Theology in a nutshell
What does the future hold?
By Ken Horn
Editor’s note: This seventh article in the series “Theology in a nutshell” is on eschatology, the study of the last things, or end times.
It was called “The Great Disappointment.” When William Miller’s first predicted date of the Lord’s return passed uneventfully, a second was set, based on this Christian farmer’s complex and questionable calculations. Tens of thousands earnestly awaited the Lord’s return on October 22, 1844. Followers abandoned their farms and jobs, and sold their homes and possessions.
When the date came and went, the disappointment hit. There was weeping and despair, especially from those who had given up everything. Many walked away from God, and Miller died in disgrace a few years later.
Others have set dates for Christ’s return since then, all with the same result.
It is impossible to date the time of the Lord’s return.
Way back in A.D. 425, Augustine stated: “In vain, then, do we attempt to compute definitely the years that may remain to this world … it is not for us to know this. Yet some have said that four hundred, some five hundred, others a thousand years, may be completed from the ascension of the Lord up to His final coming. But on this subject, He puts aside the figures of the calculators, and orders silence, who says, ‘It is not for you to know the times, which the Father hath put in His own power’ ” [Acts 1:7] (City of God).
A thousand years was the outside limit Augustine listed — but even the year 1000 came and went, followed by 10 more centuries until today we are well into the third millennium A.D. Our current calendar, meant to be dated from the birth of Christ (A.D. stands for Anno Domini, meaning “in the year of our Lord”), was actually a few years off by most estimates anyway.
Over the years, many have set dates that have gone by the wayside. One obviously discredited book gave 88 reasons for the Rapture to take place on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) in 1988. This was revised to Rosh Hashanah 1989, then every Rosh Hashanah thereafter for a series of years. I received a catalogue in 1982. Its sale page included a book that predicted the Lord’s return in 1981. I’ve always wondered if anyone actually bought it.
In his book Are You Ready? West Coast broadcaster Harold Camping predicted the Lord would return in September 1994. Again, a dud.
Other apocalyptic events are also “prophesied” from time to time. One newsletter predicted a 1999 nuclear attack on the United States. A recent book reads, “I now believe … that it is possible to date the Rapture.”
Let Jesus speak on the subject: “But of that day and hour no one knows, no, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only” (Matthew 24:36, NKJV).
Jesus will come to rapture His people. We need to be ready.
First Thessalonians 4:16,17 describes what will happen: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.”
The word rapture is from the Latin translation of “caught up” in verse 17. It describes the catching up of the living saints that accompanies the resurrection of dead believers.
“The Rapture of the living saints is the first phase of what is commonly called the Second Coming. … This event is the blessed hope Paul mentions in Titus 2:13. At this time, Christ comes and snatches away His church without actually setting foot on the earth.”*
Christ may return at any moment.
This next major prophetic event on the horizon has been dramatized by Christian movies and books such as A Thief in the Night and the Left Behind series. Though Christians differ on the details, what’s clear is this: Christ could return at any moment. Even if He doesn’t return this year, multitudes of people will still die and go into His presence. We must do all we can to reach them.
Believers must live with passion and urgency, anticipating the Lord’s return. And let Jesus have the last word: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man [Jesus] is coming” (Matthew 25:13).
Be ready by reaching souls.
Being ready for the Rapture is not just about you, as an individual, being ready. It means there is an urgency to reach the lost, those who are at risk of losing their souls.
I was privileged to take the Pentecostal Truths course at Bethany College under Ralph Riggs, former general superintendent of the Assemblies of God. In his 80s at the time, he still had passion. Though a lover of hymns, there was one he vocally did not like — “Hold the Fort.” “We’re not supposed to hold the fort,” he would say. “We’re supposed to be outside the fort battering down the gates of hell.”
In Jesus’ parable in Luke 19:13, a certain nobleman “called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come.” That King James Version rendering might make you think He was saying, “Hold the fort.” But newer translations are clearer, like the NKJV wording, “Do business till I come.”
We are not supposed to be holding ground. We are supposed to be about the business of winning souls.
Christians will receive new bodies at the time of the Rapture.
Both the living and the resurrected dead will receive transformed bodies.
“Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed — in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51,52). Since our earthly, corruptible bodies are not compatible with God’s eternal kingdom, our bodies must be changed to new, incorruptible ones. We’re not clear exactly what that means. We do know for sure, however, that they will be a lot better than the old ones! And they will be eternal.
There will be seven years of terrible suffering.
Those who are left behind because they do not know Jesus will face a life filled with unspeakable horrors. “With the saints removed from the earth, a time of suffering will come upon the whole world. The Tribulation is a period of 7 years, the ‘70th week’ of Daniel (Daniel 9:27). The last half of the Tribulation period is called the Great Tribulation.”*
Though not all Christians believe that the Rapture will take place at the beginning of the Tribulation, this is “the common belief in the Assemblies of God.”* This “pre-tribulation … view best satisfies the biblical teaching that the Rapture is always imminent — it could happen at any time and will have no immediate warning or announcement (Matthew 24:42-44; Mark 13:33-37).”*
The second coming of Christ will be completed when Christ returns to Earth after the Tribulation.
At this time, Christ will appear physically. His feet will appropriately touch the Mount of Olives, the place from which He ascended to heaven. This touches off a whole series of events:
“After the marriage between the raptured saints and the Lamb in heaven (during the Tribulation), Christ, the Groom, goes forth to claim all of His kingdom. He rides on a white horse, followed by the saints, also on white horses (Revelation 19:11,14). It will be a sight of great wonder and majesty as Christ descends with His followers to reclaim that which Satan has temporarily wrested from His hand. The ensuing conflict between the world of righteousness and the world of darkness is called the Battle of Armageddon (Revelation 16:16). At the conclusion of the battle, defeated Satan is bound and cast into the bottomless pit for 1,000 years (Revelation 20).”*
There will be a period of 1,000 years of peace and harmony on earth.
This is called the Millennium. Since Satan and his fallen angels are banished at this time, this will be 10 centuries of heaven on earth. But it will not yet be the perfect, eternal state:
“Satan will be released for ‘a little season’ to test the love, faith, and loyalty of those individuals born during the Millennium and therefore still untested as to their choice between right and wrong. The rebellion of Satan and those who choose to follow him will be short-lived. Fire will come down from heaven and devour the opposition. Satan will then be permanently cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20).”*
There will be a terrible time of judgment upon all the wicked dead.
This is called the Great White Throne Judgment. All who appear here will face God before being banished into an eternity without Him. This eternal fate of those who reject Jesus should motivate every believer to try harder than ever to reach the lost.
There will be new heavens and a new Earth.
“Revelation 21 begins with John’s view of new heavens, a new earth, and the holy city (the new Jerusalem that comes down from God out of the new heavens to rest on the new earth). Peter tells us, ‘The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare’ (2 Peter 3:10), thus making way for the new heavens and earth. The glorious description of this city is found in Revelation 21 and 22. Whether symbolic or real, the description introduces us to the excitement and magnificence of eternity.”*
God’s clock is ticking.
His calendar lies before us. His requirements have been defined in His Word. Jesus has paid the price so that absolutely anyone who chooses Christ can have the very best of futures. It is a fool’s errand to try to beat the clock by waiting for a later opportunity to accept Christ as Savior. The opportunity may never come. (Click here for our “ABCs of salvation” page.)
* From the Assemblies of God Perspective, End-Time Events, available from the Office of Public Relations.
Ken Horn is managing editor of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel.
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