Question:

I have a question:  how do I explain the second coming?  I heard how you described it when you gave the explanation of the rapture, but I'm still confused.  Am I understanding correctly that Jesus will descend with the angels and the dead in Christ will rise up to meet him in the air and then those who are alive in Christ will do the same?  What happens next?  Are all those who are left unsaved? And are they going to experience immediate devastation or will they have a second chance some time down the road? My friend has seen the Left Behind films. Thanks for your help.

Answer:

The best reply is to just point out what the Bible has to say on the subject.  There really aren't all that many passages. 

II Peter 3: 3-13
First of 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 fathers 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 existed 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 ungodly men.   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. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.  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 in it will be laid bare.   Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 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. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11
Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 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. According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 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. 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. Therefore encourage each other with these words.  Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 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.  But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons 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 alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

I Corinthians 15:51-53
Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 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.  For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.

The problem with Left Behind and the many books that describe the end of the world that way is that they do not line up with what is very plainly revealed in II Peter and I Thessalonians.  Paul and Peter make it clear that the end of the world is a very sudden event -- it will catch people completely off guard.  The events are:  Jesus comes with a command, the voice of the arch angel and a trumpet call (not a quiet event).  The dead in Christ will rise very fast, those still alive in Christ will then rise and then the earth will burn so that nothing is left.   There is no mention of any second chance.  It will be like in the days of Noah -- for which no one on the earth was given a second chance.

Darrell Hamilton

Thanks! I had already sought out all the biblical passages about it, but was still questioning whether I had missed something. You answered my question in that the earth will burn after the saved are caught up with the Lord. There is no 1000 year reign on earth, then?

That is correct.  The 1000 year reign is from twisting (that really is the best word for it) Revelation 20.

Revelation 19:11- 20:15
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. "He will rule them with an iron scepter."  He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, "Come, gather together for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and mighty men, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, small and great."

Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army. But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. The rest of them were killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.

And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.

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 for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his 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 have part 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.

When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God's people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 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. 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 he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

There are a lot of symbols in this section of Scripture and those that want a 1000 years reign on earth pick some of the elements in this section to be literal and some to be taken figuratively.  For example, they almost always take the dragon to figuratively represent Satan.  They don't actually think that he will look like a dragon.  In fact most of the explanations I have heard allow everything in this passage to be figurative except for the 1000 years.  For some reason they insist that the thousand years has to be literal.  They don't require that the rider of the white horse have a sword in his mouth.  They don't even require the rider to actually be on a horse.  Some like the birds eating the flesh of the fallen, but others are willing to make that figurative, just because they can't stomach the picture.

I'm certainly no expert on Revelation.  There is much of it that is steeped in a lot of symbols that I still don't understand.  A rule of thumb that I use for understanding Revelation is that no interpretation of Revelation can undo, change or alter a clear teaching that is found elsewhere in the scripture. Some symbols, though, are easy enough.  The rider, the sword, and the use of white are all references to Jesus, his word, and righteousness.  The dragon, the serpent, and the beast are all aspects of Satan and his minions.  There is a battle that is depicted here, but it is not necessary that it be a physical battle.  Jesus had said that his kingdom was not of this world and if it were, then his servants would fight.  (John 19).  He never said that he was temporarily setting up a spiritual kingdom that would eventually be replaced by an earthly one.  That would defeat the purpose for why he was to suffer on the cross.  Paul said in Ephesians 6:12, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."

