While working through our new doctrinal statement about the End Times, I asked our church members why God gave us prophecy? In other words, why did God feel the need to tell us what would happen in the future? The group came up with several good ideas which we wrote on the chalk board. In this message I would like to expand on those ideas by looking at specific reasons listed in the Bible.
- God gave us prophecy to show us who He is (Isa. 46:10).
When I was young, I delivered the newspaper to my neighborhood. The first newspaper was the Citizen Journal and the second was the Columbus Dispatch. I remember one customer often complaining that I delivered the newspaper too late for him to read it before leaving for work. To this man, reading the newspaper was an important way to start the day.
Imagine if you were given a newspaper that told you what would be happening next week, next year, or even hundreds of years before the events happened. This is what Bible prophecy does. It shows us what will happen in the future. Eve was given prophecy about her future child. Abraham was given prophecy about his future descendants. Daniel was given prophecy about the future empires.
While prophecy reveals events that will happen in the future, it also shows us something about God.
a. It shows us that He knows the future (10).
God told the Israelites that He declared the end from the beginning. And many times these prophecies were given many years before they were fulfilled. While some might be able to guess what might happen with the stock market or political races, none have been able to predict what will happen hundreds of years in the future. Only God does that. This is because He is God and is not limited by time as we are. He declares what will happen in the future, because He knows what will happen.
b. It shows us that He plans the future (10).
God also told the Israelites that what He desires to happen will happen. His counsel (meaning what he decided to do) will stand. His pleasure (whatever He wants to do) will be done. By this we understand that God is in control of what happens in the universe in the past, present, and future. He is in control.
Some years ago, there were some theologians who taught Open Theism—that God doesn’t plan the future, He only reacts to it. This doesn’t jive with real prophecy. Just think about the first prophecy mentioned in the Bible. God told the serpent that the seed of the woman would crush his head (Gen. 3:15). Was this something God was hoping would happen or something that He had planned all along. When you consider that Jesus is called the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8), you realize that God had everything planned even before Adam and Eve were created.
- God gave us prophecy to warn us (1 Thess. 5:2-3).
As I was studying the End Times, I was happy to be reminded that God cares about people enough to warn us of the future. Think about the Book of Revelation. It is an entire book dedicated to telling the world what will happen in the future. At the end of it, God shows to us His desire for people to leave their sin and come to Him.
Rev. 22:17 – “And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.”
This shows that God does love the world and wants people to turn from their sin. But this is not the only place. We also find some warnings in 1 Thessalonians 5.
a. It warns us of an unexpected future (2).
As you may recall, this epistle contains several mentions of future events. In 5:2, God warns us that the coming Day of the Lord (the Tribulation) will come as a thief in the night. A thief doesn’t schedule his arrival but comes at a time that you are not expecting.
During lunch today, we had a delivery driver ring our front doorbell. He tried to deliver a bag of McDonald’s food to us. This was totally unexpected because we hadn’t ordered any. After talking things through, we found out that he was at the wrong address.
The prophecy given by God warns that judgment will happen not in our timing but at a time that the world will not expect. So they should listen and ready themselves before it happens. Why? Take a look at the next verse.
b. It warns us about coming destruction (3).
God’s prophecy in this verse warns that this unexpected event will not be the “peace and safety” promised by some. Instead, it will be sudden destruction filled with pain and those for whom it is intended will not escape. That sounds like a serious warning. But why would God tell his enemies that these things are going to happen? He warns them by prophecy so that they can turn from their sin to Him before it happens.
- God gave us prophecy to motivate us (Matt. 24:45-51).
When you think of motivational speakers, you usually think of people who can talk you into doing better. They use moving stories and clever statements to make you want to do what you did not before. These can be helpful at times but they don’t have the same value as the motivations given by biblical prophecy.
