by Lambert Dolphin
Jesus of Nazareth was seen by his disciples and by groups as large as 500 persons (1 Cor. 15:6) during the 40 days between his resurrection from the dead and his ascension to the "right hand of the Majesty on High." Then instructing his disciples to wait for the promised arrival of the Holy Spirit, he departed this earth from the summit of the Mount of Olives, just East of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. He has not been seen in person by mortal men since.
...he [Jesus] presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, "you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit."
As usual, the disciples were still expecting Jesus to overthrow the Romans and fix the externals of life in Israel by reversing foreign dominion, ending the times of the gentiles and setting up his kingdom on the throne of David. Like most of us, we would prefer not to deal with the sin in our hearts which is destroying us--as long as we have freedom and resources to enjoy this present life and its many pleasures. But, as they had thought all along the disciples expected that the kingdom of God on earth was just around the corner. Little did they realize that another 2000 years of delay would ensue before God's final plans for Israel were to come to pass.
So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth."
And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men [angels] stood by them in white robes, and said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day's journey away. (Acts 1:4-12)
Right on schedule the Holy Spirit then descended to establish a new called-out
assembly--the church--just as Jesus had earlier promised. The Spirit was
sent by the Father and the Lord Jesus ten days later, on the day of Pentecost,
a Sunday morning, while the believing community was gathered for prayer
and fellowship. Thus began the era of the church which has been for 2000
years God's ordained means of calling out the world "a people for his
name." (Acts 15:14). The church is especially called the "body
of Christ" with Jesus the Head of the body. Wherever Christians gather
Jesus is with them by means of the Holy Spirit, but Jesus has been visibly
absent from the earth was nearly 2000 years.
On the night of his betrayal during his "Last Supper" with his disciples Jesus had taken the cup and bread and placed into effect a New Covenant promised to Israel by Jeremiah (Chapter 31) and the other prophets earlier. The New Covenant was not a covenant God promised to the church and at the time Jesus placed this New Covenant into effect, it was given to the disciples who were representatives of Israel.
Then Jesus announced that Gentiles as well as Jews were invited to enter into this New Covenant with Israel by means of this new world-wide believing community called the church. Paul argued forcefully and thoroughly (Romans 9-11) that after the completion of the building God would turn again extending grace to the nation of Israel and bring them also as a nation into this New Covenant.
The First and Second Advents of Jesus the Lord are both described in Titus. Notice that in this passage of scripture the Second Advent is divided into two phases: The coming of Jesus for his saints (his parousia, the event we call the rapture) and his coming in glory (his epiphaneia,) with his saints, [see The Appearing and the Coming of Christ].
"For the grace of God has appeared [the First Advent of Jesus]
for the salvation of all men,
training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions,
and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world,
awaiting our blessed hope, [the rapture]
and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,
[the Second Coming in glory]
who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity
and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds." (Titus 2:11-14)
Jesus will come for his bride, the true church at an unexpected hour. This is made clear by the use of the term "like a thief in the night." Seven years later Jesus will be publicly unveiled on earth, with his saints. Notice how the language of Matthew 24:36-44 describes the rapture, not the second coming in power and glory:
"But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man. Then two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left. Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect." (Matthew 24:36-44)
The rapture is also the subject of a thorough discussion by the Apostle
Paul in (1 Thessalonians 4:16-5:11). This passage will be discussed further
below. The Greek word used to describe the return of the Lord Jesus for
his church, parousia, occurs in 2 Peter 1:16, 1 Cor. 15:23, 1 Thess.
3:13, 4:15, 5:23; 2 Thess. 2:1, James 5:7,8, 2 Peter 3:8, Matthew 24:3,
27, 37; 1 John 2:28. The Greek word means "an arrival and a consequent
remaining with" someone. See Lambert's Chart
of the End Times.
Ray C. Stedman comments as follows,
When Jesus speaks about his return (see Matthew 24:36-42) he is not referring to a single moment of time when he will appear, but his talking about a return that covers a period of time. It will begin with a secret arrival, when he will come like a thief in the night. This will be the beginning of his "presence." But that presence will continue throughout all the time of trouble on earth, but behind the scenes, as it were, invisible to the world. Then "after the tribulation of those days," he will manifest his presence visibly, appearing in power and great glory.
