God’s will

There are two components of God will that work together to accomplish the things that God wants to do, the part that God does and the part that we do. We usually know what God is doing or has already done because he tells us. Prophecy is when God tells us what he is going to do before he does it. God also tells us what he wants us to do through commands or instructions. An example of how this works can be found in Genesis 12:1-3 which records God’s promise to Abraham. It states:

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Genesis 12:4 tells us that “Abram went, as the LORD had told him.” Abraham’s obedience instigated the work that God intended to do in his and his descendants lives for hundreds of years and paved the way for a covenant that secured their participation in his eternal kingdom.

Abraham’s grandson Jacob was not as cooperative as he was and made it more difficult for God to continue working in the lives of Abraham’s descendants. After Jacob increased greatly in the land of Paddan-aram, “Then the LORD said to Jacob, ‘Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you” (Genesis 31:3). Jacob left Paddan-aram (Genesis 31:17), but stopped before he reached his father’s house. Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, but after his daughter Dinah was raped and his sons killed all the men of the city in retaliation, Jacob said to his sons Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites. My numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household” (Genesis 34:30).

Jacob’s doubts and fears seemed to continue the rest of his life. When his son Joseph told him and his brothers about a dream that he had, Jacob “rebuked him and said to him, ‘What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?'” (Genesis 37:10). Jacob’s lack of faith seemed to reach its pinnacle when he was presented with his son Joseph’s coat after his brothers had dipped in the blood of a goat. Jacob “identified it and said, ‘It is my son’s robe. A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces'” (Genesis 37:33). The Hebrew word that is translated “without doubt,” taraph (taw-raf’) refers to the evidence that was presented to Jacob. It appeared that Jacob had been eaten by a wild animal, but “the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard” (Genesis 37:38).

God continued to work in Joseph’s life in spite of Jacob and his other son’s resistance and even outright rebellion against God’s will for them. Joseph’s position as the governor of Egypt made it possible for Jacob’s family to receive food and remain alive during a severe famine. After Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers, “They went up out of Egypt and came to the land of Canaan to their father Jacob. And they told him, ‘Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.’ And his heart became numb, for he did not believe them” (Genesis 45:25-26). When Jacob finally learned the truth about Joseph’s disappearance, he was unable to believe it. The King James Version of Genesis 45:26 states that “Jacob’s heart fainted.” The Hebrew word that is used, puwg (poog) means to be sluggish (H6313). A word that is derived from puwg, puwgah (poo-gaw’) means intermission (H6314), suggesting that Jacob had a heart attack or went into shock because the good news that Joseph was still alive was not at all what he had expected to hear when his sons got back from Egypt.

Before Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he sent two of his disciples ahead of him, and told them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them, and he will send them at once.’ This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, ‘Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden”‘” (Matthew 21:2-5). It was God’s will for Jesus to enter the city at that exact moment in time and in the exact way that he did, riding on the colt of a donkey. Jesus, the two disciples that obeyed his instruction and the owner of the donkey and its colt all played a part in making it happen just as it had been foretold hundreds of years earlier. And yet, “when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?’ And the crowds said, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee'” (Matthew 21:10-11). The crowds witnessed what happened, but interpreted it incorrectly. Jesus was not just a prophet, but the “Son of David!” (Matthew 21:9), Israel’s Messiah.

After he recovered from the shock of hearing that Joseph was still alive, Jacob went to Beersheba, “and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac” (Genesis 46:1). The fact that Jacob offered sacrifices to the God of his father, rather than his own God seems to suggest that Jacob had still not done his part of God’s will, which was to accept the Lord as his Savior. Jacob had many years earlier left Beersheba and went toward Haran (Genesis 28:10) to live with his uncle Laban and promised, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house” (Genesis 28:20-22). Jacob’s stipulation that God keep him in the way he was going suggests that he wanted God to do his will instead of the other way around. It seemed that Jacob never got to a place where he was willing to submit himself completely to God’s will. And yet, God continued to do what he said he would. He told Jacob, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes” (Genesis 46:3-4).

