Events of the Second Coming

Do you get a little confused trying to explain the sequence of events surrounding the second coming of Christ? It can be more than a bit daunting, even for avid fans of the Left Behind series. We have described in detail the Tribulation judgments, most of which play a prominent role in the series. There is a lot going on, so let's see if we can bring some clarity as you get ready to read about the climactic event of Christ's second coming, and the title for book twelve in the series, the Glorious Appearing.

The following material is based on The Complete Book of Bible Prophecy by Mark Hitchcock (Tyndale, 1999). You'll also find similar material in Are We in the End Times? by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins (Tyndale, 1999). Some of the material from Are We in the End Times? also appears in the Left Behind edition of iLumina. When citing Hitchcock's book, we'll use the abbreviation "CB."

The Left Behind series is based on the pre-tribulation, premillennial view of Christ's second coming. That is the one we'll describe here. It has traditionally been the most widely held view among evangelical Christians, characterized by the central role the Bible plays in their belief. Other views either see the majority of events described here as symbolic or occurring in a different order.

In general, premillennial views hold that Christ will return prior to the establishment of a literal, earthly kingdom of 1,000 years. The timing of the Rapture is another part of the premillennial view. Mark Hitchcock describes five views of when the Rapture could occur (CB, p. 46):

  • Pre-trib Rapture. Before the Tribulation
  • Mid-trib Rapture. Half way through the Tribulation, at the Abomination of Desolation.
  • Post-trib Rapture. At the end of the Tribulation, right before the second coming of Christ to earth.
  • Partial Rapture. Faithful, devoted believers will be raptured before the Tribulation, but the rest of the believers will be left to go through the purging of the Tribulation.
  • Pre-wrath Rapture. About three-quarters through the Tribulation, when the wrath of God begins to be poured out at the seventh seal (Revelation 6:17).

Tim LaHaye describes it as the second coming in two parts. Both LaHaye and Hitchcock see the pre-trib view as the best interpretation of Scripture.

The Left Behind series is based on the pre-trib view, where the Rapture occurs sometime before the Tribulation itself begins. Let's review the key events surrounding the second coming of Christ.

Increase of apostasy as the church age draws to a close. Both LaHaye and Hitchcock see this as a key indicator of the end times. The problem, of course, is that there have always been apostasy and the other signs Jesus talked about in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25)—the natural disasters, wars, rumors of war, increase in sin are part of human history. But in the final days before the Tribulation begins there will be a dramatic, universal increase. In this view there is an ongoing struggle between good and evil as Satan has not yet been restrained and defeated. The presence of a faithful church represents a restraining, redeeming force. Satan will be defeated and bound at the end of the Tribulation and finally destroyed at the end of the earthly millennial kingdom.

In contrast, preterists see the events described in the Olivet Discourse and the books of Daniel and Revelation fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The second coming, then, falls into a postmillennial or amillennial view, where Christ returns after the church age (a symbolic "millennium") is complete. These views also suggest that Satan has already been bound, or at least restrained, leaving the church to be an agent of continual improvement of the human condition.

The rapture of the church (see John 14:1-3; 1 Corinthians 15:51-55; and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Believers who have already died will be resurrected and those alive at the time will be taken immediately into the presence of the Lord. This will be the first sign that the second coming has begun, but it is still a mystery when the Tribulation itself will begin. LaHaye suggests that could be almost immediate or several years later.

The Judgment Seat of Christ (see 2 Corinthians 5:10). Mark Hitchcock calls this "The Crowning Day" (CB, p 48). "The first major event that will occur in heaven after the church has been raptured is the judgment seat of Christ. At the judgment seat, all believers from the church age—the time between the Day of Pentecost and the Rapture—will appear individually before God to receive rewards or loss of reward based on their lives, service, and ministry for the Lord."

Marriage Supper of the Lamb (see Revelation 19:7-9). The relation of Christ and the church as bride and bridegroom is used often in the Bible, drawing significance from the importance of marriage and all that surrounds it in Jewish culture.

After the Father presents us to our heavenly Bridegroom, the greatest celebration in history will break loose in heaven for the remainder of the time until the second coming. However, I believe the marriage supper or feast will spill over into the millennial kingdom. The length of the wedding feast in ancient times was determined by the wealth of the bridegroom's father. When Christ takes his bride, the heavenly Father, whose wealth is infinite, will throw a party that will last not for seven days but for one thousand years. In fact, Jesus frequently compared the millennial kingdom to a wedding feast (Matthew 8:11; 22:1-14; 25:1-13; Luke 14:16-24) (CB, p 64).

Seven-year Tribulation period on earth—Daniel 9:27 describes a treaty between Antichrist and Israel as the beginning of the seven-year tribulation period. Thus, the rapture itself is not the beginning of the tribulation. It removes believers and, therefore, the restraining influence of the church. We have described the judgments of the tribulation period in detail in other articles.

Now, we're at the point in the Left Behind series we've all been waiting for—the Glorious Appearing of Christ to defeat the armies of the Antichrist and establish his earthly millennial kingdom. Here are the events described in the Bible. Keep these in mind when you have a chance to read Glorious Appearing when it is released later this month.

NOTE: While the gathering at Armageddon begins before the second coming of Christ (as in the order of the books Armageddon and Glorious Appearing), it is the second coming that defines the actual battle or campaign itself. Therefore, Hitchcock presents them in this order.

The second coming of Christ to earth

… there is nothing more clearly stated in the Bible than the fact that Jesus Christ is coming again. The second coming of Christ to this earth—his visible, literal, physical, glorious return—is explicitly referred to 1,845 times in the Bible. It is mentioned in twenty-three of the twenty-seven New Testament books (CB, p. 70).