This invisible presence of Jesus on earth is not something wholly new. During the forty days after his resurrection he was in exactly this condition. He appeared and disappeared among his disciples and they never knew when he was coming or when he would go. He was suddenly there, and just as suddenly gone. He was here, but not here. For forty days this manifestation went on until he ascended into heaven. When he comes again he will resume the same relationship to the believing Jews and Gentiles of that time. The church will be caught up to be with him, to join him in that remarkable presence during the terrible days of trouble on earth. (Ref. 1)
The Second Coming of Jesus in power and great glory openly before the whole world is described by the Greek word epiphaneia which means a shining forth. This word occurs in 1 Tim. 6:14, 2 Tim. 4:1-8; Matthew 24:27, 2 Thess. 2:8, Titus 2:13.
"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; then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, 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; and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect (the remainder of the Jews scattered among the nations) from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." (Matthew 24:29-31)
The second coming of the Lord Jesus in power and glory to the Mount of
Olives in Jerusalem is clearly described for us in Zechariah 14:1-9. Also
Revelation 19:11-16 gives us yet another portrait of that same event. These
passages are also discussed later in this chapter.
In summary, the return of Jesus to earth is in two stages. First, He arrives unannounced to call out the true church, His Bride. This event (described in 1 Thessalonians 4 and usually called "the rapture") is distinguished from His visible return in power and glory seven years later. As noted above, two different Greek words are used. Parousia, meaning "presence" describes the coming of Jesus for his saints, and epiphaneia, meaning "appearing" describes his public unveiling (apokalupsis = "unveiling") in splendor, power and glory. After the rapture, Christians will pass through the reviewing "judgment seat of Christ," but after that the church will remain on the earth through the tribulation period, with Jesus---ministering to the 144,000 Jewish evangelists of the tribulation period from behind-the-scenes.
A number of passages in the Bible describe the glorious second coming of the Messiah Jesus to save our beleaguered planet from total destruction, and to set up his kingdom on earth. Zechariah (14:1-9) tells us that the place of Jesus' return to earth will not be Zion, Illinois, but the Mt. of Olives. John the Apostle foresaw this event when he recorded the book of Revelation while in exile on the isle of Patmos near the end of the First Century AD:
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed which no one knows but himself. He is clad in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, followed him on white horses. From his mouth issues a sharp sword with which to smite the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, King of kings and Lord of lords.
Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly in midheaven, "Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great." And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who sits upon the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had worked the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. And the rest were slain by the sword of him who sits upon the horse, the sword that issues from his mouth; and all the birds were gorged with their flesh. (Revelation 19:11-21)
When Jesus returns to the Mt. of Olives he will arrive from the direction
of Edom (Southern Jordan)---with the blood of his enemies spattering his
garments. He will bring with him the remnant of believing Jews who fled
earlier to Jordan at the midpoint of the tribulation period. And with him
also, will be his Bride, the church. This topic will be discussed in detail
The coming of Jesus for his church, (the rapture) "like a thief in the night" will be silent and unseen, not accompanied by any visible signs, earthquakes, or a literal tearing open of graveyards. In sharp contrast, the open public unveiling of Jesus (and his church)---seven years later at the close of the tribulation period---will be accompanied by great disturbances on earth, in the heavens and by awesome, unmistakable signs. During the Olivet Discourse, Jesus described his open, public return in these words,
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; then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, 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; 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. (Matthew 24:29-31)
A great war in the Middle East will be in progress at the time of the Second coming. The very existence of the entire human race will be threatened by the intensity of this conflagration. In fact Jesus said that were it not for his intervention, "no human being would be left:"
...great distress shall be upon the earth and wrath upon this people [Israel]; they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led captive among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth distress of nations in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. (Luke 21:23b-27)
But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 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. (Mark 13:24-27)
This paper speculates on what we know from the Bible about events taking
place on earth during the tribulation period that seem to be related to
the "secret presence" of the Lord Jesus as He (and His church)
work from behind the scenes to orchestrate and to direct the final events
leading up to His glorious appearing, his epiphaneia. I have consulted leading
Bible commentaries (for example, References 2-6) on many of the more enigmatic
and difficult passages of Bible prophecy and inserted a few notes of suggestions
to aid the reader in further study. It is not my intention to be dogmatic
but provocative. In matters of Bible prophecy many details often remain
obscure until they are on the verge of fulfillment or already past. However
we are "nearer now than when we first believed" so we, more than
previous generations, can hope by God's grace to see more clearly what is
coming just ahead in history for us as the end of this age unfolds.
