In Matthew 24, Jesus described the events that will accompany and validate the reality of His return:
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 (Matthew 24:37-39).
This passage has frequently been misinterpreted to support pre-tribulation rapture theory, the idea that the saints will be taken off the earth to be rescued while sinners remain behind to suffer seven years of trouble. If the key words, however, are “just like,” then who did God remove from the earth when the flood came? Answer: the wicked, not the righteous. Who remained to inherit the earth? Answer: Noah and his family. The flood took the wicked away and left righteous Noah and his family to possess and repopulate the earth. The first “rapture” that took people off the earth took the wicked out from among the righteous by means of the waters of the flood while Noah remained. Jesus said that it will be just like that at the end. The wicked will be taken out first and we win!
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. 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 (Matthew 24:40-47).
Jesus never presented a scenario in which God removes the church and abandons the earth to its destruction.
Focus on that last line. When Jesus returns, the wicked will be taken out and the righteous on earth will be put in charge of all that belongs to God. Jesus never presented a scenario in which God removes the church and abandons the earth to its destruction. We win. While we cannot therefore deny or discount Jesus’s own prophecy that the troubles outlined in Matthew 24 will come in the form of earthquakes, wars, pestilence, famines, false christs, and persecution of believers, we must not go looking for, dwelling on, and being afraid of every conspiracy theory that comes around. Too many of us have camped on the craziness and the negatives as if these were the whole story. They’re not. Jesus Himself said:
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 (Matthew 24:29-31).
In the late 1960s and early ’70s when a whole generation of Jesus People bought into the idea of a pre-tribulation rapture, what part of “after” did we not understand? After the Great Tribulation, not before, He will gather His chosen ones as He comes on the clouds of heaven. In fact, He made it very clear that we must not believe that He has returned in any form or manner unless the whole world sees Him on the clouds of heaven.
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 (Matthew 24:23-27).
All will see Him in a very public way, just as all see flashes of lightning during a thunderstorm. Could it be any clearer? Pre-tribulation rapture theory requires that there be two comings of Jesus, the first one secret and the second seen by the whole world. In Matthew 24, Jesus made it obvious that we must not believe in any claim that the Lord has returned, or will return, except in a manner that the entire world will see. This will not be the moment of our escape, but rather our victory celebration.
We must view all of this very differently than we have traditionally.
We must therefore view all this very differently than we have traditionally. Jesus will come at a time we don’t expect, not to take the saints away to abandon the earth to its fate with the wicked in charge, but first to take out the wicked from among the righteous. We must be found faithfully taking care of the kingdom of God when that happens, and we must do it with a positive kingdom attitude of heart.
Is there a rapture of the saints when we’re caught up to meet Him? Absolutely! Right now, however, I’m saying that God has destined us to be in charge of all that is His—the household of this earth. Entrusted with the things of God, we will ultimately receive authority over a redeemed planet. “But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13).
If deep darkness covers the peoples, and if a time of trouble does, in fact, precede the Lord’s return as He Himself told us, then what Isaiah prophesied is also true:
The Lord will rise upon you and His glory will appear upon you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. Lift up your eyes round about and see; they all gather together, they come to you. Your sons will come from afar, and your daughters will be carried in the arms (Isaiah 60:2-4).
As a result, when all of this unfolds and proceeds to its conclusion, we followers of Christ will be put in charge. We inherit ultimate authority over the earth.
What about all that bad stuff?
Some things are certainly true. False christs will emerge and, in fact, have already arisen, but Jesus said not to be frightened (see Matt. 24:6). There will be, and are, wars and rumors of wars. There will be, and are, famines and earthquakes in various places. All these seem to be increasing.
We must not fear these things. According to Matthew 24:8, events like these constitute the beginning of birth pangs as the whole of creation travails like a woman in childbirth to bring forth the age to come, the coming of the kingdom of God. I have three children of my own, as well as eleven wonderful grandchildren, and I know how frightening, and even painful, the birth of a child can be. The birth of a new baby, however, is also a time of joy and anticipation as we welcome something precious and wonderful into the world. Applying Jesus’s metaphor, the same must be true of the birth of a new era of the kingdom of God on earth.
This season of both darkness and pain, therefore, abounds with hope, while the pain we read of in Scripture looks a lot like things trending in the age in which we currently live. As Isaiah stated, “darkness will cover the earth and deep darkness the peoples; but the Lord will rise upon you and His glory will appear upon you.”
Christians will be, and are being, persecuted in increasing numbers. Hatred for believers grows and will continue to grow. All true! The devil hates us and seeks to enlist others in that hatred, but this is not a time for fear. It is rather the hour of our greatness!
Matthew 24:10 says, “many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another.” Also true and happening now! Society becomes ever more secular while in many segments of the church core doctrines are being cast aside. The spirit of hatred grows around the world. In my own nation, it manifests in racial division, racially motivated violence, and in an ever greater avalanche of vitriol between the left and the right, progressives and conservatives. This will be a time of false prophecy (see Matt. 24:11) as unfulfilled prophetic words and prognostications continue to proliferate.
Yes, lawlessness will increase and “most people’s love will grow cold” (Matt. 24:12). Hatred now rises in the world and will continue to do so. And yet, “darkness will cover the earth and deep darkness the peoples; but the Lord will rise upon you and His glory will appear upon you.” As servants of the Most High God, the time of the world’s greatest trial becomes the hour of our greatest glory, power, and influence.
Here’s the most important element of our victory: “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” (Matt. 24:14). We don’t lose. We win. Whether or not we disagree on the end-time significance of current events, one thing seems clear. When the gospel has been preached to every people group—ethnos (singular) or ethnoi (plural) in the Greek—then the end will come with the return of Jesus. According to every missiologist with whom I’ve spoken, the completion of that task is now in sight.
When souls from every walk of life, every “mountain of influence,” are won to Jesus, Christian influence on society increases. People who have been changed by Jesus make changes in their spheres of influence. We change the atmosphere around us just by being who and what Jesus has made us to be.
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