What in the World is Going to Happen Part Two
Topic: Eschatology Passage: Matthew 24:29–24:31
The Second Coming of Jesus Christ
Grace Community Church
March 24, 2019
What in the World is Going to Happen? Part 2
Please turn with me to Matt. 24. This morning we’ll be wrap up our series on the last days and Jesus’ second coming. Last week we talked about the Tribulation - referring to the last seven years before Jesus’ return being a time of great trouble and suffering on the earth. The second half of the seven years is going to be even worse so much so that Jesus calls it the Great Tribulation and says that it will be worse than any other time before or after and if Jesus didn’t interrupt it, no flesh would survive.
As I understand it, during this time the world will rally under a one world government led by a demonically empowered man the Bible calls the antichrist, the son of perdition, and the beast. Satan will seek to establish his throne on earth through this man, and at first the antichrist will seem to bring peace to a world (and specifically a Middle East) on the brink of chaos, but he will show his true colors halfway through and break his covenant with Israel, declaring himself to be god. There will be an increase in natural catastrophes such as famines, pestilences, and war as well as false signs and wonders. But Jesus, says, the end is not yet.
Then Jesus describes an event that ushers in our Lord’s return. Let’s read about it in Matt. 24:29-31
“They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” There is a lot in last days prophecy that Christians don’t agree on, but one thing all Christians agree on is that Jesus IS visibly coming back to earth, not as a baby born in a manger, or a humble carpenter or a miracle worker, or a sacrificial lamb ready to die for the sins of the world but in the clouds as the King of kings and Lord of lords with power and glory! What a day that will be! On that every believer agrees!
What we don’t all agree on are the events leading up to that moment or what happens after Jesus returns. Will Christians go through the tribulation or will the rapture happen before the tribulation? And what about after Jesus returns? Will he take us to heaven? Will he reign on earth for 1000 years (known as the Millennium)? If so, what will the earth be like at that point?
I am going to share what I’ve become convinced of but others interpret these scriptures differently so we should hold onto these things loosely. God knows how it’s all going to play out – we aren’t called to know, we’re called to watch and be ready.
- Jesus’ return and the rapture of the church
The word rapture comes from the Latin word for “caught away” and it refers to the church being caught away (caught up) to meet Jesus in the clouds. The word rapture isactually never mentioned in the Bible but the event clearly is. The passage that most clearly describes the rapture is 1 Thess. 4:15-17
15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 1 Thess. 4:15-17
Some believe that Jesus will actually return twice. Once in a secret rapture where believers are caught
away suddenly just before the tribulation (called the pre-trib position), and then the visible return that Jesus speaks of in Matt. 24. The book series Left Behind was built on that premise. There are two main arguments made for this position:
- How could Jesus return like a thief in the night unexpectedly if there are a series of obvious, cataclysmic things that need to happen first?
- Paul says in 1 Thess. 5:9 that God hasn’t appointed believers to suffer wrath and yet the tribulation is a time of God’s wrath being poured out on the earth. Why would God leave believers on earth to experience His wrath? The pre-trib rapture teaching explains that Jesus takes his church out of the world before God pours out His wrath on the earth.
So the pre-trib position is that Jesus comes twice: first as a thief in the night, secretly and silently stealing his church away just before the tribulation, and then visibly in glory at the climax of history seven years later. As far as I’m concerned Jesus can come back whenever he chooses and I’d love it to be before the tribulation, but I have become convinced through scripture that there is only one return (Parousia) of Christ and it happens at the end of the tribulation. Let me share two reasons why I believe that to be so, and then give a brief answer to the two objections that pre-tribbers have.
- The Bible always speaks of Jesus’ second coming as one event, not two
There is no direct biblical evidence to believe that Jesus will come back to earth twice, once to secretly rapture the church and then to conquer his enemies and establish his kingdom on earth. The idea of Jesus coming back twice is arrived at by indirect inference, such as the two objections I mentioned.
