Rev. Gritters is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Byron Center, Michigan.
Jesus Christ is coming again! I believe that! Every Sunday evening, in our heart or with our mouth, we confess this: “I believe in Jesus Christ . . . he shall come to judge the living and the dead.”
This same Jesus who came to planet earth some two thousand years ago, who gave Himself in love for us, will come back in that same love for us.
The battle of Armageddon (or Gog and Magog) will be the last battle the world experiences. In this battle, the divided kingdom of Antichrist fights against itself. The nations of Gog and Magog which were joined to the beast (Antichrist) will come against the beast in battle.
This battle will end the persecution of the saints. Before this battle, the Antichristian kingdom was in the height of its power and glory—one world government and one world economy, with prosperity that this world has never known. In the middle of that prosperity will be the great tribulation. But when God pours out the vials of His wrath, the kingdom of Antichrist will be weakened, causing her to attend to her own suffering, finally bringing about the last battle—Armageddon.
During this last battle, all the judgments of God come on this earthly creation (see Matt. 24:29). In the heat of the battle, God will darken the sun, make the moon like blood, and hurl the stars from the heavens. Also this planet will suffer. The foundations will shake with a great earthquake. Boulders of hailstones will fall to the earth. Pestilence will break out. Waters will turn to blood. The air will be polluted. Animals will die in great numbers. (See Heb. 12:26, 27; Rev. 6, and Rev. 16.)
Then, Matthew 24 says, will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. Then the tribes of the earth shall mourn. Then the dead shall be raised and we shall ever be with the Lord in His kingdom. Here, Jesus answers more directly the original question of the disciples: “When shall the end come?”
There is a danger that we must try to avoid as we think about the end times. We have not entirely avoided it so far. The danger is that we focus our attention on what will happen to US at the end. That there are signs we must see, happenings to beware of, a duty to be engaged in, is all true. But that we lose proper focus is a real danger.
The disciples were concerned, remember, with the question, “What shall be the sign of thy coming?” Our calling is to focus our attention on the Lord. Basic to all our studies of the end times must be the attitude, “Lord, we look forward to being in glory with Thee, when Thy kingdom is established perfectly and all men bow the knee to Thee and every tongue confesses Thy name. When wilt thou come?”
Christ is coming again. But beware that you are not deceived about this either! Some explain the Bible’s teaching about Jesus’ second coming as the full coming of Jesus’ ideals and teachings. Believe them not. Others claim that the personal coming of Jesus that Matthew 24 describes is a triumph of Jesus’ gospel. Believe them not. Still others teach that there will be two separate “comings again” of Jesus, a secret coming at the “rapture,” and a visible coming at the “revelation.” This is based on I Thessalonians 4:17, which supposedly teaches that. Believe them not. There is one coming again of Jesus and one physical resurrection from the dead.
Jesus’ second coming is the end of this age. Jesus’ coming again will be a personal coming. In contrast to those who say that it is a coming of Jesus’ ideas and teachings, or those who say it is a triumph of the gospel, we believe that Jesus will return personally. As He went up, so will He return (Acts 1:11).
Jesus’ coming again will be a wonder, an incomprehensible miracle. Every eye will see Him! But, you say, perhaps He comes “on the clouds” over our brothers and sisters in Singapore; yet we in America will see Him? Indeed! You explain this by satellite transmission of a television picture? Scripture explains it as a miracle.
Jesus’ second coming will be a coming with splendor! In His first coming, it was with shame and weakness and dishonor. In His second He comes with power and glory! Oh, how I wait for that day when the tribes mourn (Matt. 24), Antichrist is consumed by Jesus (II Thess. 2), and the wicked hide from His presence and plead for the mountains to fall upon them. Our Lord, Jesus Christ, will come in great glory!
The disciples were surely right when they connected the end of the world with Jesus’ second coming, as they did in Matthew 24:3. Earthly history and earthly creation come to an end at the moment of the return of the Son of Man.
But we must not understand this in this way: that Jesus stops everything when He comes again. The return of Jesus is the beginning! If we may speak that way, it is the beginning of eternity, the beginning of what God planned in His counsel eternally. All of earthly history waits for this moment—the coming again of Jesus to usher in the eternity of the new heavens and the new earth.
Jesus’ coming again brings that goal to reality. Will you look forward to anything else?
Will you let your hope for any earthly event eclipse this hope? God forbid that we do! God grant that we have this hope burning in our breast!
