In his great novel about the French Revolution, called A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens began his story with some of the most memorable words in all of English literature:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…
These words have never been truer than they are today. Everywhere we look, in every direction, the world appears to be falling apart.
- We are racked by wars and rumors of wars.
- Immorality and violence are rampant.
- Our money is being devalued and debased.
- Our educational systems have been hijacked by Humanists and Atheists.
- Our political systems are gridlocked by value wars and corruption.
- All of nature seems to be reeling out of control, producing one calamity after another.
- Our churches are being destroyed by rampant apostasy.
- True Christianity is under attack from all sides, and Christians are being marginalized as intolerant bigots.
Yet, despite all this economic, social, political and religious chaos, it is the best of times because all these developments are a fulfillment of end time prophecies that point to the imminent return of Jesus!
Jesus Himself said that society would become as immoral and violent as in the days of Noah. And He said that when we see that happening, we are to “look up and be watchful, for our Redemption will be drawing near” (Luke 21:28).
Those of us who have committed our lives to Jesus may see all that is dear to us disintegrate before our very eyes, but we are going to win in the end.
We may suffer terrible persecution, but we are going to win in the end.
We may see the collapse of the dollar and the fall of the United States as a world power, but we are going to win in the end.
How can I be so confident? Because the Bible promises us ultimate victory, and I know for certain the Bible is true.
Our Promised Victory
What is our promised victory? Let me summarize it for you.
- We are promised that at any moment now we will be taken out of this world in the Rapture of the Church.
- We are promised that God will then pour out His wrath on the wicked world leaders who currently thumb their noses at Him.
- We are promised that Jesus will then return to reign over all the world in glory and majesty from Mount Zion in Jerusalem, and all the earth will be flooded with peace, righteousness, and justice.
- We are promised that we will ultimately be given an eternal home on this planet after it has been refreshed and perfected by God.
- We are promised that we will live eternally on that new planet in glorified, immortal bodies in the presence of our Creator and Savior.
Again, how can I be certain of these victorious promises? Because the Bible tells me so. And the Bible can be trusted as the infallible Word of God.
How do I know that?
Because it is the only book in the world that contains fulfilled prophecies.
And, because all the prophecies concerning the First Coming of the Messiah were literally and precisely fulfilled, we can be confident that all the prophecies about the Messiah’s return and triumph will be literally and precisely fulfilled.
Let’s take a quick, overview look at God’s Plan for the Ages. There are four major prophesied triumphal events on the horizon that we as born again children of God can look forward to: The Rapture, The Second Coming, The Millennium, and Heaven.
Our first promise of victory is the Rapture of the Church.
This is an event that is often confused with the Second Coming — but they are not the same. A careful study of the Scriptures reveals that the return of Jesus is going to be in two stages — first, the Rapture, and then later, the Second Coming.
The fact that these are two separate events can be easily demonstrated.
There are only two detailed descriptions of the Lord’s return in the New Testament — 1 Thessalonians 4 and Revelation 19.
And these two passages are as different as night and day. The two passages have nothing in common except that they both focus on Jesus Christ.
Figure 1 illustrates how different they are.
How can these passages be reconciled? I believe the only way to reconcile these two accounts is to conclude that they are talking about two different events and that the Lord’s return will be in two stages — first, the Rapture, and then the Second Coming. First Thessalonians 4 describes the Rapture of the Church. Revelation 19 presents the Lord’s return to this earth.
Solving Another Problem
This reconciliation solves another problem.
The Point: If there is only one future coming, then the Lord’s return is not imminent because there are many prophecies that must be fulfilled before He can return to earth:
- 7 Years of Tribulation
- The Rebuilding of the Temple
- The Revelation of the Antichrist
- The Killing of the Two Witnesses
- The Desecration of the Temple
- The Institution of the Mark of the Beast
- The Salvation of the Jewish Remnant
The Point Again: The only way the Lord’s return can be imminent is for there to be a Rapture that is separate and apart from the Second Coming — and which can occur at any moment, without the fulfillment of any prophecies.
