The Two Aspects of Jesus’ Coming

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In this post, I will be addressing eschatology from the doctrinal context of two stages of Christ’s second coming: rapture of the saints and the return of Christ to earth.

There are three major eschatological positions adhered to by various Christian denominations which determine what details they believe about the second coming of Jesus Christ. These are:

Amillennialism

This is the prevalent eschatology among Lutherans, Anglicans, Calvinists, Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, the Amish and some Messianic Jews. It posits that there will not be a literal thousand-year reign of Christ on earth. They affirm that we are currently in the 1000 years mentioned in Revelation 20.

Amillennialists do not deny the literal return of Christ, but they believe the kingdom of God is the present church age; Satan is currently bound and there would be no future intervening millennium before the new earth.

To them, the second coming of Christ is a single event, thus it cannot be termed “imminent” (i.e. Christ can come at any moment). [1]

Postmillennialism

Postmillennialism was a dominant theological belief among American Protestants who promoted reform movements in the 19th and 20th century such as abolitionism and reconstructionism.

It may be defined as “that view of the last things which holds that the Kingdom of God is now being extended in the world through the preaching of the Gospel and the saving work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of individuals, that the world would eventually be Christianized, and that the return of Christ is to occur at the close of a long period of righteousness and peace commonly called the ‘Millennium.’ ” [2]

Premillennialism

This means that Christ will return to establish His earthly reign of one thousand years. There are, however, two distinct forms of premillennialism, one known as “historic” premillennialism (or nondispensational premillennialism), while the other is known as dispensational premillennialism. [3]

It’s in premillennialism that you have pretribulationism. This is the doctrine that the church will escape the great tribulation through the rapture.

Many non-pretribulationists (amillennialists, postmillennialists and posttribulationists) totally reject the idea of the rapture of believers. This point of difference has been a bone of contention between many a Christian.

It has gotten so bad that Christians who are premillennial or pretribulationists are unfairly labelled as vile heretics and often ostracized. I have personally been blocked – not merely removed – from several Christian Facebook groups on this basis. Yet, most of these group admins would readily accept non-Christians as members.

I must also add that I’ve observed this sort of “circle the bunkers” approach to be quite prevalent among American Christians. Most groups managed by Christians from other continents seem to be more tolerable of diverging eschatological details.

But I believe what should be the unifying factor is the belief in the return of Christ. John Feinberg has demonstrated that one must first examine the basic Bible passages about the rapture and the return of Christ and then look at secondary issues in the light of the primary passages. [4]

Distinguishing Carefully

There are certain similarities between the rapture passages and the second coming passages, since they both refer to future events relating to our Lord’s return. But similarity does not mean they are referring to the same event.

There are enough substantial differences between the two aspects of Christ’s coming so as to render them as two separate and distinct events.

The distinction between these two phases of the second coming is substantiated by the contrast between those passages that refer to our Lord’s coming for His church and those referring to His coming to judge the unbelieving world.

Pretribulationists merely need to prove that the dissimilarities between rapture passages and the return passages are significant enough to indicate that they are separate events.

Thomas Ice provided the following list to identify those distinctions.

Rapture Passages:

John 14:1-3, Romans 8:19, 1 Cor. 1:7-8; 15:51-53; 16:22, Phil. 3:20-21, Col. 3:4, 1 Thess. 1:10; 2:19, 4:13-18; 5:9, 5:23; 2 Thess. 2:1, 1 Tim. 6:14; 2 Tim. 4:1, Titus 2:13, Hebrews 9:28, James 5:7-9, 1 Peter 1:7, 13, 1 John 2:28-3:2, Revelation 3:10.

Second Coming Passages:

Daniel 2:44-45, 7:9-14, 12:1-3, Zech. 14:1-15, Matt. 13:41, 24:15-31, 26:64, Mark 13:14-27; 14:62, Luke 21:25-28; Acts 1:9-11, 3:19-21, 1 Thess. 3:13, 2 Thess. 1:6-10, 2:8, 2 Peter 3:1-14, Jude 14-15, Revelation 1:7, 19:11-20:6, 22:.7, 12.

Ice comments that the rapture is characterized in the New Testament as a “translation coming,” in which Christ comes for His church, taking her to His Father’s house. Here He claims her as His bride and the marriage supper of the Lamb begins.