Christ will return at the same place from which he left—the Mount of Olives (see Zechariah 14:4, Matthew 24-25, and Acts 1:9-11).

Hitchcock suggests six purposes for Christ's return as described in the Bible:

  • To defeat the Antichrist and his armies (Revelation 19:19-21)
  • To regather and restore Israel (Isaiah 43:5-6, Jeremiah 30:10; 33:6-9; Ezekiel 36:24-38; 37:1-28)
  • To judge the living—the division of the "sheep and the goats" to determine who can enter heaven at the end of the Tribulation (Matthew 25:31-46; Ezekiel 20:33-38)
  • To resurrect the dead—the resurrection and rewarding of Old Testament believers and martyred Tribulation believers (Revelation 20:4-6; Daniel 12:1-4)
  • To bind the Devil—the first event mentioned after Christ returns to defeat the Antichrist is the binding of Satan in the bottomless pit for one thousand years (Revelation 20:1-3)
  • To establish himself as king to reign over the earth (Revelation 19:16; Daniel 2:44; Matthew 19:28; Luke 1:32-33)

The campaign of Armageddon. While the term has come to mean a huge, world-ending (usually nuclear) war, the biblical event is not really a war at all. In fact, the word Armageddon only appears once in the Bible, in Revelation 16:16, "And they gathered all the rulers and their armies to a place called Armageddon in Hebrew." The plain described in the Left Behind book Armageddon is an ancient battlefield in the northern part of ancient Israel. It is known by several names: the valley of Jezreel, the valley of Esdaelon, the plains of Megiddo, and the valley of Taanach.

There are a lot of misconceptions about Armageddon. To clarify what it is, Mark Hitchcock describes it this way:

The campaign or war of Armageddon is the climactic event of the Great Tribulation (the second half of the Tribulation), when all the armies of the earth gather to come against Israel and to eradicate the Jewish people once and for all. After Jerusalem is captured, Jesus Christ returns to destroy the invading armies and to deliver the faithful remnant in Petra. (See Psalm 2; Isaiah 34:1-15; 63:1-6; Joel 3:1-17; Zechariah 12:1-9; 14:1-15; Malachi 4:1-5; Revelation 14:14-20; 16:12-16; 19:19-21). (CB, p. 74)

The millennial reign of Christ on earth. The Bible is clear that Christ will reign on earth as King of kings and Lord of lords for 1,000 years. Before he begins that reign, Satan will be bound and cast into the bottomless pit, no longer to deceive the nations (Revelation 20:1-3). The 1,000 years are referred to five times in Revelation 20:1-6. Mark Hitchcock suggests ten of the important Old Testament passages on the coming millennial kingdom: Isaiah 21:1-5; 11:1-16; 32:1-20; 35:1-10; 60:1-22; Jeremiah 31:1-40; 33:1-26; Ezekiel 37:14-28; Amos 9:11-15; Zechariah 14:6-21 (CB, p. 77).

The Millennium will be marked by peace, joy, holiness, glory, justice and righteousness, full knowledge, absence of sickness or deformity, universal worship of God, economic prosperity, and the presence of God. (see CB, pp. 78-79 for the complete list of Bible references).

Why a 1,000-year earthly kingdom before the beginning of eternity in a new heaven and new earth? The purpose of the millennium, according to Mark Hitchcock, is to reward the faithful, redeem creation, recognize the promises of God, and reaffirm to total depravity of humanity. Wait, what's that last one—reaffirm the total depravity of humanity? What does that mean? Dr. Dwight Pentecost says,

The millennial age is designed by God to be the final test of fallen humanity under the most ideal circumstances, surrounded by every enablement to obey the rule of the king, from whom the outward sources of temptation have been removed, so that man may be found and proved to a failure in even this last testing of fallen humanity (Things to Come, Zondervan, 1958, p. 538).

The final revolt of Satan. If you thought Armageddon and the Glorious Appearing ended Satan for good, take another look. It's almost like a repeat of where we are now between the Left Behind books Armageddon and Glorious Appearing. At the Glorious Appearing, the armies of the Antichrist are defeated and Satan is bound. He's down, but not out—yet. Revelation 20:1-3 and 7-10 records the final demise of Satan.

… so Satan could not deceive the nations anymore until the thousand years were finished. Afterward he would be released again for a little while.… He will go out and deceive the nations from every corner of the earth. … He will gather them together for battle—a mighty host, as numberless as sand along the shore.… But fire from heaven came down on the attacking armies and consumed them.

Then the Devil, who betrayed them, was thrown into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

The Great White Throne of judgment. Revelation 20:11-15 describes the final judgment before eternity, the final division of eternal life or eternal damnation, as "anyone whose name was not recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire."

The message of judgment is awesome, but as Mark Hitchcock reminds us,

The good news is that you need not appear at this judgment. The Bible says that Jesus suffered the wrath of God on the cross for you and for me. All you have to do to be excused from this day of judgment and to spend eternity with God in heaven is accept God's free pardon through faith in Jesus Christ. What an offer. What a Savior! (CB, p. 88).

The creation of a new heaven and a new earth. Revelation 21:1-8 describes the replacement of the present heaven and earth with a new, glorious, eternal heaven and earth. Hitchock puts it this way, "What all the kings men could not do for Humpty Dumpty, God will do for the universe. He will gather all the building blocks of the original creation and make a brand new universe" (CB, p. 90. See Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1).

Eternity (Revelation 21-22). Unlike the Millennium, which seems close to perfect, the eternal state will be finally free from the depravity of humankind and the deceptions of Satan.

As you read Glorious Appearing, we hope it will help you gain a greater appreciation for the biblical account of things to come and that it will increase your desire to let others know that they, too, can share in the eternal hope of Heaven.

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