IN THE LAST TRUMP
Is the Coming of Christ Imminent?
Webster says that the
word "imminent" means, "that which threatens to happen
immediately." By speaking of the imminent coming of Christ, it is meant that He is
likely to come at any moment. It had always been my conviction until recently that
Christ's coming was imminent. Most of the true people of God today hold to the same
conviction. Yet, the evidence is exceedingly abundant to the contrary.
Before we begin to examine the proof
passages I want to make a few comments relative to the frequent command of Christ for
us to be very earnestly and eagerly watching for His return. Matthew chapters 24 and
25; Mark chapter 13; and Luke chapters 12 and 21, especially encourage us to be
constantly on the watch for the Master's return. By no means should we lessen the
force of such very important commands of the Master, but to emphasize the urgency of
the same. A full explanation as to why it is most important for us to be watching for
the Lord's return will not be given in this work, though such will be done in a
later work, the Lord willing. It would take by far too much space to give a good
explanation of such things in this work. Nevertheless, enough will be given here to set
the reader's thoughts on the right line of study.
The one special thing that needs to be
established at the present concerns the time when the Lord's disciples were to
begin to keep this command to watch. Just when were they to begin watching for the
Lords' return? A full understanding of this command will reveal that they were to
begin watching the minute Christ gave the command, although the command was especially
applicable to the time after the Lord left the earth and ascended back to heaven. We
can say that it was not especially applicable until after the Holy Spirit came upon the
church on the first Pentecost after the Lord's resurrection.
Please let me make this emphatic. Were
the saints to begin watching for the Lord's return (after the Spirit came) in the
same manner that we should be watching today? Were the saints of the first century to
be looking for the Lord's return in the same manner that we are today? Surely we
must acknowledge that if the second coming of Christ is imminent today it was also
imminent in the first century. If it was not imminent in the first century, it is not
imminent to us today. Did the apostle Paul, along with Peter, James and John and the
other apostles, look upon the Lord's coming as imminent in their life-time? Will it
suffice if I emphatically prove that the coming of the Lord was not imminent to the
apostles? Please re-read the preceding question and answer it in your own mind before
going further. Will it be acceptable if I emphatically prove that the Lord's coming
was not imminent during the first century? Are you willing to let the Spirit teach you
as you read such un-answerable proofs? Are you willing to search for the true
significance of what the Lord meant by being always in the spirit of expectancy for His
glorious return? May the Lord reveal to you as you continue to read just how willing
you really are to reason with His Blessed Holy Spirit. If I do not speak according to
the written Word, it is nothing; but if I do speak according to the written Word, then
the Spirit will speak also, for He always accompanies the Word.
"ALL THESE THINGS ARE THE BEGINNING OF SORROWS"
The second paragraph
above brings us to the first important thought I want to present. It is certain that
the disciples were to be watching from the time the Holy Spirit came upon the church.
But were they actually to be looking for the Lord to return to the earth at any moment
from that date? Let us call to mind that the Lord had just given the command that
after the Holy Spirit came upon them they were to be His witnesses to
the uttermost part of the earth (Acts 1:8; Matt. 28:18-20; Luke 24:47-49). If
these disciples understood the Lord, then they knew that they (as churches) were to
carry the gospel to every nation on earth before the Lord returned (Matt. 23:14). How
could they expect the Lord to return before they through the Holy Spirit had
accomplished this mission? Surely the Lord did not intend to return until the mission
was fulfilled, for He said that the end would not come until such was done; and surely
He meant for the churches to do this work. Some will say that such would destroy the
reason for watching. That sounds like a man who says that the teaching of eternal
security will cause people to go out and get a fill of sin after they have believed in
Christ without any fear of judgment. No, the teaching of the security of the believer,
if properly understood, will cause the believer to appreciate and love the master even
the more. This principle is also true with the coming of the Lord, as it is with any
other truth of the Word.