Christ comes again to raise the dead. This is whatMatthew 24 means when it says that the angels will gather together His elect from the four winds, and what I Thessalonians 4 means when we read, “The dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds.”
This is the resurrection of the dead bodies of men and women, bodies decayed in the grave, bodies scattered to the wind in ashes, bodies digested by lions and whales. These will live again.
Paul is speaking in I Thessalonians of the dead “in Christ.” This does not mean that the dead outside of Christ will not be raised. They will. And their resurrection will take place at the same time, not a thousand years later. But Paul does not have them in mind here. He is comforting the saints. Paul speaks of the dead in Christ, and distinguishes the dead in Christ from those who are alive in Christ! First, those who are dead in Christ shall arise; then those who are alive in Him. (Those who have any contact with premillennialists ought to study this passage carefully and see what it teaches.)
We who die before Jesus comes again may be of good cheer! We die “in Christ” and we are dead “in Christ.” In the grave, we and our loved ones who have died are really joined to Christ. Not only are we in Christ by faith so that our souls will go to heaven; we are in Christ in our bodies, so that our bodies must arise when Christ comes again.
It is so certain that our bodies will rise from the dead when Jesus returns, that the Bible refers to us as only “sleeping” (see II Thess. 4:13, 14, 15; Acts 7:60; I Cor. 15:6, 18, 20, 51; etc.). This does not mean that when we die, our souls become unconscious, and that when Jesus returns, He wakes us up. We will be awake immediately after death (Luke 23:43). When the Bible refers to us as sleeping, it points us to the certainty of our resurrection in the body. When you go to bed at night, you expect to get up in the morning. Unless something is dreadfully wrong with you, there is no doubt that you will get up. Now, when you lie on your deathbed, you must be that certain that you will rise again, in your body!
This is God’s work. God will raise us from the dead when Jesus returns.
But God does this through Jesus. Jesus is the one by whom God will raise the dead. First, Jesus is the means of our resurrection because, having died for our sins, He gained for us the right to rise from the dead. Second, Jesus is the means because, having risen Himself, He has the ability to give life to others. He is the living Lord. Third, on that last day, Jesus Himself actually raises the dead by His almighty power. On that day, Jesus will speak a great word, a victorious command to the dead: “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead!”
This is the rapture. The dead in Christ shall rise first. (At the same time, the dead outside of Christ will be raised). A moment later the living in Christ will be caught up in the air, ever to be with the Lord. We hold no secret rapture of living saints to be with Jesus for seven years, and then a thousand years later a resurrection. Jesus will come again to raise the dead—all of them—some to everlasting life, some to damnation.
The Reformed teaching of the coming again of Jesus is comfort for us regarding our loved ones who have died. They will not miss out on the glory of Jesus’ second coming. Paul puts that fear to rest in I Thessalonians 2 by showing that the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive and remain will be caught up to Him. This is what that peculiar statement in verse 15 means when it says, “we which are alive and remain shall not prevent them which are asleep.”Prevent simply means “to go before, or ahead of someone.” We will not. They will rise first.
Comfort yourselves with these words.
But let us not forget the main purpose of Jesus’ coming again. Jesus will be glorified in it, and God in Him. Jesus comes again, according to Matthew 24, “with power and great glory.”
God will be glorified at this second coming because there the wicked will be condemned and punished. All those who rejected Him, who persecuted His saints, who worshiped the Antichrist, will be brought to judgment. They will “mourn” (Matt. 24:30). But God’s elect will be gathered in. This will be the great glory of God. God saves His people, finally and entirely. Because it is completely His work, God will be adored by us for the sovereignty of His grace.
Look forward, then, to our meeting Christ in the air at His coming. Christ! We will go to Him then! We will forever be with Him in glory! Together we will enjoy Jesus into eternity! And then the prayers that God’s people have been raising for thousands of years will be answered completely. “All glory be to thee, Father.”
1. What does the Heidelberg Catechism say ought to be our attitude towards the second coming? (See Lord’s Day 19.)
2. What hinders young people from hoping for Jesus’ second coming?
3. What helps young people think more about (hope for!) the second coming of Jesus?
4. If there is nothing left of a body, as in a fire or being devoured by an animal, how can that body be raised?
5. Practice explaining how I Thessalonians 4:17does not teach a rapture as the premillennialists believe it.