One of the fundamental beliefs of Christianity is that our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ will one day return, gather those alive on Earth that truly believed in Him (i.e., His Church) and then move them to be with Him forevermore! (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17) Consequently, inquiring minds throughout the ages have wondered WHEN will this occur (Matthew 24:3). Many have tried to predict WHEN this will occur only to be proven to be wrong when their date passed without it transpiring.
Furthermore, the enemy of our souls – Satan – in his usual manner (2 Corinthians 2:11) attempts to confuse the matter by tempting us with many variations of the opposite of truth (e.g., Jesus is not returning or certainly not in your life so no need to worry about it just eat, drink and be merry) leading to complacency (2 Peter 3:3-7) and many variations of the counterfeit of truth (e.g., His return is so imminent you need to stop everything you are doing and wait for His return or in fact He is on Earth now – quick go see him!) leading to anxiety (Matthew 24:24. 1 John 2:18. 2 Thessalonians 2). Therefore, without trying to be wrong (again) by predicting a date let us simply see what the Bible says about when Jesus will return for His church.
Part of the confusion about Jesus’ return is that we interpret the scripture as if He will be coming back once but in reality, it is two different times.
The first time will be to “take away (1)” the Church thus rescuing it from the Great Tribulation (2). During this return, Jesus will come with all of the Christians that have died, from Adam to the time of His coming, and will not set foot on Earth but rather descend only into the lower atmosphere (3). Realize, to those that are lost (i.e., have not accepted Jesus as Savior and Lord) this return will be as a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3).
Now on the topic of times and seasons, brothers and sisters, you have no need for anything to be written to you. For you know quite well that the day of the Lord will come in the same way as a thief in the night. Now when they are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction comes on them, like labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will surely not escape.(1 Thessalonians 5:1–3 NET)
However, to those that are saved Jesus’ first return will NOT be as a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:4-6).
But you, brothers and sisters, are not in the darkness for the day to overtake you like a thief would. For you all are sons of the light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of the darkness. So then we must not sleep as the rest, but must stay alert and sober. (1 Thessalonians 5:4–6 NET)
During this first return He will:
1. Resurrect and transform the decayed bodies of those that have already died into perfect glorified bodies. Then reunite these glorified bodies with the spirits of the saints that have come with Him from Heaven (saints referring to all that died from Adam to the time of His coming that has a personal relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ the Son). (1 Corinthians 15:51,52) (1 Thessalonians 4:14-16)
2. Transform the bodies (i.e., pass them through death to glorification thus complying with Hebrews 9:27) of the Christians that are alive on Earth at His appearing. That is, those that are alive and have a personal relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ the Son. (1 Corinthians 15:52) (1 Thessalonians 4:17)
3. Draw both of these groups that have now have glorified bodies to Himself and transport them (us) to Heaven. (Philippians 3:20,21. 1 John 3:2) We Christians will then have to appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ where our works will be judged (2 Corinthians 5:10. 1 Corinthians 3:12-15). This is a judgment for what we have done (i.e., our works) for determination of any reward and NOT a judgment of whether we can be with the Lord forever (the latter has already been decided based on our belief or faith in Jesus’ completed work on the cross) (Romans 10:9,10,13).
The second time Jesus will come to the Earth in order to defeat the Antichrist, destroy evil, and establish His millennial or thousand-year kingdom on Earth (Jude 1:14,15. Revelation 19:11-16). This return is referred to as the Day of the Lord in scripture. Again, a day with the Lord is a thousand years (1) (2 Peter 3:8). That is, the DAY of the Lord encompasses the defeat of the Antichrist and evil and then the THOUSAND YEAR reign of Jesus on Earth!
The timing of this second return of Jesus is only known by God the Father (Matthew 24:36). Recall that the Scroll of Authority (1) leased to man the rule over planet Earth for a finite period of time. The man then made a covenant with Satan by sinning thus giving Satan the right to rule over his world system for the same finite period of time. This period of time is known by both God and Satan (Matthew 8:29. Revelation 12:12). However, in order that some of the people going through the Great Tribulation period on Earth might remain alive the lease is interrupted before its time is fulfilled (Matthew 24:21,22). Satan is then imprisoned in the Abyss during this thousand-year period of Jesus’ reign on Earth (Revelation 20:1,2). Nevertheless, God being just He will release Satan to have the balance of the time of the lease, as specified in the Scroll of Authority, after the thousand-year reign of Jesus (Revelation 20:3). Then Satan and all his evil will be removed forever! Hallelujah (Revelation 20:10)
Jesus does give us a clue to the approximate length of the church age (Luke 13:32). Remembering a day with the Lord is a thousand years (1) (2 Peter 3:8) then Jesus was telling Satan (the spiritual “fox” that was working through King Herod) that for approximately two thousand years (two Heaven days) the church will be alive on Earth with deliverance and healing and then in the third thousand years (third Heaven day) Jesus will start His millennial reign on Earth! (4)
This fits the pattern of God who never changes (Malachi 3:6. Hebrews 13:8). In Genesis 1 the Earth was restored in six Heaven days (1) (six thousand Earth years) and God then rested on the seventh day (seventh thousand Earth years). There are four thousand years (four Heaven days) from Adam to Jesus’ birth, add two thousand years (4) (two Heaven days) of the church age for a total of six thousand years (six Heaven days). Then rest will come in the seventh thousandth years (Seventh Heaven day) – the thousand-year reign of Jesus on Earth called the Day of the Lord!
