“The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night.” The day of the Lord is mentioned a couple dozen times in the Bible and is a significant idea in the study of end times. The term may be a little confusing because it is not actually referring to a single day, but a period of time. This phrase is an idiom, a phrase that means something other than the literal meaning of its words. Calling someone your sweetheart is an idiom. The literal meaning of a sweetheart- a sugary, blood pumping organ has nothing to do with the idiomatic meaning of sweetheart- someone you love deeply. Likewise, the day of the Lord is not an entirely literal phrase. It is an idiom referring to a period of Divine judgment.
The phrase is used in the Old Testament to refer to several different kinds of judgment. It is used to describe the judgment of Israel (Amos 5:18-20) and Judah (Ezekiel 13:6) for their idolatry. In the book of Obadiah the day of the Lord is used to describe God’s judgment upon certain Gentile nations. (Obadiah 1:15)
In most cases the day of the Lord is used to describe the return of Jesus to earth in judgment and to establish His millennial kingdom. The Bible describes several specific events as making up the day of the Lord. The seven years of the Tribulation (Joel 2:31; Matthew 24:21, 29; Revelation 6:12-13), the second coming of Jesus to the earth (Zechariah 14:1-2; Revelation 19:11-15), the thousand year reign of Jesus over the earth (Zechariah 14:8-11; Isaiah 11) and the destruction of this universe (2 Peter 3:10).
The most lengthy single description of the day of the Lord is found in the book of Revelation. Almost all of the events foretold in chapters 6 to 20 of Revelation take place during the day of the Lord. The day of the Lord is described as a day of judgment (Matthew 25:31-46), of vengeance (Isaiah 34:8), of fierce anger (Isaiah 13:9) and of darkness (Acts 2:20). The day of the Lord will include the battle of Armageddon, a great battle against Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:2; Joel 3:14). The day of the Lord is a great and terrible day (Joel 2:11)
The day of the Lord will also be a day of restoration, of peace and of righteousness. (Zechariah 14:16-21). During that day the world will be restored to a portion of the perfection it had before man sinned, including the absence of predators and venomous creatures (Isaiah 11:6-9), long life (Isaiah 65:20) and the removal of all sorrow (Isaiah 65:19). In the day of the Lord Israel will no longer worship false gods. Jerusalem will be the center of universal worship of Jesus as God and King.
The day of the Lord will come suddenly and unexpectedly. The coming of the day of the Lord is repeatedly described as coming without warning, like a thief in the night (Luke 12:39-40; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10) When the world is going about life as usual, with little thought to the things of God, then Jesus will return. The suddenness of the day of the Lord teaches us to ready ourselves now for that terrible day. We must heed the warning given by Peter in Acts 2:20-21. We must turn to Jesus and call upon Him for salvation from His wrath.
The Bible prophecies several things that will happen at the end of the world. I am a premilliennialist who believes Jesus will rapture the church, the antichrist will rule the world for seven years, those seven years will be a time of massive natural disasters and great tribulation, the seven years of tribulation will end with the return of Jesus to the earth, and when Jesus returns He will judge the wicked and establish His kingdom. The kingdom of Jesus on earth will last for one thousand years. At the end of the thousand years Satan will stir up a final rebellion against God. That rebellion will be smashed, the unsaved will be condemned to eternal suffering in the lake of fire, the entire physical universe will be destroyed and a new heaven and new earth will be created.
Those who hold to postmillennial and amillennial views arrange these events differently and do not believe the church will be raptured. However, the timing of the rapture is an important question for those with a premillennial perspective. Those who believe the church will be raptured are divided on when they think it will happen. A minority group believes the church will be raptured in the middle of the tribulation. The two most popular views on the rapture are pre-tribulational and post-tribulational. The post-tribulationist believes the church will be raptured at the very end of the tribulation when Jesus returns to establish his kingdom on earth. The pre-tribulationalist believes the church will be raptured at the beginning of the tribulation at or before the start of the antichrist’s reign.
