The return of Christ is frequently referred to in the NT by way of inspiration to hope, perseverance, and godly living. Certain passages dwell on the resurrection. My intention with this post is to point to a few passages that add to or confirm the previous posts on end times chronology.
2 Peter 3:7-14
This passage concerns the destruction of our world by fire and the creation of the new heavens and the earth, a theme that will find greater development in the Revelation.
As a side note, unrelated to this series, I wish to state my admiration for Saint Peter, a truly venerable figure. In reading his two epistles to prepare for this post, I was struck by his sobriety and love of Christ. These were written towards the end of his life. He openly states that he knows his death is near. He knew he would be martyred: Jesus told him so on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, following His resurrection. He also writes fondly of Paul, who had publicly upbraided him all those years ago. There is a fondness and tenderness for the flock committed to his charge. In talking of himself as an elder, Peter is not boasting, but showing his fatherly concern for those whom he has taught and helped – his family. I cannot help, but feel moved reading his words. This was a dear man of God.
Peter associates the destruction and new heavens and new earth with the Day of the LORD (or Day of Christ in 2 Thessalonians 2). This is a concept from the Old Testament, which I have already referenced several times in this series, but which we will devote more time to in the Old Testament portion.
It is clear that great destructive acts take place when Christ judges the earth immediately upon His return (we will see this in Revelation and the Old Testament). However, there is debate about when the new heavens and new earth are actually brought in. Some consider they immediately follow Christ’s return, while others believe they come after His millennial reign (a topic I will explore at a later juncture).
Peter here seems to say that they immediately follow Christ’s return, but it is possible that he is “telescoping” the chronology or that he was less clear on this topic than John the Revelator. In any event, this renovation occurs after the return of Christ. It is also true that Day of LORD can be broad enough to include the Millennium.
In a sense, both options can be true. There is destruction and a fresh start at the beginning of the Millennium in the sense that Christ’s rule changes how things are done, and a final cleansing and reconstruction at the end with physical new heavens and earth.
- Return of Christ
- Day of the LORD
Here we have a picture of Christ returning with His holy ones and judging the wicked thereafter. What is interesting about this passage is the earlier reference in verse 5 to the Exodus. Those who are destroyed in verse 5 appear to be rebellious Israelites (e.g. the rebellion of Korah), but this could be a reference to the destruction of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea.
Jude is referencing the intertestamental, pseudepigraphical text, Enoch. Enoch is drawing upon Old Testament material about the Day of the LORD, but here we see it applied to Christ. We therefore have a picture of Christ executing the judgments of the Day of the LORD upon the ungodly.
- Return of Christ
- Day of the LORD
Hebrews 9:28; 10:36-37; 12:26, 28; 13:14
These verses, though with different teaching purposes from establishing a chronology, nevertheless presuppose the same basic framework we have been repeating. God’s people suffer persecution up until the time of His return, at which point they receive a Kingdom from Him. These verses are thus very different from the eschatology that some espouse, teaching that the Church will eventually rule the earth before Christ returns and will hand it over to Him in peace. Rather, Scripture consistently teaches that Christ comes to rescue His people in the midst of their suffering.
This is a useful transition as we will proceed to the Old Testament after this post. The Old Testament texts, are naturally enough, principally concerned with the salvation of Israel – but they do involve references to the Gentiles.
Here we see a theme revisted time and time again in the Scriptures: the reversal of Israel’s rejection of Jesus the Messiah. There have, of course, always been Jewish followers of Jesus, what Paul refers to as the “remnant”. But he envisions a great conversion of Israel at the end of the age and their deliverance from oppression by their enemies, drawing upon texts such as Zechariah 14.
Even among pro-Israel futurists like me, there is debate about the precise relative chronology between the conversion of Israel and the return of Christ. Some believe He returns only after their conversion in response to their call for aid. This pattern is similar to the motif in Judges: the people fall into idolatry; they are oppressed; they return to Yahweh and beseech His aid; He raises up a Judge to deliver them.
Others consider that Jesus returns and fights for Israel and they are then converted in response. The arguments about this precise chronology are beyond the scope of this series, which aims to keep matters relatively simple. However, as a throw-away comment, I note that the sequence suggested by a naive reading of verse 26 suggests the return comes first and then the conversion, but it would be straining this single verse to build a precise chronology on it alone. There are various ways in which it can be read, and Paul does not use particularly chronological language.
For now, it is sufficient to note that Paul quotes from the Old Testament (Isaiah 59:20) and that the conversion and rescue of Israel is a complex set of events at the end of the age closely connected in time with the return of Jesus (i.e. towards the end of or after the Great Tribulation). The warrant for this will come from our examination of Old Testament texts, but it is relatively clear from this passage because of the link Paul makes between the conversion of Israel and the resurrection of the dead, which we know happens at the return of Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4, another Pauline text).