Seven Things You Have To Know To Understand End Times Prophecy … Part 3

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Seven Things You Have to Know

This is the final installment of our series entitled Seven Things You Have To Know To Understand End Times Prophecy by Jack Kelley.  It begins with item five on our list of seven.

5) Conditions Surrounding The 2nd Coming

A couple of days before He was arrested, Jesus had a private conversation with four of His disciples, His inner circle. They were Peter and Andrew, and James and John, two pairs of brothers. The purpose of the conversation was to answer questions they had asked Him about the 2nd Coming and the End of the Age. They were confused because according to the prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27 these events were only seven years away, and yet Jesus had just told them the Temple and all the surrounding buildings would be torn down so completely that not one stone would be left standing on another.  He had told the crowds the same thing on Palm Sunday and said it was going to happen because the nation hadn’t recognized the time of His coming to them (Luke 19:44).

His response to the disciples’ questions is contained in Matt. 24-25, Mark 13, and Luke 21.  Theologians call it the Olivet Discourse because the conversation took place on the Mount of Olives.  For this study, we’ll only summarize it, focusing on the parts that help us identify what the Lord had to say about the conditions surrounding the 2nd Coming.

In Matthew’s account, the most detailed, Jesus included several specific geographic and time references in His answer.  He did this so His readers wouldn’t get confused as to who and when He was talking about.  Having commanded us to understand this passage in Matt. 24:15, He wanted to make sure we got it right.  We’ll use these references to get a clear understanding of His target audience and the timing of events.

His answer to their questions begins in Matt. 24:4 with a general overview.  He said false Messiahs would deceive many and that there would be wars and rumors of war, but they wouldn’t be signaling the end.  He characterized them, along with famines and earthquakes in various places, as the beginning of birth pangs.  Birth pangs tell an expectant mother the labor and delivery are coming, but don’t say exactly when they’ll take place.  It’s the same with these signs.

He said they (the Jews) would be persecuted and put to death and hated by all nations, causing many to turn away from the faith and even betray each other, but those who stand firm to the end would be saved. Then He finished His summary in Matt. 24:14, saying the gospel would be preached in all nations, and then the end would come.  (According to Rev. 14:6-7, this prophecy will be fulfilled by an angel shortly after the Great Tribulation begins.)

“So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. (Matt. 24:15-16)

These two verses give us the first specific clues as to both the intended audience and the timing of His answer.  The Holy Place is the Jewish Temple, and as we learned in Part 2, the abomination that causes desolation is a specific defilement that makes it unfit for further use.  The last Temple to stand in Israel was destroyed in 70 AD before this prophecy could be fulfilled.  The nation itself ceased to exist about 135 AD and didn’t reappear until 1948. But because there’s still no Temple there, the prophecy remains unfulfilled.  Also, it’s directed to those who are in Judea, the Biblical name for Israel. The Lord was warning people in Israel who will be alive when a Temple is being built there to watch for this, and when they see it to flee immediately.

Pray that your flight will not take place in Winter or on the 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. (Matt. 24:20-21)

The mountains of Judea are treacherous in the winter, and  Jews are forbidden under the Law to travel more than 1000 paces on the Sabbath for any reason. This confirms that the warning is intended for latter-day Israel, back in its Old Covenant relationship at the beginning of the Great Tribulation, 3½ years from the Second Coming. The Church will already be gone.

Then in Matt 24:29 He said that immediately after the tribulation ends, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. When they see these signs they’ll know that The Great Tribulation has ended.

Matt 24:30 has people on Earth seeing the Sign of the Son of Man in the sky, and then His visible return to Earth with power and great glory. This will cause all the peoples of the Earth to mourn.  It’s now too late for them to be saved and they intuitively realize it. This is the Lord’s Second Coming.

Matt 24:36 begins with “No one knows about that day or hour …” What day? What hour? According to Matt. 24:37 and 39 it’s the day and hour of the Second Coming. Remember to stay in context. That’s been His subject since verse 30. I believe the reason He said “day or hour” is so we would know for sure that He was talking about the actual day and hour of His Coming, not the general time.  The specific timing of the 2nd coming is shrouded in mystery.  No less than four times within a span of 27 verses Jesus said the people alive on Earth at the time will not know the day or hour of His coming in advance (Matt. 24:36, 42-44, 50, Matt. 25:13).  In fact, the only time He used the day and hour phrase was in conjunction with His 2nd Coming.