A pre-tribulational rapture seems to fit best with the Biblical prophecies, primarily because of one compelling reason. Revelation 19 describes the return of Jesus to the earth in power and victory. Just before the description of Jesus’ triumphal return Revelation 19 describes a scene of great praise in heaven. The saints in heaven praise Jesus for His justice and mercy. The great multitude praises God for His powerful rule and they then say, “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.” This marriage supper of the Lamb is the wedding feast for the bride of Christ- the church. The wedding feast of the church and Jesus takes place in heaven before Jesus returns to the earth. Therefore, the rapture cannot take place at the end of the tribulation when Jesus returns to establish His kingdom on earth.
The pre-tribulational rapture seems to be the best interpretation of the Biblical prophecies regarding the church, but the Bible does not give a definitive statement on the timing of the rapture. Faithful Christians who uphold Biblical truth reach different conclusions on the timing of the rapture. This matter is of great interest, but should not be a cause for controversy or division in the church.
The rapture is an event that takes place at the end of this age when living Christians are taken out of the world by Jesus. They do not die, but are “caught up” into the air and taken directly to heaven. After the rapture a horrible seven year time period will begin. This time is called the Tribulation. During the tribulation the Antichrist will come to power, every person on the planet will be forced to worship the Antichrist and terrible catastrophes will unfold on the earth resulting in the death of billions of people and widespread destruction of the earth’s surface. At the beginning of the rapture there will not be a single genuine Christian on the planet (though there will be many who claimed to be Christian.)
The time of the Tribulation will be a time of intense religious oppression. The antichrist will seek to crush every religion but the worship of himself. The Holy Spirit will be less active in the world and Satan is given freedom to be more active. The antichrist and his chief of staff, the false prophet, will be great deceivers (Matthew 24:24; Revelation 13:14). Satan is a liar, and the father of lies (John 8:44) During the tribulation he will be even more aggressive in attempting to keep men from the truth of salvation. On top this, the Bible teaches in 2 Thessalonians that God will send a strong delusion on those who live during the Tribulation. With all that the Bible says about the difficulty of coming to saving faith during the Tribulation, it would seem that none can be saved after the rapture.
But the book of Revelation specifically describes certain ones who will be saved. Revelation 7 and 14 speak of 144,000 Jewish men who will be specially marked out as servants of God during the Tribulation. These men will stand firm for the Lord in a world that is going mad with hatred for God. On top of this, the book of Romans says that all Israel will be saved. (Romans 11:26) The prophet Zechariah says that during the Tribulation many Israelites will be put to death, but God will be at work in the survivors to bring them to faith in Him. (Zechariah 13:9)
Despite great difficulties against faith and great persecution against Christians many in the Tribulation will trust Jesus as Savior. The terrible time of the Tribulation reminds us today of God’s wrath against sin. The Almighty God will bring to judgment all who persist in rebelling against Him. God will graciously forgive those who cry out to Him for mercy and salvation. Those who trust Him will not have judgement, but eternal life and eternal joy.
Reports out of north Africa tell of a massive swarm of locusts that has been plaguing the region since December. Some news agencies have connected the swarm of locusts with Biblical prophecies of the return of Jesus. Thousands of acres of crop land in east Africa, including Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia, have been destroyed. Reports are now saying the swarm has reached the borders of China. This epic swarm is destroying crops and threatening the well-being of millions. It is an international catastrophe. Some preachers have said this swarm fulfills Biblical prophecy of tragic plagues that will hit the earth shortly before Jesus returns. Does it?
Locusts and plagues of locusts are a familiar theme in the Bible. A plague of locusts was one of the ten judgments of God upon Egypt when He brought the Israelites out of slavery. Locust swarms were a familiar sight to the Israelites during the entire Old Testament period. God warned Israel in the book of Deuteronomy that if they did not obey Him, their land flowing with milk and honey would be laid waste by droughts, disease, swarms of locusts and other pestilence. In Joel the totality of God’s judgment on Israel was prophesied to be like crop lands stripped bare by a swarm of locusts. The Bible also speaks of locusts to depict huge armies or other large groups of people. In the book of Nahum the Assyrian empire was compared to locusts. The prophet decreed that even if the Assyrians multiply themselves like locusts, they would all be destroyed.
