Category Archives: End Times

Is the premise of the “Before the Wrath” DVD biblical?

Comparison of some teachings promoted by the “Before the Wrath” DVD with what the Bible actually says.

(And why “After the Wrath” seems to make more sense)

by Dick Lentz

(All Scriptures cited come from the NIV2011 version of the Bible) 

I recently watched a DVD titled, “Before the Wrath.” It is a high-quality video produced and distributed by Ingenuity Films that compares the meal Jesus and His disciples shared the night before He was crucified with a marriage betrothal. It then suggests that Jesus’ second coming and the rapture of the Church will be comparable to a Galilean wedding.

Although I liked one of the premises this video reinforces, that Jesus’ followers will one day be gathered so they can be with Him, an event many Christians call “The Rapture,” I found the Scriptural basis for some of its conclusions to be questionable. I will point out some of them in the post below and at the end note why I feel it’s important to note these.

What meal was Jesus celebrating?

“Before the Wrath” alleges that Jesus’ disciples would have associated the meal they shared with Jesus the night before He was crucified with a traditional Galilean betrothal ceremony. And so, one of the things that first needs to be established is the type of meal the Bible says that Jesus actually shared with His disciples that evening.

Here is what Matthew wrote about this:

17 On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”

18 He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’” 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover. (Matthew 26:17-19)

There is no question when noting the portions underlined in the passage above that the meal Jesus shared with His disciples the night before He was crucified was a Passover dinner.

Passover was a reminder of what God did to free the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. The account of this is found in Exodus 11 — 13. After Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go, God informed Moses that He was going to cause the firstborn male of every family and their livestock to die. The Israelites would be spared however if they killed an unblemished one-year-old lamb, spread its blood on the doorposts of their homes, then cooked and ate the meat of the lamb along with some unleavened bread. God then told them to remember this event annually during a celebration called “Passover” to commemorate the day the angel of death passed over those who trusted that the blood of a lamb would save them.

Jesus compared what was going to happen to Him to a Passover lamb. Just as the shedding of a Passover lamb’s blood spared those who trusted that this was sufficient to save their firstborn, so would the shedding of His blood spare those who trusted that this was sufficient to secure their eternal salvation.

Here is what Matthew wrote about this:

26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:26-28)

When Jesus’ disciples looked back at this, Jesus wanted them to remember what He did so that they could be forgiven of their sins – so that their sins could in effect be “passed over.”

The early Christians understood this and celebrated something we now call “communion” in order to be reminded of the significance of what Jesus did to secure their forgiveness. Here’s what Paul wrote about this:

23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

Neither Jesus nor Paul associated the meal Jesus shared with His disciples the night before He was crucified with a wedding betrothal. The meal was simply a reminder of the “passing over” that occurred when the angel of death spared the firstborn of those who trusted in the blood of the Passover lamb and that a similar “passing over” would occur to those who trusted in the blood of the Lamb of God for their forgiveness.

What covenant was Jesus’ establishing?

“Before the Wrath” not only suggests that the meal Jesus shared with His disciples the night before He was crucified was comparable to a Galilean wedding betrothal, it proposes that the covenant Jesus was referring to when He shared the cup of wine with His disciples was one a bridegroom would offer to his bride on the night of their formal engagement.

Most accounts of the meal Jesus shared with His disciples do say that Jesus associated the cup of wine He offered to His disciples with a covenant. Matthew for example wrote this:

27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:27-28)

Luke added “new” to this association when he wrote this:

20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. (Luke 22:20)

And Paul wrote this when reminding the Corinthians what they were to remember when they celebrated the Lord’s Supper:

23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

I believe the “new covenant” both Jesus and Paul were referring to comes from this passage in Jeremiah:

27 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will plant the kingdoms of Israel and Judah with the offspring of people and of animals. 28 Just as I watched over them to uproot and tear down, and to overthrow, destroy and bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant,” declares the Lord. 29 “In those days people will no longer say,

‘The parents have eaten sour grapes,
and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’

30 Instead, everyone will die for their own sin; whoever eats sour grapes—their own teeth will be set on edge.

31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,”
declares the Lord.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.

I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
34 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more
.” (Jeremiah 31:27-34)

The above was prophesied at a time when the Jews were under national judgment for their corporate sin. The city of Jerusalem was under siege and would soon be destroyed by the Babylonians. God was promising that there would come a day when the Jews would no longer be judged as a nation for their sins but instead would only be judged individually for them. God said that there would come a day when He would make “new covenant” with His people (vs. 31), a day when He would “forgive their wickedness” and “remember their sins no more” (vs. 34).

Hebrews 10 refers to this passage in Jeremiah when it describes the effect of Jesus’ death. After noting that the sacrifices the priests performed were insufficient to forgive sins as, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (vs. 4), it says, “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (vs. 10), as well as, “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (vs. 14).

This portion of Hebrews 10 concludes with this:

15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:

16 “This is the covenant I will make with them
after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds

17 Then he adds:

“Their sins and lawless acts
I will remember no more.”

18 And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.

The verses underlined above are direct quotes from Jeremiah 31:27-34. What this indicates is that the new covenant Jeremiah spoke of was put into effect when Jesus was crucified. Based on this, it’s my conclusion that the covenant Jesus was referring when He shared the “cup of the covenant” with His disciples was not a marriage covenant but was the new covenant of forgiveness God promised through Jeremiah.

Who is the bride of Christ? And when will His marriage take place?

Although I believe that the comparison of the meal Jesus’s shared with His disciples the night before He was crucified to a Galilean wedding betrothal to be questionable, one of the main points of “Before the Wrath” is to offer support for the belief that the Church, who many consider to be the bride of Christ, will be taken from the world (raptured) before the period when God exercises His wrath upon those who have rejected Him.

There are a couple reasons I find this conclusion flawed. First, as I noted in a previous blog titled, “The Church may not be the bride of Christ,” the Bible does not explicitly state anywhere that the Church or that Christians in general are the bride of Christ. There is ample evidence however that the bride of Christ is Israel. Here are some verses I cited in support of this:

1 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth, ”for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. (Revelation 21:1-2)

9 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. 11 It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12 It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. 13 There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. 14 The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (Revelation 21:9-14).

The passage above identifies Jesus’ bride as the city of Jerusalem. But I don’t believe that this means that the city itself is Christ’s bride. I believe it is who the city represents. And it seems to me that who the city represents is indicated by what is on its gates: it is the twelve tribes of Israel (vs. 12).

The conclusion that Jerusalem, which the above passage says is Jesus’ bride, represents the Jews is consistent with this statement Jesus made a few days before He was crucified:

37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (Matthew 23:37-39)

Jesus wasn’t accusing the city of Jerusalem of killing the prophets in these verses. He was accusing the people of the city – the Jews – of doing so. And He was indicating that He would not see them again (the Jews, not the city), until they acknowledged that He is Lord, an event that seems to be fulfilled when Jesus finally sees Jerusalem, His bride, coming down from heaven in Revelation 21:2.

A second reason I find the conclusion that the Church will be raptured “Before the Wrath” to be questionable is noting when Jesus’ wedding takes place as well as when His bride is revealed.

Here’s where Jesus’ wedding feast is mentioned in the book of Revelation:

6 Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:

 “Hallelujah!
For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
7 Let us rejoice and be glad
and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.

8 Fine linen, bright and clean,
was given her to wear.” (Revelation 19:6-8)

What occurs in these verses comes right before the final destruction of the end-time “beast” and those who follow him, events described in Revelation 19:11-21. But note that though the time for the wedding has begun and the bride is ready that the Lamb does see His bride “coming down from heaven” until the events prophesied in Revelation 21:1-14 take place. This lends support for my conclusion that Jesus will not join with His bride, whomever it may be, until nearly all the events in the book of Revelation have occurred, including those typically associated with the final period of wrath.

Rather than joining with His bride “Before the Wrath”, it seems to me that Jesus will not meet His bride until after it.

Why it matters

Even though “Before the Wrath” may be biblically questionable, does it matter? After all, the intent of the video is to strengthen our confidence that Jesus will return someday so that we can be rescued from the trials and tribulations of this world. And that’s a good thing. It’s also consistent with Jesus’ promise that a time will come when He will wipe every tear from our eyes, a time when “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4). But the means in which “Before the Wrath” reinforces this comes at the expense of what I consider to be some essential biblical truths.

The first truth that gets lost in the midst of comparing the meal Jesus shared with His disciples the night before He was crucified with a Galilean betrothal is the actual purpose and effect of Jesus’ death. Jesus died so we could be forgiven for our sins. When we celebrate communion by eating the bread and drinking from the cup of the covenant, we do so to remember why Jesus was crucified. Doing so for any other reason takes something away from the message of salvation and what Jesus did to secure our redemption. Believing when we celebrate communion that we are drinking from a wedding cup is not only questionable; it takes our focus off of the explicit things both Jesus and Paul said we are to remember.

The second truth that gets lost is Jesus’ warning that Christians will experience, witness, or be affected by nearly all of the events described in the book of Revelation. I wrote about this in a prior post titled, “Warning to Christians: We may be here for the duration,” a post based on the parable of the wheat and weeds in Matthew 13:24-30. In that post I noted Jesus’ statement that the good seed and the bad seed – Christians and non-Christians – will share the same field until the moment the harvest takes place. This means that both groups will experience the same trials, troubles, and tribulation until the very last moment. Spending too much time hoping for an early or quick release from this world can result in unrealistic expectations and a lack of preparation regarding the difficulties the Bible says we are destined to experience as we wait for Jesus to return.

The third truth that I believe gets lost is Jesus’ heart for the unsaved. At one point “Before the Wrath” depicts a groom entering his wedding banquet with his bride and guests and after doing so, shutting the door behind him and refusing to let anyone else in. Although it’s true that someday it will be too late for the un-redeemed to come to Jesus, one thing I’ve found consistent in Scripture is Jesus’ constant and passionate desire to seek and save the lost. A more accurate image of this is not the closed door of a wedding banquet depicted in “Before the Wrath” but the open door found in this verse:

20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. (Revelation 3:20)

I believe that the door is always open for the lost to be redeemed. And I also believe that this door will not be closed until the very last moment, after most of the events prophesied in the book of Revelation have taken place.

Here’s a verse that seems to confirm this:

6 Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people. 7 He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.” (Revelation 14:6-7)

The event prophesied above occurs near the end of what I consider to be the second account of the return of Jesus in Revelation, right before the final harvest –  before the final “hour of judgment” (vs. 6). What this indicates to me that Jesus will do everything He can to bring the fallen into His realm, even up to the last moment of this world’s life. And if it’s Jesus’ desire to continually keep the door open to the lost – to keep asking to be invited in – to always be looking for ways to share the Gospel to the unsaved – perhaps that ought to be our focus as well.

And that is how I see it today

Warning to Christians: We may be here for the duration! – Matthew 13:24-40

What the parable of the wheat and tares – the wheat and weeds – may be telling us about the end times and what we can expect to experience as we wait for the return of Jesus:  Matthew 13:24-30; Matthew 13:36-43; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10; Revelation 14:14-20

By Dick Lentz

(All Scriptures cited come from the NIV2011 version of the Bible) 

Many Christians believe that though they can expect trials and troubles in this life that they will be spared from the ones reserved for the end-times, a period some call the great tribulation. Some believe that they will be taken from the world before the great tribulation by an event called the rapture and that what follows will be a period of intense trial and judgment for those left behind.

As I’ve noted in prior posts, I believe that Jesus will return only once and that when He does that it will result in immediate, permanent, and dire consequences for those unprepared for His return. I also noted in a post titled, “When Jesus returns, it won’t be Christians who are taken away,” the basis for my belief that those taken when Jesus returns will not be Christians but will be those who, according to Luke 17:27, are destroyed on that day.

Based on this and passages I discussed in prior posts, I believe that Christians will experience or witness most if not all of the events the Bible says will characterize the end-times including those described in the book of Revelation.

There is at least one end-time passage that seems to confirm my conclusion about this. It is the parable of the wheat and weeds found in Matthew 13:24-30. I have found this passage to be one of the most enlightening regarding when those who are followers of Jesus can expect to be separated from those who aren’t – when they can expect to be gathered to Jesus –  and the implication this has for those waiting for His return.

