Consider the Source

16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:16-21 ESV

In writing this letter, Peter was fully aware that its message might find an unreceptive audience. He knew that there were false teachers influencing the local congregations to whom he wrote and that these individuals had purposefully undermined his authority and questioned his teachings. They showed no regard for his position as an apostle of Jesus Christ, but instead, they contradicted and even refuted much of what he had taught. And even if one of the local congregations had not yet come under the influence of these false teachers, Peter knew it was inevitable. He had seen it happen time and time again.

That’s why he declared that he would continue to remind these local congregations of their need to display the character of Christ in their lives, and he would do so with his dying breath.

…it is only right that I should keep on reminding you as long as I live. – 2 Peter 1:13 NLT

And Peter reminded his readers that he was not just another teacher proclaiming his own personal version of the truth. He had been one of the original disciples of Jesus Christ. With his own ears, he had received the fateful invitation from Jesus: “Follow me” (Matthew 4:18-19). He had sat under the teachings of Jesus and had watched Him perform amazing miracles. Peter had been an eyewitness to some of Jesus’ most astonishing displays of divine power, including the raising of Lazarus from the dead. So, when he had declared the “the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” it had not been the “cleverly devised myths” of men (2 Peter 1:16 ESV). He had been speaking from first-hand experience. Which led him to boldly declare: “we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16 ESV).

And it seems obvious that, with this statement, Peter had Jesus’ transfiguration in mind. He, James, and John had been privileged to witness this unprecedented moment in the life of Jesus. Matthew records this seminal moment in his gospel account.

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. – Matthew 17:1-3 ESV

Peter described that life-changing event in his own words.

We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes when he received honor and glory from God the Father. – 2 Peter 1:16-17 NLT

Of course, Peter conveniently leaves out the rather rash and presumptuous statement he made on that epic occasion.

“Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” – Matthew 17:4 ESV

Peter, blown away by the experience of seeing the long-since-deceased Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus, had wanted to prolong the moment for as long as possible. But his words had been interrupted by a voice from heaven.

He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” – Matthew 17:5 ESV

And it was to this word from God Almighty that Peter refers to in his letter.

…the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased…” – 2 Peter 1:17 ESV

Peter had heard the voice of God, and he had seen the glorification of Jesus, the Son of God. But not only that, he had stood before two of the most revered prophets of God. So, the message he had declared to the churches in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia had been anything but a cleverly crafted story devised by men. Peter had been an intimate companion of Jesus Christ Himself. His words had more than ample credibility and validity because, as he put it, “we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:18 ESV). None of the false teachers could make the same claim. 

But the real point behind Peter recalling that story was that it provided him, James, and John with validation of the prophetic messages concerning the Messiah. He put it this way:

Because of that experience, we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets. – 2 Peter 1:19 NLT

They had seen two of the Old Testament prophets actually conversing with Jesus, and Luke records what their discussion had entailed.

They appeared in glory and spoke about His departure, which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.… – Luke 9:31 BSB

These two men had a long-standing association with the coming Messiah of Israel. Moses had declared that the day would come when God provided another prophet who would lead His people.

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.” – Deuteronomy 18:15 ESV

“And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.’” – Deuteronomy 18:17-18 ESV

And it was said of Elijah that he would be sent by God before the “great and awesome day of the Lord comes” (Malachi 4:5 ESV). And the prophet Malachi went on to describe the role of this God-appointed herald.

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” – Malachi 4:5-6 ESV

And Jesus would later declare that this prophecy was fulfilled in John the Baptist.

“For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” – Matthew 11:13-15 ESV

For Peter and his two companions, their experience on the Mount of Transfiguration had been a life-altering experience. It had provided a tangible and irrefutable link between the prophets of old and Jesus, their Rabbi and teacher. If there had been any doubt in their minds as to Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, that moment had helped to eradicate it once and for all time. And Peter encouraged his readers to go back and search the Scriptures for themselves. He wanted them to pour over the prophecies concerning the Messiah and understand that Jesus had been the fulfillment for each and every one of them.

You must pay close attention to what they wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place—until the Day dawns, and Christ the Morning Star shines in your hearts. – 2 Peter 1:19 NLT

One day, they too would see the glorified Jesus, just as Peter, James, and John had. But the event to which Peter referred was the Rapture of the church, the day when Jesus would return for His bride. The apostle Paul describes this end-times event in his letter to the church at Thessalonica.

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. 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 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

The “morning star” was actually a planet (most likely Venus) that appeared in the pre-dawn sky and signaled the beginning of another new day. In the same way, the Rapture will signal the beginning of “the day of the Lord” – that point in human history when God will usher in the final phase of His redemptive plan.

The words of the prophets had not only declared Christ’s first coming, but they had pointed to His eventual second coming when He will right all wrongs and bring His Father’s redemptive plan to its consummate conclusion. That is why Peter argued that the words of the prophets were so important to understand and obey. They were divinely inspired and wrote of things they could not have understood without the help of the Spirit of God.

Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God. – 2 Peter 1:20-21 NLT

And, in the same way, Peter and his fellow apostles had only been teaching and preaching what they had heard from Jesus. Their message had not been self-fabricated. It had come from the lips of Jesus, who had come from the throne room of God Almighty. And Peter’s main point will be that, just as there had been false prophets in the days of Elijah and Moses, New Testament believers would count on the presence of false teachers in their churches. It was inevitable but the deleterious influence of their message was avoidable.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Time of Salvation

49 “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! 51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’ And so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

57 “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? 58 As you go with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison. 59 I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.” – Luke 12:49-59 ESV

Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem where, according to His own words, “He will be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He will be killed, but on the third day he will be raised from the dead” (Luke 9:22 NLT). And as He and His disciples move closer to the capital city and His final fate, He continues to prepare them for what the future holds. The coming days will not turn out quite the way they had anticipated them. They were fully expecting Jesus to set up His earthly kingdom and restore the nation of Israel to its former glory.

Yet Jesus has been talking about the future kingdom in ways that made it sound as if it wasn’t coming any time soon. He even told them a parable about a master who went on a journey to celebrate a wedding feast. And the master’s servants were instructed to stay alert and prepared for his inevitable return. He could show up unannounced at any moment, and “The servants who are ready and waiting for his return will be rewarded” (Luke 12:37 ESV).

And Jesus warned His disciples, “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Luke 12:40 ESV). These words must have left the disciples scratching their heads in confusion. Here He was standing in their midst and yet He continued to talk about going away and coming back. They were perplexed by Jesus’ rhetoric and having a difficult time reconciling His words with their own expectations.

It would not be long before Jesus announced to them, “Dear children, I will be with you only a little longer. And as I told the Jewish leaders, you will search for me, but you can’t come where I am going” (John 13:33 NLT). And the always impulsive Peter will respond by asking, “Lord, where are you going?” (John 13:36 NLT). The answer provided by Jesus will leave them all more confused than comforted.

“You can’t go with me now, but you will follow me later.” – John 13:36 NLT

The closing days of Jesus’ earthly ministry were filled with insightful instructions for His disciples that were intended to prepare them for the inevitable but unexpected conclusion to His life. He had been slowly revealing the details concerning the true nature of His mission and trying to encourage them with words of comfort.

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.” – John 14:1-4 NLT

On this occasion, it was Thomas who spoke up, revealing his frustration and confusion over Jesus’ words.