Another Problem Solved
This reconciliation also solves another problem.
The Bible says that no one can know the date of the Lord’s return. But the date of the Second Coming can be calculated precisely. The book of Revelation says it will take place exactly 2,520 days or 7 prophetic years from the day the Tribulation begins.
Therefore, the statement about not knowing the date must apply to the Lord’s appearing in the Rapture. Again, the solution is two future comings — an Appearing and a Return.
The Second Coming
This brings us to the second great prophetic event of triumph that we can look forward to — the Second Coming.
The Bible says Jesus will return to this earth at the end of the seven years of the Great Tribulation. He will return to the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem from which He ascended into Heaven (Zechariah 14:1-9).
This will occur when the Jewish people have come to the end of themselves through the persecution of the Antichrist, motivating them to turn their hearts to God (Zechariah 12:10).
When Jesus comes, they will look upon Him whom they have pierced, they will recognize Him as their Messiah, they will repent of their rejection of Him, and they will cry out, “Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matthew 23:39).
At that point Jesus will speak a supernatural word and the Antichrist and his forces will be instantly annihilated in the Valley of Armageddon (Zechariah 14:12 and 2 Thessalonians 2:8). Jesus will then resurrect the Old Testament Saints (Daniel 12:1-2) and the Tribulation Martyrs (Revelation 20:4), giving them their glorified bodies.
He will proceed to judge all those still living, both Gentiles and Jews (Matthew 25:31-46 and Ezekiel 20:33-38). The Saved will be allowed to enter the Millennium in the flesh. The Unsaved will be consigned to death and Hades.
This brings us to the third great triumphal event Christians should be looking forward to — the Lord’s Millennial reign.
The Bible says that those of us in glorified bodies will reign with Jesus over those in the flesh for a thousand years, during which time the earth will be flooded with peace, righteousness, and justice.
During those thousand years, God is going to fulfill four promises He has made, as outlined below.
1) To Jesus — God has promised that the day will come when Jesus will receive honor, glory, and power.
Jesus was humiliated the first time He came. He was rejected by His own people. He was mocked, scourged, and murdered.
During the Millennium He will receive the honor He is due, and He will be glorified in history.
Isaiah describes it this way (Isaiah 24:23):
Then the moon will be abashed and the sun ashamed, for the LORD of hosts will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and His glory will be before His elders.
Paul, in 2 Thessalonians 1:10, makes the same point:
[Jesus is returning] to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed…
2) To the Creation — Restoration to its original perfection.
Repeatedly in the Hebrew Scriptures, the promise is made that God will one day redeem His creation. Isaiah 11 says the wolf will dwell with the lamb and the lion will eat straw with the ox (Isaiah 11:6-9).
Peter affirmed this promise in his sermon to the Sanhedrin Council when he declared (Acts 3:19-21):
19) Repent… in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord;
20) and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you,
21) whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time.
God is going to redeem all of His creation, returning it to the original perfection that existed when He created it.
3) To the Nations — Peace, Righteousness and Justice.
Again, the Hebrew Scriptures speak of this promise many times. One example can be found in Micah 4:3 where the prophet emphasizes that the Messiah will bring peace:
He will judge between many peoples and render decisions for mighty, distant nations. Then they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they train for war.
The prophet Isaiah emphasizes the righteousness and justice that the Messiah will bring to the world (Isaiah 11:4-5):
4) But with righteousness He will judge the poor, and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth…
5) Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins, and faithfulness the belt about His waist.
4) To the Jews — Primacy among the nations.
God will regather all the believing Jews in the world who are left alive at the end of the Tribulation, and they will be established as the prime nation of the world (Deuteronomy 30:1-9). He will then fulfill all the promises He has ever made to them.
Consider, for example, the incredible promises of Isaiah 60 which God made to the Jewish people — promises that have never yet been fulfilled:
2) The glory of the Lord will appear upon you [Israel].
3) And nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.
5) The wealth of nations will come to you… And the sons of those who afflicted you will come bowing to you, and all who despised you will bow themselves at the soles of your feet.
