Anytime someone asks you for your view on the end times, you need to first think of an event from the life of President Jimmy Carter. Those of us who were around in the 1970's will remember both Jimmy and his mother, Lillian Carter. While governor of Georgia, Jimmy Carter told his mother he had decided to run for president. To which she responded, "President of what?" Likewise, when someone asks for your view of the end times, you need to ask, the end of what?
There are many things that come to an end in the Bible, and we need to be very careful that we properly distinguish them. Sometimes we may see language in the Bible that we think must apply to the end of the world, and can apply to nothing else - and yet a careful study will show that it does apply to something else.
An example is shown on your handout near the bottom right of the page. In Matthew 24:30, we read:
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.
Most people today would tell you that that verse describes the end of the world, but if we keep reading in Matthew 24 here is what we find four verses later.
Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. (Matthew 24:34)
Verse 34 tells us very plainly that whatever verse 30 is talking about, it is not the end of the world. Instead, it is something that happened in the life time of Jesus' first century listeners.
But wait, you say. My translation has a footnote on verse 34 that says "generation" can mean "race." So maybe verse 34 is saying that all of these things would happen before the Jewish race comes to an end.
There's a reason that is in a footnote - that is not what the text says. Those translators are certainly dishonest to suggest it could mean that, but the are not so dishonest as to change the text to make it actually say that.
The Greek word for "generation" in verse 34 is genea, from which we get our word "genealogy." The Greek word for "race" is different - it is genos, from which we get our word "genocide." The same word translated "generation" in Matthew 24:34 is also used in Matthew 1:17.
So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations.
Do those modern translation have a footnote from that verse suggesting generation could mean race? If not, why not? Do they think there were fourteen races from Abraham to David?
That footnote in the NIV and NAS versions is a big clue as to why there is some much confusion about the end times. People, like those translators, are twisting the text to fit their own preconceived notions rather than letting the text speak for itself.
Those verses are shown on the handout. In fact, there are about 135 verses shown on that handout, and I encourage everyone to take the time to read them all, something we will not have time to do here.
My purpose in creating this handout was to create a "cheat sheet" that you can use in studying or discussing what the Bible has to say on the end times, as well as what the Bible is not saying about the end times, such as the example we just saw from Matthew 24, which is discussing the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 at the hands of the Romans. That event is also shown on your handout. It was an important "end" in the Bible, but it was not the end of the world.
People today are very interested in the end times. I suspect that if we advertised a class on the subject, we would have some who would show up just to hear our views on that subject.
I have taught the book of Revelation three times, and soon will be teaching it a fourth time, the Lord willing and the elders willing. Each time I teach that book I begin by asking the question - why should we study this book? There are many reasons, but one of the reasons I give is that Revelation can be a great evangelistic tool. People want to hear about it and talk about it, and it can be a great door opener. And if we can explain the end times to them in a way that makes sense, then perhaps they will be more likely to listen when we explain what they need to do to be saved.
One very effective way to open doors this way is to buy a commentary on Revelation. Not just any commentary, but one that has one very important attribute. I have such a commentary here. What is that very important attribute? It has nothing to do with what is inside; it is the big bold letters on the spine that say REVELATION! Just put that book on your desk, and wait for the doors to start opening! People will see it and ask you about it.
People today are confused about the end times. Why?
A big reason for the confusion is that since the 1970's, commentaries on Revelation have become big moneymakers - and the more sensational, the more money they bring in. Much of that started with a book called The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey, but many similar books have followed.
By the way, here is a quote from Lindsey's book:
"The world must end within one generation from the birth of the State of Israel."
I wonder if he knows what "generation" means in his own sentence! He certainly doesn't seem to understand Jesus' use of the same term!
The Bible includes very clear descriptions of what will happen at the end of the world. And, although sensational, those descriptions from the Bible are very different from the sensationalistic commentaries that are popular today.
The far right side of the handout shows what will happen on that last great day, and I hope that we will have time to discuss that in more detail on our study this week and next - both what will happen on that last day, and what will not happen.
Before we talk about the end, we might pause to wonder why we haven't ended already. Here is another article I recently clipped.