The coming desecration which is to take place in the future Third Temple by a final Jewish false Messiah is described in the Olivet discourse of Jesus and also by the Apostle Paul in his second letter to the Thessalonians. In 2 Thessalonians 2 the parousia, epiphaneia and the judgment of the Great White throne are all seen as one event from the vantage point of eternity. Also described is the appearing of the man of sin in the Third Temple in Jerusalem which from the vantage point of earth-time occurs at the mid-point of the seven-year period.
We are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren, as is fitting, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast of you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions which you are enduring. This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be made worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering---since indeed God deems it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant rest with us to you who are afflicted, when the Lord Jesus is revealed [unveiled, that is apokalupsis---a reference to the second coming in glory, the epiphaneia] from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at in all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his call, and may fulfill every good resolve and work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now concerning the coming [parousia] of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to meet him (i.e., at the rapture), we beg you, brethren, not to be quickly shaken in mind or excited, either by spirit or by word, or by letter purporting to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the rebellion [apostasia] comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the (Third) temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you this? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed [apokalupsis]in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one [the antichrist, Paul's "man of sin"] will be revealed [at the mid-trib point in our time frame], and the Lord Jesus will slay him [at the end of the tribulation from our point of view] with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by his appearing and his coming [literally, "by the epiphaneia of his parousia." ]. (2 Thess. 1:3-2:8)
The church will be with Jesus for the full seven years of the tribulation
period---all Christians in resurrection bodies like that of their Lord,
in bodies capable of time and space travel. At the end of the seven year
tribulation both Jesus and his church will make an open public appearance.
The scriptures of First Thessalonians 4 and 5 are familiar to most Christians as a description of the so-called "rapture of the church." The rapture can be thought of as a point in eternity which will protrude into our historical time frame at some fixed point on God's calendar. However, as we have seen, God has not given us the date and He has forbidden us to attempt to set or predict this date "which the Father has fixed by his own authority."
But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep.
Three specific events take place at the time Jesus calls his church out
of the world:
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven
(a) with a cry of command,
(b) with the archangel's call,
(c) and with the sound of the trumpet of God.
(a) The "cry of command" from the lips of Jesus is to awake the dead in Christ and to call them forth from their graves as God called his friend Lazarus forth (John 11:43). In John Chapter 5, Jesus spoke of the coming day when the dead would rise in two separate resurrections, at his command:
"Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself, and has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment." (John 5:25-29)
(b) Only one archangel is named by name in Scripture. He is Michael whose specific jurisdiction is over the people of Israel. At the time of the rapture the archangel will signal to Israel that God has returned the focus of his attention at last to the final redemption of his chosen nation. This event was spoken of by Daniel:
At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time; but at that time your people shall be delivered, every one whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. (Daniel 12:1-3)
(c) the trumpet call (not to be confused with the last of the seven trumpets in Revelation) is to call the living saints at the time of the rapture to be caught up and transformed together with the just-raised saints of the past. This is described also in 1 Corinthians 15,
I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep (die), but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and (first) the dead will be raised imperishable, and (then) we (living saints on earth at the time) shall be changed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable (2 Cor. 5:1-4), and this mortal nature must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory.' 'O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?' The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." (1 Cor. 15:50-58)
When an individual dies he or she leaves time and enters eternity, immediately
time-traveling "in a moment in the twinkling of an eye" to arrive
at the rapture the next instant in his or her personal experience. Therefore,
all believers arrive in heaven at the same "time." Thus, those
who have already died as Christians are not already waiting for us in heaven.
(Prayer to Mary or St. Jude is therefore pointless---for more than one reason).
The Bible does not teach an intermediate state such as Limbo or Purgatory
or temporary holding cells under the earth. "To be absent from the
body is to be at home with the Lord." Our problems in understanding
this have to do with our failure to understand that eternity runs according
to an entirely different time than the one-dimensional time frame we are
constrained to live in while in our mortal bodies.
