This morning we have the opportunity to return to the 21st chapter of the gospel of Luke and to consider the next in a series of messages drawn from our Lord's own teaching called "Signs of Christ's Return,” “Signs of Christ's Return." One of the cardinal doctrines in the Christian faith is the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. He came once to die on the cross, to pay the penalty for the sins of all who would believe throughout all of history. He will come again to judge the ungodly and to establish His kingdom for His saints. He will reign in that kingdom for 1,000 years. Then the entire universe as we know it will be destroyed, and in its place He will create a new heaven and a new earth in which all His own will dwell forever in joy and peace and righteousness. This is the future and this, as I said, is a cardinal doctrine of the Christian gospel, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
That is the theme of our text in Luke chapter 21. In fact, from verse 5 all the way to verse 36, Jesus talks about the features that are associated with His return. There are some people who would assume that the story of Jesus ended badly, that frankly it couldn't have ended any more badly than it did: rejected by His own people, killed as a criminal, rejected as a religious leader, seen as a seditious rebel, a threat not only to religion but a threat to societal peace, put on a cross by the Romans like a whole lot of other criminal riff-raff. It couldn't have ended any worse.
That might be the perspective of even well-intentioned people who were attracted to Jesus, if in fact we left out the rest of the story. But Jesus didn't leave it out and so on Wednesday of Passion Week, two days before His death, Jesus says, I'll be back. This is not the last chapter. This is not the end. This is not the last vision the world will have of Me. Walking out of the temple on a Wednesday evening with only a few disciples gathered around Him, and heading up the western slope of the Mount of Olives, that is not the final vision of the Lord Jesus Christ. And He wants to make that very clear even before He goes to the cross.
It all begins — this discussion about His return — in verse 5, Luke 21. "And while some were talking about the temple, that it was adorned with beautiful stones and votive gifts, He said, 'As for these things which you're looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down.' And they questioned Him saying, 'Teacher, when therefore will these things be? And what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?' And He said, 'See to it that you be not misled, for many will come in My name saying I am He, and the time is at hand. Do not go after them.'"
From where Christ sat when this discussion was taking place with His disciples, they had a magnificent view of the eastern side of the temple mount and the temple. It was the most stunning of all Herod's many building projects. Already over fifty years in the building with about thirty-five more years to go before it would be completed: eighty-five years to build a building? It was made of gleaming, white, polished stone overlaid with gold and all kinds of amazing artistic decorations that had been brought by people wanting to make donations to seal vows that they had made. Hence they're called votive gifts.
Sitting on the western slope of the Mount of Olives in the twilight as the sun is setting in the west, it was still a stunning and magnificent sight on that Wednesday night. Oh in the morning when the sun rose over the Mount of Olives and shown on the gold eastern side, it was like a mirror flashing the sun in its full blaze right back at the Mount of Olives. But even at night it was a staggering sight. Some said it was the most beautiful building in the ancient world. It was opulent and that was what they were talking about. They were talking about this temple adorned with beautiful stones and votive gifts. It was a stunning thing and yet it was representative of a false religion, a false religion that was going to be under the judgment of God, for even the Messiah Himself had declared that it would be destroyed, it would become a desolation along with the city and the nation and it would remain in a desolate condition until the people turned to Jesus Christ as their Messiah and said, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord." And, folks, we're still living in that desolation. When Jesus said, "Not one stone will be upon another" in that temple, that came to pass forty years later in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. It is still the case, no two temple stones stand on top of each other. It is still a desolate place.
It was hard for the disciples to understand this. And they respond by saying, "When therefore will these things be and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?" What's going to point to this? What's going to tell us that it's coming? When is it going to happen? In Matthew 24:3 the parallel passage to this, Matthew says they also added, "And what will be the sign of Your coming, or Your full presence, and the end of the age?" You see, they assumed that whatever He was going to do to the temple was going to be done quickly and then overruled quickly because He was the Messiah, the Messiah had come, all Messianic prophecy would need to be fulfilled. Any judgment on the temple would have to be quickly reversed and then the kingdom would be coming immediately, the temple would be restored after having been purified. They all expected it to happen immediately.
