Bible Prophecy & The Last Days Examining Popular End Time Teachings With The Bible
Is the popular teaching concerning Bible prophecy and the last days true? Will there be signs of the end times? Will there be a secret rapture of the church? Will the Antichrist rise up and bring the great tribulation upon the earth? Will Jesus come, raise the righteous dead and destroy him in the battle of Armageddon? Will Israel be restored to Palestine and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem? Will Jesus sit on David’s throne for a thousand years bringing peace to the earth? Will the devil gather Gog and Magog for a final attack against Christ’s kingdom? Will there be another resurrection, this time of only the wicked dead, before the final judgment and end of the world?
These are some of the questions that we hope to explore as we examine end time teachings with the Bible. This is an extensive and difficult study that will require a great deal of effort. I believe this is important, not only because so many are so confused about these things, but because to err here may cause some to lose their souls. Only the truth of God’s word will properly encourage us to prepare to meet the Lord and give us the blessed assurance of eternal life.
What are the last days?
In the OT we have many prophecies concerning the last days, or latter days as it is sometimes translated (e.g. Gen. 49:1 see v. 10 until Shiloh comes; Num. 24:14 see v. 17 Star out of Jacob; Deu. 4:30 Israel will turn to the Lord; Isa. 2:2 Lord’s house established; Jer. 23:20 see v.5 to David a Branch of righteousness, King; 30:24; 48:47; 49:39 concerning restoration of Israel and Judah; Eze. 38:16 attack by Gog against Christ’s kingdom; Dan. 2:28; 10:14 see v. 44 everlasting kingdom in days of the Roman kings; Hos. 3:5 Israel will turn to the Lord; Mic. 4:1 Lord’s house established).
We learn from the NT that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit prophesied by Joel came to pass in the last days but that it was not at the end of time (Acts 2:1-21).
The last days began some two thousand years ago and will continue until Christ comes again (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:11; 1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Tim. 3:1; Heb. 1:2; Jam. 5:3; 1 Pet. 1:20; 2 Pet. 3:3; 1 John 2:18; Jude 18).
When Christ comes again it will not be the beginning of the last days but the end of the last days when the last enemy, death, is destroyed (1 Cor. 15:23-26), at the very last trumpet (vv. 51-57), on the very last day (John 6:39, 40, 44, 54; 11:24; 12:48). He is not coming to reign on earth for another thousand years, or even one day!
Will there be signs of the end times?
Whenever there is an international crisis or military conflict or famine or earthquake there are those who see it as a sign of the end of the world. Will there be signs of the end times? Can we know by seeing these signs that the Lord is about to come? Is the Lord going to come in our generation?
Throughout these last days there have been those who have claimed to know when Jesus is coming again. Their predictions have largely been based upon the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 24. Yet, one by one, they have all failed in their predictions. We should not be surprised because the Bible teaches us that there will be no signs of the end times.
In Matthew 24, Jesus prophesied the destruction of the temple that then stood in Jerusalem (vv. 1-2). The disciples wanted to know when this would happen (v. 3). They thought that this would not happen until Jesus came at the end of the world, but they were wrong.
This prophecy was fulfilled in A.D. 70 by the Roman army. The Roman commander, Titus, “gave orders that they should now demolish the whole city and temple…it was laid so completely even with the ground by those who dug it up from the foundation, that there was nothing left to make those believe who came hither that it had ever been inhabited” (Josephus).
In Jesus’ answer to His disciples, He first deals with the impending destruction of Jerusalem and the signs that would precede that event (vv. 4-34). Then, He told them that there would be no signs to indicate His coming at the end of the world (vv. 35ff).
All of the signs which the Lord mentioned (vv. 4-14) took place before the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, not at the end of the world.
The desolation was “in the holy place” (i.e. the Temple) and the city of Jerusalem (v. 15; cf. Luke 21:20), not of the whole world. This obviously refers to the Romans surrounding Jerusalem and then finally destroying the temple in 70 A.D. “And now the Romans, upon burning of the holy house itself, and of the buildings round about it, brought their ensigns to the Temple, and set them over against its eastern gate; and there did they offer sacrifices to them” (Josephus). Daniel 9:24-27 connects the desolation of Jerusalem with Christ’s first coming and crucifixion and the people of the prince (namely Titus, the Roman commander) and not at His second coming and end of the world.
Jesus’ instructions show that He was speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem, not the end of the world (vv. 16-22). There will be no place to run, no time to take things out of your house or go back and get clothes when the Lord comes and it will not matter if you are pregnant or nursing, if it is in winter or on the Sabbath when the world ends because nobody will escape on that day. There will be no “ever shall be” at the end of time and those days would not have had to be shortened if they were at the end of time. Those days were shortened because continued war would have spread throughout the land making it impossible for Christians to escape but following Christ’s instructions they fled to Pella (Eusebius) and there is no evidence that any were killed or captured by the Romans. The Jews, on the other hand, sought safety within the walls of the city and 1,100,000 died and 97,000 were enslaved.
Jesus’ warnings of false Christs show that He was speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem, not the end of the world (vv. 23-28). When Jesus comes at the end of the world everybody will see it (cf. Rev. 1:7)!
Jesus uses apocalyptic language to describe God’s judgment upon the Jewish nation and their fall at Jerusalem, not the end of the world (vv. 29-31; cf. Isaiah 13:10 as Babylon; 19:1 as Egypt; 34:4 as the nations; Eze. 32:7-8 as Egypt; Joel 2:1-10 as Judah; Amos 8:9 as Israel). It was the sign of the fact that the Son of Man was reigning in heaven (v. 30 literally “and then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven”; cf. Psa. 97:1-6).
Jesus spoke all these things so they would know the time for the fulfillment of His prophecy concerning the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, not the end of the world (vv. 32-33).
Jesus explicitly said that all these things would take place before that generation passed away, not at the end of the world (v. 34). Some want to redefine generation to mean race (e.g. the Jewish race) but this is not how the term is used (cf. Matthew 1:17; 11:16; 12:38-45; 16:4; 17:17; 23:36). It would be nonsense for Jesus to tell His disciples what was going to happen to the Jews then to say their race would not pass away until it did.
