" 15. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. 16. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." (1 Thess. 4:15-17, KJV)
" 27. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 28. For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together. 29. Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: 30. And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." (Matth. 24:27-30, KJV)
The Greek word we find in 1 Thessalonians 4:15 is parousia, and does indeed mean "coming", but also "presence". It is used in Matthew 24:3, 27, 37 and 39, and does not annotate a specific moment, but spans a period of time. Allow me to explain this. In verse 3, the disciples ask three main questions. First, when the temple and surrounding buildings will be broken down, as a direct reply to Jesus' comments in te verse before. Second, what the sign of His coming is, and third, when the world or age will end, depending on your translation. The sign of his coming is, according to verse 27-30, visible to all. It is also accompanied by falling stars and other celestial signs, like the moon and sun being darkened. Also, the coming of the Son of Man will be like the days of Noah, verse 37-39 tells us. Why is this important? I'm glad you asked. Turn with me to Revelation 6.
" 12. And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; 13. And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. 14. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. 15. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; 16. And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: 17. For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?" (Rev. 6:12-17, KJV)
What we find here, does seem very similar to the situation in Matthew 24. First, we see in Revelation 6 the four riders of the apocalypse, who seem very much correlated to verses 5-8 of Matthew 24. Then we see the celestial signs, after the tribulation of those days. Again, very similar to the description of the end times in Matthew 24. Then, in the last verses, we see the kings and mighty men of the earth, as well as every other free man, hide themselves from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne. Is this the earthdwellers finally realizing Jesus is sending His wrath? It appears that they finally came to this realization by seeing Him in the clouds. Remember, Jesus would be visible to all. But what about the sign? I mean, there is a clear distinction between a sign and the subject it points to. The sign marks the crossing, it is not the crossing itself. If it was, there would no breaking time be left. People need to be able to repent. Which is what the tribes of the land of Israël are doing (Matthew 24:30). What tribe of the earth are you from? This is a poor translation of the Greek word ge, when we compare it to Zechariah 12:10-14. This is the purpose of the great tribulation, to bring Israel to this realization:
" 10. And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn. 11. In that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem, as the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddon. 12. And the land shall mourn, every family apart; the family of the house of David apart, and their wives apart; the family of the house of Nathan apart, and their wives apart; 13. The family of the house of Levi apart, and their wives apart; the family of Shimei apart, and their wives apart; 14. All the families that remain, every family apart, and their wives apart." (Zechariah 12:10-14, KJV)
So, what is the sign then? Is it the sign we see in Revelation 12? Or is it the sign we find in Revelation 15? I can hear you scream: "The sign of Revelation 12 is about Jesus' birth!" Oh, really? Yes, there are many parallels, but let's consider the differences. The snatching away in verse 5 (harpazo in Greek, which is the same word as we find in 1 Thess. 4) is clearly a rescue mission, to save the child from the danger of the devouring dragon. Who is the dragon in this picture? Is it Satan, or Herod? Herod, you say? Well, how was the child Jesus "raptured" to heaven by taking Him to Egypt? You'd have a hard time explaining that one. But perhaps you are tempted to say "Satan". If he is the dragon here, and you think it is pointing to the ascension in Acts 1, ask yourself where the danger is in that scene. It is absolutely serene. There is no danger. In fact, He just overcame Satan by His substitutionary death for us. So, which one is it? Is is Satan or Herod? Well, it is obviously Satan, but not the way you probably think. Let me explain.
