming is marked by trial and judgment.
The reason for the gap between these two comings is to allow time for all those who are to be saved. Also, as with the long history of the Jews in the Old Testament, this interim period serves to establish God's people with a tradition of perseverance, faith, and hope. We are greatly encouraged to find strength by looking on the experiences of the saints throughout history. We can then know that God is faithful and will see us through similar circumstances.
Now let us take the principles we have seen illustrated in the scriptures related to Christ's first coming and apply them to both Old and New Testament second coming prophecies. We will also look for the overall messages contained in these passages by grouping them into categories and then describing the general theme. Here are the topics in this study:
"See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come," says the LORD Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap. Malachi 3:1-2
"See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. Malachi 4:5
God will send a warning prior to his coming, probably his second coming as well as his first, but many will still be surprised and unprepared.
See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. Isaiah 40:10
"The day of the LORD is near for all nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head. Obadiah 1:15
These verses show the different types of rewards that await God's people and his enemies. His second coming is a time of reward for both.
Our God comes and will not be silent; a fire devours before him, and around him a tempest rages. Psalms 50:3
The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light. Isaiah 13:10
For the day is near, the day of the LORD is near-- a day of clouds, a time of doom for the nations. Ezekiel 30:3
When I snuff you out, I will cover the heavens and darken their stars; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon will not give its light. Ezekiel 32:7
Blow the trumpet in
Before them the earth shakes, the sky trembles, the sun and moon are darkened, and the stars no longer shine. Joel 2:10
The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. Joel 2:31
Woe to you who long for the day of the LORD! Why do you long for the day of the LORD? That day will be darkness, not light. Amos 5:18
Will not the day of the LORD be darkness, not light-- pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness? Amos 5:20
You will flee by my mountain valley, for it will extend to Azel. You
will flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of
The day of the Lord is accompanied by many signs, such as the sun, moon, and stars turning dark, probably from a heavy cloud cover, and great fear coming on people. The cloud cover is a sign of God's presence, as when he covered Sinai in a cloud while he spoke to Moses.
For the LORD will rebuild
See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Isaiah 60:2
One of the Lord's main purposes in his second coming is to show his glory, that all may know he is God.
I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. Job
This passage comes from one of the oldest books of the Bible. This verse shows that from the very beginning God's people were expecting a savior to deliver them in the end times.
In wrath you strode through the earth and in anger you threshed the nations. You came out to deliver your people, to save your anointed one. You crushed the leader of the land of wickedness, you stripped him from head to foot. Selah Habakkuk -13
Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the LORD's anger. Zephaniah 2:3
God will destroy the wicked, but the meek will escape.
But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy. Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead. Isaiah 26:19
This is one of the few Old Testament passages that can be related to the rapture, when the dead will wake up and shout for joy.
The LORD Almighty has a day in store for all the proud and lofty, for all that is exalted (and they will be humbled), Isaiah
Wail, for the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty. Isaiah 13:6
See, the day of the LORD is coming a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger-- to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it. Isaiah 13:9
Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until his wrath has passed by. See, the LORD is coming out of his dwelling to punish the people of the earth for their sins. The earth will disclose the blood shed upon her; she will conceal her slain no longer. Isaiah 26:20-21
say to those with fearful hearts, "Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you." Isaiah 35:4
See, the LORD is coming with fire, and his chariots are like a whirlwind; he will bring down his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. Isaiah 66:15
But that day belongs to the Lord, the LORD Almighty-- a day of
vengeance, for vengeance on his foes. The sword will devour till it is
satisfied, till it has quenched its thirst with blood. For the Lord, the LORD
Almighty, will offer sacrifice in the land of the north by the River
You have not gone up to the breaks in the wall to repair it for the
Alas for that day! For the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty. Joel 1:15
The LORD thunders at the head of his army; his forces are beyond number, and mighty are those who obey his command. The day of the LORD is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it? Joel 2:11
Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. Joel 3:14
Be silent before the Sovereign LORD, for the day of the LORD is near. The LORD has prepared a sacrifice; he has consecrated those he has invited. Zephaniah 1:7
"The great day of the LORD is near-- near and coming quickly. Listen! The cry on the day of the LORD will be bitter, the shouting of the warrior there. Zephaniah 1:14
A day of the LORD is coming when your plunder will be divided among you. Zechariah 14:1
The day of the Lord, which is intimately associated with the second coming, is one of fiery wrath and vengeance against sinners, especially the proud and haughty. It also results in destruction of people and land as in a great battle, with God's people dividing the spoil. In at least one verse, God's people are to hide themselves until God's wrath is past.