You see, in the minds of the Jews, the Messiah was chiefly a political figure who would deliver Israel from foreign oppression and foreign hostility. Oh yes, there would be a purification and a bringing of righteousness and peace to the people as well, but the big issue was to bring back the preeminence of Israel, the sovereign kingdom of David and his throne and that throne would then rule not only Israel but the world. They thought that when the Messiah came He would destroy the nations and save Israel; that He would vindicate the tribes, identifying them and their millennial possessions; that He would vindicate and verify the priestly line; purify the nation, set up His kingdom and rule. And so if Jesus is saying it's all going to come down, that's OK, they just want to know: How fast is it going back up again in its millennial glory? Since Jesus clearly is the Messiah, they have, along with Peter, given testimony to that, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God," this is their hope. In fact, they're anticipation is reaching a fever pitch. You take the triumphal entry on Monday, two days before, this celebration by hundreds of thousands of people of Jesus as the Messiah, Son of David, all the hosannas, the disciples, those who believe in Him, buy into that fully even though the crowd is fickle and unconvinced but hopeful.
By now they have waned and faded away and only the disciples are left. He has made His triumphal entry as Messiah, putting a stamp of approval on their faith and their hope that He in fact was. If He's going to do the judgment, certainly the kingdom is going to follow soon. And because of this boiling anticipation, they are in a very precarious position, very precarious because the fact of the matter is it's not going to come when they think it's going to come. He's not going to come when they think He's going to come. There is going to be a long, long delay, still, by the way, 2,000 years later, going on. But they're in a very vulnerable position because with all of that anticipation somebody might come along and say, "I am the resurrected Christ, I am Christ come back to earth. The time is near. I'm here to bring the kingdom." And they could easily be misled. So the whole message begins with a warning in verse 8. "See to it that you be not misled." Don't be deceived. Don't be led astray. “Misled” comes from a verb, planaō, from which we get planets, things that wander in space. Don't wander off. Don't drift away because you're very vulnerable.
And what would induce that? Verse 8, "For many," not a few, "many will come in My name," meaning claiming to be Christ. "Many will come claiming to be Christ saying, 'I am,” literally, ‘I am,'" the tetragrammaton, the name of God. The time is at hand, the end of the age, the beginning of the kingdom age, many will come. And many did come. Many came and they still come. Does it seem a curiosity to you that there is no list of people who claim to be the resurrected Buddha? That a curiosity to you? There's no list of people who claim to be Mohammed come back. There's no list of people who claim to be the returning Joseph Smith, or any other false religious leader. Why? Because there's no sense in counterfeiting the counterfeit, no point, why would Satan waste his time counterfeiting the counterfeit?
So, all the nut cases in the world are always Jesus. Have you noticed? And there are many of them, many of them. In fact, in one of the most interesting sections of Josephus in his Antiquities, the great historian of this era, trustworthy historian, Josephus says that during the time of the rule of Felix — you remember Felix was a procurator or a governor in Israel — this period of time in which Felix was ruler, he interacted with Paul, as we read in the end of the book of Acts. Josephus says that under Felix there were so many who claimed to be Christ returning quote, "that they were apprehended and killed every day," every day. That's in Josephus' Antiquities. And you could go into history and you could even find the identity of some of these. One called himself the Egyptian prophet and he got 30,000 unarmed Jews to try to do a re-enactment of the Exodus. And Felix and his soldiers massacred them all. Immediately after Christ went into heaven in His ascension they started to show up. I'm not going to take you through the whole history of them. They are endless. They are known to us and unknown to us.
Some names are rather well-known in history. In the year 135, Simon Bar Kokhba claimed to be the Messiah. In the fifth century, Moses of Crete convinced the Jews of Crete that he was Jesus Christ returning and he convinced them to follow him into the sea, walking on the water from Crete to Israel. Needless to say, they all got wet and the movement came to an immediate end. But history records it. In the eighth century, a man who called himself Cyrene claimed to be the Messiah and advocated the expulsion of Muslims, relaxing rabbinic law. In every century there are names that history gives to us. In the Middle Ages David Alroy, Nissim Ben Abraham, Moses Bar Terol, Osher Ben Lean, David Rubini, Solomon Moko who was killed by the pope. In the seventeenth century there was a notable person named Sabbati Zvi, an Ottoman Jew claiming to be the Messiah who then converted to Islam in order to vindicate Islam as the true religion. And it has to be the true religion if the Messiah converts to it. There are still followers of this Sabbati Zvi in the world today, by the way. In the eighteenth century it was Jacob Frank and even in the early twentieth century Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, a Lubovich rabbi, claimed to be Jesus Christ the Messiah incarnate. There is one called Maitreya Sun Myung Moon, another one called Jesus Matayoshi in 1944, Yung Myung Seok 1945, Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda, 1946, a Puerto Rican who said he was Jesus Christ, David Koresh, Charles Manson, Jim Jones, Marshall Applewhite. The moral of the story is, if he's serving Kool-Aid, don't drink it.