15) Whereas you have been forsaken and hated… I will make you an everlasting pride, a joy from generation to generation.
20)… the days of your mourning will be finished.
21) Then all your people will be righteous and they will possess the land forever.
The prophet Zechariah describes the Millennial glory of Israel with some remarkable imagery (Zechariah 8:22-23):
22) Many peoples and many nations will come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the Lord.
23) Thus says the Lord of hosts, “In those days, ten men from all the nations will grasp the garment of a Jew saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.'”
What a statement that is! It means the centuries of persecution of the Jews will finally come to an end. No longer will they be the butt of jokes or the target of harassment or the victims of murder.
5) To the Church Age Saints (you and me) — Ruling power over the nations.
This is a promise made many times in the Scriptures, both in the Old Testament and the New.
Here is one example from Daniel 7:27 in the Old Testament:
Then the sovereignty, the dominion, and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him.
And here is confirmation in the New Testament (Revelation 2:26-27):
26) He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations;
27) and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as I also have received authority from My Father…
The final stage of God’s Plan for the Ages will come at the end of the Millennium, when we will be presented with our Heavenly home.
The Redeemed will be removed from this planet to the New Jerusalem which Jesus has been preparing for us. And I suspect that from that vantage point, we will be able to watch the greatest fireworks display in history as God superheats this earth to burn away the pollution of Satan’s last revolt.
Out of that fiery inferno will come a new heaven and a new earth that will serve as our eternal abode.
That’s right, Heaven will be on a new earth. We will be lowered down inside the New Jerusalem to the new earth, and God Himself will come to earth to live among us.
Here’s how it is described in Revelation 21:
1) Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away…
2) And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3) And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them,
4) and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
5) And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.”
6) Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.
7) “He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.”
Notice the one to whom all these promises are made: the overcomer. In 1 John 5 we find a definition of an overcomer:
1) Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God…
5) And who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
If you have put your trust in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, then you are an overcomer, and you are an heir of all these promises.
According to Revelation 22:4, we will “see God’s face” — which means we will have intimate fellowship with our Creator eternally.
And Revelation 22:3 says we will “serve Him forever.” Yes, we are going to have meaningful and fulfilling things to do in service to our Creator.
In summary, let’s look at an overview of God’s Plan for the Ages as illustrated in Figure 2.
- The end times began on Pentecost in about 30 AD when the church was established.
- We have now been in the Church Age for 1900 years plus.
- The Church Age will come to a halt with the appearance of Jesus in the heavens, followed by the Rapture of the Church Age Saints, both the living and the dead.
- The Church Age will be followed by the Great Tribulation which will last 7 years.
- We will be in Heaven with the Lord during the Tribulation, but we will return with Him at the end of the Tribulation to reign with Him over all the world.
- Then will come the Millennial reign of Jesus, lasting 1,000 years.
- The final stage of history will be the eternal state or Heaven when we will live eternally in glorified bodies in a New Jerusalem located on a New Earth.
The Glory of the Victory
Now I hope you can better understand the meaning of two great passages written by the Apostle Paul.
First, Romans 8:18: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
He repeats this sentiment in 1 Corinthians 2:9-10 where he writes: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, nor has the mind of Man conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.” But in the next verse, he adds that these glorious things have been revealed to us through His Spirit — speaking, of course of His Word.
In like manner, the Apostle Peter referred to the events we have surveyed as “God’s precious and magnificent promises” (2 Peter 1:4).
When you consider the details of God’s Glorious Plan for the Ages, how can you possibly be passive or apathetic?
We are promised victory, and it will be achieved with: The Rapture, The Second Coming, The Millennium, and Life Eternal with God in Glorified Bodies on a New Earth.
Clouds of darkness may be gathering around us, but the Light is about to break through.
It is the worst of times, but it is the best of times, for the signs of the times are shouting the good news that Jesus is coming soon!
In response, you and I should be shouting, MARANATHA! Come quickly, Lord Jesus!