What the Bible says about
Signs of Christ's Return
(From Forerunner Commentary)
What good is understanding the Seventy Weeks Prophecy? First, on chronological grounds, it destroys three of false Christianity's holidays surrounding Jesus: Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter. Second, it puts Christ's ministry and the founding of the church in their proper historical context, helping explain and vindicate the Bible. Third, it enhances our understanding of prophecy and helps us to watch for the correct world events as the end draws closer. Christ gave us the true signs of His coming, so we do not have to look for the false sign of Antichrist's treaty with the Jews.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'Seventy Weeks Are Determined...'
It is no coincidence that the first warning Jesus gives about "the sign of [His] coming and the end of the age" is, "Take heed that no one deceives you" (Matthew 24:3-4). In fact, warnings about deception are frequent throughout His Olivet Prophecy (verses 4-5, 11, 23-26, 48). The time of the end, it seems, will be one of falsehood and deceit.
In the book of Revelation, this same warning appears as the first seal, also known as the first of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse:
Now I [John] saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals; and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a voice like thunder, "Come and see." And I looked, and behold, a white horse. And he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer. (Revelation 6:1-2)
Comparing Jesus' comments in Matthew 24 with these verses in Revelation 6, it becomes apparent that this horseman is not Christ proclaiming the true gospel but a counterfeit spreading the news of a false Messiah. For instance, this horseman carries a bow, but in every case, Christ is pictured with a sword (see Revelation 1:16; 19:15). Jesus interprets this horseman for us in Matthew 24:5: "For many will come in My name, saying, I am the Christ, and will deceive many."
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Let No One Deceive You
First, notice to whom He is speaking, His disciples. They had come to Him, asking Him to tell them the sign of His coming and of the end of the age (verse 3), and He proceeded to do just that. His remarks are pointedly toward His disciples, that is, He presents these signs from their perspective. In the first seal (Revelation 6:2), He is concerned that they, specifically, not allow themselves to be deceived because the effort to deceive the elect would be potent.
Second, the number of deceivers would be multitudinous: "many will come." This should be seen in contrast to the frequent description of His own disciples as "few," a "little flock," "a remnant," "not many," etc. The true disciples of Christ could be overwhelmed by the seemingly inexhaustible supply of false teachers, liars, and spiritual cheats that would be thrown against them.
Third, these frauds and double agents would come in His name, that is, appearing to bear His authority. In particular, the name of "Christ" would be exploited as cover for their nefarious trickery, and by this ruse, great numbers of people would be deluded. The phrase, "saying, I am the Christ," should not be understood, as the New King James Version has punctuated it, to mean that many would come claiming to be the Messiah. No, they would come claiming that Jesus is the Messiah—a truth—and thereby gain people's trust. From that point forward, deception through doctrinal change, both major and minor, provides the means of deception. As the anonymous maxim puts it, "The nearer a lie to truth the more deceitful it is."
If not earlier, this first seal must have been opened very soon after the apostle John wrote the book of Revelation. Once the last of the original apostles was dead, the false "Christian" church began its swift and steady rise to dominance, eventually collaborating with Emperor Constantine (reigned AD 306-337) to become a major influence in the Roman Empire. This church, with its pompous ecclesiastical politics and Christianized pagan practices, looked nothing like the church the New Testament describes. The relatively tiny true church, often persecuted for its "primitive" beliefs and demeaned for its "Jewish" practices, was forced to flee to the relative safety of frontier lands and wilderness areas where its members could practice their biblical beliefs more freely.
It was not until the age of the Protestant Reformation, when the power of the Catholic Church began to wane, that Sabbath-keepers could once again express their beliefs openly. Even so, Protestantism—its various denominations merely rebellious daughters of the Universal Church—has not been entirely sympathetic to the law-keeping elect. Even today, a spirit of antagonism and condescension exists within Protestant circles for anyone who really believes and practices the doctrines of Jesus and the first-century church.
Religious deception, false gospels, and unchristian philosophies have continued unabated to our own day. Mainstream Christian churches continue to teach an antinomian gospel about the person of Jesus rather than proclaiming the true gospel of the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:15). They still lead their members to worship an unbiblical triune God, constructed out of a hodge-podge of Jewish mysticism, Gnostic Christian belief, and Greek philosophy a few centuries after the apostle John completed the New Testament canon with the book of Revelation. They continue to refuse to keep the biblical weekly Sabbath made for man (Mark 2:27), as well as the annual holy days that reveal God's plan for mankind. The churches also teach the pernicious doctrines of the immortality of the soul and eternal security, leading adherents to believe they already have eternal life and their place in "heaven" is guaranteed.
