Episode 24: When Will Jesus Come Back? (All about the Last Days!) + Summary of Nehemiah
Good news! Today’s episode has no discussion of dung or thighs, or anything at all untoward. Bad news! Today’s topic – Eschatology/The End Times/The Last Days might just be more controversial! Our focus passage today is Matthew 24, and I consider this to be the longest and clearest teaching in the Bible on eschatology and the return of Jesus. Most people want to begin with Revelation when discussing the last days, but Revelation is tricky and difficult for a variety of reasons. Don’t get me wrong – Revelation is one of my favorite books, and I love it, but it is anything but crystal clear and basic. Matthew 24, on the other hand, is quite a bit more clear, even though there is still great debate about many aspects of the chapter. Probably the most important debate concerns timing. Is Jesus talking about a far distant future in Matthew 24, or is He discussing something that will happen in the lifespan of His disciples? We will also be reading Genesis 25, which tells us about Abraham’s second wife, and also the birth of his grandchildren Jacob and Esau. Acts 24 has Paul standing trial before governor Felix, proclaiming his belief in the resurrection of the dead.
And that gets us to Esther – a brand new book, which means we have finished our second book together, and we have begun a tradition on this podcast that when we finish a book, we summarize it, so here is a summary of Nehemiah: Chronologically, the book of Nehemiah is the last historical book of the Old Testament – though Esther occurs in most Bibles after Nehemiah, the events of Esther happened prior to the events of Nehemiah (Somewhere roughly in the neighborhood of the timeline of Ezra 6-7.) Nehemiah was a contemporary of the prophet Malachi, the titular character of the last book of the Old Testament. Nehemiah, a descendant of Jewish people, was the cup-bearer to King Artaxerxes, the Persian King. Upon hearing about distressing conditions in his homeland, Nehemiah appeals to the king for permission to come back, which is granted. Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem, and finds the city defenseless and under scrutiny by several nearby enemies and critics. Nehemiah organizes both the rebuilding and defense of Jerusalem, and also reinstates the biblical festival of booths/tabernacles, which is a joyful celebration. Nehemiah was a mighty man of prayer (see Nehemiah 1 and 9) and was uncompromising in his call to holiness, physically attacking some Jewish men who disobeyed God’s laws. Nehemiah successfully completed the walls around Jerusalem and enabled that city and its people to begin to reclaim their identity and some measurement of prosperity.
Shoutouts today to Michelle Haffner, from Florida who left an encouraging comment on Biblereadingpodcast.com and also Bible Scholar Og Keep, who had an interesting observation on yesterday’s pod about Abraham’s servant, “An interesting point about this mission… if this trusted servant were Eleazar of Damascus (Genesis 15) then seeking a wife for Abraham’s son is an action against self-interest. It shows that his love for Abraham exceeded his own ambitions. ” We also have some reader feedback. This is from Mr. Tubberville in Auburn, Alabama. “Dear sir: We object to the use of the word ‘titular’ yesterday in your podcast when talking about Nehemiah. Surely a better (and more understandable) word could have been chosen?!” Well, Tommy, you make a great point! I think “eponymous” would have been a much better choice. My apologies. And now, let’s read Matthew 24 together!
In discussing Matthew 24, let me draw your attention to one very frustrating aspect of this chapter. The disciple’s question was so imprecise, that it has left many scholars confused and debating for hundreds of years. “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what is the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3) With hindsight, we can see that these are two totally different questions. Question #1 asks when the temple will be destroyed. We now know that 70 AD is the historical answer. Question #2 is the more significant one for us: What is the sign of the return of Jesus and the end of the age? I am way of over-simplifying, but there are 5 main viewpoints that attempt to answer this question, and dozens of sub-viewpoints that fall under these. (The graphic below only captures 4 of those viewpoints.)
Here is a summary of the Five Major Viewpoints on the Return of Jesus and the End Times:
1. Historic Premillennialism/Post-Tribulational Premillennialism. This view believes that Jesus will return to the earth prior to the “Millennial Reign,” or “Millennium,” (a 1000 year reign of Jesus on the earth in the Heavenly City called ‘New Jerusalem’) and AFTER a 7 year period of great wrath, judgment, trouble and punishment called ‘The Great Tribulation.” Some historic premillennialists believe in a rapture, which is a ‘catching up’ of God’s people into the air with a returning Jesus. In this view, the New Testament church is the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel.
2. Dispensational Premillennialism. (I.E. The ‘Left Behind’ View) This view believes that Jesus will return to earth before a time of trouble known as ‘The Great Tribulation.’ He will rapture (or catch up) His church – all faithful believers living and dead, and then return with them to Heaven. After seven years of wrath, tribulation and judgment, Jesus will return again with His people and reign for 1000 years from His holy city on earth, along with all of the saints who left with Him, and perhaps some who have been saved during the seven year Great Tribulation. This view is called premillenial as it places the return of Christ before the thousand year millennium and it is called dispensational because it is founded in the beliefs of dispensationalism. (Google that for more details) The key belief here is that this view believes that Jesus will spare the church from God’s wrath and tribulation by rapturing them from the earth BEFORE the Great Tribulation. This viewpoint sees the Second Coming happening in TWO stages – a first Second Coming FOR the church, and a second Second Coming WITH the church. In this view, Israel and the church are two distinct entities, and God has two distinct redemption plans for them.
