The Messiah's Misunderstood Mission

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The Messiah's Misunderstood Mission

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He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him’ (John 1:11 John 1:11He came to his own, and his own received him not.
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Jesus performed miracles and signs. He healed the sick, raised the dead, quelled storms of nature, fed the multitudes and exercised absolute authority over the spirit world—yet He wasn’t accepted as Israel’s Messiah.

One might think that with those credentials, He would be automatically proclaimed Messiah. We are told, however, that “He came to His own [people], and His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11 John 1:11He came to his own, and his own received him not.
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). After a 3 1⁄ 2-year ministry, only 120 followers were there for the miraculous beginning of His Church (Acts 1:15 Acts 1:15And in those days Peter stood up in the middle of the disciples, and said, (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty,)
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One of the prophecies about the Messiah foretold that He would be “despised and rejected by men” (Isaiah 53:3 Isaiah 53:3He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
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). The great works Jesus did that brought about His popularity in the country were not enough to overcome the disfavor He incurred from the religious authorities—or enough to secure loyalty from the fickle hearts of the common man.

His mission and His teachings were at cross purposes to those who held high positions in the nation, and His purpose was also misunderstood by most of those who saw and heard Him.

What were the Jews looking for?

The Jews were acquainted with many of the prophecies about the Messiah, the chosen or “anointed one” as the word means in Hebrew. They firmly believed that the Messiah would be a strong and glorious earthly king who would deliver them from their Roman oppressors and form once again a great and independent Jewish kingdom. The wise men who came from the east seeking the newborn Jesus inquired at Jerusalem, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:1-2 Matthew 2:1-2 1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, 2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
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King Herod, who ruled Judea under the Romans, clearly understood that the Messiah the Jews expected was to be another king and thus a rival to himself. He then asked the chief priests and scribes “where the Christ was to be born” so he could eliminate the threat to his power (Matthew 2:3-16 Matthew 2:3-16 3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. 5 And they said to him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, 6 And you Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, are not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of you shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. 7 Then Herod, when he had privately called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when you have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. 9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, see, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. 11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented to him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way. 13 And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be you there until I bring you word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. 14 When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: 15 And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son. 16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.
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In the Greek language in which the New Testament was written, Christos ( Christ in English) has the same meaning as the Hebrew word Mashiach ( Messiah in English) “anointed one,” signifying one who was specially chosen by God (see “What Do ‘Messiah’ and ‘Jesus Christ’ Mean?” beginning on page 68). Herod and the Jewish rulers considered the title “Christ” as synonymous with that of “King of the Jews” in accordance with the general expectation of the time (compare Matthew 2:2 Matthew 2:2Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
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and Matthew 2:4 Matthew 2:4And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.
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The expectation that the Christ would be a king fit with their understanding that He would also be a descendant of David, the most famous of all the kings of Israel and the one by whom all other kings were measured. We see this illustrated in Matthew 22:42 Matthew 22:42Saying, What think you of Christ? whose son is he? They say to him, The son of David.
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, when Jesus asked the Pharisees, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?” Their response was, “The Son of David” (Matthew 22:42 Matthew 22:42Saying, What think you of Christ? whose son is he? They say to him, The son of David.
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Jesus was addressed as “Son of David” by two blind men (Matthew 9:27 Matthew 9:27And when Jesus departed there, two blind men followed him, crying, and saying, You son of David, have mercy on us.
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), by the woman of Canaan (Matthew 15:22 Matthew 15:22And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried to him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, you son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.
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) and by the blind men at Jericho (Matthew 20:30 Matthew 20:30And, behold, two blind men sitting by the way side, when they heard that Jesus passed by, cried out, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord, you son of David.
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). When Jesus healed a demon-possessed man who was both blind and mute, “all the multitudes were amazed and said, ‘Could this be the Son of David?’” (Matthew 12:22-23 Matthew 12:22-23 22 Then was brought to him one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb: and he healed him, so that the blind and dumb both spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David?
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). At His entry into Jerusalem He was greeted with shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Matthew 21:9 Matthew 21:9And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.
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The number and scope of the miracles Jesus performed—miracles not equaled in the history of Israel even by the great prophets—led people to the conclusion that He had to be the prophesied Messiah. “And many of the people believed in Him, and said, ‘When the Christ [Messiah] comes, will He do more signs than these which this Man has done?’” (John 7:31 John 7:31And many of the people believed on him, and said, When Christ comes, will he do more miracles than these which this man has done?
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Time for a restored kingdom?