Another modern false gospel—endorsed by many, especially those who embrace New Age beliefs—is the "tolerant" idea that there are many roads to salvation. This notion posits that all religions are equal, and each is effective in bringing a person to eternal life. In other words, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, and Christians will receive the same salvation and afterlife despite their markedly different beliefs and practices. This also means that there is no reason for a person to convert to another religion, so each faith should accept and acknowledge the others in a spirit of goodwill and ecumenism. Of course, this flies in the face of Acts 4:10-12, in which Peter asserts that only by the name of Jesus Christ is salvation possible.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Four Horsemen (Part Two): The White Horse
The church believed in recent years that the ministry of Herbert Armstrong fulfilled this verse, but subsequent events force us to modify our understanding.
It is certain that the end did not come immediately upon the death of Herbert Armstrong. On the other hand, he indeed preached the gospel of the Kingdom of God around the world as it had not been proclaimed since the first century. Though he technically did not witness before every nation, the preaching and literature of the church of God blanketed the globe in a way never done before.
In the context of Matthew 24, however, the timing of this great work of preaching the gospel is wrong if it applies strictly to the ministry of Herbert Armstrong. In the paragraph running between verses 4 and 14, this statement appears at the end of the context, after the opening of the fifth seal (verse 9; see Revelation 6:9-11). Thus, verse 14 seems to indicate a ministry active during the Great Tribulation, the subject Jesus expands on in verses 15-28.
What ministry is active on a worldwide scale during the Great Tribulation? None other than the Two Witnesses! From the summary of that ministry in Revelation 11, we can easily see that God empowers them during the 3½ years of the Tribulation (verse 3). Their ministry is called a "testimony" (verse 7), the same Greek word translated as "witness" in Matthew 24:14. When the Beast finally kills them in Jerusalem, everyone on earth rejoices (Revelation 11:10), indicating that the witnesses' work is worldwide. And three and a half days after their deaths, Christ returns and the age ends (verses 11-13; Zechariah 14:3-5).
Mr. Armstrong would probably be the first to admit this. When he told the church near the end of his life that the preaching of the gospel had been done, he could not have been ignorant of the work of the Two Witnesses. It is clear he meant that he had finished the work God raised him to do. That work revived the truth of God in many areas and prepared the way for the ministry of the Two Witnesses. However, we should see his ministry only as a type or precursor to the even greater work that will be done during the Great Tribulation.
Matthew 24:14 is indeed a definite sign of the end. It applies specifically to the very last days before Christ's second coming when God will give the world a final warning through the mouth of two witnesses (see II Corinthians 13:1; Deuteronomy 17:6).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Are These the Last Days? (Part 1)
There are quite a number of interesting things to consider in Jesus' instructions here. First, this is not instruction given generally to the public, but rather it was directly to His disciples. Second, He says that we should know from the signs given that His return is near. Our predictions may not be specifically accurate, but at least in the ballpark—near. Third, He emphasizes the element of surprise, even terrifying surprise. The impression is that the world will be taken completely by surprise. Fourth, the overall point of this instruction is that by being alert to the signs and taking advantage of them, we should be ready. The fifth is a final warning in verse 44, because He feared that even the attention, the alertness of His disciples, would be threatened: "Therefore be you also ready: for in such an hour as you think not the Son of man comes."
Are we getting anxious about Christ's return? I do not mean anxious in a sense of being fearful, but anxious in terms of seeing it come to pass. First, because things are getting so bad one wonders at times whether it can get much worse, and yet we know that it can. Second, as a result of the pressures of enduring life, there is some measure of concerned anxiety because the end seems to be taking so long to come to pass. We are undoubtedly in "the time of the end," but at the same time we feel that we have been on the gun lap a very long time.
Part of our anticipation exists because we have had it drilled in our minds to watch for certain events to happen. Sometimes it looks as though those events indeed are coming to pass, and right now some of the more important events we had drilled into our minds just are not happening in a clearly visible way. If they are, they are being worked out in a way that we are not prepared for, and therefore probably do not see.