“No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?” – John 14:5 NLT

Jesus had a way of mixing candor with cryptic-sounding statements that left His listener’s ears ringing. He could express something in easy-to-understand language and then follow it up with a statement that seemed to make no sense whatsoever. And this was just such a case. As His disciples listened with increasing anxiety and confusion, Jesus stated, “I have come to set the world on fire, and I wish it were already burning! I have a terrible baptism of suffering ahead of me, and I am under a heavy burden until it is accomplished. Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I have come to divide people against each other!” (Luke 12:49-51 NLT).

Even as we read these words from this side of the cross, we have a difficult time discerning what Jesus was trying to say. What did He mean when He said He came to set the earth on fire? And why did He claim that He had come to cause division? For the disciples, these words were particularly perplexing. They had no concept of the cross or of the Messiah’s sacrificial death as payment for the sins of mankind. They also had no way of knowing how divisive the message of the Gospel was going to become. The good news of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection was going to become a point of contention that divided the world into two opposing factions: Believers and unbelievers.

Jesus even quotes the Old Testament prophet, Micah, insinuating that He was about to fulfill what Micah had written centuries earlier.

From now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me, and two against—or two in favor and three against.

‘Father will be divided against son
    and son against father;
mother against daughter
    and daughter against mother;
and mother-in-law against daughter-in-law
    and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’– Luke 12:52-53 NLT

Little did the disciples know that their future would be marked by division. Rather than witnessing the unification of the nation under the righteous rule of the newly crowned Messiah, they were about to see the splintering of society as people were forced to choose sides. Would they believe that Jesus rose from the dead and accept His offer of eternal life and forgiveness of sins, or would they turn their backs on God’s gracious gift of salvation?

The day was coming when all would have to decide for themselves. And Jesus turns His attention to the crowd who stood by listening to His words. He warned them to discern the times. They were adept at predicting the weather by looking at the clouds, but they were unable to recognize the unique nature of the days in which they lived. They were walking alongside the Messiah of Israel and watching Him display the power of God through His many miracles. But they remained blind and oblivious to the signs that pointed to His true identity. And the same could be said of the 12 disciples.

What is so important to understand in all of this is how Jesus was continually pointing His disciples to the final stage of His mission. He has already told them that it is the “Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32 ESV). And rather than wasting their time worrying over temporal things like food and clothing, Jesus had encouraged them to “seek his [the Father’s] kingdom” (Luke 12:31 ESV).

In just a few chapters, Luke will record an exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees. they will ask Him, “When will the Kingdom of God come?” (Luke 17:20 NLT), and Jesus will respond, The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you” (Luke 17:20-21 NLT). Jesus understood that these men were demanding some kind of miraculous sign that would prove His claim to be the Messiah. And they weren’t expecting Him to heal or cast out a demon. They wanted something more substantial that would prove He had the power to defeat the Romans. But Jesus simply states the Kingdom of God was already in their midst. It was Him. He was all the proof they needed. And while He might not be doing the things they expected the Messiah to do, that did not invalidate His identity in any way.

What the Pharisees failed to understand was the divine timeline concerning the Messiah. There was a preordained sequence of events that must take place. First, Jesus had to die, be buried, then be raised back to life. That would be followed up by His ascension and the Holy Spirit’s coming, which would usher in the church age. At the end of that period of time, Jesus will return for His bride, the Church. Then the seven years of tribulation will begin, which will culminate with the Second Coming of Christ and the judgment of the world. That is exactly what Jesus alludes to when He says, “I have come to set the world on fire, and I wish it were already burning!” (Luke 12:49 NLT).

His Second Coming will bring closure to this age. It will usher in the Kingdom of God, when all those who have rejected God’s offer of salvation through faith alone in Christ alone will be judged and condemned. But all those who have placed their faith in the Son of God will enter the eternal state, a time of everlasting peace, joy, and unbroken fellowship with God the Father and God the Son.

Jesus closes this section of His teaching by encouraging His listeners to make their decision quickly. If they can predict the weather by looking at the clouds, why can’t they look at the evidence standing right in front of them and judge for themselves what is right? Now was the time to decide. They were not to put it off. And the illustration Jesus used was designed to impress upon His audience the need for immediacy. While Jesus was with them, they needed to make up their minds and decide whether they were going to believe. Because if they waited until they stood before God at the Great White Throne judgment, it would be too late. And the apostle Paul picked up this theme of immediacy when he wrote to the church in Corinth.

For God says, “At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.” Indeed, the “right time” is now. Today is the day of salvation. – 2 Corinthians 6:2 NLT

Jesus had come as Savior, but there was another day when He would return as the judge of all mankind. And He wanted His disciples to understand that they were living in a day when salvation would be available to any and all who would accept it. His incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection would make reconciliation with God possible.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. – John 3:16-18 NLT

But the day will come when the offer of salvation will be revoked. The opportunity to believe will end. So, Jesus encouraged His followers to take advantage of the grace of God made available through faith in the Son of God. The time of salvation was now.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Keep Your Eye On the Prize

35 “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, 36 and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! 39 But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

41 Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?” 42 And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? 43 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 44 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 45 But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, 46 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. 47 And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. 48 But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. – Luke 12:35-48 ESV

Jesus is attempting to give His disciples a future-oriented mindset. He is not suggesting that they be so heavenly-minded that they are no earthly good, but that they realign their priorities with those of God. That is why He told them not to allow their minds to become focused on temporal concerns like food and clothing. Those are the kinds of things that “dominate the thoughts of unbelievers all over the world” (Luke 12:30 NLT). Instead, Jesus reminded His followers that since God already knows all their needs before they even ask, they can spend their time and energy focusing on the coming kingdom of God.

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need. So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.” – Luke 12:31-32 NLT

At this point, so much of what Jesus is revealing to the disciples is at odds with their expectations of the Messiah. They were expecting an immediate reversal of fortunes. Like the man who asked Jesus to intercede on his behalf and force his brother to divide the family inheritance with him, the disciples were expecting Jesus to enrich their lives by fulfilling all the promises of God – immediately. Once they had decided that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel, their hopes for national revival and political renewal had been energized. They fully expected Jesus to set up His earthly kingdom at any moment and were taken aback by His suggestion that it might not come for some time.

Yet, that is exactly what Jesus attempts to convey in this next section of His lecture. He warns His disciples to remain in a state of constant readiness, prepared for the future day when the kingdom comes in all its fulness.

Be dressed for service and keep your lamps burning, as though you were waiting for your master to return from the wedding feast.” – Luke 12:35-36 NLT

Jesus packs a great deal of eschatological content into this one simple statement. With it, He begins to unveil some of the aspects of God’s divine redemptive plan of which the disciples were clueless. In their understanding of how the end times would work, the arrival of the Messiah would usher in the “last days” – a time in which the fortunes of Israel would be dramatically reversed. The Messiah would be a descendant of David who would reinstitute the Davidic dynasty by defeating all those who stand opposed to God and reclaiming the right to rule as Israel’s King. And they believed it was all going to happen in their lifetimes. That’s why James and John had asked Jesus to allow them to sit in places of honor next to Him, one on His right and the other on His left, when He sat on His glorious throne (Mark 10:37). They were fully expecting His earthly reign to begin at any moment.

But Jesus told them they were going to have to wait because what they were expecting was not going to come for some time. In fact, it would not happen in their lifetimes. Jesus provides His shell-shocked disciples with a parable that was intended to illuminate some of the details concerning the chronology of the end times. The “master,” clearly a reference to Himself, was going to go away but would one day return. As faithful servants, they were to live in a constant state of expectation and preparation, trusting in their master’s ultimate return. There would be other things that had to take place before He could come back, such as the wedding feast. This appears to be a reference to what has come to be known as the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. It is a key end-times event that involves Jesus and His bride, the Church. We read about it in the book of Revelation.