God’s description of Jacob’s travels as going down to Egypt and coming back up again, may have been his way of assuring Jacob that he still planned to establish his family in the Promised Land, God’s will for Abraham’s descendants had not changed. God also said that he would go with Jacob to Egypt. In other words, God would continue to work in Jacob’s life even while he was living in a foreign land. After Jacob arrived in Goshen, “Then Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to meet Israel his father in Goshen. He presented himself to him and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while” (Genesis 46:29). When Joseph presented himself to his father, he was essentially proving that his father was wrong about the future. Jacob didn’t believe Joseph was alive until he saw him face to face (Genesis 46:30). The Hebrew word ra’ah (raw-aw’), which is translated presented himself, “can represent mentally recognizing that something is true” (H7200). When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey, Matthew said, “This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet” (Matthew 21:4). The Greek word that is translated took place, ginomai (ghin’-om-ahee) means to cause to be or “to become (come into being)” (G1096), the context being physical existence. When prophecy is fulfilled, it means that God’s will has been completed. Therefore, seeing Joseph’s face changed Jacob’s mind about God’s intention for his life.

Jesus gave his disciples a visual lesson in accomplishing God’s will. Matthew tells us, “In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, ‘May no fruit ever come from you again!’ And the fig tree withered at once” (Matthew 21:18-19). When Jesus’ disciples observed the fig tree withering up as a result of what Jesus said, they marveled because of the immediate response he got (Matthew 21:20). Jesus explained to them that what happened was an outcome of having complete confidence in God. Jesus told them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what had been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive if you have faith” (Matthew 21:21-22). Jesus stipulated that you must have faith and not doubt because these two aspects of our human nature contradict each other. Doubt is not the absence of faith, but an opposing viewpoint. The Greek word that is translated doubt, diakrino (dee-ak-ree’-no) means “to withdraw from, or (by implication) oppose” (G1252). Figuratively, diakrino means to discriminate or decide. The two words that diakrino are derived from, dia (dee-ah’) which denotes that channel of an act (G1223), and krino (kree’-no) which means to be of opinion as in deciding if something is right or wrong (G2919), suggests that doubt is a determination that God’s will is wrong and should not be acted on.

It might be easy to think that Jesus cursing a fig tree because it had no fruit on it was unfair of him or perhaps, even a cruel act of revenge, but the purpose of the fig tree was to provide fruit for its master and it had failed to do that. Jesus had the authority to determine its fate and the fig tree was unable to oppose him. Jesus’ authority was the key that unlocked God’s ability to do things for him. The chief priests and elders of the people asked Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23). The Greek word exousia (ex-oo-see’-ah) refers to the liberty of doing as one pleases (G1849). Exousia is derived from the word existi (ex’-es-tee) which essentially means “it is right” or lawful (G1832). Jesus didn’t answer the priest’s question about his authority, but went on to tell a parable about two sons that were expected to work in their father’s vineyard.

“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.

Jesus focused on the connection between obedience and believing what one has been told to do. Jesus said that the son that refused to work in his father’s vineyard changed his mind and did what his father told him to. The Greek word that is translated changed his mind, metamellomai (met-am-el’-lom-ahee) means to care afterward, i.e. regret and “stresses a change of the will which results in change in single individual actions and is translated ‘to repent'” (G3338). John the Baptist’s primary message was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). The problem that Jesus pointed out was that the religious leaders didn’t think they needed to repent. They thought they were doing what was right, but the tax collectors and prostitutes knew they were sinners.

Jacob’s departure from the Promised Land may have felt like a demoralizing defeat to him, but God assured him that he would be blessed no matter where he went. God said, “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation” (Genesis 46:3). In the same way that God had made Joseph the lord of all Egypt, he intended to transform Jacob’s family into a great nation through difficult circumstances and suffering. Jacob’s life was somewhat of a precursor to the bondage that all of his family would eventually have to endure. When Pharaoh asked him how many years he had lived, Jacob told him, “The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life” (Genesis 47:9). Jacob’s description of his years as being few and evil probably had to do with his realization that God’s will for his life was not what he thought it was. It was almost as if Jacob thought he had been cursed by God rather than having received his blessing. The Hebrew word that is translated evil, ra’ (rah) “Combines together in one the wicked deed and its consequences. It generally indicates the rough exterior of wrongdoing as a breach of harmony, and as breaking up of what is good and desirable in man and in society. While the prominent characteristic of the godly is lovingkindness (H2617), one of the most marked features of the ungodly man is that his course is an injury to both himself and to everyone around him” (H7451).