" 1. And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: 2. And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. 3. And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. 4. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. 5. And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne." (Rev. 12:1-5, KJV)
The prophecy about the child here has a dual layer. If it was describing a past event, how would it be a
"revelation"? It wouldn't. It connects to the picture we see in Bethlehem, but adds an extra layer. Don't misunderstand me; it is about Jesus, but focuses more on the Body of Christ, not solely on His Head (Ref: Col. 1:18). The Head is already in heaven, but is waiting for the Body. They belong together. Why would He punish His own body? Yes, that may seem wild to most of you, but allow me to further explain. The attributes of the Child here have a dual application. It is said of Jesus that He will reign with a rod of iron, but also about His body; the church. Don't you believe me? Look no further than the second chapter of Revelation:
When you read through the rest of the passage, it becomes clear that a major tribulation is coming to the rest of the people that remain on the earth. Two groups are left, of which one gets a special protection; Israel. The woman is clearly Israel, when we let scripture interpret scripture (compare Genesis 37:9-10). She is able to escape, by the grace of God (verse 13-14), but the rest of her children are still vulnerable to Satan, as we see in verse 17. This remnant is not the church, but a new group of believers that are called "saints' throughout the remainder of the book of Revelation. Still not convinced? Then explain why John, who frequently used the word "church" (Greek: ecclesia) in the first chapters of Revelation, stopped using this word in the chapters 6-19? The word church is never used in the tribulation! Why is that? Let's get a clearer picture, and turn to Revelation 5, before even one seal of the tribulation is opened.
" 8. And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. 9. And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; 10. And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth." (Rev. 5:8-10, KJV)
In this throne room scene, we see a very peculiar group called the 24 elders. Who are they? Well, notice that are distinct in the sense that they sing the Lamb was slain for them and had redeemed them by His blood. How would that apply to anyone else than humans? But there's more. This isn't just talking about Old Testament saints, predominantly Jews. It is talking about people from every kindred, tongue, people and nation. This is talking about the church age! How did they get there? Are these the dead in Christ? If so, how did they get a crown and white clothes (see Rev. 4:4), which is clearly a reward? I thought rewards were only given at the bema seat of Christ? Is there a session after every christian that dies? Or is there only one session? When comparing 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 with 2 Corinthians 5:1-10, it appears to me this is talking about a single event, not a perpetual series of sessions throughout the ages. 1 Corinthians 3:13 even talks about a certain day (the day), highlighted by the definite article the. In summary, what we see here is a picture of at least 24 "elders" that are clearly identified by the church, already in heaven before even one seal of the tribulation is broken. But who exactly are these 24 elders?
" 4. And there were more chief men found of the sons of Eleazar than of the sons of Ithamar; and thus were they divided. Among the sons of Eleazar there were sixteen chief men of the house of their fathers, and eight among the sons of Ithamar according to the house of their fathers. 5. Thus were they divided by lot, one sort with another; for the governors of the sanctuary, and governors of the house of God, were of the sons of Eleazar, and of the sons of Ithamar." (1 Chronicles 24:4-5, KJV)
Notice how these 24 elders in Revelation 5 call themselves both kings and priests in verse 10. This is clearly an allusion to how God through David ordained the Israelite priesthood in 24 groups, as is demonstrated by the text above. The fact that they are elders, implies that they have subordinates. As Revelation is a book that uses a lot of symbolic language, the Holy Spirit decided to describe the entire group of church age believers this way, to communicate a certain message to us. The message here is that the church age, who came last, has become first. God came to Israel first, but since they rejected His Son, He went to the church instead. You can find this in Matthew 19:30, followed immediately by chapter 20. It is very clear here that Israel is in scope here. The vineyard is a word picture that relates back to Isaiah 5, which undeniably speaks of the house of Israel and the men of Judah (verse 7) in this context. Jesus even repeats the same message in verse 16 of Matthew 20. In chapter 21, He even makes it more clear. The husbandmen in the vineyard were misbehaving, and Jesus therefore promised to give away the kingdom to another "nation" (verse 43). So, to summarize; we do indeed see the church get to heaven earlier than Israel in both Revelation 5 and 12. So, how does this help us in determining when the so called "Coming of Christ" is?
