ACST 65: The Reign

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When Jesus began his earthly ministry among us, he urged people to repent – not so that they could go to heaven, but because God’s kingdom was coming down from heaven.[1] The gospel he preached was the good news of the inauguration and soon arrival of that kingdom. It was called the gospel of the kingdom.[2] Yet, the church has seldom emphasized the future reality the Bible refers to as the kingdom. In fact, Christian scholars have questioned whether the phrase “kingdom of heaven” implied some future event:

“For many years scholars argued over the Greek expression most commonly translated, “the kingdom of God”, as to whether it might better be translated, “the reign of God.” The argument revolved around whether Jesus was speaking of a geographical realm into which the faithful will enter at his future coming, coincident with the resurrection and judgment, or whether he was referring to a dynamic reign already present and active in human history, and expanding with his ministry.”[3]

Some of Jesus’ statements can be read as if he was referring to this dynamic reign, this dominion over a domain. He commanded his disciples to seek the kingdom.[4] He compared the kingdom to a field currently planted with various seeds,[5] a mustard seed currently sprouting in a field,[6] and yeast currently permeating a loaf of bread.[7] There is obviously a current aspect of the kingdom.

Yet, much of what Jesus said about the kingdom is profoundly future oriented. Those who are poor in spirit and persecuted now are promised the kingdom as an inheritance later.[8] Those who uphold the commandments will be called great in the coming kingdom.[9] Many who think they are religious will, in fact, never enter this kingdom.[10] Many who claim that Jesus is their Lord will not enter it.[11] Jesus taught us to pray for this kingdom to come, and when it does, what God wants will happen on earth, just as it is happening in heaven now.[12] Burge urges us to put what the Bible says about both aspects of the kingdom in perspective:

“the vast majority [of texts] look toward the coming of God’s kingdom to this earth, when Messiah, David’s greater son, will sit on the throne of David in Jerusalem and reign over Israel and the world forever. … Our modern fascination with the present should not be allowed to obscure this fact, nor cause us to miss so much of what the Lord has revealed to us, for our benefit, about his coming kingdom.”[13]

Christ’s spiritual/physical reign over the earth will begin immediately upon his return, but will manifest itself in a number of special events: The last world war (Armageddon), The greatest reunion (The Marriage Supper of the Lamb), and the restoration of all things (The Millennium). This will be a time for redeemed humanity to undo all the damage done to this earth by Satan since the fall. It will also be an age of warfare against all the spiritual beings who have fostered rebellion against Christ and his kingdom.

Most of what we know about this millennial reign is found in the first six verses of Revelation 20:

“Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2 And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 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. 4 Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.”[14]

Some believers honestly question whether the statements in Revelation 20 should be interpreted as referring to a literal reign of Christ on this earth. They question the need for such a limited reign, not seeing why the earth must be subjected to another earthly reign after Christ returns. Those objections should be taken seriously, and answered from Scripture. The following is an attempt to do so:

objection #1 There is no need for a millennium

We are used to seeing Christ’s return as the culmination of the eschaton. His return will bring about the judgment of the lost, and the eternal reward of the saved. Placing a millennial reign before the judgment and restoration suggests another event, and one wonders why it is necessary. Paul taught the Corinthians that we will all be changed in the blink of an eye at the sounding of the last trumpet.[15] Since both the resurrection and the rapture/ translation of the saints occurs immediately at Christ’s parousia, why place an earthly reign between the parousia and the eternal reign?

The answer to this objection can also be found in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. He told them that Christ must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The reign must precede the end.[16] The order is as follows 1) Christ returns, 2) the dead in Christ are raised immortal, 3) they reign with him until he puts all his enemies under his feet (destroys them), 4) Christ hands the kingdom over to his Father.

Also, many prophecies relating to the reign of Christ over Israel require the kind of environment one would expect in the millennium.

“’Nevertheless, I will bring health and healing to it; I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security. I will bring Judah and Israel back from captivity and will rebuild them as they were before. I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against me. Then this city will bring me renown, joy, praise and honor before all nations on earth that hear of all the good things I do for it; and they will be in awe and will tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace I provide for it.’”[17]

“Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, and to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. If any of the peoples of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, they will have no rain.”[18]

“And you will be called priests of the LORD, you will be named ministers of our God. You will feed on the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast.”[19]

objection #2 there is no place for a literal millennium

Peter said that the earth will be destroyed on the day of the Lord’s return.[20] Some have objected to a literal millennium because there will be no old earth in which to reign. Christ will make all things new.

But 2 Peter 3 is the very passage that compares a day with the Lord to 1000 years. That day will begin with the Lord’s sudden appearance “like a thief.” It will conclude with the heavens and the earth being destroyed and laid bare.[21] The sequence of events is precisely the same as in Rev. 20. The day that Peter describes is the whole sequence of events, and is not limited to a single 24 hour period.

objection #3 there will be no time for a literal millennium

A similar objection is based on what Jesus said about the resurrection, implying that the resurrections of both the righteous and the wicked take place at the same time.[22] In the Revelation 20 text, the millennial reign occurs between these two resurrections.

Again, the context of John 5 shows that Jesus uses the term “time” in a way that allows for it to mean a long period of time. In verse 25 he speaks of this present time in which the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. He speaks not of resurrection but of salvation. This “time has lasted for thousands of years. So, it is not without reason to assume that the time of the resurrection that Jesus refers to in John 5:28-29 might begin at the resurrection of the saved and end at the resurrection of the lost one thousand years later.

objection #4 there is no purpose for a millennium

Paul taught that the moment Christ returns, believers will be reunited with their Savior, and will never be absent from him again.[23] For some, teaching an earthly reign just takes away from the majesty of that reality. They see no purpose to a mundane kingdom on earth when eternity has already began for believers as soon as their bridegroom appeared.