Jesus explicitly said that no one but His Father alone knows when the world will come to an end (vv. 35-36).
His coming at the end of the world will be like the days of Noah (vv. 37-39). Everything was going on as normal, nothing unusual. There were no signs.
It will be sudden and unexpected like when an army comes through taking some and leaving others (vv. 40-41; cf. 1 Sam. 11:11; Mat. 13:30, 41-43, 47-50) or a thief who breaks in a house (vv. 42-44; cf. 1 The. 5:1-4; 2 Pet. 3:10). They would not give any signs to indicate when they were coming.
It is not something you can wait to prepare for when you see some signs but rather you must always be prepared because there will be no signs (vv. 45-51; cf. Mat. 25)!
Will there be a secret rapture of the church?
Perhaps you have seen the bumper stickers that read, “In case of rapture somebody grab the wheel…In case of rapture this car will be unmanned.” No doubt you have heard preachers talk about The Rapture, read a book or seen a movie on The Rapture. Have you ever wondered just what this is all about?
The Rapture is the teaching that Jesus will secretly come for all His saints. He will raise the dead saints and then lift them up together with the live saints to meet Him in the air. All of the lost, who remain on the earth, will not know where they have gone. They won’t be able to explain the empty graves.
While the saints are with the Lord, there will be a period of great tribulation on the earth like never before. During this time the Antichrist will come to power and rule the world. There will be fear, suffering and death on a mass scale. This will last seven years.
At the end of the seven years Jesus will come back with His saints, conquer the enemy and reign on the earth for a thousand years. After which time there will be a final judgment.
The secret coming of Christ and catching away of the church for seven years is called The Rapture. Is there any biblical basis for The Rapture? Will graves suddenly open and be vacated? Will the highways be strewn with wrecks because drivers have been secretly taken away? Will some find children and mates, friends and coworkers missing but themselves left behind?
The passage most used as a basis for The Rapture is 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, which speaks of the coming (Gk. parousia) of Christ. This passage actually refutes The Rapture.
Instead of saying that there will be a coming (Gk. parousia) of Christ for His saints and then seven years later an appearance (Gk. epiphaneia) and the revelation (Gk. apokalupsis) of Christ with His saints, it simply teaches that when Jesus comes with the saints that have already died He will come for the saints that are still alive (vv. 13-17; cf. 1 The. 3:13; 2 The. 2:1). And, when He does so He will also appear and be revealed to judge all people (1 Cor. 1:7; 2 The. 1:6-10; 2:8; 1 Tim. 6:13-15; 2 Tim. 4:1, 8; Tit. 2:12-13; Heb. 9:28; 1 Pet. 1:13; 5:4). There will be no separation of the righteous from the wicked until the end of the world, not many years before (Mat. 13:30, 41-43, 47-50; 25:31-36).
Instead of saying the dead in Christ will be raised many years before the wicked are raised, it teaches they will be raised before the living are caught up in the clouds (vv. 15-17). When Jesus comes there will be one resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked at the same time (John 5:28-29; Acts 23:6; 24:15). The resurrection of the righteous will take place on the last day (John 6:39, 40, 44, 54; 11:24; the same day that the wicked will be judged, John 12:48) at the end of the world (1 Cor. 15:20-26, 51-52), not many years before.
Instead of a secret coming, it will be very noisy (v. 16; cf. 1 Cor. 15:52; 2 Pet. 3:10). It will be like lightning (Mat. 24:27). There will be the brightness (or appearing, Gk. epiphaneia) of Christ (2 The. 2:8). There will be the revelation (Gk. apokalupsis) of Christ (2 The. 1:7). Every eye shall see Him (Rev. 1:7; cf. Acts 1:9-11).
Instead of being taken away by Christ for seven years, we will always be with the Lord (v. 17; cf. John 14:1-6). Why would we want to return to the earth having already arrived in the Father’s house? When Jesus comes the world will be destroyed (2 Pet. 3).
The coming, appearance and revelation of Jesus Christ and the resurrection and judgment of all people will occur simultaneously on the last day at the end of the world. Jesus will not come for His saints and then return with them seven years later but will come to take us to the Father’s house forever!
Will the Antichrist rise up and bring the great tribulation upon the earth?
Some believe that before Jesus returns the greatest political leader in history will arise and establish an empire over the entire world that will stand against God and His people causing great tribulation throughout the planet like never before.
Who is the Antichrist?In the past, some thought Hitler, Stalin and Saddam Hussein were the Antichrist. People are still trying to identify him. We will consider every passage where the term “antichrist” appears in the Bible, but first let’s look at some other passages that some believe also speak of the Antichrist.
Some go to Daniel, but the Antichrist is not mentioned there. He is not the little horn of Daniel 7:3-8. That one comes out of the fourth kingdom, Rome (cf. Dan. 2:37-40) and speaks of Domitian (cf. Rev. 17:9-11).
He is not the small horn that grew into the great horn of Daniel 8:3-9. This one comes out of the third kingdom, Greece (Dan. 8:20-21) and speaks of Antiochus IV Epiphanes.
He is not the prince who destroyed the temple and the city of Jerusalem in Daniel 9:26. This passage speaks of the first coming of Christ, His death and the destruction of Jerusalem led by the Roman commander, Titus, in 70 A.D. (Dan. 9:24-27; cf. Mat. 24:15; Luke 21:20).
He is not any of the kings of Daniel 11-12. This passage discusses the history from the time of Darius, the Mede (Dan. 11:1-2) until the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. (Dan. 12:6-7, 11). “The time of the end” (Dan. 8:17; 11:35, 40; 12:4, 9) means the time appointed by God for the fulfillment of the prophecy (Hab. 2:2-3), not the end of time or the end of the world.
