Jesus’ return

Will Christians be raptured to heaven before Jesus Christ returns to the earth – or will we be taken somewhere else?

Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 are some of the most comforting and encouraging words in the Bible, especially for those who have lost loved ones. He writes, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

It’s quite clear from this passage, that Jesus will return to raise the dead and then gather those who are still alive. These events are also referred to in Matthew 24:30-31, “they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”

Where will we be taken?

In 1 Thessalonians 4, it says that those of us ‘who are left’ will ‘be caught up together’ with them in the clouds… “Caught up” is the Greek word ‘harpazo’ which doesn’t in itself indicate direction whether up, down, east, west, etc. ‘Harpazo’ simply means ‘to seize, catch, pluck, pull, take by force’. It is used in the New Testament when people wanted to make Jesus king and plotted to ‘take him by force’ (John 6:15), or of when a wolf ‘catcheth’ the sheep (John 10:12), or of Paul knowing a man (likely himself) who was ‘caught up’ to the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2). Philip the evangelist, was ‘caught away’ after baptizing the eunuch and taken to Azotus. So, as you can see, ‘harpazo’ doesn’t indicate direction – it simply means being ‘taken’ or ‘seized.’

In 1 Thessalonians 4, the passage goes on to say that we will be taken away to be ‘in the clouds’ and ‘to meet the Lord in the air’. What is this talking about, if this is not heaven? Why would anyone think that it isn’t heaven? Well, because these events are interconnected with Jesus returning to earth – not believers going to heaven.

In order to investigate the correlation between Jesus’ return, the resurrection, the granting of immortality, and the beginning of the Kingdom on earth, the following ten passages are helpful:

Jesus will call the dead to life.

John 5:25-29, “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.

Jesus’ angels will gather the good and the bad, and then the righteous ‘will shine.’

Matthew 13:40-43, “Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”

Jesus will come ‘with the clouds’ and ‘every eye will see him’

Revelation 1:5-7 “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.”

Those ransomed by Jesus will be priests and reign on earth

Revelation 5:9-10 “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

The earth is the ‘inheritance’ of the faithful

Matthew 5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

Psalm 37:34 “Wait for the LORD and keep his way, and he will exalt you to inherit the land; you will look on when the wicked are cut off.” (see also verse 9, 11, 22, 29)

The saints will be given an everlasting kingdom over all other nations

Daniel 7:27 “And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.”

God’s kingdom will break all other kingdoms and ‘stand forever’

Daniel 2:44 “And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever,”

All nations will serve, worship and bring gifts to the rulers of God’s kingdom

Isaiah 60 “For the nation and kingdom that will not serve you shall perish; those nations shall be utterly laid waste. The glory of Lebanon shall come to you, the cypress, the plane, and the pine, to beautify the place of my sanctuary, and I will make the place of my feet glorious… they shall call you the City of the LORD, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel. Violence shall no more be heard in your land, devastation or destruction within your borders; you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise. The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light; but the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory…Your people shall all be righteous; they shall possess the land forever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I might be glorified.”

Jesus will be revealed to the world when he returns to the Mount of Olives with the ‘holy ones.’ This will be the beginning of his kingdom over all the earth.

Zechariah 14 “For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle… Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward… Then the LORD my God will come, and all the holy ones with him… On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem… And the LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and his name one… Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts…”

We see from these ten references above, that Jesus is returning to raise the dead and grant immortality to his chosen ones. When he shows himself to the world and saves Israel from the nations that come against her, his ‘holy ones’ – the immortal saints – are with him. This deliverance will be the beginning of the ‘little stone’ of Daniel 2 taking over all the kingdoms of the world, and the saints inheriting the earth… not heaven.

So, where will we be gathered to, if not heaven? Why will we be in ‘the clouds’, and meet the Lord ‘in the air’?

The New Testament often speaks of Jesus returning ‘in the clouds’ (See Matt. 24:30; 26:64; Mark 13:26; 14:62; Luke 21:27; Rev. 1:7). In Hebrews 12:1, Paul talks about all the faithful believers mentioned in the chapter before, as ‘a cloud of witnesses.’ The ‘clouds’ may refer to all the saints being together. Believers are caught away to be with the Lord and all the others who have been caught away.