But Paul was not outlining the whole of the eschatological timetable in 1 Thessalonians 4. He was addressing the question of what has happened to those believers who had fallen asleep (died) before the return. Paul taught that when Christ returns, He will raise the dead in Christ and rapture the living in Christ. From that time alone, believers will never be separated from Christ again. The millennium will not change that reality.

But the earthly reign has a purpose. The earthly reign is God’s fulfillment of his promises to his people. He promised that we will reign with Christ, and assist him in the overthrow of his enemies.[24] The millennium is God’s affirmation of human dominion over the planet. It is not necessary. Jesus could destroy all sin and sinners the moment he returns. But his destiny and ours is to reign together, and together clean up what Satan has done to this planet.


[1] Matthew 4:17.

[2] Matthew 4:23.

[3] David Burge, Heaven is Not My Home. (Auckland: Resurrection Publishers, 2010), 9.

[4] Matthew 6:33.

[5] Matthew 13:24.

[6] Matthew 13:31.

[7] Matthew 13:33.

[8] Matthew 5:3,10.

[9] Matthew 5:19.

[10] Matthew 5:20.

[11] Matthew 7:21.

[12] Matthew 6:10.

[13] Burge, 11.

[14] Revelation 20:1-6 ESV.

[15] 1 Corinthians 15:51-52,

[16] 1 Corinthians 15:22-25.

[17] Jeremiah 33:6-9 ESV.

[18] Zechariah 14:16-17 ESV.

[19] Isaiah 61:6 NIV.

[20] 2 Peter 3:10-14.

[21] 2 Peter 3:8-12.

[22] John 5:28-29.

[23] 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

[24] 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 20:6.

ACST 64: The Apostasy

REL02 (3)Chapter 62 introduced the argument that the worldwide apostasy predicted by the apostle Paul has already begun. In fact, Paul taught that elements of the apostasy were already present in his time. He said that “the hidden power of lawlessness is already at work.”[1] Someone was “holding him back” in the first century, but that someone would soon be “taken out of the way.” The reformers believed that that “lawless one” was the head of an apostate movement which essentially took the place of the visible church for over 1000 years.

The Protestant Reformation was an attempt to take the visible church back from that apostasy. It was not entirely successful. There is still a visible church today which has as its foundation a gospel other than the gospel of grace, a head other than Christ himself, and a way to God other than the Way. We evangelicals have pretty much ignored this. In our desire to get along with others who claim Christ, we have been careful to avoid speaking of this apostasy, which the Bible predicted, and has come to pass.

In fact, we have been guilty of following popular teachings which lead readers to other conclusions about the Antichrist and his rebellion. The popular teaching that he will not appear until after the rapture is one such teaching. In that take on 2 Thessalonians 2, the one who holds back the Antichrist is the Holy Spirit, who will be taken out of the way when the church ascends. Two major facts argue against this interpretation:

1. The Lord’s coming will not pave the way for the Antichrist. Instead, at his coming, Jesus will destroy the Antichrist “by the breath of his mouth” and wipe him out “by the manifestation of his arrival.[2] Paul was not teaching that the world would wait until the second advent for the apostasy to happen. He taught that the Apostasy was a very real threat for professing believers themselves. Those who professed faith in Christ but actually “have not believed the truth but delighted in evil”[3] would be the recipients of “all kinds of miracles and false wonders” and “every kind of evil deception” from the Antichrist.[4] Since they refuse to believe the gospel, God himself will send a deluding influence upon them, so that they fall for the claims of the apostasy.[5]

2. The Holy Spirit can never be taken out of the way. One of the foundational truths taught in Scripture is that God’s Holy Spirit is omnipresent. Even when the church is taken up into the clouds for the marriage supper of the Lamb, the Holy Spirit will still be here, empowering the avenging angels as they war against God’s enemies at Armageddon. No, the reformers understood that the power that held back the apostate church was not the Holy Spirit, but was the Roman empire. As the empire dissolved, the Roman Catholic Church emerged as both a political and religious power, and effectively took over.

Daniel’s Fourth Beast

In Daniel 7, the world’s empires are presented as four enormous beasts. The lion represents Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian empire. After him comes the bear, the empire of the Medes and Persians. Then, comes the Macedonian empire, represented by the leopard with four wings. Finally a great, unnamed beast emerged, which would be the final world empire before the Ancient of Days gave dominion of the earth to “one like a son of man.” Daniel wrote of this Messiah “And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”[6]

the little horn

But just before this happens, something will happen within the fourth empire. A little horn will emerge. Daniel says: “and behold, there came up among them another horn, a little one, before which three of the first horns were plucked up by the roots. And behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things.”[7] This is the last event Daniel sees before he sees the second coming of Christ. What does Daniel predict Christ will do when he comes? He says “I looked then because of the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking. And as I looked, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire.”[8] It is no coincidence that both Daniel and Paul speak of Christ coming and destroying the Antichrist.

