Well, if you are reading this, it means that in spite of all the challenges, setbacks, health problems, accidents, etc., you made it through 2015 and have entered the new year of 2016. It also means we are one year closer to the Lord’s return to take His Bride, the Church (all believers) to heaven in what we refer to as the Rapture (from the Latin word for “caught up” in I Thes. 4:17). And, since we all had a birthday last year, it means we are one year closer to the “appointed time” God has for taking us home in death (unless the rapture comes first). As believers, each time we have a birthday, it means we are one year closer to glory! What an exciting thought!
In the Jan. 1, 2016 devotional in Our Daily Bread, Joe Stowell (past president of Moody Bible Institute), wrote about how his dad, a pastor, would preach about the return of Christ on the first Sunday of each new year, often using I Thessalonians 4 as his text. Dr. Stowell relates that when he was six year old, God spoke to him through his dad’s sermon and he realized that he wasn’t ready for the Lord to come for him. He knew his folks would be going to heaven and he wanted to go too, so that Sunday when they got home, Joe asked his dad how he could be sure of going to heaven. His dad took him through some salvation passages in the Bible and led him to Christ.
As we view the chaos, hatred, wars and rumors of war, anti-Semitism, etc. in the world today, and our own beloved United States of America, we realize what a mess we are in because of the sinfulness of man, and how close we must be to the final events of history that are prophesied in Scripture (Eg., read Rom. 1:18-25; I Tim. 4:1-2; II Tim. 3:1-7). Indeed, this could be the year! At Christmas, I taught a Bible study on Gal. 4:4 which says, “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son…” At just the right time, that God had planned and prepared, God the Son became the Son of Man. The first coming of Christ was in God’s perfect timing. As we look back, we can see how God was preparing the stage for that amazing event, the Incarnation (God taking on human form…Jn. 1:14; Phil. 2:5-8). Just as there was a perfect time for Jesus to be born in Bethlehem, there is a perfect time, planned out by God, for Jesus to return, first to catch away His Bride, and then (probably seven years later, after the Tribulation or “Time of Jacob’s Trouble”…Jer. 30:7) to come back to earth to reign for 1,000 years and fulfill all the promises to the nation of Israel, as He reigns on the throne of David as “King of the Jews,” as “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Rev. 19:11-16 cf Isa. 11; Ezek. 36,37).
Although we can’t know the date of Jesus’ return (Mt. 24:36), He gave us many signs to indicate when that time was approaching. For example, Jesus said that the time of His return would be as it was in the days of Lot and Sodom (Lk. 17:28-30) with its wickedness and sexual perversion (Gen. 18, 19). Also, Jesus said, “For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah” (Mt. 24:37) when “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5).
Probably the surest indicator, however, of the time of the Lord’s return is the nation of Israel, which is really the “time clock of the Bible.” Jesus’ sermon that we refer to as the “Olivet Discourse,” in which He describes the conditions on earth just prior to His return, was in response to His disciples’ question, ”Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Mt. 24:3). They were thinking, of course, of when Jesus would visibly and personally return to the earth to set up His Kingdom. And, if indeed Jesus comes prior to that to remove the Church from the earth, then that is the next event in prophecy and could happen at any time—maybe this year! As we see the nations rising up to destroy Israel, and how our own Administration has backed off in our support of Israel, even pushing for the dividing up of Jerusalem, we have to believe that the “end is near.” Daniel’s prophecy of “seventy weeks of seven years” (or 490 years…Dan. 9:24-27) is focused on the nation of Israel, with the first 483 years already being fulfilled (From the decree by Artaxerxes of Persia to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem until the Messiah was crucified). The 70th week of 7 years would begin when the anti-Christ comes and make a seven-year covenant to protect Israel (the Tribulation period). Between the 69th and 70th weeks is a gap in the prophecy which we know of as “the Church Age,” in which God is calling out from among the Gentiles (as well as Jews) a people for His name (Acts 15:14; Gal. 3:26-29; Eph. 2:12-22) called the “Church” (“called out ones”). God will remove the Church before the “Time of Jacob’s Trouble” (or the Tribulation) begins (Jer. 30:7). He will then deal again directly with the nation of Israel to bring her to repentance during this horrific time described in Revelation 4:1-19:21 when the nations of earth gather to make war against Israel, to wipe her off the face of the earth. But then Christ returns to earth with the “armies which are in heaven (including the Church)…and He smites the nations; and He will rule them with a rod of iron…” (Rev. 19:14-15), and “all Israel will be saved” (Ro. 11:26) and Christ will usher in His Kingdom.
One day soon someone will trust Christ as Savior and be the final member of the Church, the Bride of Christ, and “The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord” ( I Thes. 4:16-17). The Apostle Paul wrote: “…a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Ro. 11:25), with reference to when the Church is complete and will be removed. It is then that “The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob (Israel)” and “all Israel will be saved” (Ro. 11:26). This could be the year that the Church will be completed and Christ removes it. Are you ready? Have you put your trust in Christ as Savior and Lord? If not, I strongly urge you to consider doing so, for we have no promise we will be here tomorrow. As we read in Job 14:5: “Since man’s days are determined, the number of his months is with Thee, and his limits Thou has set so that he cannot pass.” Jesus gives a final invitation in the last portion of His revealed Word: “And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirst come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost” (Rev. 22:17) and concludes with: “Yes, I am coming quickly,” to which John said (and we who know Christ can say: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22: 20)–Maybe this year!