Study 9 - The Return of Jesus Christ
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is an historical fact on which the hope of all mankind depends. As certain as the fact of the resurrection, is God's promise that His Son will return to the earth. After Christ was raised from the dead he ascended to heaven and angels gave his disciples this assurance:
"This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven" (Acts 1 v 11).
THE PURPOSE OF CHRIST'S RETURN
In the Lord's prayer Jesus taught his followers to pray for the establishment of God's kingdom, on earth:
"Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6 v 10).
At this time the words of David will be fulfilled:
"The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell therein for ever" (Psalm 37 v 29).
Christ is to return to the earth to establish God's kingdom by overthrowing the present human systems of government. He will rid the world of wickedness and fill the earth with God's glory as the divine solution to all its present problems.
For this reason the apostle Paul, in the first century AD, encouraged Titus to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts and rather to
"Live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ" (Titus 2 vs. 12-13).
WHEN WILL CHRIST RETURN?
God, from the beginning, appointed a particular day when Christ would return to judge the earth. Paul spoke of this:
"Because he (God) hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead" (Acts 17 v 31).
Christ, in his preaching, made it quite clear that, although God's plan was made, and events would follow a set pattern, not even he knew the exact time of his return. In Mark chapter 13 Christ told his hearers of his return and gave them some indications as to the events which must precede it, after which he said,
"Then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds, with great power and glory" (Mark 13 v 26).
"But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father" (Mark 13 v 32).
CHRIST TO RETURN UNEXPECTEDLY LIKE A THIEF
Most people today find the idea of Christ's returning to the earth amusing, not to be considered seriously in view of the apparent permanence of our existence. The apostle Peter warned that men would think like this:
"There shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation" (2 Peter 3 vs. 3-4).
So we are given the assurance that God is not slow in fulfilling His promises, but that this world-shattering event will take place at the time that He has appointed for it:
"But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night" (2 Peter 3 v 10).
Read the first 10 verses of 2 Peter chapter 3 to follow the full argument put forward by the apostle.
As Christ pointed out, the precise hour of his coming is not known to anyone except God, and cannot be worked out from the scriptures.
"For in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh" (Matthew 24 v 44).
This teaches us that faith is required by believers in Christ's return, for only God knows the specific day when this will happen. To those who are not looking for this event, his appearance will be as unexpected as that of a thief in the night.
IS THERE NO INDICATION WHEN CHRIST WILL RETURN?
The disciples were interested in this question and asked Christ privately whilst they sat on the Mount of Olives, "Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" (Matthew 24 v 3).
Christ's reply to this question, and many other passages of Bible prophecy, clearly show the likely time period when this return will be fulfilled. These signs of the times have been given to encourage Christ's followers, that they may be ready for him.
SIGNS OF CHRIST'S RETURN
1. THE SIGN OF NOAH
In his answer, Jesus reminded his disciples of the Bible account of the days before the flood, as similar circumstances would be seen in the days just before his return:
"As things were in Noah's days, so will they be when the Son of Man comes. In the days before the flood they ate and drank and married, until the day that Noah went into the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away. That is how it will be when the Son of Man comes" (Matthew 24 vs. 37-39 [NEB]).
For the background to the times of Noah, read Genesis chapter 6 where it shows plainly why God destroyed mankind, and saved only eight people. Such wickedness was evident in the thoughts and deeds of men and God saw that "the earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence" (Genesis 6 v 11).
The press, internet, radio and television daily reflect the similarity between the violent, Godless world of Noah and the violent, Godless world of our times. They reflect in many instances the apostle Paul's description of men in the last days prior to Christ's return:
"The final age of this world is to be a time of troubles. Men will love nothing but money and self; they will be arrogant, boastful, and abusive; with no respect for parents, no gratitude, no piety, no natural affection; they will be implacable in their hatreds, scandalmongers, intemperate and fierce, strangers to all goodness, traitors, adventurers, swollen with self-importance. They will be men who put pleasure in the place of God" (2 Timothy 3 vs. 1-5 [NEB]).
A careful consideration of each descriptive word of the Bible prophecy will show that these descriptions fit our age more than any before.
2. THE JEWISH SIGN
Jesus also spoke a short parable as an additional sign to tell his disciples when he would return;
"Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh:" Matthew 24 vs. 32.
The prophet Jeremiah gives us a clue to the identification of the fig tree as he uses the same symbol in chapter 24 when he refers to the people of Israel (read also Joel chapter 1v7). We must look, then, for the symbolic fig tree, Israel, "tender and putting forth leaves".