3. The Postmillennial view usually does not view the ‘millennium’ as being a literal thousand year period, but more of an extended lengthy period of time. In this view, Jesus reigns on the earth (spiritually, from Heaven) and His followers increase His influence all across the globe. The good news of Jesus goes forth, and the Kingdom of Jesus and His fame gradually grows on earth, until such a time as Jesus returns and immediately initiates the judgment of the wicked and the eternal state. This view is called ‘postmillennial,’ because Jesus returns after the millennium, which is not a 1000 year literal reign of Jesus on the earth, but an increase of His influence on earth that culminates in His return.
4. Amillennialism or nunc-millennialism holds that the Kingdom of God on earth began with the resurrection of Jesus, and that Jesus now reigns at the right hand of the Father over the church. This viewpoint does not see the millennial reign as being a literal, thousand year reign in the future, but more of a spiritual and somewhat symbolic reign of Jesus that is happening NOW (nunc means ‘now’) Most amillennialists believe that Jesus will physically return at the end of this church-age (or now-millennium) and inaugurate the eternal state. The amillennial view sees the victory of Jesus and the establishment of His Kingdom as a two-stage event. Stage 1 was begun in the first century with the resurrection of Jesus and the establishment of His church on Pentecost. Stage two will be when Jesus physically returns. The between state is living in the ‘already, but not yet’ victory of Jesus spiritually by faith, which will soon become a present and tangible victory of Jesus that will be apprehended by sight.
5. Preterist (partial-preterist) The preterist viewpoint believes that some events foretold by the Bible have already happened (partial-preterism) or ALL events foretold by the Bible, including the return of Jesus, have already happened (full preterism.) The full preterist view holds that the return of Jesus, the final judgment, and all things prophesied in the New Testament were fulfilled in A.D. 70 when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. It is rare to find an evangelical scholar who is a full preterist, but many are partial preterists, holding that the destruction of the temple in 70 AD fulfilled some major parts of prophetic Scripture, but that the Final Judgment and full Return of Jesus has not happened yet.
So – are you dizzy yet? I imagine some will be surprised at the number of views of the last days that people have! Please know that many will believe that I have over-simplified things, and left significant viewpoints out, which is likely true. Consider this – the church has long been unclear about when the second coming of Jesus would occur, and for good reason! When Jesus was here, He told His disciples that ONLY HIS FATHER knew the time and date of His Second coming – not even Jesus knew!
Now concerning that day and hour no one knows—neither the angels of heaven nor the Son —except the Father alone.Matthew 24:36
I am going to make the assumption that the Father did not reveal those dates to the other writers of Scripture either, which means that any attempt to find the exact date of the return of Jesus in the Scripture is absolutely silly. You might be thinking – well, the Word of God was written by people under the influence of the Holy Spirit – and you are exactly right! But, going on what Jesus said – the Holy Spirit did NOT know the time and date of Jesus’ return either – ONLY THE FATHER. I note here with some amusement that even in the 100s AD, there was quite a bit of difference of opinion among Godly Christians as to the time and date of the return of Jesus, as evidenced by the dialog between Christian Justin Martyr and Trypho the Jew:
“I and many others are of this opinion [premillennialism], and [believe] that such will take place, as you assuredly are aware; but, on the other hand, I signified to you that many who belong to the pure and pious faith, and are true Christians, think otherwise.”Justin Martyr – Dialog with Trypho the Jew, 160 A.D.
Lifeway research in 2016 did a survey of 1000 Protestant American pastors to ask them what views of the end-times they held to, and the results were interesting. Links to the full study (and screenshots) can be found at our website, but here is a taste of what was discovered:
PRIMARY REASON I BELIEVE THE POST TRIBULATION VIEWPOINT:
1. Matthew 24: 29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
2. Mark 13: Mark 13:24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
3. Luke 21: 25 “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
(I don’t see TWO second comings in those passages – one before the rapture and one after the rapture) As we go through the Bible, we will get to other passages – some of which are used by Pretribulation people as foundational, some by partial preterists, some by amillennialists and some by historic premillinnialists like myself. WHEN Jesus returns is NOT the important thing, despite the fact that all of us focus on it and debate the timing the most. If it was important for us to know precisely, I suppose we would know. The WHEN is not important though. What is the key, most important thing about the teaching of the last days? The answer is readiness. Here is a short summation of the entire last day’s teaching of Jesus in this passage: Matthew 24:44 – TWENTY WORDS. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. Regardless of your view, the command is: BE READY!! Whether you are Amillenial, Pre-Trib or Post Trib, or even Preterist. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter a huge amount…IF YOU ARE TRULY READY!!
What does that look like?
A. Luke 12: 35 “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, 36 and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! 39 But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
Whew! That was a long episode. Two long ones in a row. I plan on making up for it with two SHORT episodes in a row. Stay tuned to see if it is possible to hold to that plan. The problem with the Bible is that it is just so deep and interesting that there is always something fascinating to explore!