"Our universe shouldn't exist, scientists say. The most elite scientists in the world are still struggling to find why exactly our universe didn't destroy itself as soon as it came into existence. That's what science says should have happened - but it clearly hasn't, since you're here reading this, as far as we know. At the beginning of the universe, according to the standard model, there were equal amounts of matter and antimatter. The trouble with that is that they would each have annihilated each other, leaving none of the matter that surrounds us today."
That question is easy to answer.
Hebrews 1:3 - Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.
Colossians 1:17 - And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.
Science can't answer the question of why we are still here - but the Bible can. The end of the world has not yet occurred because - and only because - God has not yet brought it to an end. But that day is coming.
And what are we supposed to be doing beforehand? Should we be looking for signs of the end, as many would suggest? No. There will be no signs of the end.
Matthew 24:44 - Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.
Notice that Matthew 24:44 is after verse 34, which we read earlier. Verse 30 was not talking about the end of the world, but verse 44 is. The discussion before verse 34 is filled with signs - earthquakes, wars and rumors of wars - but those were signs of the end of Jerusalem. Jesus tells us in verse 44 that there will no signs for the end of the world.
1 Thessalonians 5:2 - For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.
When's the last time a thief left a big sign telling you that tonight's the night! They provide no signs of their coming, and neither will Jesus.
And yet people look for signs. In fact, they will tell you that at no time in history have the signs been more clear than they are today.
Here is a quote from an article that appeared in Time magazine in 2002.
"For evangelical Christians with an interest in prophecy, the headlines always come with asterisks pointing to scriptural footnotes. That is how Todd Strandberg read his paper. By day, he is fixing planes at Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue Nebraska. But in his office hours, he's a webmaster and the inventor of the Rapture Index, which he calls a Dow Jones Industrial Average of End Time activity. Instead of stocks, it tracks prophecies: earthquakes, floods, plagues, crime, false profits and economic measurements like unemployment that add to instability and civil unrest, thereby easing the way for the anti-Christ. In other words, how close are we to the end of the world? The index hit and all-time high of 182 on September 24, as the bandwidth nearly melted under the weight of 8 million visitors: any reading over 145, Strandberg says, means 'fasten your seatbelt.'"
And here is quote from a commentary on Revelation.
"It is impossible for the most thoughtless to overlook the impressive and almost unprecedented character of the age in which we live. Events, as rapid in their succession as they are startling in their magnitude, ... chase each other like waves on the sea...."
And when was that commentary written? In 1861, at the start of the US Civil War. The word of God has not changed, and sadly it seems that those looking for signs to predict the end of the world have not changed either. All that they do is prove that they are false prophets and poor students of God's word.
Why is there so much confusion about the end times?
There are many reasons, but here are some of the main reasons.
Those who twist Matthew 24:30 to apply to the end of the world make all four of these mistakes. They lift the verse out of its context; they ignore the time-frame in verse 34; they fail to understand the figurative language in verse 30; and they fail to understand that it is describing the end of something else, the end of Jerusalem.
Now I fear that we contribute a bit to the confusion ourselves. Notice that Matthew 24:30 uses the phrase "the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven."
We very often use the phrase "second coming" to describe the return of Christ at the end of the world, and yet the phrase "second coming" is not found anywhere in the Bible. (Hebrews 9:28 is close- "Christ shall appear a second time.") Perhaps instead of saying "second coming" we should say "final coming" or "second literal coming" to be more precise. Or better yet, we can say "second appearance," considering the verses listed on your handout. Implying that Christ will only come twice causes difficulties with passages such a Matthew 24, which describes Jesus's coming in judgment against Jerusalem in AD 70. That was not a literal coming, but Matthew 24:30 tells us it was a coming of Christ.
We often say - rightly - that we should call Bible things by Bible names. Perhaps we should start with out use of the phrase "second coming."
Speaking of Christ's second appearance and the end of the world, can that day come at anytime? The answer is yes, and it will come without warning - but has than always been the case? Has it always been true that since Christ's ascension he could return at any time? The answer to that question is no. Listen as Paul addresses this very question.