This lends support to the idea that the 2nd Coming will likely take place on the Feast of Trumpets.  It was called the feast where no one knows the day or hour because it came on a new moon, which was very difficult to see in the night skies.  Add to that the fact that immediately after the Great Tribulation the Moon will go dark entirely (Matt. 24:29) and it makes a difficult task all but impossible.

Matt 25 begins with the phrase “At that time, …” which is the time immediately following the 2nd Coming, and contains three illustrations the Lord used to describe judgments He’ll conduct after He returns.  I’ll just highlight what they reveal about the identity of their intended recipients.

The Parable of 10 Virgins

The first one is the Parable of 10 Virgins (Matt. 25:1-13). It’s a story about ten young women waiting for a bridegroom to come.  All have oil lamps, but because they’ve been waiting a long time, five have run out of oil and are trying to buy more when he arrives. Lacking oil, they’re denied entry into the Wedding Banquet.  This parable is sometimes used to illustrate the precarious position of “backsliders” in the Church, but even if you disregard the problem with timing almost everything about that interpretation is wrong.

First, if oil is being used symbolically here, as I believe it is, then the principle of Expositional Constancy demands that it represent the Holy Spirit. This principle says that when things are used symbolically in Scripture, the symbolic use is consistent.   For example, yeast (leaven) always symbolizes sin, and oil always symbolizes the Holy Spirit.  Can the Church lose the Holy Spirit, or exhaust our supply of Him? Ephesians 1:13 and 2 Cor. 1:21-22 both say that the Holy Spirit has been sealed within us as a guarantee of our inheritance, and that it happened solely because we believed the Gospel message. There’s nothing anyone anywhere can do to change that.

But no such guarantee is indicated for Tribulation believers. In fact Rev. 16:15 specifically warns them to stay awake and maintain their righteousness, symbolized by keeping their clothes with them. (Clothing is often used to represent righteousness, as in Isaiah 61:10). Rev. 16:15 implies that Tribulation believers are responsible for remaining steadfast in their faith to avoid losing their salvation. Matt. 25:8 agrees, telling us that all ten virgins had oil in their lamps at the beginning, but the five foolish ones didn’t have enough to carry them through. Remember, all ten virgins are caught sleeping when He returns.  It’s the oil that distinguishes one group from the other, not their behavior.

Second,  these ten women are called virgins or bridesmaids, but never the Bride. Conversely, the Church is the Bride, and is never called a bridesmaid! And when did you ever hear of a bride having to plead with the groom for admission to her own wedding banquet?

Third, it looks like these young women are trying to get into the Seudas Mitzvah (wedding feast) a banquet that follows the wedding ceremony.  If so, none of them made it to the actual marriage ceremony, oil or not, so none of them can be the bride. In fact, there’s no bride mentioned anywhere in this parable.

These virgins aren’t the Church. They represent Tribulation survivors trying to get into the Millennial Kingdom. Five were saved in the time between the Rapture and the end of the Great Tribulation (signified by the oil), remained steadfast, and are welcomed in. The five without oil when He arrived did not remain steadfast and lost their place.

This parable teaches that the Lord’s return signals the deadline after which even the request to be saved and receive the Holy Spirit will be denied. The door to the Kingdom will be closed, and the Lord will deny knowing those who’ve come too late.

The Parable Of The Talents

In Matt 25:14, at the beginning of the Parable of the Talents, the word “again” means he’s giving another illustration from the same time period as the parable of the 10 Virgins, the Day of His Coming.

Though our use of talent as being a gift or ability derives from this parable, a talent was a Greek unit of measure, usually monetary.  The key to interpreting a parable is knowing that everything is symbolic of something else, so in this parable, a talent represents something valuable to the Lord that he wished to have invested on His behalf.  Upon his return, He asks those to whom he had entrusted it what they’ve accomplished.

Those who teach that the talents are gifts given to the Church to be used wisely, producing a measurable return, haven’t read the last verse of the parable. The servant who buried his talent in the ground and produced nothing with it was thrown into the outer darkness, the destiny of unbelievers.  Is the Lord teaching a works-based salvation here? Threatening us with the loss of our salvation if we don’t produce enough with the gifts He gave us?  Of course not.