Look more closely at Acts 1:8 for a
moment. "But he shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is
come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea,
and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth." Observe
first that they were not to leave Jerusalem until the Holy
Spirit came upon them. They were not to be looking for the Lord to return personally
before that time.
that after the Spirit came they were to carry the gospel to the "uttermost part of the earth." We cannot possibly deny that the
Lord meant for them to fulfill His commission before His return. He certainly meant for
them to understand that He would not return until they had reached the last end of the
earth with the gospel. If any of them looked for the Lord's return before such a
time, then they were not acting in obedience to the Lord's own instructions.
Third, it was
not until Acts 10 that the first Gentiles were brought into the church. This was nearly
ten years after the time of the Lord's ascension back to heaven.
first missionary trip of Paul and Barnabas, who were the missionaries to the nations,
began probably about A. D. 45, some twelve years after the Lord's ascension.
Paul's second missionary trip began about A. D. 53 or 54. The third trip began
about A. D. 57 or 58. The gospel spread throughout the Roman empire a little faster
than this, of course, but this will help us to better see the extent of its reach among
the Gentiles. According to this first proof we can see that the disciples could not
possibly expect the Lord's return sooner than some thirty years after the
Some very assuring words are found in
John 21:18-19 where Jesus told Peter that he would live to be an old man and then die.
"Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou
girdest thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou
shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou
wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by What death he should glorify
God..." We learn here that the apostle Peter was to die
before the Lord returned. Certainly we would not say that these disciples
believed that Peter would die after the Lord returned. It is folly to say that the Lord
told Peter about how he would die without Peter and the other disciples having an
understanding of the same, at least after the Spirit came on Pentecost. Since they knew
that Peter would die after he became old, surely they were not
expecting the Lord to come as long as Peter was living. Nevertheless, they were to be
watching just as much as we should be watching today.
The remainder of this chapter is also
quite revealing in this respect. After Jesus had told Peter how he would die, he said
to Peter, "Follow me." Peter, observing that John was
also following, complained to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, "If
I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me. Then went this
saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not
unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to
thee?" (John 21:19-23). From these words we draw the following conclusions:
(1). The disciples did understand that Peter would die. (2). From the statement of
Jesus concerning John, the disciples gathered that John would not die. From this it is
inferred that they believed that all the rest of them would die. (3). John indicates
that he would die the same as Peter.
Let us follow this same thought with a
few other passages. Look at Matt. 16:28 (Compare also with Mark 9:1 and Luke 9:27).
"Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall
not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in His kingdom."
Here we learn that the Lord, while still with His disciples, informed them that they
would ALL DIE. He said that He would show some of them the kingdom of God before they
died, and the force of the statement was that they would all die. Again I say that they
understood as well and maybe better than we that they would not be dying after the Lord
returned, for they were to be glorified and sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve
tribes of Israel after the second coming of Christ (Matt. 19:28). Thus, none of them
actually expected the Lord's return during their lifetimes. This sets the Second
Coming, at its earliest date, at the end of the first century, for the death of John
was not until near the end of the first century. One may also study Rev. 2:10 in
connection with this thought.
By no means can we resist the force of
the lesson which Paul gave to the Thessalonian brethren. Let us once again meditate
upon these very significant words. "Now we beseech you, brethren,
by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto Him, That ye
be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by
letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any
means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that
man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition:" (II Thess. 2:1-3). Relative
to these verses we may draw the following conclusions:
(1). These saints were undergoing
severe tribulations and persecutions which provided one of the occasions for this
epistle (chapter 1).
(2). It is most reasonable to judge
that these brethren had been taught by Paul and others concerning the great tribulation
which will come upon the saints and Jews just before the Lord returns. The frequent
references to the Lord's coming in the first epistle to them, especially the
language of I Thess. 5:1-3, strongly encourages this judgment.