2 Thessalonians 2:1-3 - Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;
Did you hear it? "For that day shall not come, expect…" Paul was telling his readers in the first century that Jesus could not come again at any time. Instead, something else had to happen first.
And what about Peter? Do you think he expected Jesus to return at anytime? Do you think he expected Jesus to return during is lifetime? If so, how do we explain this:
John 21:18-19 - Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he [Peter] should glorify God.
How could Peter have thought Jesus would return during his lifetime when Jesus had told Peter how he would die?
Here is the point: when Jesus comes again at the end of the world, the world will be destroyed. Any prophecy dealing with something happening in the world, must have come to pass before that last day. And there were still prophecies that had not yet come to pass when the apostles were penning the inspired word in the first century.
Paul mentions one such prophecy in the verses we just read from 2 Thessalonians. The man of sin had not yet appeared, and the world could not end until that prophecy came to pass. I think that man of sin was Domitian, the Roman emperor who died in AD 96.
The death of Peter was another such prophecy, and others are shown on the handout in the bottom right corner. (Along with a coin showing Domitian.)
The church has to be established, as it was in Acts 2. Jerusalem has to be destroyed in AD 70 as prophesied by Jesus in Matthew 24 and by Daniel. Rome had to be judged as prophesied by Daniel and in Revelation. The Bible had to be completed, and miracles had to come to an end as we read in 1 Corinthians 13:10.
All of these things had to happen before Christ came again - because otherwise those prophecies would have been proven false, and we know that "the scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35).
In my opinion, the Bible gives a name to the point in time at which all of God's prophecies had been fulfilled save the final one at the end of the world. I think that point is when the mystery of God was finished in Revelation 10:7. We will have much more to say on that point when we study that chapter.
But, some might say, Revelation is all about the end of the world. Do you mean it has something to say about the first century?
The first thing to look for in studying any prophecy in the Bible is the time frame. Does Revelation include a time frame?
Revelation 1:1 - The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:
Revelation 1:3 - Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.
But perhaps those are just the time frame for the beginning of the book. Maybe the time frame is different at the end of the book.
Revelation 22:6 - And he said unto me, These sayings are faithful and true: and the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to shew unto his servants the things which must shortly be done.
Revelation 22:10 - And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand.
The meaning of these passages would not be disputed in any other context. In Revelation, however, the passages conflict with men's interpretation of the book and instead of changing their interpretation many change the clear meaning of these important verses.
Daniel received a vision in 550 B.C. (described in Daniel 8) that was fulfilled 400 years later in 165 B.C. when the sanctuary was restored after the desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes. In Daniel 8:26, Daniel was told to shut up the vision because its fulfillment was a long way off. In Revelation 22:10 John is told just the opposite - Don't seal up the vision because the time for its fulfillment is at hand.
How do we deal with those four verses? Either we: ignore them (very common!), explain them away (God's view of time is different from ours, or perhaps we should just add a word so that they say "the beginning time is at hand"), or we take them seriously (if Revelation says it concerns things that were to shortly come to pass then it must concern things that were to shortly come to pass!).
And (and this the crucial point) if we can develop a view of Revelation that is consistent with everything else we read in the Bible and that fits within that timeframe - then shouldn't that view of the book be preferred over any view that does not fit within that time frame?
Oh, but that's not how I have always viewed the book, or that's not what I have always heard about the book. Are those the tests we should be using? Shouldn't we instead open the book and see what it has to say? And when we do, the first thing we see in the very first verse is that the book was given "to shew . . . things which must shortly come to pass." If we ignore that crystal clear statement in the very first verse (as 99% of the commentaries do), what hope do we have for understanding the rest of the book?
So, what then does the book of Revelation have to say about the end of the world? The short answer, I believe, is not much. Certainly not as much as most people think. Revelation is not a book that is focused on Heaven and the end of the world. Instead, Revelation is a book that is focused on the church of the first century and its conflict with the mighty Roman empire.
For a longer answer, we will be studying Revelation on Sunday mornings starting after our class on Zechariah. In that class, we will go through the book of Revelation verse by verse, and we will let the text itself tell us what it is all about.
