ACST 62: The Timing

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To quote the previous chapter: “Rather than being a singular event, the first advent was an entire era, consisting of a series of events in which the Holy Spirit prepared the world for its Savior, who had come. It is not unreasonable to suggest that the second advent will be a similar inter-related series of events.” In our preaching, we often lump all that is promised about the end times into one single “when Jesus comes” event. The New Testament authors did that as well.[1] But that does not mean that everything prophesied will happen at once. One can place the prophecies into three distinct categories, based on the timing of their fulfillment: those actually taking place before the second coming, those which occur immediately at the second coming, and those which happen some time after the second coming.

before the second coming

Firstly, a number of events that people tend to equate with the second coming do not have to happen at that time. It takes discernment to sort through all the traditions that interpreters have pieced together and lumped with the second advent. Some church traditions are so tied to those interpretations that they even make them a test or standard for fellowship. Advent Christians do not do so. Many of us see at least three events which are typically paired with the return of Christ as having been fulfilled in the past, or presently being fulfilled.

Jerusalem’s tribulation

The Bible describes a great deal of trouble for the nation of Israel. Jesus predicted that they “will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”[2] Since the re-emergence of Israel as a separate nation in 1948, some interpreters have suggested that this time of Israel’s tribulation will begin at some point after Jesus returns. Traditionally, however, interpreters have seen the establishment of Israel as a sign that we are nearing the end of the times of the Gentiles, not its beginning. There is no exegetical need for Jerusalem and the temple to be rebuilt and destroyed again.

Jesus’ predictions of a 40 year period of trouble and warfare for Jerusalem[3] were completely fulfilled in the period between his Olivet discourse and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD. He predicted nine specific characteristics of that tribulation period:

  1. Jerusalem surrounded by armies.
  2. Immediate flight from Jerusalem.
  3. Unequalled distress for those in Jerusalem.
  4. An abomination that desolates temple.
  5. Jews will fall by the sword.
  6. Jews will be taken as prisoners.
  7. Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles.
  8. The days will be shortened.
  9. Fulfilled before this generation (40 years) ends.

All of these characteristics were found in that 40 year period. Prediction fulfilled. It does the church and the world no good to reintroduce those predictions and seek to integrate them into a last-days scheme. That kind of exegesis only leads to confusion and tarnishes the reputation of the church.

the “great tribulation”

Jesus also predicted a period of worldwide tribulation.[4] The specific attributes of that tribulation are as follows:

  1. False messiahs.
  2. Wars, rumors of wars, revolutions.
  3. International strife.
  4. Famines, earthquakes, pestilences.
  5. Fearful events, great signs from heaven.
  6. Apostasy and schism.
  7. Persecution, false prophets.
  8. Martyrdom.
  9. Increased wickedness.
  10. Love grows cold, family betrayal.
  11. Gospel preached to all nations.

Jesus is describing this entire age in which the church has the opportunity to preach the gospel and seek to bring the world to Christ. Yet, many insist that these are signs of the end-times, and seek to place them in the future – perhaps in the time immediately preceding Christ’s second coming. None of these characteristics are new to this age. All of them are characteristic of this entire era from the time of Christ’s first advent to the present. But some traditions teach that this worldwide tribulation is unique to a seven year period immediately after Christ’s rapture of the saints.

What the Bible reveals about this great tribulation era:

A Christians encouraged to be patient since they will endure it until the Lord comes (James 5:1-2).

B It will occur during a long age in which several signs will be repeated as birth pangs (Matthew 24:4-14 and parallels).

C During this age Christians are warned to stay alert for the 2nd coming (Matthew 25:1-13).

D During this age Christians are warned to stay committed to kingdom work (Matthew 25:14-30).

E During this age Christians are warned to be authentic, not just to do things that look real (Matthew 25:31-46).

F During this age most people (as in Noah’s time) will reject the gospel message and not seek salvation (Luke 17:26-30).