Another clue is given in the purification of those that have been made unclean (1) by contacting anything associated with human death (i.e., a corpse, bones, and grave). Recall, we are dead in our trespasses and sin until we are born again from above (1).
“ ‘Whoever touches the corpse of any person will be ceremonially unclean seven days. He must purify himself with water on the third day and on the seventh day, and so will be clean. But if he does not purify himself on the third day and the seventh day, then he will not be clean. (Numbers 19:11–12 NET)
Again, this is referring to Heaven days of one thousand years each. Therefore, meaning that at the end of the two thousand year church age, or the third Heaven day, some people will be found purified with the water of the word (i.e., born again) and raptured. Then some will be found purified with the water of the word out of the Great Tribulation and brought to Heaven on the Seventh Heaven day!
Then one of the elders asked me, “These dressed in long white robes—who are they and where have they come from?” So I said to him, “My lord, you know the answer.” Then he said to me, “These are the ones who have come out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb! (Revelation 7:13–14 NET)
In conclusion, we are not to be complacent nor anxious about our Lord Jesus’ return. Rather we are to be faithful in doing what the Lord asks us to do moment by moment and living a life that will allow us to look forward to His return with unashamed joy (1 John 2:28), but letting Him “worry” about the bigger picture of bringing everything to its rightful end – Maranatha! (5) (Romans 13:8-14. Ephesians 5:1-18. 1 Corinthians 4:2. Luke 12:22-32. Philippians 4:6. Matthew 25:1-30).
To be continued (1)…
Links to the entire series:
(1) Left-click on the underlined phrase to open another article in a different tab with more explanation.
(2) The catching away or rapture of the church will occur prior to the Great Tribulation based on the following:
- Traditionally we have called this event “The Rapture” although this word does not appear in most translations of the Bible. The word rapture comes from the Latin, Rapare, which means to “take away” or “snatch out.” The word with the meaning of rapture in the Bible is the Greek word harpozo. This Greek word harpozo is literally translated “caught up” and has the following meanings: to carry off by force or to rescue from the danger of destruction. Jesus will carry us off by force when He removes us through the territory of the Prince of the Power of the Air (lower denser atmosphere(3)) who will apparently attempt to interfere with our leaving Earth (Ephesians 2:2). Jesus will rescue us from the danger of destruction by taking us to Heaven prior to the Great Tribulation.
- The last church age listed in Revelations 3 is the Laodicean age. The genuine Christians in this church will be kept from “the hour of testing that comes upon the whole world.” (Revelation 3:10. 1 Thessalonians 1:10. 1 Thessalonians 5:9)
- The book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ is broken up into the three parts (Revelation 1:19):
- The things that you have seen – the Patmos Vision of the Lord Jesus (Revelation 1).
- The things which are – the Church age (Revelation 2 and Revelation 3).
- The things that will take place after this – events taking place after the Church age (i.e., after the church leaves the Earth) (Revelation 4-22).
(3) The Greek word used here for air is “aer” that refers to the lower denser atmosphere. This is in contrast with the Greek work “aither” speaking of the upper thinner atmosphere. For example, a Greek would stand on Mount Olympus (6,403 feet high) and point up to “aither” and down to “aer“.
(4) Realize, God does approximate by rounding off numbers at times. For example, Exodus 12:40,42 states that Israelites were in Egypt for 430 years but Genesis 15:13 and Acts 7:6 approximates this by rounding it down to 400 years. Based on this the church age could last until 2300 A.D. or whatever the highest number is that rounds down in God’s math (e.g., 2400 A.D).
(5) Maranatha is the transliteration of the Koine Greek word that means “Our Lord Come!” (KJV 1 Corinthians 16:22). This word captures what our attitude should be concerning our Lord’s return. That is while we are not to be complacent or anxious about His return we should live such that if Jesus were to return at any moment we would be not ashamed but rather prepared, excited, and filled with joy to see Him! (1 John 2:28. Ephesians 5:15,16).