Jesus meant this admonition in the sense of a soldier on guard duty, alert to what is going on around him, and so watch we do! But what if our point of view—the perspective we are looking from—is not correct? We might be alert, diligently and sincerely looking in that direction, but at best, we are only getting a part of the picture. We might be likened to a soldier on guard duty who is alert, but looking in the wrong direction, and so the enemy sneaks up from a blind spot and surprises him, despite him looking intensely in a particular direction.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Beast? (Part One)
A parable is a story drawn from human experience that has a higher spiritual meaning. This is its principal purpose, just as a psalm is primarily intended to praise God. This does not exclude its use for other ends. God creates most things with multiple functions, and the various parts of His Word are not exceptions.
The Parable of the Fig Tree is a good example. It both teaches a universal principle and prophesies of the coming Kingdom of God. As further proof of this parable's prophetic nature, Jesus gives it in the midst of the Olivet Prophecy! He has just listed several signs of His second coming, and He presents this parable to key us in on their time element. Notice He says, "when they are already budding," meaning that the events that signal His return will be happening—in motion—before we realize how close we are to the end!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables and Prophecy
The original question posed by the Pharisees was, "When is the Kingdom of God coming?" (verse 20). The long section from the end of verse 20 to verse 37 is Jesus' answer, first to the Pharisees (verses 20-21) and then to His disciples (verses 22-37). His reply to the Pharisees is rather curt: "You won't be able to discern the coming of the Kingdom because you haven't recognized that I am its chief representative, though I have been among you."
In His longer explanation to His disciples, Jesus goes into quite a bit more detail about the timing and conditions of establishing His Kingdom. First, He says, do not be deceived when people tell you Christ has come (verses 22-23). We will know very well when He returns; it will be like a flash of lightning that everyone will see (verse 24). However, before this can happen, Jesus must be tortured and crucified as man's Redeemer (verse 25). From our vantage point, which the disciples did not have, we know that this condition has already been met at Golgotha or Calvary.
Then He gives details about the conditions in the world when He returns. It will be as it was in the days of Noah and Lot (verses 26-30). He highlights two major signs of the end here:
1. He will come suddenly when people do not expect Him to return. Most people will be going about their normal activities, unaware of the times.
2. When He returns, society will be degenerate and wicked just as it was before the Flood came and before God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah (see Genesis 6:5-7; 18:20; 19:1-11).
Luke 17:31-33 shows that, for His disciples, His coming will result in a test of faith. They will have to be willing to leave everything behind—their homes, their possessions, even their loved ones—in order to obey the call of God. Lot's wife turned back in longing for what she had left behind, and God's judgment fell swiftly upon her. We may have to be willing even to give up our lives for salvation, because in trying to save our physical lives, we would have to renounce our beliefs.
Verses 34-36 illustrate three scenes of judgment. These show that Christ will judge us individually, and despite how close we may be to another—a spouse, a neighbor, a co-worker—our obedience and good works will not deliver anyone else (see Ezekiel 14:12-20). We will have to prove ourselves to the righteous Judge of all (Acts 17:31; Romans 14:10).
Finally, the disciples ask Jesus where these things will take place (Luke 17:37). His reply is better translated in the Revised English Bible: "Where the carcass is, there will the vultures gather." This seems somewhat enigmatic, but if we take what He says literally, He implies that He will return at a place of great carnage. This would parallel the scenarios prophesied in Zechariah 14:1-5 and Revelation 19:11-21 (see especially verses 17-18, 21b).
All through this section Jesus is describing real circumstances, real people, and real places. He speaks of a literal Kingdom to be established at His return "with power and great glory" (Matthew 24:30).
Since the context of Luke 17:21 is Christ's second coming, and Jesus is speaking in great detail about the time, place, and conditions of His return, we must see His Kingdom as a literal government—just as real as any government of man. We cannot divorce "the Kingdom of God is among you" from this larger topic. Doing so distorts the true meaning of a literal, soon-coming Kingdom ruled by Jesus Christ that will grow to fill the whole earth after His return.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Is the Kingdom of God Within You?