The New Testament has many references to Christ's second coming. In contrast to the Old Testament references, most of these are meant to encourage believers to prepare for this blessed event.
"At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
"At the cry rang out: 'Here's the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!' "Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.' "'No,' they replied, 'there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.'
"But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. "Later the others also came. 'Sir! Sir!' they said. 'Open the door for us!' "But he replied, 'I tell you the truth, I don't know you.'
"Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. Matthew 25:1-13
This parable shows the importance of preparing for Christ's return. The key here is that we must prepare ahead of time, because we do not know when he is coming. A delay is very likely, but we should be ready for the delay by preparing an extra measure so that we can endure it. Apparently there will be a warning just prior to his return, but it will not afford enough time for those who are not already prepared to do so at the last minute. Thus, his return is an incentive to lead sanctified lives of anticipation and holiness.
"No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It's like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. "Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back-- whether in the evening, or at , or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: 'Watch!'" Mark 13:32-37
The issue in this passage is alertness in the face of uncertainty. It is easy to be watchful if you know when an event is going to happen. But when imagined deadlines come and go, it is also easy to let up and become drowsy. The terms "be on guard" and "watch" in these verses literally mean to be sleepless. By combining this with the admonition to pray, it is clear that even if it means losing some sleep, through vigilant prayer we are to be spiritually alert.
"Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the second or third watch of the night. Luke 12:35-38
This passage conveys not only watchfulness, but also instant obedience. The men in this passage are servants, not wedding guests. They were waiting for their lord to return from the wedding. When they were found faithful in waiting, their lord, instead of making them serve, served them.
But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him."
Peter asked, "Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?" The Lord answered, "Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.
But suppose the servant says to himself, 'My master is taking a long time in coming,' and he then begins to beat the menservants and maidservants and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.
"That servant who knows his master's will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows.
From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. Luke 12:39-48
This passage is in stark contrast with the preceding one. The servants have the same opportunity but are not faithful to their master. The key here is verse 45, where the difference is that these servants begin to think the master is not coming soon. With this incentive gone, they fall into their worldly ways and do not have the normal fear of punishment or hope of reward.
Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, "Peace and safety," destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.
But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 2 Peter 3:10-14
"Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed." Revelation 16:15
While the thief simile seems only to apply to the element of unpredictability, it may also suggest that our joy of meeting Christ could be stolen if we are not prepared and alert.
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: "In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.' "For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!'"
And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" Luke 18:1-8
This passage is a challenge to persistence, which is seen as a component of faith. If we really have faith in God's word, that he will deliver us and reward us, he will do so speedily, when the time comes.
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. John 14:3
This verse not only confirms Christ's second coming, but also gives insight into where we will go at that time. It is a specific place that Christ is even now preparing, and it is with him. While we are to prepare for his coming, so he is preparing for ours.
Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 1 Corinthians 1:7
We are to be as well prepared as possible, seeking and using all the gifts at our disposal. The sense here is not just marking time, but rather actively pursuing God's plans for our lives while we wait for his coming. He has given us certain tasks and talents to do them, but we must be diligent in performing them. There is also a sense of urgency and persistence in waiting. It's as though we will not have the strength to persevere if we are not actively doing what Christ has commanded us to do. Our disobedience will open a door that the enemy can use to discourage and ultimately defeat us. We can prevent this by vigorously pursuing God's plan for our lives.
For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. 1 Corinthians 11:26
It is important to remind ourselves and others that we believe in, and are living our lives based upon, the death and resurrection of Christ. We need to have physical events, such as Communion, that remind us of this and help us to stay alert.
and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. Ephesians 5:27
May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones. 1 Thessalonians 3:13
to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 1 Timothy
Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near. James 5:7-8
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thessalonians 5:23
These have come so that your faith-- of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-- may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:7
And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming. 1 John 2:28
These passages seem to set an unreachable standard of perfection. While this seems to be unattainable in our way of thinking, it is supposed to be our goal, and in some mysterious way Christ is able to bring us to this point in preparation for his coming. It may be that he is speaking in these passages of the desires of our heart, rather than our actual thoughts and actions. It may be also that we are to go through such shakings in the end times that we will have to choose, as did Job, whether we are truly going to put our complete confidence in God, regardless of the circumstances.