The wheat and weeds will be in the field together until the harvest 

Here is the parable:

24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’” (Matthew 13:24-30)

Here is Jesus’ explanation of it:

36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”

37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.

40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear. (Matthew 13:36-43)

Jesus compared the good seed in this parable – the wheat – to the “people of the kingdom” (vs. 38). I believe this is referring to those are faithful followers of Jesus and remain so until the end when the harvest takes place. I believe that the weeds – the “seeds of the evil one” (vs. 38) – are those who are not followers of Jesus or worse, are enemies of Jesus or those who follow Him. Note that though the servant wanted to pull the weeds prior to the harvest (vs. 28) that the field’s owner said that the separation of the weeds from the wheat would not take place until the whole field is harvested (vs. 29-30). It would be at that time and not before that the weeds would be collected and burned, and the wheat gathered and brought into the barn.

What identifies this as an end-time passage is Jesus’ statement, “The harvest is the end of the age” (vs. 39). Based on this, it seems to me that the event these verses are describing takes place when Jesus returns to judge the wicked and reward the righteous. It also seems to me that no separation of the wheat from the weeds will take place prior to this.

What this indicates to me is that followers of Jesus and those who are not will be in the world together until the very end. And just as wheat and weeds that share the same field will experience the same events that affect the entire field, so it will for those living together in this world. All will experience the same events that are common to all whether they are Christians or not.

One thing I find interesting about the parable of the wheat and weeds are the similarities between its description of the harvest and the description of the one found in this passage in Revelation:

14 I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like a son of man with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. 15 Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, “Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.16 So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.

17 Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18 Still another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe.” 19 The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. 20 They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia. (Revelation 14:14-20).

As I noted in a prior post titled, “The three accounts of the return of Jesus in the Book of Revelation,” I believe that there are three different accounts of the return of Jesus in Revelation: the first in chapters 5-11, the second in chapters 12-14, and the third in chapters 15-19. Revelation 14:14-20 falls at the end of what I consider to be the second account of Jesus’ return in Revelation. Note the parallels between what is found in this passage in Revelation and the parable of the wheat and weeds:

  • Both describe a harvest that takes place in the end times (Rev. 14:15; Matt. 13:30,39).
  • Both note that angels are the harvesters (Rev. 14:17-19; Matt. 13:41).
  • Both note that this harvest will be a time of judgment (Rev. 14:19; Matt. 13:41).
  • Both use fire as a symbol of God’s judgment (Rev. 14:18; Matt. 13:42).

Based on this, I believe that these passages are referring to the same event.

Blazing fire and powerful angels

Another thing I find interesting about the parable of the wheat and weeds is where the image of the wicked being thrown “into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:42) shows up elsewhere in Scripture. “Weeping and gnashing of teeth” is for example the fate of:

  • bad fish that have been caught in a net along with good fish (Matthew 13:50).
  • those who come to the king’s son’s wedding banquet without proper clothing (Matthew 22:13).
  • the servant who is unprepared for the return of his master (Matthew 24:51).
  • the servant who didn’t invest what his master gave him (Matthew 25:30).

The “blazing furnace” in Matthew 13:42 could be the “lake of fire” found in this passage in Revelation:

11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-15)

This fiery furnace could also be what’s being described in this passage in Malachi:

1 Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. 2 But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. 3 Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty. (Malachi 4:1-3)

And it could be what is being described in passage in 2 Thessalonians as well:

6 God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7 and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might. 10 on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10).

Based on the similarity between the images used in these passages and the ones found in the parable of the wheat and weeds, I believe they are referring to the same event.

I find two other things of interest regarding the passage in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10. First, it mentions that “powerful angels” (vs. 7) will accompany Jesus when He comes to “punish those who do not obey God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (vs. 8). Perhaps their role at this time is similar to the role they play in the harvest described in both Revelation 14:14-20 and parable of the wheat and weeds. But this passage also reveals that though God promises to pay back those who trouble us (vs. 6) and to give relief to those who are troubled (vs. 7), this will not happen until the day Jesus returns to punish “with everlasting destruction” those “who do not know God do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (vs. 8-9).

Relief is coming. But it is not coming until the very end.

What this means for us

When I consider the parable of the wheat and weeds and the other passages that seem to be referring to the same event, it leads me to one simple but sobering conclusion: Although Jesus promises to return and gather His followers to Him some day, it seems to me that this event will not occur until the final harvest takes place. And it will be at that time and not before that faithful followers of Jesus will be separated from those who aren’t and will be relieved of the trials and tribulations of this world. In the meantime, Christians and those who are not are going to be in the same field. And they will remain so until the very end, experiencing both the good and bad that is common to all.

But if there is no pre-harvest separation between Christians and those who aren’t – if no pre-harvest gathering is going to take place – what implication does this have for those living in this pre-harvest field? What does this mean for us?

First, I think that we need to focus more on how to endure trials rather than our desire to be rescued from them. Wars, plagues, famines, natural disasters, and financial upheavals affect everyone. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. These things happen whether you are a Christian or are not. What’s different is not what we experience. It’s our perspective. We know that all trials are temporary and that what happens in the long term will be much better as long as we endure and remain faithful to God until the end. This should result in hope – a confident assurance that some day things will be better. This should motivate us to persevere knowing that what lays ahead is worth waiting for.

Second, when we experience shared trials, our focus should be more on how to be salt and light to those struggling alongside us than on our desire to escape. If it’s true that we’re all in this together – that whatever happens to “them” also happens to “us” – then we ought to see shared trials as opportunities to bring the knowledge of Jesus to others through the way we respond to our own difficulties as well as to the ones others are experiencing.

Finally, no matter what happens, we need to heed the words of Jesus when He said this:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46)

Perhaps the best way to live in the field while waiting for the harvest is to be found at all times doing those things that are commendable in the eyes of Jesus.

And that is as I see it today.

The three accounts of the return of Jesus in the Book of Revelation.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-15; Revelation 11:15-18, 14:14-20, 20:4-6

How noting what symbols are used in end-time passages can help identify which are referring to the same event.

By Dick Lentz

 (All Scriptures cited come from the NIV2011 version of the Bible)

In some of my prior posts regarding end-time passages, I noted that if the same symbol shows up in different end-time passages that those passages are most likely describing the same event. In this post I will use a variation of that principle to point out some symbols I found significant in a single passage that describes an end-time event, to note some other passages where these same symbols occur, and to determine from this what event these passages are most likely referring to.

A loud command, a voice of an archangel, and a trumpet call – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

I’ve underlined the symbols I found significant in the above passage. Before discussing these, I’d like to make some comments about the context.

It seems that the Christians Paul was writing to in Thessalonica were a bit confused about some of the events that would precede or accompany the return of Jesus. It seems that they thought that those who are “asleep” (Christians who die before the return of Jesus) would not be resurrected from the dead when Jesus returns. This was causing them a bit of grief.

Paul wanted to correct their thinking about this. He noted that all Christians, those alive and dead, will meet Jesus in the clouds when He returns. He also said that those who are still alive when Jesus returns will not precede those who are asleep. Christians who are dead when Christ returns will be resurrected first and will be joined when they meet Jesus in the air by Christians who are alive at that time.

One thing interesting to note is the corrective nature of this passage. Paul said that these believers were “uninformed about those who sleep in death”; they were confused about the fate of Christians who die before Jesus returns. One of Paul’s goal in writing to them was to clarify what would happen to believers who are “asleep” so that those alive wouldn’t be uninformed or confused about this.

The corrective nature of this passage is something that seems to characterize many if not all passages that describe end-time events. It seems when reading these passages and noting their context that there was something the hearers or readers did not understand about end-time events and that their misunderstanding of them was resulting in an inappropriate response. The speaker or writer responded by providing information that would hopefully correct their thinking about the end-times so that they would no longer be confused or their response incongruous.

Here are the symbols in this passage I want to note:

  • Jesus comes down from heaven. (vs. 16)
  • This will be accompanied by a loud command, a voice of an archangel, and a trumpet call. (vs. 16)
  • The dead in Christ will rise – they will be resurrected – and along with those alive will meet Christ in the clouds. (vs. 16-17)

I will now note some other end-time passages where these same symbols are found.

An angel, a trumpet, and some clouds – Matthew 24:30-31

30 “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. (Matthew 24:29-31, NIV)

I discussed this passage a bit in a prior post titled, “Jesus’ return will be visible to everyone.” I noted in that post that when Jesus returns that “all the peoples of the earth [will] see Him coming on the clouds of heaven” (vs. 30). This seems to indicate that Jesus’ return will not be a secret. It will be visible to everyone.

Here are some symbols in this passage that are also found 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:

  • The people of the earth see “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven” (vs. 30); 1 Thessalonians 4:16 says, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven.
  • This will be accompanied by angels who sound a loud trumpet (vs. 31); 1 Thessalonians 4:16 says that the coming of the Lord will be accompanied by “the voice of an archangel” and “the trumpet call of God.”
  • Jesus will gather the elect from everywhere (vs. 31); 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 indicates that when Jesus returns that the dead in Christ will rise first but that all believers, alive or dead, will be caught up to meet Him in the air.
  • Jesus is seen coming on the clouds of heaven (vs. 30); 1 Thessalonians 4:17 says that all believers will be caught up in the clouds and will meet Jesus in the air.

Based on the similarity in the description of the events in Matthew 24:30-31 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, I believe that they are referring to the same event – the second coming of Jesus. If this is so, then it makes sense that what follows the event described in Matthew 24:30-31 also follows the event described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. As I noted in a previous post titled, “When Jesus returns, it won’t be Christians who are ‘taken away,’” as well as another one titled, “Could the parable of the thief in the night be a warning to Christians?” it’s my contention that what follows Jesus’ return will be immediate, dire, and permanent consequences for those unprepared for it. This makes sense when you consider the warnings found in the parables recorded in Matthew 24:36 — 25:46. It seems when noting these that there will be no second chance – no period of years – for those who aren’t prepared for Jesus’ return to get themselves right with Him once this event takes place. It’s my belief that it’s a “once-and-done” event.

The last trumpet – 1 Corinthians 15:51-52

51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:51-52) 

I won’t elaborate on the context of these verses in this post. But they are the end of a chapter that explains why the resurrection of Jesus is both a historical and eternal imperative. What I want to note here are some symbols in these verses that also occur in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:

  • In an instant, an event takes places that will change every Christian including those who are dead. Those who are dead will be raised – they will be resurrected (vs. 52); 1 Thessalonians 4:16 says that when the Lord comes that the dead will rise first.
  • This event occurs when “the last trumpet” is sounded implying that there are some other trumpets that precede it (vs. 52); 1 Thessalonians 4:16 notes that a trumpet call occurs when the event it is describing takes place but does not indicate that there are any that precede it.

Because of the similarity of the symbols in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, it is my belief that they describing the same event. If this is so, then they are referring to the same event described in Matthew 24:30-31 as well.

The final trumpet – Revelation 11:15-18 

Since 1 Corinthians 15:52 says that believers in Christ will all be changed when the last of a series of trumpets is sounded, a reasonable question is if these trumpets are described elsewhere in Scripture and if so if what happens after the last one is sounded. I believe that the answer to this is found in these verses:

Then the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them.

7 The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down on the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.

The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, 9 a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.

10 The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water— 11 the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter.

12 The fourth angel sounded his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them turned dark. A third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night. (Revelation 8:6-12)

**********

1 The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. 2 When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss. (Revelation 9:1-2)

**********

13 The sixth angel sounded his trumpet, and I heard a voice coming from the four horns of the golden altar that is before God. 14 It said to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” (Revelation 9:13-14)

The prophecies in this portion of Revelation begin with a vision of seven angels, each with its own trumpet (8:6). What follows is a description of what happens after each of these trumpets is sounded.

The following verses describe what happens after the seventh and final trumpet is sounded:

15 The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said:

The kingdom of the world has become
the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah
,
and he will reign for ever and ever.”

16 And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying:

“We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,
the One who is and who was,
because you have taken your great power
and have begun to reign.