There is currently in the world a man by the name of Grigory Grabovoy, a Russian religious leader who claims the ability to abolish death as the Messiah, resurrect the dead, cure cancer and AIDS, teleport people, pinpoint mechanical problems on airplanes. As Jesus...as Jesus he promised grieving mothers of the 2004 Beslan massacre... Remember we were involved in that in sending them material and helping. He promised the mothers there that he would raise their children from the dead for what amounted to enough rubles to equal 1,500 U.S. dollars. I don't know if he had any takers or not.
So from the very beginning, as soon as Jesus left, the run of pseudo-Christs began. It's another way to translate Antichrist. The run of pseudo-Christs...and it goes on and on and on and on. You don't counterfeit the counterfeit, you counterfeit the real. You counterfeit the real.
Now you don't need to wonder if the real one shows up. You'll know. Look at verse 25. You'll know. "And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars and upon the earth dismay among nations in perplexity at the roaring of the seas and the waves. Men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. This is described in detail in the book of Revelation. Stars go out, the moon goes out, sun goes out, heavens collapse like rolling up a blind and let it go, brrrt, disappears, and in the blackness comes the blazing glory of the returning Jesus Christ. Then verse 27, "They will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” You don't need someone to say to you, "I'm here, I'm He." Really! You'll know. Verse 28, "When these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads because your redemption is drawing near."
Jesus is coming. There is no doubt about that. There is no question about that. Neither should there be any question about when He arrives because we will all know that full well. Now let's go back to our text for a moment.
Since this is all about the coming of Jesus Christ, it gives us the opportunity to look more closely at the Second Coming, to put it in context. Now I understand for those of you who have been here and those of you who have studied this, this is like going back to sort of 101 eschatology. But it is our blessed hope. It is something in which we rejoice. I can never talk about it often enough. I rejoice in it. There are many, many Christians who will not discuss it. There are many preachers who will not preach about it. There are many people who don't think that the details of it, the elements of it are important, even though they're laid out in immense detail in Scripture, and always for the terrorizing of sinners and the comfort of saints. And sinners need to be terrified and saints need to be comforted. This is how it all ends. And as I said, this return of Jesus Christ with its glorious elements as well as its destructive elements is all revealed to us for our understanding.
Now at the time that the Lord came the first time, the Roman Empire was at its zenith, its pinnacle. And Israel was on the eastern edge of this vast empire. They were lying in the grip of an oppressive, pagan, idolatrous nation. They didn't like it. It had been centuries since they had freedom and independence and a ruler from David's line. The only monarchy they had was a puppet monarchy made up of Herods, the Herodian family, and they were Idumaeans. And in case that doesn't register with you, that simply means they were Edomites from Edom. God cursed the Edomites. They were bitter, deadly enemies of Israel. So it's not bad enough that the only monarchy that's in your country is a monarchy of cursed enemies and one layer above that you have the polytheistic, demonized, idolatrous, Gentile Romans ruling you. And Rome was heavy-handed. Rome was brutal. The Romans viewed the Jews as inherently seditious. There were many Roman atrocities such as we read in Luke 13 where some of the Roman soldiers came in and massacred Jews worshiping God in the temple while they were worshiping. There were Jewish reprisals by people called Zealots who had within them terrorists called sicarii who ran around with little daggers and stabbed unsuspecting Romans. The Jews hated the situation they were in. They finally brought a revolt to such a level in 66 A.D. that the Romans had to come down to quell it and it's that that led to the 70 A.D. destruction of the temple, of the city, and of the nation. That was the beginning of the desolation, when the stones cried out, when the stones came down, a desolation still going on today.