(3). Verse 2 gives evidence that these
brethren were being troubled and in some way hindered by their thinking that the
Lord's coming was imminent. As a missionary on a foreign field, I am personally
aware of the fact that some missionaries are encouraged to be careless partially as a
result of believing that the return of the Lord is imminent. This, of course, is not
always the case, nor is it the chief reason for such carelessness. How grievous it is
to observe what emphasis is put upon the amount of work done, rather than the quality
and stability of the work. Brethren are running up and down whole continents making
converts, only to turn them lose in the midst of the greatest religious confusion that
has ever existed in the history of the world. The great apostle Paul was never helpful
to such confusion by such careless work. His earnest desire was to present every man
perfect (mature) in Christ Jesus (Col 1:28). He always remained with his converts as
long as possible in order to establish them in the faith, which would serve to protect
them against evil seducers who were waxing worse and worse. The careless activities of
many brethren today are a result of numerous things, one of which is the wrong
understanding of what Jesus meant by watching for His return.
(4). Paul was urgent in his effort to
convince these brethren that the Lord's return was not imminent. He told them not
to be "soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit,
nor by word, nor by letter as from us ...Let no man deceive you by any
(5). Paul insisted that two things were
absolutely necessary before the Second Advent. First, there
must come a great falling away. This falling away was future to them, though it is a
present matter with us today. Second, the man of sin (the
Antichrist) must be revealed through his defiling the temple. The fact that the
Antichrist must come into power before the Master returns is just as certain today as
it was when Paul wrote it. We shall not be received up into the Master's glorious
presence until we have experienced the blasphemous presence of the Antichrist for 3 1/2
years -- "LET NO MAN DECEIVE YOU BY ANY
(6). The coming of Christ which Paul
had in mind is clearly the time when these zealous brethren would be gathered together
to the Lord (verse 1). This gathering together to the Lord is most assuredly the one of
which Paul had taught them in his first epistle (I Thess. 4:13-18).
Turn now to Matt. 25:14-31 where the
Lord speaks of giving to one man five talents, to another man two, and to another man
one. He told the disciples how these servants were instructed to be about their
master's business until he returned. Two of these servants were faithful to these
instructions but the third one was very careless. Then in verse 19 Jesus said,
"After a long time the Lord of those servants cometh, and
reckoneth with them." The Lord meant for the disciples to understand that
there would be a "long time" between His leaving and His returning. Surely
the disciples understood this, or else it would not have been said to them, nor
recorded later by them.
From Matt. 24:1-2 and Luke 21:20-24 we
learn that Jesus taught the apostles that because of the great sins and unbelief of the
inhabitants of Jerusalem, the temple of Jerusalem would be torn down flat on the
ground, without one stone being left upon another before His
return. We know that the Lord meant for them to understand that all this would happen
before His return. It is evident that they did not understand fully at the time He told
them, but what shall we say about the time after the Spirit came? Certainly the
disciples were not to understand the Lord's return as being imminent until after
the destruction of Jerusalem (which came in A.D. 70). Must the Lord's coming be
imminent to us if it was not to the saints before Jerusalem was destroyed? Of course
not. We must understand that Christ did not make prophecies that could not come to
pass, and it is certain that there will be no destruction of Jerusalem after He comes
Please look further at Luke 21:20-24, a
passage of great significance in the present discussion. Jesus also informed the
disciples that at the time Jerusalem would be destroyed, the jews would "fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all
nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the time of the
Gentiles be fulfilled." This extends the whole matter far beyond the
destruction of Jerusalem, even hundreds of years. Let me emphasize that the disciples
certainly understood that this would not be permitted after the Lord's return, for
He Himself will reign from Jerusalem after that time. Did the Lord actually mean what
He said? Is it possible that the Lord could make prophecies that would not come to
pass? Every true servant of God must abhor even the thought of such a possibility. Then
this makes it absolutely necessary for us to acknowledge that the Lord's return was
not imminent during the first century, and if the disciples (even those who by
inspiration recorded these things) understood the teachings of Christ, then they did
not expect the Lord's return at any moment. Of course they longed for Him with
great anticipation, but they most certainly knew that there were certain things that
must come to pass before the Lord would return. Since all the apostles definitely
understood that there were a number of things in their day which had to take place
before the Lord's return, then there is not the least sin in our understanding that
there are still certain things revealed in the scriptures which must take place before
the Lord returns.
