Sound the Trumpet! Christ’s Second Coming to the Earth
November 4, 2001
The most significant event in Bible prophecy is the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. It is an event so important that there are over 300 separate prophecies relating to it in the Word of God, making it one of the most important doctrines in the Bible. It is the key that unlocks the door that leads to the future. No Christian can be said to have a well-rounded faith who does not understand the basic truth about the Second Coming of Christ. All the roads of history and prophecy converge at this point.
David Jeremiah notes that “for every biblical prophecy on the first coming of Christ, there are eight concerning his second coming.” This ought to alert us to the importance of our topic. Christians have always believed that one day Christ will return to the earth. It is the climax of our creeds and the final proof of the sovereignty of God over human history. His coming will bring an end to this age and usher in the coming kingdom of Christ. His return will bring us the final stage of our redemption, the culmination of all that God has promised to those who love his Son.
I should also note that while Christians have always believed in the return of Christ, they have often disagreed over the details. In our day there is a lively debate over how the Rapture (I Thessalonians 4:13-18) relates to the Second Coming (Matthew 24:29-31). Some see them as the same event. Others see them as separated by three-and-a-half years or seven years. And many Christians are like the man who told me he is “pan-trib,” meaning he believes it’s all going to “pan out” in the end. He’s certainly right that God’s plan will ultimately come to pass.
The Rapture Question
This week I had occasion to re-study the Rapture question and the various views of how the Rapture relates to the Tribulation. Without going into great detail, I should say up front that I think this is an area where Christians can sincerely see things in different ways. Essentially the issue comes down to the fact that the New Testament presents the truth of the Second Coming in various passages that offer different pictures of the return of Christ. Those pictures (or images, if you will) are not entirely the same. No one passage tells us everything. No matter which view you hold, you have to think about how Matthew 24 relates to I & II Thessalonians and how those passages relate to the book of Revelation.
Many Bible students (myself included) believe that Christ’s return will occur in two stages. This is usually called the “Pre-Tribulation Rapture” view. That is, we believe Christ will come before the Tribulation to resurrect dead Christians and to “rapture” or lift off the earth living believers. Those Christians who are raised or raptured will be taken to heaven (the “Father’s house” of John 14:1-3) where their works will be judged (II Corinthians 5:10). This “Judgment Seat of Christ” will be followed by the “Marriage Supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:7-10). While this is going on in heaven, the horrors of the seven-year Tribulation (the “70th week” of Daniel 9:24-27) will unfold on the earth. The Antichrist will be revealed and he will commit the “abomination that causes desolation” (Matthew 24:15) at the midpoint of the Tribulation. The last three-and-a-half years will be marked by a succession of judgments that result in the near-total destruction of human society. When humanity, having chosen to follow the Antichrist, has become a rotting corpse ready for final judgment (Matthew 24:28), Jesus will return from heaven with the saints and angels at his side. He will defeat the Antichrist and establish his kingdom on the earth (Revelation 19-20). His coming at the end of the Tribulation is often called the “Glorious Appearing” (Titus 2:13).
Coming “For” and “With” His Saints
The difference between the Rapture and the Glorious Appearing of Christ can be put this way. In the Rapture, Christ comes for his saints, at the Glorious Appearing, he comes with his saints. The Rapture takes place in the air, the Glorious Appearing on the earth. In the Rapture believers go from earth to heaven, at the Glorious Appearing they go from heaven to earth. At the Rapture Jesus comes to reward his people, at the Glorious Appearing he comes to judge the earth. At the Rapture he claims his bride, while at the Glorious Appearing he comes with his bride. The Rapture takes place before the Tribulation; the Glorious Appearing takes place after the Tribulation. The one marks the beginning of the Tribulation, the other the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom. At the Rapture believers are saved from the “Wrath of the Lamb,” at the Glorious Appearing Christ appears to bring an end to the “Wrath of the Lamb.” There are no signs of the Rapture while there are many signs of the Glorious Appearing of Christ at the end of the Tribulation.
Having said that, and while affirming that I believe these things, I also acknowledge that many thoughtful Bible students (including some very good friends of mine) do not see things this way. And I freely admit that there is no verse that says, “Christ will come before the Tribulation.” There is room for discussion and debate on this topic. In this sermon and in this series, I am teaching what I believe the Bible teaches. However, I encourage all who read my words to search the prophetic scriptures for themselves. Be a student of God’s Word. Read, study, compare, analyze. I commend the whole topic of Bible prophecy to you as one that is both fascinating and personally edifying.