Daniel’s prophecies are about the end of the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Grecian and Roman empires, the end of the Jews as God’s covenant nation and the establishment of God’s kingdom, the church, during the days of the Roman kings, not the end of the world. The term Antichrist is never used in Daniel.
Some go to 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12, but the Antichrist is not mentioned there. This passage speaks of the man of sin. Some see him as evil personified in many different persons through the ages, but I believe he is Catholicism personified in the Pope.
He is associated with the falling away and poses as God (vv. 3-5; cf. Acts 20:28-30; 1 Tim. 4:1-3; Rev. 2-3). The Catholic Church came from those who departed from the faith. They changed the organization of the church and introduced numerous false doctrines including purgatory, sprinkling and infant baptism, worshipping God with musical instruments, the worship of Mary, celibacy and the infallibility of the Pope. The Pope has been described as “God on earth, Lord God the Pope, more than God” (see Barnes).
He was already at work and being restrained (vv. 6-7). The Roman empire restrained the apostate church until it came into Rome’s favor with Constantine who empowered Catholicism and caused it to be known throughout the world. When Rome fell, the apostate church rose in power.
He is to continue until the coming of the Lord (v. 8). Catholicism is still present around the world.
He is a deceiver (vv. 9-12). The Catholic Church is well known for her apparitions, false miracles, speaking and bleeding images and many other deceptions.
This passage is not about a man who arises at the end of the world but of the falling away of the church that began in the first century resulting in the Catholic Church with her popes and will continue until Christ comes again. The term Antichrist is never used in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12.
Some go to Revelation, but the Antichrist is not mentioned there. Revelation speaks of things “which must shortly take place…for the time is near…for the time is at hand” (Rev. 1:1, 3; 22:6, 10). For this reason the book was not to be sealed. When Daniel received a revelation about 550 B.C. (Dan. 8:1) concerning the work of Antiochus Epiphanes in about 164 B.C. (vv.13-14) he was told, “Seal up the vision for it refers to many days in the future” (v. 26). Therefore, Revelation should not be understood as referring to things far removed in time from John’s day but to that which was soon coming upon the church.
Revelation 13 speaks of a beast that rises out of the sea (vv. 1-10). It is the fourth beast of Daniel, the Roman Empire with her emperors (cf. Dan. 2; 7). Revelation begins where Daniel left off, with the Roman persecution of the saints because they refused to bow to the emperor.
It also speaks of the land beast. This was the cult of priests used by Rome to promote and enforce emperor worship (vv. 11-16). The emperor was identified by the number 666, as were all those who bowed to him. The number 6 is symbolic of sin because it is one short of 7, the perfect number (Rom. 3:23). The number 666 is sin multiplied. The emperor was a very evil man, not a god to be worshipped. God’s people who did not bow to the emperor were persecuted, not being allowed to trade and even killed, but they would be delivered because they had God’s seal (Rev. 7).
Revelation is not about someone who arises at the end of the world to destroy God’s people. It is about the Roman Empire with her emperors who severely persecuted the church for many years. The term Antichrist is never used in Revelation.
The Bible uses the term “antichrist” only five times (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7).According to these passages there were many antichrists, not just one. They lived in John’s day, not just at the end of the world. They were anti-Christ, literally against Christ; they denied Jesus Christ and the Father; they denied Jesus Christ came in the flesh. These passages never mention a world ruler who rises up against God and His people to bring the great tribulation before Jesus comes at the end of the world.
What is the great tribulation?Some believe that there will be a terrible time of great suffering during the reign of the Antichrist culminating in Armageddon at the coming of Christ and the beginning of His millennial reign on the earth. The Bible speaks often of tribulation, even great tribulation but it nowhere mentions the great tribulation at the coming of Christ in the end times.
The term “great tribulation” is only found three times in the Bible (Mat. 24:21-22; Rev. 2:20-23; 7:14). We will first look at these passages and then at some other passages used to support the false idea of the great tribulation.
Matthew 24:21-22 (cf. Mark 13; Luke 21) This prophecy of Jesus refers to the siege and destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D., which had already been prophesied by Daniel (Mat. 24:15-16; Luke 21:20). The Christians were not “raptured” but were told to flee Judea. Jesus used a hyperbolic proverbial saying, like was used by the OT prophets when God sent Babylon upon Jerusalem (Jer. 30:7; Eze. 5:8-9), to describe the destruction. Josephus, an eyewitness, wrote, “neither did any other city suffer such miseries…from the beginning of the world” (Wars of the Jews, vs. 10, 5). The phrase “nor ever shall be” shows that Jesus had in mind a time near his own day, not at the end of the world. As He said, “this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place” (Mat. 24:34; cf. 23:36-38).
Revelation 7:14 This passage speaks of the faithful Christians who endured the awful persecution of the Roman Empire upon the church (Rev. 1:5; 3:5), as we have already learned is the subject of Revelation. This tribulation had already begun and was only going to grow worse (Rev. 1:9; 2:9-10), until the fall of Rome (6:9-11; 17:4-6, 18; 18:2, 20-21, 24).
Revelation 2:20-23 This passage speaks of God’s judgment upon a wicked false teacher, and her followers, that was troubling the church at Thyatira (vv. 18, 24).
Jeremiah 30:7 “Jacob’s trouble” refers to Judah’s captivity in Babylon which began in 605 B.C. “He shall be saved out of it” refers not to some supposed “rapture”, but to the return of Judah from the Babylonian captivity which began to take place in 536 B.C. under the leadership of Zerubbabel (cf. Jer. 29:10).
Daniel 9:23-27 The “seventy weeks” (7x10x7) are symbolic of the perfect (7=perfect) and complete (10=complete) determination of God concerning the Jews and their city. The Bible often uses these numbers figuratively (e.g. Gen. 24:60; 41; Deu. 33:2; 1 Sam. 18:7; Job 5:19; 19:3; Psa. 3:6; 12:6; 119:164; Pro. 24:16; 26:16, 25; Ecc. 11:2; Isa. 4:1; 30:26; Dan. 1:20; 3:19; 4:16, 25, 32; 7:10; Mic. 6:7; Mat. 18:21-22; 25:1; Luke 14:31; 17:4; 1 Cor. 4:15; 14:19; Jude 14; Revelation 1:4; 2:10; 5:1, 11; 10:4; 12:3; 13:1; 15:1).