When Jesus talked about the end times, He used examples and stories but they were always designed to motivate us in our response to God. Think of the parable of the wise and foolish virgins or the parable of the talents. In both cases, Jesus was motivating people to be ready. He also used another story to motivate us about His future return. This story was about a master who left two servants in charge of his household while he was gone.
a. It motivates us to be faithful (45-47).
The first servant was considered faithful and wise because of how he responded. While the master was away, he took care of the household and made sure there was enough food for the family. When his master returned, the servant was rewarded by a promotion within the household.
The thought of Jesus returning should motivate us to be more faithful. We know that the Lord could return at any moment. And that thought makes us want to do what He would be pleased with. We want to hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” And this is one of the reasons why God gives us prophecy.
b. It motivates us to avoid judgment (48-51).
The second servant was considered evil because of how he responded while his master was away. Instead of taking care of the household, he beat his fellow servants, became a drunkard, and was unprepared for the master’s return. When he did return the servants was severely disciplined.
The thought of Jesus returning should motive people to avoid punishment. Because of the description of the punishment, I think that this part of the parable is best applied to unbelievers. But the point is still valid. The prophecy involving Jesus’ return ought to motivate people to escape the coming judgment.
- God gave us prophecy to comfort us (1 Thess. 4:13-18).
When a Christian dies, we face grief because we loved that person and wish that he or she was still with us. But is that grief inconsolable? For a Christian it is not. And the reason why we have hope is the comfort given to us by biblical prophecy. Consider what Paul reveals in 1 Thessalonians 4.
a. It comforts us about dead Christians (13-16).
From what Paul says, it appears that the Thessalonian church was unaware of what happened to Christians when they died. They knew about the coming return of Christ, but they didn’t know what happened to Christians who died before it happened. Paul cleared this up in these verses.
He told them that the dead in Christ would not be left behind. The fact that they had already been buried would not keep them from being taken to heaven with Jesus. When the Lord descends from heaven, when the archangel’s voice is heard, and when the trumpet of God is sounded, all dead Christians will be resurrected and will rise to be with Jesus before those who are living. But what about Christians who are still alive?
b. It comforts us about our future (17-18).
Paul reveals here that after the deceased Christians are raised, the next in line are all living Christians. We who are alive and remain will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And following this, we will be with the Lord forever. What a wonderful time that will be.
Is it any wonder that this knowledge of the future would comfort a Christian today? Not at all. Paul tells us to comfort one another with these words. I think that this is good advice for both those who have lost a Christian loved one or who are looking forward to the future with the Lord. God gave us biblical prophecy to comfort us today. As we see what God has in store for us, we can set aside our worries and we can rest in the knowledge that we will someday be with the Lord forever.
What have we learned tonight? We have learned that biblical prophecy was not just given to us to know what will happen in the future. God has specific reasons for giving it to us. Can you remember what these reasons are?
1. God gave us prophecy to show us who He is (Isa. 46:10).
2. God gave us prophecy to warn us (1 Thess. 5:2-3).
3. God gave us prophecy to motivate us (Matt. 24:45-51).
4. God gave us prophecy to comfort us (1 Thess. 4:13-18).
Each of us came to this message with different thoughts and experiences. There is no way that I could know what you were thinking before hearing what was said. But the God who plans the future does know. And I am sure that as you heard the message, He reminded you of something that you needed to hear. Whatever your need was, I hope that you can see God’s goodness in what He has revealed about the future.
During OBF meetings, there are often resolutions that are passed dealing with current issues that the church is facing. We have addressed issues such as the biblical definition of marriage or gender. This is done to encourage people in our churches to know what the Bible says and to take a stand with God for biblical truth.
During a recent meeting, a pastor introduced a resolution about the Lord’s return. After hearing resolutions about contemporary issues, you might wonder why a resolution needed to be passed about something so clearly stated in Scripture. But try to remember when the last time we have talked about the Lord’s return. With so many topics in the Bible, it is easy to forget something that we know so well.
Today, we will be looking at the ideas in the resolution and what the Bible actually says about the subject.