18 The nations were angry,
and your wrath has come.
The time has come for judging the dead,
and for rewarding your servants the prophets
and your people who revere your name,
both great and small—
and for destroying those who destroy the earth.” (Revelation 11:15-18)

I’ve underlined the portions of the above passage I want to highlight. Here’s what I found significant:

  • An angel sounds a trumpet – the final one of seven – and loud voices in heaven are heard (vs. 15); 1 Corinthians 15:52 says that at the last trumpet we will be changed; Matthew 24:31 says that Jesus’ return will be accompanied by angels and a loud trumpet call; 1 Thessalonians 4:16 says that the Lord will come from heaven “with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God.”
  • After the seventh (and final) trumpet is sounded, this passage indicates that the kingdom of our Lord will be established (vs. 15), that Jesus’ reign will begin (vs. 16), and that the time for judging the dead and rewarding God’s servants will occur (vs. 18). This is similar to the description in Matthew 25:31-46 of the judgments and rewards handed out when Jesus returns to sit on His throne and separates the sheep from the goats. Here’s a portion of that passage:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. (Matthew 25:31-33)

Revelation 11:18 says that the nations will be angry when the event described in that passage occurs, perhaps because God’s wrath is about to be exercised on those who didn’t trust in Jesus or who rebelled against Him; Matthew 25:31 notes that a gathering of the nations will occur when the event it is describing takes place.

The above  reinforces my contention that the four passages discussed so far in this post, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Matthew 24:30-31, 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, and Revelation 11:15-18, are all describing the same event.

The passage in Revelation 11:15-18 presents an interesting challenge if this is so. The prophecies in Revelation 4 — 20 are often interpreted as if they are a chronological description of end-time events. If this is so, then concluding that Revelation 11:15-18 is referring to the second coming of Jesus is problematic as it is somewhere in the middle of the events described in Revelation 4 — 20. But it is my contention that Revelation 4 — 20 is providing us with at least three different accounts of Jesus’ return and the events that precede it. The first account may be in chapters 4-11, the second in chapters 12-14, and the final in chapters 15-20. If this is so,  then Revelation 11:15-18 is at the end of the first of these three accounts.

One thing interesting when considering this is to note what’s found at the end of what I consider to be the third account in Revelation of Jesus’ return and the events that precede it.

The first resurrection – Revelation 20:4-6

4 I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They 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 a thousand years.(The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4-6)

The event described in the above passage occurs after some verses that describe some of the final battles of the end-times. What follows these battles is a time of judgment preceded by the resurrection of who had remained faithful to Jesus in this life but who died before He returned.

Could it be that this “first resurrection” (vs. 5) is the same resurrection noted in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 as well as 1 Corinthians 15:51-52?

Could it be that the judgment that takes place at this time (vs. 4) is the same judgment described in Matthew 25:31-46 as well as in Revelation 11:15-18?

Could it be that the kingdom established at this time (vs. 6) is the same kingdom and reign Revelation 11:15-18 says begins at that time?

Based on the symbols in the above passage and their similarity to the ones in some of the passages discussed earlier this post, it is my belief that it is describing the same event.

Before I conclude, I want to note what is described at the end of Revelation 12 — 14, a passage that I consider to be the second account in Revelation of Jesus’ return and the events that precede it.

A time of harvesting – Revelation 14:14-20

14 I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like a son of man with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. 15 Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, “Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.16 So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.

17 Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18 Still another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe.” 19 The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. 20 They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia. (Revelation 14:14-20)

I discussed what precedes this passage in as earlier post titled, “The Mark of the Beast may be an in issue only for Christians.” What I want to note here are the symbols I found significant in this passage:

  • One who is “like a son of man” is seated on a cloud. It’s most likely in context that the son of man in this passage is referring to is Jesus. Note it’s similarity to how Matthew described the return of Jesus when he wrote, “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven … and they [will] see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 24:30)
  • What the son of man is doing is harvesting the earth; He is exercising His wrath. I believe this means that He is judging the world.

What’s interesting is the similarity of the description of what happens in the above passage with what is being described in this one:

24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

      “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’” (Matthew 13:24-30).

Note that some type of harvesting takes place in both passages and that the consequences seem to be permanent. Matthew elaborates by noting in verse 30 that that though there will be negative consequences for the “weeds” (they will be burned) that there will be positive ones for the “wheat” (it will be brought into His barn).

I believe it’s reasonable to conclude that Revelation 14:14-16 as well as well as Matthew 13:24-30 are referring to same event. And due to some similarities between Revelation 14:14-16 and the other passages discussed earlier in this post, I believe it’s reasonable to conclude that all the passages discussed in this post are describing the same event as well – the second coming of Jesus.

Why it matters

It is my conclusion when considering the above passages as well as ones discussed in some of my other posts that Jesus will return only once; and when He does, although it will result in wonderful rewards for those who have been faithful to Him, it will also result in immediate, dire, and permanent consequences for those unprepared for His return. Furthermore, as I noted in a post titled, “Could the parable of the thief in the night a warning to Christians,” it seems that the ones being warned to be prepared for Jesus’ return are those who are followers of Christ and not unbelievers. What I haven’t discussed so far is why these warnings may be needed.

Many Christians seem to believe that when times get tough – when it seems that the world is on the verge of falling apart and they are facing increasing persecution for their faith – that these are signs that the return of Jesus is imminent and that they will soon be snatched from the world by Him so that they won’t have to experience the terrible events that will characterize the end-times. This could result in anguish if events don’t turn out as expected or complacency if they feel they don’t have to do anything in preparation for His return.

Although I agree that all Christians will meet Jesus in the air someday, based on my understanding of Scripture, I don’t believe this will take place until very near the end of a period of intense persecution accompanied by increasing degrees of suffering caused by man, nature, and God. What the writers of the Bible were urging Christians to do when they experienced these terrible times was to be patient, to remain faithful, and to be found at all times doing what is commendable in the eyes of Jesus.

Although I’m looking forward to the day when I will be with Jesus, I’ve concluded that my focus while I wait for that day needs to be on how Jesus wants me to live in the meantime. And since He could return at any time, it’s imperative that I am committed to doing what is commendable in His eyes at all times.

And that is how I see it today.

Could the parable of the thief coming in the night be a warning to Christians? – Matthew 24:42-44

Jesus’ return, like the coming of a thief in the night, may not be good news for Christians who are unprepared.

By Dick Lentz

(All Scriptures cited come from the NIV2011 version of the Bible)

In a previous post titled, “Jesus’ return will be visible to everyone,” I noted my reasons for concluding that when Jesus returns that everyone will see Him coming on the clouds. In a subsequent post titled, “When Jesus returns, it won’t be Christians who are taken away,” I provided support for my conclusion that Jesus’ return will result in immediate, dire, and permanent consequences for those not prepared for it. I also noted my reasons for concluding that those “taken” or “taken away” when Jesus returns will be those who do not have a saving relationship with Him – that “to be taken” when Jesus returns actually means, according to Luke 17:26-35, “to be destroyed.”

I now want to show in this post and subsequent ones how the appearance of the same symbol in different end-time passages can help identify those that are describing the same event and the implications this may have for those living when this event occurs. The first symbol I’ll look at is the thief in the night.

Be ready: Matthew 24:42-44 

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. (Matthew 24:42-44) 

I discussed my understanding of this parable – the parable of the thief in the night – in a previous post titled, “When Jesus returns, it won’t be Christians who are taken away.” I contended in that post that this parable can’t be properly understood unless it is compared with the other parables it is grouped with in Matthew 24:36—25:46 and noting what they have in common. Based on doing this type of comparison, it was my conclusion that the parable of the thief in the night, like the other parables it is grouped with, is warning that since the return of Jesus is not a predictable event and that He could return at any time that it’s imperative for us to be ready for it at all times. It is also warning as I noted earlier that the consequences of not being prepared for Jesus’ return are immediate, dire, and permanent.

A couple questions that are relevant when discussing the parable of the thief in the night are, “Who was Jesus addressing?” and, “What implication does this have for us?” To answer these questions, I’ll point out some of the other passages that compare Jesus’ return to the coming of a thief and note what I consider to be significant.

Don’t be caught napping: 2 Thessalonians 5:1-11

1 Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (2 Thessalonians 5:1-11)

The thief in the night is mentioned in two places in the above passage: in verse 2 and verse 4. I believe that the reference to the thief in verse 2 is referring to the same event described in the parable of the thief in the night in Matthew 24:42-44. It is also saying pretty much the same thing: that Jesus will return at a time when He is not expected. Paul elaborated on this by indicating that when Jesus returns that it will be at a time when people think the world is at peace and therefore safe (vs. 3). Paul also noted that Jesus’ return will precipitate a time of destruction from which no-one will escape – that there will no second-chance for those unprepared for Jesus’ return to come into a saving relationship with Him after He returns.

Paul then pointed out in verse 4 that Christians, as children of the light, shouldn’t be taken by surprise when this occurs. They shouldn’t be caught napping. Unlike those who live in darkness, Christians ought to be prepared at all times for the return of Jesus. To be prepared, they need to be sober-minded, to be people of faith and love, and to be confident that their hope for salvation is in Jesus (vs. 8). It seems that Paul was telling Christians not to live like those who seem to have little concern about what will happen when Jesus returns or don’t think He could come at any time. Paul was also reminding those who follow Jesus of the importance of encouraging and building up each other as they consider this, something that the Christians in Thessalonica were apparently already doing (vs. 11).

Be Prepared: 2 Peter 3:3-18

Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 15 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16 He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

17 Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. (2 Peter 3:3-18)

This is perhaps the longest passage comparing the return of Jesus to the coming  of a thief. Several things are worthy of note in it. First, when the day of the Lord comes – when Jesus returns – it will result in the immediate destruction of the world we live in (vss. 7 and 10). And there doesn’t seem to be any gap of time between Jesus’ return and the destruction that follows – no period of years for those who missed the boat the first time around to have an opportunity to get in it later on. This is consistent with my belief that when Jesus returns that what results will be immediate, dire, and permanent for those who are unprepared.

Peter noted that some will scoff at this (vss. 3-7) and will follow their own evil desires, thinking perhaps that it doesn’t matter what they do or hoping that they will have a chance to repent later on. Peter reminded those inclined to live this way that though Jesus may delay His return in order to give everyone ample opportunity to repent (vs. 9), it was imperative that followers of Jesus live as if He could return at any time (vs. 11).

Peter then elaborated on how Christians were to live in anticipation of Jesus’ return. They were to “live holy and godly loves” (vs. 10). They were to “make every effort to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with Him”(vs. 14). And they were to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (vs. 18).

Peter included a warning about what could happen if one was not prepared for the return of Jesus. After noting that some were distorting the teachings of Paul regarding this (vss. 15-16), he urged believers to be on their guard lest they be carried away by erroneous teachings and fall away from their secure position (vs. 17). I won’t elaborate in this post on what I think it means for a Christian to fall away from their secure position. But suffice it to say that the consequences of not being prepared for Jesus’ return are significant.

Repent: Revelation 3:1-6

1“To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.

Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Revelation 3:1-6)

The above passage is one of seven in Revelation 2 and 3 that describe the good and bad things that were occurring in some of the churches in Asia in the first century. Out of the seven churches mentioned, only two seemed to have been in good shape spiritually. The other five, including the church at Sardis, were found wanting.

Note the reference in verse 3 to Jesus coming “like a thief” at a time “you will not know.” Note as well who was being warned. It doesn’t seem to be unbelievers. It appears that the ones being warned were those who seemingly had a saving relationship with Jesus. God promised that if they held fast to what they had already received and repented (vs. 3) that their names would not be blotted out of the book of life (vs. 5). This seems to indicate that their names were already in the book of life. It also seems that God was warning them that if they didn’t hold fast to what they’d received and didn’t repent that that their names could be removed from that book.

The passage also notes that though the church in Sardis had a reputation for being alive, based on its deeds, God considered it dead (vs. 1). That didn’t mean it couldn’t be revived. Something remained within it that could be strengthened (vs. 2). But if it didn’t wake up and take action, Jesus was going to return like a thief  and take what was left away from it.

Stay Awake: Revelation 16:1-21

1 Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, “Go, pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth.”

2 The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly, festering sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped its image.

The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead person, and every living thing in the sea died.

