Audre raised a point that I would like to repeat here as it frequently arises in these sorts of discussions. My purpose here is NOT to set or predict the date of Jesus’ return. No-one knows the date of Jesus’ return, save the Father, as Jesus Himself declared. If one were to ignore this, one could still not work out the date from the texts.
My purpose is to elucidate the relative chronology of important end times events and to give some description so that the reader could recognise that those events were happening, were she to witness them. Recognising them and know what will come next is important for two reasons. (1) It inspires hope in the coming of the Lord and perseverance to endure until He comes, knowing that He will raise us if we should die before then. (2) It is a guard against deception, which will abound at that time. Many believers who subscribe to pretribulationism or preterism will be shocked when they realise that either they will not be “raptured out of here” before the Great Tribulation or that there is a Great Tribulation.
We will not be exploring Revelation in this post, as it is so full of Old Testament material, that it would be better to get a grounding in some of that first. However, having established our basic chronology, which I will repeat below, we can see that elements of it appear elsewhere in the New Testament. Being able to recognise the core elements of the chronology, helps the reader to overlay one passage on another and spot the things that are different between them, by which I mean additions, details, and emphases – not contradictions, as Scripture is not contradictory.
- Abomination of Desolation
- Great Tribulation (3.5 years approx.)
- Darkening of the heavens
- Glorious, sudden appearance of Christ
- Our resurrection/transformation and gathering to Christ (the “Rapture”)
- Christ pours out the wrath of God
- The earthly Kingdom of Heaven begins
Please read the passages indicated before proceeding to the analysis.
Luke 17: 21-37
This discourse of Jesus bears a striking similarity to the Matthean version of the Olivet Discourse. It is quite possible that Jesus re-used the material, but it is also possible that Luke was narrating thematically – i.e. he placed this end times material in this portion of his Gospel because it was appropriate after the Pharisees’ question about the arrival of the Kingdom. Luke does not specifically say that this teaching happened immediately after the Pharisees’ question. It is also worth noting that Luke uses thematic grouping elsewhere in his Gospel (the parables of the Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, and Lost (Prodigal) Son).
This version at any rate, adds the detail of the story of Lot as a parallel to the story of Noah. The teaching has the same message as the Matthean version: the righteous escape judgment, but God’s wrath is visited on the wicked.
Here Jesus does not mention the gathering of the saints by the angels, but he mentions fleeing. This is the fleeing He mentions in Matthew 24 in the context of the inception of the Great Tribulation at the Abomination of Desolation. There are two reasons for the command to flee: (1) to save the body; (2) to save the soul.
As we discussed in the previous post, the Great Tribulation is a time of persecution of Jews and Christians. The epicentre of this persecution is Jerusalem: that is where the Abomination of Desolation occurs and that is the starting place of the command to persecute. Christians and Jews who live in Jerusalem and Israel are in immediate danger at that time – but so are Jews and Christians in other parts of the world, wherever the Desolator has followers to do his bidding.
As for the second reason, by staying, one would be tempted to deny Christ in order to avoid being persecuted. This persecution is targeted at Christ’s followers, as we can see from Matthew 24:9 and more clearly in relation to the Great Tribulation in Daniel and Revelation. Those who deny Christ risk their very souls. This is also a time of great spiritual deception; lingering among the enemy increases the temptation to be deceived.
This is also an opportunity to discuss 17:27-28, paralleled in Matthew 24:38. I raise this now that our basic chronology is established, because it is an important refutation to pretribulational eschatology, which does not situate the Rapture correctly and therefore misintrepts these passages and Paul’s point about peace and safety.
Pretribulationists believe that the Rapture begins around 3.5 years before the Abomination of Desolation and they also incorrectly situate the wrath of God. Two problems with their schema are that: (1) passages like Luke 17 and 21 and Matthew 24 become irrelevant to the Church (when there is no warrant for such a position); and (2) the marrying, etc become ridiculous, since people would not be doing that if the wrath of God were being poured out at the same time, which is the chronology forced by pretribulationism.
