Though it doesn’t happen often, I was asked by a friend in the newspaper business for my take on a world event and how that fits into the prophecies of the Scripture regarding end times. His take was apparently based on an entirely different view regarding the end times than mine — a view which is rooted in dispensationalism and includes a secret rapture, a tribulation period and a millennial kingdom here in this world.
How do you tell someone in a few minutes that you are neither premillennial or postmillennial? How do you explain in a few sentences that the current view of many modern-day Christians is based on a 19th-century heresy somewhat akin to a first-century heresy of Cerinthus who claimed to have a revelation from angels of a millennial kingdom on earth? How do you tell someone that a current event, while it may be a part of God’s judgment upon this world, may not be all that significant in regard to the fulfillment of certain ancient prophesies?
While I certainly do not claim to understand every prophecy of Scripture, I do seek to follow the principle of letting Scripture interpret Scripture. In other words, I do not come to Scripture and try to make its words fit my views. Rather, I come to Scripture and seek to conform my views to what is plainly taught in the Bible. When I find a passage difficult to understand, I don’t come up with some fantastic interpretation and then do violence to the rest of the Bible to make it fit my views. I look to the clear and plain passages of Scripture to help me rightly understand those passages which are more difficult for my sin-damaged mind to grasp.
So what do I know from the Bible’s clear teaching regarding the end times, Christ’s return and the final judgment?
In the book of Hebrews (9:26-28), we read of Christ Jesus: “Now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.”
The Bible clearly teaches two comings of Christ — His first coming, recorded in the New Testament Gospels, to suffer and die for the sins of the world; and His second coming, on the Last Day, to judge the living and the dead (Matt. 24:29ff.; 26:64). Note that this is far different than the views of dispensationalists, who teach two more comings, one to secretly rapture away the church and another to establish an earthly millennial kingdom.
Though an earthly millennial kingdom is an ancient heresy rejected by Christians from the first century onward, dispensationalism is a relatively new doctrine, beginning with John Darby in the 1800s and spreading like wildfire in the churches through the notes included in the Scofield Bible. I was taught it in college for 2 1/2 years, but through the emphasis of that same college on the study of Scripture, I saw that dispensationalism contradicted the clear and plain teaching of Scripture on point after point and had to reject it for the error it was.
Part of the problem is that people do not carefully study the Scriptures and are unfamiliar with much ancient history. But those who study their Bibles and know something of ancient history will see that Jesus’ words regarding a great tribulation and the series of visions in the Book of Revelation have already been fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD and in the rise and fall (or decline) of the Roman Church and Holy Roman Empire.
But getting back to the judgment, from God’s Word we see that – unless Christ returns first – each person will suffer temporal death; and after death comes God’s judgment. We also hear again that Christ came into this world to go to the cross, sacrifice Himself in our stead and for our sin that He might return on the Last Day to receive us to Himself and grant us eternal salvation.
God’s Word reveals to us that, at death, the souls of believers are taken to be with their Lord and Savior in heaven, and the souls of unbelievers begin suffering the eternal torments of hell.
Consider Jesus’ words in Luke 16:19-31. When the beggar died, he was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. When the rich man died and was buried, he was in torment in hell and asked his ancestral father, Abraham, to have mercy on him and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool his tongue because he was tormented in hell’s flame.
Note what Jesus said to the dying thief who repented and looked to Him for mercy: “Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). The apostle Paul wrote to the believers at Philippi (Phil. 1:21-23): “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better.”
In Revelation 14:13, we read: “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.”
Of those who have died in unbelief, we read of their imprisonment when the crucified and risen Christ Jesus “went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water” (1 Pet. 3:19-20). And the Bible also says: “For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment … the Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished” (2 Pet. 2:4,9).
The Bible also teaches that, on the Last Day, Jesus Christ will return to judge the living and the dead; and on that Day, all the dead will be raised up.
Jesus said, “The hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:28-29). Job expressed his confidence: “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me” (Job 19:25-27; cf. Rev. 20:11-15; Acts 10:42; 17:31; 2 Cor. 5:10).
The wicked and unbelieving will be cast, both body and soul, into the everlasting torments of hell; but those who have trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation will, according to both body and soul, dwell with Christ forever, enjoying the blessings of heaven.
The Bible says: “Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; and to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day” (2 Thess. 1:6-10; cf. John 5:29; Matt. 10:28; Luke 16:23-24; Isa. 66:24; 1 Cor. 15:51-52; 1 John 3:2; John 3:36; 17:24).
On that Day, those who trusted in the perfect atonement of Christ Jesus will not be condemned but receive everlasting life, as Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24).
Jesus also said: “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:1-3). The Bible also says of heaven: “Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:11).
Paul wrote to the believers in Thessalonica: “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent [precede] them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:13-18).
Though many have, over the ages, attempted to determine the Day of Christ’s return and judgment of the living and the dead, the Bible teaches that the Day of Christ’s return is known only to God and not to man. Christians believe Jesus’ words: “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only” (Mat. 24:36; cf. v.29-42; Mark 13:32; 2 Pet. 3:10).
Some would separate Christ’s return from the Day of Judgment, saying that Christ will secretly return and rapture away believers before a period of severe tribulation and an earthly millennial kingdom, however, Jesus’ own word refute this lie of Satan.
Before His crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matt. 24:29-31).
The Word of God is clear. Notice that Jesus will come visibly – every eye will see Him (Rev. 1:7) – and with the sound of a trumpet and gather His elect from the four winds “after the tribulation of those days.” Note in 1 Thess. 4:13-18 (quoted above) Jesus coming with the sound of the trumpet. Jesus’ coming for His elect marks the end of tribulation in this world and Jesus’ final judgment of the living and the dead.
In regard to the millennial reign of Christ in Revelation 20, read it carefully and you will note it is not on earth. Rather it is the reign of the souls of believers with their Savior in heaven until the Last Day when Christ returns and brings them with Him (1 Thess. 4:13ff.), the dead are raised up and judged, and all believers – those who have fallen asleep in Jesus and those who are alive and remain at His coming – will be forever with the Lord Jesus in the mansions of His Father’s House.
And true believers and students of God’s inspired Word will reject as false all contrary doctrines, such as purgatory and limbo, a secret rapture, an earthly millennial kingdom and any attempts to predict the day or hour of Christ’s return.
Pastor Randy Moll