But then, every faithful Jew wanted to be free from this oppression and, waiting for the Messiah to come, they put their hope in Him. It was Monday when the Messiah came in the city and that's what elevated everybody's anticipation of what might happen. They expected Him to come and establish the kingdom and fulfill all the promises. It's becoming clear now to the disciples, however, that there's going to be a judgment first. All they want to know is how fast is that judgment coming, and how fast after that is the kingdom coming. You will remember Luke 19:11 where it says, "They thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately." They were still high on the triumphal entry. They were still high on the fact that Jesus is the true Messiah. So they want to know, is this the end of the age? Is this the time when Your presence dominates Israel and the world? Is this it? How long? What are the signs? What are we looking for? But certainly they expected it immediately. Even in Acts chapter 1, after the resurrection, just before His ascension, after He taught them for forty days they said, "Will You at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?" As if to say, "Lord, we've waited forty days. Time's running out here."
They didn't suspect at all that it was far off, way off, way beyond their lifetime. Here we are 2,000 years later. In fact, the destruction that He spoke of didn't really begin for forty years, till 70 A.D. So in this answer that Jesus gives to their queries about the timing, He tells them three things. First: the preliminaries to His coming. Before He comes there will be things that take place. That's in the first part of the message. Then He gives them the information which I read you in verse 25 and following of His coming: preliminaries of His coming, His actual coming. And then starting in verse 29 to verse 36, how to prepare for that event. This is information for all generations up to now because, of course, we're closer to His coming than the world has ever been. He is coming, there are some preliminaries first, and there are necessary preparations.
Having established that, we back away a little bit and try to get the big picture. And that's what I've been trying to do; started it last week. And I will do that with you this morning, and one more time when I come back from Italy in a couple of weeks.
First of all, I told you last time that Jesus must return because the divine persons demand it. The divine persons demand it. The promise of God: He promised it. He promised Jesus would come and set up His kingdom and rule and judge. Clearly we went through all those promises in the Old Testament. The statements of Jesus Himself demand it. He is the one who talks about His own return. And this great sermon He gives here in Luke 21 is also recorded in Mark 13 and an even more full recording is in Matthew 24 and 25. So you have the promise of God, the statements of Jesus and then you have also the Word of the Holy Spirit, the Word of the Holy Spirit. The promises of God are in the Old Testament. The statements of Jesus are in the gospels. And the Word of the Spirit is in the rest of the New Testament. He is the author of the New Testament. The Second Coming is spoken of in Acts. It's spoken of in all the epistles and it's spoken of in detail in the book of Revelation. So that is the Holy Spirit's testimony to the return of Christ. So we say the divine persons demand it. Jesus must return because the Trinity has said He will. He did not accomplish in His first coming everything that the Father promised, everything that He Himself promised, everything that the Spirit promised, s well. So He must come back because our God is truth.
Secondly, and for today, the divine programs demand it. The divine programs demand it. You might think of the Bible as a somewhat complex book and there are certainly complexities in it, but overall, God has a very clearly revealed plan. He has a plan for Israel. He has a plan for the Gentiles, the nations. And He has a plan for the church. If you understand the plan for Israel, the plans for the nations, and the plan for the church, you basically understand the big picture of redemption. So let's look at those as the elements of the divine program that necessitate Christ's return.
Let's start with the church, the program for the church, the program for the church. Turn to Acts chapter 15, Acts chapter 15, just a little bit of background because we're looking at a big picture here, Acts chapter 15. The gospel, by now, in the book of Acts, has gone to the Gentiles. It has launched into the Gentile world. Paul and Barnabas have taken the gospel to the Gentiles. Even Peter has been used by God to take the gospel to the Gentiles.
So we...we have a report coming back to the Jerusalem Council, to the leaders of the Christians in Jerusalem, the church, the original church, which is all, of course, Jews, saved on the Day of Pentecost and then every day thereafter as the Lord was adding to the church daily those that were being saved. And they were meeting in the temple and worshiping and praising God and studying the apostles' doctrine and all of those things. Then they take the gospel to the Gentiles and they come back to the Jerusalem group with a report, verse 12. "All the multitude kept silent." Well, by the way, verse 11, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus in the same way that they also are. Salvation for everybody, Jew and Gentile, is by grace. "And then all the multitude kept silent." Now they know the grace of salvation given to them in the church that was founded on the Day of Pentecost has been extended beyond the Jews to the Gentiles. The Gentiles then are included in this saving grace. The multitude is stunned by this. They keep silent. They're listening to Barnabas and Paul as they were relating what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. It was important that God do the same things among the Gentiles that He had done on the Day of Pentecost, the same signs and wonders when the church was founded among the Jews, that He do the same thing among the Gentiles so they would know it was one and the same church, and that they had no less salvation, no less the work and the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit. So they report back.
