The return of Jesus Christ is a subject that has fascinated many Christians. Some have tried to predict when it will occur and in what manner He will return. But how many have it right?
Even His disciples were curious. Three days before the crucifixion when they were with Him privately they asked about the signs of His return and when it would take place “And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” (Matthew 24:3).
He warned that some will come in His name and deceive many about the very things He was going to tell them, “And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.” (Matthew 24:4-5).
What will Happen
He described a number of events that culminate in a time of great tribulation at the end of the age that would be the worse than anything this world has ever experienced, “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” (Matthew 24:21).
After this time of great tribulation heavenly signs will precede His appearance in the heavens and He shall be seen by all the world, “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: 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.” (Matthew 24:29-30).
There will be no mistaking this event. He will seen by every one on earth. Then at the sound of a trumpet He will send angels to gather the faithful, “And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (Matthew 24:31).
When that trumpet sounds they will be raised to spirit, “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” (I Corinthians 15:52).
The faithful who are dead will rise first, then those who are alive will be gathered to meet Him in the clouds to be with Him for all eternity. In other words where He goes they go as well, “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: 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.” (I Thessalonians 4:16-17).
What an incredible occasion that will be. It certainly will not be a secret rapture because ‘all tribes of the earth’ shall clearly see Him when this takes place.
When it Occurs
Naturally His disciples wanted to know when this incredible event will take place,
In answer to their question He provided a parable indicating that the time will become apparent by the events that precede it. But the day itself will not be known, “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, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.” (Matthew 24:32-36 see also Mark 13:28-32 and Luke 21:28-32).
Many have read this passage without realising the importance of what Christ meant when He said ‘when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near… ….But of that day and hour knoweth no man’. His disciples had asked for a sign that will signal His return and that is exactly what He gave them. All the events including the heavenly signs, His appearance and the gathering of the saints are part of the sign. We know that because He said that when those events have been seen the day of His actual return is imminent but still unknown!
This can only mean that the events Christ described in Matthew 24:32-36 are separate from His actual return when He will stand on the Mount of Olives.
When the disciples asked “…what shall be the sign of thy coming” the Greek word translated as ‘coming’ is ‘parousia’ which means advent, or presence as in arrival (Matthew 24:3). Although asked about His arrival from Heaven He replied, “…and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds” using a different Greek word ‘erchomai’ which can according to context mean merely ‘to appear’ which is the case in this particular instance.
They asked for a sign and He gave them the sign. When He appears in the clouds and gathers the saints it is a sign that He will return very soon.
The resurrection of the saints as described in Matthew 24:29-36, Mark 13:24-32 and Luke 21:25-32 is only the first stage of His return. The second stage when He returns to earth with His saints is described in Revelation 19:11-21 which as we will see occurs at a later time.
Many have assumed that the ‘last trump’ mentioned in I Corinthians 15:52 when the saints will be resurrected is the last trumpet blown on the Day of Trumpets which relates to the seventh trumpet of the Book of Revelation.
The Day of Trumpets certainly depicts the Day of the Lord on which the seven trumpets of Revelation are blown. But the passages describing the events that occur when the seventh trumpet is sounded make no mention of the resurrection of the saints. Neither is there any mention of Christ’s return to set foot on the earth (see Revelation 10:7 through to the end of Revelation 11:19).
What it does say is that Christ will be announced as king over all the earth, “And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15).
This announcement is the formal inauguration in Heaven of Christ’s Government over all the nations on this earth, “And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth.” (Revelation 11:18).
The saints, or first fruits have already been rewarded with eternal life prior to this event as described in Matthew 24 when Christ appeared in the clouds and they rose to meet Him. But at the inauguration event described in Revelation 11:18 their reward is to be ordained as priests in Christ's Government which has not yet descended to earth, “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.” (Revelation 20:6 see also 1:6 and 5:10).
Christ’s actual descent to the earth with His saints to rule over the nations takes place ‘after’ the seven last plagues described in Revelation 15 and 16 (see Revelation 15:5). This is also ‘after’ (see Revelation 18:1 and 19:1) Babylon is fallen as described in Revelation 18:1-24.