As we contemplate and prepare diligently for Christ's coming, God gives us grace to live a blameless life, not through our own efforts, but through our faith in Him.
Many will have been tried in the fire when Christ appears. They will only be able to survive the trials by their strong faith. It is always faith that pleases God.
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 1 John 3:1
In some way, our hope of Christ's coming is the agent that purifies us. If we do not have this hope, we lose a powerful motivation to strive for perfection.
Only hold on to what you have until I come. Revelation 2:25
It takes constant vigilance to keep the ground we have conquered, much less to advance.
"Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book." Revelation 22:7
This passage implies a thorough knowledge of the "book" in order to stay alert and be ready for Christ's quick coming.
For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." Matthew 16:27-28
This passage refers to God's rewards for those who are faithful to trust in him no matter what the consequences. Peter had just assured Jesus that he would not be killed, but Jesus knew what was required of him. This is the ultimate trust, namely, to the death. Verse 28 could very well refer to John, who, in his later years miraculously escaped death, and was then exiled on an island. Having been faithful in the face of death, John, before he died, received the revelation of Jesus, including the promised vision of the Son of man coming in his kingdom.
"Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.
But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, 'My master is staying away a long time,' and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 24:45-51
If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels." Mark , Luke 9:26
These passages show the other side of the reward equation, that those who do not trust in the Lord will be punished with everlasting torment and shame.
Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God. 1 Corinthians 4:5
But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:57-58
For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? 1 Thessalonians 2:19
and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8
The contrast here is the rest God's people will finally experience, compared to the punishment of the ungodly. Christ's coming will be the dividing point between these two extremes.
And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. 1 Peter 5:4
"Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. Revelation 22:12
It is the hope of Christ's coming that allows us to be steadfast and unmovable. As we hold on to this hope, if we have abundant works, our labor will be rewarded.
As Jesus was sitting on the
Jesus had just told the disciples that the temple would be torn down. They wanted to know more about this apocalyptic event, and Jesus did not disappoint them. He gave many signs that would surround his coming. He is willing to answer when asked, but we must be willing to hear the answer. The disciples probably did not like what they heard, since Jesus was foretelling great persecution for them. However, his words came true as all of the disciples suffered greatly and most were martyred.
Are we really open to what Christ is saying about end times? Or do we tend to hear what we want to?
For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west,
so will be the coming of the Son of
"At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. Matthew 24:30
Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen. Revelation 1:7
These verses give a clear physical picture that the entire world will recognize Christ's coming. He will come down from the sky, with the clouds and with great signs indicating his power and glory.
As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son
of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and
drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark;
and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took
them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of
"It was the same in the days of
These passages show that the world will continue in their ungodly ways up to
the very moment Christ comes, while God's people will be warned and will escape
destruction. Note the contrast, however, between Noah and
Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come.
Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God. Don't you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things?
And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming.
The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12
This famous passage has been used to confirm many different positions on the rapture. However, our purpose here is to see what it says about Christ's second coming. In simple terms, Christ's coming will be preceded by, first, a falling away, apparently, of many in the church (or Jews--see The Pre-wrath Rapture of the Church, Marvin Rosenthal, p. 197-198); second, the removal of something that is currently hindering the appearance of the Antichrist; and finally, the revealing of the Antichrist with deceitful signs and wonders.
First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." 2 Peter 3:3,4
In spite of the growing signs that Christ's coming is near, and the scriptures admonishing us to watch, there will be many who will not be impressed, but will mock the warnings of believers. Perhaps they will feel justified because of what appear to be numerous false alarms.
He who testifies to these things says, "Yes, I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. Revelation 22:20
Although it seems to us that Christ's coming is being delayed, when it is the right time, he will come quickly and will not delay. His purpose in waiting until the right time is to allow as many as possible to be saved.
"At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. Matthew 24:30 (also Mark 13:26 and Luke 21:27)
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. Philippians 3:20-21
When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Colossians 3:4
on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. 2 Thessalonians 1:10
These verses confirm that Christ's second coming will be with visible manifestations of glory and power, and that his people will be changed physically so they can admire him.
and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead-- Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. 1 Thessalonians 1:10
In contrast to the many prophecies of wrath on unbelievers, this shows that Jesus' role is to deliver his people from wrath at his second coming.
Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed-- in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 1 Corinthians 15:51-53
The rapture results in those who are alive and those who are dead being instantly given an imperishable body. It also happens at the last trumpet. The timing of the rapture causes much confusion and conflict among Christians. When is the last trumpet? Is it the seventh trumpet in Revelation? Is it the last trumpet those who are raptured hear? This is a mystery, so not everything can be understood ahead of time. The Greek indicates that Paul is not showing in the sense of revealing the mystery, but rather that he is merely telling us that this is a mystery.
Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.
For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
This passage complements 1 Corinthians 15:51-53 by adding (1) the sequence of those raptured, (2) the accompanying signs of the Lord's loud command and the archangel's voice, and (3) the act of being caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. This catching up is the source of the term rapture. Taken with the 1 Corinthians passage, we have a clear picture of the rapture.
Besides the "last trumpet" phrase, however, there is nothing to indicate timing of this event in relation to others. There are many other places in scripture where one may infer that the rapture takes place, but these are the only direct references. It would take a great leap of faith to deduce from this evidence the timing of the rapture and build an entire interpretive system around it. We should instead heed the warning that this is a mystery.
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Matthew 25:31-33
God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power. 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9
Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men: "See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against him." Jude 1:14-15
Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen. Revelation 1:7
Christ's coming will also be to execute judgment on sinners.
And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. 2 Thessalonians 2:8
But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. Revelation 19:20
This refers to the beast, or Antichrist, who is cast alive into the lake of fire when Christ appears. At that time, Satan is bound for a thousand years and then finally is cast into the lake of fire.
Comparing the above topics between the Old and New Testaments, we see slightly different perspectives.
Preparation - The Old Testament puts very little emphasis on personal preparation, focusing rather on the consequences of facing God's wrath. The only explicit preparation mentioned is preparing the way for the Lord. The New Testament is full of warnings to prepare for Christ's second coming. The main themes in our preparation are
Reward - The Old and New Testaments both recognize rewards for the works of God's faithful people and punishment for the ungodly's works as well. It is the hope of this reward that motivates us to prepare for his coming with good works.
Signs - The Old Testament emphasizes the physical signs in the heavens which accompany the punishment of the wicked, called the Day of the Lord. The New Testament focuses on the signs that are more relevant to the believers, i.e., the suddenness and universal recognition of his coming, preceded by an increase in godless activity, including a falling away of many nominal church members, and culminating in the reign of the Antichrist, who continues to deceive many. The clouds that in the Old Testament represent darkness and imminent destruction in the New Testament surround Christ on his return. This is similar to the pillar of cloud during the Exodus that represented God's glory to the Israelites, but hid them from the pursuing Egyptians.
Glory - Both Old and New Testaments speak of the visible glory of Christ's coming. The New Testament additionally promises that we shall also physically acquire a glorified body like Christ's.
Deliverance - The Old Testament emphasizes deliverance from enemies as a result of God's wrath on them, and occasionally by God's people being hidden, or sheltered, by God. The New Testament deliverance is from the wrath that is promised on the ungodly.
Rapture - For all the attention it gets, scriptures directly relating to the rapture are few. The Old Testament makes only indirect references. The New Testament has only two explicit passages. This confirms that the rapture is meant to be a mystery until the end.
Judgment - Both the Old and New Testaments are unyielding on the punishment that awaits the ungodly.
Satan - Antichrist - The Old Testament usually refers to other nations or kings as the enemies of God's people, whereas the New Testament is more likely to recognize the real power, Satan, and his agent, the beast, or Antichrist. Often in the Old Testament, the enemy is a type of Satan.
Overall, the Old Testament emphasizes wrath and signs, with little attention to preparation. There is no escape for sinners, but God's people will be delivered. The major emphasis on preparation in the New Testament indicates that believers have an important task in end times. Those who do not actively prepare will not only be susceptible to being caught off guard by major events, but may even fall away without realizing it until it is too late.