By using the chronology we have adopted, built from the ground up, these texts stay applicable to the Church and make sense. It is the wicked who are marrying and carrying on as normal during the Great Tribulation. They are able to do this because they think they have got rid of those troublesome Christians and Jews and because the wrath of God has not come upon them yet. The righteous are not doing this because they are being persecuted and because they know the coming of the Lord is near, and will be sudden.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11
In this passage we see many of the same elements as are found in the Olivet Discourse. Alan Kurschner in his wonderful book, Antichrist Before the Day of the LORD, does a wonderful comparison of the Gospel material and Pauline material, to demonstrate the parallels.
1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 is parallel to Matthew 24:30-31 – i.e. they are describing the same event. Christ appears suddenly in glory; He is accompanied by angels, and His saints are transformed (the living) or resurrected (the dead) and brought up into the sky to meet Him.
The reference to those of us “who remain” is also interesting because it could bear a double meaning. The obvious primary meaning of this phrase is that Paul is contrasting those who are alive at the coming of Christ with those who are dead. This is clearly intended because the thrust of this passage is to answer the concerns of the Thessalonians about those who have already died before the return of Christ. He is reassuring them that they will not only receive resurrection bodies, but that they will do so ahead of the living, in place of honour – as it should be, for they have run their race.
However, Paul may also have intended remain to mean “survive”. Not all Christians will physically survive the Great Tribulation. Many will be killed before the coming of Christ. If that is intended here, then again we have confirmation of the same basic chronology: the Great Tribulation, ended by the coming of the Lord.
In chapter 5 we see Paul’s famous “thief in the night” metaphor for the coming of the Lord, which is a reference to the same concept found in Matthew’s Olivet Discourse (24:43). In both instances, the teacher actually says that the Christian need not be taken by surprise, but that the wicked shall.
Neither Paul nor Christ means that we can know in advance the exact day of Christ’s return. Rather, they have two points in mind, as can be derived from the texts. (1) The diligent Christian will understand what is going on and the rough chronology, because Christ and Paul have given her the signs. She therefore knows that the coming of Christ is near (when we get to Daniel, we will confirm that it cannot be any later than 3.5 years after the Abomination of Desolation). (2) The consistently righteous and faithful Christian has nothing to fear from the coming of the Lord – therefore she need not be worried about not knowing the exact day of the return. When Christ returns, she will not be ashamed and she will be expecting it – it will be the joyous fulfilment of her hope.
5:9 is a very important verse for two reasons. (1) It confirms that the wrath of God follows the return of Christ; (2) it promises the faithful Christian that she will not experience the wrath of God. In chapter 5 we see the same chronology as in Matthew 24: Christ returns suddenly, then the wrath of God is poured out on the wicked, the righteous having been rescued (evacuated) first, as Lot and Noah were.
The wrath of God is the “sudden destruction” Paul refers to. It is sudden because Christ’s appearance is sudden and because it happens immediately after the saints have been rescued by Christ. We can see this in Matthew 24 where Christ says that the Flood happened as soon as Noah entered the Ark (vv 38-39).
As for the famous “peace and safety”, this does not refer to the signing of a peace treaty (which point we will address when we come to Daniel). This is a reference to the Great Tribulation. The wicked think they have security because they are getting rid of those troublesome Christians and because there is no immediate vengeance from Christ. They are lulled into a false sense of security because He does not return until a few years after the Abomination of Desolation, by which time, they think they have won.
This experience is not dissimilar from the experience of Christians in the persecution under Nero. They suffered terribly, but their salvation came unlooked for when the empire turned on him and he was forced to commit suicide.
Those who are in darkness will not recognise the signs of the times. The righteous will, holding on in faith and hope to the promise of the coming of Christ.
Brilliant answer to my question, Nicholas, and I thank you for it.
You’re scholarship is impressive; how many years have you been working on this?
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Well, I started reading eschatology around 13 years ago, perhaps a little more. Those were my pre-trib days.