This refers to the regathering of the Jews from all parts of the earth where they were scattered by God (Luke 21 v 24; Deuteronomy 28 vs. 25,32-34,37,64-66). Many people today are witnessing the Jewish people in Israel "putting forth leaves" as they continue to build their country since its establishment as a State in 1948 and the capture of Jerusalem in 1967.
The same event was prophesied by Ezekiel in the first 14 verses of chapter 37. This time the Jewish nation is likened to a collection of bones. The prophet saw a valley of dry bones:
"These bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost" (Ezekiel 37 v 11).
Then the bones come together, are covered with flesh; breath is put into Israel and they live,
"And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land."
"I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land" (Ezekiel 37 vs. 14 & 21).
So we see in figurative language Israel being brought into the land as promised by God, a young nation sprouting forth as a budding tree. What follows this regathering?
"I will make a covenant of peace with them...and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore" (Ezekiel 37 v 26).
The Jewish sign heralds the establishment of God's kingdom.
The exciting aspect of this prophecy is that we can see God's hand at work as the Jews return and build up their land, and we are warned, "When ye shall see all these things, know that it (margin 'he') is near, even at the doors" (Matthew 24 v 33).
JESUS' PROPHECY CONCERNING ISRAEL
Jesus made very clear predictions both as to the immediate future of his nation, and as to its long-term destiny. The leaders of the nation failed to see the hand of their God stretched out to them. He had sent them His only son as their Messiah, and they demanded his death. Just prior to his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus and his disciples stood on the mount overlooking Jerusalem, and the beauty of the temple caused the disciples to exclaim in wonder; but Jesus saw only the punishment to be meted out to his people:
"As for these things which ye behold...there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down."
"And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled" (Luke 21 vs. 6 and 24).
This prophecy received fulfilment in AD 70 when the Roman Empire sent an army, under Titus, to put down a rebellion. The city of Jerusalem was destroyed and the ground was actually ploughed over. Deuteronomy chapter 28 was further fulfilled, and the scattering of the nation was complete. No Jew was permitted to remain in the land. In AD 135 a decree was issued expelling the surviving Jews from Judaea. The name of Jerusalem was changed to Aelia Capitolina.
There followed centuries of downtreading for the land and its people. The 'Diaspora', or dispersion, became fact. The Jewish prisoners captured in innumerable wars were scattered about the world as slaves. Those fortunate enough to escape this fate became merchants and traders. The Jew was everywhere except in Israel - so thoroughly did God fulfil His word. Settlements were to be found throughout the world, but God had decreed no comfort for them - and persecution and anti-Semitism became their way of life. For 2,000 years the land and its people were very effectively crushed and a miracle would be needed to revive them. But that miracle had been promised by God through many of His prophets. In 1967 the Israelis captured Jerusalem, and for the first time in 2,000 years Jerusalem came under Israeli control
Nothing could be clearer than the prophecy spoken through Jeremiah:
"...Behold, I will gather them out of all countries, whither I have driven them in mind anger, and in my fury, and in great wrath; and I will bring them again unto this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely" (Jeremiah 32 v 37).
God had said He would give them a new heart and spirit to bring about the revival, and the amazing truth is the way the nation seemed to gather inspired strength and courage. For 2,000 years of captivity the Jews had been weak and unresisting. God had taken away their will and their ability to fight. But when the time came for the prophecies concerning their restoration to their land to be fulfilled, then this new spirit came into the nation. They waged a war to ensure they took possession of their land - and Britain, the occupying power, was only too pleased to hand over. Then, against all odds, the nation became a fighting machine to defeat the combined strength of the Arabs and Egyptians. 650,000 Jews faced 40,000,000 Arabs and, as of old, God led His people to victory. So what the prophets had declared would happen, came to pass. Ezekiel chapters 36 and 37 contain a most remarkable prophecy which establishes beyond all doubt the overriding control of God in the affairs of nations. The prophet was given a vision in which God foretold the regathering of the nation back to their land, there to become a great army:
"For I will take you from among the heather (nations), and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land...A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you...and ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers" (Ezekiel 36 vs. 24,26,28).
Then, in the vision of the valley full of dry bones that became a valley filled with a mighty army, God gave further reassurance:
"They stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army...I shall place you in your own land...I will take the children of Israel...and bring them into their own land" (Ezekiel 37 vs. 10,14,21).
Since 1948 nearly six million Jews have returned to Israel - the next major event will be Christ's return to establish his Kingdom in Israel and thence throughout the whole world.