"And after they had stopped speaking, James answered and said, 'Brethren, listen to me.'" James moderated this council, speaks. “Simeon,” Simon Peter, “has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name." We stop right there. That is a monumental statement. That is a massive, sweeping declaration because the Old Testament would tell us that God had determined to take to Himself a people called the Jews, that God had selected and saved Israel, those who in Israel believed, that God's people were the Jews, that out of all the possible strains of humanity, God has set His sovereign love and redemption on the Jews. That's how the Jews saw it. All along, believe me, the purpose was the Jews would be believers in the true God and they would take the message of salvation in the true God to the ends of the earth. But they didn't do it. God had all along determined that He would redeem Gentiles. Israel was not the end of His plan but the means to the end. They were unfaithful, however.
And so, there is a setting aside of Israel. As Paul says in Romans 11, they're chopped off the tree of blessing for a while, to be grafted in at a later time. But for now the Lord concerns Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. This is the church. Jesus had said — in Matthew 16 it's recorded — "I will build My church," future tense. It was launched on the Day of Pentecost when the Spirit of God came. Jesus said I can't start this till I send the Spirit. I can't send the Spirit till I return to the Father. He returns to the Father in the ascension, sends the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God comes on all those people who were saved that day, 3,000 on the Day of Pentecost who were all gathered in Jerusalem from all over the world, Jews who came back. The church spreads from that original group. Day to day it grows by tens and twenties and hundreds and thousands and eventually goes to Antioch and eventually out of Antioch missionaries are sent to the world and the church begins to spread across the world as God is gathering from the Gentiles a people for Himself. This is the church.
With this, verse 15 says, the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written. Listen to this, "After these things, I will return." And He quotes from Amos 9 in the Old Testament. And here the Spirit of God applies that very simply. The return, the "I will return" cannot happen until after God has gathered a people from the nations.
And what is the Great Commission? To go into all the world and what? Preach the gospel. And what is the commission to the disciples when they say, "Will You at this time bring, restore the kingdom to Israel?" And He says, You don't get it, hold on. The Holy Spirit is coming. After the Holy Spirit has come, “you'll be witnesses unto Me in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the world” because God is gathering a people from among the nations. After these things, the things that relate to that gathering, I will return and I will be...rebuild the tabernacle of David which is fallen and I will rebuild its ruins and I will restore it. The future kingdom, the Messiah on the throne of David, the reestablishment of the Davidic monarchy with its extensiveness all over Israel, ruling that land, will not come until He returns and He will not return until He has gathered His people from out of the Gentiles. That's why, I remember, last week I told you in 2 Peter 3, the Lord is not slack concerning His promises. He will come but He is long-suffering, not willing that any of those whose names are written in the Book of Life from before the foundation of the world should perish. Until they're all gathered in the church continues to move ahead. This is the times of the Gentiles in the sense of Gentile oppression on Israel, but this is also the time when God is gathering from every tongue and tribe and people a nation of people for Himself in His redeemed church. Then He will return. Then He will establish His kingdom. The tabernacle of David which has fallen will be rebuilt and restored. Then, verse 17, the rest of mankind may seek the Lord and “all the Gentiles who are called by My name, says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.”
That last element in verse 17 is simply to say: First He calls out the church; after this He returns. Then He sets up His millennial kingdom in which all nations are subject to Jesus Christ in that kingdom. The rest of mankind seeks Him. The sequence is consistent with the rest of Scripture, absolutely consistent. The Lord says, Israel, you've been an unfaithful channel. I'm going to call out a new channel, cut a new channel, the church, and I'm going to use the church from the Day of Pentecost on. It starts with Jews. It expands to go to the ends of the world to gather the people from out of the Gentiles. When the last soul is gathered, when that is done, then I will come and establish My kingdom. The Lord then is effectually calling out His church.
Now when the church is complete, when the church is fully filled with those whom God has determined to be a part of it, there is an event that will take place. Since we don't know when that is, we don't know that event will happen. But that event is the rapture of the church, the snatching out, the catching away. Look at John 14, John 14. We can't dig in to all of these things. We may do that a little bit later in some of our study. John 14:1, the disciples are very sad because Jesus is leaving and they know that. He said, "Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me." If you believe in God you ought to believe in Me since I'm God. "In My Father's house are many rooms. If I... If it were not so I would have told you.” It is so “and I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive it in myself that where I am there you may be also." I am going away, but I'm going away to prepare a place for you and I will come back to take you to be with Me.