“Praise the Lord!
    For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.
Let us be glad and rejoice,
    and let us give honor to him.
For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb,
    and his bride has prepared herself.
She has been given the finest of pure white linen to wear.”
    For the fine linen represents the good deeds of God’s holy people.”

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” – Revelation 19:6-9 NLT

This event takes place immediately after the Rapture of the Church.

What John’s vision in Revelation pictures is the wedding feast of the Lamb (Jesus Christ) and His bride (the Church) in its third phase. The implication is that the first two phases have already taken place. The first phase was completed on earth when each individual believer placed his or her faith in Christ as Savior. The dowry paid to the bridegroom’s parent (God the Father) would be the blood of Christ shed on the Bride’s behalf. The Church on earth today, then, is “betrothed” to Christ, and, like the wise virgins in the parable, all believers should be watching and waiting for the appearance of the Bridegroom (the rapture). The second phase symbolizes the rapture of the Church, when Christ comes to claim His bride and take her to the Father’s house. The marriage supper then follows as the third and final step. It is our view that the marriage supper of the Lamb takes place in heaven between the rapture and the second coming (during the tribulation on earth). – http://www.gotquestions.org

Jesus is beginning to reveal aspects of God’s plan of which the disciples were unaware. They had no concept of the Church at this time. There was no way for them to understand that Jesus had come so that men of every tribe, nation, and tongue might come to believe in Him as their Savior. With His death, burial, and resurrection, salvation would be made available to all. And upon His ascension, the Holy Spirit would come upon the disciples, empowering them to take the Gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). That momentous occasion would usher in the church age, which will one day end with the Rapture of the Church. That will then bring about the seven years of Tribulation, at the end of which Jesus will return to earth as the conquering King of kings and Lord of lords.

It is to that event that Jesus wants His disciples to focus their attention. He was not suggesting that they would live long enough to witness it, but He wanted them to understand that His coming was tied to that future end-time event. Jesus continues to emphasize the idea of a reward, and that reward was the coming Kingdom of God. That’s why He told them, “it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom” (Luke 12:32 NLT). They were to focus their attention on the future fulfillment of the kingdom, not on some temporal version of it that they hoped would come in their lifetimes.

Jesus didn’t want the disciples to waste their time pursuing earthy pleasures and treasures. Instead, they were to store up treasure in heaven, where “no thief can steal it and no moth can destroy it” (Luke 12:33 NLT). The idea was to live with the end in mind. Jesus had come, but He was going to leave. And yet, He would also return, first for His bride, the Church, then at the end of the seven years of tribulation. And it was to His Second Coming that Jesus refers throughout these verses. Every disciple of Jesus Christ is to live with their sights set on His future return. That is the end goal, the point at which Jesus will fulfill all aspects of His Father’s will.

During the Tribulation, there were be many who come to faith in Christ. God will continue to extend grace and mercy to those living on the earth. And those disciples will need to live in a constant state of readiness, prepared for the master’s return – in spite of all the persecution and distress taking place around them. That is why Jesus states, “be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected” (Luke 12:40 NLT). During those future end-times days, the circumstances will appear grim. All will look lost. There will be countless individuals martyred for their faith in Christ. And it will be easy to think draw the conclusion that God has forgotten all about His people. There will be those who begin to believe that Jesus is not coming back. The apostle John even records the pleas of the martyred saints as they stand before the throne of God in heaven.

“O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood for what they have done to us?” – Revelation 6:10 NLT

But God will not be done yet. His plan will not be fully fulfilled. And all those on earth who claim the name of Jesus will be encouraged to continue believing and trusting until the end. And that is exactly what Jesus is encouraging His disciples to do. He knows that when He ascends back into heaven, His disciples will find themselves facing unprecedented persecution. As they faithfully fulfill their commission, they will discover just how much the world hates them and how strongly Satan opposes them. At one point, Jesus warned His followers, “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22 ESV).

Endurance brings reward. This is not a promise of salvation based on works. It is simply an encouragement to remain faithful to the end. Jesus tells His disciples, “If the master returns and finds that the servant has done a good job, there will be a reward” (Luke 12:43 NLT). Jesus is not suggesting that doing a good job ensures our future reward but that faithful service should be motivated by the promise of our future reward. If we keep our eye on the prize, we will run the race with endurance (Hebrews 12:1). The apostle Paul picks up this same racing metaphor.

Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. – 1 Corinthians 9:24-26 NLT

Jesus wanted His disciples to understand the end game. There was a reward at the end of it all. The days ahead were going to be difficult. These men were going to have to stand back and watch their friend and Messiah be crucified. And even when He rose from the dead, He would eventually leave them. Yet He encouraged them to serve faithfully and live expectantly, keeping their eyes on the promise of His Second Coming and the final fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Awake and Waiting

24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” Mark 13:24-37 ESV

Almost the entire focus of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse is the far-distant future. He is telling His disciples about events that will take place long after they are gone. But He uses language that conveys a sense of anticipation, almost as if these things could happen tomorrow. In a sense, He is trying to help them understand that, in just a few days, they will be eyewitnesses to one of the most significant parts of God’s grand redemptive plan.

With all the emphasis on things to come, it is easy to forget that Jesus is just days away from His own death. But that singular event will inaugurate a new age. With His death, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus will usher in the church age. His return to His Father’s side will make possible the coming of the Holy Spirit. And on the day of Pentecost, His followers will receive the “power from on high” that He promised, transforming them into bold and powerful ambassadors of the Gospel. And their efforts will help give birth to the church. And for generations, the church will grow and prosper, spreading throughout the world and impacting every tribe, nation, and tongue. But one day, Jesus will return for His bride, the church, and take them to be with Him in heaven. And with the removal of all believers from the face of the earth, the stage will be set for the day of Tribulation, a seven-year-long period of divine judgment upon the earth and its inhabitants. And Jesus has warned that “in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be” (Mark 14:19 ESV).

Yet, even in those dark days, God will continue to redeem the lost, beginning with 144,000 Jews that will represent every one of the 12 tribes of Israel (Revelations 7:4). And they will become witnesses to the world, resulting in the salvation of countless individuals from every people group on the planet. And many of those believers will become martyrs, suffering death at the hand of Antichrist. But, according to God’s divine plan, the seven-years of the Tribulation will finally come to an end. And Jesus indicates that the end will be marked by cosmic disturbances.

“…the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,  and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” – Mark 13:24-25 ESV

These dramatic celestial displays will act as signs of another significant feature of God’s redemptive plan: The return of His Son.

“And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” – Mark 13:26-27 ESV

This will be the long-awaited Second Coming of Jesus. Unlike His first advent, when Jesus came to earth in the form of a helpless baby, this time He will come as a mighty warrior and a conquering King.

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 ESV

Jesus will return to earth in order to wage war against all the forces of evil on the earth. He will gather all His saints, both living and dead. And He will defeat the forces of Satan, capturing and imprisoning Antichrist and his associates (Revelation 19:19-21). And then Jesus will set up His earthly Kingdom, ruling from His throne in Jerusalem for a period of 1,000 years (Revelation 20:4-6).

All of these amazing events are included in the future events Jesus is describing to His disciples. It is as if He is giving them a highly condensed preview of all that is going to take place in the days ahead, and it will begin with His own death in Jerusalem.