The use of the words ‘after’ defines these events as sequential (i.e. one after the other) which means that Christ’s return with the saints as described in Revelation 19:11-21 will be after the last plague and after Babylon has fallen.
Gathered to Christ
The question then arises as to where will the saints and prophets be between the time they are gathered to Christ in the clouds until they return to earth with Him after the last of the plagues?
When Christ appears in the clouds with His angels to gather the saints as described in Matthew 24 they will be with Him where ever He goes, “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: 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.” (I Thessalonians 4:16-17). If He is on earth, they will be on earth and if He is in Heaven they will be in Heaven with Him
We see in Revelation that they are pictured as being with Christ on Mount Sion (Zion) and before the throne of God, “And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps: And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth. These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 14:1-4).
Where is the Mount Zion that this passage refers to? Is it the earthly Mount Zion as many have believed, or is it the Heavenly Mount Zion? Christ is not going to return to the earthly Mount Zion to the south-west of Jerusalem with His saints. According to Zechariah Christ will descend to the Mount of Olives which is to the east of the city of Jerusalem, “And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east…” (Zechariah 14:4). No! The 144,000 saints are pictured in Revelation 14:1-4 as being with Christ in Heaven before the throne of God.
According to scripture Zion is the city of God, “The LORD loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God.” (Psalm 87:2-3). It is the living city of God the heavenly Jerusalem, “But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,” (Hebrews 12:22). The spiritual city of which Christ is the chief cornerstone, “Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded.” (I Peter 2:6).
Revelation 14 pictures the saints with Christ on Mount Zion which is symbolic of the seat of God’s government. They are on the sea of glass before His very throne. And if we read on into Revelation 15 we see that it is from Heaven where the saints are still before the throne of God that the last seven plagues will be sent to the earth, “And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvellous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God. And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God. And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints. Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest. And after that I looked, and, behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened: And the seven angels came out of the temple, having the seven plagues, clothed in pure and white linen, and having their breasts girded with golden girdles.” (Revelation 15: 1-6).
Just prior to the seventh plague the Beast and False Prophet will be gathered with their armies at Armageddon, “And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared. And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.” (Revelation 16:12-14).
Then after the seventh plague Christ returns to the earth with His saints to the Mount of Olives to the east of Jerusalem exactly as Zechariah prophesied, “And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east… …and the LORD my God shall come, and all the saints with thee.” (Zechariah 14:4-5).
He shall bring His army of saints from Heaven, “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 dipped 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.” (Revelation 19:11-14).
These are the saints clothed in righteousness who follow Him from Heaven to confront the armies of the Beast and the False Prophet after the last plague at Armageddon, “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… … And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army.” (Revelation 19:15-19).
The armies who oppose Christ are completely wiped out and the Beast and False prophet thrown into the Lake of Fire, “And 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).
It is very clear that Christ will gather His saints when He appears in the clouds and they will be with Him in Heaven until they return with Him after the seven plagues to defeat the armies at Armageddon and they will be included in His government during the Millennium, “And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” (Revelation 20:4).
Many have also assumed that because the Two Witnesses are to be resurrected as the seventh trump begins to sound (Revelation 11:7) that the saints will be resurrected at the same time. But in making this assumption they overlook some major differences between the resurrection of the saints and that of the Two Witnesses.
For example, the saints are gathered by angels to Christ in the clouds, “…and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (Matthew 24:30-31).
But there is no mention of the Two Witnesses being gathered to Christ by angels. Instead they are called from Heaven to where they ascend directly, “And after three days and an half the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them. And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them.” (Revelation 11:11-12).
The reason for this is timing. The saints have already been resurrected to meet Christ and are with Him in Heaven prior to the Day of the Lord which is symbolised by the opening of the seventh seal, “For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” (Revelation 6:17). The signs that precede the gathering of the saints to Christ in Matthew 24:29 coincide with the signs in Revelation 6:11-17 that precede the sealing of the 144,000 who are described in Revelation 7:1-17 as being before the throne of God. That occurs before the seventh seal has been opened. The opening of the seventh seal begins the Day of the Lord when the seven trumpets are blown, “And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour. And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets.” (Revelation 8:1-2).