Paul continues his description of the coming of the Lord for his saints, (that is the parousia ):
And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up (Greek: harpazo, meaning "to catch away." Latin: rapto, hence "rapture"). together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. But as to the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When people say, "There is peace and security," then sudden destruction will come upon them as travail comes upon a woman with child, and there will be no escape. But you are not in darkness, brethren, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all sons of light and sons of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But, since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we wake or sleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11)
When Jesus sent out his disciples to visit all the cities, towns and
villages of Israel (as recorded in Matthew 10) he added a strange comment,
"...you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But he who endures
to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the
next; for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns
of Israel, before the Son of man comes." He suggested that they would
not complete their mission until his second coming. Since we know from history
that the original twelve did not complete their task, and the Lord Jesus
has not yet returned, evidently the work of evangelizing Israel is not finished
Leaping over two thousand years of intervening time, Jesus seems to be telling us that the work of the disciples will be taken up again at the end of the age. This time he will select not 12, but 12 times 12 times 1000 faithful witnesses. Once again Jesus will be with these disciples, training them and leading them. In His resurrection body he will appear among them, spend time with them and then disappear again for a season.
The selection of 144,000 Jews from the tribes of Israel to take up the cause of world evangelism during the tribulation period is described in Revelation 7:1-8. They are very successful in their efforts as a great multitude of their converts (these so-called "tribulation saints") are described for us in Revelation 7:9-17,
Then I saw another angel ascend from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, "Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God upon their foreheads." And I heard the number of the sealed, a hundred and forty-four thousand sealed, out of every tribe of the sons of Israel, twelve thousand sealed out of the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand of the tribe of Reuben, twelve thousand of the tribe of Gad, twelve thousand of the tribe of Asher, twelve thousand of the tribe of Naphtali, twelve thousand of the tribe of Manasseh, twelve thousand of the tribe of Simeon, twelve thousand of the tribe of Levi, twelve thousand of the tribe of Issachar, twelve thousand of the tribe of Zebulun, twelve thousand of the tribe of Joseph, twelve thousand sealed out of the tribe of Benjamin.
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!" And all the angels stood round the throne and round the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen." Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, clothed in white robes, and whence have they come?" I said to him, "Sir, you know." And he said to me, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night within his temple; and he who sits upon the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
The 144,000 are young, unmarried Jews who must come to know their Messiah,
equip themselves and accomplish their vigorous and dangerous would wide
evangelism program all in the space of 3.5 or 7 years. In Christian experience,
spiritually growing and equipping a competent evangelist is ordinarily the
work of many years of training and schooling and mentoring and working.
The case of the apostle Paul is the one notable exception to the selection and training of a disciple by Jesus. Ray Stedman commenting on Revelation Chapter 7 (Ref. 1) gives the following explanation:
It is strongly suggested here that Michael, the great archangel, is responsible for opening the eyes of certain Jews living in Judea at the time of the departure of the church, and that they will then recognize the Lord Jesus as their true Messiah and become believers in him.
We may link this passage with one in Revelation chapter 7:2-4, where there is a description of an event that seems to be remarkably similar, if it is not exactly the same. There the apostle John says:
Then I saw another angel---[Here is a great angel who undertakes a specific task connected with Israel He is not called an archangel, though he well might be Michael]---ascend from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, 'Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God upon their foreheads.' And I heard the number of the sealed, a hundred and forty-four thousand sealed, out of every tribe of the sons of Israel.
These 144,000 will clearly be Jews, for the passage goes on to list the twelve tribes of Israel and to declare that 12,000 are chosen from each of the tribes. Further information is given us concerning this special group in Revelation 14:1, 3-5:
Then I looked, and lo, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, (Jesus) and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads. And they sing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders No one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who had been redeemed from the earth. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are chaste; It Is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes; these have been redeemed from mankind as first fruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are spotless.
The same chapter goes on to describe the Great Tribulation as "the hour of his [God's] judgment." Before that hour arrives, these 144,000 from the tribes of Israel will be seen with the Lamb on Mount Zion. This is a specific location within the city limits of Jerusalem. This account confirms the fact that Jesus Christ will be on earth during this time, and will reveal himself from time to time these Jewish disciples, just as he appeared from time to time to his followers during those remarkable forty days following his resurrection.