And that brings me back to the main point, which is that Christians have always believed in the Second Coming of Christ. Jesus himself declared, “I will come back” (John 14:3). When Christ ascended into heaven, the angels promised the disciples that “this same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Belief in the Second Coming has always been considered one of the fundamental truths of our faith. Even though we have often argued about the details surrounding his return, Christians of every denomination have agreed on this fact: Jesus Christ is coming again. I find it highly significant that three times in Revelation 22 (the last chapter of the Bible) Christ specifically declares, “I am coming soon!” (Revelation 22:7, 12, 20). And the last prayer of the Bible is a prayer for the Second Coming: “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).
A Mind-Blowing Truth
Acts 1:11 makes it clear that Jesus himself will one day return to the earth. It will be “this same Jesus” who is coming again. Twice in one verse Luke uses the word “same” to tell us something crucial about the Second Coming. The same Jesus who left will one day return. And he will return the same way that he left. If plain English can have any meaning at all, those words teach us that Jesus is coming back personally, literally, visibly and bodily. We might also add that his coming will be sudden and unexpected. Luke 24:50-52 informs us that as Jesus reached out his hands to bless his disciples, he began to rise from the face of the earth—evidently without any warning whatsoever. We can assume that his return to the earth will be no less astonishing and no less surprising.
This is truly an astounding thought. The same Jesus who was born in Bethlehem is coming again. The same Jesus who grew up in Nazareth is coming again. The same Jesus who turned water into wine is coming again. The same Jesus who walked on water is coming again. The same Jesus who healed the nobleman’s son is coming again. The same Jesus who raised Lazarus is coming again. The same Jesus who entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday is coming again. The same Jesus who wept over Jerusalem is coming again. The same Jesus who was betrayed by Judas is coming again. The same Jesus who was whipped, beaten, scourged, mocked, and condemned to death is coming again. The same Jesus who died on Mount Calvary is coming again. The same Jesus who rose from the dead on Easter Sunday morning is coming again. The same Jesus who ascended into heaven is coming again.
That’s what we mean when we say that Jesus is coming again. The actual, historical figure who lived 2,000 years ago on the other side of the world is returning to the earth one more time. Kind of blows your mind, doesn’t it?
There awaits in the future an event more marvelous, more startling, more amazing, and more blessed than anything that has happened in the last 2,000 years. I speak of the literal, visible, bodily return of Christ to the earth. No event may seem less likely to modern men and women; no event is more certain in the light of inspired Scripture.
I. The Second Coming of Christ vv. 29-31
These three verses describe the coming of Christ at the end of the Tribulation period. They deserve our careful attention because in them we discover the precise circumstances surrounding and following that great event.
A. The Time of His Coming v. 29a
“Immediately after the distress of those days” (Matthew 24:29a).
Other translations use the phrase “immediately after the tribulation of those days.” In this context, the reference can only be to the coming seven-year tribulation that immediately precedes the coming of Christ to the earth. Jesus has just finished warning his disciples about the Antichrist who will commit the “abomination that causes desolation” leading to a time of trouble never before seen on the earth and never to be seen again. That prediction, though prefigured by the Roman conquest of Jerusalem in AD 70, has never been literally fulfilled. But in the days to come the whole world will be plunged into chaos as the Antichrist rises to power and the various judgments of Revelation are poured out on the earth. When those days have come to their appointed fearful climax, then Jesus will return to the earth.
B. The Heavenly Signs of His Coming v. 29b
“The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken” (Matthew 24:29b).
Note that Jesus mentions three specific cosmic “signs” of the return of Christ, and then one general cosmic “sign.”
The sun will be darkened.
The moon will not give its light.
The stars will fall from the sky.
The heavenly bodies will be shaken.
The most important point to be made is that these are literal events that will happen in the future. There is no reason to interpret them symbolically, as if they are nothing more than figurative window dressing, a bit of apocalyptic coloring to impress us with the gravity of the Second Coming. No! The sun will somehow be darkened and the moon will disappear. The stars will fall from the sky and every star, planet, comet, meteor, asteroid, and every other heavenly body will be shaken out its God-appointed place.
