A good friend and I were discussing the unique events taking place around the world, and that many people believe Jesus will return soon. He said that in every generation there have been people who believed Jesus was about to return. I’m sure that’s true, but it’s also true that one day there will be the generation that does experience the return of the Lord. I wouldn’t want to be part of that generation and not realize that His coming is “right at the door” 1.
It’s easy to hear a fair amount of hysteria today; people fixating on dire events that they insist are looming and viewing you as deceived if you don’t share in their anxiety. On one hand, I don’t want to get caught up in sensationalism. But on the other hand, I certainly don’t want to be one who mocks the idea of Jesus returning.
“Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:3-4 NASB)
The Emphasis Of Scripture Reveals God’s Priorities
The return of Jesus is a mighty big deal to God, and this is expressed extensively throughout the Bible. Even before Jesus came the first time, Old Testament scripture was declaring and expounding on His second coming. The return of Jesus is the climax of all that God has been doing down through the ages. God’s plan of salvation and redemption is moving towards completion and fulfillment on that day.
Scriptures referring to the day of Jesus’ return:
- the coming of the Son of Man (Matt 24:37)
- the Son of Man in His day (Luke 17:24)
- the day of the Son of Man ([Luke 17:30)
- the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 1:8)
- the day of the Lord (1 Cor 5:5, 1 Thess 5:2)
- the day of the Lord Jesus (2 Cor 1:14, 2 Thess 2:2)
- the day of Jesus Christ (Phil 1:6)
- the day of Christ (Phil 1:10, 2:16)
- the day of his coming (Mal 3:2)
- The great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast (Zeph 1:14)
- the great and awesome day of the LORD (Joel 2:31)
- each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it (1 Cor 3:13)
These are just a few of the numerous verses that refer to the second coming of Jesus. This is such a prevailing theme in the Bible that the last verse simply refers to it as “the Day”.
Longing For His Return
The Bible commends and encourages longing and expectation for the return of Christ.
“so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:28 ESV)
“…you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 ESV)
“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20 ESV)
“He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!“(Revelation 22:20 ESV)
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:11-13 ESV)
This “waiting” is not passive inactivity. It means having an attitude of conviction and expectation. We should be “eagerly waiting for Him”. This is far different from an intellectual assessment to determine whether or not this is the correct time for Jesus to return. The Bible encourages an attitude of longing and anticipation. From a personal perspective, looking for the return of Jesus indicates we are living in the reality that this world is not our home 2, that our citizenship is in heaven and we long to be home with the Lord 3. We yearn for that face-to-face 4, eternal relationship with the Lord; to be with Him in all His goodness, glory, and splendor. From a Christ-focused perspective, longing for the return of Jesus shows that above everything else we want to see Jesus honored and God’s purposes fulfilled, to see God’s justice prevail, His enemies defeated 5, and for Jesus to take His rightful place as the glorious King reigning over God’s eternal kingdom.
Looking for the return of Jesus is much more than just thinking an event is about to take place. Longing for his return is about having right values and priorities. It’s an attitude of the heart that will have a profound effect on how we live right now. Scripture connects godly living with waiting for the return of the Lord 6.
Being Cautious With What We Know
Many believers are presently stirred about the coming of the Lord and want to know where we stand in relation to what the Bible says about the end times. This is a reasonable desire, both logically and spiritually. However, as we try to figure out where we stand in relation to Biblical prophecy and promises, we should consider the following scriptures.
“For we know in part and we prophesy in part,12 For now we see in a mirror dimly…” (1 Corinthians 13:9, 12 ESV)
God addresses things in His word because He wants us to know and to understand. But this verse establishes an important principle, saying that “we know in part” and we see “dimly”. It adds that even when we prophesy, which is to speak by the Spirit of God, we are still operating with partial understanding. Please consider this truth carefully; at best we are still operating with partial understanding. In application, this means we should be cautious with our convictions and also with the convictions of others.
The main reason we have partial knowledge is that we just aren’t that smart. But we also have partial knowledge by God’s design. Although He gives us important, insightful information, He gives it in fragments and glimpses, and it seems impossible to put it all together in a perfect little package. I believe God does this because He doesn’t want us to follow a plan. He wants us to follow Him. Too much information tempts us to act independently. A good dose of uncertainty promotes a healthy focus and dependence on the Lord. And we need to be genuinely comfortable with this.