Evidently these 144,000 Jews are to be turned from unbelief to belief much in the same dramatic way as was the apostle Paul. He was converted on the road to Damascus by the sudden appearance of the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Paul speaks of himself, in 1 Corinthians 15, as "one untimely born," very likely thinking of himself as properly belonging to this special band of Jewish believers, but who, by the grace of God, was born ahead of time and given the privilege of belonging to the church.
Since these 144,000 Jews are in frequent touch with the risen Lord they will be like so many Pauls, proclaiming the eternal gospel in mighty Spirit-given power throughout the whole earth during this time the Lawless One will be moving to consolidate his power and to present himself to the world as God. This appearance of Christ to the 144,000 is the beginning of the fulfillment of God's renewed activity with the Jews, long predicted by the Old Testament prophets. Paul also specifically says that despite the centuries of wandering following the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, God will not cast off his people. He will call them back again and renew a relationship with them.
In Romans 11 Paul warns that we Gentiles must never assume that God has totally and irrevocably set aside the nation of Israel, for all the promises which has made to them in the past will be fulfilled. Because of unbelief, Paul says, God scattered them around the earth and opened the door of blessing to all the nations of earth, without distinction. But the Gentiles, too, will fail God as did the Jews, and then they will be set aside and God will call Israel back into national blessing. That is the work he will begin with the calling of the 144,000.
Will anyone believe the message these 144,000 proclaim? If they do, of course, it will probably be at the risk of their lives, since the Lawless One will soon be in full control. The answer to that question is given by the apostle John in Revelation 7:9,10,13,14:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches In their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, '"Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon toe throne, and to the Lamb!' Then one of the elders addressed me saying, 'Who are these, clothed in white robes, and whence have they come?' I said to him, 'Sir, you know.' And he said to me, 'These are they who have come out Or the great tribulation; their have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."
This great multitude of Gentiles will be converted at the eleventh hour of history, evidently by believing the gospel preached by the 144,000 of Israel sent by the Son of God. Probably the greater part of this multitude will be martyred for their faith. In other parts of Revelation we are told that many will be put to death because they will not worship the Beast (the Antichrist) or his image.
Though they will indeed be 'a great multitude' as John said, yet it is immediately evident that they will be different in one most remarkable way from the present day church. Apparently they will not exercise the ministry of salt. They will have no softening or restraining effect upon the people around them nor on the society in which they will live. They will be the light of the world, of that day, exposing and thus condemning what goes on, but they will not be as salt as Christians are today, preventing corruption, restraining evil, resisting the work of injustice in society. They will live as individuals, facing, at the risk of their lives, a society dedicated completely to powerful delusion.
As a consequence of the fact that there will be no salt at work in society, the dark menace of human arrogance and pride grows darker still. Doubtless a mad science, like the Sorcerer's Apprentice, will go blithely on, mixing evil potions and conjuring up still more fearful forces of uncontrollable, murderous power...
The apostle Peter tells us that once before in the history of the world this has happened. There was a time when man, in arrogance and price, boasting of the civilization which he had built, quite unwittingly tripped the lever which held the world of his day in delicate balance. Before he knew what had happened, the clouds began to gather, the sky to darken, the heavens poured down floods of water, the earth heaved, the seas raised and swept across the mountain tops in monstrous waves, and all the world of man perished, except for eight souls who were safely preserved in an ark.
Once again, Jesus suggests, man in his clever insanity will go too far. The sign of it will be a world gone mad with self conceit, permitting and even encouraging its leaders to state publicly what almost everyone secretly believes: that there is no real God, that man is his own god and he does not need any other. Then the deadly lever will be tripped by man's own hand, the dark forces of nature will be released, the seals of nuclear power will be removed, the trumpets of human cruelty will sound out, and the vials of a demented biology will be poured out upon the earth. It is all described in detail in the book of Revelation.
In the Olivet Discourse Jesus warned his disciples about the perils and dangers to faith that would characterize the entire age until his triumphant return in glory. Especially referring to the seven year tribulation period when he would be back on earth but invisible he said:
Then if any one says to you, "Lo, here is the Christ" or "There he is," do not believe It. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, it possible, even the elect. Lo, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, 'Lo, he is in the wilderness,' do not go out; it they say, 'Lo, he is in the inner rooms,' do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of man. Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together. (Matthew 24:23-28)
Ray Stedman comments as follows:
Do not miss the time word with which Jesus opens this section, "Then if any one says to you," etc. "Then" clearly refers to the time of the Great Tribulation which he has briefly but terribly described with the words, "if those days had not been shortened, no human being would be saved..." this is the last three and one-half years of Daniel's predicted seventieth week. During this terrible time of persecution and judgment the Lord Jesus will support and sustain his own by appearing to them frequently in a variety of places. These appearances will certainly be made to the 144,000 in their world-wide ministry, and perhaps also to that "great multitude" of Gentile believers who will come out of the Great Tribulation.
