Is Jesus really coming back, and what is the "Rapture"?
And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, ‘Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven’. Acts 1:10-11.
Before He ascended into Heaven, Jesus told the apostles He would return and usher in a new age of peace, justice and righteousness in which the Devil would be banished from the earth and Christ Himself would rule and reign. In the years prior to this the earth would go through an unparalleled seven-year period of war, natural disasters and supernatural events as a final battle in the heavenly arena was fought between the angelic forces of God and the demons serving the Devil. This period is known as the Great Tribulation. In the last stages of this struggle the Devil would be forced from the higher planes of existence onto the earth itself. It’s at this point he would finally accept that his destruction is unavoidable and unleash an unrestrained attack upon humanity through his chief human agent whom the Bible calls “the Antichrist”. Only by the direct intervention of Christ Himself will any of those who remain on the earth be saved, and the culmination of Christ’s return would be the destruction of all evil including the people who have rejected Him. The Devil would be confined in a portion of Hell and mankind would now see what life under the perfect rule of Jesus Christ would be like.
For a period of 1,000 years thereafter the earth would return to the state in which God originally created it, with people growing up in a world that knows only Good. Finally, at the very end, the Devil would be freed from Hell and Mankind--those who have been born on the earth during the millennial period--will have a last chance to choose between God and Satan. Unbelievably, some will actually choose to follow the Devil and another battle will be fought between God and Satan. This would finally end it and Satan, along with all who have rejected Christ, would be judged and cast into Hell forevermore.
Just when these events will transpire has always been a matter of debate. Even the Apostles themselves mistakenly believed it would occur within the lifetime of the Apostle John. Some historical events, like the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, along with the near extermination of Christianity by the emperors Nero and Domitian, seemed to lend credence to this idea. But John finally died and it became apparent that Jesus wouldn’t be coming back for quite some time.
Today many Christian scholars believe that the return of Christ is imminent. Key for this is the re-emergence of Israel as a nation in 1947. Biblical prophecies seemed to suggest that Israel must be an intact nation for Christ’s return, although no one would have believed before that there was any chance of it occurring. Even Thomas Jefferson ridiculed any thought that Israel would ever again exist as a separate country.
But when that happened overnight, suddenly many prophecies began making sense and the world saw an unparalleled movement of evangelism and the power of both God and the Devil being manifested. Prophecies in the Bible of human knowledge being greatly enhanced along with an increase in earthquakes and natural disasters also saw fulfillment over the last 100 years. Other prophecies of Good and Evil becoming stronger and more visible have also taken place. Thus today Mankind may stand at an apex of history. If many scholars are correct, then the return of Christ is truly near. Perhaps all that is left to occur before the Tribulation arrives is for Israel to reinstitute a Levitical priesthood and conduct animal sacrifice--which it is nearly ready to do.
The study of these end-time prophecies and events is called eschatology. The main books of the Bible that deal with these end times are the weird book of Revelation, and the book of Daniel. There are many theories out there regarding how to interpret the ancient prophecies these books present. I’ve heard them all, and I can’t fully buy into any position. But those which make the most sense to me are the theories that are taken by looking at Jewish customs and festivals in the Old Testament that probably are representative of events that will occur as we get closer to the end of the age.
While there are a variance of opinions regarding the interpretation of these prophecies, most scholars can agree on these points:
1. Israel must re-emerge as a nation.
2. There will be a 7-year period of turmoil called the Great Tribulation.
3. There will be a “Rapture” of living Christians, who will be bodily taken out of the earth to Heaven, along with a resurrection of the righteous dead who have died in Christ.
Just when this rapture will take place is a matter of debate. The Christian church has traditionally believed this would occur at the very end of the Tribulation. In the last two centuries, however, the dominant thinking has been that this would occur at the beginning of the Tribulation. Either view can be backed up with scripture, and one cannot make a definitive statement on the issue solely from scripture. However, if one examines the ancient Jewish festivals and beliefs, there is only one reasonable conclusion: The rapture will occur at the beginning of the Tribulation, when the dead in Christ shall be resurrected and the living Christians will be caught up to Heaven. There will then be a coronation of Christ as King and He will reign for seven years in heaven before returning to earth to reign from Jerusalem.
It is far beyond the scope of this site to delve into eschatology in depth. I recommend that one study the works of Hal Lindsey and Joseph Good on this subject. The bottom line is--we win and Jesus comes back! And that probably will be within the lifetime of some who are alive today, incredible as that may sound.
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