When the people desired the appearance of “the Son of David,” they were hoping for the prophesied One who would restore the kingdom of Israel under the Davidic dynasty.

At one point when Jesus miraculously fed a following of 5,000 men, they were convinced that He was “the Prophet who is to come into the world” (John 6:14 John 6:14Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world.
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). This is an allusion to Moses’ prophecy of “a Prophet like me” in Deuteronomy 18:15-19 Deuteronomy 18:15-19 15 The LORD your God will raise up to you a Prophet from the middle of you, of your brothers, like to me; to him you shall listen; 16 According to all that you desired of the LORD your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not. 17 And the LORD said to me, They have well spoken that which they have spoken. 18 I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brothers, like to you, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak to them all that I shall command him. 19 And it shall come to pass, that whoever will not listen to my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.
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. The disciples of Jesus identified Jesus as this same Prophet, “Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45 John 1:45Philip finds Nathanael, and said to him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.
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What better king can you have than one who will miraculously feed you? This miracle caused a groundswell of support to make Him king then and there. But “when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone” (John 6:14-15 John 6:14-15 14 Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world. 15 When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone.
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). He made Himself scarce. To become a human king over a powerful Israel was not a part of Jesus’ mission at that time.

Even after His death and resurrection, His disciples were still focused on the idea that He would restore the Davidic kingdom to Israel then and there. They asked Him, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6 Acts 1:6When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, will you at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?
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). They didn’t yet understand all the pieces of the prophetic puzzle He was unveiling to them.

Understanding the messianic prophecies

These misconceptions were based in part on misunderstanding the timing of the prophecies from their own Scriptures. On close examination, Jesus spoke and acted in a way that revealed His true mission for His first coming—which was spelled out in Bible prophecy, though not in a way that they understood.

The Messiah was indeed prophesied to come to His people. We have already shown that many of those prophecies were fulfilled when He came to earth in the flesh. He was a servant, suffered during His life and willingly offered His life as a sacrifice. But there were many prophecies that were not fulfilled—at least not at that time .

There are the great prophecies of Isaiah, for instance, that tell us that “in the latter days … the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it” (Isaiah 2:2 Isaiah 2:2And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it.
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In Bible prophecy, mountains and hills are used to represent governments or nations. This prophecy foretells a time when the future Kingdom of the Messiah will be established and will reign over all earthly governments and nations. The prophetic understanding of this divine Kingdom was at the heart of Jesus Christ’s message as well as the ultimate role of the Messiah.

When Jesus announced the Kingdom of God is at hand (Mark 1:15 Mark 1:15And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent you, and believe the gospel.
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), He was simply speaking of the future Kingdom of God that would come to earth—and He was the way into that Kingdom. Many times, when the Gospels say that “they believed in Him,” they believed He was the Messiah who would create a kingdom of Israel at that time!

Why Jesus wasn’t more direct

Throughout His ministry Jesus corrected people’s misconceptions of the expected Messiah by calling attention to the true meaning of the Scriptures they relied on but misinterpreted. The Jews of His day so misunderstood the Old Testament prophecies that they could not recognize the very Messiah that they expected at any moment to appear among them!