So my current "working theory" is that John is describing the challenge that the spread of the gospel will face for the rest of time -- starting from the first. The opening of the seven seals and the seven trumpets are aspects of the early church as they struggled to understand what was going on as the complete revelation of God was being unfolded before them.  By the time we get to chapters 19 and 20, the Word (the gospel) is marching out and conquering all the last strongholds of resistance.  The battle began long ago and will continue throughout the remainder of time.  At some points in history it will look like Satan will have the upper hand -- but he will certainly be defeated.  The dead that rise to rule with Christ are those whose writings we read in the Bible now.  For example, even though Paul died almost 2000 years ago, he is still active in our lives because his words are still here for us.  In a sense he is reigning with Christ because his words are commanding us just like Christ's word (the two-edged sword) commands us.  Satan was completely defeated in his goals of destroying the Word.  His goal had always been to make sure the Word died out.  The 1000 years just represents an uncertain (to us) period of time.  During that time, Satan is powerless to stop the Word.  That has been true for at least the last 1900 years.  There are now so many copies of the Bible in so many languages, that it is impossible for anyone to claim they had no access to what the Word said and it would be impossible to destroy all copies.  When Satan is "released", he does not attempt to destroy the Word -- he tries to deceive the nations.  I would contend that he has also been doing that for many centuries now and will continue till the end of time.  So while many people are looking to Revelation to predict the future about coming wars, etc. I believe that we are already in the middle of the last war.  In a sense we currently live someplace in the middle of 20:9 waiting for the final judgment of 20:11.  Religious deception is all around us.  There are people who worship false prophets, popes, synods, and ecclesiastical orders, as well as the outright vile religions of Islam, Hindu, and Buddha.  All the false religions of the world (even the many that claim to be facets of Christianity) are forever trying to surround and contain those that belong to Jesus (the city that he loves).  There is a struggle as the religions of deception try to push those who follow Christ into oblivion -- some of it may be physical, but most of it is spiritual as the evil religions push sin as being acceptable forms of worship.  We even see some of the worst of their "fruits" just casually looking around.  They call homosexuality as something good.  They add sexually provocative dance as a "right of passage" and call it the prom.  They promote divorce, adultery, and fornication as "healthy".  They promote drinking as good "adult beverages."  But even more deceptively, they call "love" things that are not love.  They push for the mission of the church to be a mission to eliminate physical suffering rather than the spiritual perfection that it is.  The battle has been waged for a long time and it is just a matter of realizing that we are surrounded and must fight as if our very lives were at risk by the surrounding armies of Satan.

Anyway, that is how I see it.

Darrell Hamilton

Thanks for your lesson. All my children were here tonight and we read everything you sent. I have another question, what about the seven years of tribulation?

A decent explanation of the overall doctrines of premillennialism can be found on Wikipedia. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tribulation).

The concept of seven years of tribulation that is supposed to occur at the end of the world is not in the Scriptures.  That makes it hard for me to devise a "reasonable explanation".  The number of variations on "the tribulation" may only be limited by the number of people who have written on the subject.  I decided to research how they came up with the numbers and I must say that I am appalled at the level of manipulation that has to be done in order to get to the number 7.  I'm a mathematician and even I can't stomach all the numbers and gyrations one has to go through to get to the number 7. You can consult other web sites for the details if you are curious, but ultimately it looks like it comes down to Daniel 9:27 which says, "And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate" and Revelation 13:5 which says, "There was given to him a mouth speaking arrogant words and blasphemies, and authority to act for forty-two months was given to him."  If you work out the math, 42 months is equivalent to three and a half years.   It takes a lot of work for them to then get the 42 months to actually mean 84 months, but somehow they manage to do it.  They use some other verses to get the "one week" to mean seven years (which is about the only reasonable thing I could find).   Then they equate the two passages, declare that they are both talking about the "Great Tribulation" and then get on with their interpretation of what all of that means. 

To give a quick explanation:  Daniel 9 mentions 70 weeks.  Each day of each week is a year, which then works out to 490 years.  The 490 years are the years from the rebuilding of the temple until the time of Christ.  From history we find that this is absolutely correct.  According to premillennial doctrine the "last week", though, was postponed for some indeterminate amount of time -- roughly connected with the end of the world in some way.  This "pause" in the prophecy is where I get confused when reading the different doctrines.   Prophecies don't "pause" so the foundation of the whole theory rests on a very unusual and hard to justify concept.

The actual Tribulation itself is based primarily on Matthew 24.  They believe that Jesus is talking about the end of world even though he says in Matthew 24:34, "Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place."  Once you understand that the tribulation that Jesus was talking about corresponds with the destruction of Jerusalem, then there is nothing left to talk about.  Again, the foundation of their arguments requires that Matthew 24 be talking about the end of the world.  That is because they then take their interpretation of Matthew 24 to "help them interpret" Revelation.  But if Matthew 24 does not talk about the end of the world, then all of the explanations in Revelation fall apart as well.

So, to summarize.  The "seven years of tribulation" has multiple problems

  1. The passages used to "prove" the number 7 work out to 3 1/2 about as often as it does 7.
  2. The timing of the tribulation at the end of the world or just before a 1000 year reign of Christ requires inserting a "pause" at the end of a detailed prophecy that is very specific about time.  That is being highly inconsistent.
  3. The whole tribulation theory rests on Matthew 24 being a prophecy about the end of the world and not about the destruction of Jerusalem.

Darrell Hamilton