So, Jesus tells them, “when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates” (Mark 13:29 ESV). He is not suggesting that they be around when these events take place. He is simply suggesting that before the end comes, there will be ample signs that will make its arrival clear. Like a fig tree that blooms and presages the arrival of summer, the various stages of God’s redemptive plan will have warning signs.

His referral to “this generation” in verse 30, seems to be an indication that the disciples represent a new dispensation or age among mankind. They will become the firstfruits of those who make up the church age. But they will also represent all those who live after the cross and who face the choice between salvation through faith in Christ alone or the condemnation and death that come through disbelief.

“This generation” includes all those who will witness Christ’s ascension and all those who will see His second coming. They and the world they inhabit will not be destroyed until all these things take place. Believers and unbelievers will inhabit this planet until the bitter end. And Jesus assures His disciples that they can trust His words. His word will prove more lasting and permanent than the universe itself.

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” – Mark 13;31 ESV

But while all that Jesus has told them will take place, it will be according to the secret plans of God. No one knows the timing of God’s plan, not even Jesus Himself. That’s why Jesus told His followers, “Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come” (Mark 13:33 ESV). Jesus wanted them to live with a sense of urgency, with their eyes focused on the fulfillment of His mission. Jesus had not come just to die and rise again. He had come so that He might come again. His second coming will be the final act in God’s grand play of redemption and restoration. That is why Paul told the believers living in Philippi, “But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior” (Philippians 3:20 NLT).

Jesus wanted His disciples to live with a sense of urgency and expectancy. So, He told them to “Be on guard, keep awake” (Mark 13:33 ESV). There is no room for complacency or laziness among God’s people. We are to live as if His Son’s return could take place at any moment. We are part of that “generation” that “will not pass away until all these things take place.” We may not live long enough to see any of these things take place, but we are to live with confident assurance that they will. And we are to eagerly wait for Him to return as our Savior.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The End Will Come

14 “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out, 16 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 17 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 18 Pray that it may not happen in winter. 19 For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be. 20 And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days. 21 And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.” Mark 13:14-23 ESV

The disciples had asked what they believed to be a simple question for which they hoped to get a simple answer.

“…when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” – Mark 13:4 ESV

But Jesus rarely, if ever, gave simple answers. The four disciples, who had posited their question to Jesus while sitting on the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem, had been anxious to know the exact timing of the temple’s destruction. His earlier announcement of this event had left them stunned and more than a little bit concerned. But Jesus ended up providing them with a highly condensed overview of the eschatological future. He pieced together a host of end-times events that would culminate with His return to the earth.

The disciples believed Jesus to be their long-awaited Messiah, and they had fully expected Him to set up His Kingdom on earth in their lifetimes. That is why His repeated references to His death in Jerusalem had been so difficult for them to accept. And His mention of the destruction of the royal city of Jerusalem further frustrated their hopes of a restored and revitalized Israel. These men were living in the here-and-now, with their hopes fully focused on the immediate inauguration of His reign and their personal participation in His new Kingdom.

Yet, Jesus wanted them to know that there was far more going on they realized. He had not come to set up an earthly Kingdom – at least, not yet. There were other events that would have to occur before He took His rightful place on the throne of David in Jerusalem. And Jesus mentions one such event: “the abomination of desolation” Mark 13:14 ESV). Whether or not the disciples understood this reference is unclear. But Jesus, well acquainted with the Hebrew scriptures, reaches back into the book of Daniel and utilizes a prophecy from the book of Daniel.

“And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.” – Daniel 9:26-27 ESV

This prophecy was partially fulfilled in 167 BC, when Antiochus Epiphanes, the king of the Seleucid Empire, profaned the temple in Jerusalem by erecting an altar to Zeus and slaughtering swine on it. This blatant desecration of the temple was followed by a series of other devasting decrees, including the criminalization of the rite of circumcision and the requirement of all Jews to offer sacrifices to Zeus. These unacceptable demands infuriated the Jews and ultimately led to the Maccabean revolt.

But like many Old Testament prophecies, this one had a now-not-yet aspect to it. While the actions of Antiochus had partially fulfilled Daniel’s predictions, Jesus was revealing that there was a future element to this prophecy that remained as yet unfulfilled. When Jesus had prophesied regarding the destruction of the temple, His words had also included a now-not-yet dimension. The temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed by Titus in 70 AD, but this would only be a partial fulfillment of Jesus’ words. The disciples were being given a glimpse into the distant future when the full scope of Jesus’ predictions would take place.

Jesus is revealing events that will take place in conjunction with His second coming. There will be another desecration of the temple, but it will not take place in the lifetimes of the disciples. This future event will precede His return and usher in a time of great tribulation on the earth. Jesus describes it as an unprecedented period of suffering, like nothing that has ever happened before.

“For there will be greater anguish in those days than at any time since God created the world. And it will never be so great again.” – Mark 13:19 NLT

He warns that those who are alive when it happens should do everything in their power to run for their lives.

“Then those in Judea must flee to the hills. A person out on the deck of a roof must not go down into the house to pack. A person out in the field must not return even to get a coat. How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. And pray that your flight will not be in winter.” – Mark 13:14-18 NLT

The Daniel passage to which Jesus refers speaks of “one who makes desolate” (Daniel 9:27 ESV). This individual will wield great power and become “the prince who is to come” who  “shall destroy the city and the sanctuary” (Daniel 9:26 ESV). This future world leader will be the Antichrist, who will appear on the scene at the beginning of the seven years of Tribulation. He will rise to power, make a treaty with the nation of Israel, and use his great influence to coordinate the reconstruction of the temple in Jerusalem. For three-and-a-half years, things will appear to be going well, but then all hell will break loose. He will end up breaking his treaty with Israel, turning his wrath against God’s people, setting up an idol of himself in the temple in Jerusalem, and launching an all-out offensive against all those who refuse to worship him. And this will begin a period of great tribulation like nothing the world has ever seen before.

Knowing that this information has left His disciples stunned, Jesus assures them that God will have everything in full control.

“But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days.” – Mark 13:20 ESV

Even during those dark days, God will be choosing to redeem a remnant from among His people, setting them aside as His own. The church, made up primarily of Gentile believers, will have been removed from the earth just before the period known as the Tribulation. With the Rapture of the church, the only ones remaining on earth will be God’s chosen people, the Jews, and all the unbelieving Gentiles. Yet God will continue to redeem and rescue, resulting in the salvation of many from every tribe, nation, and tongue, many of whom will become martyrs at the hands of the Antichrist.

But those days will come to an abrupt end. They will last only as long as God has ordained, and they will culminate with the return of His Son to the earth and with the establishment of His earthly Kingdom.

So, Jesus warns His disciples to be wary. In just a few days, He will offer His life as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind. He will die on a Roman cross and then be raised back to life and return to His Father’s side in heaven. But He will return one day. And Jesus wants His disciples to know that they will be rumors concerning His return. Along the way, there will be those who claim to be Him, but they are to be ignored as liars and deceivers. These charlatans may even be able to perform signs and wonders, giving credibility to their claims. But they are to be rejected because the Tribulation will be the final sign that must happen before Jesus returns again.  And He tells James, John, Peter, and Andrew, “be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand” (Mark 13:23 ESV). 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Confusion Over Christ’s Coming

1 Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 ESV

At his point in his letter, Paul jumps into the deep end of the pool. No more paddling around in the shallow waters of easy believe-ism. The Thessalonians have had their faith shaken by some fairly significant doctrinal error brought to them courtesy of false teachers. These individuals had been propagating the idea that the Second Coming of Jesus had already begun and, it seems, they were using the intense persecution of the Thessalonians as their proof. And they could back up their belief with the teachings of Jesus.