Combining the aspects of both Daniel’s prophecy and Paul’s prophecy, one is left with this timeline:

1. The Roman empire is replaced by another kingdom, but which is still Roman.

2. This king will speak great things, and will deceive those in the church who are not true believers in the gospel.

3. Christ will return and destroy this beast, taking over the nations of the world for his legitimate rule.

It should also be noted that both in Daniel’s day, and in Paul’s day, there was no clear distinction between sacred and secular. All the world’s emperors claimed to be divine and to be ruling by divine appointment. In a sense, all of them were usurping the legitimate authority of the Messiah. What the apostasy did was replace Christ’s legitimate authority as king of kings with the authority of a church.

John

The apostle John, like Paul, also addressed a church on the verge of becoming part of the apostasy. He reveals that many antichrists were already beginning to deceive the church in his time:

“Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 20 But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. 21 I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. 22 Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. 24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is the promise that he made to us- eternal life. 26 I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. 27 But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything- and is true and is no lie, just as it has taught you- abide in him.”[9]

The Church was already being led astray by deceiving influences, and John called these deceivers antichrists. Probably the deceivers to whom John referred were Gnostics, who denied the deity of Christ. But John did not say that the future Antichrist would be a Gnostic. He merely implied that the future Antichrist would be a deceiver, and would, like the Gnostics, try to get people to accept another gospel.

John warned his readers against accepting such deceivers into their households:

“For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. 9 Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, 11 for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.”[10]

The Apostasy would be a replacement church with a replacement gospel, but its adherents would seek to convince true believers to join them in their apostasy. The difference that John encouraged believers to look for was a doctrinal difference. The apostates will have gone ahead and stopped abiding in the teaching of Christ. The teaching of Christ was the gospel of salvation by grace.

The Roman Catholic Church replaced sharing the gospel of grace with obeying the law of the Church. They replaced repentance with penance. They replaced forgiveness by the blood with merit through works. The replaced the headship of Christ with the headship of the Pope, who is called the Vicar of Christ. Antichrist means not “against Christ” but “instead of Christ.” They replaced the hope of resurrection with the despair of purgatory. They replaced believer’s baptism with the christening of infants, who cannot profess faith because they do not yet have a faith to profess. The Lord’s Supper was a meal where we are supposed to remember what Christ did for us. They turned it into an animistic ritual where adherents repeatedly sacrifice Christ all over again. Christ had told his disciples to lead by serving. The Roman Catholic Church produced leaders who lord it over their followers, and provided everything for them. They also replaced the purity of worshipping Christ alone to the idolatry of praying to and venerating the “saints.”

In the book of Revelation, John showed that this Apostasy would be a prostitute bride. She would ride the beast of Rome, and give glory to that empire, not the coming reign of Christ. Instead of unifying the church in the gospel, she would unify them under the Latin culture:

‘Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, 2 with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.” 3 And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. 4 The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. 5 And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” 6 And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. When I saw her, I marveled greatly.”[11]

“Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. 12 It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. 13 It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, 14 and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. 16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. 18 This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.”[12]

The letters of the Greek word lateinos, a designation for a person of the Latin language and culture, added up to 666. The Church Father Irenaeus pointed to this as the “probable solution” to the number, as it referred to “the name of the last kingdom.”[13] The prostitute is a symbol from the Old Testament, indicating not a foreign power, but an apostate religion – and sexual immorality was a symbol of idolatry. The mark of the beast was a mark of protection. Just as God marked Cain to protect him from vengeance,[14] and marked those who would survive the judgment during the exile,[15] so the Antichrist would mark his own to protect them from God’s judgment,[16] but it will not work.

Although the Protestant Reformation did much to swing the ecclesiastical pendulum back toward sola scriptura and sola fide, the church remains in danger of succumbing to this apostasy. Regardless of what we call ourselves, we are in danger of joining the apostasy when we get our eyes off the coming Christ and put all our hopes in the present church. We are in danger when we add our own works to the finished work of Christ on the cross. We are in danger when we seek unity by borrowing beliefs from the world around us, instead of trusting the sure word the Holy Spirit gave us.

a word to the offended

Those who are members and leaders of the Roman Catholic Church are obviously offended at such teaching. Perhaps this offense is the reason so many of our other Protestant brothers have stopped teaching it. In this age of relativism, it seems somehow wrong to attack another church, and brand it as part of the Apostasy. Yet, this very relativism is a sign that we do not have to wait until after Christ returns. The Apostasy is here, now. If the Roman Church is not the Apostasy, what is? No other worldwide religious body has keep the world under its control for over a thousand years. No other church has been responsible for such comprehensive syncretism and violence against true faith.

The true catholic (universal) church is not Roman. It belongs to Christ, extends to all nations, and is made up of people representing all cultures. When Jesus comes, he will set the record straight. Until then, it is the responsibility of his present church to preach Christ, not itself. It is our responsibility to stay true to the gospel, not human traditions. It is our responsibility to proclaim faith in God’s grace through Christ’s sacrifice. We cannot afford to replace that responsibility with any other.


[1] 2 Thessalonians 2:7 NET.

[2] 2 Thessalonians 2:8 NET.

[3] 2 Thessalonians 2:12.

[4] 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10.

[5] 2 Thessalonians 2:11.

[6] Daniel 7:14 ESV.

[7] Daniel 7:8 ESV.

[8] Daniel 7:11 ESV.

[9] 1 John 2:18-27 ESV.

[10] 2 John 1:7-11 ESV.

[11] Revelation 17:1-6 ESV.

[12] Revelation 13:11-18 ESV.

[13] Irenaeus, Against Heresies (Book V, Chapter 30). (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103530.htm).

[14] Genesis 4:15.

[15] Ezekiel 9.

[16] Revelation 16:2; 19:20.