Observe further from Matt. 24:7; Mark
13:8, and Luke 21:10 that Christ taught the disciples to look for wars and rumors of
wars; for nation to rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom before His return.
Please mark that there is a plurality of wars, and risings of nations and kingdoms
against nations and kingdoms. The fulfillment of this was not experienced in the first
century, and thus again we are forced to understand that the apostles did not look upon
the second coming of Christ as imminent. The disciples did not experience any kind of
war until near A.D. 70, when the Roman army destroyed Jerusalem.
Also in Matt. 24:7-8; Mark 13:7-8; and
Luke 21:11 we learn that the disciples were to understand that there would be, in
addition to that mentioned in the above paragraph, many famines, pestilences, and
earthquakes in various places before the Master returned. Then the statement is added
that "all these are the beginning of sorrows." This
unquestionably demands that the expectancy for the Lord's coming was to be far in
the future after many things had come to pass. After the destruction of Jerusalem there
were to be wars and rumors of wars, with nation after nation and kingdom after kingdom
rising up in the places where former nations and kingdoms were. But after all this
there was to be a much longer wait because these things were merely the beginning of
sorrows. Without a doubt the Holy spirit, upon the destruction of Jerusalem and
subsequent events, comforted the hearts of the churches by reminding them of the words
of the Lord relative to such things, and further reminded them that the Lord said such
things were merely the beginning of sorrows, thus strengthening them and preparing them
for the many multitudes of sorrows and afflictions that were to come before the
Is it not perfectly clear that the Lord
meant for the disciples, who had so eagerly asked about when His coming would be, to
understand that they were not to look for His coming as an imminent thing, but that
many, many things would take place over a period of many years before He returned?
Anyone who can read the 24th chapter of Matthew and relative passages in the other
Gospels and who understands the Lord to mean anything other than this certainly has his
mind closed to the true impression the Lord desired to leave upon the minds of the
disciples. Why should the Lord continue to mention certain things that would
necessarily come to pass, and then make the statement that "the
end is not yet," and that such things are merely the "beginning of sorrows" that the saints must suffer before the
glorious coming and establishment of the kingdom? The reason is that the Lord was
preparing them for a long wait. He told them these things in order that they might find
greater strength at the time such things befell them. The fulfilling of prophecy is a
comforting thing. It is exceedingly comforting to be conscious of the fact that the
Lord knew when He was on earth exactly what would befall his disciples down through the
ages, and that he had already prepared their deliverance from, or their strength and
comfort to endure, such things.
When the infidels and modernists set
themselves in array against the Word of the Almighty, what great assurance and comfort
it gives us to point out to them the fulfillment of prophecies right before their eyes!
The prophecies concerning the regathering of Israel into their own land are being
gloriously fulfilled at the present time. Such things give us zeal, energy, and
determination. They prepare us for the hardships and trials that come upon us daily.
They humble us by their victory.
Further study of these three chapters
just mentioned reveals that Christ told the disciples they would be delivered up before
kings and rulers, at which time they would be hated, afflicted
and killed in all nations (Matt. 24:9; Mark 13:9; and Luke
21:12). Here again we learn that the disciples were to be put to death, not in just one
nation, but in "all nations." They were to be looking for these things to
happen BEFORE the Lord's return.
Jesus also said that they were to
expect many false Christs to arise saying, "I am Christ," before His return
(Matt. 24:4-5; Mark 13:5-6; and Luke 21:8). The apostles had trouble with antichrists
(I John 2), but to my knowledge the Scriptures say nothing of their having trouble with
false christs. There is a slight difference between antichrists and false christs. A
person may be an antichrist without claiming that he himself is Christ. A false Christ
is both. Christ said that the disciples would see the time when there would be
"many" false christs who would actually say, "I am Christ."
Therefore the disciples were not to expect Christ to return until they experienced the
presence of many who claimed to be the Christ with whom they had walked and talked, and
had handled with their hands; the One who died on the cross for their sins, was buried,
but arose the third day; the One whose pierced hands and feet they had viewed with
their own eyes.