Reading the Bible, it’s clear that money isn’t important to the Lord. But Psalm 138:2 says that He values His Word above all else. I believe the talents represent His Word. Those who sow it into the hearts of others find that it multiplies in new believers. Those who study it find that their own understanding grows, multiplying their faith.

But those who ignore His word find that it’s like burying it in the ground. Out of sight, out of mind, until what little they began with is lost to them. This proves it never held any value for them, and condemns them as unbelievers, to be cast into the outer darkness. They had heard the truth and ignored it. Now it’s too late. In 2 Thes. 2:10 Paul describes them as those who perish because they refused to love the Truth and so be saved. Some will bear the further responsibility of having led their followers astray by their refusal to teach the truth.

In His Word, the Lord laid out every action He would take regarding His plan for Planet Earth. “Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets,” He said (Amos 3:7).  He did this so man would never have to wonder what He was up to. And where the End of the Age is concerned He had more to say than about any other subject. No one can plead ignorance. Again the point is that some who survive the Great Tribulation will be welcomed into the Kingdom and some won’t, and faith is the determining factor.

The Sheep And Goat Judgment

Matt. 25:31 leaves no doubt as to its timing.  It begins “When the Son of Man comes … ” and goes on to talk about the Lord setting up His throne on Earth after His return for the judgment of the nations, actually a judgment of Gentile tribulation survivors. The Lord doesn’t judge nations in the eternal sense, only individuals. The Greek word here is ethnos, and means “people of every kind.” They’ll be judged by how they treated “His brothers” during the Great Tribulation. It’s called the Sheep and Goat judgment, with the sheep being those who helped His brothers through the horrific times just past and goats being those who didn’t.

Some say His brothers are believers, whether Jew or Gentile, and others say they’re specifically Jews, but the most important point is that these tribulation survivors aren’t being judged by their works. Their works are being cited as evidence of their faith, as in James 2:18. To give aid to a believer, especially a Jew, during the Great Tribulation will take even more courage than it did in Hitler’s Germany, and according to some will be an offense punishable by death. Only a follower of Jesus, certain of His eternal destiny, would dare do it or even want to. Those who helped “His brothers” will have demonstrated their faith by their works and will be ushered live into the Kingdom. Those who refused to help will have condemned themselves to the outer darkness by this evidence of their lack of faith.

All three illustrations teach the same lesson. Surviving believers go live into the Kingdom. Some will have relied exclusively on the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith, as in the Parable of the 10 Virgins. Others will have multiplied their faith by studying and sharing His word, as in the Parable of the Talents. Still others have put their faith into action, risking their lives in the bargain. They’re the Sheep of the Sheep and Goat Judgment. But just like it’s been throughout history, all are saved by faith.

Where’s The Rapture?

The Sheep and Goat judgment is actually an expansion of Matt. 24: 40-41 “One taken and the other left … ” Because of the timing problem, these verses can’t be describing the Rapture. But there’s more.  The Greek word translated taken in verses 40 and 41 means “received.” Captains choosing up sides in a sandlot baseball game point to someone and say, “I’ll take you.” It means, “Come over here. You’re on my team.” No problem so far, the Lord is taking some but not others.

But the primary meaning of the word translated left is “to send away” as a divorcing husband would “send away” his wife. In those days wives had no rights and except in very unusual circumstances didn’t own property. The marriage home was the husband’s property, usually built on his family’s land. If he divorced his wife, he sent her away to live somewhere else, excluding her from his presence. Unbelievers won’t be sent away in this manner at the Rapture. They’ll be left in place to endure the judgments.

This passage isn’t describing the Rapture. The timing, the context, and the disposition of the parties are all wrong. It’s a summary of the Sheep and Goat judgment. Those taken (received) go live into the Kingdom in their natural bodies and help to re-populate the Earth, while those left (sent away) are put into the Outer Darkness, forever banned from the presence of God.

As it was in the days of Noah so shall it be at the coming of the Son of Man (Matt. 24:37) Let’s back up now and address this overview statement. In the days of Noah, the people of Earth could be separated into three groups. There were the unbelievers who perished in the Flood, Noah and his family, who were preserved through the Flood, and Enoch who was taken from Earth before the Flood. (Enoch was translated in Genesis 5. That means that God took him alive into Heaven. The Flood came in Genesis 6.)