Whatever view one holds in regard to our Lord’s return, one thing is clear in prophetic Scripture. The marriage occurs in heaven (Rev. 19:7-9) before the triumphal return of Christ with His redeemed church at His side (Rev. 19:11-16). [5]

The return of Christ is a series of events fulfilling all end-time prophecies. These include predictions of His coming for His church and His coming with His church.

Pretribulationists divide the return of Christ in two main phases: the rapture of the church and the second coming of Christ.

In the first aspect, our Lord comes to take His own (the living and the dead) to be with Him. In the second aspect, He returns with His resurrected and raptured saints to win the battle of Armageddon and to establish His kingdom on earth (Revelation 5:10, “and we shall reign on the earth”).

Pretribulationists place the seven-year tribulation period between the rapture and the return. This allows for the proper fulfillment of Daniel’s “seventieth week,” and it clearly separates the rapture from the return.

It is vital to substantiate the adequate dissimilarities between the events of the rapture and events associated with the return.

1. At the rapture, Christ comes FOR His own (e.g John 14:3) while at His return, He comes WITH his own

2. At rapture, He comes in the air (1 Thess. 4:17). At His return, He comes to the earth (Zech. 14:4)

3. At rapture, there is removal of believers (1 Thess. 4:17). At His return, Christ is manifested (Mal. 4:2)

4. At the rapture, ONLY His own see Him (1 Thess. 4:13-18). At His return EVERY EYE shall see Him (Rev. 1:7)

5. After rapture, the Great Tribulation begins (2 Thess. 1:6-9). After His return, the Millennial Kingdom begins (Rev. 20:1-7)

6. At the rapture, the saved are delivered from wrath (1 Thess 1:10). At His return, the unsaved experience the wrath of God (Rev. 6:12-17).

7. No signs precede the rapture (1 Thess. 5:1-3) whereas signs precede the second coming (Luke 21:11, 15)

8. The focus of the rapture is on the Lord and church (1 Thess. 4:13-18). The focus of His return is on Israel and the Kingdom (Matt. 24:14)

9. After rapture, the world is deceived (2 Thess. 2:3-12). At His return, Satan is bound (Rev. 20:1-2)

The church’s hope is the rapture. She awaits the Savior who is coming for His bride. The church may endure persecution, trouble, and difficulty in this present time. But she is not the object of divine wrath.

The church does not await destruction as the world does. Rather, she awaits the coming of her Lord and King. Peter explains that the present world is “reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (2 Pet. 3:7).

The Bible pictures the church as the wife of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-9). She is not the object of the wrath of the Lamb. Jesus will not beat her up and then marry her! Or marry her, then beat her up! He may discipline her in love. But His ultimate purpose is to present her to the Father as His perfect bride. [6]

The biblical terms used to express rapture are “caught up” (Greek: harpazō) and “gathered together” (Great: episunagōgēs). Greek scholars observe that harpazō is the same verb used of Paul (“whether it was in the body or out of the body,” 2 Cor. 12:2-4 NOV); Philip (the Spirit… suddenly took Philip away,” Acts 8:39 NIV); and the man child (“snatched up to God”). This term was also used by Christ in John 10:28-29 where He promised that no one can “snatch” His own out of His hand. [7]

Therefore, the rapture is the time when Christ will “snatch” His people out of the earth and we will be “gathered together” with the Lord (2 Thess. 2:1). The basic meaning is to “assemble together.” The rapture church is pictured as the great “assembly” in the sky. As Milligan explains it:

“The word goes back to the saying of the Lord I Mark 13:27 (“gather His elect”), and is found elsewhere in the New Testament only in Hebrews 10:25, where it is applied to the ordinary religious assembling of believers as an anticipation of tge great assembling at the Lord’s coming.” [8]

The rapture (or “translation”) of the church is often paralleled to the “raptures” of Enoch (Genesis 5:24) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:12). In each case, the individual disappeared or was caught up into heaven. At His ascension, our Lord Himself was “taken up” into heaven (Acts 1:9).

Indeed, there is a rapture and there is the second coming of Christ and a millennial reign of Christ on earth. There’s no justification for spiritualizing Revelation 20 any more than Genesis 1 or John 20.

Notes

[1] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1941, pp. 696-703.

[2] Loraine Boettner, The Millennium, Reformed Press, 1966, p. 14.

[3] Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, Moody Press, Chicago, 2008, p. 409.