In his parable of the vineyard, Jesus associated the contradiction of God’s will with a desire to usurp his authority. Jesus likened the Jewish religious leaders to tenants of a vineyard that refused to pay their rent and asked, “When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” His disciples responded, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons” (Matthew 21:40-41). Jesus concluded by stating, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him” (Matthew 21:43-44). Jesus’ differentiation between being broken to pieces and crushed by God’s authority might likely have to do with a person’s willingness to change his mind. To a certain extent, repentance is just admitting that you have been wrong. It seems that Jacob was broken to pieces by his disobedience, but he and his family were not abandoned by God. In fact, God made a way for them to move into the land of Goshen and thrive for hundreds of years so that his prophecy that they would become a great nation could be fulfilled.

Antichrist

Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians was primarily a follow-up to the one he had previously sent them. The topic of Christ’s return remained the central focus of Paul’s communication. Apparently, the Thessalonians were convinced that Jesus was going to return at any moment. Paul told them, “Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of the Lord is at hand” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2). Paul wanted the Thessalonians to understand that the rapture was only one of a series of events that would take place during the end times. He explained, “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4).

Antichrist’s appearance on the religious scene will be evident by his impersonation of God. This will only be possible because God will remove his Holy Spirit from Earth and allow Satan to be in full control of the world during the Great Tribulation (2 Thessalonians 2:7). Paul told the Thessalonians, “And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish: because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:8-10). Paul indicated that Antichrist would be successful in establishing his kingdom on Earth because of a deliberate rejection of God’s word. Because unbelief will become the norm, Paul told the Thessalonians, “for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12).

Paul’s introduction of the man of sin, whom he also referred to as the son of perdition (2 Thessalonians 2:3), emphasized the uselessness of Satan’s attempt to overthrow God’s kingdom. Paul referred to Jesus’ second coming when he said that the Lord would consume Antichrist with the spirit of his mouth, and destroy him with the brightness of his coming (2 Thessalonians 2:8). The Apostle John described the scene of Antichrist’s defeat in Revelation 19:11-16. Afterward, John said, “The beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh” (Revelation 19:20-21).

Turning the world upside down

The effect of Paul’s second missionary journey was that an upheaval began to occur that started breaking apart the foundation of the Roman Empire. The Jewish leaders were concerned about Paul’s ministry because it was undermining their authority and the traditions they had established that were meant to keep the Jews dependent on the priests and Levites that controlled their religious system. While Paul was in Thessalonica preaching the gospel, it says in Acts 17:5-7, “the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Cesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus.”

The accusation brought against Paul may have been an extreme exaggeration, but there was probably some truth to the statement that he was turning the world upside down. What was going on was very threatening to both the Jewish and Roman leaders because people were realizing they didn’t have to follow the examples they were being given. Paul told people there was another way to live their lives that would result in happiness, joy, and peace. In the background of what was happening was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesies that had predicted the fall of the Roman Empire. Daniel’s interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Daniel 2:37-44) outlined God’s plan of salvation and revealed that a series of world kingdoms would be established on Earth and eventually be destroyed when Jesus came and established his eternal kingdom. Referring to the image that Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream, Daniel said, “And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken. And whereas thou sawest iron mixt with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men: but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay. And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all the kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever” (Daniel 2:42-44).

Isaiah also talked about a time when the world would be turned upside down in reference to the judgment for universal sin (Isaiah 24). Many people may have been fearful of Paul’s message because they knew it was a sign that God’s judgment was coming and understood that there would be no way for them to escape eternal punishment for their sins except through belief in Jesus Christ. The bottom line was the Jews didn’t want to repent, they wanted things to continue as they had been for hundreds, even thousands of years. The special treatment they had received from God had caused the majority of the Jews’ hearts to become hardened beyond repair.