These statements do not agree with the assumption that the great tribulation is limited to a short period of time after Christ’s return. They are consistent with the teaching that we are currently enduring this great tribulation period, and that Christ’s return will end it.

the apostasy

The apostle Paul predicted a time of rebellion to occur within the church during this great tribulation age between Christ’s first and second advents.[5] Many traditions have emerged regarding a global Antichrist which do not jive with what Paul said in that text. He is purported to be a political figure, yet Paul says he leads an apostasy – the word apostasia being the Greek for rebellion here. That term suggests a spiritual leader in the visible church. Paul says he will be destroyed by Christ’s second coming, but many teach that Antichrist will not even appear until after Christ comes and raptures the church away. That would make an apostasy impossible, and it would make Christ pave the way for the Antichrist instead of destroy him.

What the Bible teaches is that an apostate Church will emerge in history between Paul’s time and Christ’s second coming. This apostate Church will introduce demonically inspired pagan teachings and rituals and forbid marriage and institute dietary restrictions.[6] It will be lead by imposters who oppose the truth, and introduce myths into its official teachings.[7] It’s leaders will be guilty of such hypocrisy and corruption that the whole of Christianity will be blasphemed.[8]

There is plenty of historical evidence that apostate churches and movements have emerged within the last 2000 years. There are also numerous attempts to reform the churches that suggest that at many times those who have professed faith have wandered away from that professed faith. It does not make sense theologically to cast all that evidence aside and insist that another great apostasy must occur, and after the church is taken away. For that reason, it makes sense to place the Apostasy among this list of things that have already taken place, and not in the list of events to occur during or after the second coming. This issue will be treated more extensively in chapter 64: The Apostasy.

at the second coming

There are five events prophesied as occurring at and as an immediate result of the second coming of Christ. These are the eschatological events which are next on the historical horizon. As such, they are tremendously important, and should not be trivialized. Many churches preach about these events, but seem to emphasize other things.

the parousia

Christ will reverse his ascension to heaven, and appear in the sky just as he had disappeared.[9] It will be his physical presence (Greek parousia) instead of his physical absence.[10] Many speak of this coming of Christ as being secret or silent, but Christ described it as a sudden, unexpected, worldwide cataclysmic event.[11] Notice the elements of the actual coming of Christ that he points out in his Olivet discourse:

1. He will come like lightning.

2. The Sun will darken.

3. The Moon will eclipse.

4. Stars will fall.

5. Heavenly bodies will shake.

6. Nations will mourn.

7. Angels will be sent with a loud trumpet call.

8. Men will faint from terror.

9. The Elect will be gathered.

That does not sound like an event anyone is likely to miss. Jesus had been asked for a sign by his disciples. They did not want to miss his return. Jesus taught them that, unlike his first coming as a babe in a manger, this one would not be secret. All the world will know. For Christ to be any more specific as to the timing of his parousia would be to defeat its purpose. It is supposed to catch the world off guard. It is to be sudden, like the coming of a thief.[12] The church must be prepared for the parousia at any time.[13]

the first resurrection

Christ’s first priority when he comes is to raise the dead in him. Paul spoke of the order of the harvest, where Christ’s resurrection was the firstfruits, and the second stage is “at his coming those who belong to Christ.”[14] This was Paul’s hope, to be among those raised from the dead.[15] John called this the first resurrection, and spoke of those who experience it as blessed.[16] Although dead now, those who are raised at Christ’s return are blessed because Christ will revive them, and they will never experience death again. Paul describes the event this way: “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] It is the first thing of Jesus’ to-do list when he comes.

the rapture

His next task is to transform those in Christ who are still living so that they, too have immortality and are fit for eternity with him. Paul says “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] Paul expected to be among this group, but we know now that he will be among the first. Regardless, both groups will become one, as we are caught up (raptured) into the air to meet with Jesus.