- The Imminent Return of the Lord
The word imminent means “about to happen” (Oxford). So when we call the Lord’s return imminent, we mean that it is going to happen at any moment. We don’t know when it will happen but expect that it could happen at any time… even right now. But is this what the Bible teaches?
His Second Coming is at hand (Rev. 1:3).
Do you remember what John said at the beginning of the Book of Revelation? He said that “the time is near.” Now you may recall that the book talks about what will happen at the end of time. It has not happened yet, but it is sure to happen in the future. The clock is ticking and it will happen sooner than later.
There will be no time to prepare at His coming (Matt. 25:13).
Jesus told a parable about the wise and foolish virgins who were waiting for the bridegroom to arrive for a wedding. Some had brought enough oil for their lamps while some had not. When the bridegroom’s arrival was announced, the foolish virgins asked for oil as their lamps were running out of oil. But the wise virgins told the foolish to go buy some oil because they did not have enough to spare. While the foolish were going to buy oil, the door was shut and they were unable to go to the wedding. Because they had not prepared themselves, they were not allowed to enter.
Jesus concluded that we should always be ready because we don’t know when he will return. There will not be an announcement in the bulletin as to the day or time of His appearing. Instead, we are warned to be prepare now that we are ready when He appears.
We need to be prepared by diligent watching (Luke 21:36).
The teaching of Luke 21 may be difficult to understand. There is mention of the destruction of the temple, wars, commotions, earthquakes, famines, persecutions, betrayals, and the destruction of Jerusalem. Whether this prophecy has been fulfilled as of yet, I am not sure. However, the warnings in verses 34-36 are still valid.
Jesus told his listeners that they should not let sinful pleasures such as carousing and drunkenness or even the daily cares of life keep them from being prepared for that coming Day. He told them to watch and pray. He did not tell them when it would happen but expected them to keep themselves ready for what was going to happen.
We do not know when it will happen (Matt. 24:36-39).
Jesus clearly said that His return would happen at a time that nobody would know. They would not know the day or the hour. It would be like the coming of the flood in Noah’s day. People were eating, drinking, and have weddings, until Noah entered the ark and the rain began to fall. Then those wicked people were swept away by the water unexpectedly.
Luke 12:40 – “Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
Don’t be complacent!
If Jesus is returning at any moment, every sinner ought to make sure he is ready. This begins with each of us making sure that we have been born again. If you have never turned from your sin to God, then you need to repent and place your trust in Jesus! This isn’t something to put off until you are old and settled in your ways. It is something to act on now. Get ready to meet Jesus!
If Jesus is returning at any moment, every Christian ought to put away complacency and think about what His return would mean personally. Are you living a life that is pleasing to the Lord or have you become overly comfortable with life as it is. We need to ready ourselves for his appearing.
Pray for and evangelize the lost.
It seems that we know about the Lord’s return, but we are not acting like it could happen. I realize that a constant feeling of anxiousness is not what is needed, but we should make good use of our time while he delays. After sending out the 70 disciples, Jesus told them that the harvest was so great that they needed to… what? (Luke 10:2) They needed to pray that the Lord of the harvest would send forth laborers. While we need to be speaking the gospel to the lost, we should also be praying for the Lord to send others.
- The Results of His Return
I recently watched an early episode of Andy Griffith called “The Manhunt.” Barnie rushes over to tell Andy that something BIG is going to happen. He was so excited that he kept repeating that the BIG event was coming without saying what it was. You may feel that way to this point. When we talk about the Lords’ return, what exactly will happen? Let’s take a look at what the Bible tells us.
He will first rapture the Church (1 Thess. 4:13-16).
Paul used the end of chapter four to inform and encourage the Thessalonian believers. He told them that they didn’t need to be sorrowful when a believer died. They would not miss Jesus’ return but would be resurrected when the Lord descends from heaven, when the archangel shouts, and the trumpet of God sounds. Those believers who have died will be resurrected and then living believers will join them in the air to be with the Lord.
