Running the race in the last days Bible study
The Sudden Ending - The soon unexpected return
by I Gordon
We tried last time to look forward. Forward far enough to gaze right over... into Beulah land, our heavenly home. Now initially, I was going to make this the final study in the series looking at the rewards at the bema seat of Christ. But I did something that sometimes has a habit of changing what you are doing... I prayed. And the thought that came to me as I prayed was this - 'the sudden ending'. So this study is on the sudden ending to our race.
You see, all races have a finish line so you can plan for that. Run the first few laps at a certain pace if you want and then decide when you are going to make your big final push for the finish line. Maybe you'll go with a lap to go. Maybe 200m. But what would a race be like if it could end at any stage and you didn't know when? Imagine if there was someone that would suddenly call 'It is finished' and that was that. Wherever you are when the call comes is where you will end. That would be a strange race would it not? Well, welcome to the Christian race (and the human race for that matter!) You don't know when it is going to end!
But I'm not talking about death when I speak of 'the sudden ending'1. This series is 'running the race in the last days' not 'running the face until you croak'. So when I speak about 'the sudden ending', I'm talking about His return! It is something that can happen at any moment.
So we'll explore this by focusing on the following points:
1. The 'sudden and unexpected' aspect of His return as taught by Jesus
2. An example from the book of Revelation that gives a glimpse of what that day will be like for us.
3. What our response should be.
Mat 24:32-44 "Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; (33) so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. (34) "Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. (35) "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. (36) "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. (37) "For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. (38) "For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, (39) and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. (40) "Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. (41) "Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left. (42) "Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. (43) "But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. (44) "For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.
These are well known verses concerning the return of the Lord.2 Let's start with some quick points before focusing on the 'sudden and unexpected' aspect of His return.
1. No one knows the day or the hour
Jesus said this more than once. So believe it! People always trying to work out the day of the Lord's return in advance. Some famous dates (among others) have been 1988, 2000, 2017. A website I was looking at around 2017 had some believers writing their left behind letters and buying large self-dispensing food containers for their pets so they could eat after the rapture. I understand their desire to be with the Lord and admire the fact that they are watchful... but we always go wrong when we think we know the day. As well as saying that 'no one knows the day or the hour', just in the passage quoted above Jesus also said 'you do not know which day your Lord is coming' and 'the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will'. Clearly... we shouldn't be setting years, months and days!
2. Every age, including the Apostles, expected it to be in their lifetime
The Bible is written in such a way that every generation believed that they could be the one that would see the return of Jesus. The early church greeted one another with the words 'Maranatha!' (Our Lord comes!) You'll see from the famous verses below about the rapture that Paul's expectation was for the Lord's return in his lifetime and commended the Thessalonians for waiting for the return of Jesus (before the wrath of God came).
1Th 4:16-17 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. (17) After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.
1Th 1:9-10 For they themselves report... how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.
3. There are hints at Jesus' return being a long time... tarrying, delaying, taking longer than expected
This is especially true when reading the parables of Mathew 24 and 25. They all speak about the Master's return being a long time.
Parable of the Faithful & Wicked Servant (Mat 24:48) - 'My master is staying away a long time'
Parable of the Talents (Mat 25:14) "For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country... After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them.
Parable of the Ten Virgins (Mat 25:1-6) "Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom... "Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. "But at midnight there was a shout, 'Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.'
That word 'delaying' also means to 'linger', 'defer' and 'tarry'. The virgins thought the bridegroom was coming and so went out to meet him. But he didn't come when they thought he would. It all took longer than expected. And so they waited. But the longer it took, the drowsier they became. Until finally their eyes became very heavy and all of them (both the wise and the foolish) fell asleep. Finally, at midnight He came.
4. Hints at the timing...
Though His return would take longer than expected, Jesus does I believe give a strong hint to it's general timing. He starts this section in verse 32 by saying 'Learn the lesson of the fig tree'. You'll remember that just earlier in this week when Jesus came into Jerusalem He cursed a fig tree because it had no fruit (Matt 21:18-22) This is highly symbolic. Jesus was not just getting annoyed at an unfruitful fig tree. The fig tree spoke of the nation of Israel. While cursed 'or hardened (Rom 11:26) Jesus notes that the day would come when it would begin to bud and bring forth leaves in preparation of fruiting once again.3 This is a general sign that we have seen within the last generation as the nation of Israel came into existence once again in 1948.