In The Time Of The 2nd Coming the people of Earth will also fall into three groups.  The unbelieving world will perish in the End Times judgments, Israel will be preserved through the judgments, and The Church will be taken from Earth before the judgments.

There are some interesting similarities between Enoch and the Church. His name means “teaching,” one of the primary roles of the Church. Jewish tradition holds that Enoch was born on the 6th day of Sivan.  The 6th of Sivan is the day in the Hebrew Calendar on which the Feast of Pentecost is celebrated. It’s the day the Church was born.  I think Enoch makes a good model of the Church. But you say, “Enoch was only one body.”  So is the Church.

At the 2nd Coming the door to salvation will be closed.  The surviving people of Earth will be judged and those who’ve become believers will be welcomed into the Kingdom.  Unbelievers will be taken off the planet, deprived of the Lord’s presence forever.  They wanted the Lord out of their lives, and now they’ll get what they wanted.

6) The Duration and Purpose of the Millennium

Like rapture and Lucifer, millennium is a word of Latin origin and doesn’t appear anywhere in the Scriptures. We get it from two Latin words, mille, or 1000, and annum, or year, from the Latin translation of Rev. 20:6.  Mille annum, millennium, the Lord’s 1000-year reign on Earth, is known to Israel as the Kingdom Age. It’s the seventh and final thousand years of the Age of Man, begun with the birth of Adam. It’s often confused with Eternity, but as we saw earlier the two are distinct. A Millennium is obviously a defined span of time, while by definition Eternity is the absence of time as we know it.

The Millennium On Earth

During the Millennium, the Lord will be King of Heaven and Earth, Earth being restored to the condition it was in when Adam was created. This will include restoring peace between man and the animals, bringing back Earth’s original garden-like environment with its world wide sub-tropical climate, eliminating foul weather, killer storms, earthquakes and extremes of heat and cold. The span of man’s life will begin increasing again to equal those of the Genesis patriarchs. Sickness and disease, those by-products of sin, will be greatly reduced. It appears the population of Earth will be sustained by the return to an agrarian economy, but with all the obstacles Adam faced gone as the curse of Genesis 3 is finally lifted. Man will easily produce enough for his family’s use, and enjoy doing it. None will labor unproductively, or primarily for the benefit of others. Children will grow up without fear and adults will grow old in peace. (A summary of Isaiah 2:1-5, 4:2-6, 35, 41:18-20, 60:10-22, 65:17-25, Micah 4:1-8)

Since Earth will be re-populated mostly by Tribulation survivors in their natural bodies, there will still be sin although to a much lesser extent, especially at the beginning. In the so-called Millennial Temple in Israel, priests will conduct daily sacrifices for sin, just like in Old Testament days. But while Old Testament believers observed Temple sacrifices to learn what the Messiah would one day do for them, Millennial believers will observe them to remember, and their children to learn, what He’s already done. (Ezek 40-47)

The Lord will reign supreme on Earth as King and High Priest, the head of both a one-world government and a one-world religion. He’ll brook no threats to His established peace, nor any deviation from His doctrine. (Psalm 2)

In the beginning, only believers will inhabit Earth, enjoying the truly utopian environment that mankind has always dreamed about, but only God can create. They’ll soon begin bearing children who, as they mature, will have to choose to receive the Lord’s pardon just as we have. And as it is today some will reject Him to go their own way. By the time Satan is released at the end of the Millennium, there will be so many who’ve rejected the Lord that he’ll quickly find a huge army of recruits for his final attempt to kick the Lord off the planet.

But with fire from Heaven, the Lord will destroy Satan’s army, casting him into the Lake of Fire, where he’ll be tormented day and night forever. Never again will he or any of his accomplices be free to afflict God’s people. (Rev. 20:7-10)

How Did That Happen?

What began as an age of unimagined peace and prosperity will have ended in open warfare against the very King who made it possible. How could this be?

Before the Millennium, man had three excuses for his inability to please God. The first was Satan, whose clever schemes led man astray. But all during the Millennium, Satan will be bound in darkness.

The second was the bad influence of unbelievers. But as the Millennium begins, Earth will have been cleansed of all its unbelievers. Only those who had given their hearts to the Lord will be allowed to enter the Kingdom.