- The return of Christ is always a visible and noisy event
Listen again to Jesus’ description of his return:
30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory (very visible).31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. Matt. 24:30-31
Verse 31 seems to describe the rapture (“they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other”) and yet the whole event is very loud and very visible!
Paul’s description of the rapture also seems to emphasize the noisiness of the event: The Lord Himself will descend…with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 1 Thess. 4:16-17. This is the main “rapture” verse but it’s not quiet and it’s not secret. There’s a cry of command coming from the supernaturally loud voice of an archangel and the sound of the trumpet of God. I get the impression this will be terrifyingly loud! Jesus’ return is visible and noisy!
- Jesus’ return consistently follows a cataclysmic heavenly event where the sun and moon turn dark and the stars fall from heaven
We don’t know exactly what Jesus is describing in Matt. 24 but we know it’s unlike any other meteorological event in human history. The one constant we all take for granted - the sun and the moon and the stars – will be shaken in some cataclysmic, supernatural way and consistently this event is described as the trigger point for Jesus’ return. Jesus says it in Matt. 24:29
29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days (so this is at the climax of the tribulation) the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. Matt. 24:30-31
The prophet Joel also describes this sun and moon and stars being darkened event as the trigger for the Day of the Lord:
31 The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 32 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.... Joel 2:31-32
In the book of Revelation, John sees the same cosmic event happening right after the sixth seal is opened. Let’s read about it in Rev. 6:12-14
12 When he opened the sixth seal (so it’s the sixth seal that causes this to happen), I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. 14 The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Rev. 6:12-14
These three passages are clearly talking about the same event and each one places Jesus’ return immediately after this event. Interestingly John goes on to describe Jesus’ return from the perspective of his enemies:
Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” Rev. 6:15-17
The sixth seal comes near the end of the tribulation and it introduces God’s wrath on this earth in a way never before seen. The world leaders and population see the glory of Jesus and cry out, “the great day of their wrath has come…” So at the same moment that the angels are gathering the believers from all over the earth, the rest of the world is looking up with mourning and terror. Jesus’ return is visible, glorious, and terrifying to those who don’t know him!
But what about the objection that if all these visible signs have to happen before Christ’s return, how could his return be like a thief in the night? Couldn’t we just wait for these things to start happening before we expected Jesus to return?
I want to offer two explanations: first, Jesus tells us to watch and be ready and then gives us signs to watch for. Which means those signs are at least a part of what we’re watching for. If we’re watching and waiting, that day won’t find us unaware because we will be seeing the signs unfold before our eyes. The one who is caught unawares is that way because they’re so focused on this world and its doings that they’re not paying attention.
Secondly, except for the cataclysmic signs in heaven, all the other signs could possibly be fulfilled and we not know it. The gospel preached to all nations, the tribulation, the earthquakes and wars and rumors of war, the false christs and the antichrist. It seems unlikely these signs have been fulfilled, but it’s possible they have been fulfilled. The only signs that clearly haven’t happened are the signs in the heavens and they happen so suddenly without warning just as Christ returns, so waiting to get ready till they happen is basically waiting till Jesus splits the sky. Then, Jesus says, it’s too late.
What happens then? I made a last minute decision this morning not to cram it all in this morning so we can close by focusing on Jesus’ return. I believe God intended every generation of believers to look to the sky and say, maybe in my lifetime. Watching and ready. That doesn’t mean doing crazy things like selling your home and moving into the mountains.
It means remembering always that the only reason we can look forward to Jesus’ second coming is because we are saved by the work he did when he first came to earth. He gave his life so we could live eternally. So our sin and guilt could be removed. Live in that freedom today! And share it with others. There are people all around us who are in bondage to their sin and alienated from God and need the good, good news of Jesus to be told to them. In other words, the way we watch and be ready is by doing what he has given us to do faithfully.
The world, held fast in the grip of sin and Satan, will continue to live for that which has no lasting value. But we are looking and living for our Savior. Paul contrasts those who aren’t watching with those who are in Phil. 3:18-21
18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Phil. 3:18-21
May the Lord help us to live in that hope and expectation every day of our lives.