In connection with the things already
mentioned, there were other outstanding developments which were (and still are) to
occur. Jesus instructed His disciples that there would be fearful sights and great
signs from heaven before his return (Luke 21:11). The saints have never witnessed
anything of this nature yet, and therefore they are still future even to us today. As
the disciples were to expect such things before the Master returned, so we must still
look for these prophecies to be fulfilled before that most blessed hour. Since this is
true shall we take our fill of sin? I will be quick and frank to say that, among the
many other reasons, I personally do not want to be saved "so as by fire," (I
Cor 3:13-15). It is a very wonderful thing to know that we have eternal life and will
never come into judgment with reference to hell, yet there are a lot of us who need to
learn more about the "terror of the Lord" relative to the judgment seat of
Christ (II Cor 5:10-11). The man who says there will be no tears for the
"unfruitful" at the judgment of the eternally saved certainly does encourage
indulgence in sin.
The Lord further taught that there
would come the time when the love of God's people would wax cold and a great
falling away would come before His return (Matt. 24:12; II Thess. 2). Some have desired
to apply this falling away to lost people, yet the love of lost people has never been
anything but cold toward the Lord. They have always hated the light (John 3:19-20).
What shall we say about the love of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Herodians, the
Romans, etc? Was the love of such people ever anything but cold? "Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and everyone that
loveth is born of God, and knoweth God" (I John 4:7). We must understand
that it was concerning the love of saved people that Jesus was speaking. The reader may
also look at Matt. 13:33; 25:5; Rev. 3:14-18; etc., where the same truths are taught. A
correct analysis of the parables of Matt. 13 will reveal the same truths as are set
forth in the foregoing pages.
If the reader will again study
carefully all the scriptures and comments concerning the day of the Lord it should be
made clear that the disciples understood before their death that the Lord's coming
would be at the end of the sixth millennium of man's history. There is a very
marked and clear significance to the terms "last days" and "last
day." Observe in Acts 2:17; II Tim. 3:11; Heb. 1:1-2; James 5:3; II Pet. 3:3,
etc., that the plural is used because the time includes the fifth and sixth
millenniums. Now look at such passages as John 6:39, 40, 44, 52; 11:24; 12:48; and the
many passages mentioning the day of the Lord, where the singular is used with
meaningful purpose. Why should such pointed references be made to a "last
day?" The only correct answer is that it signifies the seventh millennium. The
apostle Peter makes this quite clear in two different passages. In Acts 2:17-20 we find
that he made reference to both terms, and used them in such a way that we should not
misunderstand. The "last days" included from the time Peter spoke until the
end of the seventh millennium, though specific reference is to the fifth and sixth
millenniums. The great and notable "day" of the Lord is the seventh
millennium. Now, follow this same procedure in II Pet. 3:3-12. It is in the "last
days" that scoffers were to come, but the "day of judgment," "the
day of the Lord," or "the day of God," is the last millennium, therefore
it is referred to in the singular. Peter makes it even more clear by saying that a day
is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day to the Lord. It is true that
Peter said this to emphasize that it is not necessary for the Lord to get in a hurry,
for time is nothing with Him, yet if we fail to see the further significance (possibly
the main significance) of Peter's mentioning the "days" and the
"day" in such exactness, then we miss a very great and blessed truth.
I would like here to give a quotation
from a book written by J. Louis Guthrie ("THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST" --
page 21), in which he quotes "from the letter of Barnabas, Chapter 13, verses 4 to
"4. `Consider, my children, what
that signifies, he finished them in six days. The meaning of it is this: that in six
thousand years the Lord will bring all things to an end.
"5. For one day is with the Lord
as a thousand years, as he himself testifies, saying, Behold this day shall be as a
thousand years. Therefore, children, in six days, that is, in six days, that is, in six
thousand years, shall all things be accomplished.
"6. And what is that he saith, and
he rested the seventh day: he meaneth this: that when his Son shall come, and abolish
the season of the Wicked one, and judge the ungodly; and shall change the sun and the
moon and the stars, then he shall gloriously rest in the seventh day.