4 The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. 5 Then I heard the angel in charge of the waters say:

“You are just in these judgments, O Holy One,
you who are and who were;

6 for they have shed the blood of your holy people and your prophets,
and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.”

7 And I heard the altar respond:

“Yes, Lord God Almighty,
true and just are your judgments.”

8 The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was allowed to scorch people with fire. 9 They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him.

10 The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in agony 11 and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.

12 The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East. 13 Then I saw three impure spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet. 14 They are demonic spirits that perform signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty.

15 Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed.”

16 Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.

17 The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and out of the temple came a loud voice from the throne, saying, “It is done!” 18 Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since mankind has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake. 19 The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath. 20 Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found. 21 From the sky huge hailstones, each weighing about a hundred pounds, fell on people. And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible. (Revelation 16:1-21)

I find the reference to the thief in verse 15 in the above passage to be challenging and perhaps the most difficult to understand. It is placed in the middle of a description of the seven bowls of judgment – seven instruments of God’s wrath – yet doesn’t appear to be placed in chronological sequence with the events described. It seems to be parenthetical in nature. It’s as if Jesus was saying:

“Look – I am coming, but not yet. What you need to understand is that you are going to be affected in some way by the terrible events that precede My return. When they occur, stay alert. Don’t lose heart. Don’t give up or give in. Keep your spiritual clothes on.  And keep them clean.”

The above is a personal and somewhat long paraphrase of Revelation 16:15. But as I try to make sense of the events described in Revelation 16:1-21, it seems to me that though Jesus is promising in verse 15 that He will return that it won’t be during these horrible events. In the meantime, Christians finding themselves living in the midst of them need to stay awake and remain faithful.

Keep in mind as you consider this my contention that the book of Revelation actually includes three separate but overlapping accounts of the return of Jesus. The first account is in chapters 4-11; the second is in chapters 12-14; and the third is in chapters 16-19. Revelation 16:1-21 is at the beginning of the third account of Jesus’ return and may be elaborating on events mentioned in one or both of the previous accounts.

Do The Will of the Lord: Luke 12:35-48

35 “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. 37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. 38 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. 39 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

41 Peter asked, “Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?”

42 The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? 43 It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. 44 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45 But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. 46 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.

47 “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. (Luke 12:35-48)

I noted earlier the importance of interpreting the parables in Matthew 24:36—25:46 as a group and when doing so to look for what they have in common. Luke makes this a bit easier by taking pieces from each of these parables and combining them into one narrative. Here are some things he noted when he did this:

  • Jesus could come at any time, but it will be at a time when He is unexpected.
  • Since the time of His return is unknown, it’s best to be prepared for it at all times.
  • Those prepared for His return will be rewarded; those unprepared for it will be punished.

Luke included in his narrative a question Peter posed regarding this.  Peter asked,

               “Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?” (vs. 41)

Jesus responded that He was addressing the manager who has been put in charge of his master’s servants (vs. 42) as well as the servant who knows his master’s will (vs. 47). Jesus was warning that if the manager treats his master’s servants poorly that he will suffer the same fate as unbelievers (vs. 46). Jesus also warned that the servant who knows his master’s will and doesn’t do it will suffer a worse fate than one who doesn’t know his master’s will (vss. 47-48).

In an indirect way, Jesus was telling Peter that these parables weren’t addressed to everyone. They were addressed only to those who were followers of Him, those who knew His will, and those who would be given the responsibility to carry on His work while He was away.

A call for Christians to wake-up!

When considering these passages together and what they seem to be saying when they compare Jesus’ return with the coming of a thief in the night, it seems to me that they are addressed primarily to Christians – to those who claim to be followers of Jesus – and not to unbelievers or to those who are not followers of Him. They appear to be a call for Christians to wake-up and understand the implications of what is up ahead. And they are warning that since the day of Jesus’ return is unknown and that He could come at any time that Christians must be prepared for His coming at all times lest they find themselves wanting when He does return.

These passages also note what is required if Christians want to be prepared for the return of Jesus. Included is being loving and faithful, doing the will of God and what is commendable in His eyes, striving to be spotless, and repenting of those things that are contrary to what God says is right and good.

One other thing that’s important is for Christians to be an encouragement to each other. The author of Hebrews noted the importance of this when he wrote:

24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

And so, as we wait for the coming of Jesus and prepare ourselves for that day, a good use of our time may be to spend more of it considering how we can “spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”

And that is how I see it today.

Three things that must happen before Jesus returns: Matthew 23:37-39; Matthew 24:14; 2 Thessalonians 2:3

Although there are many things that will occur before Jesus returns, there are three that must occur. 

By Dick Lentz

(All Scriptures cited come from the NIV2011 version of the Bible)

In a previous post titled “Jesus’ return will be visible to everyone,” I discussed my understanding of Matthew 24:1-30 and Luke 21:5-28 and the reason for my conclusion that Jesus’ return – His second coming – will be visible to everyone – that “all will mourn when they see Him coming on the clouds” (Matthew 24:30). In a subsequent post titled, “Those ‘taken’ when Jesus returns may not be Christians,” I pointed out how my understanding of Matthew 24:36 — 25:46 has led me to conclude that what follows Jesus’ return will result in immediate, dire, and permanent consequences for those unprepared, that those “taken” (or as translated in Luke 17:26-27, those “destroyed”) when Jesus returns will be unbelievers (those who have not put their trust in Christ), and that those “left” or “left behind” will be Christians.

There has been lots of speculation over the years about what signs will indicate that the return of Jesus is imminent and that the final set of end time events are about to occur. Although Scripture does tell us some things that will occur before Jesus returns (for example, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars … nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places” (Matthew 24:6-7), as I see it today, there are only three things that Scripture says must occur before Jesus returns :

  • The Jews must acknowledge that Jesus is Lord (Matthew 23:37-39).
  • The Gospel must be preached to all the nations (Matthew 24:14).
  • The man of lawlessness must be revealed (2 Thessalonians 2:3).

In the sections below, I will provide my understanding of the passages above and how I think the prophecies in them will be fulfilled.

The Jews must acknowledge that Jesus is Lord  

After Jesus made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of the week He was to be crucified, He spent some time talking on the Temple Mount to those who had gathered there to celebrate Passover. Some of Jesus’ harshest words while there were reserved for teachers of the law and Pharisees who were hostile towards Him (Matthew 23:1-36). Jesus called them hypocrites, blind guides, white-washed tombs, and snakes – a “brood of vipers” who killed or flogged the “prophets and sages and teachers” sent to them (vs. 33-34). Jesus then said this:

37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 “For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Matthew 23:37-39). 

Because of their rejection of Him and the prophets that preceded Him, Jesus said that their house would be left desolate.

Then, after leaving the temple area, Jesus told His disciples that the temple was going to be destroyed – that not one stone would be left upon another (Matthew 24:1-2). The temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D., and I believe it was this event that Jesus was referring to when He said that their house would be left desolate and not one stone would be left upon another. Furthermore, since the account of Jesus’ second coming in Matthew 24:30 and the verses that follow seem to be referring to the only time Jesus returns, then what Jesus said would happen at that time was not going to occur until they, the Jews, acknowledge that He is Lord.

But does Scripture tell us what events might trigger the Jews’ acknowledgement that Jesus is Lord and what happens when they do? I believe that it does – in the prophecies recorded in the book of Zechariah.

Zechariah prophesied beginning around 520 B.C. during the time when the temple was being rebuilt by the Jews following its destruction by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. One of God’s goals when He spoke to the Jews through Zechariah was to encourage them to keep on with the task of rebuilding God’s house – His temple – in spite of the difficulties they encountered in doing so. God also told them about a time when He was going to provide a means for their spiritual redemption – a time when someone called “The Branch” would “remove the sin of this land in a single day” (Zechariah 3:8-9), a prophecy that I believe was fulfilled when Jesus was crucified.

Zechariah 12 provides a glimpse of what was going to happen to the Jews in what was in their future at that time and undoubtedly still is in ours. Here are the first five verses:

1 The Lord, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the human spirit within a person, declares: 2 “I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that sends all the surrounding peoples reeling. Judah will be besieged as well as Jerusalem. 3 On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves. 4 On that day I will strike every horse with panic and its rider with madness,” declares the Lord. “I will keep a watchful eye over Judah, but I will blind all the horses of the nations. 5 Then the clans of Judah will say in their hearts, ‘The people of Jerusalem are strong, because the Lord Almighty is their God’” (Zechariah 12:1-5).

This passage seems to be describing a time when the Jews will be surrounded by enemies that are bent on their destruction. The Jews’ enemies will be unable to destroy them however but will end up harming themselves when they attempt to. As a consequence of this, the Jews will recognize that they are being protected – that they are strong – “because the Lord Almighty is their God” (vs. 5).

Zechariah 12 continues by describing more of what will happen on that day:

6 “On that day I will make the clans of Judah like a firepot in a woodpile, like a flaming torch among sheaves. They will consume all the surrounding peoples right and left, but Jerusalem will remain intact in her place.

“The Lord will save the dwellings of Judah first, so that the honor of the house of David and of Jerusalem’s inhabitants may not be greater than that of Judah. 8 On that day the Lord will shield those who live in Jerusalem, so that the feeblest among them will be like David, and the house of David will be like God, like the angel of the Lord going before them. On that day I will set out to destroy all the nations that attack Jerusalem” (Zechariah 12:6-9).

These verses seem to be indicating that God will not just protect the Jews from their enemies; there will come a time when God will give the Jews the ability to defeat their enemies – a time when He sets out to “destroy all the nations that attack Jerusalem” (vs. 9).

Zechariah 12 then describes how the Jews will respond when God defeats their enemies:

10 “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son. 11 On that day the weeping in Jerusalem will be as great as the weeping of Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. 12 The land will mourn, each clan by itself, with their wives by themselves: the clan of the house of David and their wives, the clan of the house of Nathan and their wives, 13 the clan of the house of Levi and their wives, the clan of Shimei and their wives, 14 and all the rest of the clans and their wives” (Zechariah 12:10-14).

These verses seem to be describing a spiritual awakening that takes place among the Jews after they are physically saved by God from those who are attempting to destroy them. It’s at this point that they realize that by demanding that Jesus be crucified centuries earlier that they pierced their messiah, the One who by grace is now saving them. It’s at this point that they perhaps say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” a conclusion that seems to be confirmed in these verses:

9 … I will refine them like silver
and test them like gold.
They will call on my name
and I will answer them;
I will say, ‘They are my people,’
and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God’” (Zechariah 13:9).

It’s interesting to note the emphasis in Zechariah 12:10-14 on the grieving, weeping, and mourning that takes place when the Jews see Jesus coming to rescue them. This could be part of the cacophony of mourning that takes place when “all the peoples of the earth … mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 24:30). John seems to be making this same conclusion in the opening verses of his revelation regarding the end-times when he recorded this:

 7 “Look, he is coming with the clouds,”
and “every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him”;
and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”
So shall it be! Amen” (Revelation 1:7).

All will mourn when they see Jesus coming in the clouds. I believe this will include those who have made a commitment to Christ and those who have not, Jews and non-Jews alike. The cause of the Jews’ mourning when Jesus returns could be their grief when they recognize the part they played in the death of their messiah. Christians may mourn when they recognize that there will be no more opportunities for them to bring friends or family into a saving relationship with Jesus. Nonbelievers may mourn when they realize that it’s too late for them to make a different choice regarding Jesus and that for them, what follows will be immediate, dire, and permanent.

The Gospel must be preached to all the nations

In response to His disciples’ question about what signs would precede His return (Matthew 24:3), Jesus said this:

14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come (Matthew 24:14). 

Jesus said that He would not return until everyone has an opportunity to hear the Gospel message. Some believe that this prophecy will be fulfilled when the Bible, or at least the New Testament, is translated into every language on earth. Others believe is will be fulfilled when the technical means for communicating the Gospel at a single moment is available everywhere. But note that both these understandings of this prophecy conclude that its fulfillment will come through human efforts.

There is another possibility about who is doing the preaching of the Gospel in this passage that does not require human efforts for its fulfillment. Note what is prophesied in this passage:

6 Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people. 7 He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water” (Revelation 14:6-7). 