It is not until after the seventh trumpet begins to sound (Revelation 10:7) that the two witnesses are killed and raised directly to Heaven (Revelation 11:12-15).
The resurrection of the two witnesses occurs during the time of the seventh trumpet when the saints are already in Heaven.
The Last Trump
We know that the saints are resurrected at the ‘last trump’ and that the last trump is not the seventh trump of the Day of Trumpets. So we need to establish when the ‘last trump’ is actually blown.
We must not overlook the fact that a series of trumpets were blown on each Holy Day in ancient Israel, “Also in the day of your gladness, and in your solemn days, and in the beginnings of your months, ye shall blow with the trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; that they may be to you for a memorial before your God: I am the LORD your God.” (Numbers 10:10). Trumpets were blown when offerings were made to God throughout the day until the last sacrifice was offered at the blowing of the ‘last trump’ for that Holy Day. It was the last in a series of trumpets blown on that particular day.
Theoretically the ‘last trump’ mentioned in I Corinthians 15:52 could in fact take place on any Holy Day.
There is a very strong case that the ‘last trump’ signalling the resurrection of the first fruits is in fact the last trump blown on the Feast of the First-Fruits (Pentecost).
During His ministry Christ likened His work to harvesting, “Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work. Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.” (John 4:34-35). And, “Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:37-38).
Those called to Him in this age are the first fruits of that harvest, “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” (James 1:18). And, “These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 14:4).
Pentecost is a harvest festival that took place in ancient Israel after the work of the spring harvest had been completed. It was a Holy Day also known as the Feast of Weeks and as the Festival of First Fruits.
Fifty days prior to this Feast the first sheaf of ripened grain had been cut and waved by a priest as an offering to God. This was carried out on the day after the weekly Sabbath that occurred during the Days of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:10-15).
After that ceremony the first fruit harvest commenced and fifty days later when it had been completed it was celebrated with the festival of the first fruits. It was a greatly anticipated and joyous occasion because it celebrated the completion of much hard labour, “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” (Psalm 126:5-6).
During the festival a number of offerings were made to God each of which would have been accompanied by a trumpet as commanded in Numbers 10:10 that we just read, “And ye shall offer with the bread seven lambs without blemish of the first year, and one young bullock, and two rams: they shall be for a burnt offering unto the LORD, with their meat offering, and their drink offerings, even an offering made by fire, of sweet savour unto the LORD. Then ye shall sacrifice one kid of the goats for a sin offering, and two lambs of the first year for a sacrifice of peace offerings. And the priest shall wave them with the bread of the firstfruits for a wave offering before the LORD, with the two lambs: they shall be holy to the LORD for the priest.” (Leviticus 23:18-20).
Timing is important to God. We know that Christ was crucified on the day the Passover lambs were sacrificed and that He ascended to Heaven on the same day that the wave sheaf was offered up to His Father. He was the first of the first fruits, “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.” (I Corinthians 15:20).
We also know that the rest of the first fruits from both Old and New Testament times will be resurrected when He appears in the clouds and they are represented by the two loaves waved as part of the peace offering during the Festival of First Fruits fifty days later. “Ye shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth deals: they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baken with leaven; they are the firstfruits unto the LORD.” (Leviticus 23:17).
The peace offering included a goat and two lambs to be waved along with the two wave loaves after all the other offerings and they would have been accompanied by the sound of a trumpet which would be the last trumpet for that day.
It is significant that this last trumpet is blown just as the wave loaves are offered up to God. It symbolizes the resurrection of the saints ‘in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump’ (I Corinthians 15:52) and, ‘with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first’ (I Thessalonians 4:16). Clearly it is the last trump on the Day of Pentecost that symbolises the resurrection the first fruits of God’s family.