"7. He lastly adds: Thou shalt
sanctify it with clean hands and a pure heart. Wherefore, we are greatly deceived if we
imagine any one can now sanctify that day which God has made holy, without having a
pure heart in all things.
"8. Behold therefore, he will
truly sanctify it with blessed rest, when we (having received the righteous promise,
when iniquity shall be no more, all things shall be renewed by the Lord) shall be able
to sanctify it, being ourselves first made holy.
"9. Lastly he saith unto them:
Your new moons and your sabbaths I cannot bear them. Consider what he means by it: The
sabbaths, says he, which ye now keep are not acceptable unto me, but those which I have
made; When resting from all things I shall begin the eighth day, that is, the beginning
of another world.
"10. For which cause we observe
the eighth day with gladness, in which Jesus rose from the dead: and having manifested
himself to his disciples ascended into heaven'."
These thoughts should help us to
understand that the early disciples did not look upon the Lord's coming as
imminent. There are some brethren who may "raise a fuss" when they read these
things, yet many of these same brethren will teach that everything will be just fine
when the Lord comes whether one has been earnestly watching or not. It sounds like
double - talk. The word "watch" does not mean for us to gather on a hilltop
somewhere and stand around with our heads in the air. To be watching for the Lord means
to be about the work which He has given us to do; carrying the gospel to the ends of
the earth. The same word "watch" is used of the pastor of the church in the
figure of a shepherd who feeds, waters, and protects his flock (Heb. 13:17). Paul was
watching when he was seeking to present his converts perfect before the Lord (Col.
1:28). We are watching for the Lord when we are praying with the lost, preaching the
Word, listening to the preaching of the Word, etc.
"TELL US, WHEN SHALL THESE THINGS BE?"
Every student of
prophecy will do well to follow very closely the harmony between Matt. 24; Mark 13; and
Luke 21 (including Luke 17:26-37). A good harmony of the gospels will be very handy
here. As we study these observations it should become abundantly clear that these
chapters are generally in a chronological order.
(1). The setting for this
eschatological discourse from the Lord's own lips was the admiration of the
disciples for the beauty and magnificence of the temple in Jerusalem. The Lord quickly
diverted their attention to other matters by prophesying of the utter destruction of
the temple, and even of the city, the inhabitants of which, with the whole nation,
would be scattered among all nations until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.
(2). The Lord's prophecy concerning
the temple, Jerusalem, and the nation caused the disciples to set their minds upon the
time when the prophecy would be fulfilled; and especially, what the sign of the
Lord's return would be, and when the end of the age would come. This inquiry of the
disciples provided for the following lengthy discourse from the Lord.
(3). Jesus immediately began to tell
them about the rise of many false christs who would lead many astray. He continues to
mention a great many things which would take many, many years to fulfill, and then adds
that "the end is not yet," but that such things would
be merely "the beginning" of the trials and
afflictions which the saints must endure. In the light of such things it was utterly
impossible for the first and even the second century saints to look upon the Lord's
return as imminent.
(4). The Lord continues in each of
these gospels by prophesying of the rise of the Antichrist and the subsequent great
tribulation. Not in any one of the gospels did the Lord encourage the saints to look
for His return before the placing of the abomination of desolation in the temple. This
is in perfect harmony with Paul in II Thess. 2, and John in the Revelation.