ACST 63: The Destinies

 

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There are only two eternal destinies: life or death. The saved will be rewarded with permanent life, while the lost will suffer permanent death.

In this chapter, I contrast the two eternal destinies: The inheritance of the saved is permanent life, and the fate of the lost is permanent death.

John

The apostle John had a way of taking ultimate reality and boiling it down to simple statements that captured its essence. For example, he divided the whole of the human race into two categories – two destinies. He said “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”[1] By that he meant that the objective of life today is to gain eternal life in the future, and only those who are in Christ will accomplish that objective. Jesus implied the same thing when he said “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”[2] He spoke of only two eternal destinies: to perish forever, or to live forever. Those destinies will each begin with a resurrection. Believers will experience a “resurrection of life” but unbelievers will experience a “resurrection of judgment.”[3] That judgment will culminate in the second death.[4]

Paul

Paul taught that the world has those same two destinies. He said “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”[5] You will notice that both apostles only refer to believers as having life. They each must have been out of class the day their teacher taught them Platonic dualism, and the notion of all human souls being immortal. Paul taught that only God is now immortal,[6] and that Jesus brought immortality to light through the gospel.[7] Only those who respond to the gospel and put their faith in Christ will receive immortality, and even then it will only be at the resurrection when Jesus comes.[8] In the mean time, people have a choice. They can either live according to the flesh, and earn the judgment of destruction, or live according to the Holy Spirit, and reap the grace of eternal life.[9]

So, Paul designates two kinds of people. Those who are being saved are contrasted with those who are perishing.[10] He presents it this way so that his readers may know that the choices they make today will determine the nature of their eternal destiny. For Paul, there are two main events in history, and we stand between them. The first main event is the cross, where Jesus took on the punishment for all the sins of the world. But for those who regard the message of the cross as foolishness, God will allow them the privilege of paying for their own sins in hell. Those who choose to do so are perishing, even as they live. Their “destiny is destruction.”[11] But for those of us who choose to cling to the cross, we are being saved, even as we die.

The author of Hebrews

The author of Hebrews speaks of these two destinies as well. He says that those who have faith “preserve their souls” — a reference to not being eternally lost. But those who “shrink back” and do not have faith will be destroyed.[12]

Peter

Peter spoke of believers being heirs of the grace of life.[13] He said that God has called believers to his own glory and excellence, and his power has granted us all things to pertain to life and godliness.[14] But the unsaved will be “destroyed in their destruction.”[15] They are being “stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.”[16] Two destinies – count them – two.

Jesus

Jesus had taught those same two destinies. He was even more clear in distinguishing the two. He said that the right choice leads to life, but the wrong choice leads to destruction.[17] He said that we should fear God, who is able to destroy souls and bodies entirely in hell.[18] He warned the Jewish leaders who were not tending the Master’s vineyard that they would be destroyed when the Master returns.[19]

Jesus never defined salvation as a ticket to a nice place to retire after you die. He defined salvation in reference to destruction in Gehenna hell. That is what people are being saved from. Eternal life in the new heaven and earth is what people are being saved for.

Having determined that the Bible is clear about the ultimate destinies of both the saved and the lost, we can now examine the steps that our LORD will take in bringing about those two destinies.

The Destiny of the Saved

1. A GLORIOUS REUNION

Believers will be reunited with Christ when he returns. Paul taught that the same God who foreknew us in eternity past, also predestined us to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus. The same God who called us and justified us by the death of Jesus, also has glorified us.[20] For God, it has all been done, since he resides outside time. For us, some of it has been done, and some of it awaits our reunion with Christ, for it to be perfected. We are foreknown and predestined, but we do not yet conform completely to our Savior’s likeness. We have been called and justified, but we await the reunion for our glorification.

The reunion will be with Christ, but it will also be a reunion with all those in Christ who have fallen asleep. The Lord will appear, call the believing dead from their graves, and then those in Christ who are alive at that time will join that meeting in the clouds. It is then, and only then, that all believers will be “with the Lord.”[21] This event is what Paul was referring to when he said he desired to depart and be with Christ.[22] Being with Christ at the reunion is the best thing that could happen to us today. It is better than any ministry we could have in this life, or any martyrdom we could have in death.

Jesus promised that we would be with him at that reunion. He said he was going to prepare a place for us – but not for us to go to at death. He said “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.”[23] Jesus is the way to the Father.[24] No one gets to the Father’s presence until Jesus comes back and takes us. This will happen at the reunion, and not before. Death does not take us into the Father’s presence – Jesus will.

2. A GLORIOUS TRANSFORMATION

At the same moment when we are reunited with our Savior, we will also be changed into his likeness. Our mortality will be replaced by his immortality. Paul puts it this way “we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory.”[25]

Some translations add the word “body” to this text, because the translators believe that souls are already immortal, so they think Paul is talking about immortal souls putting on resurrection bodies. But that is not what Paul is talking about. Most of the mortal bodies will have already died. Most of the perishable bodies will have already perished and totally decayed into nothingness. For Paul, the whole being is “this mortal” and “this perishable.” The whole being takes on immortality, never to perish again.

John told his readers that “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”[26] Our transformation will include more than just immortality. It would be a crime to impose immortality on a race of beings who do not have the purity and integrity of Christ.

Plato believed that all souls are given immortality at their creation, and Augustine followed him in that belief. Out of that syncretistic combination of Greek philosophy and Roman Catholic dogma came the terrible doctrine of an unending hell. God is charged with the crime of predestining the vast majority of the souls he created to an eternity of suffering.