The prophecy includes these points: To finish the transgression, To make an end of sins, To make reconciliation for iniquity, To bring in everlasting righteousness (Rom. 1:16-17; 3:20-26; 5:6-11; Eph. 2:11-22; 2 Cor. 5:17-21; Heb. 10:11-12), To seal up vision and prophecy (concerning the Jewish nation, Jerusalem and the temple and finding their fulfillment in Christ and His church; Luke 21:20-24; 24:44-49; John 14:26; 16:13; 1 Cor. 13:8-10; Heb. 1:1-2; Jude 3), and to anoint the Most Holy (Messiah/Christ = Anointed One; Isa. 61:1-2 w/Luke 4:16-21; Mat. 3:13-17; Acts 10:36-42).
The prophecy began with the return of the Jews from their captivity in Babylon “to restore and build Jerusalem” (Ezra; Neh.). These were “troublesome times” because of the opposition of Sanballat, satrap of Samaria (Neh. 2:19; 4:1, 8, 11; 6:2, 6-7).
The prophecy continued “until Messiah (Gk. Christ)” came and was “cut off, but not for Himself” (i.e. He was put to death for us; Isa. 53; Acts 8:32-33; 1 Cor. 15:1-3), confirming “a covenant with many” (the New Covenant; Jer. 31:31-34; Mat. 26:28) and bringing “an end to sacrifice and offering” (Eph. 2:14-16; Col. 2:14; Hebrews 9-10).
The prophecy was finished not long afterward when the city and the temple in Jerusalem were “destroyed…made desolate, even until the consummation [or its utter end].” This destruction was led by “the prince of the people”, the Roman commander, Titus, “on the wings of abomination” (viz. the ensign of an eagle carried by the Roman armies; Mat. 24:15, 28; Luke 21:20). The “end of it” was with a “flood” (i.e. an act of God’s judgment causing complete destruction; cf. Nah. 1:8; Mat. 24:1-2; Luke 19:41-44).
The “seventy weeks” may be understood as seventy weeks of years (490 years), counting from the command to restore Jerusalem (Ezra 1, 539 B.C., cf. Isa. 44:24-28; 45:13; Ezra 7, 457 B.C.; Neh. 1-2, 444 B.C.). They were divided into seven weeks of years (49 years during which Jerusalem was rebuilt), followed by sixty two weeks of years (434 years to the time when Christ began His ministry, 26 A.D.) and one week of years (7 years in the midst of which Christ was crucified, 29 A.D.). Finally, Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed (70 A.D.).
Daniel’s prophecy of seventy weeks does not speak of the great tribulation at the second coming of Christ and the end of the world. It speaks of the return of Judah from Babylonian captivity to rebuild Jerusalem, continues until the first coming of Christ when He died for the sins of the world and concludes with the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem by the Romans.
Daniel 12:1 The time is the days of the Roman kings (Dan. 11:36-45) and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. (12:6-7, 11) from which the Christians fled and escaped (Mat. 24:15-22). See our earlier discussion of Daniel in regards to the Antichrist above.
In summary, we have learned that there is no end time prophecy concerning the Antichrist and the great tribulation. The Antichrist is not mentioned in Daniel, 2 Thessalonians or Revelation. The term antichrist is only mentioned five times in the Bible where it speaks of the many who were against Christ in the first century. The great tribulation is only mentioned three times in the Bible. The phrase was used of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, of God’s judgment on the wicked and of the persecution of the church by the Roman Empire. Jeremiah spoke of troublesome times for the Jewish nation when they were taken captive by the Babylonians. Daniel spoke of such times when they returned from captivity to rebuild the walls in Jerusalem until its later destruction by the Romans in 70 A.D.
What is the battle of Armageddon?
Some believe that it is a great worldwide battle in the end times that threatens to extinguish all of mankind but for the coming of the Lord.
With all the talk of Armageddon, you may be surprised to learn that it is only mentioned one time in the Bible (Rev. 16:16) and the battle is described in just two verses (Rev. 19:20-21).
We have already learned that Revelation is a highly figurative book of symbols written to the churches that were persecuted by the Roman Empire to assure them of victory through Jesus Christ. It was not about the end times but was shortly to take place (Rev. 1:1-3).
Revelation 16 records the pouring out of the seven bowls of God’s wrath upon the earth. They are reminiscent of the plagues God sent on Egypt (e.g. sores, blood, darkness, frogs; Exo. 7-11) and symbolize God’s judgment on the Roman Empire.
With the pouring out of the sixth bowl, we read of Armageddon (Rev. 16:12-16).
In this vision, the drying up of the Euphrates enables the kings of the east to gather at Armageddon (Compare Exo. 14:21-22 crossing of Red Sea; Jos. 3:15-17 crossing Jordan; 2 Kin. 2:7-14 Elijah and Elisha crossing Jordan; Isa. 11:15-16 Jewish remnant crossing Red Sea, i.e. given a way to Christ).
We have previously identified the dragon as Satan (Rev. 12), the beast as the Roman Empire personified in her emperors and the false prophet as the teachers and enforcers of emperor worship (Rev. 13).
The frogs are identified as unclean spirits coming from the mouths of this terrible trio. This speaks of the lies and deceptions used by Satan in the Roman Empire (cf. 1 Kings 22:19-23; 2 The. 2:8-12; 1 Tim. 4:1-2).
Just as the dragon, the beast, the false prophet and the frogs are symbolic, so is Armageddon.
Armageddon literally means mountain of Megiddo.