A divine appointment

In the midst of his success in Samaria, Philip was unexpectedly called to go to the middle of the desert and wait for further instructions. It says in Acts 8:27-31:

And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. (ESV)

Luke’s description of the man that Philip encountered in the middle of the desert provides a clearer understanding of what was going on when these two strangers met. First, it’s very unlikely that the Ethiopian was Jewish or had any contact with the temple in Jerusalem. As a foreigner and a man that had been castrated (G2135), the Ethiopian was excluded from being a member of the Jewish congregation (Deuteronomy 23:1). The Ethiopian’s intent when he went to Jerusalem to worship was probably to obtain the ancient scroll that he was reading when Philip joined him in his chariot. It could have been a personal quest that led the Ethiopian to seek out knowledge about God or an assignment from the queen that caused him to travel hundreds of miles to Jerusalem. The Ethiopian’s identification as a man of great authority who had the charge of all the queen’s treasure meant that he was both intelligent as well as financially secure. It’s likely that the Ethiopian’s wealth enabled him to obtain the scroll of Isaiah which probably cost him a substantial amount of money.

It says in Acts 8:32-33 that the place of the scripture which the Ethiopian eunuch read was this, “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer; so opened he not his mouth: in his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth.” The Ethiopian eunuch seemed to have stumbled upon a passage of scripture that was very relevant to the day in which he lived. With Jesus’ death and resurrection still fresh in everyone’s mind, it seems almost ironic that the Ethiopian left Jerusalem with an ancient prophecy that was directly related to their current circumstances.

After Philip explained to him how he could be saved, the Ethiopian wanted Philip to immediately baptize him (Acts 8:36). Even though they were in the middle of the desert, Luke indicated “they came unto a certain water” (Acts 8:36) and after confirming the Ethiopians decision, Philip complied with his request. Luke stated, “And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart , thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him” (Acts 8:37-38).

Endurance

Jesus Christ’s return will coincide with Satan’s final attempt to ruin God’s plan of salvation. At that time, the Nation of Israel will become the focus of a man known as the Antichrist. What this man will try to do is to trick people into believing that he is the Savior of the World. The key to his plot is a treaty that will ensure the safety of God’s people for a specific period of time that is referred to by Bible scholars as the Great Tribulation. Antichrist’s vow to take care of the Israelites will result in a betrayal that involves the desecration of God’s temple (Matthew 24:15). When that occurs, Jesus warned his followers to run for their lives because they would face opposition to their faith that was beyond most people’s capability to endure (Matthew 24:16-22).

Jesus described the break up of God’s kingdom in the context of a home that was being broken into by a thief and suggested that some people would be taken captive by Satan because they were unaware that Antichrist was deceiving them (Matthew 24:24). Jesus said, “Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come” (Matthew 24:40-42). The Greek word translated taken, paralambano means to receive near that is associate with oneself (in any familiar or intimate act or relation)” (3880). This word suggests that being taken involves an acceptance of someone as a friend or companion, perhaps as an alternate to someone else. Jesus was probably referring to the acceptance of Antichrist as a personal savior or collectively as Israel’s Messiah. The apparent fifty-fifty division of the population could mean that half of the people will not be taken in by the Antichrist’s trickery because they have been chosen by God to withstand Satan’s attempt to overturn his plan of salvation (Revelation 7:3).

The point Jesus made in his lesson of the faithful and unfaithful servants was that endurance was necessary to withstand the evil influence of Antichrist (Matthew 24:48-50). Jesus indicated that the greatest fear of the Jew should be to be identified as a hypocrite and cast into hell with Satan and the rest of his cohorts (Matthew 24:51). The Apostle Paul outlined a method for resisting the devil and warned Christians about the evil spiritual forces that are presently attacking believers in Christ. He said, “Finally, my brethren,  be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Ephesians 6:10-13).

Watch

No one knows when Jesus will return to Earth, but he instructed his disciples to be on the look out and expect him to arrive at any moment. It says in Matthew 24:36-39, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as 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 (ESV).

Mark’s gospel emphasized the importance of vigilance in waiting for Christ’s return. He said, “Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake – for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning – lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake” (Mark 13:32-37, ESV). Jesus’ command to stay awake was probably meant as a reference to the spiritual complacency that many Christians fall into when they realize Christ might not return during their lifetime. Although it’s been 2000 years since Jesus left, it’s very unlikely it will take another 2000 years for him to return.