The book of Revelation refers to locusts in its description of the series of judgments that will come on the earth during the Tribulation. A scene described in Revelation 9 is very dramatic. An angel sounds a trumpet and the bottomless pit was opened. Like a volcanic eruption, smoke filled the skies and blotted out the stars. A massive swarm like locusts came out of the smoke. However, the locusts described in Revelation 9 are not normal locusts. These are not crop eating insects. These are horrible beasts with the ability to sting men and cause terrible, prolonged pain.
The swarms of locusts in Africa and the Middle East are causing great harm, but they are not a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. The Bible never says plagues of crop eating insects will be a sign or precursor of the return of Jesus. The Bible teaches that the normal troubles of this world will continue and increase until the return of Jesus. In the final years before His Second Coming the entire earth will be shaken with terrible catastrophes unlike anything the world has seen since the flood of Noah. Droughts, earthquakes, forest fires, pandemics and insect swarms are terrible, but they are nothing compared to the truly terrifying calamities that will ravage the earth in the days to come. When God pours out His judgments on the earth, none will confuse them with natural disasters. In the meantime, we must live soberly, righteously and godly, looking for the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. (Titus 2:12-13)
“It is appointed unto man once to die, but after this the judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27) The Bible contains a number of references to coming times of Divine judgment. The references are scattered between the Old and New Testaments, prophetic literature and letters to the churches. Because there is no single passage which lists all the judgments, many wonder how many judgments there are going to be.
The Bible describes one judgment that takes place at the return of Jesus and two judgments that people will face after death. When Jesus returns, there will be a judgment dividing “sheep from the goats.” (Matthew 25:31-46) At this judgment those who survived the Tribulation will be separated into two groups. Those who trusted Jesus for salvation are the sheep that will be brought into His kingdom. Those who rejected Jesus are the goats that will be cast into eternal punishment.
After death, Christians will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:10) At that judgment believers will be given rewards based upon what they have done in this life. Each Christian will be examined for how he has lived for Jesus. The Judgment seat of Christ is not a judgment of sin. If we were to be judged for our sin, then we would all be condemned. All of the believer’s sin is covered by the blood of Jesus.
The judgment seat of Christ is an examination of service. The works of believers will be tested to see how they stand up in the light of eternity. If we have wasted our time, served wrongly or selfishly then our rewards will be lost. If we have served in obedience, with faithfulness and for the glory of God then we will have great reward in heaven. (1 Corinthians 3:12-15)
The last judgment will take place at the end of all human history. The unsaved will be judged at the Great White Throne. (Revelation 20:11-15) All who are judged there will be condemned by God because they have not obeyed the gospel. The criteria of this judgment is simple. Have you believed Jesus is God who died on the cross for your sin? Have you cried out to Him to take away all your guilt? Have placed all your hope of forgiveness, heaven and eternal life in Jesus alone? If not, you are not saved. Your name is not written in the Lamb’s Book of LIfe. You will stand before the Great White Throne of Judgment and be condemned. I plead with you today to turn to Jesus and cry out to Him to take away your sin.
All who stand before the Great White Throne will be punished according to their deeds in life. Jesus’ words to the cities of Bethsaida and Chorazin indicate that rejection of the knowledge of Christ is treated more severely than gross sin. Those who have heard the gospel and have heard the Word of God will suffer a greater penalty. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrha were wicked, violent and immoral. They were destroyed by God for their wickedness, yet they will be treated less severely in the day of judgment than the cities that were eyewitnesses of Jesus and rejected Him. Those who hear the gospel and reject it will face a harsher punishment at the Great White Throne than even a murderer who never heard the Word of God.
It seems that many Christians are unwilling to engage in serious study of books that speak of future events, like Revelation. Some do not even like to read those books. Christians shy away from the study of end times prophecy because of the difficulty in understanding the subject matter and the many different opinions taught about the end of the world. The study of the Bible’s teachings about the end times is certainly challenging, but is this a good reason to avoid the subject? Does the Bible give any reasons why Christians should study prophecy?
