Mark’s thoughts on Christ’s Return:
This weekend was buzzing with a flurry activity. Many high schools celebrated the graduation of their seniors yesterday, I am gearing up for a weeklong seminary class next week—and we were all supposed to be prepared for the rapture at 6pm on May 21st. I have three thoughts on how we should respond to claims like this.
First, I heard a vast array of responses to Harold Camping’s rapture prediction and the majority of them were light, lacking in substance and downright ridiculous. People were planning on attending “rapture parties,” drinking away the night until they see Jesus, or even complaining that they should be getting paid “time and a half” for having to work on the night of the rapture. This is foolish. To be sure, the May 21st rapture prediction was greatly unhelpful, but the responses I heard were even more unhelpful.
Jesus really is coming back. He came first to earth as a servant, drenched in his own blood, sacrificing himself for the lost. When he returns he will come as a king, drenched in the blood of those who have rebelled against him, establishing his kingdom on the earth. The return of Jesus is a weighty matter.Foolish prediction or not, we should consider Christ’s return with utmost solemnity. I was not surprised at the non-result last night, but I still passionately live with Christ’s imminent return in mind. Whether Jesus returns this year, 10 years from now, or 50 years from now, the reality for each one of us is that this is our last generation. You only have one life to live, and it is shorter than you think.
The second thought is related to the first. While we must not speak about “the rapture” as Harold Camping does, we still must speak about the second coming of Christ. Day-specific predictions grieve the heart of God because they are not in line with the Word of God. Jesus specifically says that not even he knows the day or the hour, but only the Father knows (Matthew 24:36). Day-specific predictions are for the purpose of fame from the media, shock effect, and money-making. We must not speak this way.
Yet we must speak. The Bible emphasizes the necessity of being prepared for Christ’s coming. Consider the testimony of 1 Thessalonians 5:1-5, “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the
darkness.” (emphasis mine)
We will not know the day or the hour of Christ’s coming, but we must not be caught off guard. Paul says those who are surprised by the coming of Jesus are in darkness. Living in darkness means living in sin. Sin is blinding to the spiritual revelation of the urgency of the coming of the Son of God. In contrast, we must live in the light and we must speak of Christ’s return with hearts that are prepared for his coming.
The Biblical passage that puts the most fear of God in my heart contains the words of Jesus to those who have not been living in the light: “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23). Assurance of salvation on judgment day comes only from knowing and being known by one man, the God-man Jesus Christ. We must speak of the return of Christ in a way that puts the fear of God into the heart of man.
Third, we must consider carefully and biblically the idea of the rapture. One of the most famous “rapture passages” comes from Matthew 24: 37-42, “For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”
Those who are accustomed to studying the Bible will know if we are to interpret this passage correctly, we first must study the life of Noah, since Jesus equates his return with the “days of Noah.” In the Bible, God’s world-wide judgment on sinners in the days of Noah is a prominent comparison to Jesus’ second coming. The point that many people miss is that in light of the Noah account, “being taken” is a very bad thing. Those who are taken—the one in the field and the one by the mill—are not raptured to heaven, they are swept away in judgment.The one who is left (behind) is the one who is kept safe in the sanctuary of God’s presence.
I do not believe there will be a pre-tribulation rapture. This is yet another reason why I was not surprised at 6pm last night. The main reason I bring it up is this: Christians must not shy away from the idea of suffering. When I share that I do not believe in a pre-tribulation rapture, the most common objection I get from Christians is “you mean we will have to go through the tribulation? How could God allow that?”
The Biblical testimony is clear. Christians will suffer, they will suffer persecution for their faith, and many times they will suffer more than non-Christians. Yet in our suffering we rejoice, because this world is not our home. Rejoicing in Jesus in the midst of suffering should be one of the key distinctions between Christians and non-Christians. How much more, then, will God be glorified, when Christians persevere in rejoicing in the Son of God during the tribulation at the end of the age?
Beloved—Jesus is coming soon! In a very short time each one of us will meet our Maker. We must not speak of the return of Christ in jest. We must walk in the light and be known by the Son of God and thereby prepare hearts for His return. And we must be prepared to go through even the greatest tribulation for the fame of God’s name.