Can We Know When the Lord is Coming Back - by Jason Hilburn

One of the most prevalent teachings of the New Testament Scriptures is the second coming of Christ. The Bible says that the Lord will return in the clouds on the last day, at the end of the world (Matt. 24:35-37; 1 Thess. 4:13 - 5:1-9; 2 Pet. 3:4-12). Peter wrote that before Christ's return, scoffers would come along, saying, "Where is the promise of His coming?" Peter revealed that if the Lord has not come yet, it is only because the Lord is being longsuffering with man, giving him time to repent (2 Pet. 3:9). As we anticipate the Lord's return, it is only natural to ask, "Is it possible to know when the Lord will return?" The Word of God contains a crystal clear answer to that question.

Many believe that Matthew 24 contains signs that foretell the coming of Christ and the end of the world, but a closer look at the Text reveals otherwise. The context reveals that Jesus was speaking harshly against the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy and lack of true faith, and then He foretold the destruction of Jerusalem (Matthew 23:1 - 24:2). His disciples then asked, "Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" (24:3). Notice that they asked more than one question, and this demanded more than one answer. Jesus would go on to make it clear that the time of "these things" (the destruction of Jerusalem) was not the same time as Christ's "coming," and "the end of the world." He would also make it clear that there would be signs for the destruction of Jerusalem, but no signs for His second coming at the end of the world.

The first part of Matthew 24 records Jesus answering His disciples' first question, "When shall these things [the destruction of Jerusalem, JPH] be?" (24:4-35). He began telling them signs that would let them know when Jerusalem was about to be destroyed. For example, the parallel account in Luke records Jesus saying,

And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled (Luke 21:20-22; cf. Matt. 24:15-16).

Dear reader, if Christ were giving signs to foretell the end of the world, what good would it do for people to flee from Judea to the mountains? What difference would it make if the end of the world happened "in the winter" or "on the sabbath day"? (Matt. 24:19-20). People who take these verses from Matthew 24 and apply them to us today are twisting the Scriptures. The reader has probably heard the following words being misapplied by those who say we can know the time of the Lord's return: "And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places" (Matt. 24:6-7). However, this is all in the context of the destruction of Jerusalem. Jesus was not speaking of World War I, II, the Korean conflict, or any other modern wars. The four decades following Jesus' discourse were filled with wars and various natural disasters. Jesus continued speaking of "these things" until He finally said, "So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled" (Matt. 24:33-34). Notice that "all these things" would be fulfilled in that generation!

History shows that Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70 by the Roman army, just as Jesus foretold. The temple was left with not one stone upon another (Matt. 24:2), the religion of Judaism was irreparably damaged, and over one million Jews were killed. When one digs into the gruesome details of that event, he will discover that it was one of the most devastating events in all of history. By the way, the Jewish historian Josephus recorded that no Christians were killed in the attack, because they had heeded the signs given by our Lord!

One might say that the Lord figuratively returned to take "vengeance" upon Jerusalem through the Roman army (Luke 21:22; Matt. 24:29-31; cf. Isa. 13:6-17; 19:1-2; Ezek. 32:2, 7-11). This was symbolic of his ultimate "vengeance" that He will take at the end of the world upon all the wicked at His literal return (2 Thess. 1:7-9). Although there were signs given of this figurative return in the first century, the Lord made it clear that there would be no signs of his literal return at the end of the world.

After Jesus answered His disciples' first question and gave them signs of the destruction of Jerusalem, He began answering their next question: "what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" Please notice that Jesus stopped using the phrases "these things" (23:36; 24:2, 3, 6, 8, 33-34) and "those days" (24:22, 29). He then used the word "But" to signal a change in subject, and spoke of "that day" - the last day, when "heaven and earth shall pass away;" the time of his literal return at the end of the world: "But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only" (Matthew 24:36). Jesus made it clear that nobody could know when He would return. Mark's Gospel account reveals that even Jesus did not know when He was going to return! "But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is" (Mark 13:32-33). Jesus also said, "But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh." (Matt. 24:43-44). Why did Christ compare His return to a thief coming in the night? Because a thief does not tell people when he is coming! Again Jesus stated clearly, "Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh" (Matt. 25:13). How much clearer could Jesus have been? What more could Jesus have said to impress upon our minds that we cannot know when He will return?

Paul and Peter have words for us on this subject as well. Perhaps the reader has heard people talk about "signs of the end times," but Paul said there are no indicators of Christ's return and the end of the world; therefore, there is no need to spend time discussing such: "But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape" (1 Thess. 5:1-3; cf. 2 Thess. 1:7-9). Peter wrote, "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up" (2 Peter 3:10-11).

As a side note, notice from the passages above that when the Lord does return, the universe will be destroyed (Matt. 24:35-37; 1 Thess. 5:1-3; 2 Pet. 3:10-11). Therefore it is clear that Christ is not coming back to earth to set up an earthly kingdom (John 18:36; Col. 1:13). There will not be a secret, mysterious "rapture" as the premillennialists claim. When the Lord returns it will be both visible and audible. The Bible says, "he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him," there will be "a shout," "the trump of God" shall sound, and the righteous ones living on earth "shall be caught the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air" (Rev. 1:7; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; Matt. 24:40-41; Acts 1:11). On that same "last day" the resurrection will take place, in the which all the dead (both righteous and wicked) will be raised in the same hour; then all will go to the Judgment (John 5:27-29; 6:39, 40, 44, 54; 11:24; 12:48; Acts 24:15; 2 Thess. 1:7-9).

It is amazing to me that some claim that some Old Testament books like the book of Daniel reveal when the Lord will return. Did not our Lord know what Daniel wrote? Yet the Lord said He did not know when He was coming back. For men to claim they can figure something out from Daniel that the Lord could not is blasphemous! Daniel did not give us signs of the Lord's return at the end of the world.

Although many claim to know when the Lord will return, the truth is that nobody knows when the Lord is coming back. Those who presume to foretell the coming of our Lord are not walking in the Truth of God's Word, and they cause the world to mock Christianity when their false predictions fail to come true.

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