20 Studies in Bible Prophecy
Study 15 - The Return of Jesus Christ
in Person to this Planet
The rapture will be aerial, the King's appearing will be earthly. Failure to comprehend this two-phase aspect of the advent results in confusion, and it is necessary to differentiate between Christ's coming for and with His saints. If we look closely at Old Testament predictions relative to the coming of the Lord, there is "no effort to synthesize the prophecies; and the effort to decide which prophecies apply to the church age, which apply to the millennial era, and which apply to the age to come, ignored the basic fact of the prophetic perspective." (So writes Dr. Eldon Ladd in THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM).
Old Testament prophecy pictures things to come without disclosing the varied stages in the fulfilment of God's purpose. The long-distance view of the prophets did not disclose the details, and perhaps this fact is clarified in the words of (1 Pet. 1:12), "not unto themselves, but unto us did they minister." It is only when we study the New Testament that we see the advent presented in two stages, and it is essential to acknowledge the difference. If we examine the announcement of (Matt. 25:6), concerning the coming of the Bridegroom, and (Rev. 19:11, 15) where the figure used is highly military, a two-phase appearing is the only answer.
The Rev. lan MacPherson observes, "To try to make a composite photograph of these two portraits and force them to apply to a single historic occurrence is logically impossible. In the former Christ comes to make love: in the latter to make war. The first analogy is marital, the second military. The one is nuptial, the other martial." So in thinking of the return of the Lord this distinction is necessary and avers Prof. G. G. Findlay, "Christ is pledged to a definite and visible return to this earth in language than which none can be found more expressive and positive."
Returning to this picture in the Apocalypse, the language is quite explicit regarding the military appearance of the event with the Almighty riding forth to judge and make war. This is surely the day foretold in (Jude 14, 15) "Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousand of His saints, to execute judgment upon all." This can mean nothing less than a military coming, and when we consult (Zech. 14:4-8) we find that Christ's feet will descend upon the Mount of Olives and that then topographical changes will take place. As Prof. Dwight Pentecost observes, "Such predicted changes in the topography of Israel make full allowance for the temple site so that it is not necessary to interpret the prophecy of Ezekiel non-literally."
If we rightly divide the word of truth, the next great event in the prophetic drama is the removal of the church. As believers we are not waiting for the end of the world; we are anticipating the trumpet sound to summon us up higher, as Paul states in (1 Thess. 4:17), "to meet the Lord in the air."
The word "meet" comes from a Greek word meaning a "meeting to return with". The word was used when some dignitary paid an official visit and was met by leading citizens to be escorted on the final stage. So suggests Dr. John Eadie in his excellent coverage of these epistles, "The Lord is descending to the earth, they (the believers) are caught up on His progress to meet Him, and thus God brings them with Him."
Prophetic students differ in their opinion as to whether the rapture will be simultaneous with the revelation of Jesus Christ to reign. It is argued by some that when the Christians are "caught up" (carried off by force), they will instantly return with the Lord to the earth to make an end in judgment. But the Greek word "harpazo" does not require such an interpretation; indeed, certain predicted events concerning the church, following her removal from the earth, makes such a view impossible. These are the judgment seat of Christ, the presentation of the completed bride to Christ, and the marriage of the Lamb followed by the supper. Such events necessitate a certain period of time between the rapture and the revelation, such a period being provided for by Daniel's seventieth week. The rapture and the revelation cannot therefore be simultaneous.
If we consult the Book of the Revelation, the church is not on earth beyond chapter 3. This could not be the case if the rapture did not take place until after the events of chapter 6, and Samuel German puts it clearly in GLORIOUS MORN, "The church not being mentioned in this connection evidences that it is not an over-sight, but is according to the intention and purpose of God to show that His people, the church, will be with Christ in heaven while the judgments of chapter 6 onwards take place on the earth." This period is referred to in Scripture as "the TRIBULATION, the Great One" (Rev. 7:14). This period, while involving the whole earth, will have special relation to Israel. The prophet Jeremiah referred to it as "the time of Jacob's trouble" (30:7), while the "day of the Lord" is also a familiar designation in the Old Testament prophetic utterances.
So it can be well imagined that a world without a church and under the rule of Antichrist, will long for the second advent, and as recorded in (Rev. 19:11f), out of the open heaven the Conqueror rides forth in triumph. So says Dr. Rene Pache, "The main event announced by the prophets is not the judgment of the world, nor the restoration of Israel, nor even the triumph of the church: it is the glorious advent of the Son of God." The greatest event of the future will be the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, as He departed from the earth at His ascension, physically, visibly and personally.
As we think of that glorious event there are a number of things about that day that demand our attention. Let us examine the manifestation of Christ on earth in power and great glory.
First, it will be the day of Christ's visible manifestation.
The Bible says that "every eye shall see Him" (Rev. 1:7). He will be publicly manifested, and in the execution of judgment God will be glorified. Such will be the visible manifested that the earth shall mourn, and this will have particular reference to Israel (Zech. 12:10).
This return to earth was the subject of Old Testament prediction. We think in particular of (Zech. 14:4). Seismic studies in this area have confirmed that there is a geological fault running east and west, precisely through the centre of the Mount of Olives. One writer observes that the fault is such that it could split at any moment. "It is awaiting the foot." Surely if Christ's first advent to the world, with a view to redeem, is the focal point of all history, then it is surely admissible to expect a second coming of the same Person to our planet in accord with His pledged Word. Christ must reign (1 Cor. 15:25). Christ must and will return to be exalted in the very place where once He was rejected, and rule where once He was abased. Though critics of Bible truth would suggest this hope to be nothing more than "a fancy which grew up in the luxuriant soil of Jewish apocalyptic", it is the solid belief of the church past and present, and the almost universal article of her creed.
Secondly, it will be a day when vast confluence of Gentile military might will converge on Israel.
Great military conflagration will be evident when the Prince of Peace arrives on the earth to crush all human power and make wars to cease to the ends of the earth. (Psa. 46:9). Optimistic leaders in the political realm have longed for the day when men would learn war no more, and yet, as one writer points out, while the number of doctors, teachers and engineers is currently on the increase, albeit, slowly, the number of army officers is rising sharply. Such promises of world-disarmament as outlined in (Isa. 2:4 and Mic. 4:1-4) cannot find fulfilment prior to the appearance of the Prince of Peace.
Israel is rapidly becoming the strategic centre of the world...
Such Scriptures as (Zech. 14:3-5 and Rev. 19:11f) depict Jesus Christ as coming to the earth at the head of the armies of heaven. Israel is rapidly becoming the strategic centre of the world, and when Jesus returns to the earth a colossal war will be in progress, a war too awful to contemplate. This conflagration will be climaxed by His coming to smite the earth with the sword. As history rushes towards this climatic day, the revolution in the international, scientific, economic, moral and spiritual realms would seem to fit into "a prophetic pattern which describes the end of the age." (Dr. Walvoord in THE NATIONS IN PROPHECY). This very crisis is but a psychological build-up for world-government under the Antichrist (Rev. 13:1-10). The "mystery of iniquity" (2 Thess. 2:7) is already working and will culminate in the satanic masterpiece, the Man of Sin.
This federation of Gentile might which will converge on Israel to confront and contest the Antichrist in his occupation of the Holy Land has already been studied in Notes 9, 10 and 11. Israel will be engulfed by forces who will be employed in a resolute effort to drive Jehovah from the earth and extirpate His earthly people, the Jews. But in that moment, when victory seems certain for the enemies of Israel, there will take place the invasion by the Lord and His armies. This will bring to an end "the times of the Gentiles" and usher in Israel's day of glory and prominence. The "stone" kingdom of Daniel's vision will begin to take shape, and Israel will become the head and not the tail (Deut. 28:13).
Thirdly, it will be a day when the consummation of God's world-programme will necessitate the judgment of the nations.
Judgment is God's "strange work" and the fact of it is written large across the pages of the Bible. Before the millennial reign of Christ is inaugurated, with all its accompaniments of peace and plenty, the living nations will be arraigned before God (Psa. 96:13, Matt. 25:31-46, John 5:22). Since this judgment will be the subject of the following study notes, suffice it to state here that the Lord will separate this great conclave of nations into two companies, like a shepherd dividing his sheep from the goats. The former will enter the blessings of the earthly kingdom, while the latter will be excluded and banished to eternal fire. This will be preparatory to the Lord setting up His millennial reign.
Fourthly, it will be a day when Jesus will manifest His sovereign authority throughout the earth.
Having crushed every enemy the Lord will establish His kingdom of love and peace for a millennium of years, and, writes Dr. Tatford, "Every ruler will acknowledge His suzerainty, and the whole universe will be brought into subjection to the Supreme Ruler for He shall put down all rule, authority and power." This will occupy us in Study No. 17. This is the final goal of the divine plan for the earth, and is the only adequate confirmation and explanation of the Old Testament promises made to Israel. An earthly kingdom over which Jesus shall reign is woven into the fabric of both Testaments. Kingship was prophesied of Him in the Old Testament (Psa. 2:6; Jer. 23:5) while the doctrinal writings of the New Testament ascribe it to Him. The book of the Revelation salutes Him as King. As G. Eldon Ladd puts it, "The church age is the period of Christ's concealed glory; the age to come will be the age of the Father's sovereignty when Christ delivers His rule to the Father and becomes Himself subject to the Father (1 Cor. 15:24-28). The millennium will be the period of the manifestation of Christ's glory ... the triumph of God's Kingdom within history." Then and only then will the angels' Christmas message of "peace on earth" have its fulfilment.