The real story of eternity is that God plans it only for those who are transformed by grace to be in the likeness of Christ. As the four spiritual laws put it, God has a wonderful plan for your life. That plan begins to take place the moment of your glorification. Our entire lives are lived in anticipation of that event.

3. A GLORIOUS CELEBRATION

While the battle of Armageddon is raging on this planet, destroying and causing chaos as never imagined before, believers will be safe in the clouds with our Savior. John writes “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.””[27] All the hopes of humanity will come true at this great feast, while all the fears of humanity will come to pass at the battle of Armageddon.

4. A GLORIOUS DOMINION

As strange as it may seem, Christ’s return will not immediately destroy all evil

from this planet. It will, however, end all opposition to his rule in the political and religious realms. John describes this reality when he speaks of the beast and false prophet being thrown into the lake of fire.[28] They will be tormented for their crimes for ages and ages, but will eventually be destroyed, because the lake of fire is the second death (not another form of life). The beast and false prophet are spirit beings, but not immortal beings. They will receive punishment appropriate for their sins, and the sins that they caused the kings and false prophets of the earth to commit. That will take ages and ages, but not forever.

Removing them from the scene will allow Christ’s will to prevail in the political and religious realms. Imagine that – no opposition to Christ’s rule on earth, no deception or rebellion caused by false religion. Christ must reign on the earth “until he has put all his enemies under his feet.”[29] Those who serve him today will reign with him then.[30] They will rule as princes and lead people to him as priests. This reign will last for a thousand years.[31]

5. A GLORIOUS VINDICATION

Believers will be absolved of all guilt at the judgment. Although they will be judged according to their works, like all others, they will be vindicated and declared not guilty due to the finished work of Christ, the Lamb. The book of life lists all these believers in Christ, and is the basis for this vindication.[32] As a result of this vindication on the Judgment Day, believers will not be destroyed in the lake of fire, but all others will.

6. A GLORIOUS SATISFACTION

Believers will receive rewards for faithful service, for those deeds done out of a Spirit led obedience to Christ and his kingdom. No good work will escape judgment, although some works that we might think are worthy of reward will burn up when evaluated. They will not have proved to be quality work.[33] Paul’s instruction is that believers should be careful to build their works on the proper foundation. Even good works are eternally insignificant if they do not follow Christ’s commands, or lead people to the cross of Christ and his grace.

7. A GLORIOUS PERPETUATION

Believers will live and reign eternally in the new heavens and new earth. John envisioned a continuation of the millennial reign which will go on forever and ever, after judgment and the destruction of all evil.[34] This is the ultimate answer to what it means to be saved, and it is the reason that we are saved to begin with. Our loving God wants us to have eternal freedom from sin, eternal sanctification, and eternal life.[35]

The Destiny of the Lost

1. THE LOST WILL SUFFER SHAME AND REJECTION.

The lost will suffer public shame at having their sinful lives exposed on the judgment day. Those who have pretended to be believers will be exposed as the imposters they are.[36] Those who have trusted in other ways of salvation will discover that their gamble has not paid off. There was only one way to salvation and they rejected the way and chose the wrong way.[37] No secrets will remain unannounced.[38]

2. THE LOST WILL SUFFER JUST PUNISHMENT FOR THEIR SINS.

Unbelievers will also experience just punishment for every transgression they have committed, whether in word or deed, commission or omission. The nature, severity, and duration of that punishment will be determined by God, whose omniscience and righteousness insures that it will be just. God cannot overlook sin which has not been atoned for. Thus this punishment awaits all who are not protected by the blood of Christ. The Bible describes this punishment as trouble and distress,[39] torment,[40] darkness, weeping (out of remorse for losing salvation) and gnashing of teeth (out of anger against God),[41] and being beaten with whips.[42] While some of those images are no doubt symbolic, they describe a future reality that is horrible to imagine. We need to keep these images in mind so that we can pray urgently for our unsaved friends, loved ones, and enemies, and seek to win them all to Christ.

3. THE LOST WILL EVENTUALLY SUFFER PERMANENT DEATH.

On the previous two points, all evangelical believers would agree. But some insist that God will not only punish sinners for their rejection, but keep on punishing them throughout eternity. Thus they say that not only is God’s punishment eternal, but also the act of punishing itself. Many base this belief on the assumption that human souls are already immortal by nature. That issue has already been addressed.[43]

The Bible makes it clear that the punishment received at the judgment is not the last part of the bad news. The wages of sin is not perpetual suffering in hell, it is death.[44] Those who overcome are promised not that they will avoid an eternity in a bad place, but that they will avoid the second death.[45] The unsaved will suffer punishment according to their sins, and then will experience this second death.[46] The lake of fire must consume and bring about the second death to all those thrown into it, then it will destroy death and Hades.[47]

Typically, those who favor the view of eternal conscious torment redefine the term death as it has to do with the destiny of the lost. Since, in their view, both saved and lost will continue to live eternally, death cannot mean the loss of life.

But Jesus’ descriptions of the fate of the lost imply loss of existence, not just a conscious painful existence forever.