The proclamation of the Gospel in this passage is done an angel, not by humans, and it occurs immediately before “the hour of judgment” (vs. 7). What’s interesting is what follows after the proclamation of the Gospel by this angel:

14 I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like a son of man with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. 15 Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, “Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.” 16 So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.  

17 Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18 Still another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe.” 19 The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. 20 They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia (Revelation 14:14-20). 

Note the image in this passage of “one like the son of man” seated on “a white cloud.” I believe that this is describing the same event prophesied in Matthew 24:30, a time when “all the peoples of the earth … see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven.” I also believe that the reaping and harvesting described in this passage is the same event prophesied Matthew 24:31 when the elect are gathered “from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” And I believe that the judgment that this passage describes as “the great winepress of God’s wrath” is the same judgment described in the parables in Matthew 24:26 — 25:46 culminating in the separation of sheep from goats, a time when “they [the unrighteous] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matthew 25:46).

Because of the similarity between the images found in Revelation 14:14-20 and the ones in Matthew 24:30-31 and the verses that follow, I believe that they are describing the same event – the one and only second-coming of Jesus. But if this is so, then why are these images of Jesus’ return in the middle of Revelation rather than at the end? The answer to that question is that that chapters 4 thru 19 of Revelation may not be providing us with a chronological time-line of end-time events. Instead, what these chapters could be providing us with are at least three different narratives of those events each ending with a different representation of what happens when Jesus returns. The first narrative could be chapters 4-11; the second chapters 12-14; the third chapters 15-19. I will elaborate on these divisions in the book of Revelation in a subsequent post. My conclusion regarding this may make more sense once I start discussing how finding the same symbols in different passages can be a clue about which ones may be describing the same events.

By the way, even though it could be an angel and not humans who fulfill the prophecy that the Gospel will be preached to all the nations before Jesus returns, I have no objection to those who feel called to take the Gospel to all nations and who are working hard to do so. That is a commendable and worthwhile pursuit even if the actual fulfillment of Matthew 24:14 will be accomplished through the voices of an angel and not by the hands men.

The man of lawlessness must be revealed

1 Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. 3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.

Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? 6 And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. 7 For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, 10 and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12 and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12).

It seems that there were some Christians Paul was ministering to that thought that Jesus had already returned and that they had been left behind. Paul responded by telling them that the end would not come – the Lord would not return – “until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed” (vs. 3). Paul then said that when the lawless one is revealed that “the Lord Jesus will overthrow [him] with the breath of his mouth and destroy [him] by the splendor of his coming” (vs. 8).

I find this passage difficult to dissect. It’s not clear who the man of lawlessness is, only that his works will “be in accordance with how Satan works” (vs. 9). The passage does say that he will pretend to be God (vs. 4), and that many will buy into this deception (vs. 10). It also indicates that God will send “a powerful delusion” so that the ones who delight in wickedness “will believe the lie” (vs. 11).

There are many beliefs that have cropped up over the years that fit the deception described in these verses. It seems that every generation has been confronted by one or more who claim to be God. Although I don’t know how these lies will be exposed, it does appear that just before Jesus returns that everyone will have a clear understanding who is behind them. Once this is apparent, Jesus will defeat this enemy “with the breath of his mouth.”

Why it matters

4 Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains. 

9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come (Matthew 24:4-13). 

There are many things that Jesus says will occur before He returns. The above passages records some of them.There will be “wars and rumors of wars”; there will be “famines and earthquakes in various places”; many “false prophets will appear and deceive many people”; many will “turn away from the faith.” None of these things should alarm us however. They have happened, are happening, and will continue to happen. Having an inordinate concern about them may draw our attention away from what matters more.

It seems to me that there are only three events that must occur before Jesus returns. And none of them will be preceded by signs that they are about to occur. We don’t know what conditions will result in the Jews as a whole turning their hearts to Jesus;  we don’t know what circumstances will precede the proclamation of the Gospel to every nation by an angel; we don’t know what will lead to the nature of the man of lawlessness being revealed. And since we don’t know how or when these events will take place, speculation regarding them will for the most part be unprofitable.

Perhaps it’s best in this regard to heed Jesus’ advice. He said, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (Matthew 24:42). He also said, “This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus” (Revelation 14:12). One can perhaps best prepare for the return of Jesus not by fruitless speculation about how the events preceding it will unfold but instead by understanding the need for patience, endurance, obedience, perseverance, and faithfulness as we wait for that day.

That is how I see it today.

When Jesus returns, it may not be Christians who are taken away: Matthew 24:36-41

Who those left behind when Jesus’ returns may actually be.

By Dick Lentz

(All Scriptures cited come from the NIV2011 version of the Bible)

In a previous article titled “Jesus’ Return Will Be Visible to Everyone,” I discussed the importance of interpreting Jesus’ discourse about the end times in Matthew 24:1-30 and Luke 21:5-28 in light of the two questions His disciples were asking at that time: “When will the temple be destroyed?” and “What will be the signs of your coming?” I asserted that since the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D. that this was most likely when the prophecies regarding the destruction of the temple in these passages as well as the one in Daniel 9:25-27 were fulfilled. I also pointed out that Jesus said that His return – His second coming – will be visible to everyone and that all will mourn when they see Him coming in the clouds (Matthew 24:30).

In this article I will provide support for my conclusion that Jesus’ return will be followed by immediate, permanent, and dire consequences for those unprepared for it, and that the “taken” when this happens will be those who do not have a saving relationship with Jesus.

One is taken and one is left

36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left” (Matthew 24:36-41).

The first thing to note about the above passage is that it begins with the words, “about that day.” I believe that the “day” it is referring to is the day when Jesus returns – the day when “all the peoples of the earth … see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 24:30). What follows is what I believe are some symbolic representations of this event and what will happen immediately afterwards.

Portions of the above passage are often used to support the belief that when Jesus returns that He will remove all believers from the face of the earth and will leave behind those who don’t believe in Him. This event is commonly referred to as the “Rapture of the Church.” Those who hold to this view often associate believers with the “taken” in the above passage and say that those who are “left” or “left behind” are unbelievers. They then claim that what follows the “Rapture of the Church” will be seven years of tribulation ending with another return of Jesus – another “second coming.”

One of the difficulties I have with the above understanding of this passage is that it requires two second-comings of Jesus: one that is unseen by those “left behind” and another seven years later. But as I noted earlier, it seems clear when reading Matthew 24:30 as well Luke 21:27 that when Jesus returns that everyone will see Him coming in the clouds; it will not be a secret nor will it will be hidden from anyone. If this is so, then either the above passage is referring to the final “second coming” of Jesus or there is only one “second coming” and the verses above as well as the ones that follow are describing what will happen at that time.

A key question about Matthew 24:36-41 is therefore who are the ones “taken” and who are those that are “left.” It should be noted that the word “taken” can have two different meanings in this respect. It can mean to be taken away – to be taken somewhere else. But it can also mean to lose something – to lose one’s life for example. We use the latter meaning when someone dies and we say that they were taken from us or that their life was taken from them.

It’s interesting when trying to understand who the “taken” are in the above passage to note how Luke records the same discourse. Here’s his version:

26 “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. 27 Then the flood came and destroyed them all” (Luke 17:26-27).

While Matthew said that the “flood came and took them all away” (Matt. 24:39), Luke said that “the flood came and destroyed them all” (Luke 17:27). It would not be unreasonable to conclude based on comparing the two versions that to be “taken” means to be “destroyed” and that therefore those who are “taken” in Matthew’s account are unbelievers – those who are not followers of Jesus.

Additional support for the conclusion that those “taken” are unbelievers and the ones “left” or “left behind” are followers of Christ comes from noting Jesus’ use of pronouns when referring to those taken. Jesus said that in the days before the flood that “people were eating and drinking … up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away” (Matt. 24:38-39). Note that the only “they” in these verses are the “people” who were eating and drinking in the days of Noah. Noah is an individual and the passage doesn’t say that he was taken away; it says that they were taken away. Although some have tried to reconcile this by noting that Noah’s family also entered the ark and that this could be the “they” the passage is referring to, this insertion of Noah’s family into the passage is arbitrary and is not supported by the text.

Although I believe that the above arguments are adequate to support the conclusion that the “taken” in Matthew 24:36-41 are unbelievers and that those “left” or “left behind” are Christians, the parables that follow provide additional support that those “taken” are unbelievers and not Christians and that therefore being among those “taken” is not a good thing.

Some Principles for Interpreting Parables

What follows Matthew 24:36-41 are five parables that describe in symbolic language what will happen when Jesus returns. The first is the parable of the thief (Matthew 24:42-44); the second is the parable of the unfaithful servant (Matthew 24:45-51); the third is the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13); the fourth is the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30); the fifth is the parable of the sheep and goats (Matthew 25:31-46).

One principle I use when I see parables grouped in this fashion is to look for what is similar in each and to discount what is not. As I do this, I try not to get so bogged down in the details of the parables that I miss the point the speaker was trying to make. The message in this respect is not found so much in the events described but in the what point is being conveyed through them. I look for what’s common in the parables and use this to help me determine what their combined message may be.

Here are the common elements I’ve found in these five parables:

  1. Each describes some event that happens unexpectedly or without notice.
  2. Each describes a measure that is used to determine the fate of those affected by it.
  3. Each states or implies what happens to those unprepared for the event.
  4. Each states or implies what happens to those prepared for it.

In the sections that follow, I will point out how each of the above elements are in evidence in these five parables.

The Parable of the Thief

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matthew 24:42-44).         

This parable compares the return of Jesus to a thief coming in the night. What’s interesting is that this picture of Jesus coming as a thief shows up elsewhere in Scripture including in 1 Thessalonians 5:2-4, 2 Peter 3:10, Revelation 3:3, and Revelation 16:15. In a future article, I intend to note how looking for where the same symbols (like the thief) show up in different passages can help us understand which ones may be describing the same event. For now I’ll just point out what parts of this parable align with the common elements described earlier:

  1. The Event: A thief comes in the night. No-one knows when he is coming.
  2. The Measure: Keeping watch; being ready.
  3. Those Unprepared: Their house is broken into. What’s implied is that something of value is taken from them.
  4. Those Prepared: Unknown. What’s implied is that their house is not broken into and they lose nothing.

The Parable of the Unfaithful Servant

45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. 47 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ 49 and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. 50 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. 51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 24:42-51).

This parable describes what happens to a servant who is entrusted with his master’s household while the master is away. Here is what aligns with the common elements described earlier:

  1. The Event: A master who put his household in charge of a servant returns unexpectedly after a long absence.
  2. The Measure: How the servant treated his fellow servants while his master was absent.
  3. Those Unprepared: Cut to pieces and assigned a place “where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
  4. Those Prepared: Put in charge of all of his master’s possessions.

The Parable of the Ten Virgins

1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.    

“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ 7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’                                            

9 “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.    

11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’ 12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’  

13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” (Matthew 25:1-13).

This parable begins with the words, “At that time.” I believe that these words were included to make sure the reader knows it is linked to the event Jesus was referring to in Matthew 24:30 – the time when He returns. In this parable, ten virgins are waiting with lamps for the coming of a bridegroom so that they can attend his wedding banquet. Some have insufficient oil for their lamps and while shopping for more, the bridegroom arrives. Here are the portions of this parable that align with the common elements of the others:

  1. The Event: A bridegroom who was “a long time in coming” shows up without notice.
  2. The Measure: To be ready for his return by having enough oil for their lamps.
  3. Those Unprepared: They were shut out of the wedding banquet and disowned.
  4. Those Prepared: They were welcomed into to the wedding banquet.

I want to add one other observation about this parable before I move onto the next. I noted earlier that when interpreting parables that are grouped like this that I look for what’s common and discount what is not. Since this is the only parable in this group that mentions a wedding, the fact that it does so is not important. In my opinion, it is not describing anything that has to do with what some call the “marriage supper of the Lamb” or the “marriage of the Lamb to His bride.” The message Jesus was trying to convey through this parable is not found in the event itself but in the similarities between it and the other parables it is grouped with.

The Parable of the Talents

14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’  

21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’          

22 The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’  

23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’      

24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’      

26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.  

28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:14-30).