[4] John Feinberg, “Arguing for the Rapture,” in Pre-Trib Answers to Post-Trib Questions (August-September 1994, p. 2.

[5] Thomas Ice, “Why the Rapture and Second Coming are Distinct Events,” in Pre-Trib Answers to Post-Trib Questions, pp. 2-3.

[6] Earth’s Final Hour, Ed Hindson, Evangel Publication, 1999, pp. 112-116.

[7] C. F. Hogg and W. E. Vine, The Epistles to the Thessalonians, London: Exeter Press, 1929, p. 144.

[8] George Milligan, St. Paul’s Epistles to the Thessalonians, NY: Revell, 1908, vol. 2, p. 96.

A Balanced View of the End Times

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Some months before year 2000, different “prophets” rushed to the media to declare: “Jesus’ return is near, the world is going to end in Y2K!”

Bill Gates of Microsoft – the richest man at the time – was fingered as the antichrist. The Internet was linked with the Greek word for “image” of the Beast.

Then we had The Omega Code movies distorting the Bible to fit into the political scene.

Prophecy pundits jumped on the band wagon, linking almost every modern technology with end time prophecies.

Digital images, satellite transmissions, implanted computer chips and credit cards were labelled as the “tools of the beast.” The Y2K came and passed and the hype waned.

What many of those promoting the end-of-the-world doomsday messages didn’t realize was that, due to an old calendar error, we had actually entered Y2K few years prior.

Fast forward eleven years. Harold Camping came on the scene for the second time, to predict Jesus’ return on May 21, 2011. Many Christians believed it and the hysteria was re-ignited.

A year later, Obamacare and the microchip issue erupted again in the media. Some Nigerian “Christian” tabloids began to sell altered pictures of Obama wearing the horns of a beast, with Christians swallowing both the sense and nonsense on these pages.

In 2015, we heard the same old scream: “The blood moon is a sign of Jesus’ coming!”

Why do many Christians keep getting caught up in these wild-eyed, last days prophetic speculations? The reason is: there is a kind of “excitement” that comes with it.

There is a heady feeling that an “expert” has when the masses look up to him/her to hear the “latest, end-time mysteries” – which they believe no one else is yet to figure out.

From there, he sees himself as the only one who has access to God’s secrets and his followers feel the need to isolate themselves from all other Christians in order to renew the zeal and faith which other Christians lack. This is how spiritual deception kicks in.

History shows us that date-setting and end-time speculations were the foundations of most cults.

William Miller and the Adventists predicted the return of Christ in 1843 (later changed to 1844). Charles Russell, the founder of the Jehovah’s Witness predicted the return of Christ to establish His kingdom in 1914.

Herbert Armstrong of the Worldwide Church of God predicted Christ’s return in 1972.

Elizabeth Clare Prophet, a New Age leader, predicted the Battle of Armageddon in 1990.

Mary Relfe, a self-proclaimed prophet, indicated Jesus’ return before 1990.

Lee Jang Rim of South Korean’s Dami Missionary Church also predicted the rapture would take place on October 28, 1992.

In 1997, the 39 members of the Heaven’s Gate cult committed mass suicide because their leader (Marshall Applewhite) told them this would qualify them for rapture via a comet.

Cults draw their strengths from end-of-the-world panic. Through it, they gain blind obedience and foster isolation. Even within the Christian church, excessive prophetic speculations about the last days can discourage a genuine study of Bible prophecy.

For instance, different personalities have been fingered as the future antichrist at different times – Kaiser, Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Kennedy, Reagan, Prince Charles, Obama and the Catholic pope.

Yet, as any serious Bible student agrees, the identity of the antichrist cannot be revealed until after the rapture, when the church is removed and its restraining influence is gone (2Thess. 2:7-12).

A Christian’s obsession with the identity of the antichrist or the mark of the beast not only generates panic, but also alters his focus, such that rather than spreading the Gospel of Christ and contending for the faith, he gets caught up with tabloid sensationalism, conspiracy theories and “bible codes.”

Some folks get so much wrapped up that they hardly read their Bibles outside the book of Daniel and Revelation, and they start to develop a cult-like disposition to reality.

There was a man who used to teach on a TV programme several years ago that all those who have a Yahoo account have received the mark of the beast because “Yahoo” means “beast,” so they will burn in hell. Little wonder that programme went down the drain after a while.

