Bible Prophecy in Chronology series (post #21)
It is impossible to rightly understand Bible prophecy without understanding the differences between the Rapture and Christ’s Second Coming. Here are the basics:
- The Rapture takes place before the tribulation period. The Second Coming takes place at the close of the tribulation period.
- At the Rapture, Jesus comes only to earth’s sky. At the Second Coming, He literally walks this earth again.
- At the Rapture, Jesus comes for the church (Christians) and snatches them up to be with Him. At the Second Coming, He comes with the church (Christians) and they walk the earth again.
- The Rapture will take place so fast (in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye) that the people of the world will not see it. At the Second Coming, every eye will see Jesus descending to the earth.
- At the Rapture, the bodies of Christians from the church age – beginning with the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-4 and ending with the moment of the Rapture – will all become glorified bodies suitable for eternity. At the Second Coming, the list of believers who receive glorified bodies is as follows: the believers from the Old Testament era, the believers from the New Testament era leading up to Acts chapter 2’s day of Pentecost, and the martyred Christians from the tribulation period.
- At the Rapture, Jesus comes to deliver Christians from the tribulation period. At the Second Coming, He comes to deliver tribulation-period believers from further persecution, and He also comes to deliver judgment upon the lost people alive on earth at that time.
- Scripturally speaking, nothing has to take place before the Rapture can occur. Scripturally speaking, the events of the tribulation period have to take place before the Second Coming can occur.
Now, the Jesus that John sees in Revelation 19:11-16 is not the peaceful, tolerant, “long haired hippie type” prophet with which the world is so comfortable. Sure, He is called “Faithful” and “True,” two symbolic titles that seem harmlessly generic enough. He is also called “The Word of God,” another title that can conjure up pleasant thoughts. But in order to be completely “Faithful” you have to be faithful in dealing with wickedness. Likewise, in order to be thoroughly “True” you have to be merciless in dealing with falsehoods and lies. And as for the title “The Word of God,” what most people don’t realize is that God’s messages aren’t always sunshine, rainbows, and pretty flowers.
So, with all this said, let me introduce you to the Jesus of the Second Coming. This Jesus is the one who walks this earth again at the end of the tribulation period. He is the Warrior King. He wears (either symbolically or literally) many crowns, with crowns being a mark of sovereignty rather than servanthood. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood. Upon that robe and upon His thigh a name is written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. He leads heaven’s armies (Christians), and all of His soldiers are clothed in fine linen and riding white horses. His eyes are like a flame of fire. He has a sword that goes out of His mouth and strikes the nations. He treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. In righteousness, He judges and makes war. He even has a hint of mystery about Him as He bears a name that no one knows except Him.
When we study Bible prophecy it’s easy to fixate upon Satan, the Antichrist, and the False Prophet. It’s easy to get bogged down trying to figure out whether John is talking about literal Babylon or some other city. It’s easy to run wild with the interpretation of “666.” But what Bible prophecy is really all about is JESUS! History is HIS-story. The primary issue isn’t: Will this world ever come to Jesus? The primary issue is: JESUS IS COMING TO THIS WORLD! And when He comes, “business as usual” will be no more.
Here is the order of events for Christ’s Second Coming:
- Jesus will descend from the clouds, with His bride (the church, the armies of heaven) following Him. The descent will begin suddenly, like lightning flashing from the east to the west (Matthew 24:27), but it will play out slowly enough for every eye to see Him (Revelation 1:7). This is the moment that Enoch prophesied about when he said: “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him” (Jude, verses 14-15).
- The first place Jesus’ feet will touch down upon will be the Mount of Olives just outside Jerusalem. This is the site from which He ascended after His resurrection (Acts 1:9-12). There is a prophecy in Zechariah 14:4 that says: “And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives.” Because of this prophecy, the Mount of Olives is the location of the most ancient cemetery in Jerusalem. The cemetery contains approximately 70,000 tombs. Jews want to be buried there so that when the Messiah comes their bodies will be first in line to be resurrected.
- According to the Zechariah prophecy, the moment that Jesus’ feet touch down upon the Mount of Olives, the mountain will split in two. Half of the mountain will move toward the north and the other half will move toward the south. This will create a large valley that runs east to west. Prophecy teacher Hal Lindsey has pointed out that there is a geological faultline in the area of the Mount of Olives and this faultline runs in exactly the direction the prophecy indicates.