Some believe that when the saints are gathered to Christ in the clouds they will immediately return to earth to fight with Christ to defeat those who oppose Him at Armageddon. But surely like any parent God the Father will want to meet His new-born sons and daughters as soon as they are resurrected and before they are sent back to earth.
When Christ was resurrected He wouldn’t let anyone touch Him until He had ascended to His Father in Heaven. This took place at the precise time the wave sheaf that represented Him was symbolically offered to God. So too will the saints ascend to meet Christ in the clouds and be taken to their Father at the precise time the wave loaves are symbolically offered to God. The wave loaves were offered when the last trump on the festival of first fruits was blown.
When the last trump is sounded it will be a momentous occasion when tens of thousands of eagerly awaited new-born spirit beings are led into the presence of their Father in Heaven by their older brother Jesus Christ. They will be with Christ forever after that which means that they will not return to this earth until Christ returns after the last plague is administered from Heaven.
The resurrection of the saints has been beautifully and precisely timed to coincide with ceremony of the wave loaves enacted at the last trump on the Day of Pentecost.
God’s Holy Days
We should also keep in mind that the Holy Days are not ours to determine how and when. They are God’s Feast days, “…these are my feasts.” (Leviticus 23:2). They foreshadow His predetermined plan and He commanded that they be kept in their seasons, “These are the feasts of the LORD, even holy convocations, which ye shall proclaim in their seasons.” (Leviticus 23:4).
God was not happy when the Israelites departed from the standards He set regarding His Feast days, “Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.” (Isaiah 1:13-14). He despised the way they kept them, “I hate, I despise your feast days. and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies.“ (Amos 5:21).
So we need to be careful that we interpret what these days represent correctly.
Many insist that the harvest of the first fruits of God’s family will be resurrected at the blowing of the seventh trumpet on the Day of Trumpets. But the Day of Trumpets is not a harvest festival. It occurs some four months after the first fruits harvest has been completed and any celebration of the harvest of first fruits at that time would be entirely out of season.
The Day of Trumpets symbolises the Day of the Lord. That is not something to anticipate with any great joy like one would a harvest festival. It is a very troubled time of fear, suffering, plagues and war when God’s wrath is to be vented on an unbelieving world, “Woe unto you that desire the day of the LORD! to what end is it for you? the day of the LORD is darkness, and not light… … Shall not the day of the LORD be darkness, and not light? even very dark, and no brightness in it?” (Amos 5:18-20).
The Day of Trumpets is a day of wrath, terror and death. Whereas the Day of Pentecost is a momentous and joyful occasion for the Father when tens of thousands of saints are resurrected to become His spirit-born sons and daughters?
The frequent use of the word ‘after’ and phrases like ’after this’, ‘after these’ and ‘after that’ throughout the Book of Revelation are obviously describing a sequence of prophetic events which are interspersed with a number of explanatory passages.
We must be careful not to alter the basic sequence of events that Christ has laid out to fit our own theory as has been the case when we tried to align the timing of the saint’s resurrection to that of the Two Witnesses. Similarly when we assumed that the appearance of the 144,000 on Mount Zion describes the same event as Christ returning to the Mount of Olives. Also we must not wrongly assume that the ‘trump’ mentioned in I Corinthians 15:52 and again in I Thessalonians 44:16-17 where the saints meet Christ in the clouds is the same trumpet that is sounded on the Day of Trumpets.
Christ takes these things very seriously, “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” (Revelation 22:18-19).
We believe that without having to alter the sequence of events that Christ Himself established that there is sufficient evidence to confidently conclude that His return to this earth at the end of this age will be in stages:
· stage one is the appearance of Christ in the clouds for the entire world to see while the angels gather the resurrected saints to Him. Christ will then take the saints to be offered to His Father in Heaven where they will remain with Him until He is pronounced King over all the nations.
· stage two will take place after the last seven plagues have been administered and then Christ returns with His saints to rule over all nations on this earth.
We urge all who read this article to prayerfully study these events in their own Bibles for themselves.