Insight From Jesus About His Return
Even though many believers today have a sense that the return of Jesus is drawing near, I suspect that most have little insight into how this will play out, they just believe Jesus is coming soon. When Jesus’ disciples asked, “what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” 7 His response contains some of the most helpful and applicable insight contained in the scriptures.
“And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. 9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. 10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:6-14 ESV)
Let’s focus on some of the key points that Jesus made in this passage.
- “See that you are not alarmed” – We have no control over any of these events, and Jesus said they must take place. What Jesus expects us to control is our emotions; to choose faith, trust, and obedience, and not give in to fear and anxiety.
- “the end is not yet” – Just because catastrophic things are going on in the world does not mean Jesus is coming at any moment. History is filled with catastrophic events. Rather than focusing on world events, we need to focus on what God has promised to accomplish and where we stand in relation to its fulfillment. We need to make a distinction between what is unfolding in the world and what is unfolding in the church.
- “All these are but the beginning of the birth pains”– Not only are these events not the end, it’s but the beginning, the beginning of birth pains. This is maybe the most important phrase in this passage. The phrase birth pains, conveys something that’s painful and difficult but brings about something wonderful. Part of this passage talks about great persecution, and Jesus is saying that something wonderful will come out of this time of severe trial and testing.
- “they willdeliver you up to tribulation and put you to death… you will be hated by all nations” – Throughout history, there has been scattered persecution of true believers. But Jesus said that one of the signs of his coming and the end of the age would be world-wide hatred and persecution of those who bear His name.
- “many will fall away… the love of many will grow cold” – What a sobering warning from Jesus. He warns of a time of persecution and lawlessness that will cause many to fall away. Many will not have what it takes to stay faithful to the Lord through this time.
- “the one who endures to the end will be saved” – Although many will fall away, some will endure to the end. This remnant will come through a time of great testing and will prove to be steadfast and true to the Lord.
- “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world” – This isn’t a personal salvation message. It’s a proclamation of the full message of the kingdom of God.
- “then the end will come” – This is very important. The end does not come until God has fulfilled His plans and His purposes.
Putting The Parts Together
In the passage above, Jesus shared important insight into “the sign of His coming and of the end of the age”. I don’t believe the things He shared are just random unconnected events. I think they should be interpreted as sequential events unfolding in a linear fashion
Jesus talks about catastrophic events that will be taking place and tells us not to be alarmed. He gives believers the responsibility not to be fearful. He says these things must take place, but the end is not yet. I see a lot of Americans who are angry and fearful. They say they love their country and are afraid of where things are going. But I suspect what they love is their comfortable, affluent lifestyle, and they are afraid that it will be taken from them. If we focus on our life, with a sense of self-preservation 8, then we are opening the door to fear. If we look to the United States, or any country, to provide us peace and security, then we are opening the door to fear.
“At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,” (Hebrews 12:26-28 ESV)
God shaking things that can be shaken is not a demonstration of His wrath but rather a demonstration of His mercy. He is trying to reveal to us where we are trusting in what is not trustworthy, and to draw us into His kingdom that is eternal, unchanging, and cannot be shaken. If we truly understand the Biblical message of the kingdom of God, we can move forward through anything with complete confidence. If we don’t, we will likely be overcome with fear and uncertainty.
Jesus said there will be a time of severe persecution and lawlessness that causes many to fall away; they will not be prepared to stay faithful to the Lord through this time of testing. I believe this is the next great church event. It’s hard to understand how this statement by Jesus doesn’t command the utmost attention of church leaders. This should merit urgent warnings to help people correctly assess and prepare for severe testing. But for the most part, it seems to be ignored in favor of more pleasant topics. Even if I’m wrong about how close this time of tribulation is, how can we go wrong by preparing believers to endure tribulation 9.
Jesus said those who endure to the end will be saved. Endurance is more than just being tough. Having vision that is grounded in God’s promises is vital to endurance. Scripture says that Jesus, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross 10. Even Jesus needed to see what was being accomplished through His suffering. When elaborating on the times of testing that are coming on the earth, Jesus said “All these are but the beginning of the birth pains”. Birth pains are painful and difficult, but in the end, they bring about something truly wonderful. The glorious church spoken of in scripture 11, is the wonderful thing that comes out of this time of tribulation. Although it’s tragic that many will fall away, the remaining remnant will be a people that have chosen devotion to Christ over everything else; have chosen His purposes over their own; and have surrendered their lives to Him even if it means their death.