- From the Mount of Olives, Jesus will make His way first to Jerusalem. There He will help the besieged Jews defeat the foreign armies that are looting and pillaging the city.
- Once the battle for Jerusalem is won, Jesus will make His way north to the valley that is located at Mount Megiddo. This sprawling valley will be the site of the battle of Armageddon (Revelation 16:16).
- When Jesus arrives at the battle of Armageddon, He will slay all the soldiers gathered there by merely speaking the word. This is the symbolic meaning of the sharp sword that goes out from His mouth (Revelation 19:15,21).
- The carnage and death toll from Jesus’ victory at Armageddon will be staggering. In its aftermath, multiplied thousands of carnivorous, flesh-eating birds will commence eating the flesh of not only all the dead soldiers but also their horses (Revelation 19:17-18,21). These birds will have been supernaturally gathered there beforehand for this express purpose (Revelation 19:17). The gorging is described as “the supper of the great God” (Revelation 19:17). Jesus had this scene in mind when He said, “For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together” (Matthew 24:27-28).
- Whereas the rest of the participants in the battle of Armageddon will be slain by Jesus and their souls banished to hell, the Antichrist and the False Prophet will be captured alive. They will then be cast body and soul into that place known as “the eternal lake of fire” (Revelation 19:20). This lake of fire is an even greater version of hell than the hell that exists now. The Antichrist and the False Prophet are given the dubious distinction of becoming history’s first occupants in this “lake of fire burning with brimstone.” (I’ll have more to say about this lake of fire in a later post.) The Antichrist being captured alive and cast into the lake of fire will be the fulfillment of 2 Thessalonians 2:8: “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.”
Okay, now let’s back up and fill in some gaps. In the lead-up to the battle of Armageddon and Christ’s Second Coming, three demons (unclean spirits) will go out into all the world and convince the world’s rulers to send their armies to Mount Megiddo (Revelation 16:13-14). These demons will be granted the ability to perform signs that will convince the rulers to do as the demons request. It’s impossible to say exactly how these demons will operate (for example, will they be visible or invisible?), but they will certainly be effective at their job.
And will America’s army be at the battle of Armageddon? All I can tell you is that if America is still around at that time, and if it still has an army, that army will be there. Prophecy experts have often noted that America isn’t specifically mentioned in Bible prophecy. This leads some to speculate that the nation is going to somehow be destroyed (perhaps by nuclear war) sometime before the battle of Armageddon. However, the truth is that it isn’t just America that goes unmentioned in Bible prophecy. All of North America, South America, Australia, Antarctica, and a large portion of Africa do as well. For the most part, prophecy focuses on the nations of the Middle East, the Far East, and Europe.
If countries such as America, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Mexico, Cuba, Argentina, Brazil, etc. are indeed covered in prophecy, they are found in verses that use the word “all” in relation to world events. For example, Revelation 13:3 says of the Antichrist: “And all the world marveled and followed the beast.” Similarly, Revelation 13:16 says of the False Prophet: “He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads.”
Along the same lines, there are some prophetic verses that use the term “the whole world.” These are: Revelation 3:10 (used to describe the geographic extent of the tribulation period), Revelation 12:9 (used to describe the extent of Satan’s deception), and Revelation 16:14 (used to describe how many kings will send their armies to the battle of Armageddon). As I said, based upon Revelation 16:14, if America still has an army in the closing days of the tribulation period, those soldiers will be at the battle of Armageddon.
Actually, the battle (singular) of Armageddon will be the final, climatic battle in what many commentators and students of prophecy call “the war of Armageddon” or “the campaign of Armageddon.” To understand this, we need to again consult the prophecies of Zechariah. Concerning the end of the tribulation period, Zechariah 12:2-3 talks about “all the surrounding peoples” laying “siege against Judah and Jerusalem” and being “gathered against” Jerusalem. Zechariah 12:9 then speaks of “all the nations that come against Jerusalem.” And in Zechariah 14:2, God says, “I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it; the city will be captured, the houses ransacked, and the women raped. Half of the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be taken from the city (N.I.V.).”
