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Preparing for the Return of Jesus Christ

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Preparing for the Return of Jesus Christ

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We will soon be entering the fall festival season that begins with the Feast of Trumpets, which serves as annual reminder of the return of Christ and the first resurrection. Don’t you wish there was something you could do to hasten the arrival of these monumental events?

Actually, the Bible says there is! The answer has to do with one of the two most important conditions that have to be met before Christ returns. What are these two most important conditions? Where would you look to find the answer?

Let’s begin with the Olivet prophecy recorded in Matthew 24. After describing many end time events, Jesus said, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). 

One of the two important conditions must be preaching the gospel to all nations, right? Yes, that is important as a sign of Christ’s return. Notice that I didn’t say the two most important events, but the most important conditions. So the answers do not include the formation of 10 nations as the Beast power, nor the need for a temple to be built in Jerusalem—or any other single event.

Let’s see what the Bible reveals as conditions just prior to the return of Christ.

“When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes….

“So you, too, must keep watch!  For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would keep watch and not permit his house to be broken into. You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected” (Matthew 24:37-39, Matthew 24:42-44, New Living Translation). The NRSV reads “keep awake” at the beginning of this verse. The CJB reads, “stay alert,” CEV says “be on your guard” and ERV reads, “always be ready.”

Jesus mentions end-time world conditions and issues a warning to the elect to be ready for His return. So we see two groups of people—unsaved people of the world and God’s people (the elect).

Let’s now identify the two most important conditions that will determine when Christ returns.

Condition #1: The unsaved people at the end of the age must be ready to listen, be taught, and respond to the truth of God.

As we saw from what we read in the Olivet prophecy, many people will be too wrapped up in “the good life” to recognize or pay attention to the signs of the times. They are too comfortable and focused on activities and materialism to care about what God is doing. The Bible labels this problem as idolatry (Colossians 2:5).

Idolatry has long been one of the main sins of mankind including God’s people. The book of Judges documents the cycles of God’s blessing, idolatry, God’s punishment, the nation’s repentance, God’s forgiveness and blessing, only to have the cycle repeated many times over.

One is reminded of the lyrics from the chorus of the song “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”— “When will they ever learn?” The punishment must be severe enough for people to be ready to listen to God.

It will take the unprecedented catastrophic events prophesied in the Olivet prophecy and the book of Revelation—the Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord—to make people ready to surrender to God and be willing to be taught during the millennial rule of Jesus Christ.

God will not send Jesus Christ to earth to rescue humanity until the destruction reaches the point where universal annihilation would otherwise result, and people will realize that humanity is at the point at which one has run out of options or the ability to delay.

“For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened” (Matthew 24:21-22).

So what does all this mean for God’s people? Once again, Jesus mentions both the conditions of the unsaved world and the elect in the context of His intervention to save the world.

The Bible also describes the end results for both groups of people with the metaphor of two harvests (grapes and wheat)—when the crops are ripe.

“Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud sat One like the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle. And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, “Thrust in Your sickle and reap, for the time has come for You to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.” So He who sat on the cloud thrust in His sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped.”

“Then another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.

And another angel came out from the altar, who had power over fire, and he cried with a loud cry to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, “Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe.” So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses' bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs” (Revelation 14:14-20).

This first “harvest” relates to punishment of the world at the return of Jesus Christ (see also Revelation 19:11-16).

Jesus told them a parable to describe another “harvest”—of wheat symbolizing the righteous: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn’” (Matthew 13:24-30, New International Version). 

“Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.’ He answered, ‘The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear’” (Matthew 13:36-43, NIV).

Condition #2: At the time of the end, God’s people must be ready for Christ’s return.

Revelation 19 speaks of the condition of God’s faithful elect at the return of Christ. They will be ripe for the harvest and gathering into God’s “barn” (Revelation 14:15, Matthew 13:43). These righteous faithful members are described as the bride of Christ.

“I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, ‘Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.’ And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Revelation 19:6-8).

But not all of God’s people at the time of the end will be ready for the wedding.

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept.

But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour (Matthew 25:1-13).

According to this parable, all the bridesmaids became drowsy and slept (cp. Matthew 25:13). This implies that all of God’s people at the time of the end become drowsy and fall asleep spiritually up to the very moment of Christ’s return.

A Chinese proverb suggests, “It is hard to wake up someone who is pretending to be asleep.”

Likewise, it is hard to wake up someone who doesn’t realize he or she is asleep. I know from past personal experience that it is difficult for people who walk in their sleep to be awakened because they think that they are awake. The same is true spiritually. So we all need to ask ourselves, have I gotten and responded to my wakeup call, or am I still walking in my sleep?

Many who considered 9-11 as a wakeup call for this nation unfortunately have subsequently gone back to sleep.

So Jesus admonishes, “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34-36, New Revised Standard Version).

A common problem for those of us in affluent societies is becoming weighed down with mundane concerns of life that distract us from the signs of the times. So Jesus warns, “Whoever has ears, let them hear” (Matthew 13:36). 

Peter asks, “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now If the righteous one is scarcely saved, Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?" (1 Peter 4:17-18)

Paul offers this timeless admonition, “Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief…. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober... For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-9, NIV).

God will decide when both conditions prior to Christ’s return have been met.

As Jesus told His disciples, "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority (Acts 1:7). God will decide when both conditions prior to Christ’s return have been met. As mentioned earlier, we can help to determine when that will happen.

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming (2 Peter 3:9-12, NIV).

So how much do we want God’s Kingdom to come soon to put an end to the suffering in the world—not only for the unsaved people in the world, but for God’s elect as well, and all creation?

“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:1-3).

The word behold means to consider or focus attention on something very important, especially a miraculous event. Verse 3 tells us that God’s love for us, evidenced by what it means to be His children with the promise of eternal life, should motivate us to put forth the effort to purify ourselves as a top priority of life.

The verb purify is in the present tense, which implies the need to continue the process of purifying ourselves. So the New Living Translation renders verse 3 as, “And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure.”

The Feast of Trumpets can be seen as a wake-up call to God’s people.

Accordingly, in Romans we are given words of admonition from the apostle, Paul.

“This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living” (Romans 13:11-12, NLT).

“Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets” (Acts 3:19-21, NRSV).

“Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:10-11).

“So, dear brothers and sisters, work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen. Do these things, and you will never fall away. Then God will give you a grand entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:4-11, NLT).