There is no reason to doubt that this will happen. After all, Colossians 1 tells us that in Christ all things hold together. He is the “glue of the universe.” If Christ were to say the word today, the sun would be darkened, the moon would go black, and the stars would fall from the sky. For that matter, if Christ said the word, gravity would cease and the universe would explode into trillions of pieces. The only reason things hold together right now is the sovereign word of the Lord Jesus Christ.
When Christ returns, the gravitational field will be altered somehow, causing the stars to veer from their courses and the planets to careen off in space. It will be the most amazing event in world history. Here are three words to describe that moment: terrifying, worldwide, and unmistakable. No one will miss what is happening or is about to happen.
All these things are signs of divine judgment. They are God’s way of waking up a rebellious world and saying, “You wanted nothing to do with me so I let you go your own way. You followed the Antichrist and gave him your allegiance and look where it’s gotten you. Your ancestors rejected my Son and you have followed his satanic replacement. O world, there is bad news ahead. You made the wrong choice. You forgot about me. The Day of Judgment has finally come.”
I am reminded of the words my friend Gary Olson used to pray, “Lord, give a shaking if we need it.” In that day the world will get the shaking it deserves.
C. The Reality of His Coming v. 30
“At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30).
This verse describes the literal return of Christ to the earth. Zechariah 14 tells us that when Christ comes, his feet will touch down on the Mount of Olives. John Walvoord points out that the Second Coming will be like a stately procession that everyone will see in the sky. Unlike the Rapture, which happens in the “twinkling of an eye,” the warring combatants (led by the Antichrist) who gather first to attack each other and then join forces to attack the Son of God as he journeys from heaven to earth, will actually see Christ in the skies as he makes his way from heaven to earth, surrounded by the saints and the angels and the billowing clouds of God’s glory. The phrase “all the nations” is literally “all the tribes of the earth,” first and foremost a reference to the tribes of Israel. It extends to the nations but its primary meaning is Israel. The people of the earth will mourn when they see Christ returning because 1) they know he is coming in judgment, and 2) they will realize they are not ready for his coming. This will be a sign visible to the entire earth. “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him” (Revelation 1:7 ESV).
The Second Coming of Christ will be “with power and great glory.” Perhaps the best way to understand that statement is to compare the circumstances surrounding the first and second comings. The first time Jesus came unnoticed into the world, the second time “every eye will see him.” In his first coming Jesus humbled himself, being born in a stable in Bethlehem. When he returns, he will come back as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. In his first coming he endured the mockery of men who despised him for his goodness. Although he was the Son of God, he allowed them to put him to death, that he might thereby provide salvation for the world. When he comes again, all mockery will cease for he will rule the nations with a rod of iron. He came the first time as the Lamb of God; he comes again as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. Two thousand years ago the religious leaders shouted in scorn, “He saved others, but he can’t save himself!” (Matthew 27:42). The day is coming when the whole world will see Jesus as he really is. When that happens, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).
Around the first coming inscribe the word HUMILTY in letters large and bold. Around his second coming inscribe the word GLORY so that all the world may see. Nothing could be more natural than a triumphant return of our victorious Lord. Though he was once “despised and rejected of men,” he will one day return “in power and great glory,” heralded by angels and accompanied by his saints.
D. The Result of His Coming v. 31
“And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (Matthew 24:31).
Once Christ returns to the earth, he will send the angels to gather the “elect” from the four corners of the earth. The “elect” are the true believers in Jesus found in every country and in every culture. Though many will be in hiding to escape the persecution of the Antichrist, the Lord knows his own, he knows where they are, and his angels know where to find them. These are true believers who did not take the mark, who would not follow the Antichrist, and who managed to escape being beheaded by the Antichrist. Though hounded and hated and tracked down like wild animals, they survived the terrible last years of the Great Tribulation and now are being assembled before the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe that this is also the moment when the saints of the Old Testament are raised from the dead (Daniel 12:2).
The “elect” who are gathered are Tribulation Saints who believed in Jesus plus the Old Testament believers who are raised from the dead. They are gathered together and brought into the millennial kingdom Christ will establish on the earth. They, along with the already-raised and raptured believers of the church age (I Thessalonians 4:13-18), will constitute the beginning population of the earthly kingdom of Christ.