The purpose of New Testament prophecy is primarily to provide warning and encouragement for believers who will be experiencing many trials in the times ahead. New Testament prophecy looked not only to the near term devastation of Jerusalem by Romans, and severe persecution throughout the world, but also to ongoing trials and tribulations that would culminate in deliverance at Christ's second coming. As stated in 1 Corinthians, prophecy is to strengthen, encourage, and comfort. It strengthens by instructing and building up one's knowledge of what is coming. It encourages by giving direction on how to handle what is coming. It comforts by letting us know that we will overcome in the end, regardless of the intermediate trials and sufferings. This pattern is seen particularly in the letters to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3.
The principles of New Testament prophecy are similar to Old Testament prophecy, with the exception that since few of them have been fulfilled, we do not have a clear idea if there are other methods of interpretation needed. For example, the apostles clearly believed that they were living in the end times as have many sincere believers in the centuries since then. Was this just a case of near/far fulfillment or do we have another principle that we need to treat end time prophecies as potentially being fulfilled at any time and thereby serving as a motivation to take our walk more seriously. This could be called the principle of imminence.
Because there are so many possible interpretations of end times prophecies in the New Testament, it is very likely that, without guidance of the Holy Spirit, believers will come to hold significantly different views about issues that seem to be very important doctrinally. However, this is a real pitfall. Who says that every prophecy demands a full interpretation? Daniel chose not to press for more detailed interpretation of his end times vision, but quietly accepted the Lord's command to seal it for a later time. Perhaps in our zeal to classify and understand everything in scriptures we tend to over-interpret and interpret prematurely. What's worse, we then begin to establish what are merely interpretations as essentially doctrine and then make fine distinctions among supporters of various systems of interpretation as if such positions determined one's standing in the kingdom of God.
Was this type of posturing not what blinded the eyes of Jewish leaders to the fulfillment of much Old Testament prophecy? They not only missed Christ's physical coming, but even more importantly, they missed the underlying, primary purpose of the Old Testament prophecy concerning Messiah. While he was ministering to the critical personal needs of the people, the professional leaders were expecting a political solution to the national problem. What was needed, though, was a change in each individual's life. This deliverance was much more important than the nation's deliverance from an external threat. Jesus continually tried to direct their attention to the weightier matters of love and mercy rather than physical deliverance.
Perhaps we also should look beyond the potential political, geographical and physical interpretations of end times prophecies and concentrate instead on the major themes that deal with our personal preparation to become the bride of Christ. Perhaps we should be open to other perspectives for interpretation, or perhaps we should not be so caught up in systems of interpretation that we miss the weightier matters that the Holy Spirit is trying to speak to us.
Never has the church had so much information. In many ways, the more analysis we perform, the more paralysis we seem to experience. Could it be that we just need to stay close to Jesus, knowing the basic prophetic themes, and then wait for the right timing to let the prophetic passages encourage and comfort us in the midst of each circumstance?
Revelation is unique in that almost the entire book comes directly from the mouth of Jesus and is recorded by his beloved disciple, John, for the benefit of the churches. It is not only a panorama of end times events, but it is also a rich portrayal of the basic struggle between Satan and righteousness. While we look for an escape from the bondage and trials of this world, Jesus paints a picture of continuing effort to establish righteous living in a dismal world of sin. The seven churches are commended to the extent that they are able to hold on, and are admonished not to give in to the sins of the world.
This book is also unique in that it clearly and specifically describes many events that are to take place in a short time span before Christ's second coming and also at the end of the millennium. The amount of detail in these prophecies exceeds even the lengthy prophecies of Isaiah. While it is not healthy to read too much into end times prophecies, it also is obvious that the Lord meant for us to be knowledgeable about many events and symbols. These mysteries will be revealed in a short period of time, and God must want his people to know what is going on and not to be deceived.
The special purpose of Revelation is to show the majesty and omnipotence of God. He is seen as a conquering hero, who has come to judge both the righteous and unbelievers.
The pitfall of Revelation, into which many stumble, is the temptation to figure it out, especially in terms of timing. The attempt of many to interpret the symbolism and find application to us today is useful. The attempt of many others to establish prematurely an unyielding sequence and timing of events can only lead to disappointment and possibly contribute to deception. Man's curious nature wants to explore the mysteries of God's word, but man's pride often tempts him to go too far and place God in an artificial box of presumptuous interpretation.
Copyright 2005 by Clay Watts, Dallas, Texas. All rights reserved.