Armageddon

Meanwhile, back on earth, World War ? has broken out. The demons and people who have not bowed the knee to Christ are suddenly left in charge of a world without redeemed humanity. Angels from heaven have been summoned by a trumpet blast to wage war against them. The nations mourn because it becomes clear that Christ has come, and they were all left behind. Nations fear because natural disasters are creating chaos everywhere.[19] Demonically controlled leaders seek to unite this population for this battle, which is worldwide, but has a focal point at the mountain (Hebrew har) of Megiddo.[20] The world will be caught unprepared, and sudden destruction will come upon them.[21]

the Wedding Supper of the Lamb

Meanwhile, back in the air, the Bride of the Lamb is celebrating her wedding feast with her Bridegroom. This feast does not take place in heaven. It is the wedding feast celebrating the reunion of Christ and his church. He has come for us, not to bring us to heaven, but to rule with us on earth. But before the king and queen co-rule, the wedding must occur.

We will be as we are now, only perfected, since the Bible teaches that “when he appears we shall be like him.”[22] Perfection meets perfection in a wedding unlike any other in all the ages. The wedding gifts include the “the unfading crown of glory”[23] No shame will ever attach itself to us again. When he appears in his glory, we will appear in glory with him.[24]

after the second coming

The Bible does not specify how long the battle of Armageddon lasts, nor how long the wedding supper of the Lamb lasts. The duration of these events is not as important as the fact that other events prophesied must take place after them. It is, therefore, appropriate to speak of these next events as taking place after, and as a result of — the second coming.

the destruction of the beast & false prophet

Jesus and his church are not to remain celebrating in the air forever. At some point in time – it does not really matter when – Christ and his glorified bride will descend to earth. Having concluded the celebration of their reunion, they must now conclude the other consequence of the coming of Christ – the judgment of this world. John in Revelation speaks of Christ destroying the Beast and False Prophet:

“And the beast was captured, and with it the

false prophet who in its presence had done

the signs by which he deceived those who

had received the mark of the beast and those

who worshiped its image. These two were

thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns

with sulfur. And the rest were slain by the

sword that came from the mouth of him who

was sitting on the horse, and all the birds

were gorged with their flesh.” [25]

“This is the second death, the lake of fire.”[26]

John says that these two spirit beings (like Satan) are to be judged. They are the spirit beings who have led humanity in its rebellion against the LORD and his Christ throughout the ages. The Beast has led the kings of the earth in rebellion against God’s political rule. The False Prophet has masterminded and taught the religions of this world to reject Christ and his gospel.

John sees them suffering torment “for ages and ages.”[27] Most translations render that phrase “forever and ever” which is not literal, and it does an injustice to something else that John asserts about the lake of fire, namely, that it is the second death. In a logical universe, you cannot have both. Either these spirit beings will suffer eternally, and not die, or they will suffer for ages, and eventually die. John asserts the latter.

The Beast and False Prophet are eternally put out of commission at this point by having been thrown into the lake of fire. Satan remains, but he will also be rendered useless in the next event as divine history progresses.

the binding of Satan

Satan’s judgment is not immediate destruction. Before he is thrown into the lake of fire, he will be allowed to live to see the undoing of his defilement of planet earth.

“And he seized the dragon, that ancient

serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and

bound him for a thousand years, and

threw him into the pit, and shut it and

sealed it over him, so that he might not

deceive the nations any longer, until the

thousand years were ended. After that

he must be released for a little while.[28]

He will know that redeemed humanity will be undoing the curse that his influence had put on God’s creation. He will not be allowed to deceive the nations during this incarceration. He will have no control over the world that he had controlled for ages.

the millennial reign

A separate chapter will deal with the description of, and an evaluation of the theological debate over the millennium.[29] Suffice it to say that – in this presentation, a thousand year earthly reign of Christ and his church[30] fits into the overall plan to judge the enemies of Christ, and to redeem his creation, vindicating the dominion over the earth that God originally gave humanity.

the final battle

After Satan is released, he will immediately seek to lead the world in rebellion again:

“And when the thousand years are ended,

Satan will be released from his prison and

will come out to deceive the nations that

are at the four corners of the earth, Gog

and Magog, to gather them for battle;

their number is like the sand of the sea.