This gathering of the “elect” suggests a worldwide harvest of souls in the final days. Even when Satan is let loose to wreak havoc on the earth, even then God’s grace will have a profound effect on millions of people. Those who are chosen by God and called by God will respond in profound saving faith. While the world goes to hell, millions will find the way to heaven.
Write beside this verse “Romans 11:26.” In that verse, the Apostle Paul declares that when Christ returns, “All Israel will be saved.” At this point the prophecies of Zechariah will come to pass: “And the Lord will give salvation to the tents of Judah first, that the glory of the house of David and the glory of the inhabitants of Jerusalem may not surpass that of Judah” (Zechariah 12:7 ESV). “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn” (Zechariah 12:10 ESV). “On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness” (Zechariah 13:1 ESV). Days are coming when Jews in vast numbers will willingly, freely, gladly and openly trust Christ as Savior. They will look upon him whom they pierced, they will realize their mistake, a fountain of forgiveness will be opened to them, the partial blindness (see Romans 11) that has come upon the Jewish people will be removed, and the nation as a nation will reverse its judgment made 2,000 years ago. The official rejection of Jesus Christ will be thrown out of court, so to speak, and he will be enthroned in his proper place as the true Son of David who comes in the name of the Lord. At the present time, only a tiny remnant of the Jews have embraced Christ as Lord. But all that will change when Jesus returns to the earth. The Sons of Abraham will come home to the Son of David and worship him as Lord and Savior.
II. The Lesson of the Fig Tree vv. 32-35
Our passage closes with an explanation about the timing of the Second Coming and an encouragement about the enduring nature of the words of Jesus.
A. An Illustration from Nature vv. 32-33
“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door” (Matthew 24:32-33).
The disciples would have easily understood this illustration. They knew that every spring the leaves begin to grow on the twigs and the buds begin to develop. That was a sure sign that summer was not far away. It might be a few weeks or several months, but the leaves and the buds meant that summer was coming soon. In the same way, the coming of Christ at the end of the Tribulation will be preceded by a whole series of events, some of them mentioned by Christ in Matthew 24, others found in the Old Testament, and still others set forth in the book of Revelation. Those events will be so strikingly obvious that they could not be missed. They are like key pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that finally fall into place. When you see those pieces of the prophetic puzzle, you know the end is near.
As I pointed out earlier in this series, there are many “signs” that may be seen in greater or lesser degree in every generation. It is the combination of signs plus the increasing tempo of those events that will mark the last days. Plus there are some absolutely unique things, such as the “abomination that causes desolation” by the Antichrist on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem at the midpoint of the Tribulation that will tip off thoughtful observers that the coming of Christ is “near, right at the door.”
By the way, some interpreters have seen in this illustration of the budding of the fig tree a prediction of the reestablishment of Israel as a nation in 1948. While that event has huge prophetic implications, I doubt that it is what Jesus meant in these verses. He could have used an olive tree and the point would have been the same. When you see any fruit tree putting forth leaves and buds in the spring, you know that summer is not far off.
B. A Promise to “This Generation” v. 34
“I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened” (Matthew 24:34).
The great question of verse 34 is this: What generation was Jesus talking about when he used the phrase “this generation?” It can’t refer to the first-century generation that heard his words because the events he spoke about did not happen in their generation. Even if you say that the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 prefigures the events of the last days, there is no sense in which the events of verses 29-31 happened in the first century—or any time since then.
There are two likely ways to interpret “this generation” and both of them may be correct. The first view suggests that “this generation” refers to the generation alive when the events prophesied in Mathew 24 begin to unfold. That generation will not pass away until Jesus himself returns to the earth. In this view Jesus is saying that when the final drama begins to unfold, the chain of events leading to the Second Coming will happen quickly—within a generation.
The second view points out that the Greek word translated “generation” can sometimes mean “race” or “ethnic group.” In the context of Matthew 23 & Matthew 24, the meaning would be something like this, “This unbelieving race of people, the nation of Israel, will not pass away, but will be preserved by God across the centuries (even in unbelief) until all of God’s purposes for them are finally fulfilled.” This is the view taken by J. C. Ryle, for instance. He notes that other commentators across the centuries have seen in this verse a sort of divine protection for the Jewish people. And it is an amazing miracle to consider “the indestructible Jew,” as one writer put it. Though hated and persecuted and chased from place to place, and though Hitler did his best to wipe out the Jews altogether, Hitler is gone and the Jews remain. In our own lifetime, the nation of Israel has been re-established for the first time in 2,000 years. This has not happened by chance or by the hand of man, not even by Jewish courage and ingenuity, but by the hand of Almighty God who swore a promise to Abraham and guaranteed that promise with an oath (see Genesis 15 and Hebrews 6:12-20). The God who cannot lie has preserved the Jewish people across the centuries while the nations that have attacked them have largely fallen to the dust.