The interesting thing about this passage is what isn't here. Whatever this coming back to get us is there's no judgment connected with it. There's no separation connected with it. It is a time when He comes to get His people and take them to heaven to be in the place that He's prepared in the Father's house. This is not the Lord coming back to set up a kingdom on earth. This is an event in which He comes for His redeemed people, Jew and Gentile, all who are a part of the church gathered from all the nations and takes them to glory. There's further word on this in 1 Corinthians 15, more detail about what this event will be. First Corinthians 15:51, "I tell you a mystery," that means something that has been hidden and is now revealed. The coming of Christ to set up His kingdom was not hidden in the Old Testament. It's clear there. The establishment of His kingdom, His rule over the world, His judgment of His enemies, and His judgment of the nations is in the Old Testament. The establishment of the new heavens and the new earth is in the Old Testament. But what isn't in the Old Testament is this rapture event, this hidden event that is now revealed. Here it is, "I tell you a mystery.” I unfold something heretofore not revealed. “We shall not all sleep.” We're not all going to die. Not all believers are going to die. We will all be transformed.” We will be changed. We're not all going to die.
What do you mean we're not all going to die? "Well in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye." It actually means the time it takes for light to bounce off your pupil, a millisecond. “In the...In the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet, for the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised imperishable and we shall all be changed." The dead are going to be raised when that moment comes and it is a moment like the light flashes off your eye. In that moment the dead are going to be raised and changed and we who are alive are going to be transformed. And immediately this perishable will put on the imperishable, and this mortal will put on immortality. This is what we have to look forward to. There's coming a split second when we're gone. Bodies come out of the graves, bodies of those long dead whose spirits are with the Lord, absent from the body, present with the Lord, far better to depart and be with Christ. When any believer dies, His spirit goes into the presence of the Lord, the resurrection awaits this event. Bodies will be caught up to meet the spirit already in the presence of the Lord. They will be in their permanent, eternal form and those who are alive will be transformed on the way up and were caught up into heaven in the twinkling of an eye. A trumpet blast, and the transformation takes place.
Look at 1 Thessalonians chapter 4, one other passage that speaks to this event. Notice also in 1 Corinthians 15, no judgment, no judgment. This is not the day of vengeance of our God. This is not the day of wrath. This is the transformation of believers. First Thessalonians 13, "We don't want you to be uninformed or ignorant, brethren, about those who are asleep," those who have died. They were worried about what's going to happen to Christians who had already died before the Lord gathers His church. “Don't grieve as if you had no hope, we know that if Jesus died and rose again, even so, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” Sure, if He died and rose again, He said, didn't He, "Because I live, you shall live also. I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me though he were dead yet shall he live." So here's what you need to know, "For this” verse 15 “we say to you by the word of the Lord," here is divine testimony, "we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord."
The coming of the Lord is a saga of events that starts with the Rapture and ends with the creation and the new heaven and the new earth. And it stretches from the rapture through the period of the tribulation, seven years, through the 1,000-year millennial kingdom until the final new creation. So it has a number of components. But He says, this particular component that we call the rapture and the transformation, he says, "By the word of the Lord, we who are alive at the time and remain” until this aspect of the coming of the Lord “will not proceed those who have fallen asleep." That is, the dead will come first. "The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel,” and there's the trumpet of God again, “and the dead in Christ shall rise first." Somebody said that's because they have six feet further to go. I don't think that's the best explanation of that. It may be possible. But the bottom line is, the bodies come out of the graves, join with the spirits of those already with the Lord and our bodies are transformed immediately. This imperishable puts on...This perishable puts on imperishable, this mortal puts on immortality, as 1 Corinthians said it.
This is the rapture. We who are alive and remain are caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and then we go on to always be with the Lord. That's not the Lord coming to earth to judge. That's not the Lord coming to earth to set up the kingdom. That's not the Lord coming to earth to fight the battle of Armageddon. That is the Lord coming down to take us up. That's a very different event. He comes only down to call us up. He doesn't come all the way down to establish His kingdom, a separate event from His return at the end of the tribulation when He comes all the way down, destroys the ungodly, wins the victory at Armageddon, brings His saints with Him and establishes His kingdom on earth. This is the event that ends the church age. God's plan for the church is clearly indicated in Scripture. Why must Jesus return? Because His program for the church demands it.