Jesus used the parable of the fig tree to encourage his followers to watch for the signs of his second coming. He said, “Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves,  ye know that summer is nigh: so likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, now that it is near, even at the doors” (Matthew 24:32-33). One of the clearest signs that Christ’s return is near is that the Nation of Israel has been reestablished and God’s people are once again living in the Promised Land.

Second Coming

Before Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead, he indicated he would return to Earth at some point in the future. The Apostle Matthew likened Christ’s return to a bolt of lightning that suddenly appears in the sky. He said, “For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Matthew 24:27). The exact timing of this event is unknown, but Jesus indicated there was a direct link between the conclusion of the Great Tribulation and the establishment of his physical kingdom on Earth. Mark recorded, “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in the heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory” (Mark 13:24-26).

Although Mark’s description of Jesus’ second coming might sound like a cataclysmic event, it does not necessary refer to a complete breakup of the universe. The language Mark used was “commonly used to describe God’s awful judgement on a fallen world (see Isaiah 13:10; 24:21-23; 34:4; Ezekiel 32:7-8; Joel 2:10,31; 3:15; Amos 8:9)” (note on Mark 13:25). What Jesus may have intended to convey was the breakup of a spiritual structure in our universe, a type of resetting of the divine mechanism that controls our lives. The book of Revelation provides some additional insight into what is happening at the time of Christ’s return. The Apostle John stated:

And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipt in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS. (Revelation 19:11-16)

Jesus’ second coming will be much different than his first. His return will be marked by a powerful overthrow of the evil forces that have been wreaking havoc on Earth since the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden. The key to understanding Jesus’ forceful entrance into the realm of mankind is the name mentioned in Revelation 19:13 and the weapon he will use in Revelation 19:15. John said, “And he was clothed with a vesture dipt in blood: and his name is called The Word of God…And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations.” The Apostle Paul wrote in Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” It is likely that when Jesus returns to Earth he will use the Bible to defeat his enemies. Because of his previous death and resurrection, Christ’s authority will no longer be challenged and he will be able to kill anyone that is not willing to conform to God’s commandments.

Imposters

In what is now referred to as the Olivet discourse, Jesus revealed signs of the end of the age in which non-Jewish believers would be integrated into the kingdom of God. As he began to focus on the Great Tribulation, Jesus warned his disciples that imposters would try to deceive the Jews into thinking their Messiah had arrived. He said, “And then if any man shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ; or lo, he is there; believe him not: for false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders to seduce, if it were possible even the elect. But take ye heed: behold, I have foretold you all things” (Mark 13:221-23). The Greek word translated seduce, apoplanao, which means “to lead astray” (G635), seems to suggest an evangelistic effort that is not based on the New Testament of the Bible. It could be that the Jews will one day realize they missed their opportunity to receive God’s salvation and will try to obtain salvation through some other means. Jesus’ comment “I have foretold you all things” was probably meant to be a type of line in the sand that marked the end of divine revelation. At the conclusion of his Olivet discourse, Jesus didn’t intend to say anything more about his return to Earth and didn’t want there to be any confusion about whether or not he had left anything out.

The primary reason Jesus warned his followers about imposters that would try to lead them astray was because of the Antichrist’s role in deterring the Jews from inheriting the kingdom of heaven. The term antichrist was introduced around the end of the first century by the Apostle John in his first general epistle to believers. John’s objective was to expose false teachers and give believers assurance of salvation. John said, “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time” (1 John 2:18). John went on to say, “Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son” (1 John 1:22). John’s reference to the last time was probably not meant to suggest that Jesus’ return was imminent, but that the ministry that Jesus launched was coming to a conclusion. John was the last survivor of the original twelve apostles and was probably nearing the end of his life when he wrote his general epistles. One thing that is certain from John’s message was that before the end of his ministry, it had already become common knowledge that someone known as “antichrist” was going to try and take the place of Jesus as the savior of the world. The imposter will likely have a similar appearance to Jesus as being a compassionate leader, but will deny the authority of God and will try to usurp his power.