Where is ‘the air’?

The Greek word that is used here is ‘aer’. Thayer’s defines it as ‘the air, particularly the lower and denser air as distinguished from the higher and rarer air, or the atmospheric region’. Strong’s defines it as coming from the root ‘aemi (to breathe unconsciously, that is respire; by analogy to blow)’ Therefore the air cannot refer to heaven where God dwells… but must be somewhere in our atmosphere.

Judgment and the Marriage Feast

In other New Testament passages, Jesus told us that when he returns there will be a time of judgment, when the ‘sheep’ will be set on his right hand and invited to ‘inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world,’ while those on his left will be told to depart (Matthew 25:31-46). Revelation 19:6-10 speaks of the ‘marriage supper of the Lamb’ – a time for the saints to meet their ‘bridegroom’ and begin an eternal relationship with him. (see also Matthew 25:1-10; Luke 12:36). So, when the angels gather believers from all over the earth, we are not told specifically where we will be taken, perhaps because Jesus wants this wedding feast to be a private event. However, we know that we will be together both with those who have been raised from the dead and those who have been gathered from all over the earth. We know that we will be in the air that we can breathe – somewhere in our atmosphere. Best of all, we know that Jesus is returning to set up an everlasting Kingdom on this earth that will subdue all other governments and bring in a time of peace, righteousness and godliness that will last for 1000 years (Revelation 20). May that day come soon!

Anyone listening to the news lately, has realized that the potential for another world war is escalating everyday. It can be frightening to realize that nations who are bent on the destruction of other nations, have nuclear weapons already, or are close to developing them! Yet, in the midst of this world chaos, God’s prophecies are being fulfilled before our very eyes. Miracles are happening daily, but we won’t recognize them as such, unless we understand what our Heavenly Father has told us to look for. It’s all in the Bible!

How to Accurately Interpret Prophecy

There are a host of Prophecy-related YouTube videos and messages about Bible Prophecy, online. Some are helpful and some are very far-fetched. Here are a few helpful tips in determining how to interpret Bible Prophecy.

The Bible Unlocks Itself

‘Interpretations belong to God,’ said Joseph in Genesis 40:8, in other words, the Bible unlocks itself. To understand prophecies for today, we must decipher the symbols based on prophecies that have been fulfilled in the past. For instance, the book of Daniel is a good place to begin. Daniel 2 records a prophecy of 4 great empires that have come and gone – Babylon, Medes & Persians, Greece, and Rome. This prophecy is easy, as the interpretation follows in chapter 2, and then in chapter 7 & 8 the same prophecy is given about the same 4 empires using beasts to represent them. So we learn from chapters 7 & 8 that ‘beasts’ can represent nations; horns represent powers or kings; ‘Casting down stars’ represents casting down governments, and so on. Understanding the way in which these symbols are used in Daniel 7 & 8 is essential in order to accurately interpret prophetic books like Revelation.

Prophecy is Tightly Bound to the Gospel Message

Bible prophecies are very much related to the hope of the Gospel message. Understanding the true Gospel message – ‘the good news about the kingdom of God and the Name of Jesus Christ’ (Acts 8:12), helps us to understand the purpose of prophecy, the focus of prophecy, and see the ‘bigger picture’ – what God plans to do with this earth. Without the understanding that all nations will be blessed through Abraham and his most important descendant Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:8,16,27-29; Genesis 12:1-3; 13:14-17; 15:18-21; 17:7-8; 22:15-18; Acts 1:6; 28:20), many creative but false interpretations of prophecy can occur.

Bible Prophecy – Given to Strengthen Our Faith

Bible prophecy gives indisputable evidence that the Bible has been Divinely inspired. What other book has accurately predicted the future, thousands of years in advance? Numerous prophecies have been fulfilled in accurate detail, time and again. For example: the nation of Babylon, Egypt, Tyre, Assyria, and in our day Britain and Brexit, and the re-establishment of the nation of Israel. The Prophecy Handout covers some of these accurate fulfillments.