3. THE SIGN OF NEBUCHADNEZZAR'S DREAM
Study 3 dealt fully with this dream. The interpretation by Daniel showed the course of world history. After the break-up of the Roman Empire we find ourselves today represented by the feet of the image, with nations some strong (iron) and some weak (clay), not able to join firmly together. Daniel continued:
"In the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom" (Daniel 2 v 44).
This shows that there will be no further world empire, until the final event which will complete the fulfilment of Daniel's prophecy. Paul, the apostle, confident in the absolute fulfilment of the prophecy up to his time, was able to encourage the believers at Colosse because he knew of the certainty of Christ's return:
"When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory" (Colossians 3 v 4).
4. THE SIGN OF GENERAL WORLD UNREST
Christ also told the disciples of the time just before his return when there would be general unrest and fear among people because of the trouble facing all nations:
"There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken" (Luke 21 vs. 25-26).
Christ is speaking in figurative language of ruling powers, with the sea and waves representing people (e.g. Isaiah 57 v 20). This sign gives a picture of the peoples of the earth roaring, using their collective voice to exert power over events and situations, and to shake the security of rulers. The prevailing mood is of distress among the nations, which makes thoughtful people fearful of the outcome of all the world's disturbances and problems.
Surely the picture presented could be the caption for a survey of the current world situation!
Once again, Christ tells us that when world events are like those described by him, we must expect his return: "then shall they see the Son of man coming" (Luke 21 v 27).
The establishment of the Kingdom of God upon earth lies at the centre of His purpose, as we have seen. It requires the return of Jesus Christ to the earth to fulfil all the promises of God. Jesus himself spoke - in prophecy - about the events which would precede his return to earth.
5. THE COMING WORLD CONFLICT
We saw in what has become known as the 'Mount Olivet Prophecy', Jesus first warned of the overthrow of the Jewish state. In fulfilment of prophecy, the Romans ruled over the land of promise, and the Jews were a vassal state. Jesus knew that before long the Romans would execute the plan of God and disperse the people of God throughout all the world:
"They shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations; and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. And there shall be signs..." (Luke 21 v 24).
The disciples of Jesus had asked about the signs of his coming and of the end of the world, or age. Jesus set out very clearly the signs which would prevail and which would lead up to his return in "power and great glory":
"And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming with power and great glory (Luke 21 vs. 25-27).
The Jews' return to their own land and the restoration of Israel as a home for the Jewish people in 1948 is a fulfilment of prophecy already remarked upon earlier in this Study. In the decades that have followed there have indeed been signs in "the heavens" and among those symbols of the ruling powers of the nations, the sun, moon and stars. There is perplexity as to how the problems of the world can be solved by human government. Wars are continuous - they never cease and there seems no way out. This, said Jesus, would be another sign of his impending return.
The prophets of Israel have long spoken of the circumstances affecting Israel and ALL nations, just prior to the coming of Christ, in times known as "the last days" or "the latter days". Consider the following example:
"Son of man, set thy face against Gog, the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him, and say, Thus saith the Lord GOD..." (Ezekiel 38 vs. 2,3).
Careful reading of this chapter leaves us in no doubt that this group of nations - including Persia (Iran), Ethiopia and Libya (Ezekiel 38 v 5) - are to be compelled by God to attack the land of Israel. For example, in verse 8 we read this:
"...in the LATTER YEARS thou shalt come into the land that is brought back from the sword, and is gathered out of many people, against the mountains of Israel, which have been always waste: but it is brought forth out of the nations..." (Ezekiel 38 v 8).
This federation of nations is centred upon a power which is situated to the north of the Holy Land, and it is interesting to note that Israel, both in the past and at the present time, has needed to look carefully to the security of her NORTHERN borders. The Syrians, of course, are a current threat in that direction, just as the Assyrians were some 2,500 years ago.
At that time God, speaking through the prophet Ezekiel concerning this 'northern' aggressor, said:
"And thou shalt come from thy place out of the NORTH parts, thou and many people with thee...And thou shalt come up against my people of Israel, as a cloud to cover the land; it shall be IN THE LATTER DAYS" (Ezekiel 38 vs. 15,16).
The identity of this federation to be gathered against Israel in the very near future is not difficult to assess. Gog, Magog, Meshech and Tubal are acknowledged by students of ancient history to be descendants of one of the sons of Noah, namely Japheth.
Persia (Iran), Ethiopia and Libya, for the most part antagonistic to Israel, are well known to us today, and the prophet Ezekiel, speaking with the authority of the Most High God, tells us they will be joined with the descendants of Japheth, the 'LATTER DAY' occupiers of the "north parts".