This parable describes what happens when a master returns after a long journey. Before the journey, he gave each of servants some wealth (or talents). When he returns, he asks for an accounting from each of his servants regarding what they did with what he gave them. Here are the portions that align with the common elements of the others:

  1. The Event: A master entrusts his servants with different amounts of wealth. After a long absence, he returns.
  2. The Measure: What they did with what he left in their care.
  3. Those Unprepared: They are taken into the darkness “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
  4. Those Prepared: They are given more.

Like the parable of the ten virgins, I believe that the event described in this passage has little to do with the point Jesus trying to make. In my opinion, it’s not a promise that our gifts will be multiplied if we use them wisely during this life. What’s important is not the event itself but how its message parallels what is being conveyed through the other parables.

The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’    

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’      

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’    

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’    

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’        

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’      

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matthew 25:31-46).

This passage begins with the words, “When the Son of Man comes.” Like similar terminology found in the other parables, I believe that this was included to show that it is elaborating on the event described in Matthew 24:30 – Jesus’ return – so that the reader knows it is referring to what will happen after this occurs. Here is what fits the common elements of the other parables:

  1. The Event: The return of Jesus and the final destination of both “sheep” and “goats.”
  2. The Measure: If ones’ actions are aligned with what Jesus considers important.
  3. Those Unprepared: They will be sent away to eternal punishment.
  4. Those Prepared: They will receive eternal life.

I don’t believe that Jesus’ intent when telling this parable was to indicate that our works will be used to determine our eternal destination. We are not saved by our works; we are saved by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Concluding that this parable  is describing the means upon which one gains eternal life is in my opinion beyond the scope of what Jesus or Matthew intended. I don’t believe that this parable and the ones that precede tell us how we are saved. Their purpose is to warn us that if our relationship with Jesus is not right – if we is not prepared for His return at all times – if we are not saved – than we may find ourselves falling short of what is required to be able to spend eternity with Jesus and may end up spending it in a place where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Considering the Message as a Whole

Here are some things that I believe Jesus was trying to communicate as a whole through what is recorded in Matthew 24:36 — 25:46:

  • His return will come at a time when it is unexpected. Although there are some things that must happen before Jesus returns (the topic of my next article), there is no way to know exactly when the day or time of His return will be. It’s also impossible to know what conditions will immediately precede it. We therefore have to be prepared for His return at all times knowing that it could occur at anytime.
  • What follows His return will result in immediate, permanent, and dire consequences for those unprepared. There is no gap of time between Jesus’ return and what follows; there is no second chance for those not ready for that day; there will be no additional opportunity for them to repent and do what is right in God’s eyes. There will on the other hand be immediate, permanent, and good consequences for those who are prepared for His return – those who have put their faith and trust in Him.
  • When He returns, it will not be a good thing to be among those who are “taken”.

The understanding that Jesus’ return is followed immediately by a time of judgment reinforces the urgency of Jesus’ warning in Matthew 24:42 when He said, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” If we knew the day Jesus was returning, we could prepare for it at the last moment. Since we don’t, we have to be prepared for it at all times.

And so, I believe that the “taken” in Matthew 24:40-41 are nonbelievers who are taken to a place where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth” because of their rejection of Jesus. They, as Luke 17:37 notes, are destroyed. The ones left behind – the ones not destroyed – are those who have prepared for the coming of Jesus by putting their faith and trust in Him and by living in a way that honors Him.

That’s my understanding of Matthew 24:36 — 25:46, as I see it today.

When Jesus returns, it will be visible to everyone: Matthew 24:1-30 and Luke 21:5-28

Jesus discourse about the end times: a tale of two questions.

Why I believe Jesus returns only once and when He does that everyone will see Him.

By Dick Lentz

(All Scriptures cited come from the NIV2011 version of the Bible)

I’ve always been intrigued by the various views regarding the end times. At one point I held to the one that Christians will someday be whisked into the sky during an event called the Rapture and that what follows will be a seven-year period of tribulation for those left behind. But over the years as I’ve studied what Scripture actually has to say about the end times, I’ve concluded that Christians will for the most part not be spared from the troubles the Bible says will characterize the end times and that will occur before Jesus returns. I also believe that Jesus will return only once, that when He does that it will be visible to everyone, and that what follows will result in immediate and dire consequences for those unprepared.

I will not be able to explain in one article how I came to this conclusion. What I intend to do in this and subsequent ones is to note some of the passages that affected my viewpoint regarding the end times and how I understand them now. I am going to begin with Jesus’ discourse regarding the end times in Matthew 24:1-30 and its parallel account in Luke 21:5-28.

Where it took place and what Jesus’ disciples wanted to know

Among the first things one should note when discussing Matthew 24:1-30 and Luke 21:5-28 is are the event recorded took place and what concerns Jesus’ disciples may have had at that time.

Here’s is what Matthew wrote about this:

1 Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2 “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:1-3) 

Here is what Luke wrote:

5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”

7 “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?” (Luke 21:5-7) 

Jesus was apparently with His disciples either near the temple in Jerusalem or on the Mount of Olives overlooking it when this event took place. As they gazed upon the temple, Jesus said that at some point not one stone of the temple would be left on another; at some time in the future, the walls of the temple would be torn down.

The disciples then asked two questions. According to Matthew the first was, “When will this happen?” and the second, “What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” According to Luke the first was, “When will these things happen?” and the second, “What will be the sign that they are about to take place?”

How these two questions are understood greatly affects how the passages are interpreted. The mistake I believe many make in this respect is to combine the two into one and to conclude that they are referring to the same event – to conclude that the only thing the disciples were concerned about at that time was Jesus’ return and what would happen prior to it and the end times.

It’s my opinion that the disciples’ questions were in regards to two separate and distinct events. Jesus had just informed them that the temple walls would one day be torn down. One thing His disciples wanted to know was when this, the destruction of the temple, was going to take place and what would be the signs that it was about to occur. But they also had some concerns about the end times and wanted to know what signs would precede it and Jesus’ return.

It seems to me that what follows in both accounts is Jesus’ answers to these two questions: the first, when was the temple going to be destroyed and the second, the signs that would precede His return. In order to understand Jesus’ answers to these two questions, one must first determine which portions of His response were directed towards each one.

The chronology of the events prophesied 

What makes understanding of Jesus’ response to the two questions challenging is that Matthew and Luke do not provide His answers in the same order. Here’s is Matthew’s version:

Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains. 

9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. 

15 “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. 18 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 19 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 20 Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again. (Matthew 24:4-21) 

This is the order of events in Matthew’s account:

  • There will be a day when many will come who claim to be the Messiah.
  • There will be wars, famines, and earthquakes.
  • Those who follow Jesus will be persecuted. Some will deny Him.
  • Those who stand firm to the end will be saved.
  • The Gospel will be preached to all the nations. Then the end will come.
  • An abomination will occur that fulfills a prophecy in Daniel regarding the destruction of the temple.
  • When this occurs, those in Judea should flee to the mountains, for what follows will be dreadful.

Here is Luke’s version:

8 He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”  

10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. 

12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life. 

20 “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. 22 For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. 23 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. (Luke 21:8-24)

This is Luke’s order of events:

  • There will come a day when many will claim to be Jesus or that the end is near.
  • There will be wars, earthquakes, famines, and pestilences. These are not the signs of the end.
  • Before this, they (Jesus’ disciples) would be persecuted, imprisoned, and brought before kings and governors.
  • This would result in opportunities for them to testify about Jesus.
  • They would be betrayed and the world would hate them because of Jesus.
  • If they stood firm to the end, they would be saved.
  • When they saw Jerusalem surrounded by armies, they would know that its desolation is near.
  • When they witnessed this, they should flee to the mountains, for what followed would be dreadful.
  • Many would fall by the sword. Others would be taken prisoner.
  • Jerusalem would remain trampled until the time of the Gentiles is fulfilled.

One important difference in the two accounts is Luke’s insertion of the phrase “Before this” after mentioning the proliferation of false messiahs, earthquakes, famines, pestilences, wars, and other fearful events. It seems to me that Jesus was telling His disciples in Luke 21:12-24 what was going to happen to them before the terrible events in Luke 21:8-11 occurred. 

What actually happened  

What’s interesting is that nearly everything Jesus said would happen to His disciples in Luke 12:12-17 actually occurred in the lifetime of some of those listening to Him as well as to some of them personally. The book of Acts records this. Here are some examples:

  • Some were seized (vs. 12) – (Peter: Acts 12:3; Paul and Silas: Acts 16:19)
  • Some were persecuted (vs. 12) – (The apostles: Acts 5:17-42; believers in Jerusalem: Acts 8:1)
  • Some were put in prison (vs. 12) – (Peter: Acts 12:4; Paul: Acts 21:33)
  • Some had the opportunity to speak to kings and governors about Jesus (vs. 12) – (Paul: Acts 24:24, 26:1)
  • Some were killed (vs. 16) – (Stephen: Acts 7:54-60; James: Acts 12:3)
  • Some were hated because of their testimony regarding Jesus (vs. 17) – (Stephen: Acts 7; Paul: Acts 19:23-41)

I don’t think it’s an accident that Luke noted what Jesus said regarding what was going to happen to some of those listening to Him. Since he wrote the book of Acts and as well as the gospel that bears his name, it may have been his intent to show in his accounts in Acts of the apostles’ evangelistic endeavors how their efforts  fulfilled the prophecies he recorded in Luke 21 regarding what lay ahead of them. If this is true, then these prophecies have already been fulfilled.

I believe that the prophecies recorded in Luke 21:20-24 regarding the destruction of the temple have been fulfilled as well, perhaps in 70 A.D., in the middle of a seven-year period beginning in 66 A.D. and ending in 73 A.D. Here is a short chronology of that period:

  • 66 A.D. – Some Jews in Judea staged a revolt against the Romans.
  • 67 A.D. – Roman armies commanded by Vespasian invaded Galilee.
  • 70 A.D. – Roman armies under Titus besieged Jerusalem. The siege lasted 7 months.
  • 70 A.D. – 960 Jews took refuge on Masada, a mountain south of the Dead Sea
  • 70 A.D. – The Romans entered the temple, desecrated its holy spots, and raised a banner at the corner of it.
  • 70 A.D. – Jerusalem was destroyed. The walls of the temple were torn down and rest burned.
  • 72 A.D. – The Romans began building a siege ramp at Masada so they could breach its walls.
  • 73 A.D. – The Romans broke into Masada and found that most the Jews had chosen death over captivity.

Josephus, a first century Jewish historian, described in his writings the extent of suffering those living in Jerusalem experienced during its 7-month siege. He noted that because there was no food that some resorted to eating belts and shoes and other things that even animals wouldn’t consume. He mentioned one woman who was so hungry that she killed and ate her own child. Josephus claimed that 1.1 million died during the siege, mostly Jews, mostly through starvation, and that nearly 100,000 were taken into captivity. Some of those living in those days seemed to have heeded Jesus advice to flee to the mountains when they saw the Roman armies outside the walls of Jerusalem.

It should be noted that Jerusalem has remained in the hands of Gentiles either wholly or in part since its destruction in 70 A.D. This could be a fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy that the city would be trampled by the Gentiles until their time comes to an end (Luke 21:24).

The Link between Matthew 24 and Daniel 9 

Matthew noted in these verses Jesus’ statement that the destruction of the temple would be a fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy regarding its demise:

14 “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— 15 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. (Matthew 24:14-15). 

This is the prophecy I believe Jesus was referring to when He said this:

24 “Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place. 

25 “Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. 26 After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. 27 He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.” (Daniel 9:24-27). 

The above passage in Daniel is often cited by those who believe that there is one remaining week of years in the “seventy-sevens” of years that are yet to be fulfilled –  a seven-year period of tribulation preceded by the Rapture of the Church. But if the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. fulfills Jesus’ prophecy regarding its demise, then it fulfills as well the prophecy in Daniel 9 regarding its destruction. If this is so, then no seven-year period in the “seventy-sevens” of years remains to be fulfilled.

I hope to be able to discuss some of the implications of this understanding of Daniel 9 in another article.

What comes after the destruction of the temple

It seems to me that all the events that Luke indicated were to happen before the terrible events recorded in Luke 21:8-11 have already taken place including the destruction of the temple. But there are some things that I believe both Matthew and Luke indicate will happen after the events Luke noted are “before this.” Here is Matthew’s account of these.