Bible Prophecy – Warning of God’s Intervention

God has also provided Bible prophecy to give ample warning of His interventions in world affairs. There are several examples in the Old Testament where God warned various nations of his coming judgements, giving them ample time to change their ways and seek His plan. 

The ‘last days’ – our time – is the focus of some key prophecies which involve the nations of the world – Europe, Britain and the Commonwealth, Russia and the Northern forces, and Israel.

The Nation of Israel

One very exciting prophecy for our day can be found in Ezekiel 36-39. The first two chapters speak of the incredible regathering of the Jewish people from all nations to which they had been scattered. God promises to return the Jews to their land, make them a nation again, and specifically speaks of giving them the ‘mountains of Israel’ – the disputed ‘West Bank’. In the last century we have been watching this occur!! It is miraculous that a prophecy given over 2500 years ago can accurately be fulfilled in our day against much opposition and impossible circumstances every step of the way. 

A Northern Invasion

However, in Ezekiel 38, God warns that when the newly formed nation of Israel is ‘at rest,’ and the people ‘dwell safely’, a Northern alliance of nations (Russia, Iran, Ethiopia, Libya, Turkey and Europe) will sweep down to invade Israel and Egypt, against the ineffective opposition of Britain, America, Commonwealth countries and their Arab allies. Only God’s intervention will stop this destructive onslaught.

Comparing Ezekiel’s prophecy with Daniel 11:40-45, Zechariah 14, and Joel 3, we see that God’s intervention to save Israel is tied in to the return of our Lord Jesus Christ to reign on this earth! However, not everyone will recognize Jesus Christ as the Messiah, some will even view him as Antichrist, and this is detailed in the Prophecy Handout below.

Bible Presentation, Handout and Other Links

Recently, we have put together an audio presentation and Prophecy Handout on this subject, where we consider the various ‘code names’ that are used in Ezekiel 38 and what nations they relate to today. We discuss what is left to occur in the prophecy, how this impacts our world, and how it will bring about God’s plan and promise of His Son reigning as King on this earth.

The attached AUDIO presentation and an 11- page Prophecy Handout have been put together with help from Jonathan Bowen, THE BIBLE IN THE NEWS, and Peter Owen.  

We have also included a handout – “Israel – A Miracle Before our Eyes” which lists 12 events that were prophesied in the Bible concerning the Jewish people and have been fulfilled in the last 2000 years. This handout also includes 9 prophecies left to be fulfilled! Stay alert – these will be future headlines in the News!

Is the New Testament hope consistent with what was promised in the Old Testament? Did Jesus and his disciples refer to the Kingdom? Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Promises? A Paradise Earth? Resurrection? An Inheritance? Or did they preach something new and different?

What did Jesus preach?

The Kingdom

Beginning in the Gospel of Matthew, we find that Jesus preaches extensively about “the kingdom of heaven”. In Mark, Luke and John, Jesus and his disciples likewise preach “the gospel of the kingdom of God.” In their preaching campaigns they encourage people to repent and prepare, for the kingdom is near, and they discuss who will enter the kingdom. (Matthew 4:17, 18:3; Mark 1:14-15; 16:15-16; Luke 4:43; 16:16)

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob

Jesus speaks about many coming to sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 8:11)

Promises

The Angel Gabriel reminded Mary of the promises made to David, saying, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:31-33 ESV)

Paradise

On the cross, Jesus promised the thief beside him, “you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) The Greek word for ‘paradise’ means ‘a park, an Eden’. Jesus spoke of the ‘regeneration’ when his disciples would judge the 12 tribes of Israel. (Matthew 19:28) He also cautions against swearing by the city Jerusalem, “for it is the city of the great King.” (Matthew 5:35) In John 14:2-3, Jesus promises his disciples that, “in my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” Some take this as a promise that paradise will be in actual heaven, but notice Jesus says, “I will come again and will take you to myself.”  Does this refer to coming to earth to reign forever? or coming to earth and returning to heaven with the faithful? This is a topic for another blog.