Christians should study prophecy because it is a significant portion of the Bible. Scripture contains over 31,000 verses and a quarter of them are prophetic in nature. Some of the prophecies have already been fulfilled, but there are many still awaiting fulfillment. Most of Revelation, large portions of Daniel, Jeremiah, Isaiah and Ezekiel contain prophecies of the end times. One of the longest recorded sermons of Jesus (Matthew 24-25) speaks of the end times. To neglect the study of prophecy is to neglect the study of large portions of the Bible.
Christians should study prophecy because it shows the faihtfulness of God. The prophetic passages reveal the wrath of God on sin, show how God is going to fulfill all the promises He made to the saints of the Old Testament and assure the Christian that salvation brings eternal blessings. The study of prophecy shows that God has kept His Word and that He will continue to do so throughout all eternity.
One of the common objections against studying prophecy is the rampant speculations and crazy predictions from the prophecy “experts’. God did not tell us His future plans so Christians could attempt to figure out exactly when Jesus is going to return or could create crazy speculations about the relation of lunar eclipses to the end times. Christians should study prophecy so they will know how to live in this life in light of Christ’s return.
God has revealed how Christians are to apply the prophetic passages. “Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness.” (2 Peter 3:12) The return of Jesus, the establishment of His kingdom on earth, the judgment of the lost, the destruction of all things and the establishment of eternity should all motivate the Christian to live holy and godly lives in this world. The study of prophecy challenges the Christian to live today for eternity.
One caution must be given. While the study of the end times is good and profitable, care must be taken to not overemphasize its importance. The Christian ought to have an undersanding of all the Word. To neglect any portion of the Bible is dangerous. If a person only studies the prophetic passages, then significant and essential portions of the Bible will be ignored. The study of prophecy should not be neglected, neither should the study of prophecy cause the Christian to neglect the other doctrines of the Bible.
The difficult study of end times prophecies is worthwhile for every Christian. God promises, “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.” (Revelation 1:3)
When the rapture happens all living believers will be taken directly into heaven. At the same time all deceased believers will be resurrected. This sudden event will happen just before the anti-Christ comes to power and the tribulation begins. Those who reject the doctrine of the rapture use the name “secret rapture” as a derogatory term to discredit the idea. Some preachers have taught that Christians will disappear and no one on earth will know what happened. The rapture is a Biblical doctrine, but does the Bible say it will be a secret event?
Often we have questions about the Bible that it does not answer. Scripture gives very little attention to the rapture. For example, the Bible never describes the response of those left behind. Most of the material in the popular treatments of the rapture, like the Left Behind books and movies, is pure fiction. Though the Bible says nothing about the immediate aftermath of the rapture, it seems certain that the disappearance of millions of people from the earth will capture the attention of the world.
What the Bible does say about the rapture gives the sense of a dramatic event that will shake the world. The Bible describes archangels sounding trumpets, graves emptying and believers disappearing. Many think only Christians will hear the heavenly trumpets, but why? The Bible never says who will or will not hear the trumpet. Since 1 Corinthians 15 describes the events of the rapture as happening in the blink of an eye, we can safely assume that the saved will not float gently up into the air to drift slowly out of sight. Graves will suddenly empty and Chrsitians will disappear. It seems very unlikely that no one will notice these things when they happen. The rapture can hardly be called a secret event.
However, the real question is, will those left behind understand what is happening? Most of the world will probably not recognize the theological significance of the disappearance of all Christians. Those familiar with the Biblical teaching of the rapture will probably figure out what has happened. But since those left behind will be the ones who did not believe the gospel, it is safe to assume they will be tempted to seek explanations other than that God took all believers to heaven. The Bible does not teach that the rapture will be a secret. The Bible does not teach that the rapture will be seen by everyone. All we can say for sure is that the rapture will happen.
If a couple Jehovah’s Witnesses knocked on your door to tell you about their church, there is one doctrine that they probably won’t talk about right away. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists are the two most well known groups in America that believe in soul sleep. The doctrine of soul sleep teaches that when a person dies, the soul, just like the body, loses all awareness and sensation. At death the soul of the person does not cease to exist, nor does it enter into heaven or hell, but it becomes unconscious of anything until the day of resurrection.