While sitting on the Mount of Olives, just across the Kidron Valley from the city of Jerusalem, Jesus’ disciples came to Him and asked, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3 ESV). Their question had been prompted by a statement by Jesus concerning the temple in Jerusalem.

You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” – Matthew 24:2 ESV

They were wanting to know when this fateful day would take place. And, in an attempt to calm their concerns, Jesus told them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet” (Matthew 24:4-6 ESV).

In other words, a be a great many things would take place long before “the end” occurred. In fact, Jesus included additional seemingly catastrophic events that would precede the end times and His Second Coming:

“For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.” – Matthew 24: 7-8 ESV

Jesus was attempting to prepare His disciples to expect a great deal of suffering, civil unrest, wars, and even natural disasters. But those were simply the precursors of the end, not proof of its arrival. Things were going to get worse before they got better. And Jesus proves it by adding:

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” – Matthew 24:9-14 ESV

But it seems that the false teachers who were negatively influencing the believers in Thessalonica were guilty of cherry-picking the teachings of Jesus. They were proof-texting, pulling out certain phrases that supported their view that the end had come and as a result, the Second Coming of Jesus was just around the corner. But this errant view flew in the face of Paul’s teachings concerning the end times.

In chapter one, Paul had assured the Thessalonians that, concerning Christ’s Second Coming, “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire,” He would inflict “vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 ESV). That had clearly not taken place yet. And it would not take place until the Rapture of the church occurred (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

Paul and the other apostles clearly taught in the imminence of Christ’s coming. They wanted believers to know that Jesus could come at any time, but that did not mean that He would. Followers of Christ were to live with a sense of urgency and immediacy, conducting their lives in a manner that reflected their belief in His return and the reality of eternity. This world was not their home. They were to set their minds and hearts on heaven and the promise of their eternal state. And, in his first letter, Paul assured them that God would protect and preserve them for that future day.

Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful. – 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 NLT

What rankled Paul was the fear and doubt being fostered among the Thessalonians because of the shoddy doctrine of the false teachers. The motivation of these men was probably sincere and well-meaning, but they were doing serious damage to the cause of Christ by speaking about things they didn’t fully understand. And it was causing unnecessary anxiety among the Thessalonians concerning “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him” (2 Thessalonians 2:1 ESV) – a direct reference to the Rapture of the church.

And Paul warns his confused and fearful friends not to let this false teaching deceive and disquiet them.

Don’t be so easily shaken or alarmed by those who say that the day of the Lord has already begun. Don’t believe them, even if they claim to have had a spiritual vision, a revelation, or a letter supposedly from us. Don’t be fooled by what they say. – 2 Thessalonians 2:2-3 NLT

And notice that Paul did not give these false teachers the courtesy of treating their teaching as an alternate view or perfectly acceptable option to consider. They were wrong. Their teaching was false. And it didn’t matter if they claimed that it came with God’s Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

For Paul, the Gospel was far more than just the faithful presentation of God’s offer of salvation through grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone. His concept of the Gospel was all-inclusive, encompassing the full spectrum of God’s gracious plan for man’s redemption. Salvation was just the beginning, with the sanctification of the believer being just as much an integral part of God’s divine plan. And it would all culminate with the believer’s glorification when they received their new bodies, designed to last for eternity. Paul discussed this miraculous final phase of our Gospel transformation in his first letter to the Corinthians.

But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. – 1 Corinthians 15:51-53 NLT

Salvation – sanctification – glorification. For Paul, that was the Gospel and anyone who deviated from and added to that three-fold plan was to be treated with contempt.

Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. – Galatians 1:8 NLT

According to Paul, the good news regarding faith in Christ had to include all three phases of God’s redemptive plan, and he succinctly articulates it in his letter to Titus.

For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation [salvation] to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures [sanctification]. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed [glorificatio]. – Titus 2:11-13 NLT

The believer’s glorification, the final phase in God’s plan, will take place when Christ returned for His bride, the church. Paul knew that the human body was not equipped for eternal life. It was, as he described it, a temporary tent in which we dwell until Christ returns.

“…our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever.” – 1 Corinthians 15:50 NLT

But Paul firmly believed that God had a plan that included new bodies, divinely prepared for eternity.

“We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed.” – 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 NLT 

And as Paul told the Thessalonians in his first letter, the Rapture of the church will result in the gathering of all God’s saints, complete with their newly glorified bodies, so they can return with Him to heaven. And that great day will usher in the beginning of the end. With the removal of the church, God’s final plan of judgment for the unbelieving world will be poised to begin. And Paul will expound on that future aspect of the end times in the following verses.

For that day will not come until there is a great rebellion against God and the man of lawlessness is revealed—the one who brings destruction. He will exalt himself and defy everything that people call god and every object of worship. He will even sit in the temple of God, claiming that he himself is God. – 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 NLT

Paul didn’t want there to be any confusion regarding these matters. The Thessalonians were not to worry or fret over the claims of the false teachers. They had not missed out. The Great Tribulation had not begun. There was much that had to happen before “the end” began. And all that they were experiencing was nothing more than the labor pains that naturally precede the delivery of God’s judgment on the world.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Caught Up – Part 2

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 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. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 ESV

Paul, writing from Corinth, was attempting to correct a misunderstanding among the believers who made up the church in Thessalonica. They were confused over the fact that Christ had not yet returned and in the meantime, some within their congregation had died. This had raised serious questions about the timing of Christ’s return and the fate of those who had expressed faith in Him but had died.

In an effort to fill in the holes in their theology and to provide encouragement over the recent departures of their loved ones, Paul expanded their understanding of the events surrounding the end times. This passage has become the primary defense for what has come to be known as the Rapture of the church. I discussed the genesis of the term “rapture” in the previous blog. Here, I will attempt to look at the further evidence found in Scripture that supports the doctrine of the Rapture of the church.

There are those within Christianity who reject the idea of the Rapture, and who believe that in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul is speaking about the Second Coming of Christ. And among those who believe in the Rapture of the church, there is great debate as to when it will take place.

The time of the Rapture has been a matter of disagreement among conservative interpreters. Some believe it will take place before the Tribulation (pretribulationists). Others believe that it will take place after the Tribulation (posttribulationists). Others conclude that it will take place during the Tribulation (midtribulationists). Still others hold that the Lord will catch away only some Christians, not all (partial rapturists). – Thomas L. Constable, Notes on 1 Thessalonians

Among these various groups, the primary point of debate is the timing of the Rapture as it relates to the Tribulation. Will it take place before, during, or after? Most pretribulationists believe that this passage, among others, supports their view, and I would agree. As we saw in yesterday’s post, verse 17 provides important evidence for the doctrine of the Rapture. Paul states that, upon the Lord’s return, “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 then Paul adds, “and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17 ESV). While there are those who interpret this verse as referring to the Second Coming of Christ, there are problems with that view. Why does Paul refer to believers being caught up and meeting the Lord in the air? At His second advent, Jesus will come to earth.

The prophet Zechariah, in addressing the end-times event known as “the Day of the Lord,” describes Jesus returning to earth at His Second Coming.