He will eventually return to the earth (Rev. 19:11-20:6).
Toward the end of the Book of Revelation, John reveals to us that Jesus will descend to the earth on a white horse and accompanied by a great army of heaven. No one will be able to stand before Him and all who rebel will be destroyed. There will be a great battle and Jesus wins. After that, Satan will be bound for 1,000 years and Jesus will reign over the entire earth. The first time Jesus came to earth was to save sinners. The second time will be to defeat rebels and to rule over the earth from the throne of David.
Believers will receive their glorified bodies (1 Cor. 15:52-53).
Another result of the return of Christ will be the change made in believers. We are told that we all will be changed. When the last trumpet sounds, God will change our bodies from physical, ailing, and aging bodies to new, incorruptible bodies. We who are now mortal will become immortal never to be sick, in pain, or distraught anymore. We will receive new bodies that are glorified and free from the troubles we have today.
Believers will be forever with their Lord (1 Thess. 4:17).
Do you remember when you got married? You probably stated certain vows to the person you married. And as you said those vows, you looked forward to spending the rest of your life with that person.
One of the best part of our Lord’s return is that we will spend eternity with Him. Paul told the Thessalonians that after meeting the Lord in the air at the Rapture, that they would always be with the Lord. Knowing who Jesus is and what He has done for us makes that statement all the more precious. The One who loved us and gave Himself for us wants us to be with Him. And one day, He will appear to take us to spend eternity with Him.
Recognize that better times are coming (2 Cor. 4:16-18).
There are times that are very difficult to endure. Some of you have gone through some difficult times recently. Each of us will face things like sickness, the death of a loved one, depression, rejection, and persecution. But as we daily seek His kingdom first, we don’t need to lose heart. We may feel terrible, but we can also recognize that the troubles we are going through are only temporary. Look to the future and trust that God’s promises are true. It will be worth it all when we see Jesus.
Purify yourself (1 John 3:2-3).
As we look forward to the return of Christ and the changed He will make in this world and in our lives, we should prepare ourselves. We should prepare to meet Him by purifying ourselves. This means that we should remove things from our lives that are impure. We should not allow ourselves to meditate on ungodly thoughts, imbibe things that are sinful, speak with unkindness, be lazy, complain, or any other sinful thing.
Imagine yourself doing some sinful act when the Lord appears in the sky to rapture the church. How embarrassing that would be! But instead, think of what it would be like to be speaking with kindness, leading someone to the Lord, or serving someone when He appears. That will only happen if you prepare yourself and daily seek to remove sin from your life.
Have the right mindset (Rev. 22:20).
When John wrote the concluding words of the Book of Revelation, he said something interesting. He said, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” When I was younger, I always wanted the Lord to wait until I had gotten married. I also wanted to have children. Now I am looking forward to grandchildren. But there is a better thing to long for and that is the coming of the Lord Jesus. When He returns all things will be made right.
We pray that more people will be saved. We pray that more Christians will take life seriously. We pray that the churches will be faithful. But even with all of those prayer requests, the best thing that could happen today would be the return of Christ.
- The Judgments that follow the Lord’s Return
Hearing the sound of a trumpet can signal different things to different people. For the besieged citizens of a town, the trumpet would signal the arrival of the king who will rescue them from their enemies. For the enemy, that trumpet would signal the end of their rebellion. When we consider the trumpet sounding in 1 Thessalonians 4:16.
Jesus return for the Rapture of the Church (1 Thess. 4:13-18) will be preceded by a shout, the archangel’s voice, and the sounding of the trumpet of God. Those audible announcements will be taken differently by those who hear them. The saved will rejoice and be excited to join the Lord forever. But the lost (who may not know what the sounds mean) will eventually find out that judgments and destruction are about to follow.