  • He spoke of the house built on the sand collapsing and falling over.[48] That is the end of the house.
  • He spoke of the weeds gathered up and burned with fire.[49] That is the end of the weeds.
  • He spoke of the good fish being gathered into containers, but the bad fish are thrown away to rot.[50] No more bad fish.
  • He spoke of plants not planted by his Father as being uprooted.[51] An uprooted plant dies.
  • He spoke of branches that do not abide in the vine as being thrown away, drying up, being gathered and cast into the fire.[52] Burning branches burn up.
  • He spoke of tenants who reject their master’s authority as being destroyed,[53] not just punished.
  • He said that the unrepentant will perish like those on whom the tower of Siloam fell.[54] Those unfortunate people didn’t just suffer. They died.
  • He likened hell to Noah’s flood, which destroyed everyone outside the ark.[55]
  • He said that hell would be like the day Lot went out from Sodom, and all the inhabitants of Sodom were destroyed.[56]

There are only two eternal destinies: life or death. The saved will be rewarded with permanent life, while the lost will suffer permanent death.


[1] 1 John 5:12 ESV.

[2] John 3:14-16 ESV.

[3] John 5:28-29.

[4] Revelation 21:8.

[5] Romans 6:23 ESV.

[6] 1 Timothy 6:16.

[7] 2 Timothy 1:10.

[8] Romans 2:7; 1 Corinthians 15:53-54.

[9] Galatians 6:8 NIV. The ESV uses the word corruption for the Greek fthora, but Peter uses the same term in 2 Peter 2:12, and there the ESV translates it “born to be caught and destroyed.”

[10] 1 Corinthians 1:18; 2 Corinthians 2:15; Philippians 1:27-28.

[11] Philippians 3:9 NIV.

[12] Hebrews 10:39.

[13] 1 Peter 3:7.

[14] 2 Peter 1:3.

[15] 2 Peter 2:11.

[16] 2 Peter 3:7 ESV.

[17] Matthew 7:13-14.

[18] Matthew 10:28.

[19] Luke 20:16.

[20] Romans 8:28-30.

[21] 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

[22] Philippians 1:23.

[23] John 14:3 ESV.

[24] John 14:6.

[25] 1 Corinthians 15:51-54 NASB (1995).

[26] 1 John 3:2 NLT.

[27] Revelation 19:7-9 NLT.

[28] Revelation 19:20-21.

[29] 1 Corinthians 15:25 ESV.

[30] 2 Timothy 2:12.

[31] Revelation 20:6. {see chapter 65: The Reign, for more details}.

[32] Revelation 20:11-15.

[33] 1 Corinthians 3:10-15.

[34] Revelation 22:3-5.

[35] Romans 6:22-23.

[36] Matthew 7:21-23.

[37] John 14:6.

[38] Luke 12:3.

[39] Romans 2:8-9.

[40] Revelation 14:9-10.

[41] Matthew 25:30.

[42] Luke 12:47-48.

[43] see chapter 15: The Immortal One, and chapter 21: The Mortal Being.

[44] Romans 6:23.

[45] Revelation 2:11; 20:6.

[46] Revelation 21:8.

[47] Revelation 20:14.

[48] Matthew 7:26-27.

[49] Matthew 13:40.

[50] Matthew 13:47-48.

[51] Matthew 15:13.

[52] John 15:6.

[53] Luke 20:16.

[54] Luke 13:4-5.

[55] Luke 17:27.

[56] Luke 17:29.

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.

ACST 61: The Advents

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The patriarch Jacob, an old man, gathered his sons together and told them what would happen to their families “in days to come.”[1] He told Judah that his descendants would have the scepter, and the ruler’s staff, and to him shall be “the obedience of the peoples.”[2] It would be many days, indeed many centuries before that prediction became fulfilled by David. He would lead not only his own people, but many other nations (peoples) would obey him as well.

Yet David did not completely fulfill this prophecy. Jesus is the “Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David.”[3] He will lead both Israel and the nations. By his blood he has “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”[4] He has “made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”[5] So, Judah’s son is also God’s Son, and the King of kings.

When Jesus came as a babe in a manger, some recognized him as heaven’s king. The angels described him as a “Savior” and “Christ the Lord.”[6] The term “Christ” is Greek for anointed one: the title of a king. Even as a child he was recognized as Judah’s heir, and God’s king. The wise men went to Herod and asked “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?”[7] Herod recognized the threat that this child posed for him, and sought to destroy him. Pilate asked Jesus “Are you the King of the Jews?”[8]

Advent

At the end of every year, much of the world celebrates a season which some call Advent. It is a season which church tradition has championed for the purpose of remembering the first coming, or advent of Christ. For Advent Christians, this season is all the more special because we celebrate not only our Lord’s first advent, but the promises it brought of his second advent. Much of the world celebrates Christmas without this hope. Like the Jews who missed their Messiah, much of the world sings “Joy to the World” without recognizing its future implications.

The first advent of Jesus Christ was predicted for thousands of years, in numerous ways, and detailed in hundreds of scripture texts. Yet many of the Jews who had access to the predictions either ignored them or misinterpreted them. Likewise, the second advent of Christ is detailed fully in both Testaments, but Christians differ widely on their expectations. A survey of the predictions and fulfillments of the first advent will yield principles that help us know what to expect as we read the predictions of the second advent.

