When will Jesus return?
At the turn of the new millennium many people predict the return of Jesus Christ to the earth. Even gossip rags in the grocery store proclaim in bold type “Jesus will return in 2000”. What should we make of these claims? And more important than what we think, what does the Bible say about it? Is the return of Jesus near? Can we know? Many people point out that Christians for centuries have believed Jesus would return in their lives — and all died. Does a Christian today really have the truth when they say Jesus will return in their lifetimes? Isn’t that presumptuous on our part?
Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder), that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior, knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation. (2 Peter 3:1-4 NKJV)
The first part of this issue is simple: just the fact that people are doubting the return of Jesus is a sign to us it is near! But the real issue for most Christians can be summed up in the following e-mail I recently received regarding the return of Jesus.
They were claiming that back in Jesus’ day too, how can we know He’s coming in our time? That’s what we say for ourselves, it’s only OUR estimations and calculations, maybe those folks back then had their reasons too … how can we claim it [the soon return of Jesus]?
First, let’s dismiss a common problem: Nobody knows exactly when Jesus will return. Anyone who sets a date or time is displaying their lack of knowledge about the Bible. The Bible clearly states no one knows the exact day (Matthew 24:36, 25:13, Mark 13:32, etc). So if you’re expecting dates and times from this article, don’t waste your time: none will appear.
As already mentioned no one knows when Jesus will return. But some people go to the opposite extreme and say since we don’t know, it shouldn’t matter to us — we can do what we want, since His return is far off. But this is wrong, and the Bible does have much to say about that attitude. In Luke 19 during Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday), He stopped and wept over the city. Why? Because He knew that these same people, who today were crowning Him as the Messiah, would in a few days be yelling “crucify Him — we have no king but Caesar”? No. He wept over the city because “if you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace!” — Jesus expected them to know when He would arrive.
When it is evening you say, ’It will be fair weather, for the sky is red’; and in the morning, ’It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times. (Matthew 16:2-3 NKJV)
So let’s look at a few ideas in the Bible speaking about end times. Along the way, we’ll learn a valuable lesson about how to approach the Bible.
Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. (Matthew 24:11-12 NKJV)
What characterizes our society today? Deceit. The more digging you do, the more you find out how you have been lied to — our society promotes deceit (try buying a car). For those of you who doubt that statement, just consider the farce of evolution. Evolution isn’t credible science. Yet today our kids are brainwashed that we came from monkeys. “From the goo to the zoo to you” as Doctor Mark Eastman says.
But notice the statement the love of many will grow cold — love is agape. And in the Church today we see a lack of genuine love. We have “user friendly” churches not speaking the truth for fear of offending someone. If you see someone doing something that is harmful to them, and will kill them (read that send them to eternal damnation), yet refuse to say something, is that love? Yet the Church today is afraid to take a stand against sin and for the Bible and Jesus, because that’s not a popular message. The love of the Church is growing cold. As a result, countless people are trusting in a counterfeit gospel that cannot save them. Deceiving people such that they suffer eternal damnation as a result (all in the name of church attendance) is not only a lack of love, it’s a serious transgression some pastors will have to answer for at the throne of God.
Let’s also look at what Paul has to say about signs of the end times in his second letter to Timothy, chapter three.
“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come”. Paul speaks about the last days before the return of Jesus, giving a list of signs that will accompany the end days. The first is perilous times will come. Can crime get much worse these days? As people today put bars on their doors and windows, and are afraid to go out at night, we definitely live in perilous times. But that’s just the domestic scene. On the world scene we have the proliferation of nuclear and biological weapons, unstable economies, and a steady erosion of personal integrity, truth, and justice (and the American way). Perilous times indeed.
“For men will be lovers of themselves”. Anyone who has been to the grocery store knows this one. All the magazine rack speaks about is yourself. Ignore everyone else and look out for number one. This is also the idea behind advertising — after all, you deserve a break today.
“lovers of money” Fox network launched a new show called the “Tower of Greed”. Enough said.
“boasters, proud, blasphemers” - We’re number one.
“disobedient to parents” It’s interesting this is a sign of the end.
“unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power.”
So in general our society is exactly what Paul said it would be in the last days. Can it get worse? Probably. But let’s move on to specific ideas presented in the Bible about the last days. One of the exciting benefits about studying the end times is learning a valuable lesson about the Bible — we must take it seriously. Some of the following passages have mystified Christians in previous years, simply because they didn’t understand it; they try and find analogies and other methods by which to explain it. But by saying “what does it mean when it says 1/3 of the people die” we miss an important point: The Bible says what it means and means what it says. Analogies and other figures of speech are sometimes used, but problems are caused in Bible interpretation not because we don’t understand what the Bible says, but because we DO understand it, and just can’t explain it (or accept it). Take the Bible seriously and you won’t have this problem.
Let’s start off with a fun one from Zechariah.
And this shall be the plague with which the LORD will strike all the people who fought against Jerusalem: Their flesh shall dissolve while they stand on their feet, Their eyes shall dissolve in their sockets, And their tongues shall dissolve in their mouths. (Zechariah 14:12)
Sounds like a neutron bomb, doesn’t it? This is recent technology — in the past people would try and figure out what these verses meant — after all, it’s hard to picture people’s flesh just dissolving while they stand on their feet. But today we know it means exactly what it says. While it’s true it could be something else besides a neutron bomb, we have the ability to see this in its literal fulfillment. See how easy this is if you take your Bible seriously? Let’s try another. Jesus speaking in Matthew chapter 24 says:
And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened. (Matthew 24:22 NKJV)
This was absurd with the swords, muskets, and cannon weaponry of ago. Many didn’t believe this could be true until the 1940’s, when with the invention of atomic weapons we could see how man could literally exterminate everything on this planet.
