Harbor Lights Sermon  May, 2011

The Second Coming

Reader's Digest for May 2011 has an advertisement stating that the Judgment Day will be on May 21st, 2011. That's next Saturday. And claims "The Bible Guarantees It". What's that all about? When Steve and I came here a couple of months ago during St. Patrick's Day, there were people at the T-station handing out tracts claiming the the Judgment Day will be on May 21st. Now much as I disagree about the date, as it's a matter of current events I thought it a good time to talk briefly about what the Bible says concerning the second coming of Christ

In fact this subject was much on the mind of the early Christians. The church at Thessalonica was only a few months old when the apostle Paul wrote his first letter to them. He starts his letter commending them for embracing the gospel and acting on it. Among other things he said, "The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia— your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead— Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath." 1Thess 1:8-10 There are a few primary places in the Bible where we learn of the details of the Lord's return and the coming kingdom. There's Matthew 24, Luke 17, The Book of Revelation, some verses in 2Peter, but perhaps the clearest and most unambiguous teachings on the subject of the events leading up to the return of Christ are found in Paul's letters to the Thessalonians.

There are many in the history of Christianity to come up with dates of the Lord's returns. The dates have come and gone.  And Paul himself warns the Christians not to be taken in by such people. People put their faith in these date setters and then become disillusioned, even leaving the Christian faith altogether when nothing happens. But rather than admit they were wrong some of the date setters will even claim that something invisible happened. Like they may claim that the resurrection happened, but it was just invisible. Paul wrote about those kind of people. He said to Timothy, "Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have wandered away from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some." 2Tim 2:16-18 And that's what happens.

What would Paul say concerning this May 21st date? He would say what he said to the Thessalonians in 2Thess 2:1-15

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness. But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

Notice the reason why we can say that the May 21st date is wrong is because Paul teaches us that there are to be certain events, visible and measureable events, to occur prior to the the Lord's return. Events which haven't yet occurred, events also spoken of in Matt 24, Luke 17, and the books of Daniel and Revelation.

The May 21st date will come and go, but let us remember that there will be a day when the Lord will return. To the philosophers in Athens Paul said that "God has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead." Acts 17:31 In his first letter to the Thessalonians Paul describes the return of Christ, the resurrection, and what we refer to today as the Rapture in  1Thess 4:13-18

Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.

So what are the order of events associated with the Lord's return:

1. From 2Thess we see that the man of lawlessness will be revealed, also referred to as the anti-Christ. But as it says, "he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God." which means even before that occurs there has to be a temple. The book of Daniel speaks of him. In one place for example it says of him, "He will speak against the Most High and oppress his saints and try to change the set times and the laws. The saints will be handed over to him for a time, times and half a time." Dan 7:25 And again it says, "He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ (3.5 years) he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing of the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him." Dan 9:27 And Jesus mentions that very verse in Matt 24.

2. Then in Matthew 24 after Jesus says the anti-Christ will be revealed he goes on to say, "For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened." Mt 24:21,22

3. And Jesus goes on to say, "Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be." Mt 24:23-27

4. So according to Jesus, Jesus' return occurs after the great tribulation, in fact he goes on to say, "Immediately after the tribulation of those days 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. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear 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 His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." Mt 24:29-31

The gathering of his elect is what we refer to as the Rapture as Paul also wrote in 1Thess which I read previously. There Paul indicates that the dead in Christ rise first. So before the Rapture occurs, the resurrection occurs. Then the rapture occurs, which is also alluded to in 1Cor 15:51-52 "Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—  in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed." The rapture is when Christian who are still alive at the coming of the Lord will not experience death, but will immediately be transformed to because together with the resurrected saints and with Lord in the clouds." The Bible is fairly clear and unambiguous concerning those facts.

What is the application of this? Hope. Many early Christians experienced a great deal of hostility and persecution because of their beliefs that people will be judged for sins and that salvation only comes through faith in Christ. Paul encourages the Thessalonians saying, "We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing. Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you." 2Th 1:3-10

Thus people end up being either an object of God's grace because they believed the gospel or an object of God's wrath because they did not obey the gospel.  Now "may God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." 1Th 5:23 


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