Interestingly, Jesus did not go around announcing that He was the Christ. He forbade the demons He had cast out of those possessed to confess that He was the Christ (Luke 4:41 Luke 4:41And devils also came out of many, crying out, and saying, You are Christ the Son of God. And he rebuking them suffered them not to speak: for they knew that he was Christ.
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). And when Peter—in reply to Jesus’ direct question “Who do you say that I am?”—responded that He was the Messiah, Jesus strictly commanded the disciples to tell no one that He was the Christ (Matthew 16:15-20 Matthew 16:15-20 15 He said to them, But whom say you that I am? 16 And Simon Peter answered and said, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. 17 And Jesus answered and said to him, Blessed are you, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but my Father which is in heaven. 18 And I say also to you, That you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 20 Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ.
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He answered the question of the imprisoned John the Baptist (“Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?”) by directing him to the proofs of His messianic claims—His teachings and His works (Matthew 11:2-6 Matthew 11:2-6 2 Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, 3 And said to him, Are you he that should come, or do we look for another? 4 Jesus answered and said to them, Go and show John again those things which you do hear and see: 5 The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. 6 And blessed is he, whoever shall not be offended in me.
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But there were a few occasions where He affirmed His messianic identity quite plainly. For example, He revealed who He was to the Samaritan woman at the well. “I know that Messiah is coming,” she told Him—to which Jesus responded, “I who speak to you am He” (John 4:25-26 John 4:25-26 25 The woman said to him, I know that Messias comes, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things. 26 Jesus said to her, I that speak to you am he.
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). Even at the beginning of His ministry, He accepted the confession of His first disciples when they acknowledged Him to be the Messiah (John 1:41-50 John 1:41-50 41 He first finds his own brother Simon, and said to him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ. 42 And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, You are Simon the son of Jona: you shall be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone. 43 The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and finds Philip, and said to him, Follow me. 44 Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip finds Nathanael, and said to him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. 46 And Nathanael said to him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip said to him, Come and see. 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and said of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! 48 Nathanael said to him, From where know you me? Jesus answered and said to him, Before that Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you. 49 Nathanael answered and said to him, Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel. 50 Jesus answered and said to him, Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, believe you? you shall see greater things than these.
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Jesus privately on occasion accepted the titles “Messiah” and “Son of God,” but publicly He avoided such designations. What He would have intended by these titles and the way in which the Jews would have taken them were two different things. Jesus couldn’t deny who He was nor what He intended to do, but He was careful to explain the nature of the future Kingdom and dispel misapprehensions about His mission.

Jesus understood what His people were looking for in a Messiah. It’s probably partially for that reason that He usually refrained from claiming the title for Himself and discouraged others from using it. To fulfill the mission of His first coming, He did not want to spark a popular uprising of Jews anxious to establish their own independent kingdom against the despised Roman rule at that time.

Moreover, had Jesus proclaimed Himself as the Messiah, it would have provoked immediate confrontation between Himself and the Jewish and Roman authorities, thereby bringing about His execution prematurely. Yet when it was time, Jesus affirmed to both the Jewish and Roman authorities that this was who He was.

Jesus the King

At Jesus’ trial the high priest asked him, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus answered: “I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:61-62 Mark 14:61-62 61 But he held his peace, and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked him, and said to him, Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? 62 And Jesus said, I am: and you shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.
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). The high priest immediately accused Jesus of blasphemy and deserving of death (Mark 14:64 Mark 14:64You have heard the blasphemy: what think you? And they all condemned him to be guilty of death.
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Yes, Jesus was indeed the Messiah, sent from God and born to be king. He made this fact clear when He stood before Pilate. However, Jesus had preached the Kingdom of God rather than the kingdom of Israel.

The Jews accused Him before Pilate of claiming to be “Christ, a King,” which would make Him a direct threat to Roman authority (Luke 23:2 Luke 23:2And they began to accuse him, saying, We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a King.
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Pilate, concerned about this allegation, asked Jesus about the charge. Jesus answered by saying, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36 John 18:36Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.
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). Pilate pressed Jesus further, asking if He were indeed a king. Jesus replied: “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world” (John 18:37 John 18:37Pilate therefore said to him, Are you a king then? Jesus answered, You say that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Every one that is of the truth hears my voice.
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However, Pilate got the impression that Caesar’s kingdom was under no threat from Jesus. Yet, in the end, the Jews convinced Pilate to have Him executed on the grounds that He claimed to be a king (John 19:12 John 19:12And from thereafter Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, If you let this man go, you are not Caesar’s friend: whoever makes himself a king speaks against Caesar.
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). Pilate even had the title ” King of the Jews” placed above Jesus’ head as He was crucified (John 19:19-22).