“For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17 ESV)
God will have a glorious church that has gone through the purifying fires of persecution and emerged as the body of Christ that has grown up in every way to Christ, who is the head 12. Notice how Jesus connects this enduring remnant with proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom to the world.
“But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world…“
The word kingdom means a king’s dominion. The gospel of the kingdom is a Christ-centered message that proclaims God’s authority and rule, and that we are invited to come under His authority and care. This is quite different from a personal salvation gospel that is focused on people and their needs. Man’s greatest need is met when God is elevated to His rightful place.
“And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” 16 So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped. “(Revelation 14:15-16 ESV)
The glorious church proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom will bring about the final reaping of the earth. All who are going to be saved will be saved. Everyone else has chosen to be an enemy of God and will come under His wrath 13.
And then the end will come.
For Your Consideration
I believe much of the scripture we have looked at is fairly straightforward in what it has to say. But now I want to offer some thoughts for you to consider.
The world seems to be in lockstep like never before. Events in one country create seemingly instantaneous ripple effects around the world. There is a controversial pandemic that is causing a level of contention that seems at least as dangerous as the virus itself; ongoing and escalating social unrest; and an economy that seems to be teetering on the brink of collapse. I have a sense of a powder keg that simply needs a spark to explode. And I suspect that something in the near future will provide the spark that will send us into a period of world-wide turmoil and chaos.
History reveals that dictators rise to power during turmoil and chaos. Perhaps the time of tribulation for the church will coincide with a time of world-wide anarchy, and out of this period the antichrist will rise to power. The antichrist (or beast 14) will not gain control over the world by force. Scripture says he will be worshipped and admired 15. The world will gladly embrace someone who has answers and solutions to anarchy and chaos.
As I said before, it’s important to make a distinction between what’s going on in the world and what’s going on in God’s church. We need to see things with the understanding that godliness and ungodliness are both moving towards their conclusion. Godliness will grow and mature to its completion in the glorious church, the Bride of Christ. Likewise, ungodliness will grow and mature to its completion under the world-wide rule of the antichrist. Is it possible that there is one dramatic period that moves both towards their ultimate conclusion?
Behold, I Am Coming Soon (Rev 22:12)
Some people think it’s overreacting to believe that soon there will be a great falling away, that the antichrist will be coming into power, and that Jesus will return. However, I think it’s wise to seriously consider that these things could be happening soon. After all, these are real events described in the Bible, and there will be a time when all these things are fulfilled. It would be tragic to be living in that time and not be prepared.
I also think it’s wise to understand that Jesus coming soon, doesn’t mean that He just shows up next week. We should think of His coming as something that unfolds. There are events leading up to His return that will probably play out over several years. Looking at it this way is not the same as what Peter warned about. He said there will be those who mock His coming, saying that “all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation” 16. I believe Jesus’ return is soon, but still probably several years away. However, these years will not be life just continuing as it always has.
The time of persecution that leads to a great falling away, and also to a glorious church, will likely play out over several years.
The ministry of the glorious church proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom to the world will likely play out over several years.
There could be a time of anarchy and chaos that prepares the world to receive the antichrist, it would likely play out over several years.
Jesus talked about the beginning of birth pains. This phrase conveys something that plays out over time. An interesting thing about birth pains is that they usually begin rather erratically, and even women who have had several children can have a hard time telling if it’s the real thing. While you probably shouldn’t charge off to the hospital at the first twinge of a contraction, it would be wise to pack your bags and be mentally prepared to go. But eventually there comes a point when the contractions are steady and strong, and there’s no doubt that labor is fully under way. While this is a difficult time, we can draw strength and encouragement that something wonderful is drawing near.
Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:28 ESV)
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- (Matthew 24:33 NASB) so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door.
- (John 12:25 ESV) Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
- (2 Corinthians 5:6 ESV) We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.
- (Revelation 22:4 ESV) They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.
- (Hebrews 10:12-13 ESV) But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.
- (Titus 2:11-13 ESV) For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. – (2 Peter 3:10-11 ESV) But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness,
- (Matthew 24:3 ESV) As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
- (Luke 17:33 ESV) Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.
- (2 Timothy 3:12 ESV) Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,
- (Hebrews 12:2 ESV) looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
- (Ephesians 5:26-27 NKJV) that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.
- (Ephesians 4:15 ESV) Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,
- (Revelation 14:17-19 ESV) Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18And another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over the fire, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” 19 So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.
- (Revelation 13:5 ESV) And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months.
- (Revelation 13:4 ESV) And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”
- (2 Peter 3:4 ESV) They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”