The Bible also speaks of Israel being back in the land again (Isaiah 11:11-16, Ezekiel 34:11-16). This is old news. Since May 1948, Israel is back in the land again — another time to take your Bible seriously. Many were wondering what does it mean when it says Israel will be back in the land? Simple. It means Israel will be back in the land again.
And it’s always fun to look at Revelation chapter 13.
He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. (Revelation 13:16-17 NKJV)
We don’t want to deflect off the issue and start analyzing who the antichrist is, but tracking the world’s economy wasn’t possible until the computer age. How can you control the entire world’s buying and selling? It takes quite a computer database to accomplish that.
So the question is, if we see we are in the last days, what is the next event? The rapture of the church. This is another area in which to take your Bible seriously — it means what it says and says what it means. But let’s allow quantum physicist apostle Paul to explain to us the rapture:
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall 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 incorruptible, and we shall be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:50-52 NKJV)
This verse is commonly misunderstood by people who claim a post or mid tribulation rapture for the church. After all, Paul says “at the last trumpet” — and we see seven trumpet judgements in the book of Revelation, therefore, the rapture happens after those. But anyone who has been to school knows what Paul means. When you go to school, a bell rings to notify you when you need to be in class, and you have to be in class before the last bell rings. But how many “last bells” are there? Once for each class — every day. It doesn’t mean no bells sound ever again, but that it’s the last call for the class — after that you are tardy. That’s what Paul means here — it’s the last call for the church — and you don’t want to miss this tardy bell!
But let’s dive into the physics of what Paul speaks of. Some people like to question how fast the rapture occurs. Paul says “in the twinkling of an eye” — and some people have timed how fast that occurs, and say the rapture happens in a thousandth of a second or so. But the phrase “in the twinkling of an eye” is really a modifier of Paul’s first statement — “we shall all be changed in a moment” — and that statement tells us exactly how fast the rapture occurs. In the Greek, the word for moment is atomos or atom. Big deal. It is if you understand physics and the nature of time. If you look in Strong’s concordance, he defines atom as “indivisible (an ’atom’ of time): — moment” (Strongs definition G823). The Greeks called atoms atoms because they felt it was the smallest thing possible; you could not divide it. It turns out time also has a smallest unit; beyond it you can’t get any smaller. You would think you could take a second and cut it in half, then half again, etc infinitely. But you can’t. When you get to a unit of time at 10-43 seconds, you can’t divide it anymore. This is called the Planck time. So when Paul says we will be changed in an atom of time he means 10-43 seconds! That’s fast. To imagine how this happens, imagine a film, and instead of 16 frames per second, you have 1043 frames per second. Now imagine you can look at each frame individually. What you would see is in one frame people, the next they are gone!
Now, if you have studied a little about quantum physics, the preceding paragraph has great meaning for you. If you haven’t and want to (doesn’t everyone?), a great place to start is with a book called Alice in Quantumland- it’s an easy way to understand some of the concepts in physics without all the math getting in the way. It’s really an easy reading book.
But if you’re totally lost in quantumland (the preceding explanation was indeed brief — after all we don’t want to wander too far off) just consider this about your Bible — why did Paul use such a word when speaking of the rapture? It may not have meant much then, but today we know exactly what he was saying. Either Paul was 2,000 years ahead of Einstein, or he had some special tutoring! And of course, he did:
But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:11-12 NKJV)
But let’s return to our original question: How can we be sure we are living in the time when Jesus will return? We can’t. But that’s not the real issue. What? The issue is not whether we are right or not, for no one knows when Jesus will return — we live in the times of the signs to be sure, but cannot claim with definite proof the Lord will return in our time. The issue is one of how we will live our life — do we live as if we are expecting Jesus to return? This is the question. Allow Peter to explain:
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:10-13 NKJV)
How should we live? Do you live as if Jesus could return at any time? Are there some things you wouldn’t want to be doing when He returns? If so, the solution is obvious. Are you using the talents and gifts He’s given to you for His glory? Or are you a lover of self? Or money? Or pleasure? We are stewards of what we have been given, and Paul reminds us “it is required in stewards that one be found faithful (1 Corinthians 4:2)”. Are you faithful with what you have been given? If you believe Jesus could return at any moment, does that change how you view your service for the Lord? Consider the following teaching Jesus gave about servants in their service:
For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money. After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them.
“So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, ’Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.’ His lord said to him, ’Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ He also who had received two talents came and said, ’Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.’ His lord said to him, ’Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’
“Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ’Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.’(Matthew 25:14-25 NKJV)
Notice the principle — each has been given talent according to his ability. The master didn’t judge the man with five talents and say “why did you not get ten, like the other servant?” Each was judged according to his ability and gifts. But the warning is clear: don’t hide your talents. But again, would you do this if you thought your master would come at any time and ask for an account of what you have been given? That’s why it’s important for us to live as if Jesus will return at any moment. First of all, He could. But second (and most important for us), it changes the way we live our Christian life. That’s the real reason we should believe the return of Jesus is near.
But to those who still look upon me as a dreamer, I have this to say — Yes, I believe the Lord’s return is near, and His return will occur in my life. But I could be wrong. But if I am, add me to the apostles Paul, John and Peter. Count me with the Chuck’s (Smith and Missler). Mark me with McGee (J Vernon). Consider me with Courson (Jon). Mention me with Martin (Walter). List me with Lenhard. If I’m wrong, I want to be counted in that group of men.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus! The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. (Revelation 22:20-21 NKJV)