Megiddo was a fortified city located on a plain near Mount Carmel, where Jezebel’s false prophets of Baal were defeated (1 Kings 18). There Joshua defeated the Canaanites (Jos. 12:21). Deborah defeated the kings of Canaan (Jud. 5). Gideon defeated the Midianites (Jud. 7). Saul and Jonathan were defeated at Megiddo (1 Sam. 31). Evil King Ahaziah of Judah died there (2 Kin. 9). King Josiah disobeyed God and was mortally wounded in battle against Necho of Egypt at Megiddo (2 Kin. 23; 2 Chr. 35).
Megiddo was one of the great battlefields of the world, like Waterloo, Normandy or the Texas Alamo. Revelation uses it as a symbol of the defeat of the Roman Empire.
The defeat of the Roman Empire comes with the pouring out of the seventh bowl (Rev. 16:17-21).
It is poured into the air, where Satan rules (cf. Eph. 2:1-3; 6:12); indicating God has completely defeated Satan in his work through Rome against the church.
With the fall of the Roman Empire came horrible chaos and destruction (cf. Mic. 1:2-4; Nah. 1:5; Psa. 18:7-15) like never before (cf. Eze. 5:8-9; Mat. 24:21).
“The great city…and the nations…great Babylon” symbolizes Rome and her allies (cf. 1 Pet. 5:13; Rev. 11:8; 17-18).
At the collapse of the Roman Empire, there was worldwide panic and confusion. Civilization was set back for centuries. The world was plunged into the Dark Ages.
In the chapters which follow, the great city, Rome (symbolized by Babylon), is identified as the persecutor of the saints (Rev. 17), her fall is announced and mourned over by the nations (Rev. 18) and there is a great celebration of victory (pictured as a wedding feast) in heaven with Christ and His church (Rev. 19:1-10).
Christ is pictured as a warrior on a white horse followed by the armies of heaven on white horses (Rev. 19:11-16). All the birds of heaven were called to feast upon the flesh of the enemy and their horses, as their immediate defeat was certain (Rev. 19:17-19). There is no mention of the modern warfare (e.g. nuclear weapons, guns, tanks, helicopters, planes) which many want to bring to Armageddon.
The final two verses provide the only description of the battle (Rev. 19:20-21). The beast and the false prophet in the fire serve as an example of utter defeat. Their sentence is so certain they are pictured as already in the fires of hell (cf. Mat. 25:41, 46). The beasts’ allies “were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse (i.e. Christ’s word; cf. Eph. 6:17) but not in the fire, yet. Their sentence to hell is pictured in chapter 20 (vv. 10, 14). This is obviously symbolic of a spiritual battle and God’s judgment upon the enemy, not a physical battle (cf. 2 Cor. 10:3-6; Eph. 6:10-20).
Armageddon is not a holocaust in the Middle East at the end times. Such visions would have been absolutely meaningless to the persecuted churches to which Revelation was written, but visions of the fall and judgment of the Roman Empire, and the victory of the faithful with Christ, would bring much comfort and hope to them in their suffering.
Will Israel be restored to Palestine and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem?
According to some, all of the twelve tribes of Israel from every place on earth will be gathered back to Canaan land, the city of Jerusalem and the temple will be rebuilt and its worship will be restored. All of this, they contend will begin to take place at the coming of the Lord just prior to His thousand year reign on earth in the end times.
God promised Abraham and his descendants, Israel, the land of Canaan (Genesis 12:1-7; 13:14-15, 17; 15:7, 13-16, 18; 17:8; 28:1-4; Exodus 6:4-6; 23:30-31).
This promise has already been completely fulfilled (Deuteronomy 19:7-9; Joshua 11:23; 20:7-8; 21:43-45; 23:14-16; 2 Samuel 8:3; 1 Kings 4:21; 2 Chronicles 9:26; Nehemiah 9:7-8, 23-24; Acts 7:2-5, 17, 34-36, 44-46). These passages teach us that Abraham will not be raised from the dead to possess the land as some contend but that it was promised to him as an inheritance for his descendants, and that, not at the end times, but soon after Moses led them out of Egypt during the days of Joshua.
The possession of the land by Israel was always conditioned upon their faithfulness to God (Numbers 14:27-35; Deuteronomy 4:25-28; Jos. 23:11-16; 1 Kin. 9:3-7; Neh. 9). In time, they were removed from the land because of their disobedience (2 Kin. 18:11-12; 25:21).
God promised to return those who were removed from the land when they returned to Him (Deu. 4:29-31; 30:1-10; 1 Kin. 8:46-53; Jer. 3:18-22; 29:10-14; Eze. 36:25-38; Hos. 3:5; 11:10-11), but this would only be a remnant of Israel (Isa. 1:9; 10:22; 11:11, 16; Jer. 23:3; 31:7; Zec. 8:6; Rom. 9:27). The influx of Jews to Palestine in modern days consists largely of those who hold to a liberalized Judaism, including a few atheist; not of those who have returned to the Lord. There will be no national conversion of the Jews as some contend from Romans 11:25-26. “All Israel” is not the entire Jewish race but the remnant of Jews and the many Gentiles who come to faith in Christ (9:6-8, 25-27, 30-33; 10:12-13; 11:1, 5, 7). The church made of Jews and Gentiles is “the Israel of God” or His people today (Rom. 2:28-29; Gal. 3:7-8, 16, 26-29; 6:15-16; Phi. 3:3; Col. 2:11-12; 1 Pet. 2:9-10).
Some contend that “the lost tribes of Israel” were never restored to the land, only Judah. But, ever since the division of Israel in the days of King Rehoboam, Judah had always included some from the other tribes (2 Chr. 11:1-17; esp. vv. 3, 14, 16). Others came to join themselves with Judah during the reforms of Asa (2 Chr. 15:9) and Hezekiah (2 Chr. 30:1, 18, 25; 31:1). Later, when Israel was taken captive by Assyria, some were left in Samaria (Amos 5:1-3) and returned to Judah during the reforms of Josiah (2 Chr. 35:16-17). The fact is that a remnant of all the tribes of Israel returned from Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem (1 Chr. 9:1-3; Ezra 1:1-5; 2:70; 6:16-17; 7:7; 8:35; Neh. 1:4-10). By the time Jesus came to the earth and established His church, Jews from every tribe and place had come to Jerusalem (Luke 2:36; Acts 2:5-11).