Do you remember that I said that Jesus’ touchdown atop the Mount of Olives will cause the mountain to split into two and will create a great valley? Well, according to Zechariah 14:5, the fleeing inhabitants of Jerusalem will escape the city by way of that new valley. They’ll need the escape route because the city will be filled with foreign soldiers who are seeking to kill and plunder.
The Bible isn’t crystal clear on which armies will be allies during the campaign of Armageddon and which ones will be enemies. One of the most well known passages on the subject is Daniel 11:40-45, even though admittedly there isn’t 100% agreement on the interpretation of the prophecies found there. I’m in the camp of those who believe the passage describes certain armies moving against the Antichrist and his army during the last half of the tribulation period.
Under this interpretation, both “the king of the South” and “the king of the North” are said to come against the Antichrist. The king of the South is usually identified as the tribulation-period ruler of Egypt. He will lead a North African coalition force that will also feature soldiers from Libya and Ethiopia (or Nubia as some translations render it). As for the king of the North, his correct identification depends upon whether or not Russia’s army will have been laid waste by God in the opening days of the tribulation period. I believe it will have been (see post #7). If this is a correct assessment, the king of the North in the last half of the tribulation period will have to be from Poland, the Ukraine, or some other small country north of Israel but south of Russia. If the assessment is incorrect, the king of the North will surely be the ruler of Russia.
Whoever the exact players will be, if the interpretation is correct, the Antichrist and his soldiers will meet these armies in the holy land, defeat them, and gain control over their nations (Daniel 11:41-43). But he won’t have much time to bask in his victory because “news from the north and the east shall trouble him” (Daniel 11:44). It’s hard to say what the troubling news from the north will be, but the news from the east will most likely involve the kings from the east and their army of 200 million that is mentioned in Revelation 9:16-19 (see post #11). This army will be an alliance army of soldiers from nations such as China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, and perhaps Indonesia and India. I feel confident in saying that the news from the east will be that the kings from the east are marching their colossal army toward the dried up river bed of the Euphrates and thus taking dead aim at the holy land (Revelation 16:12).
This news will enrage the Antichrist, and he will “go out with great fury to destroy and annihilate many” (Daniel 11: 44). Why will this news enrage him so? My educated guess is that at this point he will realize that his grip over the world’s population has seriously waned. His inability to counteract the devastating worldwide effects of the bowl judgments (Revelation 16:1-21) will have dealt a serious blow to his reputation as “messiah” and “god.” Consequently, certain world leaders will have lost their awe and fear of him and will have begun to see his empire as vulnerable and ripe for the taking. This accounts for the armies that many believe will come against him in the closing months of the last half of the tribulation period. In the end, he will set up a command center in Israel somewhere between the Mediterranean Sea and the Dead Sea (Daniel 11:45). This will ensure that his army – the European army of the revived Roman empire – will remain in the holy land until the battle of Armageddon.
While the Antichrist awaits the arrival of the army of the kings of the east in the holy land, it seems that he will take out his anger and frustration upon the helpless Jews who are living in Israel. Presumably, he will find allies in some of the armies from around the world that are arriving to play their ill-fated roles at Armageddon. You might recall that in Revelation 14:20 we read that there will come a time when blood will flow outside Jerusalem for 1,600 furlongs (approximately 200 miles) up to the height of a horse’s bridle (approximately 4 feet). It is interesting that 200 miles is the approximate length of Israel from the north to the south. This seems to indicate that during the final days leading up to the battle of Armageddon, foreign soldiers will be found up and down all of Israel. In the end, they will all die there, which will account for the incredible amount of shed blood.
Getting back to Zechariah’s prophecies concerning the city of Jerusalem, he says the city will be captured, the houses ransacked, the women raped, and half the city’s inhabitants will flee the city in an attempt to save themselves (Zechariah 14:1-2). It would be helpful if Zechariah was more precise as to exactly which army or armies will besiege Jerusalem at this time. I have to think that the Antichrist’s European army will be in on the siege. Furthermore, as I said, there will probably also be some armies from other nations that are still aligned with the Antichrist. I suppose it’s possible that the army of the kings of the east will have a share in the ransacking of Jerusalem as well, but my theory is that these kings will want to fight the Antichrist rather than fight alongside him. As I understand the situation, the great army from the east will be in Israel to go to war with the Antichrist’s army. But I could be wrong. It’s just about impossible to nail down every last particular of every last prophetic passage.