This doctrine finds support in the Bible’s use of the word “sleep” to describe death. When Jesus’ friend Lazarus died, He told His disciples that Lazarus was asleep. In 1 Thessalonians 4 Paul refers to those who have died when he says, “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep.” Proponents of soul sleep believe the figure of sleep applies to the deceased’s body and soul.
Other support is found in passages like Psalm 146:4, “His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.” and Psalm 6:5, “For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?” Since man is more just body, since the dead do not think, and since the dead do not praise God, then the soul the soul must go into an unconscious or unaware state after death.
While this may seem to be reasonable and compelling evidence, the Bible makes several clear statements death which make the doctrine of soul sleep impossible. When Jesus taught about the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 He plainly taught that when a person dies he immediately enters into his conscious reward. There is no delay between death and awareness. If the soul has no awareness, then the rich man could not wake up in hell. He would be aware of nothing until the resurrection. If the rich man awoke at the resurrection, Abraham was a liar when he said that the man’s brothers could read the Old Testament and thus be saved from hell. What Jesus describes is immediate, conscious awareness of the afterlife.
The book of Revelation tells of martyrs at the throne of God pleading for the punishment of their tormentors. They are clearly conscious, clearly communicating with God and clearly in heaven between their death and the resurrection. Why would they be asking God how long until He would judge their persecutors if they had been resurrected and were at the judgment the same time as their murderers?
The Bible uses sleep as a figurative term to describe the apparent condition of the dead. Sleep is not intended to describe the condition or awareness of the soul. The poetic passages of Psalms and Ecclesiastes that refer to the silence of the dead are speaking of the inability of the deceased to do any thing upon this earth. Soul sleep is not a Biblical doctrine, but a false teaching which denies the clear truths of the Bible about death, judgment and the afterlife.
The doctrine of the rapture is believed by many Christians, including many of the most popular preachers on television and radio. Despite false teachers who insist on predicting the date of something the Bible specifically says cannot be predicted (Matthew 25:13), the rapture is a Biblical idea. The rapture is a coming event where Jesus takes all believers off the earth. When the rapture happens, all the redeemed, living and dead, will be taken from the earth directly to heaven. One question raised about the rapture concerns the fate of infants and children. Will they be taken or left behind? This is a particularly important question for those who believe the rapture will take place before the Tribulation, a seven year period of great turmoil and suffering on the earth.
The Bible does not say anything about the age of those of who will be raptured. Scripture says those in Christ will be taken up to be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17) All children who believe and are saved will be raptured. What about those too young to believe the gospel? Because the Bible does not say anything about the fate of those too young to believe, great care must be taken in giving an answer. Dogmatic certainty must be avoided.
The argument for the rapture of young children is based upon the idea of childhood innocence. The teaching that babies who die go to heaven is based upon a concept of innocence. Innocence, in this context, does not mean young children do not sin. Innocence does not teach that young children were not born under the curse of Adam. Instead, because a child is unable to understand and respond to the gospel God views that child as innocent until she comes to a point of being able to reject the gospel. This is often called the age of accountability. This teaching is based upon passages like Deuteronomy 1:39 which says, “your children . . . had no knowledge between good and evil” and Jeremiah 19:4 which describes children as “innocent”. If these innocent ones go to heaven, why would they not be raptured when Jesus returns?
The rapture of the church and the death of a child are different in one significant area. Missing the rapture does not eliminate the opportunity to be saved. Those who live through the Tribulation will have opportunity to repent and believe Jesus. Those who die in infancy never have this chance. The only clear statement about the identity of those raptured is that those who are in Christ will be caught up to meet Him. Children, though protected by God, are not yet in Christ. This author’s opinion is that infants and unsaved children will not be taken in the rapture, but many of these children will have opportunity to believe Jesus before He establishes His kingdom.
Ultimately no definite answer can be given. Regardless of whether young children are raptured or left, we can be confident that God’s actions are always right. “All His ways are just.” (Deuteronomy 32:4)