Though the land promise was “forever” or “everlasting”, the term used (Hb. olam) does not always mean without end but often refers to a “long time” (Strong’s Hebrew). For example, it is used to describe how long a slave would serve his master (Deu. 15:17). Here, “forever” cannot mean without end but only as long as the slave lives. The term is also used to speak of a long time in the past (Isa. 63:11). Here translated “the days of old”, it has reference to the days of Moses but not to the eternal past (Isa. 63:11). Just as circumcision (Gen. 17:13), the Passover (Exo. 12:14) and the Levitical priesthood (Num. 25:13) were “forever” or “everlasting” but came to an end with the abolition of the Law (Eph. 2:14; Col. 2:14; cf. also Rom. 2:25-29; 7:1-6, Gal. 3:24-25; 5:2, 6, Heb. 7:11-28; 8:6-13; 9:15; 10:9), having been fulfilled so did the land promise. Even those who propose a future restoration of Israel to the land believe it will all come to an end after a thousand years. Indeed, not only the land of Palestine, but the whole world will come to an end when the Lord comes (2 Pet. 3:10-13).
The temple in Jerusalem was rebuilt and its worship restored when Israel returned from Babylon. This was prophesied (Isa. 44:28) and fulfilled (Ezra 1:1-5; 6:14-22). Ezekiel’s temple (Eze. 40-48) was an apocalyptic vision, comparable to John’s (Rev. 21-22), which emphasized holiness (e.g. the many measurements and details given), blessing (e.g. the flowing river, 47) and the presence of the Lord among His people (e.g. the glory of the Lord returned and filled the temple,43; “the Lord is there”, 48:35). A literal interpretation of this temple must be ruled out (e.g. the impractical siting of the temple on a very high mountain, 40:2; the impossible source and course of the river, 47:1-12; the boundaries of the tribes which could never be worked out geographically in hilly Israel). To rebuild the temple and restore its worship in the end times would be a complete denial and rejection of the finished work of Christ (Eph. 2:14-22; Col. 2:14-17; Rom. 7:1-6, Gal. 3:24-29; 5:1-6, Heb. 7-10).
The land promise and the many prophecies concerning the restoration of Israel have both a temporal fulfilment and a spiritual fulfilment. The temporal fulfilment took place before the first coming of Christ, the gospel of the New Covenant and the establishment of the church and it serves as a type of the greater and complete spiritual fulfilment found in Christ and His church (e.g. Gen. 12:1-5 w/Heb. 11:10, 13-16; 2 Cor. 5:1; 1 Pet. 1:3-9; 2 Pet. 3:10-13; Rev. 21-22; and Eze. 37:15-28 w/John 10:11, 16; Eph. 2:13-17; 2:20-22; Heb. 8:5-13; 13:20; 1 Pet. 2:5, 9; and Hos. 1:10-11 w/Rom. 9:24-26; and Hos. 2:11 w/Col. 2:14-17; and Amos 9:11-14 w/Acts 15:13-18; 1 Cor. 3:16-17; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:20-22; 1 Tim. 3:15; 1 Pet. 2:5).
Will Jesus come to reign on earth for a thousand years?
Some teach that Jesus will establish an earthly kingdom ruling from David’s throne in Jerusalem that will last for a thousand years.
The OT prophets spoke of the beginning of Christ’s kingdom. It would begin at Jerusalem in the latter/last days when the word of the Lord would go forth (Isa. 2:2-3; cf. Mic. 2:1-2; Zec. 1:16). It would begin in the days of the Roman kings (Dan. 2:44). It would begin at the ascension of Christ (Dan. 7:13-14). It would begin when the Holy Spirit would be poured out and whoever would call on the name of the Lord should be saved (Joel 2:28-32).
Christ’s kingdom was announced just before it began. It was at hand (Mat. 3:1-2; 4:17; 10:7; cf. Luke 10:9, 11 “near”). It was going to come with power while some of the twelve apostles were still alive (Mark 9:1; cf. Mat. 16:28; Luke 9:27). It was time (Mark 1:15). It was to be after the resurrection of Christ when power would be given to the apostles and repentance and remission of sins would be preached in His name beginning at Jerusalem (Luke 24:46-49). It was to be not many days after the ascension of Christ when the apostles would receive power to bear witness to Him (Acts 1:1-11).
The beginning of Christ’s kingdom was recorded in Acts 2. It was just as it had been prophesied and just as it had been announced. It began in the days of the Roman kings about ten days after the ascension of Christ (v. 1a; cf. Lev. 23:9-22; Acts 1:3). It began while eleven of the original twelve apostles were still alive (v. 1b; cf. Acts 1:26). It began at Jerusalem (vv. 1c, 5; cf. Acts 1:12). It began when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the apostles and they received power to speak the word of the Lord and bear witness to Christ (vv. 2-13). It began in the last days when whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved (vv. 14-21). It began when repentance and remission of sins was preached in Christ’s name (vv. 22-41). It is His church (v. 47; Mat. 16:18-19).
The kingdom of Christ has come (Col. 1:13-14; 3:1; Heb. 1:3, 8-9, 13; 8:1; 10:12-13; 12:28-29; Rev. 1:6, 9; 2:26-27; 3:21). Christ will continue to reign as King in His kingdom until He comes again (1 Cor. 15:23-26).
Christ’s kingdom is not an earthly but a heavenly, spiritual kingdom (Luke 17:20-21 He rules in our hearts; John 18:36-37 He is the King of truth and His kingdom those of the truth; Heb. 12:22-24, 28-29 He rules from the heavenly Jerusalem, in the church registered in heaven, by the New Covenant, in the kingdom that cannot be shaken).
