Many people are caught up in the expectation that Christ is coming very soon. They try to look at present international affairs and wrongly think that the Bible prophesies about them. They are mistaken in thinking that these years in which we live are the ‘last days.’
The ‘last days’ began when Christ came the first time, and continue until His second coming. Read Acts 2:17, 2 Timothy 3:1, Hebrews 1:1-2, 1 Peter 1:20, 2 Peter 3:3. Christ’s first coming is the fulfilment of prophecy, the centre of history, at which time all that God promised began to be fulfilled: the promised Redeemer has come (Micah 5:2), the new covenant_ is established (Jeremiah 31:31-34), the Kingdom has come (Daniel 2:44), and the Spirit is poured out (Joel 2:28). Note what this present age between the two comings is also called: the end of ages (Hebrews 9:26).
At death the souls of believers go immediately into the presence of God, and the souls of unbelievers go to punishment. It is useless and wrong to pray for those who have died.
i. To where did the angels carry the poor man Lazarus? (Luke 16:22) the bosom of Abraham.
ii. Where did the rich man find himself after death? (Luke 16:23) hades
iii. Where did Christ promise the dying thief would be that very day? (Luke 23:43) paradise.
iv. Where did Paul expect to be at death? (Philippians 1:23) be with Christ.
v. Who will be with Jesus when He returns? (1 Thessalonians 4:14) those who have fallen asleep
Christ Himself went to be with the Father at death (Luke 23:43, 46). When the Creed says, “He descended into hell,” it means that His body was laid in the grave (see Acts 2:27, lines one and two are basically the same in meaning). His preaching to “the spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:19) is best understood as His preaching through Noah in Noah’s day.
There is no place like ‘purgatory’ where the sins of Christians need to be cleansed. The blood of Christ is sufficient to cleanse us from all sin (1 John 1:7). Nor do our souls lose consciousness in ‘sleep’ (teaching of soul-sleep). Dead believers ‘sleep’ in the sense that their bodies rest in the grave (cemetery = ‘sleeping place’).
- No! Jesus very clearly says concerning that day, “no one no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son” (Mark 13:32). Yet people have always tried to fix dates, the first Seventh-Day Adventists (1843/4), Jehovah’s Witnesses (1914), a generation (40 years) from the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, Branhamites (1976), to more recent predications of 2000. Harold Camping also has made two predictions, 2010,2011, but all failed.
But Jesus will return as a ‘thief’, unexpectedly, although not necessarily quietly. Read Luke 12:37-40, 1 Thessalonians 5:2-4, 2 Peter 3:10, Revelation 16:15. Other parables also emphasize that His return will be unexpectedly, (Matthew 24:44,50, 25:13), and delayed (Matt. 25:5, Luke 20:9). This is why we are commanded to be constantly stay awake (Matthew 24:42-43, 25:13, Mark 13:32-37, Luke 12:37-40), as we daily do the will of our Father (Matthew 24:45-46).
- What about the ‘signs’ of His coming? The disciples asked this question (Matthew 24:3). These are things that take place throughout the period of the last days as signs of the struggle between the kingdom of God and the powers of evil (see the parable of the wheat and tares growing together, Matthew 13:30). Jesus would be contradicting Himself if such signs could be used to warn us of His coming. Three signs have wrongly been used:
- The founding of the state of Israel in 1948 is supposedly in fulfilment of the OT prophecies of the return of the Jews to the promised land. But those prophecies began to be fulfilled in 537 B.C. as recorded in Ezra. At the present time Jews have returned in unbelief when the OT prophesied it would be in repentance (Ezekiel 36:22ff.). Some expect a national conversion of the Jews in the future. But the salvation of “all Israel” (Romans 11:26) is a process that goes on throughout these last days (as in Paul’s day,11:13-14). These refer to the elect of Israel (11:7) because God has not totally rejected His people (11:1).
- The coming of Antichrist (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12). There have been many such antichrists, such as Antiochus (Daniel 7:25, 11:36, see also 1 John 2:18), that are all types of a coming antichrist. Roman emperors, Hitler, the Papacy, have all been called the Antichrist. Because antichristian forces are always present, we shall not know when the final one has come.
- The great Tribulation. Christians know tribulation throughout the last days (Matthew 24:9-10), but at the end it will be the most intense (24:21,29). Note: Matthew 24 deals with both the destruction of Jerusalem (70 A.D.) and the end of the world, the first being a type of the second. The battle of Armageddon (Revelation 16:16) is not a literal battle, but the final overthrow of all evil (19:17-21), as Sisera was overthrown (Judges 4-5, note Megiddo in 5:19).
Once. There is no evidence for a two-stage return, first a secret rapture of the church, then 7 years later after the tribulation. The church will also experience the tribulation (Matthew 24:29-31, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12). 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 does not teach a secret stealing away of the Christians before the tribulation, for it will be a very noisy occasion!
Personally. Acts 1:11, 3:19-21, Philippians 3:20, Colossians 3:4.
Visibly. Titus 2:11-13, Revelation 1:7. The Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that He returned invisibly in the year 1914.
Gloriously. It will be the opposite of His first coming in humility Matthew 24:30, 2 Thessalonians 1:10, Colossians 3:4.
- Judgment. All the dead will be raised (John 5:28-29, Acts 24:14-15, Revelation 20:11-15) and will appear before Christ for judgment (Matthew 25:31-32, John 5:22, Acts 17:31). It is our works that will be judged (Matthew 12:36 25:35-40, Romans 2:6, 2 Corinthians 5:10, Revelation 20:12). Our works clearly show whether or not we have saving faith (Galatians 5:6, James 2:26). Why is such a judgment necessary if our souls go to heaven or hell immediately we die? It will be a public display of the sovereignty and glory of God in determining everyone’s final destiny in body and soul.
- Heaven. This is the new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13). Its fullest description is in Revelation 21-22.
- Hell. This is where the wicked will spend eternity in conscious torment. There is no doctrine of annihilation (= ceasing to exist) in the Bible. Note the following passages that teach endless torment:
With what is eternal life contrasted? (Matthew 25:46) eternal punishment.
How is the fire of hell described? (Mark 9:43,48) where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.
What do the worshippers of the beast not have in their torments? (Revelation 14:10-11) Rest.
Write TRUE or FALSE for each of the following statements:
______ We are now in the time of the Last Days.
______ The souls of believers sleep in death.
______ We will know when the Lord is about to return.
______ Christ will secretly come to take His church to heaven before the tribulation.
______ We shall live on a renewed earth for eternity.
The following books on the Biblical teaching about the Last Things are recommended:
- Grier, The Momentous Event;
- Helm, The Last Things;
- Hendriksen, The Bible on the Life Hereafter;
- Hoekema, The Bible and the future.