Saturday, May 21, 2011

Is The End Near? (Part 3)

This post is a continuation of my response to the prediction that the End Times will begin on May 21.

VI. The Rapture

The first thing to happen as the End Times unfold is what has come to be called “The Rapture”, which is explained in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18:

For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

So the believers who are alive at the time will be lifted bodily into heaven, while the dead will experience their resurrection. Believers at that time will escape the coming persecution, but those who convert after The Rapture will be in for some tough times.

VII. Tribulation and the Antichrist

This period of great trials and persecution of God’s people is called “The Tribulation.” A powerful figure will arise who will cause this time of persecution, and he is known as the Anti-Christ and is called “The Beast” in Revelation. The Anti-Christ is described in both the Old and New Testaments. We read about him and see some warnings in Second Thessalonians 2:1-4:

Now, dear brothers and sisters, let us clarify some things about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and how we will be gathered to meet him. Don’t be so easily shaken or alarmed by those who say that the day of the Lord has already begun. Don’t believe them, even if they claim to have had a spiritual vision, a revelation, or a letter supposedly from us. Don’t be fooled by what they say. For that day will not come until there is a great rebellion against God and the man of lawlessness is revealed—the one who brings destruction. He will exalt himself and defy everything that people call god and every object of worship. He will even sit in the temple of God, claiming that he himself is God. NLT

VIII. Final Battle - Armageddon

A great battle in the Middle East is part of the End Times events, as we read in Revelation 16:16:

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

This refers to a valley in Israel, which the ruins of Megiddo overlook, a large flat plain where many battles were fought in antiquity. Zechariah 12:3 tells us that many nations will come together against Israel: And all the nations of the earth shall come together against [Jerusalem].

With the help of Jesus, Israel will prevail and the nations will be defeated. We read about this defeat of the nations and his return in Zechariah 14:3-4a:

Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives, which lies before Jerusalem on the east…

IX. Return of Jesus

What we now understand to be the Second Coming of Jesus is described in many places in both the Old and New Testaments. For example, when Jesus returns, it will be at the same place from where he ascended into heaven, the Mount of Olives, as we read in Acts 1:9-12a

After [Jesus] said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives. NIV

X. Judgment

The End Times not only involves the triumphal return of Jesus in glory, but also includes judgment. We are all accountable to God, and so there will be a day of reckoning. If we have made Jesus our Lord and Savior, all our sins have been wiped away and we go to heaven. We skip that part of the judgment, because our names have been written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Christians believe that followers of Christ will be judged, but only on their works to determine what rewards they will receive once they get to heaven. Those believers who didn’t serve God will lose their rewards but will still get to heaven (1 Corinthians 3:11-15)

If what [a person] has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. NIV

XI. Final Victory & The Millennium

Ultimately God’s plan will be completed, and there is the final victory, as we read in Revelation 20:2-3:

[The angel] seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and locked and sealed it over him, so that he would deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be let out for a little while.

This thousand year time of peace is called The Millennium, and it may be a literal 1,000 years or it may be more of a symbolic number meaning “many”. It will be a time of peace and harmony on the earth followed by the temporary release of Satan and some bad times. Martin Luther’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress” says this about Satan:

The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure.

We read about that “sure doom” in Revelation 20:10:

And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. NRSV

There will then be a new heaven and a new earth, and everybody lives happily ever after under the kingship of Jesus.

XII. Conclusion

The book of Revelation and the whole Bible end with these words (Revelation 22:20-21):

The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. NRSV

Revelation closes human history as Genesis opened it—in a type of paradise. In Genesis, sin and evil enter the world, but in Revelation, they are removed forever. The Garden of Eden was destroyed by sin; but it is re-created in the new Jerusalem. In a world of trials, persecution, evil, and immorality, Christ calls us to endure in our faith in anticipation of a better future. Jesus alone will re-create the earth and bring lasting peace in which the lion will lay down with the lamb.

I hope this brief overview of the End Times has renewed your faith and given you strength and hope to endure life’s trials. This was a very cursory outline, but I pray you believe that Jesus is coming again, and that if you are a follower of Christ you will have a wonderful future. As Christians, we should always live in anticipation of his imminent return, and conduct ourselves accordingly. Followers of Jesus have nothing to fear from the End Times.

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