One thing that will be crucial in understanding Revelation is the Old Testament. Revelation uses more imagery from the Old Testament than does any other New Testament book. The less one knows about the Old Testament, the harder it is for one to understand the book of Revelation. Our studies of Daniel and Zechariah will be very helpful in our study of Revelation.
For starters, the "last days" are different from the "last day."
John 6:39 - And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.
The last day is the final day at the end of the world, which we will discuss in a moment.
But what are the "last days"?
The phrase "last days" occurs several times in the Bible. (See the scriptures on the handout.) What are or what were the last days?
I have a question mark next to that phrase on the handout because there are two possibilities, either of which could be true based on the evidence we have.
One thing we know with certainty is that the "last days" includes the first day of Pentecost following the resurrection. How do we know that?
Acts 2:16-17 - But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God…
When did they begin? Perhaps on that day, or perhaps at the birth of Christ, or at some point in between.
The real question is when did the last days end, if in fact they have ended? I think we can focus on two possibilities: either the last days ended with the end of the mystery in Rev. 10:7, or they will end at the end of the world.
The usual meaning of "days" might suggest the earlier of the two days, as might some of the verses describing what will occur in the last days if those events are taken as signs.
But 2 Peter 3:3 uses the phrase "last days," and five verses later we read: "But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day."
So we can't say for sure when the last days ended or will end, but we can say with certainty that the last days included at least part of the first century.
Before we answer that question, let's look at a few things we need to be careful about.
1 Corinthians 15:35-50 - But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come? Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die: And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain: But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body.
Taken alone, that answer seems overly harsh. If we asked David a question, and he responded "Thou fool!," I think we would likely consider that a bit harsh!
But we need to view the question in verse 35 in the larger context of Chapter 15. This question was posed by those who were denying the resurrection, and the question was intended to trap Paul, just as the lawyers and Pharisees often tried to trap Jesus with their questions. I think that explains Paul's sharp response.
Also, after that response, Paul proceeded to answer the question.
1 Corinthians 15:44 - It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.
So I think it is okay for us to ask that and other questions.
We looked at an example last week. Matthew 24:30 sounds like the end of the world, but we know from verse 34 that it happened in the first century, and in fact it describes not the end of the world but the end of Jerusalem.
We looked at another example in our study of Daniel.
Daniel 12:2 - And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
That sounds like the end of the world if read out of context, but the previous verse begins with a time frame - "And at that time…" When we study that time frame we see that Daniel 12:2 is discussing the spiritual resurrection of the Jews in the first century. (Luke 2:34)
What about this verse?
Revelation 1:7 - Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.
That also sounds like the end of the world, but as we discussed last week verses 1 and 3 of that same chapter give a time frame - "things which must shortly come to pass" and "the time is at hand." If we take verse 7 to be the end of the world, then we are going to have somehow explain away verses 1 and 3.
But note that even if we determine that Revelation 1:7 does not apply to the end of the world, that does not mean that every eye will not see Jesus at his final return. It just means we need to to look elsewhere to prove that point.
So we need to be careful to not rip verses out of their context and apply them to something they were not intended to describe. But isn't that always true of our Bible study? Aren't we commanded to rightly divide God's word? (2 Timothy 2:15)
It seems odd that a Christian would have to ask that question, but Max King says no!
Max King is a member of the church, but his false views about Revelation go far beyond matters of opinion. In fact, his false teachings have caused a number of congregations to split, and so we will take some time to discuss them in our upcoming class on Revelation.
He says every prophecy was fulfilled in AD 70, and nothing remains to be fulfilled. He says that we experience a spiritual resurrection when we die, and that is it. There's a verse for that view!
2 Timothy 2:17-18 - And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.
Yes, Jesus will return. So let's look at what will happen on that last great day.
I have listed a number of things that will happen on the upper right side of your handout, along with scriptures.
Last we talked about the so-called signs of the end. In fact, there will be no signs of the end. Jesus will come like a thief in the night, which means he will come at a time in which men are not looking for him to come.
But let's ask a related question - Does Jesus know the date of his return?
Mark 13:32 - But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.
