Many Christians today don’t like to talk about eschatology. And many pastors don’t like preaching about it. There’s this attitude of, “Well — pre-millenial, post-millenial — it really doesn’t matter.”
And liberal theologians long ago denied the second coming of Jesus Christ. They simply spiritualized all of the prophetic passages of Scripture. And the ones they can’t spiritualize, they just deny the truthfulness of.
However, Scripture is very clear about what our hope is. Our hope is that Jesus will come again. This is the event which will culminate all of human history: the Lord Jesus Christ appearing visibly to reveal Himself to His people, to make them like Him, and to bring them into eternal glory.
I want to lay out four stages of Jesus’s second coming, telling the story of this day we are looking forward to, so that we can understand exactly what our hope is as Christians.
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17)
This is what we refer to as the rapture. This is the moment when Christ will appear — transforming those saints who are alive at the time and resurrecting those saints who have already died — and taking them up to be with Him.
After the rapture, there will be a time of great tribulation on the Earth. This is described carefully and at length in Matthew 24 and in Revelation 6-19. And at the end of this period, the Lord will appear again, this time coming with His saints rather than for them. John gives us a description of this moment:
And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war.
His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God.
And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. (Revelation 19:11-14)
Here, Jesus and His redeemed appear together and return to the Earth to wreak havoc in judgment.
Once Satan is bound and the thousand-year kingdom is inaugurated, John describes this scene:
Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4)
We who are faithful to Christ will rule with Christ in His kingdom. In that time, God’s children will be gloriously manifested, revealing their true status. For the first time the world will see who believers really are. And they’ll see them in millennial power. They’ll see them in heavenly glory as they come back to reign with Christ.
After the thousand years are over and Satan is finally defeated for the last time, the final stage we know of from Scripture comes:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them.” (Revelation 21:1-3)
After the rapture, the appearing, and the kingdom, God the Father and God the Son will dwell with the saints forever.
This is how history ends. And knowing this matters, folks. We live in light of this reality. Jesus is going to appear. This world has not seen the last of Jesus.
People ask me, “Do you think we’re living near the return of Christ?” I know we are nearer today than yesterday. I don’t know when it is, but I know it can happen anytime (Luke 12:40). So we need to be ready all the time. And living in hope of His imminent coming makes a tremendous difference.
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 2003, titled “The Purifying Hope, Part 2.”
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