When the time comes, the end comes suddenly!
The main point I want to focus on however is the 'sudden' aspect of the Lord's coming. The Bible speaks of several 'sudden' events that completely change the lives of those experiencing them. For example:
Luk 2:8,13-14 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night... Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.
I don't think these shepherds were ever the same! You can imagine them, old with grandkids around, still telling the story of the day the whole hillside was filled with angels!
Act 2:1-2 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.
Sitting... waiting... then suddenly everything changed for the disciples. They were filled with the gifting and power of the Holy Spirit and these believers were instantly transformed!
Act 9:1-3 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples... As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.
This 'suddenly' left the greatest threat to the early church their greatest asset! Changed on the road to Damascus!
Mar 13:35-37 Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming... lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!"
The Lord's return will be the greatest 'suddenly' ever! Everything will change for all believers from that day on and forevermore!
1Th 5:1-3 Now, brothers... 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.
The day of the Lord will come suddenly upon unbelievers. They will be expecting one thing (peace and safety) and will receive another (destruction).
As it was in the days of Noah
Mat 24:36-39 "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. (37) "For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. (38) "For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, (39) and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be.
Jesus said that His return will be as it was in the day of Noah. So what do we know about those days? They were times of gross wickedness. Tremendous violence. Days of the giants and Nephilim with the fallen angels trying to corrupt the human race. They were days of incredibly hard hearts and resistance to the message that came through Noah, a preacher of righteousness. All of these points Jesus could have used to draw a comparison between Noah's days and those at his return.
But He didn't use any of them.
What did He say they were doing in Noah's days which will be the same as when He returns? They were eating. They were drinking. They were getting married. They were giving their sons and daughters in marriage. In another passage He also speaks about the days of Lot. Again, He could easily talk about wickedness and sexual immorality if He wanted.
But He doesn't.
Luke 17:28-30 It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. (29) But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. (30) It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed.
Eating, drinking, marrying, buying, selling, planting and building. This is what it will be like when Jesus returns. So what is Jesus emphasizing? He is emphasizing that it will be LIFE. AS. NORMAL. People had no idea in the days of Noah that judgement was coming but were carrying on their normal lives. Sure, there was some crazy kook with his family building a massive boat for the last 100 years down the road but they just ignored him. He's nuts! People had no idea in the days of Lot that judgement was coming. They were just doing what they had always done. Eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting and building. In both cases it was life as normal up until the time that the righteous were taken to a place of safety and then the judgement came. Let me also say that this does NOT describe life during the tribulation4. It is certainly not going to be life as normal at any point. Jesus said that unless those days were cut short no flesh would have survived. Yet here, Jesus speaks about His coming when people are going about their normal lives, business as usual.
This is why we should be ready. He is coming at a time that we do not expect. Horatio Bonar was a great Scottish minister who loved the Lord and lived with an expectation of the Lord's soon return. One day, as he sat with a number of fellow ministers, he asked them a question. 'Do you really expect Jesus Christ to come today?' One by one, as he went round the circle of ministers, they all answered honestly with a no. 'No...we don't really expect Him to come today.' Horatio then began to write something on a piece of paper and handed it round the circle of ministers. It simply said ' So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.' They got the point!
To illustrate the end of this age, look to the end of God's Revelation
Let's look at what is to come for all believers by exploring what happened to arguably Jesus' closest disciple. Its 95AD and an elderly John lies exiled the isle of Patmos, southwest of Ephesus. There, suddenly, something incredible happens!
Rev 4:1-2 After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things." (2) Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne.
As he looks up into the heavens he sees some type of door into Heaven itself. There is some type of opening. Before he can give it any thought, there is a trumpet sound, a command and before he knows it, he is not on planet earth anymore! Now the similarities between John's experience and what happens at the rapture are hopefully clear and obvious:
Heaven is opened
Heaven is opened only twice in the book of Revelation. Once here, to receive John, and one in Rev 19 where Jesus and the saints come out of Heaven to make war against the nations: ' Rev 19:11 And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war.' These two openings represent the rapture and the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ. If we want to be part of this open Heaven we need first to have opened the door of our heart to the Lord! (Rev 3:20)
The Lord is personally involved
In Revelation John sees the Lord Jesus in glory (Rev 1:12-20) and then hears the Lord telling Him to come on up! In like manner, at the Rapture, it is the Lord who personally comes for His bride 'For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first..' (1Th 4:16)
There is a trumpet sound
John heard a voice like a trumpet just as believers will hear a trumpet when the Lord returns. (1 Thes 4:16)
There is a command
John is given the command to 'Come up here'. At the rapture there will be a loud command (1 Thes 4:16) It could well be 'come up here'. Daniel was given a vision of the throne. But he remained on Earth. Isaiah and Ezekiel saw a vision of the throne and the Lord also. But none were commanded to 'come up here'. Why John? Because this is all a type of what will happen to believers at the rapture. It will not be some amazing experience while we remain here. We are going up.