And the third was God’s absence from our midst. For 2600 years, with the exception of one 33 year period, God will have been absent from the planet leaving man to “fend for himself.” But all during the Millennium Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will have dwelt in the midst of the people of Earth.

What’s the point?

In the Millennium, Earth dwellers will live in the ideal circumstances that Adam and Eve enjoyed in the Garden of Eden.  The curse will be gone, and the Lord will be there among them, everyone’s a believer, and Satan will be bound. And yet, there’s enough residual sin in the hearts of unregenerate man that he’ll rebel the first chance he gets. Sinful man cannot dwell in the presence of a Holy God, being unable to keep His commandments.  He needs a Savior and Redeemer to reconcile him to God, and a heart transplant to cure him of his sin nature. The whole point of the Millennium is to prove once and for all that man’s heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure (Jere. 17:9) making it impossible for him to live in a manner pleasing to God.

The Millennium In the New Jerusalem

Life is far different in the Home of the Redeemed Church.  Although the Kings of the Earth bring us their splendor, no unbeliever can ever set foot in the place, nor even a believer in his natural state. Our mansions in the sky are built of the purest gold as are the streets that run before them, their foundations made from precious stones. There’s no Temple in the New Jerusalem because the Lamb of God dwells there and is our Temple. The energy source that lights and warms us is the Glory of God, and our radiance, in turn, provides light for the nations of Earth.(Rev.21:9-27)

Our glorified bodies will have been released from their dimensional bonds, allowing us to appear and disappear at will, traveling back and forth through time at the speed of thought as we plumb the limitless delights of God’s Creation. No detail has been overlooked where our comfort and happiness are concerned. There’s no more death or mourning or crying or pain, only the endless joys of exploration and discovery. As it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor. 2:9)

Our home is not on Earth, but it’s not at the Throne of God either. Coming down out of the heavens but never landing on Earth, our home could be called a low orbit satellite in today’s terminology. 1400 miles high, wide and deep, it wouldn’t fit in Israel, let alone Jerusalem. If we did touch down on Earth we’d need a space equivalent to the area from Maine to Florida to the Midwest, or all of Western Europe from Sweden to Italy, and the New Jerusalem will be over 4000 times as tall as the world’s tallest building. Nearly 2/3rds the size of the Moon, it simply won’t fit anywhere on Earth.

The Church has been described as the Pearl of Great Price. A pearl is created in the ocean and grows as a response to an irritant. It’s the only precious gem to come from a living organism. At harvest time, it’s removed from its natural habitat to be placed in a custom-made setting where it becomes an object of adornment.

And so it is with the Church. Created from among the Gentile nations, the Church was a major irritant to both Israel and the Roman Empire. Though hundreds of years of persecution were intended for our destruction, we grew steadily. At the harvest we’ll be taken from Earth to be placed in mansions the Lord has built especially for us, to become the object of His adornment.

7) Eternity

I can’t say much about eternity except to tell you that there is one. The Bible ends at the end of the Millennium, yet teaches us that everyone ever born lives forever. The question is not whether you have eternal life. The question is where you will spend eternity. There are only two possible destinations and we’ve described them both. Eternal bliss in the presence of God, or eternal shame and punishment banished from the presence of God. While God is patient, not desiring that any should be lost, it’s not His decision to make. He’s given it to you, knowing that without an alternative, your choice to accept Him would be meaningless. He loves you enough to risk that you’ll make the wrong decision, and enough to abide by your wishes if you do.

Don’t get me wrong. No one would knowingly choose to go to a place of eternal torment. But many will wind up there. When they do, it’ll be because they refused to choose Heaven, and it’s the only other alternative.

Here then are Seven Things You Have To Know To Understand End Times Prophecy. Mastering them will allow you to successfully avoid all the heresy and false teaching that swirls about in these last days. The study of prophecy is not a salvation issue, but the Lord did admonish us on several occasions to understand the signs of the times so we wouldn’t be caught off guard. We are to watch with expectation and wait with certainty.

In Revelation 1:3 we’re promised blessings for our diligent study, and in 2 Timothy 4:8 a crown for longing for His appearing. But to me, the greatest gift that comes from studying prophecy is the strengthening of our faith. Nothing can equal watching the Word of God proceed from abstract to concrete as we see Bible Prophecy fulfilled before our very eyes. If you listen carefully, you can almost hear the Footsteps of the Messiah. 07-23-11