Incarnation

The Christ expected was to be a real and completely human being, yet also God’s unique Son in human flesh. The eternal Logos, the second person of the divine trinity, would become a human being by being conceived miraculously (without a human male partner) in the uterus of Mary. Isaiah said “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel– ‘God is with us.’”[9] When told of this reality, Mary said “But how can I have a baby? I am a virgin.”[10] Matthew explained “All of this happened to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and he will be called Immanuel (meaning, God is with us).” Joseph … brought Mary home to be his wife, but she remained a virgin until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.”[11]

This incarnated Christ would be the unique seed of a woman, his human nature descending directly from Mary. God told the serpent that “From now on, you and the woman will be enemies, and your offspring and her offspring will be enemies. He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”[12] Paul explained that “when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman.”[13]

This incarnated Christ would be the direct descendant of Abraham, the means by whom Abraham would bless the whole planet. God promised Abraham that he would bless those who bless him, and curse those who curse him. He said “All the families of the earth will be blessed through” him and his family.[14] So, people had every right to expect this awaited Messiah to appear in Abraham’s family line. The first verse in the New Testament says “This is a record of the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah, a descendant of King David and of Abraham.”[15]

As already mentioned, this incarnated Christ would qualify as ruler over the people of Israel (and all peoples) since he would legally descend from the ruling tribe of Judah. Jacob predicted “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants, until the coming of the one to whom it belongs, the one whom all nations will obey.”[16] Luke informs his readers that “Jesus was known as the son of Joseph. Joseph was the son of … Judah.”[17] Matthew puts it the other way around: “Judah was the father of … Joseph, the husband of Mary. Mary was the mother of Jesus, who is called the Messiah.”[18]

This incarnated Christ would be a direct descendant of King David. Isaiah predicted that the Messiah’s “ever expanding, peaceful government will never end. He will rule forever with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David. The passionate commitment of the LORD Almighty will guarantee this!”[19] The angel Gabriel told Mary that “He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.”[20]

From these predictions and fulfillments of our Lord’s first coming, we can derive this principle: the Lord’s advent will be a very real human presence, but will be the result of an unprecedented divine miracle. When speaking of his second advent, the New Testament uses two Greek words which also point to this principle: parousia, the word for a real visible human presence,[21] and epiphaneia, the word for a miraculous divine appearance.[22] Like his first coming, then, our Lord’s second advent will be a combination of physical visible presence and a miraculous, powerful event which defies the ordinary. It will be the same Jesus who came as a baby, but it will not be an ordinary day. He next coming will be noticed!

Preparation

Christ’s first coming was not a single event. It was an era in which the newborn Christ grew to manhood, and prepared for his earthly ministry as a discipler, and as the divine atoning sacrifice. The entire era was orchestrated by God and revealed in his word. Micah predicted that he would be born in Bethlehem.[23] When the timing was right, the LORD orchestrated events so that Joseph and Mary moved from Nazareth to Bethlehem.[24] Mary gave birth in Bethlehem even though they had no home there, because God was in the process.[25]

The Holy Spirit continued to be involved in the preparation process, ensuring that Jesus would spend his early childhood in Egypt, out of harm’s way. Hosea had hinted at this move when he said “I called my son out of Egypt,” and that hint was made more clear by the Angel of the Lord at the proper time.[26] Mary and Joseph traveled and stayed in Egypt until after Herod’s death, and then returned.[27] By so doing, they escaped Herod’s attempt to kill Jesus by ordering the deaths of all the young male children in the village of Bethlehem. That massacre had been predicted by Jeremiah.[28]

The Holy Spirit brought about the birth and orchestrated the ministry of John the Baptist, whose task it was to bring revival to Israel, preparing them for the appearance of their king. Malachi had predicted a coming messenger,[29] and Jesus admitted that John was “the man to whom the Scriptures refer when they say, ‘Look, I am sending my messenger before you, and he will prepare your way before you.’”[30] John was the forerunner – who introduced an expectant nation to their true king. He was a part of what God was doing during that 33 year period.

God had in past ages declared the identity and unique relationship he had with Christ to the angels.[31] But at a crucial point in that 33 year period, God himself identified Jesus as his unique Son to the watching world. Matthew records “After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw

the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, and I am fully pleased with him.”[32]

One of the characteristics, then, of Christ’s first advent was that over a period of time and a series of events, the LORD worked out his plan and accomplished his purpose. 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.

Demonstration

During his first advent, Jesus showed the world who he is by what he did. His miracles demonstrated and affirmed the audacious claims he made about himself. He began by bringing God’s light to the darkest region of Palestine: Galilee of the Gentiles.[33] He brought his message of deliverance and healing to the enslaved and infirmed, proving his message by setting them free from demons and sickness.[34] The incidents of physical healing and deliverance themselves demonstrated the freedom Christ had to offer through his gospel message.[35] He preached that gospel by many means, including sermons, parables,[36] and fits of wrath against the hypocrites who opposed him.[37] By so doing, he demonstrated that he, himself, is the focal point of God’s plan. Those who refuse to believe in him will be rejected by God, no matter what nation they were born into.

In the same way, the second coming of Christ is described in the New Testament as a tremendous demonstration of Christ’s power, revealing his true identity. Jesus predicted that when he comes “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.”[38] He warned the Council (seated in judgment against him) that they will some day “see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”[39]

Peter writes “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.”[40] He is intentionally ambiguous. It is not clear whether he is talking about descriptions of Christ’s first coming in power, or predictions of his second coming in power. Rightfully so, because both of Christ’s advents will be characterized by a demonstration of power.

When he comes again, Christ will demonstrate his power over sickness and death not by raising some, but by emptying all the graves. He said that “a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice.”[41] He had told Martha that he is the resurrection and the life.[42] We believe that by faith, but we also look forward to the day in which he will demonstrate its truth.