The beginning of judgments and destruction (1 Thess. 5:1-3; Rev. 16)
Throughout the Bible, the Day of the Lord is described as a time of great judgment. Paul likened it to a thief coming in the night (1 Thess. 5:2), a time of promised peace but sudden destruction (5:3). Peter revealed that it would be a time of blood, fire, and smoke and that the appearance of the sun and moon would be darkened (Acts 2:19-20). This gives us the idea that it is a time of great destruction and judgment. Where do we read about such events?
In the Book of Revelation, God reveals some of the things that will happen during the Great Tribulation. It will be a seven-year period where God judges the world. The first half will be somewhat peaceful, but the second half will be filled will the pouring out of God’s wrath on rebellious mankind. If we look at just the bowl judgments (Rev. 16), there will be the following judgments against sinful man:
Bowl 1: Loathsome sores (Rev. 16:2) – Those who have the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image will be given terrible sores.
Bowl 2: Sea turned to blood (Rev. 16:3) – The sea is turned to blood causing every living creature in it to die. Can you imagine what Lake Erie would look and smell like if it was instantly converted to a lake of blood? All of the fish and snakes and birds would die.
Bowl 3: Rivers and springs turned to blood (Rev. 16:4-7) – For a period of time, the rivers and springs will continue to provide water for people. But God will later turn the rivers and springs into blood. This will mean that those who have shed the blood of believers will now have to drink blood to survive.
Bowl 4: Sun scorching (Rev. 16:8-9) – God will cause the sun to scorch people with great heat. Surprisingly, the people who have rebelled against God will not repent of their sins and turn to Him despite these judgments against them.
Bowl 5: Darkness (Rev. 16:10-11) – God will cause darkness to cover the kingdom of the beast. They will be in great pain and yet they will not turn to God for mercy. Instead, they blaspheme God and refuse to repent.
Bowl 6: Euphrates River dried up (Rev. 16:12-16) – The Euphrates River is a large river which cannot easily be crossed. But God will cause it to dry up enabling kings and armies to cross over to gather at Armageddon.
Bowl 7: Great Earthquake (Rev. 16:17-21) – Besides lightning and thunder, there will be a huge earthquake which will worse than any in history. Jerusalem will be split into three sections, island and mountains will disappear, and hail weighing 75 pounds will fall from the sky. And yet, men continue to blaspheme God instead of seeking His mercy.
The eternal judgment of the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:11-15)
These verses reveal what will happen at the final judgment called The Great White Throne Judgment. This is a judgment for those who have rejected and sinned against God all their lives. They have never repented of their sin and have not been forgiven and given eternal life. Because of their sin, they will stand before God and receive their final judgment.
Notice how encompassing this judgment is. It covers dead people whether they are of small or great reputation. Those who have been buried in the ground or who died at sea will also be included. Those in hell will be given a small respite from their torment to stand at this judgment. All of these people will be judged according to their works. This should not bring comfort to anyone who is still refusing to seek God because our good works (not to mention our sins) are considered by God to be like filthy rags.
Why does God pull out a book of works to judge each person? He does this to show his justice toward sinners. The books contain the summary of their sinfulness before God and their continued rebellion against Him. But after hearing the evidence against them, the final verdict is found in the Book of Life. Anyone whose name is not found written in this book is cast into the lake of fire—a place of eternal torment for all who have rejected the Lord.
As we consider the terrible judgment and destruction that will be poured out on sinful mankind, there are two very specific applications for Christians.
Let us be diligent in spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Mark 16:15).
Before ascending into heaven, Jesus told his disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. This includes three thoughts. First, we are to go into the world. This means that we must get out of our armchair and go to where people are. Second, we must preach the gospel. This involves speaking the truths of the gospel to those in the world. We are sinners who will one day face God’s wrath, but God made a way for sinners to be forgiven by sending Jesus to die in our place. Third, we must give this message to every person regardless of who they are. We must speak the gospel to those who are polite and nice as well as to the nasty and murderous.
Let us be warning of the wrath that is to come (1 Thess. 1:10).