After having ordered Jesus to be scourged, Pilate brought Him out to the crowd and announced, “Behold your King,” apparently thinking the heinous beating He had endured would satisfy them. “But they cried out, ‘Away with Him, away with Him! Crucify Him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar!’” (John 19:14-15 John 19:14-15 14 And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he said to the Jews, Behold your King! 15 But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate said to them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar.
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They didn’t recognize their own King.

The future Kingdom

Jesus plainly told Pilate His Kingdom was not then, not there. It would not be one of the kingdoms of this present world—of this present age of man. But there is a future age coming, in which His Kingdom will be established on the earth to rule all nations.

Many prophecies about Jesus’ role as the Messiah were indeed fulfilled by Him during His 3 1⁄ 2-year ministry. But the fulfillment of many more—those about the establishment of the Kingdom of God over the whole earth—are yet to be fulfilled by Jesus Christ.

When Jesus began to speak about the Kingdom of God, the people did not fully understand. In the thinking of most first-century Jews, there was no distinction between the prophecies of the Messiah’s first coming and those of His second.

To the people of His day, the prophecies of the Messiah and the Messianic Kingdom were like looking at the stars. They all appear to be as a canopy above us, all about the same distance. But in reality there are vast distances between the stars. With the naked eye, we cannot tell which ones are closer and which are farther away. The messianic prophecies appeared like that to the Jews. Most expected all prophecies to be fulfilled in a single coming of the Messiah.

His second coming

Although most people missed Jesus’ first coming, no one will miss His second. Jesus said all the people of the earth “will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30 Matthew 24:30And 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.
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But when He comes the second time, will He be accepted then? What will people expect? Will the Jews think that He will come just to them? Will Christians think they are going to be taken away from the earth? Will the world think He is an invader from somewhere?

Jesus gave a vision to His apostle John, recorded for us in the book of Revelation. In it Jesus completes the prophecies He gave during His earthly ministry. It’s most interesting to note that He will not be accepted by the world the second time, just as He wasn’t accepted at His first coming. When He comes the second time, He won’t come as one announcing the Kingdom of God, He will come as Ruler to establish the Kingdom of God!

Make no mistake—the nations will again reject Him. He speaks of the time of His return as being “the great day of His wrath,” when the nations are angry at God’s intervention (Revelation 6:16-17 Revelation 6:16-17 16 And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: 17 For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?
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; Revelation 11:17-18 Revelation 11:17-18 17 Saying, We give you thanks, O LORD God Almighty, which are, and were, and are to come; because you have taken to you your great power, and have reigned. 18 And the nations were angry, and your wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that you should give reward to your servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear your name, small and great; and should destroy them which destroy the earth.
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). Leaders of the world will “gather … to the battle of that great day of God Almighty,” in which they will fight against Him (Revelation 16:14 Revelation 16:14For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.
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).

At Jesus’ second coming He is pictured as One who “judges and makes war” (Revelation 19:11 Revelation 19:11And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he does judge and make war.
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). He will “strike the nations” with a sword and tread “the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God” (Revelation 19:15 Revelation 19:15And out of his mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treads the wine press of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.
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).

Such passages make it clear that the world will not receive Christ with open arms when He comes back. This is the other side of the picture of Jesus that is not taught very much today. When He returns, He will meet with a hostile reception from the world—just as He did the first time.

This leads us to ask the question, do we really know the real Jesus? Do we really know what He is doing? Are we really preparing ourselves to be accepted and rewarded by Him when He establishes His Kingdom? And what is that Kingdom all about? We’ll address those crucial questions in the next chapter.

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