Then the LORD will go out to fight against those nations, as he has fought in times past. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem. And the Mount of Olives will split apart, making a wide valley running from east to west. Half the mountain will move toward the north and half toward the south. – Zechariah 14:3-4 NLT

In the previous chapter of his letter, Paul referred to Christ’s Second Coming, and differentiated it from the Rapture by describing it as “…the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (1 Thessalonians 3:13 ESV). This view aligns with the vision given to the apostle John which he recorded in the book of Revelation. He describes Jesus coming back to earth and bringing the saints with Him.

Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. – Revelation 19:11-14 NLT

In the verse preceding this description of Christ’s second advent, John describes his vision of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, where the

“Praise the Lord!
    For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.
Let us be glad and rejoice,
    and let us give honor to him.
For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb,
    and his bride has prepared herself.
She has been given the finest of pure white linen to wear.”
    For the fine linen represents the good deeds of God’s holy people. – Revelation 19:6-8 NLT

In this passage, John describes seeing the “bride” of Christ, the church, enjoying a sumptuous feast with Him in heaven. They are dressed in “the finest of pure white linen” (Revelation 19:8 NLT). And this event precedes His return to earth with “the armies of heaven, dressed in pure white linen” (Revelation 19:14 NLT). How did the church get to heaven before Christ’s return to earth a second time? The logical answer would be the Rapture. The day will come when Christ returns for His bride, the church. Those believers who are alive at that time will rise to meet with Lord in the air and return with Him to heaven. And this interpretation seems to support the promise Jesus made to His disciples prior to His ascension.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” – John 14:1-3 ESV

Jesus returned to His Father’s side in heaven. But the redemptive story didn’t end there. As the disciples stood staring up into the sky, two angels appeared and gave them some very important words of encouragement.

“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” – Acts 1:12 NLT

Jesus died. He was buried. He rose again. He appeared. He ascended. And, one day, He will return. This is the very event to which Paul refers in this section of 1 Thessalonians 4. He reminds His audience that there is another important event that looms on the horizon of redemptive history. The return of Christ for His bride, the church.

The Rapture, while often confused with the Second Coming, is a completely separate end times event. It refers to the return of Christ for His bride, the church, and it will take place at the end of what is called the church age – a period of undisclosed length that includes the time in which we live. It began with the coming of Jesus and will end with His return for the church when He takes all those who have believed in Him to join Him in His Father’s house in heaven.

All of this fits into the wedding imagery that Jesus used concerning He and the church. He is the groom and we are His bride. Technically, according to the traditional Jewish concept of marriage, we are the betrothed on Jesus. The marriage has yet to be consummated, but we are legally bound to Him, having been given to Him by His Father, just as in a traditional Jewish wedding (John 17:12). During the betrothal period, the bride and groom are legally married but remain separated from one another.  It is only just before the actual wedding itself that the groom returns for His bride and takes her to his father’s house, where the wedding ceremony and feast are held. Jesus, having returned to His Father’s house, is preparing a place for He and His bride. Then, when the time is right, he will return for her and take her to His Father’s house, where the ceremony and the celebration will take place.

That is the event to which Paul is referring and he appears to be bringing it up because there was confusion among the believers in Thessalonica. They had been longing for and eagerly awaiting the Parousia or coming of Christ. The early church lived with a sense of immediacy and imminence when it came to Christ’s return. They expected it to happen any day. And Paul and the other apostles encouraged this outlook. Paul told the believers in Corinth:

But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. – Philippians 3:20-21 NLT

And he added another important aspect to this end-times event.

It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. – 1 Corinthians 15:52 NLT

Notice what Paul says here. Those who have died will be raised to live forever. And those who are living when Jesus returns for the church will also be transformed. That is the very same message Paul is delivering to the Thessalonians. The dead have not missed the boat. Their souls have gone to be with Jesus in heaven. All believers who die prior to the Rapture go to be with Him. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul stressed that death brought immediate entrance into God’s presence.

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. – 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 ESV

And the day is coming when those departed saints will return with Christ and receive their newly resurrected, glorified bodies. Again, Paul addressed the reality of this incredible promise in his first letter to the church in Corinth.

…our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever. But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! – 1 Corinthians 15:50-51 NLT

As Dr. Thomas L. Constable so aptly puts it: “the translation of living Christians and the resurrection of dead Christians will take place at the same time.” It is at the Rapture that all those in Christ, the living and the dead, will receive their glorified bodies, custom-made for the eternal state. As Paul puts it, “our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies” (1 Corinthians 15:53 NLT).

Paul wanted the Thessalonians to maintain their hope, even in the face of loss. Their loved ones were not gone, they had simply gone on ahead. And the day is coming when all believers, those who have died and gone to be with the Lord, and those who are still living, will be reunited and will receive their resurrected, glorified bodies. And the apostle John provides us with further words of encouragement regarding that day.

Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. – 1 John 3:2 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Caught Up – Part 1

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 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. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 ESV

As the Thessalonian believers continued to grow up in their salvation and live their lives in a manner that was pleasing to God, Paul knew they would do so in the hope that Jesus Christ would soon return. The imminent return of Christ was a common theme in the early church and proved to be a powerful motivational message for those facing the very real threat of persecution and even death. Even Paul regularly spoke and wrote about the coming of Christ, reminding his children in the faith that the return of Christ was the ultimate goal or objective.

But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. – 1 Corinthians 20:21 NLT

This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. – Romans 13:11-12 NLT

Paul has already addressed the return of Christ three times in his letter to the church in Thessalonica.

…they speak of how you are looking forward to the coming of God’s Son from heaven—Jesus, whom God raised from the dead. – 1 Thessalonians 1:10 NLT

After all, what gives us hope and joy, and what will be our proud reward and crown as we stand before our Lord Jesus when he returns? It is you! – 1 Thessalonians 2:19 NLT

May he, as a result, make your hearts strong, blameless, and holy as you stand before God our Father when our Lord Jesus comes again with all his holy people. – Matthew 3:13 NLT

The return of Christ was the end-game for Paul. And he was eagerly anticipating it because Jesus had promised it.

There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. – John 14:2-3 NLT

And Paul was not alone in his confident claims concerning the Lord’s timely return. The apostle James also saw the imminent return of Christ as a powerful motivational tool when addressing believers who were experiencing the pain and difficulties of life.

Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen. You, too, must be patient. Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near. – James 5:7-8 NLT

Peter, another one of the apostles, joined the chorus, reminding his readers that the Lord’s return would mark the end of all things.

The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. – 1 Peter 4:7 NLT

And not to be left out, the author of the book of Hebrews encouraged his readers to use the reality of Christ’s return as motivation to model Christlikeness in their daily lives.

let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. – Hebrews 10:24-25 NLT

But when you live with eager anticipation that something is going to happen soon, but it fails to do so, disappointment and disillusionment can set in. You can start to question the validity of the promise and find yourself losing hope. And, as Paul knew, watching the deaths of their fellow believers was causing a certain amount of confusion and concern among the members of the early church. Why had they died before Jesus had come back? What was their fate?

It seems that all the talk about the imminent return of Christ had left some of the Thessalonians with the mistaken impression that all who believed would live to see it happen. But now, as time passed, some of their fellow believers were dying. And Paul attempted to provide them with clarification and further insight into all the talk about the “end of all things.” And he gets right to the point.

…now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. – 1 Thessalonians 4:13 NLT

Their grief was not just over the loss of their friends, but it also included their concern over the eternal state of those who had died. Had they not believed? Were they doomed to spend eternity in hell? Had their deaths been the result of having fallen away from the faith?