Secondly, His program for the nations demands it. Just quickly, His program for the nations demands it. This is not new. This is not a mystery now revealed. Go back to Joel chapter 3, all the way back to the prophet Joel in the Old Testament, verse 1, "Behold, in those days and at that time." What time? "When I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem.” In the future, the messianic time, the kingdom time. “I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat.” That's the valley where Yahweh judges. That's what that means. "And I will enter into judgment with them there." He's going to judge the nations. Verse 9, "Proclaim this among the nations. Prepare a war, arouse the mighty men, let all the soldiers draw near, let them come up. Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears.” Get ready for war when I come back. “Let the weak say I'm a mighty man.” Positive thinking. “Hasten and come, all you surrounding nations and gather yourselves there. Bring down, oh Lord, thy mighty ones. Let the nations be aroused and come to the Valley of Jehoshaphat for there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations. Put in the sickle for the harvest is ripe. Tread, for the winepress is full. The vats overflow for their wickedness is great; multitudes, multitudes in the Valley of Decision,” the valley where God renders His verdict. For the day of the Lord, the final Day of the Lord is near in the Valley of Decision. The sun and the moon grow dark. The stars lose their bright...lose their brightness. The Lord roars out of Zion; utters His voice from Jerusalem. The heavens and the earth tremble. “But the Lord is a refuge for His people and the stronghold to the sons of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, dwelling in Zion My holy mountain, so Jerusalem will be holy."
It's all there. When He comes to set up His kingdom, He comes to make war and bring judgment to the nations of the world. And then He sets up His kingdom after that great victory and judgment on the nations. It's then, verse 18, the mountains drip with sweet wine, the hills flow with milk and the brooks of Judah flow with water and the spring will go out from the house of the Lord and Egypt will become a waste and Edom a desolate wilderness. Why? Because they're the enemies of God. Verse 21: "He avenges the blood which He has not already avenged."
This is a time when He comes for the gathering of Israel, salvation of Israel. But it's also a time for the destruction of the nations. Jesus in the 25th chapter of Matthew... You need to look at it for just a second. Jesus in the 25th chapter of Matthew further describes this same event. And this is in the Olivet Discourse. This is in the Second Coming sermon, the same one that we're looking at in Luke 21, but Matthew includes some components that Luke does not. Verse 31 of Matthew 25: "When the Son of Man comes in His glory and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne and all the nations will be gathered before Him." Very different than the rapture, isn't it? In all those rapture passages, He doesn't come down, He doesn't sit on His throne, He doesn't gather the nations, there's no judgment, there's no wrath, there's no vengeance. He just takes us to heaven. There we become rewarded. We have the bridal feast, the marriage supper of the Lamb. We receive our eternal rewards. And after the tribulation on earth, then He comes back in glory, all His angels with Him and His saints as well, all the nations, verse 32, gathered before Him, He will separate them from one another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He goes through the nations of the world to separate believers from unbelievers, believers from unbelievers, believers from unbelievers.
To the believers, verse 34, "Come you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you," prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Verse 41, to the unbelievers, "Depart from Me, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels." Verse 46: "These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." He has a plan for the whole world. He's going to come and all of them are going to be brought before Him in the day of decision in the Valley of Decision where Yahweh judges and He's going to separate. At that time, Revelation 11:15 says, "The kingdom of this world becomes the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ," and Psalm 2 says, "He rules with a rod of iron."
The language of Joel, by the way, is repeated in the 14th chapter of Revelation. It sounds just like what Joel wrote. John had a vision. “I looked and behold, a white cloud, sitting on the cloud one like a Son of Man having a golden crown on His head and a sharp sickle in His hand. Another angel came out of the temple crying with a loud voice, to Him who sat on the cloud, Put in your sickle and reap for the hour to reap has come because the harvest of the earth is ripe. He who sat on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth, the earth was reaped. Another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, also had a sharp sickle. Another angel, the one who had power over fire, came out from the altar, called with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle saying, 'Put in your sharp sickle, gather the clusters from the vine of the earth because her grapes are ripe.'" This sounds exactly like Joel 3. "The angel swung his sickle to the earth, gathered the clusters from the vine of the earth, threw them into the great winepress of the wrath of God. The winepress was trodden outside the city. The blood came out from the winepress up to the horses' bridles for a distance of 200 miles."