As a result of this rather unusual state of affairs rumors will apparently spread like wildfire that Jesus Christ is somewhere around. In John 7:11,32-36 Jesus himself predicted that a situation like this that would occur during the forty day period after his resurrection:
The Jews were looking for him at the feast, and saying, "Where is he?" [There's the question again! A little further on John says:] The Pharisees heard the crowd thus muttering about him, and the chief priests and Pharisees sent officers to arrest him. Jesus then said, "I shall be with you a little longer, and then I go to him who sent me; you will seek me and you will not find me; where I am you cannot come." The Jews said to one another, "Where does this man intend to go that we shall not find him? Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks? What does he mean by saying, 'You will seek me and you will not find me,' and, 'where I am you cannot come'"?'
To these Jews Jesus was nothing but a tub-thumping, rabble-rousing, troublemaker from Nazareth and they intended to put him to death as quickly as possible. Jesus knew this and knew that they would succeed in their plans. But now he puzzled them completely by telling them that after they had done their worst, they would look for him but would not be able to find him. That could have only been true during his forty-day post-resurrection ministry. After he ascended into the heavens they did not look for him, for the disciples were then declaring throughout Jerusalem that he had gone to the Father. But during that forty-day period there must have been many disquieting rumors, which came to the authorities' ears, that Christ was still somewhere around.
When the soldiers came from the grave of Jews with the report that he had risen from the dead, they had to be bribed to say that his disciples had come and stolen his body away, and thus to quiet that rumor. But soon other rumors were buzzing. Mysterious appearings of Jesus to his disciples were reported and the authorities must have sent other search parties to try to locate him. But as Jesus had predicted, they searched for him but they could not find him. They could never understand the reason, but it was exactly as he had said, "Where I am going you cannot come." In the new relationship to his own into which he had entered, it was impossible for them to intrude.
During that forty-day period the disciples of Jesus were what we might call "Pre-church Christians." They believed in Jesus but they were not yet members of the church, for the church was not formed until the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out. During the close of the age, the disciples (or as Jesus calls them "the elect") will be what we might call "Post-church Christians." The church has been removed from the world, at least from any visible participation in world affairs. Since we know that Christians will be given glorified bodies like their Lord's (and Paul says that, once removed from this life, the church will be forever "with the Lord"), it seems highly likely that church Christians will join the Lord Jesus in this ministry behind the scenes during the tribulation. They will be like Moses and Elijah who appeared with the transfigured Christ on the Mount.
The picture then is clear. Jesus will come for his church and take the members into a new relationship with him. Then he, with them, will remain throughout the "end of the age" period, appearing only to those whose hearts are ready to believe in him. Rumors of his presence will continually be spread abroad, so that men will be saying in that day as they said during the forty-day period, "Where is he?" Authorities will search for him and will not be able to find him, but false prophets will claim to know where he is.
Part of the tribulation of the end times will be a fresh and powerful campaign of deceit which will break out against any who are tempted to believe in Jesus. Just as the Lord foresaw and described the great forces of deceit which would be at work until the close of the age arrived, so he also described the Great Tribulation.
Ray Stedman continues,
In contrast to the false propaganda of the last days, in Matthew 24:27,28 Jesus unveils the true method for locating him in the day of his presence. To do so he uses a parable from nature and a proverb from life:
For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of man. Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together.
The word the Lord uses for "coming" here is the now familiar parousia. It is quite a different word than he uses a few verses farther on when he speaks of "the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." It is easy to confuse these two comings because of his reference to lightning in verse 27. Since lightning is a form of power and glory, many feel the Lord is using it as a symbol of his coming in glory. But note carefully what he says.