That verse seems to answer our question, but doesn't that verse raise another question? Is Jesus omniscient?
It can't be that Jesus is omniscient except for this one thing he doesn't know because by that standard we are all omniscient! I think we would all agree that we know everything knowable except for what we don't know!
Some suggest that Jesus did not know while he was one earth, but he knows now. I don't like that view either - Jesus was both God and man while he was on earth. I don't think Jesus gave up his omniscience while he was here (although perhaps that is what Philippians 2:7-8 is saying).
I think the far better view is that Jesus does not know that date of his return because God the Father will decide when that day will happen, but he has not done so yet. The date is not yet knowable.
Remember when the apostles asked a timing question in Acts 1:6? How did Jesus respond?
Acts 1:7 - And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.
I think that is the best explanation for Mark 13:32.
And if that is true, then it certainly not good news for Calvinists!
If God has not yet determined the date of Jesus' return, how can it be that he already knows everyone who will ever live and whether that person will be lost or saved?
But why would God delay the end of the world?
2 Peter 3:9-10 - The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
God will determine the time of Jesus' return, and I think the evidence suggests that God has not determined that date, but is giving people time to repent.
1 Thessalonians 4:16 - For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God.
Again, we have a related question: how far will Jesus descend? Will he step foot on earth again?
Some say yes and point to Zechariah 14:4.
And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives.
We're not there yet in our study of Zechariah, but when we get there we will see that it is not talking about Jesus setting foot on earth at the end of the world.
Although there is no explicit verse on this point, I think we can infer an answer from 1 Thessalonians 4:17.
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.
Some also point to Hebrews 8:4, but I think that verse is making a different point. ("For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law.")
Some suggest that we have an opposite inference from Romans 14:10.
For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
If we are standing and Jesus is sitting that sounds like we are on firm ground!
I think the better view is that Jesus will not set foot on this earth again, but I don't think we can be dogmatic about it. Whether he does or he does not, one thing we know for certain is that he won't stay very long. Why? Because as we will soon see, the earth will be destroyed on that last day.
1 Thessalonians 3:13 - To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.
1 Thessalonians 4:14 - For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
Again, we have a related question: Where are these saints prior to this return? Does Jesus pick them up along the way, or were they with Jesus already?
There is definitely a diversion of opinion on this question in the church, but my view is that they were already with Jesus. I believe that faithful children of God living under the New Covenant depart this life to be with Jesus. I think that was Paul's expectation writing by inspiration in Philippians 1:23 and 2 Corinthians 5:8. And there is nothing now after the cross that would prevent us from being in the presence of God and Christ. In fact, we are told that we may boldly approach that throne. (Hebrews 10:19)
I have a few more scriptures listed on the handout, so please read them and make up your own mind.
Either way, these Saints come with Christ. Either because they were already with him, or because they were with Abraham and Jesus picks them up on the way.
Both the righteous and the unrighteous will be raised.
John 5:28-29 - Marvel not at this: for 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.
But the dead in Christ will rise first.
1 Thessalonians 4:16 - and the dead in Christ shall rise first.
Again, we have a related question. I thought the dead in Christ were coming with Christ. How can they also be rising from the dead on earth?
What will happen is that there will be a reunion of body and spirit just as at death there was a separation of body and spirit.
As we saw earlier, it will not be a natural body, but instead it will be a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:44)
Again, we have a related question. What will happen at this judgment if we already know our eternal fate at the moment of death, which is true under both covenants?
It is certainly true that this judgment on the final day is where the official and final pronouncements will be declared for all to hear. But there may be something else that will happen on that last day.
The Bible teaches that there will be degrees of punishment. (Luke 12:47–48, James 3:1, John 19:11, Mark 12:40, 2 Peter 2:20) If so, then perhaps the final judgment day will reveal those determinations.
Again, we have a related question - will those who are still alive at Jesus' return die?
The answer to that question is no; they will not die, but they will be changed.
1 Corinthians 15:51 - Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.
But, you say, what about Hebrews 9:27 - "And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment"?
That is the general rule, but there are exceptions. In fact, the book of Hebrews itself contains an exception.