Immediately taken from earth to heaven
The sudden ending! Immediately - goes from being on the Island of Patmos to Heaven... just like that. Speaking of the Lord's coming and our change into His likeness, Paul wrote to the Corinthians that it will occur in the twinkling of an eye - a reference to recognition.
The timing of this 'catching up'
Notice that this verse twice says 'after these things'. It is repeated so we know it is important. But after what things exactly? If you know Revelation you'll know this phrase has been spoken by Jesus previously when he gave His threefold outline to the book: Rev 1:19 "Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things.
1. 'the things which you have seen' is the Vision of Jesus (Rev 1:12-20)
2, 'the things that are' is the Church age (Rev 2-3)
3. 'the things that take place after this' is that which occurs after the Church age (tribulation, Messianic Kingdom, Eternal State - Rev Ch 4-22)
So suddenly, in an instant, John is before the throne! It is all a type of what is to come for believers. Can you imagine that? What if that happened to you? One minute you are on Earth and the next you are before the throne of God! And what does He see?
A mystery hidden in the stones...
Rev 4:3 And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance;
The One on the throne was described like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance. For the Jewish mind, this would have reminded them of the first and last stones on the breastplate of the High Priest. You may remember that God instructed Moses to make a breastplate for the High Priest that consisted of 4 rows of three stones. Each of the 12 stones on the breastplate stood for one of the 12 sons of Jacob.
Exo 28:17-21 And you shall put settings of stones in it, four rows of stones: The first row shall be a sardius, a topaz, and an emerald; this shall be the first row; (18) the second row shall be a turquoise, a sapphire, and a diamond; (19) the third row, a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; (20) and the fourth row, a beryl, an onyx, and a jasper. They shall be set in gold settings. There are to be twelve stones, one for each of the names of the sons of Israel, each engraved like a seal with the name of one of the twelve tribes.
Sardius is red and is also known as the ruby. Being first stone in the breastplate the sardius stood for the firstborn son of Jacob, Reuben.
Jasper was clear and some say like a diamond. Being the last stone in the breastplate of the High Priest this represented the last born of Jacob's sons, Benjamin.
So to identify the One on the throne we could say He is One associated with blood red as well as crystal clear purity. He is linked to the first and the last, and is represented by Reuben and Benjamin in some way. And what do their names mean?
Reuben means 'Behold, a Son'
Benjamin means 'Son of my right hand'
This shows that the One enthroned before whom believers will come is the Son... the Son of my right hand.5 Jesus Christ.
When the rapture happens, it will be sudden. Everything will change. The car you drive won't matter. The size of your house or bank balance won't matter. The infirmities and sickness and weights of this world pulling you down, won't matter. You will find yourself before the throne of the One who not only gave His life (the red Sardius stone of sacrifice) but was raised again to the right hand of the Father in complete holiness and purity (the clear Jasper stone).
There are many points that come out of a message such as this, but let me just close with four brief but important points.
Watch. Be watchful of both His return and your own heart. That was what Jesus emphasized repeatedly when teaching about His return.
Be mindful of spiritual sleepiness. Remember that in the parable of the 10 virgins both the wise and the foolish virgins fall asleep while waiting for His return. Beware of getting drowsy in your spiritual life. Do you still care about spiritual matters like you did? Do you still do the things to encourage spiritual wellbeing like you did at the start?
Be mindful of others that don't know the Lord. An important point that comes out of this study is that the Lord's return will catch unbelievers especially unaware. They will be going about their normal day lives not knowing the difficult days that lie ahead. We need to help sow seeds amongst those that do not know the truth. Jesus' return will be sudden.
Abide. Abide in HIm and what He has for you so that you will hear those words 'well done good and faithful servant'. 'Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.' (1Jn 2:28)