(5). For the benefit of those who would
object on the grounds that in this case we would know the exact day of the Lord's
return, I must call attention to the fact that some of the days of the reign of the
Antichrist will be chopped off. "For the elect's sake, those days will be
shortened." How much they will be shortened is not for us to know. Paul says that,
though that day will come upon the world as a thief, it will not catch unawares those
faithful ones who are awake, for they are of the day and therefore walk in the light (I
(6). The reader will do well to make a
close examination of Matt. 24:23-26 and Mark 13:21-23. It is impossible to understand
these verses in the light of the contexts, and at the same time say that there is a
secret coming of Christ prior to the time (or at the same time) the Antichrist is
revealed in the midst of Daniel's seventieth week by his defiling the temple in
Jerusalem. Jesus did not say these things right in the middle of discussing the great
tribulation without their being directly connected to the particular discussion at
hand. The Holy Spirit did not have the writers to insert these verses into this
position just to fill up space. It is clear that the great tribulation begins at the
time a great number of false christs and false prophets will arise, "and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible,
they shall deceive the very elect." Christ, speaking to the same ones whom
He told to watch in these chapters, says, "believe it not." Then He gives
some reasons why they are not to believe such false teachings. These reasons are that
His coming will be as manifest as lightning and will be "Immediately after the tribulation of those days." The first word
in Matt. 24:23, and the first two words of Mark 13:21 are very forceful in both the
English and the Greek. The Greek word for "then" is "TOTE." It
means, "then; at that time;" "at the time when the things under
consideration were taking place." (Thayer). Those who teach that there will be a
secret appearance of Christ prior to the time (or at the same time) that the great
tribulation begins are preparing the way for false christs and false prophets who will
run about at that time, saying, "Behold, he is in the desert," "behold,
he is in the secret chamber," "Lo, he is here, or there."
(7). The first mention that Christ
makes of His coming (Matt. 24:27-29) in answer to the question of the disciples is very
significant. Note FIRST that it is after He discusses the great tribulation. If there
were a secret coming before the beginning of the great tribulation, surely Christ would
have mentioned such and had it recorded in at least one of these three inspired
writings. Note SECONDLY that this first mention of His coming, when His
"eagles" will be gathered to Him, is a very public one; one which will be
seen as far as the east is from the west. There is not a single passage in the sacred
Book that will contradict this bold fact.
(8). The second mention that Christ
makes of His return (Matt. 24:29-31) is in direct relation to the first one, and
concerns the sending of the angels to gather the Lord's elect from the uttermost
part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven. This is a perfect harmony with what
Paul says in Thess. 4:13-18. All these passages mention the saints coming from heaven
and also from earth in the same Coming. Israel is the elect nation, and it is the
greatest folly not to associate the saints who are grafted into that elect nation by
faith (Rom. 11) with that nation. These engrafted saints will participate in all the
promised blessings upon that nation.
(9). Let us be most careful to observe
that the remainder of these chapters (Matt. 24; Mark 13; and Luke 21) are in very close
harmony. All three deal precisely with the same time element. All three discuss the
sudden thief - like coming of the Lord. If the reader has any doubt about this, it
would be best right here to settle the doubts by closely examining the chapters with
this one thought in mind. Matthew has the most to say about the matter, but the time
element is definitely the same.
(10). In Matthew Jesus compares His
thief - like coming to the flood in the days of Noah. At this point let us bring Luke
17:26-37 into the harmony also. This passage in Luke 17 was not given at the same time
as the ones we have been discussing, yet the subject matter is clearly the same. From
these two passages I want to draw further conclusions, that is, I want to make
conspicuous the comparisons which Christ Himself made in these passages.
compares the condition of the world just before His return to the condition of the
world just before the flood (and also of Sodom before its destruction). This condition
was, and will be, one of exceedingly great wickedness.
compares the attitude that the world will have just before He returns to the attitude
the world had just before the flood came. This attitude was (and will be) one of utter
indifference toward the warnings of God through His people against the wicked condition
of the world. The warnings were given again and again, but the people counted them as
said that the wrath of God caught the world as a thief in Noah's day, and that it
would be likewise at His return. Noah preached more than a hundred years concerning the
wickedness of the people and the coming world - wide judgement from God; nevertheless,
the flood came as a thief upon all the world except Noah and his family who were
watching, and therefore were ready. Noah believed God in the face of the greatest
opposition, and kept his family and himself prepared. He was always watching and
praying which provided him with strength to flee out of the presence of the wrath of
God which came upon that world. Jesus warns us also to be most careful to be watching
and praying (Luke 21:34-36) that we may have strength (prevail) to flee out of the
presence of that wrath that is to come. This wrath will come upon the whole world as a
snare (not wrath upon the lost in hell, but wrath upon the nations on earth).