Hebrews 11:5 - By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.
1 Corinthians 15:51 is another exception - We shall not all sleep!
1 Corinthians 15:24 - Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.
Oh, but I thought Jesus was coming again to set up a kingdom. I though he was going to establish a kingdom on earth to reign 1000 years. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
Read the text - Jesus is not coming to establish a kingdom. Jesus is coming to deliver up a kingdom to God, a kingdom that already exists and that was established in Acts 2.
2 Peter 3:10-12 - But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?
We are pilgrims on this earth. This world is not our home; we're just passing through. And nothing in this world is permanent except God's word and men's souls. Everything else will be burned up and destroyed.
Luke 12:15 - Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.
We could list answers to this question for ever! But let's focus on one thing that will not happen - one that we have already discussed. Jesus will not come to this earth on that last great day to set up an earthly kingdom and reign over it for 1000 years. That is NOT going to happen!
We will see why in our studies of Zechariah and Revelation, but let's tonight ask this question: Does it really matter what we believe about premillennialism?
Is it all just a matter of opinion? Should we make an issue out of it? Can't we all just agree to disagree?
Here is one opinion. Listen to what Professor Carroll Osburn of Abilene Christian University has to say on pages 90 and 91 of his book The Peaceable Kingdom:
There should be room in the Christian fellowship for those who believe that Christ is the Son of God, but who differ on … premillennialism, … congregational organization, or … whether baptism is "for" or "because of" the remission of sins.
Thus, according to Professor Osburn, premillennialism (and the necessity of baptism, for that matter) is just a side issue that is really of little importance.
Is premillennialism really just a side issue that doesn't really make that much difference?
To answer that question, let's turn to John Walvoord, who is perhaps the leading proponent of premillennialism. Here is what he has to say about its importance:
"If premillennialism is only a dispute about what will happen in a future age which is quite removed from present issues, that is one thing. If, however, premillennialism is a system of interpretation which involves the meaning and significance of the entire Bible, defines the meaning and course of the present age, determines the present purpose of God, and gives both material and method to theology, that is something else. It is the growing realization that premillennialism is more than a dispute about Revelation 20. It is not too much to say that millennialism is a determining factor in Biblical interpretation of comparable importance to the doctrines of verbal inspiration, the deity of Christ, substitutionary atonement, and bodily resurrection."
Thus, according to Walvoord, premillennialism is a "determining factor in Biblical interpretation." And if you read their commentaries, you soon find out that this in no exaggeration. They manage to work it in practically everywhere, even though the '1000 year' figure they rely on occurs only in Revelation 20.
With all due respect to the scholars of Abilene, it does make a difference what we believe about premillennialism. It is not a side issue, it is a main issue. Why?
The premillennialist doctrine has consequences that run counter to the very heart of the gospel.
Premillennialists teach that one day the Levitical priesthood and the sacrificial system will be restored. In this way, they belittle the sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice and his eternal priesthood.
They teach that Jesus is not presently ruling over Israel – that he is not now king of kings and lord of lords. Thus, they belittle his claim to have all authority in Heaven and Earth.
They teach that Jesus' mission on earth was failure, and that the church (his body) was a result of that failure. Thus, they belittle the plan of God and they belittle the importance of his church. They teach that our Lord and Savior was a failure who caused God to come up with a Plan B at the last minute.
It makes a great deal of difference what we believe about this important issue. It strikes to the very core of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Premillennialism is false and we must continue to proclaim that.
By the way, we owe a great debt to Foy E. Wallace for keeping it out of the Lord's church. Foy Wallace (then the editor of the Gospel Advocate) debated Charles Neal (minister of the Main Street Church of Christ in Winchester, Kentucky) in 1933 about the 1000 year reign. He was largely responsible for keeping that false doctrine from infiltrating the church. (What would the situation be like today if he had just ignored the problem? I hate to think. That sort of problem rarely goes away by itself.)
You Must Hear the Gospel
You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)
You Must Believe
You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)
You Must Repent
You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)
You Must Confess
You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)
You Must Be Baptized
Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!
You Must Be Faithful Unto Death
Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)