Spoiler: It’s coming soon…. For a summary of how to prepare according to the Bible, see the words in bold.
When Jesus entered history, the time known as “the last days” began and has continued for about two thousand years. As a young married woman, I sifted Revelation, Daniel and related Scriptures trying to grasp the big picture of Christ’s “coming,” also known as “the end of the age/world,” “the last days/hour,” “hour of testing” and “later times.” I studied seven years, which is, incidentally, the duration of the great tribulation to come.
Jesus prophesies about this period in Matthew 24, a chapter focusing entirely on the topic. Matthew’s account is an amazingly plainspeaking chronology–remarkable for prophecy, in which time is often fluid, because to God, it is fluid and temporary. Matthew 24 is a great overview perfect for the purpose of a post. Verses 3-8 say:
As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many. You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.”
Jesus tells us not to be misled by false Christs or frightened by wars and rumors of wars. Along with famines and earthquakes, this is merely the beginning.
Jesus continues to paint the picture of what’s to come in verses 9-14:
“Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.”
Any of this sound familiar? The chill? Scandals, coverups and corruption in the church, let alone in the world? How do we respond to all this? Jesus encourages us to endure to the end, when the gospel is preached in the whole world (verses 13-14).
In the continuing verses 15-21, Jesus starts to sound a lot like Daniel and Revelation:
“Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things out that are in his house. Whoever is in the field must not turn back to get his cloak. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath. For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will.”
In Israel, at least, there will be an urgency which will not permit the slightest delay. No matter where in the world we are, we must pray that this tribulation will not occur in the winter or on a Sabbath (which is Saturday, by the way).
In the next verses, 22-28, Jesus introduces the rapture:
“Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you in advance. So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them. For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”
We must not be misled by false Christs and false prophets showing great signs and wonders. When Christ comes, He will be impossible to miss, like lightning (verse 27). Vultures gather around corpses (verse 28), but we serve a risen, living Lord who will return. Soon. Alleluia!
Jesus details the legitimate signs of His coming and the rapture in the next verses, 29-31:
“But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.”
Notice the timing: After the tribulation signs occur, ending with another sign in the sky unique to Jesus, then He appears and sends His angels to gather His elect. We must be prepared to suffer a while before He whisks us away. Search the Scriptures as long and hard as you will: we’re not beamed outta here until we experience some tribulation.
This was a revelation to me thirty years ago, when one of my sisters-in-law shared a book by Marvin Rosenthal, The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church, which helped me see what the Scriptures actually said about the rapture instead of mauling them to make them fit what I’d been taught and expected to read. It set off my seven-year study. Now it’s hard to believe I ever missed it.
Jesus continues in verses 32-35:
“Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.”
Jesus tells us to recognize the signs of verse 29 in the previous passage. After them He is coming.
Jesus makes this clear in the next verses, 36-41:
“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left.”
God only knows the exact timing of Jesus’ return. To us things will seem pretty normal–until suddenly they’re not.
There’s a “therefore” in the next verses, 42-47. As the saying goes, we’d better find out what it’s there for:
“Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will. Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions.”
There’s also a “for this reason” in this culminating passage (verse 44). Jesus again tells us to be on the alert and ready because He’s coming when we don’t think He will (verse 44). Meanwhile we must be faithful and sensible slaves, doing what our master charged us to do (verse 45), so we’ll be blessed when He comes (verses 46-47).
In the final verses, 48-51, Jesus concludes with a grave warning:
“But if that evil slave says in his heart, ‘My master is not coming for a long time,’ and begins to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Jesus warns us not to act like an evil slave in our waiting, or at His coming, we’ll spend eternity with the rest of the hypocrites.
While the Bible says much more on this topic, Matthew 24 ends here. Matthew 25 elaborates on being ready and the eternal punishment for failing. I’d like to end with several verses from Revelation. Verse 1:3 says, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.” Revelation 3:10-11 promises, “Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown.“
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB (New American Standard Bible) Copyright by The Lockman Foundation http://www.lockman.org