And they marched up over the broad plain

of the earth and surrounded the camp of

the saints and the beloved city, but fire

came down from heaven and consumed

them.”[31]

It is difficult to understand how a rebellion like this can occur after a thousand year reign of righteousness. Such is the power that Satan holds over us. But the good news is that this rebellion is put down, and then its instigator is definitively dealt with. His place is in the lake of fire prepared for him and his angels, which is the second death.[32]

the second resurrection

John’s vision of the final events continues with a reference to the sea and death and Hades giving up the dead who are in them.[33] This second resurrection will involve all those who have died from the beginning of creation – with the exception of those who have already been raised at the parousia. Its purpose is to have all those who have ever lived face Christ as their judge.

the great white throne judgment

The purpose for this judgment is to determine two things: the status of all people who have ever lived, and the extent of each unbeliever’s punishment before their destruction. There are only two statuses: saved or unsaved. We will either be in the Lamb’s book of life or not. For those who are not, they will each be judged based on their own works. While their works cannot save them, their works will determine the extent to which they obeyed the light that they had. The punishment will be proportional. Here is another biblical reason to reject the notion that all the lost will be punished perpetually. The sequence is that the lost will be judged “according to what they had done”[34] and then “thrown into the lake of fire”[35] afterward – to be destroyed.

the second death

This lake of fire is the second death, and it will do what the first death did. It will put the lost out of conscious existence. The difference is that there will be no resurrection from the second death. In that since, it will be aionios – permanent.[36]

the new heavens and earth

After finally destroying all traces of unredeemed humanity, the LORD will recreate the universe to make it suitable for the saved. The new Jerusalem that John saw in Revelation 21 is a picture of that new beginning. Just as the old Jerusalem was intended to represent God’s presence on earth, so the new Jerusalem/heaven and earth will be that presence. God will be among and within us. The second advent will then be complete.


[1] 2 Thessalonians 1:10 (for example).

[2] Luke 21:24 ESV.

[3] Matthew 24:15-22; 32-35; Mark 13:14-20; 28-31; Luke 21: 20-24; 28-33.

[4] Matthew 24:4-14; Mark 13:5-13; Luke 21:8-19.

[5] 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 ESV.

[6] 1 Timothy 4:1-3.

[7] 2 Timothy 3:1-13; 4:3-4.

[8] 2 Peter 2:1-3.

[9] Acts 1:11.

[10] parousia combines the prefix para (alongside) and the noun ousia (substance, presence).

[11] Matthew 24:23-31; Mark 13:21-27; Luke 21:25-27; 34-36.

[12] 2 Peter 3:3-13.

[13] Matthew 25.

[14] 1 Corinthians 15:23 ESV.

[15] Romans 6:5; Philippians 3:10, 20-21.

[16] Revelation 20:5-6.

[17] 1 Thessalonians 4:16 ESV.

[18] 1 Thessalonians 4:17 ESV.

[19] Luke 21:25-26.

[20] Revelation 16:16.

[21] 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3.

[22] 1 John 3:2.

[23] 1 Peter 5:4.

[24] Colossians 3:4.

[25] Revelation 19:20-21 ESV.

[26] Revelation 20:14.

[27] Revelation 20:10.

[28] Revelation 20:2-3 ESV.

[29] see chapter 65: The Reign.

[30] Revelation 20:4-6.

[31] Revelation 20:7-9 ESV.

[32] Matthew 25:41; Revelation 20:14.

[33] Revelation 20:13.

[34] Revelation 20:13.

[35] Revelation 20:15.

[36] see chapter 63: The Destinies, for more on the meaning of aionios.

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