Parables about the Kingdom

Jesus also tells parables beginning with the words “the kingdom of heaven is like…” involving good seed, leaven, treasure, fish, talents, a wedding feast, foolish and wise virgins, and an absent bridegroom and master who will return. (Matthew 13:24, 31, 33, 44, 45; 18:23; 22:2; 25:1, 14)

His Death and Resurrection

An explanation of Jesus’ death, resurrection and glorification was given but not fully understood until after Jesus is risen. (Luke 18:33; John 12:31-35) Then Jesus tells two of his followers, “…These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”… he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:25-26 and 44-48)

Restoration of the Kingdom to Israel?

It is also interesting to note that during the 40 days before Jesus ascended to heaven, he spoke to his disciples about “the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3) The disciples became so excited that they asked Jesus, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) Jesus didn’t rebuke them for thinking the kingdom would be restored to Israel, but only cautioned that the timing of this event was known only to his Father. Just as we have seen from many Old Testament prophecies, the Kingdom of God is linked in a special way to the land of Israel, even though the kingdom will eventually include the whole earth. (Dan.2:44)

What did the Apostles Preach in Acts?

After Jesus ascended to heaven in the record of Acts, the angels promised the disciples, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”(Acts 1:11) Jesus’ disciples went forward with the full Gospel message, and Holy Spirit gifts, preaching, “the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ.” (Acts 8:12).  For a summary list of the Gospel message as taught in Acts, click here – The Gospel in Acts

The message preached in Acts includes a coming Kingdom, the Name of Jesus, repentance, belief, baptism, and forgiveness of sins. (Acts 2:37-41; 8:37; 16:30-33) It was what the Apostle Paul taught, “from morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.” (Acts 28:23)

Forgiveness of Sins and The Name of Jesus

Repentance was commanded in the Gospel accounts, but forgiveness of sins is a new emphasis in Acts, now that Jesus has given his life for all of mankind. (Acts 2:23,37; 3:13-19; 5:30-31; 7:52-53; 13:38-39; 17:30-32; 26:18-20)

The Name of Jesus Christ is also a new emphasis, “for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

Coming Kingdom

Just like in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the need to prepare for a coming kingdom is stressed, including the resurrection and judgement, and the elevation of Jesus to be the Prince and Saviour. (Acts 2:16-20; 3:20-21;  Acts 1:11; 3:20-21; 10: 42; Acts 17:30-31; 24:24-25; Acts 3:13; 4:11, 5:30-21)

Old Testament Hope

Tying in with the Old Testament hope of the promises, reference is made to the “Hope of Israel”, the promises to Abraham and an ‘inheritance’.  (Acts 2:39; 3:25-26; 7:1-5; 13:22-23; 26:6-8; 28:20; Acts 20:32; 26:18) Paul says, “it is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain.” (Acts 28:20)

Old Testament Proof

Many times in Acts, the Old Testament is referred to as proof that Jesus Christ fulfilled the prophecies of a suffering Messiah, who had to die and be raised to life. (Acts 2:24-33; 32-37; 8:26-35; 13:27-30, 32-37; 17:2-3; 31-32; 26:22-23; 18:28) The essence of the Gospel message is not new – it is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies!

Emphasis on Resurrection

Throughout Acts, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is a crucial aspect of the Gospel message. The Jews and Gentiles could easily believe Jesus had been crucified… but what good was a dead Messiah? Was he really alive again? By demonstrating the healing power of the Name of Jesus, and referring to relevant Old Testament prophecy, the disciples endeavoured to prove that the Messiah was indeed alive again, actively involved on earth, and seated in heaven on the right hand of God.

Consistent Message

As you can see from this consideration, the message of both Testaments are perfectly consistent. The New Testament adds details and emphasis but doesn’t change the essential hope held by those in the Old. Paul says, “I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.” (Acts 26:22-23)

The First to Rise From the Dead?

It’s intriguing to consider that Jesus was the ‘FIRST to rise from the dead’. Other human beings were miraculously resurrected in the Old and New Testaments – what was special about Jesus’ resurrection? In what way is he considered the ‘first’? Will others follow? In our next few blogs we will delve into the subject of resurrection, looking first – at THE FIRST to rise from the dead!