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HOW SOON IS JESUS' RETURN?

by Jacques More

. . . many will come in my name, claiming . . .'The time is near.'
Do not follow them.

Luke 21:8 NIV

Luke 21, Mark 13 and Matthew 24 are the Gospels' main chapters in which Jesus speaks about his second coming. The first one, Matthew 24, is the one I wish to concentrate on. From this first main passage about the second coming in the New Testament, what can we learn, what does it say needs to happen before the Lord's Return?

A brief look at this passage shows us events which have happened and continue to occur to this day with increasing regularity:

THINGS ALREADY HAPPENING

. . . many . . . will deceive many. . . wars and rumours of wars . . . famines, pestilences [epidemics] and earthquakes . . . they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you [much persecution] . . . many will betray one another . . . false prophets . . . lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. . .

Matthew 24:5,6,7,9,10,11,12

These things have been happening and continue to do so. But what about specific events mentioned in this chapter which can be seen as not yet having occurred? Things mentioned by Jesus after which he says:

THE RETURN

Then . . . they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together his elect. . .

Matthew 24:30-31 (italics mine)

In other words, let us look at what is chronologically [in time] sandwiched between the first and second assembled passages quoted already. The 'jam' we are looking for. These events include:

THINGS TO HAPPEN BEFORE

. . . this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations . . . the 'abomination of desolation' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place . . . then there will be great tribulation [great affliction or oppression], such as has not been since the beginning of the world . . . false christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to deceive, if possible, even the elect . . . the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

Matthew 24:14,15,21,24,29

Now of these, there are several which could be argued as being in fulfilment. They are unclear events to use as signs for the closeness of Jesus' Return. I do not believe them to be fulfilled, but they are not distinct in appearance, for all to recognise as unfulfilled. Amongst these one could include the preaching of the gospel mentioned throughout all the world, possibly the great tribulation and, finally, the false christs and false prophets who do great signs and wonders. This is especially true of the false prophets since they are already mentioned as part of the first list of passages: these things are not therefore clearly visible as unfulfilled.

Of the remaining events, we are then left with:

REMAINING EVENTS (in Mat. 24)

1. The abomination of desolation . . . standing in the holy place.

2. The darkening of the sun and the moon not shining.

3. The stars falling from heaven and the powers of the heavens being shaken.

Now, 2. and 3. could be argued as events that could happen so quickly as to nullify their use as reasonable and effective indicators as to the nearness of Jesus' Return. This then leaves us with at least one main event which we can seriously look at out of this passage:

THE ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION STANDING IN THE HOLY PLACE spoken of by Daniel the prophet (Matthew 24:15). In fact Jesus precedes the mention of this event by saying '. . . when you see . . .' implying clearly that this event will be recognisable by all and, to whom the writer of the gospel then mentions 'whoever reads, let him understand'. This is saying in fact, that part of the very purpose of this event is as a sign to those 'who understand'.

Let us then make an effort at understanding this event. Indeed, if this event is so crucial to our understanding of the timing of Jesus' Return than it would not be unusual to see further mentions in the New Testament about it, as well, of course, as in Daniel of the Old which was being quoted by Jesus.

OTHER PASSAGES POINTING TO THIS SIGN/EVENT

We find Paul treating it exactly as a signal to be recognised before Jesus' Return and before our gathering together with Him. This gathering, now commonly named 'The Rapture', Paul had been writing about to the Thessalonian church in his first letter to them (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). What he then found was that some Christians were expecting all this to happen imminently (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2). This is why in continuing to write his second letter he then tells them more specifically about this event which must precede the Return and the assembly with Jesus,

Let no one deceive you by any means; for that day [of the return etc.] will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshipped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.

2 Thessalonians 2:3-4

N.B. the Greek word for temple here is naos: the most commonly used word for the building of the temple in the LXX - the Greek Version of the O.T.

Paul is saying clearly therefore this event needs to happen before the Rapture, let alone Jesus' Return (see Vss 1-2). The Son of Perdition mentioned is also known as the Antichrist. The event in the temple (the holy place in Matthew 24:15) involves what Jesus was quoting from in Daniel:

And from the time that the daily sacrifice is taken away, and the abomination of desolation is set up, there shall be one thousand two hundred and ninety days.

Daniel 12:11 (see also 9:27 and 11:32-33)

There is amongst these passages clear statements as to the existence of a 'holy place', 'the temple of God' i.e. the place where 'the daily sacrifice is taken away'. This is no other than the temple of God in Jerusalem. But, however, this place was completely destroyed in A.D. 70. From the time of Paul's letter to the Thessalonians in about 50 A.D. and the destruction of the temple, there is no situation where anyone sat as God in it. Indeed, at the time of the destruction of the temple and the capture of Jerusalem by Titus of the Romans (whilst only a Prince) the temple was overwhelmed by flames and the area strewn with dead bodies. After the victory over the area, the order was given for it to be totally dismantled (according to Josephus the eye witness/historian). Incidentally also prophesied by Jesus in Matthew 24:2]

Also, the book of Revelation written in the nineties (A.D.), after the destruction of the temple, mentions the aforementioned Antichrist. It is possible to see then, that before this 'time revealing event' can take place a number of things need to happen:

The rebuilding of the temple of God in Jerusalem.

The Antichrist needs to have come to power.

The sacrifices need to have been restarted in the rebuilt temple.

Other (e.g. the alignment of 10 nations out of the old Roman Empire out of which the Antichrist will arise cf. my document entitled NOT FOR A FEW CENTURIES - writing in Spring 1998) . . .

In the space this document affords, we can therefore see that Jesus' Return is not as soon as sometimes proclaimed. This is not new. Even Peter recognised Jesus would not return in his own lifetime. Jesus had told Peter how he would die as an old man (John 21:18-19).

Our responsibility as Christians is to undertake to be faithful in all that God has enabled us to do and have these things particularly to occupy our minds - To this end we are encouraged by Jesus. Following his discourse in Matthew 24 he went on to teach about this responsibility in his parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30.

Please now re-read 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4. Thank you.


© copyright Thomas Nelson Inc. 1979,1980,1982.

NIV material is from the Holy Bible, New International Version

© 1973, 1978, 1984 by the International Bible Society

© copyright Jacques More 1999. All Rights Reserved.

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