22 “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. 23 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you ahead of time. 

26 “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather. 

29 “Immediately after the distress of those days, “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’” (Matthew 24:22-29) 

Here is Luke’s account:

25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. (Luke 21:25-26)

One of the challenges in comparing these two passages is understanding how they relate to what precedes them. It seems to me that Luke 21:25-26 was meant to follow Luke 21:8-11 chronologically. After inserting a statement recorded in Luke 21:12-24 about what would occur in the disciples’ immediate future including what was going to happen to the temple, it seems to me that Luke returned to the question of what the signs of the end and of the return of Jesus would be, noting that there would be indications in the heavens and on earth that the very structure of nature was falling apart, signs that would terrify those living in those days.

Understanding the sequence of events in Matthew 24 is a bit more challenging and is hindered by how various translations combine the verses into paragraphs. I believe that Matthew 24:22 should be combined with Matthew 24:15-21 and that what Jesus was saying that if the days when the city and temple were being destroyed weren’t shortened that no one would have survived. Matthew 24:23 then returns to what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 24:4-14, the signs of His imminent return, noting the rise of false messiahs (which Luke recorded earlier in his account) and the terror caused by the increasing amount of turmoil in the heavens.

It may seem when considering this that Luke and Matthew were recording different chronologies of the same events. But it seems to me that both accounts start and end with the events that will precede Jesus’ return and then insert in between these prophecies regarding what was going to happen in the near future of those listening to Him and how they should respond when those events occurred.

Jesus returns only once. And its visible to everyone.

Jesus concluded by describing what was going to happen when He does return. Here is the beginning of what Matthew had to say about this:

30 “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. (Matthew 24:30). 

Here’s is what Luke began his account of this with:

27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. (Luke 21:27)

Both Matthew and Luke note that when Jesus returns that He will come in a cloud and that when this happens, it will be visible to everyone. Neither writer supports the concept of a secret return where followers of Christ suddenly disappear with no understanding by those left behind of what has taken place. All people of the earth see Jesus’ return; all will mourn as a consequence of it.

One other thing worthy of note in Matthew’s account is that Jesus only returns once and that when He does, it is followed by immediate and dire consequences for those unprepared. The remaining verses in Matthew 24 and the parables in Matthew 25 provide some insights regarding what that something is and what the consequences to those unprepared will be. What those consequences are may be one of the causes of the mourning noted in Matthew 24:30.

I’ll discuss that topic when I address the remaining verses in Matthew 24 and the parables in Matthew 25 in another article.

Summary

I believe that Jesus was addressing two questions in Matthew 24:1-30 and Luke 21:5-28. The first was, “When will the temple be destroyed and what will be the signs that it is about to occur?” The second was, “What will be the signs that the end is near and that your return is imminent?”

I believe that Jesus’ answers to these two questions is best understood by comparing Matthew 24 with its parallel account in Luke 21.

I believe that Jesus’ answer to the first question was that the destruction of the temple would be preceded by Jerusalem being surrounded by an army and that when His followers saw this happening that they should flee to the mountains. I believe this prophecy was fulfilled in 70 A.D. when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed by the Romans.

I believe that Jesus’ response to the second question was that He would return sometime in the distant future after times of war, famine, earthquakes, and other terrible events.

I believe that Jesus was warning those listening to Him at that time that some of them would be persecuted, imprisoned, or  killed.

I believe that Jesus was saying that He will return only once and that when He does, it will visible to everyone. And, as I’ll note in a future article, His return will be followed by immediate and dire consequences for those unprepared.

That is my understanding of Matthew 24:1-30 and Luke 21:5-28 as I see it today.

The Church may not be the Bride of Christ – Revelation 19:6-9; 21:9-14

When Jesus sees His bride coming from heaven, who His bride may actually be.

By Dick Lentz

6 “Hallelujah!” For our Lord God Almighty reigns 7 Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. 8 Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) 9 Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’” And he added, “These are the true words of God. (Revelation 19:6-9, NIV)”

For years I’ve been told by various pastors and teachers that in the above passage, the Bride of Christ – the wife of the Lamb – is the Church. The picture they sometimes present when doing so is a wedding where Jesus, the Bridegroom, is waiting anxiously at an altar for His Bride, the Church, a bride clothed in white, walking towards her future husband. It’s been explained that this is a metaphor of how much Jesus longs for the day when the Church – all those who have made a commitment to follow Jesus – has perfect fellowship with Him, something that will occur only in the end-times when believers are unencumbered by the trials, travails, and temptations of this world.

I used to believe that this was true – that the Bride of Christ is the Church.  What caused me to question this were these verses:

2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband (Revelation 21:2, NIV).

 9 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. 11 It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12 It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. 13 There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. 14 The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (Revelation 21:9-14, NIV)”

What struck me about these verses is how “un-church-like” they were. For the most part, they include symbols more commonly associated with the Jews – the Israelites – than with the Church. Jerusalem was the capital of the Jewish nation and the city where a temple was built so that God could dwell in the midst of His chosen people; the names written on the gates of the city are the names of the twelve tribes of Israel; and though the twelve apostles whose names are written on the foundations of the wall were among the early leaders of the Church, all twelve of them were Jews, and their initial converts were almost entirely from the people of Israel. Nothing in these verses has a “Gentile” flavor to it, and nothing in them explicitly refers to the Church.

And so, who is the “Bride, the wife of the Lamb”? Is it the Church?  Or could it be someone else?

Jesus does have a Bride

The first thing to establish is that Jesus does or will have a Bride. The verses in Revelation 19:6-9 and 21:9-14 noted above support this. So does the following:

28 “You yourselves can testify that I [John the baptist] said, ‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 The bride belongs the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine and is now complete. (John 3:28-29, NIV)”

John was acknowledging in the above that though Jesus is a Bridegroom that he, John, was not His Bride but instead was a friend of the Bridegroom.

Here’s another passage that supports this:

14 Then John’s disciples came and asked him [Jesus], “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast. (Matthew 9:14-15, NIV)”

This passage not only identifies Jesus as a Bridegroom, it also indicates that there will be others attending His wedding as well, others described as “guests of the bridegroom.” The passage then tells us who these guests are; they are or will be His disciples – those who are followers of Jesus.

But the question for us is not if Jesus will be a Bridegroom but is instead if He is, who will His Bride be?

Is the Church the Bride of Christ?

There are verses in the New Testament that suggest that the Church could be the Bride of Christ. Here is a passage that is frequently cited to support this:

 21 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.                25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:21-27, NIV).

 Here’s another:

2 I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. 3 But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough … (2 Corinthians 11:2-4, NIV)

Although these verses seem to be describing Jesus as husband and the Church as His wife, none of them explicitly state that this is so. It seems to me that Paul is simply describing in Ephesians 5:21-27 how husbands and wives should treat each other; it is not saying that the marriage of a man and woman is a picture of the relationship between Jesus and the Church. And though Paul does use the word “husband” in 2 Corinthians 11:2 to describe what a believer’s relationship with Jesus ought to be like, his purpose in doing so was to voice his fear that some were being led astray by false teachers preaching a different Jesus or a different Gospel.

There are in fact no verses in the Bible that actually say, “The Church is the Bride of Christ.” This association comes from commentators and teachers, not from the actual words of Scripture.  It is not explicit; it is inferred. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t valid. It could be true even if not explicitly stated.  But it does present some problems if it is so. Consider these verses for example:

  • Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it (1 Corinthians 12:27, NIV).
  • And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way (Ephesians 1:22-23, NIV).

These verses state  that the Church is the Body of Christ. But if this is so, then how can the Church also be the Bride of Christ? It seems to me that the Church cannot be both; it is either one or the other. In this case, I lean towards the association that is explicitly stated rather than the one that is inferred.

But there is another problem with concluding that the Church is the Bride of Christ.  I noted these verses earlier:

7 “For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. 8 Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints). (Revelation 19:7-8, NIV)”

To conclude that the Bride in this passage is the Church requires one to also conclude that believers aren’t yet ready to be received by Jesus and that something else has to be done to make the Church acceptable to Him before the wedding – that some “righteous acts” (vs. 8) are required for the Church to be made complete. But this would be in conflict with what is found in this passage:

8 For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is a gift of God — 9 not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV).

If some acts of righteousness need to be performed in order for the Church to be ready to be presented to Jesus, then its relationship with Him is no longer based on faith alone. If however the Church’s relationship with Jesus is based entirely on faith but works are required to make the Bride ready for her Bridegroom, then the Bride of Christ cannot be the Church; it has to be someone else.

Could Israel be the Bride of Christ?

There is a much stronger case that the Bride of Christ is the people of Israel. Their relationship with God is compared frequently in Scripture to the one between a husband a wife. Consider these for example:

  • For your Maker is your husband — the Lord Almighty is His name — the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the god of all the earth (Isaiah 54:5-6, NIV).
  • “Return, faithless people,” declares the Lord, “for I am your husband. I will choose you — one from a town and two from a clan — and bring you to Zion. (Jeremiah 3:14, NIV)”
  • No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate, but you will be called Hephzibah [which means “my delight is in her”], and your land Beulah [which means “married”]; for the Lord will take delight in you, and your land will be married. As a young man marries a maiden, so will your sons marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you (Isaiah 62:4-5, NIV).
  • I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord. (Hosea 2:19-20, NIV)”
  • “The time is coming,” declares the Lord, ”when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them. This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,“ declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord., “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more. (Jeremiah 31:31-34, NIV)”

If you look up these verses and note their context, you’ll find that they are referring in some cases to God’ past relationship with Israel and in others to His future relationship with them following a time when they have fallen away from Him. They suggest that God did have and perhaps always has had a relationship with Israel that is similar to the relationship between a husband and wife. And even though Israel frequently committed spiritual adultery by serving other gods, there is no indication in Scripture that God ever divorced the nation of Israel or its people or that He ever will. God promised that He would always remain faithful to Israel even if the people of Israel were unfaithful to Him.

God’s promise in this regards is confirmed in the following passage:

35 This is what the Lord says, he who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar — the Lord Almighty is his name: 36 “Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,“ declares the Lord, ”will the descendants of Israel ever cease to be a nation before me.” 37 This is what the Lord says: “Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done,“ declares the Lord (Jeremiah 31:35-37). 

What’s interesting is that the writer of Hebrews quotes from portions of Jeremiah 31:31-34 when describing the effects of Jesus’ sacrificial death:

16 “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”17 Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” 18 And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 10:16-18, NIV). 

And so, who is at the wedding?

Based on what I’ve noted above, It seems to me that it is the people of Israel and not believers in the Church who are the Bride of Christ.  If this is so, then the celebration described in Revelation 19:6-9 could be the result of the joy Jesus and the guests at His wedding express when the people of Israel finally acknowledge Jesus as their Savior.

Where is the Church in this? If it is the not the Bride of Christ, is it at the wedding supper of the Lamb at all?  I believe that it is. But instead of the Church being the Bride of Christ, I believe based verses noted earlier that the Church is either the Friend of the Bridegroom (John 3:28-29) or one of His guests (Matthew 9:14-15).

I believe that Jesus – the Lamb at the wedding supper in Revelation 19:6-9 and the Bridegroom mentioned in other passages – is patiently waiting for the arrival the Bride promised to Him centuries ago – a Bride that has to be made ready for Him but who will someday be clothed in white, fully prepared to be received into the arms of the One who has always longed to have a relationship with her.

As I see it today, that Bride – the Bride of Christ – is the people of Israel.

(For another article  regarding on my views of Israel, check out my post titled “Who are the rightful heirs of the land of Israel?”)

The Mark of the Beast may be a concern only for Christians – Revelation 13:11-17

Why the only ones affected by the Mark of the Beast may be Christians.

By Dick Lentz

11 Then I saw another beast, coming out of the earth. He had two horns like a lamb, but he spoke like a dragon … 15 He was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that it could speak and cause all who refuse to worship the image to be killed. 16 He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, 17 so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark which is the name of the beast or the number of his name. (Revelation 13: 11, 15-17, NIV)

What I have to say in the following post about the Mark of the Beast is not traditional; it will be controversial; it will be disputed.  And when you get done reading what I have to say about it, you may even consider me to be a heretic. For I believe that the Mark of the Beast can have little if any effect on non-believers; I believe it is something that can only affect Christians. I also don’t believe that it’s a physical mark; I believe it is symbolic of something less tangible but much more perilous, especially for those who have put their faith in Jesus.