Lightning flashes in the east, but the effect of it is seen all over the sky. Yet the flash itself does not involve the whole inverted dome of the heavens from east to west. When he uses the symbol of lightning, therefore, he is not describing a universally visible manifestation of his glory, but the universal effect of his presence behind the scenes. Like lightning flashes he will be seen by his own in different places, at all different times, but the effect of those appearances will be felt throughout the earth.
Furthermore, lightning is sovereign, unpredictable, uncontrollable. So will be the presence, the parousia, of the Son of man. He will appear and disappear at will. Whenever there is need for him he will be there, just as he was during the post-resurrection period. There will be no need to search for him for he cannot be found that way. There will be no need to look for him in the wilderness nor in the inner rooms, for he will come whenever and wherever he finds a heart ready to know him. In the passage parallel to this in Luke 17, Jesus says, "For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of man be in his day." A "day" used in that sense always refers to a period of time, not a sudden, climactic event.
Then, using a common proverb of the day, Jesus indicates the proper way to find him in that day, "Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together." Rather than eagles, the margin gives the proper word, vultures: "there the vultures will be gathered together."
Revelation Chapter 14 contains an amazing record of an event occurring during the tribulation involving Jesus, the 144,000 Jewish evangelists and the true church:
Then I looked and there before me was the Lamb standing on Mount Zion and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads. And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. These are those who did not defile themselves with women for they kept themselves pure. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among men and offered as first-fruits to God and the Lamb. No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless. (Rev. 14:1-5)
Ray Stedman comments as follows,
Here is a reappearance of the 144,000 chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, last seen in Revelation 7. John Wesley once said, "Give me a hundred men who love nothing but God and hate nothing but sin, and I will shake the whole world for Christ." In Revelation 14, we see that Jesus will choose not twelve, not even Wesley's hundred, but 144,000 men! And, they will indeed shake the whole world right to its foundations in the closing days of this age.
Notice, first of all, the location of the 144,000 and the Lamb. The opening sentence tells us they are "standing on Mount Zion," that is, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The setting of this passage, clearly, is here on earth, in the city of Jerusalem in Israel---not heaven. The 144,000 are "Christ's Commandos," believing Jewish men chosen out of the twelve tribes of Israel and sealed by the Spirit of God for a special task: the evangelization of the world in the last days. In Revelation 14 we see them standing alongside the Lamb, Jesus Himself, upon the Temple Mount.
Because of the non-chronological way John's vision is unfolding, you may be wondering just where Revelation 14 fits into the sequence of events of the last days. So let's tie up some loose ends. At this point in history, the "Rapture" or departure of the church has already taken place. The believers of our own age---the church age---have been removed in the event Paul refers to in 1 Thessalonians 4, where he describes Christ's coming to remove His church from the world. Paul concludes the fourth chapter of his first letter to the Thessalonians with the words, "so we ever will be with the Lord forever." So at the time the 144,000 servants of the Lord stand on Mount Zion with Jesus, the earth is undergoing the throes of the Tribulation and the church has been removed to heaven. But please understand this: even though the church is "in heaven," it is still "on the earth." The church is in the heavenly realm, the heavenly dimension---but it is, as Paul said, "with the Lord," and the Lord is on the Temple Mount with the 144,000 faithful men of Israel. If this seems confusing to you, it is probably because of a common misconception many people have about heaven.
The problem is that when people think of heaven, they picture a place up in the clouds or far off in outer space. This is the same mistake Soviet cosmonaut Gherman Titov made when he returned from an orbital space flight in 1961 and reported, "In my travels around the earth, I looked around and I didn't see God or angels or heaven." Like that Soviet spaceman, we are mentally bound to stereotypes of heaven as being "in the sky." We have trouble picturing heaven as occupying not only all of space but all of earth as well.
Heaven, as it is pictured in the Bible, is actually another dimension of existence, just beyond the reach of our five senses. You can be in heaven at the same time you are on earth. As I read these prophetic passages of Scripture, I become more and more convinced that this is clearly the case: the church is with the Lord---but the Lord is on the earth throughout those seven turbulent years! The church is with the Lord, but it is invisible to the rest of the world, ministering to this select group of 144,000 Jews. During this time, Jesus will periodically appear to these living Jews, standing with them and empowering them for their mission.
If this is true, then Jesus will be in exactly the same condition with them as He was with the eleven disciples after His resurrection, when for a period of 40 days He appeared to them from time to time. As you examine the gospel accounts of the time between the Lord's resurrection and ascension, you find He was often with them in various times, various places, and suddenly He would not be with them. It was as if He would step back into the realm of invisibility after appearing for a while in their midst.