When he comes again, Christ will demonstrate his power over Satan and all his kingdom of darkness. He has delivered some from bondage, but he longs to set the whole world free. The battle is raging now, and we are fighting it by means of the victory won for us at the cross.[43] But when the king comes, he will demonstrate his power by defeating Satan, casting him into a bottomless pit,[44] undoing his corruption of this world, and ultimately throwing him into the lake of fire, which is the second death.[45] That snake will be revealed to be something entirely different than the immortal god he claimed to be. Christ will demonstrate his supreme power over him.

Opposition

When Jesus first appeared and identified himself as the Savior of the world, he faced rejection, humiliation, and opposition from almost everyone. The more clear he became about what his kingdom entailed, the more people turned away from him. The psalmist had prophesied “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One.”[46] Luke wrote that “The leading priests and teachers of religious law were actively plotting Jesus’ murder.”[47] Even though Jesus had demonstrated who he was, his own nation would not accept him. He was betrayed by one of his close friends.[48] They mocked and crucified him.[49]

Sadly, that is going to be the case on a cosmic scale as well. In the end, the vast majority of those whom Jesus died for will say “no thanks” to his salvation. They will take sides with the devil and his kingdom, and reject their Savior. Only, in the second advent, this choice will not lead to Christ’s death on the cross, but the second death of all sinners who rejected his love. The lake of fire is a very real event, and it will mean irrevocable destruction to all who have opposed its alternative: Christ, the life.

Exaltation

The Gospels do not end with the death of Christ on the cross, but they tell the amazing story of his resurrection and ascension. The psalmist predicted that the Messiah would say “For you will not leave my soul among the dead or allow your godly one to rot in the grave. You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.”[50] The Lord, once brought down low, would ascend on high.[51] The first advent ended with the exaltation of Christ to heaven’s throne. The second advent will see Christ exalted as king of kings and Lord of Lords.[52] His is the name above every name that is named in the whole universe.[53]

The prophecies fulfilled when Jesus came to this earth the first time set a pattern that help interpreters learn what to expect when the prophecies of his second advent are fulfilled. We know to expect a series of events in which the Holy Spirit works out God’s eternal plan, and exalts his eternal Son. We can expect mighty miracles, in demonstration of who Christ is, and his real physical presence among us. We will see the ultimate battle with Satan, and his ultimate demise. We will see heaven intervene in the affairs of men, and hell destroy the wickedness and evil in this world.

In the first advent, Christ came as God with us. In the second advent, the world will be transformed so that we will finally be with him. The “kingdom of the world (will) become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”[54] In the first advent, Christ brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.[55] At the second advent, believers will put it on like a garment.[56]

One of the men who was privileged to see his first advent also heard him promise “Surely I am coming soon.” His response is ours: “Amen. Come Lord Jesus.”[57]


[1] Genesis 49:1.

[2] Genesis 49:10.

[3] Revelation 5:5.

[4] Revelation 5:9.

[5] Revelation 5:10.

[6] Luke 2:11.

[7] Matthew 2:2.

[8] Matthew 27:11; Mark 15:2; Luke 23:3.

[9] Isaiah 7:14 NLT.

[10] Luke 1:34 NLT.

[11] Matthew 1:22-25 NLT.

[12] Genesis 3:15 NLT.

[13] Galatians 4:4 NLT.

[14] Genesis 12:3.

[15] Matthew 1:1 NLT.

[16] Genesis 49:10 NLT.

[17] Luke 3:23,33 NLT.

[18] Matthew 1:3, 16 NLT.

[19] Isaiah 9:7 NLT.

[20] Luke 1:32 NLT.

[21] Matthew 24:3, 27, 37, 39; 1 Corinthians 15:23; 16:17; 2 Corinthians 7:6f; 10:10; Philippians 1:26; 2:12; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:1, 8f; James 5:7f; 2 Peter 1:16; 3:4, 12; 1 John 2:28.

[22] Thessalonians 2:8; 1 Timothy 6:14; 2 Timothy 1:10; 4:1, 8; Titus 2:13.

[23] Micah 5:2.

[24] Luke 2:4-5.

[25] Luke 2:7.

[26] Matthew 2:13.

[27] Matthew 2:14-15.

[28] Jeremiah 31:15; Matthew 2:16-18.

[29] Malachi 3:1.

[30] Luke 7:27.

[31] Psalm 2:7.

[32] Matthew 3:16-17 NLT.

[33] Isaiah 9:1-2; Matthew4:13-16.

[34] Isaiah 53:4; Matthew 8:16-17.

[35] Isaiah 61:1-2; Luke 4:18-21.

[36] Psalm 78:2; Isaiah 6:9-10; John 16:25; Mark 4:11.

[37] Psalm 69:9; Mark 11:15-17.

[38] Matthew 24:30 ESV.

[39] Mark 14:62 ESV.

[40] 2 Peter 1:16 ESV.

[41] John 5:28 NIV.

[42] John 11:25.

[43] Revelation 12:10-12.

[44] Revelation 20:2.

[45] Revelation 20:10, 14.

[46] Psalm 2:1-2 NIV.

[47] Luke 22:2 NLT.

[48] Psalm 41:9; Luke 22:47-48.

[49] Psalm 22:7-8; Luke 23:35; Isaiah 53:12; Mark 15:27.

[50] Psalm 16:10-11 NLT.

[51] Psalm 68:18; Mark 16:19.

[52] Revelation 19;16.

[53] Ephesians 1:21; 2:9.

[54] Revelation 11:15 ESV.

[55] 2 Timothy 1:10.

[56] 1 Corinthians 15:53-54.

[57] Revelation 22:20 ESV.