Christ was to sit on David’s throne (2 Sam. 7:12-16; Isa. 9:6-7; Luke 1:32-33) but not on the earth (Jer. 22:28-30; cf. 1 Chr. 3:15-7; Mat. 1:12; Luke 3:27 Jesus is both legally and by blood a descendent of Coniah). He sits upon David’s throne in heaven (Psa. 89:35-37; cf. Acts 2:29-36). He has the key of David (Isa. 22:22; Rev. 3:7). He is a priest on His throne (Psa. 110:1, 4; Zec. 6:12-13) but He is a priest in heaven (Heb. 3:1; 4:14; 5:6; 7:17, 21-28; 8:1) and cannot be a priest on earth (Heb. 8:4), therefore His throne is in heaven not on the earth. David’s throne is God’s throne (1 Chr. 29:23; 1 Kin. 1:46-48; 2:12) but God’s throne is in heaven (Isa. 66:1; Acts 7:49). The throne of God and the throne of Christ are inseparable (Eph. 5:5; Heb. 1:8).
We are not to look for Jesus to come again and establish an earthly kingdom because the present rule of Christ from heaven is the fulfillment of God’s promise concerning David’s seed coming to sit on His throne (Isa. 11 w/Rom. 15:12; Isa. 55:3 w/Acts 13:23, 34).
A misunderstanding of Revelation 20 has led many to think that Christ will rule from David’s throne in Jerusalem for a thousand years. We have already learned that Christ now rules from David’s throne in the heavenly Jerusalem at God’s right hand and will continue to rule until He comes again, at which time He will turn the kingdom over to His Father. He will not return to the earth to reign for a thousand years.
One of the keys to help us in understanding Revelation is to realize it was written in apocalyptic language (1:1). The word revelation comes from the Greek word apocalypse which means an unveiling or uncovering, a revelation. This word came to be used of writings which were like Revelation in their use of symbolic language. Other books in the Bible such as Ezekiel, Daniel and Zechariah contain much apocalyptic language. An understanding of how the symbols are used in these other books will help us in understanding Revelation.
In the visions of John, numbers (1-unity, 2-strength, 3-Deity, 3½-trial, 4-creation, 5-limited, 6-sinful man, 7-perfection, 8-revival, 10-completeness, 12-God’s people), colors (white-purity, red-bloodshed, black-sin, pale-death), animals (lamb, lion, dragon, frogs), cities (Sodom and Gomorrah, Jerusalem, Babylon), persons (Balaam, Jezebel, Gog and Magog) and other things (angels, demons, stars, clouds, winds, waters, fire, thrones, crowns, swords, chariots, armies, plagues, alters, temples, garments, trees, oil, wine, gold, silver, precious stones, ships, coins, books, musical instruments, eye salve, time periods) are all used symbolically. John sees vivid images which are meant to convey a message. You will read of a dragon that cast down stars from heaven and a flood that proceeds out of its mouth. Frogs come from the mouth of a false prophet and lead armies into battle. The sun is darkened, the moon becomes blood and the heavens are rolled up like a scroll. We must not get too bogged down in the details of the image that we miss the big picture. As is characteristic of most apocalyptic literature Revelation was written to comfort God’s people in their trial with the assurance that their enemies would be judged and that they would be victorious if they remained faithful (2:10).
Another key to understanding the book of Revelation is to realize that the things written in the book “must shortly come to pass…for the time is at hand” (1:1, 3). At the end of the book John is reminded that these things “must shortly be done” (22:6) and was instructed, “Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand” (v. 10). When Daniel received a revelation about 550 B.C. (Dan. 8:1) concerning the work of Antiochus Epiphanes in about 164 B.C. (v.13-14) he was told, “Seal up the vision for it refers to many days in the future” (v. 26). Therefore, Revelation should not be understood as referring to things far removed in time from John’s day but to that which was soon coming upon the church.
Revelation 20 begins with a picture of the complete defeat of Satan’s work by the Roman persecutors (Rev. 20:1-3).
V2 “thousand” symbolizes complete or total (cf. Exo. 20:6; Deu.1:10-11; Psa. 50:10; 90:4; 105:8; Job 9:3; Rev. 5:11).
V3 “deceive the nations no more” (i.e. by the Roman Empire through emperor worship), “released for a little while” symbolizes the fact that Satan will again seek to destroy the church (Rev. 20:7-10).
In the next verses there is a picture of the complete victory of the faithful over their Roman persecutors (Rev. 20:4-6).
V4 “souls” are the faithful Christians under Roman persecution who died in the Lord (cf. Rev. 6:9), “lived” (cf. Luke 20:38) God is not the God of the dead but of the living, “reigned” (cf. 2 Tim. 2:11-12; Rev. 2:26; 3:21), “for a thousand years” symbolizes the complete victory now in heaven at the fall of Rome (not at the second coming as Rev. 22:5).
V5 “the rest of the dead” refers to the nonChristians and unfaithful Christians who bowed to the Roman emperors (cf. 19:2), “the first resurrection” symbolizes the revival and triumph of the persecuted church at the fall of Rome (cf. Rev. 11:7-12; also compare Isa. 26:19; Eze. 37; Luke 15:24,32; Rom. 11:15; 6:3-5; Eph. 2:1, 5-6; Col. 2:12 where restoration/salvation is pictured as a resurrection) not the literal bodily resurrection of God’s people at the end of the world (John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15; John 6:39, 40, 44, 54; 1 Cor. 15: 23-24, 52).
This is not some rapture before a great tribulation but takes place after the great tribulation and at the beginning of the millennium!
Picture all on the battlefield, the martyrs for Christ rise to reign with Him… then 1,000 years later those who served the beast rise to be thrown into the lake of fire. All this is just symbolic of the complete victory of the saints and utter defeat of the persecutors. The “resurrection” and “1,000 years” is not literal, just a picture!
First death = all who died in service of the beast or of Christ
First resurrection = triumph of faithful who died in Roman persecution not to experience second death
Second resurrection = of rest of dead who served the beast to face judgment at end of world
Second death = judgment of them at end of world in lake of fire
Please notice that Revelation 20 does not mention the second coming of Christ, the earth, the establishment of a kingdom, an earthly reign or regime, a literal throne of David in Jerusalem. Also, it is a strange interpretation that contends for a figurative serpent bound with a figurative chain thrown into a figurative pit, locked with a figurative key, confined for a literal thousand years! Obviously, there is no literal thousand year reign of Christ to come on this earth.
