If it were up to me and if it were just about me, I wish Jesus would return TODAY! "I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day" (II Timothy 1:12). But it's not up to me and it's not just about me! God has a plan. He knows those who are His and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is still being proclaimed, calling sinners like me to repent and believe and be saved from the wrath and judgment of God that will be poured out on the earth when Jesus returns. According to II Peter 3:9 God is being patient, giving people the opportunity to hear His call, to repent and to escape His judgment. BUT, Peter goes on in verse 10: "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 in it will be laid bare!"
"The day of the Lord will come like a thief!" It is that phrase, along with some other verses of Scripture, that lead some people to believe that Jesus could come at any moment. There will be no signs, no indication of His coming other than some very general things that Jesus spoke about. Jesus will come, He will "rapture" those who believe and then pour out His judgment on the earth. It's a simple scenario and easy to understand. But it's wrong. I wish it was that simple - I really do. I wish the "Left Behind" books were right and believers will be raptured BEFORE the time of tribulation begins, but the real question is this: What does the BIBLE teach?
Apparently, those who are teaching that Jesus could come at any time believe this is what the Bible teaches. I know that it is their intention to give people hope in knowing that they will not face the judgment of God. Jesus paid the penalty for our sins and God promises that He "did not appoint us (believers) to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Thessalonians 5:9). Earlier in that chapter Paul uses the same phrase as Peter when he writes, "... the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night" (I Thessalonians 5:2). So why is the teaching that Jesus could come at any moment wrong?
First of all, the term "the day of the Lord" is used by the Old Testament prophets to refer to God's final judgment upon the earth. Amos writes, "Woe to you who long for the day of the LORD! ... That day will be darkness, not light. It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall only to have a snake bite him. Will not the day of the LORD be darkness, not light - pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness/" (Amos 5:18-20).
Zephaniah writes, "That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness, a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities ... I will bring distress on the people ... Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the LORD's wrath. In the fire of His jealousy the whole world will be consumed, for He will make a sudden end of all who live in the earth" (Zephaniah 1:14-18).
When the New Testament writers speak of "the day of the LORD" coming "like a thief" they are referring NOT to the entire seven-year period referred to in Daniel 9:27, (Daniel's "70th week), but to the final judgment of God described in Revelation 8-9 and 15-18. This "day" WILL surprise those who are unbelievers who are living on the earth at this time, but listen to what Paul says to the believers in his day (and what God says to US through him): "But you, brothers, are NOT in darkness so that THIS DAY should surprise YOU like a thief" (I Thessalonians 5:4). Did you hear that? Believers will NOT be surprised by the "day of the Lord." Why not? Because God tells us what comes BEFORE this! He gives us signs to watch for.
Another passage that is used to support the idea that Jesus could come at any time is Matthew 24:37-44. Jesus says, "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 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; 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." People think that since we can't know the day or the hour, Jesus could come at any time. But wait a minute! Noah was building the ark. God had told him the flood was coming. It was the UNBELIEVERS who knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them away! By then, Noah and his family were safe in the ark!
So before the day of the Lord begins, when God pours out his judgment on the earth, the Church must be raptured. The question is: WHEN does that take place? Could it be at any moment?? In II Thessalonians Paul writes, "Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ AND our being gathered to Him (the "rapture" or being "caught up" of I Thessalonians 4:17) ... Some had misunderstood what the "day of the LORD" was and were saying that it had already come. But Paul says, "Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the apostasy (falling away) occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed" (II Thessalonians 2:3-4).
Jesus spoke about this apostasy and when it was going to take place in Matthew 24: "Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. AT THAT TIME many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved" (Matthew 24:9-13). So we know that the rapture will not take place UNTIL the Antichrist is revealed and a great apostasy (people who claim to be Christians turning away from Christ) takes place. These things must happen BEFORE Jesus comes to pour out God's wrath and judgment upon the earth.
And God TELLS us when that is going to be!! In Daniel 9:27 we read that the Antichrist "will confirm a covenant with many for one 'seven' (seven years). In the middle of the 'seven' he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing of the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him." It is in the MIDDLE of the final seven years that the Antichrist is revealed for who he really is!
Jesus gives more detail about His return in Matthew 24, beginning with verse 15, where He refers to Daniel 9:27: "So when you see standing in the holy place 'the abomination that causes desolation,' spoken of through the prophet Daniel ..." Jesus then describes a time of "great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now - and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened" (verses 21-22). The "Great Tribulation," which many believe is the entire last seven years, begins in the MIDDLE of the seven years and is shortened for the sake of the elect, believers, God's chosen ones. Believers will go through the tribulation because this is NOT yet the wrath of God. It is the persecution described by Jesus in verses 9-13, which causes a great apostasy. It is during THIS time that people will be required to take the "mark of the beast" in order to buy or sell (Revelation 13:16-17).
Now notice what happens AFTER the Great Tribulation, according to Jesus Himself in Matthew 24:29-31: "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.' (the sixth seal described in Revelation 6:12-14). At THAT TIME the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a loud trumpet call (see I Thessalonians 4:16-17), and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other."
Jesus very clearly gives us the order of events that perfectly coincide with the rest of Scripture, both the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament writers. The final seven years begins with the Antichrist making a peace treaty with Israel and some of the nations around them. In the middle of the seven years the Antichrist breaks his covenant with Israel, is indwelt by Satan himself, tries to eliminate the Jews/Israel, but God supernaturally protects a remnant from the Jews for 1260 days (three and one-half years - Revelation 12:6). The Antichrist then turns his anger towards BELIEVERS who are still on the earth at this time (See Revelation 12:13-16 and especially verse 17: "Then the dragon (Satan) was enraged at the woman (Israel) and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring - those who obey God's commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus (the Church)." Revelation 13 describes these events in even greater detail. In the middle of the seven years foretold in Daniel 9:27, the Antichrist is revealed, persecutes the Church and THEN Jesus comes and gathers up believers. While the true believers who are on the earth at that time will not know the day or the hour, they will be LONGING for Jesus' return, and they will know it is near. They will not be surprised when it happens!
My purpose today is to help people to see that the Church (TRUE believers) is going to be called to go through the Great Tribulation - the persecution of the Antichrist. As Jesus clearly teaches in Matthew 24:29-31, the gathering of His elect takes place AFTER the time of distress that follows the middle of Daniel's 70th week, AFTER the Antichrist has set up his abomination in the temple (II Thessalonians 2:1-12). I encourage you to read and study these things. Don't believe something just because you have been taught that this is what the Bible says. Read it for yourself, check it out, ask God for wisdom. As I shared with someone recently, if what I believe the Bible says is not true, nothing is really lost other than I have misunderstood. We will be raptured and that will be that. But if much of the visible church is being told that they need not be concerned about facing trials and that they will not go through the time of tribulation ... and then it comes! ... What will be the result? For many in the visible church, it will be apostasy!! They will not trust the Word of God because what they have been taught on such an important subject has proven wrong.
God's Word speaks with authority and it all speaks with one voice. Believing the rapture could happen at any moment leaves many Scriptures throughout the Bible unexplained. But when you begin to allow each passage to fit where God determined it to fit, you discover that each piece reinforces the others and when they are all put together it gives us a picture that prepares us for what is to come and tells us what to watch for as we live in what may well be the final generation that Jesus speaks about in Matthew 24:32-35, 42-47. If you have questions, please comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org ... Until then, may God grant you wisdom as you seek His truth and live to glorify His Name!! May Jesus Christ be praised!