"The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come." (Joel 2:31, KJV)
As said before, the "Coming of Christ" is a more generic term to describe a certain period, not a single day. This is evidenced by comparing verses like Joel 2:31 to Matthew 24:29. In Joel, the sun and moon are described as being darkened before the Day of the Lord. In Matthew, the sun and moon are described as being darkened after the tribulation. So, which one is it? Is the coming of Christ a synonym for the Day of the Lord? Or a synonym for the tribulation? The answer is yes. We see a series of events in both Matthew 24 and Revelation 6-19, that clearly take some time to become fully expressed. During these events, it is clear that Jesus is involved in all of them. He is seen by virtually the entire world in chapter 6, as they want to be hidden from His face and His wrath. His sign is seen in chapters 12 and 15, and finally we see Him arriving in chapter 19. While the rest of the earth-dwellers do not want to repent from their evil deeds (Rev. 9:20-21, 16:9-11), Israel shows the right response after they see His sign. They then finally recognise Him as their Messiah, and show remorse. This will be their ticket to the Millenial Kingdom, still in their mortal bodies of course. We know that from comparing this with texts like Isaiah 65:17-25, where verse 20 tells us that even while conditions are heavily improved, death and sin are still present. This in sharp contrast to how eternity is described in Revelation 21.
Anyway, when Paul talks about the Coming of Christ in 1 Thessalonians, it is evident that He is talking about the front part of His coming. When Matthew talks about the coming of Christ, it speaks of the rear part of His coming. Remember; Jesus first coming was also in two parts. He came in Bethlehem, but His ministry took decades to surface. And even then, it took 3,5 years. Then He died. And then He came back again! From the dead, that is. This of course is still considered His first coming. Do you see what I mean? Why can't His second coming be similar in that sense? He will come for His bride first, to save her from the dragon. Then He will act as a Judge, for 7 years, to bring Israel to repentance. Meanwhile, other people are still able to repent and believe in Jesus. They will be beheaded, and after their number is complete (Rev. 6:11), they will also receive a new body and rewards. A second judgment, which indeed is recognizable in Revelation 20:4.
"Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years." (Rev. 20:6, KJV)
It is called the first resurrection, which seems to suggest that it is the first ever. But is it, really? Jesus' resurrection is the first resurrection, technically speaking. This is a reference to the first resurrection mentioned in Daniel 12:2. Remember, the book of Revelation contains over 400 verses, with 800 allusions to the Old Testament. The second resurrection is a resurrection to everlasting contempt, which in essence is a way to describe the second death. Notice how John in chapter 20 verse 6 connects the ordinal number first to resurrection, and second to death. Why isn't there a second resurrection mentioned? Or a first death? This is because of the nature of the resurrection. It is a way to describe a category. Or a way to describe the first of a series. Because as you remember, Jesus was already the First (1 Cor. 15:20). The Firstfruits, actually. Further expounding this agricultural idea of several harvests, we can identify in the Bible a. a harvest of firstfruits, b. a main harvest, and c. a harvest of gleanings, where the remnants of the harvest are gathered by the poor, on the four corners of the field (ref. Lev. 19:9-10 and chapter 23). There is a strong correlation between these three harvests and what we see presented in the New Testament. Paul already described Jesus as the Firstfruits, and also notice how Matthew describes the angels acting as harvesters gathering the remnant at the four corners of the earth. So, who is the main harvest here? Well, what happened for 2000 years? Indeed, the church happened. But what about the others in the tribulation?
"And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt." (Daniel 12:2, KJV)
This is a lot to take in. I get that. That is why I decided to break it up in parts. Bell believes the sign is found in Revelation 19. As we already discovered, we can see elements of the sign throughout the entire book of Revelation. We found accompanying elements in Revelation 6 (the signs in sun, moon and stars - also mentioned in Matthew 24:27-30), and discovered that the church was already in heaven even before that chapter started. In the next article, we will discover why Bell's article on the carcasses doesn't represent the best arguments pretribbers have to offer. Agreed, there has been some very bad scholarship in this camp, but there is much more to say about Matthew 24 than we can cover here. This article has already become longer that I wanted it to be. Some last words; how do we overcome the tribulation? Simple. Believe in Jesus. We are more than overcomers through Him Who loved us (Rom. 8:37).
You can read the Dutch version here.
Todd A Parker
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