Will the devil gather Gog and Magog for a final attack against Christ’s kingdom?
Some teach that a great evil military force will attack Christ’s kingdom in Israel at the end of the world but will be completely destroyed by God.
Magog was a grandson of Noah (Gen. 10:2) whose descendants settled in the North.
The identity of Gog is uncertain. The identification of this evil entity has long been a point of controversy among Bible scholars. Clearly, though, Ezekiel’s “Gog” represented a sinister power that came against ancient Israel, but was defeated.
According to Ezekiel, Gog lived in the land of Magog and was the prince of Rosh [or chief prince] of Meshech and Tubal, tribes in Asia Minor or modern day Turkey (Eze. 38:1-3).
In Ezekiel, he comes against Israel in the last days with a vast army (Eze. 38:4-9) at a time when Israel was dwelling in peace and safety, in cities without walls (Eze. 38:10-17). God would totally defeat Gog and his armies with great natural disasters so that all would know that He is the Lord (Eze. 38:18-39:29).
This prophecy is apocalyptic and should not be taken literally. Gog’s identity is less significant than what he symbolizes, namely the personified head of the forces of evil intent on destroying God’s people. The description of an ancient army with ancient weapons (Eze. 38:21; 39:3, 9) is only symbolic of the greater spiritual war that Satan wages against the church of God (Eph. 6:12). Those who insist on a literal interpretation cannot consistently argue for a modern day war at the end times. The repeated use of the number seven is another indication of the symbolic nature of this prophecy (Eze. 39:9, 11-12, 14).
Ezekiel had already spoken of the captivity of Judah, their return back into the land and the new day of peace under the Messiah. This prophecy was a warning that enemies would attack God’s people again but no matter how great the enemy God would defeat them. This was the same message of all the prophets concerning the Messiah and His everlasting kingdom, the church (Eze. 38:17; 39:8). This was the promise of Jesus (Mat. 16:18-19).
The only other place we read about Gog and Magog is in Revelation (Rev. 20:7-10). As in Ezekiel, this is apocalyptic not a literal description. Here, Gog and Magog represent the nations of the earth deceived by Satan and gathered to attack the camp of the saints and the beloved city with a vast army but God devours them with fire.
John had just described how Satan was totally defeated in his effort to destroy the church through the Roman Empire and how that the faithful saints were totally victorious over them (Rev. 20:1-6). But, Satan will never give up on attacking God’s people (Rev. 20:3). This vision is given to assure all Christians that no matter how great an attack Satan may bring upon the church, God will completely defeat him and ultimately cast him into hell.
Neither Ezekiel nor Revelation speak of a literal military war against the physical nation of Israel at the end of the world. They are both apocalyptic visions given to assure God’s people in this last period of history that He will put every one of Christ’s enemies under His feet (Acts 2:33-36). Satan will be completely defeated by God in any and every attempt to destroy Christ’s church.
What have we learned?
The last days of Bible prophecy refer to the last period of history which began with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit recorded in Acts 2 and will continue until Christ comes again on the last day of the last days at the end of the world.
There will be no signs of Christ’s coming at the end of the world. The signs mentioned in Matthew 24 would precede the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Only God knows when Christ will come at the end of the world. He will come suddenly and unexpectedly like a thief in the night; therefore we must always be ready for His coming.
Christ will not come secretly to rapture the church leaving all others behind. Rather, when He comes every eye will see Him, the dead will be raised, all will be judged and this world will be destroyed.
There will be no great tribulation led by the Antichrist destroyed in the battle of Armageddon at the end of the world. There have been many antichrists in the world since the first century and there always will be. The world and the church have suffered great tribulation many times, including the destruction of Jerusalem. The battle of Armageddon is a symbol in the book of Revelation for the fall of Rome, the enemy and persecutor who brought great tribulation upon the church.
The many prophecies concerning the restoration of Israel and Judah to Palestine to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem were fulfilled in their return from captivity in Babylon and in their coming to Christ in the church.
Christ will not come again to the earth, to establish the kingdom of God and reign on David’s throne for a thousand years. His kingdom is not an earthly, military or political kingdom but a heavenly, spiritual kingdom. He established His kingdom upon His first coming, after His crucifixion and resurrection, when He ascended into heaven to sit on David’s throne at God’s right hand ruling over His kingdom, the church. He will continue to reign until the last enemy, death, is put under His feet at His coming and the resurrection of the dead, at which time He delivers the kingdom from this world to His Father.
The vision of Gog and Magog in Revelation does not refer to a great military war launched against Christ’s kingdom at the end of the world. It refers to the spiritual battle between Satan and the church and it assures us that no matter how great an attack Satan may bring against God’s people he will not be successful.
In summary, most of the prophecies of the OT were fulfilled before or with the first coming of Christ and the establishment of His kingdom, the church (cf. Luke 24:44-49). The last book of the New Testament, Revelation, is especially concerned with the persecution of the church by Rome in the first centuries after Christ assuring the fall of this enemy and the victory of the faithful (Rev. 1:1-3, 4, 9; 2:10; 17-20; 22:6, 10). Many New Testament passages make reference to the final coming of Christ (e.g. John 14:1-3; Acts 1:9-11; 1 The. 4:16). These passages clearly teach us that no one but God will know when Christ will come (cf. Mat. 24:36). His coming will be sudden and unexpected without any signs (Mat. 24:37ff; 1 The. 5:1-3). It will be on the last day (1 Cor. 15:23-24, 52; 2 Pet. 3:10). All the dead will be raised (John 5:28-9). All will be judged and sent to heaven or hell for eternity (Mat. 25:31-46). At the same time, this world will be completely destroyed (2 Pet. 3). It will be no more (Mat. 24:35; Rev. 20:11; 21:1).