I hope that you will read my justification for this conclusion. For if my understanding of the Mark of the Beast is correct, it has profound implications for Christians today who are living in the midst of increasing amounts of opposition because of what they believe about Jesus.

The Traditional View – It is a Literal or Physical Mark

Over the years there has been lots of speculation regarding Revelation 13:11-17 and what the Mark of the Beast might possibly be. Many have speculated that it could be some kind of physical indication that a person has given their sole allegiance to a world power whose goal it is to supplant Christ – a literal mark that indicates that one has made a commitment to worship the antichrist for example. Some believe that it could be a microchip or some other electronic device that is embedded in a person’s arm or head to distinguish between those who are followers of this antichrist from those who are not. At some point everyone’s economic and physical welfare will be based on their allegiance to this antichrist, and their willingness to accept its mark will prove that they are loyal to him or the power he represents.

But is the Mark of the Beast meant to be understood as a literal or physical mark? Or is symbolic of something? Could it for example be a symbol of a change in the condition of a person’s heart and if so, whose heart?

A Non-Traditional View – It is Symbolic of Something

One thing that needs to be noted about Revelation 13 as well as all of the book of Revelation is its widespread use of symbolic language. For the most part, John was not being shown actual images of future events; he was seeing symbolic representations of them.

Consider for example these images recorded in Revelation 13:1-17:

  • A beast comes out of the sea. It has ten horns and seven heads (vs. 1).
  • The beast looks like a leopard but has feet of a bear and the mouth of a lion (vs 2).
  • One of its heads has a fatal wound that is healed (vs 3).
  • The dragon (Satan – vs. 12:9) is worshiped because he gave authority to the beast (vs. 4).
  • The beast is given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them (vs. 7).
  • All whose names are not written in the book of life worship the beast (vs. 8).
  • Another beast comes out of the earth. He has two horns and speaks like a dragon (vs. 11).
  • The second beast has the same authority as the first (vs. 12).
  • The second beast sets up an image to honor the first beast (vs. 14).
  • The image is given breath. Those who refuse to worship it are killed (vs. 15).
  • No-one can buy or sell unless they receive a mark on their right hand or forehead (vs. 16-17).

Most if not all of these images symbolize something.  I don’t believe for example that an actual beast will arise from the ocean that has ten horns and seven heads and that people will fall down and worship it. This image is meant to be symbolic. Perhaps it represents a world power or an individual who will rule in the last days. The same can be said regarding the second beast; it too is symbolic of something. By association, shouldn’t the Mark of the Beast be considered equally symbolic?

The issue here is being consistent in how we treat associated elements in Scripture. If we know for example that A is symbolic of something and that A and B are meant to be treated the same, then B is symbolic as well. “Beast” in the phrase “the Mark of the Beast” is typically interpreted as being symbolic of something or someone. To be consistent, shouldn’t its mark be understood the same way? Shouldn’t it be interpreted as being symbolic of something as well?  Another way to put this is if the beast in the passage is not meant to be interpreted as an actual beast, then to be consistent, its mark should not be interpreted as an actual mark.

And so, if the Mark of the Beast is not a literal or physical mark, then what is it symbolic of? And who will it affect? To get some understanding of that, we’ll turn to the book of Ezekiel.

The Mark of the Angel

1 Then I heard him call out in a loud voice, “Bring the guards of the city here, each with a weapon in his hand.” 2 And I saw six men coming from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, each with a deadly weapon in his hand. with them was a man clothed in linen who had a writing kit at his side. They came in and stood beside the bronze altar.

3 Now the glory of the God of Israel went up from above the cherubim, where it had been, and moved to the threshold of the temple. Then the Lord called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side 4 and said to him, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.” 5 As I listened, he said to the others, “Follow him through the city and kill, without showing pity or compassion. 6 Slaughter old men, young men and maidens, women and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark.” (Ezekiel 9:1-6, NIV)

Ezekiel was given this vision during the decline of Israel’s relationship with God, prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. When I stumbled across it a number of years ago, I was stunned by how it mirrored what is recorded in Revelation 13:11-17.

Ezekiel 8 gives a glimpse of how bad things were in those days. Here’s a bit of what God said about the leaders of the Israelites:

12 “Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the darkness, each at the shrine of his own idol? They say, ‘The Lord does not see us; the Lord has forsaken the land.’” 13 Again, he said, “You will see them doing things that are even more detestable.” (Ezekiel 8:12-13, NIV)

I recommend reading Ezekiel 8 and Ezekiel 9 if you want a better understanding of what was happening in those days and how God was going to respond.  Here are a few things I’d like to note:

  • The primary issue was idolatry. The Israelites were giving themselves over to idols rather than worshiping God alone.
  • God said that the result of the Israelites’ detestable behavior would be the destruction of Jerusalem and the loss of their lives. Only those who grieved and lamented over the Israelites’ despicable behavior would be spared.
  • Prior to God pouring out His wrath on the Israelites and the city, He said that a “man clothed in linen” would put a mark on the forehead of all those who were to be spared.

I do not believe that the marking referenced above, one I call “the Mark of the Angel,” should be interpreted as a literal marking. I don’t believe that an angel actually walked through Jerusalem and physically marked those who had remained faithful to God; the text doesn’t compel us to understand it that way nor does history support that this is what actually took place. It seems to me that the Mark of the Angel is a symbolic representation of a separation that was going to take place – a demarcation – between those who had stayed faithful to God and those who hadn’t.

Note that the Mark of the Angel had nothing to do with those who were not Israelites. God’s dispute was not with non-Israelites. His wrath was aimed only at those among His chosen people who had decided not to remain faithful to Him.

Could it be that the Mark of the Beast is similar to the Mark of the Angel in its symbolic nature as well as in whom it affects? Before addressing that, it’s important to look at what comes both before and after Revelation 13:11-17.

An Epic Battle

Genesis 1-3 describes what things were like in the beginning.

In the beginning, God had an intimate and personal relationship with mankind. Genesis 3:8 says that God actually walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden. But when Adam and Eve were tempted by Satan and then sinned by eating fruit from the forbidden tree, that relationship was torn apart.

Here are some things God said would happen as a result Satan’s treachery and Adam and Eve’s disobedience:

14 “Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. 15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman and your offspring and hers; he will crush you head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:1-15, NIV)

The one being cursed in verse 14 is Satan. It could be that the enmity between Satan and the woman noted in verse 15 is a prophecy that Satan and his minions would be at war from that point on with all of mankind; or it could be talking about the ongoing war that was going to take place between Satan and Jesus, the supernatural seed of women. But eventually “he”, Jesus, will decisively crush Satan even though Satan might have some limited victories in the meantime.

It’s possible that the images in Revelation 12 are providing more details on the conflict prophesied in Genesis 3:14-15. I recommend reading all of Revelation 12 so that you have a good handle on what some of these images are. Here are some things I’d like to note about them:

  • A pregnant woman is on the verge of giving birth to a child (vs. 2).
  • A dragon, who symbolizes Satan (vs. 9), wants to devour the child after it’s born (vs. 4).
  • The woman gives birth to a male child “who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. (vs. 5)”
  • The woman and her child flee to the desert for 3 ½ years to escape from the dragon (vs. 13-16).
  • The dragon is enraged, perhaps because it was unable to kill the child (vs. 17).
  • The dragon decides to wage war against “those who obey God’s commands and hold to the testimony of Jesus. (vs. 17)”

It could be that Revelation 12 is describing in symbolic language some things about Jesus’ life as well as the history of the Israelites as a whole. For example, some of the attempts to annihilate the Israelites prior to the first century (Pharaoh in Exodus 1 for example and Haman in Esther 3) could have been sparked by Satan’s impassioned desire to prevent the birth of Jesus. Herod’s command to kill all the males two years or younger in Bethlehem following the birth of Jesus (Matthew 2:16) could have been an attempt by Satan to “devour the child” after Jesus’ birth. And when the empty tomb proved that Satan’s plans to prevent the birth of Jesus or kill Him afterwards had failed, could it be that Satan simply changed his game plan and began targeting Christians in the hope that He could keep the truth about Jesus hidden or cause it to be discredited?  Revelation 13:1-17 may in fact be describing the war that Satan has declared against Christians and what he’s trying to accomplish by doing so.

I want to point out something that comes after Revelation 13:11-17 that also needs to be taken into consideration.

The Final Judgment

8 A second angel followed and said, “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great, which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.” 9 A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, 10 he, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. 11 There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name.” 12 This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus.” (Revelation 14:9-12, NIV)

This passage seems to be describing the final judgment, perhaps the same separation of “sheep” from “goats” recorded in Matthew 25:31-46. Most would conclude that there are only two groups this passage is referring to – the saved and the unsaved, believers and unbelievers. But I contend that Revelation 14:9-12 is actually referring to three groups. There are those who drink the wine of Babylon’s adulteries and by implication end up experiencing the result of God’s wrath; there are those who worship the beast or receive its mark resulting in them drinking from the wine of God’s fury as well; and there are saints who have remained faithful to Jesus.

It seems to me that the first of these three groups is unbelievers – those who when given the opportunity to follow Jesus didn’t “Fear God and give him the glory” or who didn’t “worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water” (vs. 14:7). The third group is Christians who have remained faithful to Jesus. But then who is included in the second group?  I contend that it is Christians who have not remained faithful to Jesus – Christians who perhaps have not persevered in the midst of persecution – those who in the face of economic or physical threats deny knowing Jesus.

Christians believe that if you haven’t put your trust in Jesus – if you are an unbeliever – that you will not spend eternity with Him. It won’t matter if an unbeliever worships the beast or receives its mark; this will have no effect on their eternal destination. It will be their unbelief that is the issue, not whom they worship instead of Jesus. It seems to me that the only ones that can be affected by worshiping the beast or receiving its mark are therefore those who are followers of Jesus.

Here’s a passage that seems to share a similar sentiment:

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away … 7 He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars — their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” (Revelation 21:1, 7-8, NIV)

Although this passage seems to be describing multiple groupings of people, I believe that they can be put into three groups.

The first group is unbelievers who have no relationship with Jesus – those who have never put their trust in Him. These are referenced explicitly in verse 8; it is “the unbelieving”.

The second group is Christians who have “overcome” (vs. 7), perhaps by persevering to the end or as Paul put it, finishing the race (2 Timothy 4:7). I believe this is the same group described in Revelation 14:12; it is Christians who have endured by obeying God’s commands and remaining faithful to Jesus to the end, perhaps in the midst of the threats described in Revelation 13:1-17.

The third group is those described as cowards, murderers, sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, idolaters, and liars (vs. 8).  I don’t believe this is referring to unbelievers as they are mentioned elsewhere in the verse. And, as noted earlier, it is an unbeliever’s unbelief and not their lifestyle that separates them from God. There is no need to clarify this further my adding a list of what God considers despicable. If you are lost, you are lost. Being among those who do any of the other things mentioned in the passage doesn’t make one more lost than someone who isn’t. I believe that this list of abhorrent behaviors was meant to warn Christians that if they embrace behavior that is more indicative of the unsaved than the saved that they may suffer the same fate.

And it could be that the reference to those who are cowardly is referring to Christians who in the midst of threats to their economic or physical welfare deny knowing Jesus.

What this has to do with us

In the days of Nero, Christians facing lions in the arenas could sometimes get spared if they simply denied knowing Jesus. Christians today facing similar physical or economic threats because of their faith in Jesus are often given similar ways out; if they want to avoid ridicule, opposition, or persecution, all they have to do is to remain silent about what they believe about Jesus or deny that they are followers of Him. Could it be that this is what receiving the Mark of the Beast is meant to symbolize? Could it be something that can only affect Christians and that separates those who have remained faithful to Jesus from those who haven’t?

If this is so, than the Mark of the Beast is something that has existed in our world ever since the day that Jesus walked the earth and continues to be a threat for Christians living in our world today.

That is how I see it today.