flood came as a thief and caught the world unaware, yet, when it came there was not one
eye that did not observe it. This is the application Jesus made to the thief coming,
and we will misrepresent the words of our blessed Savior if we seek to make any other
application out of it. May such serve as a warning to any who dare continue to make any
other application, lest he continue to prepare the way for the false christs and false
prophets who will run about saying that Christ has made a secret appearance somewhere
immediately following the placing of the abomination in the Jewish temple. The day that
the flood came was the day the salvation of Noah and his family took effect (not
salvation from hell). "Likewise also as it was in the days of
Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; But
the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and
destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is
revealed" (Luke 17:28-30). How beautiful is the harmony as we see it in II
Thess. 1, that on the same day that Christ comes in glory, in flaming fire to take
vengeance upon the world, the troubled saints will be put at rest in their glorified
bodies! How beautiful is the harmony in I Thess. 4:13-18 and 5:1-10, where Paul teaches
that the day the Lord gathers the saints around himself in the air is the day that
wrath from God will be loosed upon the world! They cry peace and safety, but then
sudden destruction comes upon them as a thief. This harmony is also the same in Matt.
24:23-31; Rev. 6:9-17; 11:15-19; etc. There are three matters of great importance that
are very conspicuous in each of the references. (A). Each passage directly states, or
indirectly demands, the resurrection and rapture of the saints. (B). Each passage
speaks of the out - pouring of God's wrath at the same time the saints are
raptured. (C). The whole procedure is public and world - wide.
Fifth, in Luke
17:30 Jesus says that this is the time of His revelation. As Christ speaks of His
revelation, when one will be taken and another left, the question was asked as to where
they should be taken. He answered, "Wheresoever the body is,
thither will the eagles be gathered together" (Luke 17:37). We must
associate this statement with the "lightning" in Luke 17:24 and Matt.
24:27-28. It will also be well to associate this passage (Luke 17:26-37) with the
"glory coming" mentioned in Matt. 16:24-27; Mark 8:34-38; and Luke 9:23-26,
at which time the Lord will manifest whether a man has saved his life or lost his life
(this is not salvation from hell).
(11). We must acknowledge that it is
impossible to disassociate Mark 13:32-37 and Luke 21:34-36 from the rest of this
harmony. The manner in which Noah and his family watched before the flood is precisely
the manner in which we are to be watching today. The Lord "gave
authority to his servants, and to every man a work, and commanded the porter to
watch" (Mark 13:34). The manner in which the servants are to be watching is
by using the entrusted authority to accomplish the prescribed work -- "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the
Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things
whatsoever I have commanded you; and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of
the world. Amen" (Matt. 28:19-20).
But just what did Jesus mean when He
spoke of watching lest coming suddenly He find us sleeping? When we learn what it means
to be as salt that has lost its savor (Matt. 5:13), then we will have learned what
Jesus meant by watching. When we learn what it means to become a "castaway"
(I Cor 9:27), we will then understand what Jesus meant by watching lest a sudden coming
find us sleeping. Do we think that we can take a fill of sin and then return to the
Lord at our own will? Do we think that we can drink ourselves drunk on the wine -
filled pleasures of Satan and then cast that mighty wrestler aside at our will? (Eph
6:12). We had better learn quickly that "it is not of him that
willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy" (Rom.
9:17). The salt that has lost its savor (Matt. 5:13; Luke 14:25-35) will certainly be
asleep when the Lord returns. The Greek wrestler that lost the match had his eyes
gouged out (Wuest -- Eph 6:12). There are a lot of God's people who have not
yielded themselves to the Spirit of God, therefore have been thrown by the enemy (demon
spirits), and have had their spiritual eyes gouged out, that is, they have become salt
that has lost its savor (Eph 6:12; Matt. 5:13). "Therefore let us
not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in
the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of
the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the
hope of salvation" (I Thess. 5:6-8).