C. A Guarantee to Every Generation v. 35
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matthew 24:35).
Here is a wonderful promise and a guarantee to every generation. We learn two important truths from this verse:
1) This universe is not eternal. Contrary to the speculations of certain scientists and philosophers, the universe had a definite beginning and will have a definite ending. It exists because God called it into being and it will pass away whenever God says the word.
2) The words of Christ will stand forever. I know that many will scoff and some will laugh at the things I have said in this sermon. To the man of the world, the notion that Jesus will one day return seems a fantastic notion, like a fairy tale. It sounds absurd to the man who does not know God. How could someone who lived 2,000 years ago return to the earth in the 21st century? “What makes you think Jesus will come back?” they say. “All things continue as they have from the beginning of creation.” (paraphrasing II Peter 3:1-7). Even Jesus himself pointed out the problem: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8 ESV). I frankly admit the difficulty. Jesus has been gone a long time. Will we still believe in his word? Do we still look for his coming? Or have we relegated the Second Coming to the category of “Nice Things That Probably Won’t Happen in My Lifetime?”
His Word will stand. Every jot and every tittle will be fulfilled. He will return, just as he promised. Better to doubt the laws of nature than the word of the Risen Christ. Better to believe that the sun and moon have fallen from the sky than to doubt his word. Few believed in the promise of his first coming; few believe he is coming again. But whether many believe or few believe of even if no one believes, Jesus is coming again.
There is a theological term that theologians use to describe the coming of Christ. They say that his coming is imminent. The word literally means “at any moment.” When we declare that his coming is imminent, we meant that it is …
Always possible in every generation, and
Never impossible in any generation.
Jesus is coming, he may come soon, and he could come today.
“I knew that you would come”
The story is told of a businessman who, having an errand to run at his office, took his young son along with him. He asked the boy to wait on the steps while he went inside to do his work. Soon he became so engrossed with his business that he forgot about his son waiting outside. Leaving the building by a different door, he went home alone. Several hours later the family sat down to dinner but the son was not present. His mother became anxious and wondered where he might be. Then the father remembered where he left his son. Hurrying back to his place of work, he found his son, tired and hungry, waiting as he had been instructed to do. “I knew that you would come, father,” he said, “you said you would.”
Two thousand years have passed since Jesus went to heaven, and some of God’s children feel tired and hungry. We wonder why Jesus hasn’t come back yet. Perhaps he has forgotten us. Perhaps he made other plans. If you feel like that little boy, take heart. It’s been a long time from our point of view, but he’s only been gone for two days from heaven’s perspective (cf. II Peter 3:8). He said he would come back—and he will. Fear not, child of God. Keep believing. He hasn’t forgotten you. Soon Christ will return for his own. With this hope we lay our loved ones to rest in the sacred soil of death. With this hope we rise each morning, look to the eastern sky, and say, “Maybe today.” All Christians believe that Jesus will come back someday. He said he would―and he never forgets his promises.
Here is the application of this great truth. Jesus is coming. That much is certain. The precise time is hidden in the heart of God. It may be soon. It may not be for a 100 years. But one of these days, the sky will split open, there will a loud shout, the voice of the archangel, and the trumpet call of God. Then the dead in Christ will rise first. Living believers will be raptured, and all God’s children will rise to meet the Lord in the air. That starts the chain of events that leads eventually to the return of Christ to the earth.
Since no one knows when the rapture will occur, our job as believers is very clear:
Believe in his coming.
Pray for his coming.
Love his coming.
Preach his coming.
Watch for his coming.
Wait for his coming.
Expect his coming.
Look for his coming.
Live as if it might be today and one day you won’t be disappointed. If you don’t know Jesus, don’t wait another day, another hour, another second. Run to the cross, lay your sins on Jesus, and trust him as your Savior. This is the most important decision you can ever make. Don’t be caught unprepared when the Son of God returns to the earth. Amen.