Betrayal

In his discussion about signs of the end of this age, Jesus told his disciples they would not only face opposition, but would be betrayed by their own family members. He said, “But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up. Take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost. Now the brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son; and children shall rise up against parents, and shall cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Mark 13:11-13). Jesus wasn’t suggesting that endurance was a requirement for salvation, but rather that perseverance was an indicator of salvation (note on Mark 13:13). Paul wrote about this in his epistle to the Hebrews where he said, “For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast to the end. Whilst it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation” (Hebrew 3:14-15).

Jesus understood that the severe trials the early Christians would face would be more than some of them could handle. His encouragement to endure to the end may have had a twofold meaning. First, that the individual Christians wouldn’t let the threat of persecution prevent them from receiving salvation and second, that the united body of believers that is sometimes referred to as Christ’s church, would continue to preach the gospel until Jesus’ return. In the midst of his message about the betrayal of Christians, Jesus referred to a prophecy that is found in the book of Daniel. He said, “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) then let them that be in Judea flee into the mountains: let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes” (Matthew 24:15-18). Daniel’s prophecy is thought to be a sign of the Antichrist outlawing worship of God during the Great Tribulation (note on Daniel 9:25-27). If so, then Jesus may have been suggesting that the betrayal of Christians would reach its climax at that point and it would no longer be safe for his followers to identify themselves.

Jesus’ reference to the Great Tribulation was probably meant for Jewish believers only. Many Bible Scholars believe that Christians will be removed from the earth before the Great Tribulation begins. Jesus indicated that after the abomination of desolation is set up in God’s temple, “then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened” (Matthew 24:21-22). In spite of extreme persecution and betrayal by their loved ones, many Jews will turn to Christ during the Great Tribulation. It is likely that the work Jesus started with the original twelve Jewish apostles will be revived in some form during that time period. The Apostle John indicated 144,000 Jews would be preserved, 12,000 each from all the tribes of Israel during the Great Tribulation. These Jewish believers will be killed for their faith and given a special reward for their suffering (Revelation 7:13-17). At the end of the Great Tribulation, they will live and reign with Christ for a thousand years (Revelation 20:4).

The end

Before his departure, Jesus described future events that would signal believers that the end of the world was at hand. Jesus seemed to be concerned that his followers would miss the signs and not be able to tell that his return was imminent. He warned his disciples by saying:

Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. (Matthew 24:4-8)

The Greek word translated sorrows in Matthew 24:8, odin (o-deen´) refers to “a pang or throe especially of childbirth” (G5604). Jesus probably used this particular word to convey the idea a long painful process that would end with a joyous moment. Even though the end of life as they knew it was probably a frightful thought to them, Jesus wanted his disciples to know that something good was going to come from it.

As he laid out a framework for the end of time, Jesus indicated there was only one requirement that first had to be fulfilled. He told his disciples “this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (Matthew 24:14). The preaching of the gospel in all the world was a significant assignment for Jesus’ twelve apostles. Initially, there were only a few people qualified to transmit the message that Jesus entrusted to his followers. Although Mark’s record of this conversation contained the same Greek word that is translated preached in Matthew 24:14, his version was interpreted a little differently. It says in Mark 13:10, “the gospel must first be published among all nations” (Mark 13:10). One of the great hurdles that had to be overcome in order to preach the gospel in all the world was the writing of what we now know as the New Testament of the Bible. Martin Luther, who was the first person to translate the scriptures into plain language that could be understood by the average person, didn’t accomplish that task until 1500 years after Jesus died.

Jesus said the reason the gospel had to be preached in all the world was for a witness unto all the nations (Matthew 24:14). The Greek word translated witness, maturion means something evidential or evidence given (G3142). Jesus probably meant his statement about the preaching of the gospel to be interpreted in connection with his prophecy about the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:15-28). Therefore, it seems likely that the requirement for a witness unto all the nations had something to do with the disappearance of Christians when the rapture took place (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). After all the Christians have been taken out of the world, the Bible will be the only witness left to the fact that the end of the world has come. It is possible that the requirement for the gospel to be preached or published among all nations has now been fulfilled because smart phones, Bible apps, and the internet make information about the end of the world readily available to anyone that wants to know what Jesus said about it.