As Christians, we need not be afraid of the wrath to come. Paul tells us that we have been delivered from that. But many in our communities have not yet been delivered. They have not hope and have no knowledge of how they can escape the coming judgment. How will they know if we don’t talk to them?
In Romans 10:14-17, there are several questions that we should ask ourselves today:
• How will sinners call on Jesus if they haven’t believed Him?
• How will sinners believe in Jesus if they haven’t heard about Him?
• How will sinners hear about Jesus without someone who speaks about Him?
• How will someone speak to them about Jesus unless they are sent?
These are questions that we should ask ourselves. Are we willing to speak to people about the reality of the coming judgment of God against sin? If we don’t warn them, then who will?
I realize that the things mentioned above are terrifying, but they are true. These things are written for two reasons. The first reason is that God wants sinful people to turn from their sin and to trust in Jesus. He is merciful and wants people to escape the coming judgment. But there is a limited amount of time for sinful people to turn to God. If Jesus were to return today, the chances of someone repenting and believing are much smaller. We have already seen how people during the Tribulation do not change their ways despite the terrible events they face. So, we ought to be motivated to speak to those who are lost so that they can find God’s mercy before the judgments come.
The second reason is that God wants Christians to find hope. At the end of time, after we have invested our lives in God’s service, after we have spoken to the friendly and unfriendly, and after we have been rejected or received, there is a time of rest and peace promised to all those who have been saved from the wrath to come. The Lord will wipe away all tears from our eyes and usher us into an eternity of bliss that is unlike anything we have every experienced here on earth.
Let me encourage you to set aside complacency and work until He appears. Until then, we have a job to do that will be filled with both sweat and tears, but there is a coming time of joy when we will be forever with the Lord. Let’s do our best to bring others with us into that sweet future place of joy and rest.
This quarter, the adult Sunday School classes are studying the book of Ezekiel. This is not always the easiest book to understand. For instance, why are the sacrifices reinstituted during the millennial kingdom? Today’s lesson brought this question to mind after studying chapters 40-46. At the time Ezekiel recorded these prophetic messages, Jesus had not yet been born, had not yet died as the perfect Lamb of God, not had his once-for-all sacrifice been understood as it is explained in Hebrews 9-10. To his original readers, the resumption of animal sacrifices was nothing more than the continuing of what the Law required. But to us who have placed our faith in the completed sacrifice of Christ, the reoccurence of the sacrifices seems completely unnecessary. So, what’s the deal?
Most premillennial scholars agree that the purpose of animal sacrifice during the millennial kingdom is memorial in nature. As the Lord’s Supper is a reminder of the death of Christ to the Church today, animal sacrifices will be a reminder during the millennial kingdom. To those born during the millennial kingdom, animal sacrifices will again be an object lesson. During that future time, righteousness and holiness will prevail, but those with earthly bodies will still have a sin nature, and there will be a need to teach about how offensive sin is to a holy and righteous God. Animal sacrifices will serve that purpose, “But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year” (Hebrews 10:3).
“Will there be animal sacrifices during the millennial kingdom?” As viewed at http://www.gotquestions.org/millennial-sacrifices.html on August 16, 2009.
Prophecy reveals much about the future, but it doesn’t reveal everything. … We do not and cannot know everything about the future. We are to believe what God has revealed and trust Him for ther rest. He lets us see enough to assure us that all time, including our times, are in His hand and in His control.
Michael P. V. Barrett, God’s Unfailing Purpose: The Message of Daniel, (Greenville: Ambassador, 2003), 42.
Barrett gives 2 Kings 7 as an example of this idea. When Elisha prophesied that the famine stricken city would soon have an abundance of food and that the unbelieving official would not get any of it, he didn’t give all the details. If the city official had known that he would soon be trampled by a city full of hungry people, he might have done things a little differently. But he didn’t know that and chose not to believe what he did know. The point of Barrett’s post (and ultimately of all prophecy) is that we need to believe what God says and trust him to do what is best. That’s where true peace comes from.