Now, in Revelation 14, we have pictured for us a similar set of appearances by the risen Christ---only instead of appearing to twelve disciples, He appears to 12 times 12 times 1000 all men of Israel chosen for a special mission during the last days. What does Scripture tell us about these 144,000 men? First, these men learn a new song which they hear from heaven. They hear a great choir of voices singing the song of the redeemed. Who is in this choir? Rather than stating the answer to this question plainly, the passage gives us some tantalizing (and, I think, definitive) clues. Verse 3 simply describes this choir with a pronoun: "And they sang a new song..." And the sound of that song was like "the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder." But it was also a sweet sound, "like that of harpists playing their harps."
Surely, what the 144,000 hear is the church, which is "with the Lord," singing the song of the redeemed! You and I will be in the choir. Even if we have "scratchy-needle voices," we will be there, belting out the greatest song ever sung. The sound of it will be as powerful as the sound of rushing water and the clap of thunder, yet the beauty of it will be like a symphony of harps! That song will ring in the ears of the 144,000 living, mortal men of Israel, all followers of the risen Messiah, as they stand on the Temple Mount. These men will be like those described by Henry David Thoreau, who said, "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer." The 144,000 will be out of step with the rest of the world, because they will be committed men, hearing the beat of a different drum, the melody of a different reality, the music of heaven itself. The 144,000 will learn the song of the redeemed because it will reverberate in their souls. They will know by their own experience what redemption truly means.
The second thing we learn from Scripture about the 144,000 is that they have kept themselves for the Lord alone. They are separated unto Jesus. "These are those," says the passage, "who did not defile themselves with women, for they kept themselves pure." Understand that this passage is not an insult to women, to marriage, or to sex. These men are not chauvinists. They are celibates. Marriage is not pictured here as wrong for everyone, but marriage would be outside of God's will for these 144,000 specially dedicated men. The apostle Paul once explained that the reason he himself was unmarried was to devote his life totally to the Lord. A married person has concerns and responsibilities that have to do with maintaining a good marriage relationship and managing the affairs of the household. This is as it should be. But an unmarried person is free to do things a married person cannot. An unmarried person is even free to undertake risks and demanding tasks, if need be, in order to serve Jesus. That is the special condition of these 144,000 redeemed men of Israel.
The third thing we learn about these men is that they were committed to following the Lamb wherever He would lead them, anywhere on the earth. I believe these 144,000 are the "brothers" the Lord refers to in Matthew 25, when He says that when He comes again as the Son of Man, He will sit on His throne and will judge the nations according to how they have treated "the least of these brothers of mine." Those who hate and persecute the 144,000 chosen men of Israel will have much to answer for in the day of world-wide judgment.
The fourth thing we learn about the 144,000 is that they are called the first-fruits of the harvest during the Tribulation period. We have seen that when these men go out to preach to the world, a great multitude, beyond human ability to number, will respond to their message---people from every tribe and nation and people and language. We will see another aspect of this harvest in Revelation 20:14-15.
The fifth thing we learn about them is that they are transformed men. They are born again. They have been cleansed and changed by God's grace in a miraculous way. "No lie was found in their mouths," says the passage. "They are blameless." These redeemed Jews recognize their crucified Messiah, and they have committed their lives to Him. As Jude's epistle tells us, all those who truly believe in Jesus Christ will be presented to God "without fault and with great joy."
This purpose of this discussion is not to review all of Bible prophecy
but to focus on the activity of Jesus with his church from behind the scenes
of the physical, material world during the tribulation period. "Heaven"
(or more properly "the heavenly places") is the Bible's way of
describing another dimension of reality that exists alongside the material
world. It is correct to say that the physical world is embedded in heaven.
Believers in Jesus already dwell in heaven in spirit and soul, but because
the body has not yet been redeemed, they can not look into nor sense the
heavenly realm except in spirit, and by means of the revealed information
given in the Bible. At the rapture and the resurrection when Christians
receive their resurrection bodies they will fully dwell in the heavenly
places. Yet, like their Lord, they will be able to re-enter the ordinary
world of mortal experience at will. See Time and Eternity.
Originated April 2, 1996.