It is important to remember that the early church had very limited access to doctrine or well-informed insights into theological matters. In its infancy, the church was dependent upon Paul and others to provide them with theological training and teaching regarding such matters as the end times. Paul’s letter to the Romans was his attempt to provide a detailed doctrinal analysis of the faith, expounding upon the teachings of Jesus and the message of the Gospel so that members of the early church could have a deeper and more foundational understanding of their faith.

Paul has already told the Thessalonians that he regularly prayed “asking God to let us see you again to fill the gaps in your faith” (1 Thessalonians 3:10 NLT). And that is exactly what he is attempting to do in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

First, he addresses the 800-pound gorilla in the room: The untimely deaths of their fellow believers.

For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died. – 1 Thessalonians 4:14 NLT

With this statement, Paul brings up another aspect of the end-time events of which they were unaware and uninformed. This section of verses is one of the primary passages used to support the doctrine of the Rapture of the church. Paul is not talking about the Second Coming of Christ, but of His return for His bride, the church. The term “rapture” is not found in the Bible, but it is derived from the Greek word Paul uses in verse 17. There, he mentions that those who are still alive when Christ returns will be “caught up together…in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” The Greek word translated as “caught up” is harpazo, and it means “to seize, to snatch away, to carry off by force.”

In the late 4th-Century, the Bible was translated from its original languages into Latin. In the Latin Vulgate, as this translation came to be known, the phrase “caught up” was translated with the word, rapturo, from which the term “Rapture” comes.

Paul was informing his readers about an event that would precede the Second Coming of Christ and usher in the rest of the end-time events. There was no need for the Thessalonians to grieve over the loss of their friends because God had a plan in place. They were not truly lost but had gone to be with Him. Their bodies had been buried, but their souls had gone to be with the Lord in heaven. When Jesus had addressed the thief on the cross, He had promised him, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43 NLT). There is no such thing as soul sleep or a holding place called Purgatory. Upon death, all believers go to be with the Lord.

And Paul assures those left behind in Thessalonica that they will one day see their deceased friends again. In fact, they will accompany Christ when He returns for His church.

when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died. – 1 Thessalonians 4:14 NLT

But then Paul appears to contradict himself. He just said that the dead believers will come back with Christ, but then he states, “the believers who have died will rise from their graves” (1 Thessalonians 4:16 NLT). Well, which is it? Do they return with Jesus or will they rise from their graves? And the answer is, “Both.”

Paul is describing the resurrection of their bodies. At the Rapture, the souls of all those who have died in Christ will return with Him and be reunited with their resurrected and transformed bodies. Paul talks about the need for this in his first letter to the church in Corinth.

But someone may ask, “How will the dead be raised? What kind of bodies will they have?” What a foolish question! When you put a seed into the ground, it doesn’t grow into a plant unless it dies first. And what you put in the ground is not the plant that will grow, but only a bare seed of wheat or whatever you are planting.… It is the same way with the resurrection of the dead. Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. – 1 Corinthians 35-37, 42-44 NLT

In his second letter, he provides greater detail regarding these spiritual bodies.

…we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. – 2 Corinthians 5:1 NLT

The departed saints will return with the Lord and be reunited with their new spiritual bodies, prepared for them by God. And those who are still alive at the time of the Rapture will ascend into heaven, receiving their glorified bodies as they go. And the end result of all this? “…we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17 ESV).

And Paul concludes by encouraging the Thessalonians to find comfort and encouragement in this new revelation regarding their lost friends and the future Rapture of the church.

Therefore encourage one another with these words. – 1 Thessalonians 4:18 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Remain Diligent and Vigilant

32 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. 42 Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 47 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 48 But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ 49 and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, 50 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know 51 and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. – Matthew 24:32-51 ESV

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Jesus is attempting to open the eyes of His disciples and help them develop a long-term perspective regarding His Kingdom. They were focused on the here-and-now, and having trouble understanding that the talk of His coming death in Jerusalem was anything but bad news or something to be avoided at all costs. This entire chapter contains the surprising and difficult-to-comprehend words of Jesus as He reveals the bigger picture regarding God’s plan of redemption. Jesus’ death on the cross would be just the beginning of the much larger, comprehensive plan of God. It would also include His resurrection as well as His return to His Father’s side. But, even more importantly, it would require His eventual return to earth as the conquering King.

And while Jesus knew that there would be a long delay before His return would take place, He wanted His disciples to live with a sense of eager anticipation. If they expected it to happen and kept their eyes open, looking for the signs of its approach, they would be able to endure the struggles that were coming their way.

Jesus used the visual lesson of a fig tree in order to help the disciples understand that there would be visible, recognizable signs associated with His coming. The budding of a fig tree is a natural indication that summer is near. It is unmistakable and irrefutable. In the same way, Jesus stated that the signs of His return will be undeniable. He even assures His disciples that “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matthew 24:34 ESV).

But what does that mean? Was He saying that the events associated with the end times would take place during the lifetimes of His disciples? The answer would seem to be no. But while they were alive, they would begin to see the early signs of His return. The budding of a fig tree provides a premonition or portent of something to come. The buds do not mean summer has arrived, but that it is coming. In the same way, the disciples would live to see signs that would point to Jesus’ coming. They would be alive when He returned, but they would be given clear indications that it was going to happen.

Each generation of believers has been given signs that His coming is imminent and inevitable. These signs act as assurances of God’s faithfulness and are meant to encourage us to continue to wait eagerly and hopefully.

The earth would continue to go through all kinds of struggles, including earthquakes, famines, floods, disasters, and even wars. The apostle Paul reminded the believers in Corinth: “Those who use the things of the world should not become attached to them. For this world as we know it will soon pass away” (1 Corinthians 7:31 NLT). The apostle John wrote, “this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave” (1 John 2:17 NLT). Even Jesus, earlier in this very same discourse, warned His disciples:

“…you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world. But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.” – Matthew 24:6-8 NLT

But while there will be clear signs along the way, the actual day and date of the Lord’s return will remain a mystery. We will be given assurances of its coming, but we will not know the exact time. Jesus indicated that even He did not know the day or the hour. God the Father alone has access to that information.

The second coming of Jesus will be a surprise. And it will catch the majority of people living on earth at the time completely off-guard and unprepared. Jesus used the days of Noah as an apt point of comparison. In a way, Noah’s building of the ark was a clear sign that something was coming. And Peter seems to indicate that Noah warned his neighbors of God’s coming judgment and the availability of salvation made possible by the ark.

[God] did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness… – 2 Peter 2:5 ESV

The New Living Translation reads: “Noah warned the world of God’s righteous judgment.” But the people in Noah’s day ignored the signs and refused the message of Noah. Instead, they busied themselves, “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark” (Matthew 24:38 ESV).

They went on with their lives, oblivious to the warning signs and ignorant of what was about to happen, until “the flood came and swept them all away” (Matthew 24:39 ESV). And Jesus made it clear to His disciples that the same thing was going to happen when He finally returned. It would catch the world unprepared and completely off-guard.

The next few verses have created a great deal of controversy over the ages. Some have attempted to use them as proof for the eventual rapture of the church. But it is important that we keep them within their context. Jesus has been talking about His second coming, not the rapture. And so the context is one of judgment, not salvation. When Christ returns the second time, He will be coming as a righteous judge to deal, once and for all, with sinful mankind. His coming will take place at the end of the Great Tribulation. During that time, there will be those who come to faith in Christ and endure intense persecution at the hands of the Antichrist. But when Christ returns, He will defeat the Antichrist and his ungodly followers, and He will cast Satan, Antichrist, and the false prophet into the lake of fire or hell.

Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. – Revelation 20:10 NLT

And all those who are living on the earth at that time will be judged as well, with their ultimate destination being hell.

It would seem that, based on the context of the second coming, that those whom Jesus describes as being “taken” are those who remain unbelievers. They will be judged and condemned, then sent to the destination God has prepared for them. And any who are “left” are meant to symbolize those who came to faith in Christ during the Great Tribulation.

Jesus appears to be stressing the need to remain prepared and fully expectant. This is why He said, “stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:42 ESV). He added, “you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:44 ESV).

We are to live our lives with a sense of eager expectation and conduct ourselves as if it could be today. The waiting is difficult. The delay can easily cause us to lose hope and take our eyes off the prize. And Jesus provided His disciples with a warning in the form of yet another parable.

A faithful and wise servant will stay vigilant and diligent while his master is away, conducting himself as if the master could walk in the door at any minute. But the wicked servant will use the delay as an excuse to sow his wild oats. His true, sin-prone, self-centered nature will manifest itself.  And Jesus warns that the servant’s master, like the Messiah, will return when everyone least expects it. And when he does, he will bring just judgment on the wicked servant.

Again, Jesus was trying to get His disciples to understand that there was much more to the Kingdom than they ever imagined. His first coming was just the beginning. And His eventual departure would not be the end. He was coming again. He had promised to do so, and they needed to live their lives as if it could and would happen. They were to stay diligent and vigilant. They were to remain faithful and wise. Unlike the wicked, followers of Christ are to stay alert and awake, fully prepared for His return.

“Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.

“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” – Revelation 22:11-13 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

(MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Return of the King!

15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 19 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22 And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. 23 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand. 26 So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days 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.– Matthew 24:15-31 ESV

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In this chapter, which has come to be known as the Olivet Discourse, we have Jesus giving His disciples a glimpse into God’s plans for the end of the age. As His upcoming death and eventual departure drew nearer, He prepared His followers to set their hopes on the future. It was all in response to their question: “what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3 ESV). Jesus was providing them with an expansive overview of the things to come. Some of what He had to say would take place in the not-so-distant future, including the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, which occurred in 70 AD. But much of what Jesus told them has still not happened. 

Jesus’ reference to the abomination of desolation refers to a passage from the Old Testament book of Daniel. In chapter 9, Daniel records a message he received from the angel, Gabriel. It was in response to a prayer Daniel had prayed on behalf of all his fellow Jews who, like him, were living in exile in Babylon. He had been reading the prophecies of Jeremiah and saw that God had promised to return the people to the land of Canaan after 70 years in captivity. Daniel knew that the 70 years was quickly approaching, and he longed to see God fulfill His promise.

Gabriel delivered the following message to Daniel:

“Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time.” – Daniel 9:25 ESV

Daniel had been thinking about the fast-approaching date of Israel’s return to the promised land. But God was giving him a much broader, longer-term view of the things to come. Yes, a remnant of the Israelites would return to Judah at the end of the 70 years of exile. And they would rebuild Jerusalem and reconstruct the temple. But then, God told Daniel that a period of seven sets of seven (49 years) and sixty-two sets of seven (434 years) would pass, once the people had been restored to the land. That adds up to 483 years. Once the people had returned to the land, it would be 483 years until the Anointed One came. This was a prediction of the coming of Jesus in His incarnation. But Gabriel also predicted that the “anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing” (Daniel 9:26 ESV). This was a reference to Jesus’ eventual death.

But what Gabriel shared next has yet to occur. He was giving Daniel a glimpse into the distant future, the end times.

26 “And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. 27 And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.” – Daniel 9:26-27 ESV

And this is what Jesus referred to in His Olivet Discourse. He too mentioned a time yet to come. The prophetic words of Jesus describe a series of future events, and they are complex, confusing, and controversial. Jesus told the disciples that there would be difficult days. When these future events occur, those living in Judea should run for their lives (vs. 16). They should not bother packing (vs. 17). If they’re away from the house when it happens, they should not go back for any reason (vs. 18). It would be best not to have small children when these things take place (vs. 19). Those who are alive at that time should pray that nothing hinders their departure, including bad weather or the Sabbath itself (vs. 20). Why? Because these will be the worst days the world has ever known or ever will know (vs. 21). Then Jesus stated that unless God intervenes, no one will survive (vs. 22). And while all these things will leave the impression that Jesus’ return is near, no one knows the actual day (vs. 23-28).

“But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” – Matthew 24:29 NASB

Here, Jesus describes what is known as the Great Tribulation. It will be a literal seven-year period of great persecution and evil on the earth. But before this all takes place, the Church will be removed or raptured. Jesus will return to the earth in order to gather all the believers who remain. Paul encourages us about this in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18. The removal of believers will result in the removal of the indwelling Holy Spirit, the One who restrains evil in the world. And the removal of the stabilizing influence of believers and the presence of the Spirit will result in a time of unrestrained and unadulterated evil on the earth. This period of tribulation will be accompanied by the coming of the Antichrist, described by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2. It will be a time of intense persecution of the people of Israel, greater than anything they have ever experienced. But it will end with the second coming of Christ.

The Return of the King!

These difficult days will end with the second coming of Christ.  The tribulation will culminate with the return of Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

“And then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the people of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” – Matthew 24:30 NLT

The disciples would not live to see this day. Neither will we. And Jesus informs us that no one knows when this day will happen.

“However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.” – Matthew 24:36 NLT

Just like in the days of Noah, Jesus’ return will catch those who are living at the time unprepared and off guard. It will come suddenly and unexpectedly. But during the period of tribulation, there will be those who, by the grace of God, come to faith in Jesus Christ. There will be 144,000 whom God will save and appoint as His missionaries to the nations. They will lead countless people to Christ from every tribe, nation, and tongue. Then Jesus will return.

“And he [the Son of Man] will send out his angels with the mighty blast of a trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from all over the world – from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven.” – Matthew 24:31 NLT

Jesus says that there will be two men working in a field. One will be taken, the other left. Two women will be grinding flour, one will be taken, the other left. He says that the chosen ones or the elect will be taken. This clearly indicates that there will be those who come to faith in Christ during the Great Tribulation. And His second coming will include a dividing between believers and non-believers – all those who are alive at that time. This is NOT a rapture passage.

Even though the disciples would not live to see these events, they were to live in readiness. And, as we make new disciples, we are to pass on this attitude of preparedness. We are not to allow ourselves to be dulled by the world and lulled into complacency. Jesus warns:

“Watch out! Don’t let your hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness, and by the worries of this life. Don’t let that day catch you unaware, like a trap. For that day will come upon everyone living on the earth. Keep alert at all times. And pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man.” – Luke 21:34-36 NLT

What difference should all this make to us today? Do you find yourself dulled by the worries of this life? Do you live in a state of readiness for the Lord’s return? Do you have a proper understanding of what is to come? Jesus was preparing His disciples to keep their eyes focused on the end. Their immediate future was going to be difficult. He was going to die, resurrect, and then leave them. And they would be responsible for carrying out His commission to share the gospel with the world. They would suffer as a result, and many of them would die martyr’s deaths. But He wanted them to know that God had a plan in place. Their immediate circumstances would not be an indication of how things were going to end. Jesus would eventually leave them, but He would also return.

And, as modern-day believers, we need to share the same long-term perspective, focusing our attention on the end that God has in store. Jesus has promised a future day that will feature “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

(MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson