"...he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, 'you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' So when they had come together, they asked him, 'Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?' He said to them, 'It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.' And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men [angels] stood by them in white robes, and said, 'Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.' Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day's journey away. (Acts 1:4-12)
The Holy Spirit then descended, from the Father and the Lord Jesus, ten days later, on the day of Pentecost, a Sunday morning, while the believing community was gathered for prayer and fellowship. Thus began the era of the church which has been God's means of calling out the world "a people for his name." (Acts 15:14) The church is especially called the "body of Christ" with Jesus the Head of the body. Wherever Christians gather Jesus is with them by means of the Holy Spirit---but Jesus has been visibly absent from the earth was nearly 2000 years.
The return of Jesus to earth is in two stages. First, He arrives unannounced to call out the true church, His Bride. This event (described in 1 Thessalonians 4 and usually called "the rapture") is distinguished from His visible return in power and glory seven years later. Two different Greek words are used. Parousia, meaning "presence" describes the coming of Jesus for his saints, and epiphaneia, meaning "appearing" describes his public unveiling (apokalupsis) in splendor, power and glory.
After the rapture, Christians will pass through the reviewing "judgment seat of Christ," but the church will remain on the earth (in new, resurrection bodies) through the tribulation period, with Jesus, ministering to the 144,000 Jewish evangelists of the tribulation period from behind-the-scenes. (See Ray C. Stedman, God's Final Word: Understanding Revelation).
A number of passages in the Bible describe the glorious second coming of the Messiah Jesus to save our beleaguered planet from total destruction, and to set up his kingdom on earth. Zechariah tells us that the place of Jesus' return to earth will not be Zion, Illinois, but the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, Israel:
"Behold, a day of the LORD is coming, when the spoil taken from you will be divided in the midst of you. For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered and the women ravished; half of the city shall go into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle.
"On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives which lies before Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley; so that one half of the Mount shall withdraw northward, and the other half southward. And the valley of my mountains shall be stopped up, for the valley of the mountains shall touch the side of it; and you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the LORD your God will come, and all the holy ones with him.
"On that day there shall be neither cold nor frost. And there shall be continuous day (it is known to the LORD), not day and not night, for at evening time there shall be light. On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea; it shall continue in summer as in winter. And the LORD will become king over all the earth; on that day the LORD will be one and his name one." (Zech. 14:1-9)
When Jesus returns to the Mt. of Olives he will arrive from the direction of Edom (Southern Jordan)---with the blood of his enemies spattering his garments. He will bring with him the remnant of believing Jews who fled earlier to Jordan at the midpoint of the tribulation period. And with him also will be his Bride, the church, and great myriads of his holy angels:
"Who is this that comes from Edom, in crimsoned garments from Bozrah, he that is glorious in his apparel, marching in the greatness of his strength? 'It is I, announcing vindication, mighty to save.' Why is thy apparel red, and thy garments like his that treads in the wine press? 'I have trodden the wine press alone, and from the peoples no one was with me; I trod them in my anger and trampled them in my wrath; their lifeblood is sprinkled upon my garments, and I have stained all my raiment. For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and my year of redemption has come. I looked, but there was no one to help; I was appalled, but there was no one to uphold; so my own arm brought me victory, and my wrath upheld me. I trod down the peoples in my anger, I made them drunk in my wrath, and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.'" (Isaiah 63:1-6)
During the Olivet Discourse, Jesus describes his future public return in these words,
"Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken; then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." (Matthew 24:29-31)
A parallel passage in Luke's gospel reads as follows:
"...great distress shall be upon the earth and wrath upon this people [Israel]; they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led captive among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth distress of nations in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory." (Luke 21:23b-27)
And in Mark:
"But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven." (Mark 13:24-27)
The Apostle Paul describes this event in his second letter to the Thessalonians:
"We are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren, as is fitting, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast of you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions which you are enduring. This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be made worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering-since indeed God deems it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant rest with us to you who are afflicted, when the Lord Jesus is revealed [unveiled, that is apokalupsis] from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at in all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his call, and may fulfil every good resolve and work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ."
"Now concerning the coming [parousia] of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to meet him, we beg you, brethren, not to be quickly shaken in mind or excited, either by spirit or by word, or by letter purporting to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the rebellion [apostasia] comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you this? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed [apokalupsis]in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one [the antichrist] will be revealed, and the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by his appearing and his coming [literally, "by the epiphaneia of his parousia" ]." (2 Thess. 1:3-2:8)
The Apostle John also presents a full picture of the coming of the Lord Jesus with his saints,
"Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed which no one knows but himself. He is clad in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, followed him on white horses. From his mouth issues a sharp sword with which to smite the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, King of kings and Lord of lords.
"Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly in midheaven, "Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great." And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who sits upon the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had worked the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. And the rest were slain by the sword of him who sits upon the horse, the sword that issues from his mouth; and all the birds were gorged with their flesh." (Revelation 19:11-21)
Concluding his commentary on the Book of the Revelation, cited above, Ray Stedman says,
Following the reassurance of the truth of His promises, the underscoring of His warning that those who give themselves over to sin will have no part of heaven, Jesus declares His credentials: He is the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning, and the End. He is God, the Creator. And He is the Root and Offspring of David. He is also fully man, the descendant of King David, the Messiah of the Jews, heir to the throne of His father David, ruler of Israel. And He is the bright Morning Star---the one who promises to come for His own before the rising of the Sun of Righteousness.
Again and again in this one concluding chapter Jesus says, "Behold, I am coming soon!" Many people read that and say, "How can that be? These words were written centuries ago. Christians in the first century believed He was coming soon, and He never came. Why should Christians in the twentieth century believe He is coming soon?" Some will even say, "The apostles were wrong. The book of Revelation is wrong. After 2,000 years of waiting, it should be obvious that Jesus is not coming back."
But if there is one thing the book of Revelation makes clear it is the fact that John's vision links time and eternity in ways that transcend human understanding. We look at time as a straight line, marked off in years like inches on a ruler. We see John's era of the first century AD as being at one point on the ruler, our own era some 2,000 years later, and the events of Revelation as occurring at some time further along that ruler.
Properly understood, however, the events of Revelation were no further off in John's future than they are in yours and mine. The final destiny of a human being, whether lost or righteous, begins the instant that individual dies. Eternity is never more than a heartbeat away, never farther in the future than one's own death.
It won't be long before both you and I step out of time and into eternity. And when we arrive in eternity, the saints who preceded us in death by a hundred or a thousand or two thousand years won't say to us, "What took you so long?" They'll be just like us, new arrivals in eternity, staring goggle-eyed in amazement at the unguessed-at wonders God has prepared for us.
Jesus is coming soon. He was coming soon in the day of John the apostle. Even if the events of Revelation do not take place for another thousand years or ten thousand (though I hardly think that likely!), this statement would still be true: Jesus is coming soon.
"Come, Lord Jesus!"
John's vision closes with an invitation and a final warning,
The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.
"I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this hook. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book."
The invitation is clear: "Come!" This invitation is issued by the Spirit of God Himself, and it is echoed by the redeemed of God (the bride), and by every individual Christian who hears. It is an invitation to every reader of the book of Revelation to come, take the free gift of the water of life, come to Christ and live eternally.
The warning is equally clear: Don't change a word in this prophecy! The book of Revelation is God's truth. Don't add to it. Don't subtract from it.
Certainly a book so rich in symbolism must be interpreted-but it must be interpreted carefully. Don't take away its meaning by emphasizing the symbolic at the expense of the literal. Do not destroy its intent by literalizing everything in it and ignoring the meaning of the symbols.
Most important of all: Believe it. Ignore, reject, or distort God's truth and you risk missing out on God's plan; you risk having to endure the terrors described in the book; you risk losing out on your portion of the tree of life and the beautiful Holy City. Believe it-because Jesus is coming soon!
He who testifies to these things says, "Yes, I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
Doesn't your heart reverberate with that same poignant prayer! Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! The world is waiting, aching, crying for your return! The church is watching and expecting you! Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.
September 21, 1993