Suggesting or setting dates for Jesus’ return is contrary to Scripture (Matt 24:36). It is this ploy that leads some Christians to stop believing in Bible prophecy altogether.

Everything Jesus listed in Matthew 24 – wars, famine and earthquakes – are to be expected throughout the Church Age until He returns. They do not necessarily prove the end has come.

When preachers say things like “In 7 years’ time, it will be over,” they are speculating, not preaching. No one knows how long we have until Jesus comes.

All the speculations people have made up about dates for Jesus’ return are bound to fade into the sands of time like the others.

Dr. Daniel Mitchell aptly stated that: “Speculating on the date of Christ’s return not only breeds bad theology, but it is the original sin all over again – trying to know as much as God.”

As Christians, how can we avoid falling into this extremism?

1. Interpret current events in light of the Bible prophecy, not Bible prophecy in light of current events.

Randall Price wrote: “This ‘common sense’ principle is a necessary corrective to discourage what has been called ‘newspaper exegesis,’ or interpreting the biblical stories based on stories that appear in the media” (World of the Bible News and Views, 1999, 1)

There is a difference between general prophecies and specific events. General prophetic themes about the last days are: increase in wickedness (Matt. 24:12); rise of false prophets (Matt. 24:4, 24); the return of Israel to their land (Ezk 20:34); the development of a global economy (Rev. 13:16-17); the formation of a world government (Rev. 17:15-18) and a false sense of peace and security (1Thess. 5:2-3).

Specific events, like the Internet, bank codes, credit cards, microchips or epidemics are not directly related to Biblical prophecies.

Time will tell if these things have anything to do with the fulfilment of future events. It may later turn out that the Bible was referring to something else (as the mark of the beast, for instance).

As time goes on and world leaders change, some Bible passages that seem to link with a person or event today will turn out to be different. In the meantime, we need to be careful not to make too many assumptions based on our limited perspectives.

2. Most of the end time prophetic passages revolve around the people and nation of Israel.

For example, the great tribulation (Matt. 24:22), the rise of the antichrist (2Thess 2:3-8), the signing of a peace treaty (Daniel 9:25-27), the invasion of Israel by Gentile forces (Zech. 14:12-13), and the battle of Armageddon (Rev 16:16) – are all related to Israel – and will not take place until the end of the Church Age.

Some have used the crises in the Middle East to speculate that the end is a few years away, but this in itself doesn’t prove the end is near, because Israel has not yet regained its original biblical borders (David’s kingdom included what today exists as Jordan and Syria) and the rebuilding of the temple has not begun.

These key events are yet to happen (2Thess. 2:4). So, we can’t set dates based on current political situations.

3. Check your use of Bible texts.

Some Christians just grab a Bible verse, tie it with a current event and run off with it to create a hype, when the text doesn’t provide enough data to warrant such a conclusion.

In the book, The Islamic Antichrist, the author, riding on the wings of current Islamic resurgence, attempts to prove that the antichrist will be a Muslim.

The problem is that the proof texts he offered have to be astutely wrenched from their contexts to arrive at that conclusion. For example, the description of the antichrist in Daniel 11:36 doesn’t fit that of a Muslim.

A similar error is seen in The Four Horsemen by Alberto Rivera. He claimed that the pope is the antichrist and the Jesuit general is his “false prophet.” But these suggestions are incorrect for the fact that there is no final one world religion which will be dominated by the false prophet yet.

There are still many questions that remain unanswered at this time. Speculations occur when people attempt to view the future with the eyes of the present.

4. Distinguish between the last days of the church and the last days of Israel.

There are some prophecies about the last days of the church: its growth (Mt. 16:18); the gospel being proclaimed to the ends of the earth (Mt. 24:14) and the eventual rapture of the church into heaven (1Thess. 4:16-17).

The major end time prophecies apply to Israel. We must consider these distinctions in interpreting Bible prophecies. What applies to the last days of Israel does not apply to the last days of the church.

Only the Bible gives a clear understanding of the future and it’s all there for all to read and learn. You don’t need to pluck down some money to buy “secret mysteries of the Last Days” DVD or Bible code books.

Why run around with guesswork and suggestions, when the Lord has given us what we need to know in His Word?

We are not to get tossed to and fro with the hypes but “stand firm” and hold to the teachings of Scripture (2Thess. 2:17). We are to watch, stay ready and keep serving until He comes.