What I do know for sure is that sometime in the midst of all the fighting in and around Jerusalem, Jesus will return, touch down upon the Mount of Olives, and immediately commence to fighting for Israel. Jesus interjecting Himself into the battle for Jerusalem will create what James Montgomery Boice calls “the greatest victory the nation of Israel has achieved – greater than its conquests in the day of King David, greater than the deliverance of the Maccabees, greater than the conquests of the Six Day War or any other.” It’s Zechariah’s prophecies that offer us the most details about this victory:
- The Lord will strike the horses of the enemy soldiers, causing those horses to become blind and confused and their riders to go mad (Zechariah 12:4).
- The Lord will empower the Jews of Judah (the city of Jerusalem and its surrounding area) to defeat the foreign soldiers on the right hand and on the left hand (Zechariah 12:6) and to defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem (Zechariah 12:8). He will do this by making even the most feeble of them as strong as a young David (Zechariah 12:8).
- Not only will the Lord empower the Jews of Jerusalem to fight against all the foreign invaders, He Himself will fight against those soldiers (Zechariah 14:3).
- The Lord will send out a plague to strike the soldiers who are fighting against Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:12). Whatever this plague will be exactly, it will cause flesh to dissolve, eyes to dissolve in their sockets, and tongues to dissolve in their mouths. It sounds just like some type of nuclear weaponry except that it’s Jesus, not a nuclear weapon, that causes it. This plague will also inflict the horses, mules, camels, donkeys, and cattle that are in the encampments of the foreign armies (Zechariah 14:12).
- This horrific plague will cause a great panic among all the enemy soldiers and they will turn on each other and start fighting each other (Zechariah 14:13).
- When the fighting over Jerusalem is all said and done, the remaining Jewish citizens will enjoy the plunder and spoils of war left behind by all the foreign soldiers (Zechariah 14:14).
Perhaps the most compelling prophecy concerning this time is found in Zechariah 12:10. There, the Lord says of the Jews after that battle: “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.”
What does this prophecy mean? It means that a remnant of the Jews in Jerusalem at the time of Christ’s Second Coming will embrace Him as Messiah and Savior. They will mourn over their past treatment of Him the way a parent would mourn over the loss of a firstborn child. How large will this remnant be? According to Zechariah 13:8-9, the number will be one-third of them.
These are the Jews spoken of in Romans 11:26, which says: “And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.’” They are also the ones spoken of in Isaiah 4:3-4, which says: “And it shall come to pass that he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy – everyone who is recorded among the living in Jerusalem. When the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and purged the blood of Jerusalem from her midst, by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning…”
So, putting everything together, these Jews will experience not only physical deliverance but also spiritual salvation at Christ’s Second Coming. Their story goes as follows:
- They will live all the way through the tribulation period.
- They won’t take the mark of the beast (for their individual reasons).
- They will survive the besieging of Jerusalem by the foreign armies.
- They will accept Jesus as their Messiah and Savior in the wake of the help He gives them in defeating the foreign soldiers at His Second Coming.
- They will mourn over their refusal to accept Jesus before that time.
- They will enter into Jesus’ thousand-year reign upon the earth in their earthly bodies.
Getting back to Jesus, what will He do after He has rescued Jerusalem as His first order of business following His return? He will then make His way north to the valley of Mount Megiddo for another victorious battle. There, what is left of the armies of the world will make their final stand. I tend to believe that these armies will be spiritually clueless enough to think they are there to fight each other. Satan, however, will know the real reason he has sent out three of his most convincing demons to gather them there. That reason will be his attempt to prevent Jesus from establishing His thousand-year reign.
Of course, we’ve already talked about the outcome of that battle. It will be a complete and total rout for Jesus. This, then, is how the current road of human history – the road the human race has been traveling for thousands of years and continues to travel today – will come to an end. In the next post from this series, we’ll start talking about what replaces this road. So stay tuned because you won’t want to miss that. I promise you, it’s awesome stuff, stuff that doesn’t get preached nearly enough.