The disciples' question, “Where, Lord?” appears to be about where all of this would be taking place—including His return, which would initiate the judgment—rather than about where His followers would be taken. In Matthew's account, their original question was about the signs of Christ's coming and the end of the age (see Matthew 24:3, 28), so what appears to have been on their minds were the specifics of His return rather than the location of those “taken.”
As is His pattern, He does not answer their question directly. Instead, His answer applies on multiple levels. Looking at Matthew's and Luke's accounts together, the disciples ask about when and where, since we humans want a specific date and location so we can gauge how these things will affect us personally. God, however, gives principles.
In Scripture, a wake (gathering) of vultures is an indicator of God's judgment for rebellion. In the blessings and curses given to Israel, God warns them, “Your carcasses shall be food for all the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and no one shall frighten them away” (Deuteronomy 28:26). It is a judgment of great shame, one that has been fulfilled in type in the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem (Psalm 79:1-3).
Under this curse, the Israelites would have no dignity in their deaths; they would have no one to bury them. It symbolizes the height of defeat, disgrace, and personal insignificance, when no defenders are left to keep the scavengers from tearing a human body apart just as they would a dead animal. When God cleans His creation in this way, a person becomes nothing more than a meal for one of the most despised creatures.
But Israelites are not the only ones to receive this shameful judgment. The same fate is prophesied for those fighting against Christ at His return:
Then I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in the midst of heaven, “Come and gather together for the supper of the great God, that you may eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, both small and great.” And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. . . . And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh. (Revelation 19:17-19, 21; see also the prophecy against Gog in Ezekiel 39:17-20)
The followers of the Beast and False Prophet will be killed, and God will specifically call the carrion birds for this gruesome feast. Any alleged return of the Messiah that does not involve this judgment on God's enemies is a lie. These are grisly descriptions but necessary reminders of His view of sin, disobedience, and rebellion against Him. Christ will return at a time when the opposition to Him will have reached a peak and to a place where human governments will have assembled against Him. Moreover, there will be a gathering of scavengers as a sign of God's judgment of shame.
David C. Grabbe
Where the Eagles Are Gathered
2 Thessalonians 2:3-10
Paul wrote II Thessalonians to correct a false impression held by the members of the church in Thessalonica. He did this by telling them what Christ had revealed to him regarding the "gathering together with Christ" of those dead in Christ and those remaining alive when He returned. He opens by foretelling, first of all, that Christ's return will be preceded by a period of apostasy that could include anything from a falling away, a departure from doctrine or teaching, all the way to and including an outright political rebellion.
The second sign would be the appearance of the man of sin. This person has four different names or titles, but all of them are described similarly: the man of sin (II Thessalonians 2:3-10), the little horn (Daniel 7:8), the two-horned lamb who spoke like a dragon (Revelation 13:11-18), and the false prophet (Revelation 19:20). The description in each location is not exactly alike, but each adds to what the other gives. Consider this summary of comparisons.
In each case, the person described appears at the time of the end. This is the one piece of information that every one of them has in common.
In three of the four, his end—his destruction or annihilation—comes at the return of Jesus Christ (Daniel 7:8-9; II Thessalonians 2:3; Revelation 19:20).
In three of the four, it directly states or strongly implies the person speaks with great pompous words (Daniel 7:8-9; II Thessalonians 2:4; Revelation 13:11-14).
In three of the four, it directly states the person does miraculous, supernatural signs (II Thessalonians 2:9; Revelation 13:13-15; Revelation 19:20).
In two of them, the signs are done in the presence of the Beast, showing they are not the same figure (Revelation 13:13-15; 19:20).
In two of them, he deceives and leads people into idolatry (II Thessalonians 2:4,9-10; Revelation 13:12,14).
In two of them, he either makes war against the saints or causes those who would not worship the beast to be put to death (Daniel 7:21; Revelation 13:15).
In two of them, he either thinks to change times and law—suggesting the law of God—or he sets himself in the Temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. The implication is that he has the authority to do these things (Daniel 7:25; II Thessalonians 2:4).
In two of them, his period of greatest influence is three and a half years (Daniel 7:25; Revelation 13:5).
All of these scriptures are describing the same person. The Bible shows that this person—the man of sin—has a direct connection to a large political power and has a religious influence. It should be understood that we are dealing with a personage and with prophecies of global significance.
John W. Ritenbaugh
A Place of Safety? (Part 4)
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