Armageddon, the great battle when all the nations come to fight against Christ in Israel stretching from the northernmost border to the southernmost, 200 miles, and the blood splatters as high as horses in the massacre. God has a plan for the church. And when the last believer is redeemed comes the beginning of His Second Coming events with the rapture of the church. He has a plan for the nations, and when time for judgment comes, He will return to judge the nations, separating them, judging those who rejected Him, taking those who received Him into His kingdom.
And then finally, and just a comment: God's program for Israel demands it. God's program for Israel demands it. I don't need to go over this because we've done it so many times. He has promised to save Israel, Romans 11. All Israel will be saved in the future. The kingdom promised to Israel will come. I covered that in detail in the series I did on divine sovereignty, Israel, and eschatology. I don't know how many messages I did on that, but I don't want to drag you back through all of that. Old Testament promises again and again and again and again the salvation of Israel, the Kingdom that God promised to them, all the promises given to David and given to Abraham, all the New Covenant promises will come to pass. He will bring them into full kingdom glory.
Let me show you just one prophet and what he says. Ezekiel, Ezekiel chapter 20, looking ahead to these promises. Verse 33: "’As I live,’ declares the Lord God," God swearing by himself, "’surely with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm and with wrath poured out, I will be king over you.’" That hasn't happened yet. "I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you from the lands where you were scattered with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, and with wrath poured out. And I shall bring you into the wilderness of the people and there I shall enter into judgment with you face to face." God is going to gather the Jews and He's going to do the same thing with them that He does with the nations. He's going to sort them out. "I'll make you pass under the rod as a shepherd would his sheep to examine every one of them, and I'll bring you into the bond of the covenant and I shall purge from you the rebels and those who transgress against Me. I shall bring them out of the land where they sojourn.” They will not enter the land of Israel “and you will know I am the Lord your God." They'll never go the kingdom, those Jews who rejected Him.
But for those who receive Him, Ezekiel 36, our last passage, Ezekiel 36 verse 22, "Therefore say to the house of Israel, thus says the Lord God, It is not for your sake, oh Israel, that I'm about to act but for My holy name.” My name is at stake in your salvation because I promised it. “You've profaned Me among the nations where you went. But I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations which you have profaned in their midst. You have profaned My name,'" the opposite of what He desired them to do. "But I will vindicate My holiness," verse 23, Ezekiel 36, "then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight, for I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands, bring you into your own land.” I love this. “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean. I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and all your idols. Moreover I will give you a new heart, put a new spirit within you and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh and I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes and you will be careful to observe My ordinances and you will live in the land that I gave your forefathers. So you will be My people and I will be your God. Moreover, I will save you from all your uncleanness." He promises them salvation and the land and the kingdom.
God's not finished with Israel. He has a plan for Israel, He has a plan for the nations, plan for the church. That's why He must send Jesus Christ back, because as Zecharias said in Luke 1:72: "The Lord will remember His holy covenant." Jesus is coming. It all begins with the rapture. That's a signless event. It can happen at any moment. Believers have always lived with the reality of the imminency of that event. Let's pray.
Father, so much to think about with this profound and sweeping revelation regarding Your return. The sending of the Lord Jesus Christ to finish the work is so important. It is the reason for everything, this great climactic culmination of this universe's story, prewritten for us to know in detail. Lord, we rest in it, we trust in it. Your Word is true. Your Word is true about the past, true about the present, and true about the future. May we be prepared for this. May we be ready when Jesus gathers His own. I pray, Lord, that You'll work in the hearts of those who have never embraced Jesus Christ, that this day would be the day of their salvation. When you break through the dying power of sin, the killing power of sin, when you break through blindness, the work of Satan to obscure, and the light of shining glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ becomes clear, we pray that You would do that in hearts today. And for all of us knowing these things to be so, fill our hearts with hope, fill our hopes with zeal to reach people who need to be reached before this ending. May we be like John, who in knowing this felt both bitterness and sweetness; sweetness because Christ will finally be exalted, bitterness because sinners will be judged. May we live in that tension and may it affect both our work and our anticipation for Christ's glory as well as our passion to reach those who don't yet know Him. Amen.