Directly to the north of Israel is Syria, one of Israel's many Arab enemies. Further north, through Armenia, we come to the troubled, now largely independent, states of the former USSR. We note with interest the high Islamic following that there is among this group of nations.
Now it would be foolish for students of prophecy to dogmatize on the outcome of Bible prophecy. God alone has the right to determine the outcome of His plan for the world, a plan, remember, which will be consummated in the establishment of God's Kingdom upon earth - the Millennium, or thousand year reign of Christ upon earth. If we are true students of God's Word, then we are also watchmen. Christ's warning to his followers was that they should watch! - "Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come" (Matthew 24 v 42).
As we survey the world scene, what do we see? We see Israel, returned to their land in fulfilment of such prophecies as Ezekiel chapter 37. We see hostility towards Israel on every border. The Arab (Islamic) nations are truly confederate against God's people, and have tried to push them into the sea:
"They have said, Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance" (Psalm 83 v 4).
A more detailed study of Psalm 83 will repay the earnest student of Biblical prophecy, particularly the modern identity of the nations mentioned in this intriguing Psalm. They are the old enemies of Israel's early history and they find a territorial identity with the current enemies of God's people
The northern aggressor of Ezekiel chapter 38, in association with the clearly identified nations who currently have no time for "the land brought back from the sword", are amongst those whom GOD will bring in a final conflict against Jerusalem:
"For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle" (Zechariah 14 v 2).
"For behold in those days and at that time, when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem, I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat..." (Joel 3 vs. 1,2).
We are left in no doubt that this is the day when God will intervene in man's affairs once again and will cause HIS will to be done on earth:
"Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the LORD is near..." (Joel 3 v 14).
"The LORD also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake: but the LORD will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel. So shall ye know that I am the LORD your God dwelling in Zion, my holy mountain: then shall Jerusalem be holy, and there shall no strangers pass through her any more" (Joel 3:16-7)
These, then, are the times which will see the return of Christ, the future ruler of the earth. These prophecies, and particularly those of Joel and Zechariah, together with the great prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, present to us GOD'S PLAN. As watchmen, we seek to analyse every step forward in this plan. For every step FORWARD brings even closer that day of final conflict, known in the Bible as ARMAGEDDON, resulting, in the words of Zechariah:
"...the LORD shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one LORD, and his name one" (Zechariah 14 v 9).
CHRIST'S RETURN A FACT
The Signs of the Times make up an unmistakable pattern of the shape of things to come. The preliminaries for God's intervention are almost complete and Jesus Christ is at the door, ready to take the world by surprise.
Seeing the signs and knowing their meaning, can we afford to remain unmoved by them? We can be like those who foolishly close their minds to these things and do nothing. The return of Christ will come to such like a thief in the night.
Alternatively, we can regard the signs and heed the warning before it is too late. Jesus said, "when these things BEGIN TO COME TO PASS, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh" (Luke 21 v 28). Instead of being downcast by present conditions, we can look up and see the need for redemption, through Christ our Redeemer. We can be wise and seek sanctuary in the Christ-Ark, before the "great day of God Almighty" engulfs the wicked.
It is in our power to treat this subject as of great importance, remembering that it involves our life and destiny. The Bible offers us the hope of eternal life and a place in God's Kingdom - a Kingdom where Christ will reign in righteousness and peace; not a 'reign of grace in the heart', but a literal kingdom upon earth.
The wise will reach this conclusion:
(a) that the coming of Christ is a vital matter
(b) that the warning from God's Word should not be ignored
(c) that our present life gives no lasting satisfaction
(d) that belief of the Gospel (good news) of the Kingdom of God and baptism into the saving name of Christ are imperative.
It is for us, individually, to decide if we desire to "abide the day of his (Christ's) coming", when he shall "discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not" (Malachi 3:18).
- The return of Jesus Christ is a fact.
- This return was promised by the angels at his ascension.
- Jesus is to return to establish God's kingdom on earth.
- Only God knows the exact day appointed for Christ's return.
- Clear signs indicate Christ's return is imminent.
- The days of Noah are comparable to our own.
- The restoration of the Jews in Israel is a living sign.
- We live in the final phase of Nebuchadnezzar's vision.
- World unrest precedes Christ's return.
- The hostility of Israel's neighbours.
PASSAGES FOR BIBLE READING
Ezekiel 37; Ezekiel 38; Acts 3; Acts 1 vs. 1-12; Luke 21; 1 Thessalonians; 2 Thessalonians 1
LESSON 9 TEST
Check the correct answer to each question, and then submit them.
Occasionally a question may require more than one correct answer.