JESUS CHRIST: ETA (ESTIMATED TIME OF ARRIVAL), PT. 1
By Rev. Ted Pike
11 Sept 13
Editor's Note: Misconceptions surround the most significant event in the destinies of both Jew and Gentile, the Second Coming of Christ. In this two-part series, adapted from my book "Israel: Our Duty, Our Dilemma," I largely focus on the very simple story line of the end times which Jesus gave to His disciples in His Olivet discourse. Read without preconceptions, it leads to conclusions about the Second Coming which are very different from the prevailing extremes among most Christians. This 2-part article is recorded as our recent Bible study at Truthtellers.org.
Without exception, the Scriptures describe the Second Coming as a single terminal event which ends the present age. From the writings of the early Church fathers through Luther, Calvin, Fox and Wesley we search in vain for any significant deviation from that point of view. For 1800 years one of the least disputed doctrines of Christianity was that of a single Second Coming.
But in the first half of the 19th century in England, a minister of the Church of Scotland, Edward Irving, conceived the idea that a “secret coming” of Jesus Christ would precede His final appearance. In other words, Christ would return twice. This first event would be apparent only to the elect, who would be “raptured” to Heaven and then return with Christ to earth three and a half years later.
A New Gospel
The doctrine of the “secret coming” was zealously promoted by Irving not only in the British Isles but through six trips to America. It had instant appeal to many American Christians because it reassures Christians they won’t taste any of the tribulation the world will endure. Irving’s theology also removed all prerequisites from Christ’s first return, creating the popular idea that “Christ could come at any moment.”
What originated around 1826 in the fertile imagination of a Scottish Presbyterian minister (later excommunicated) spread like wildfire on both sides of the Atlantic. Today it is gospel to the great majority of evangelicals. Because of its promise of instant escape, the Irvingite (pre-tribulationist) viewpoint has become one of the most compelling doctrinal errors of our time. Misconceptions surround the most significant event in the destinies of both Jew and Gentile, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
Signposts of the Second Coming
Contrary to the prevalent notion that everything from war to weather can indicate the Second Coming, our Savior in His Olivet Discourse is very clear that there will be very specific signs. Three of the four gospels record the question put to Jesus by His disciples: “When shall these things be?” In one of His clearest replies, as direct as their question, Jesus told them what would come. Try to read these essential portions of Christ’s reply as the disciples would have heard it. They asked a sincere question and received a straightforward reply. Luke 21:7-28
. . .Take heed that ye be not deceived; for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and the time draweth near: go ye not therefore after them.
But when ye shall hear of wars and commotions, be not terrified: for these things must first come to pass; but the end is not by and by.
And great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven.
But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name’s sake. (21:8-12)
And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh.
Then let them which are in Judea 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 there into.
For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.
But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people.
And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.
And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring.
Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of the heaven shall be shaken.
And then they shall see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. (21:20-28)
The Time is Not Yet
In Luke’s account, as in the other gospels, Christ reveals that the days before His coming will be singular for their horrible persecution. Famines will follow, as will natural disasters and disease. In themselves, these do not indicate the imminence of Christ. In fact, Christ cautions against false prophets and those who see such signs in earth and heaven. “Go not after them,” He says, “the time is not yet,” “these are the beginnings of sorrows. . .” Only when “these things begin to come to pass” will we be entitled to proclaim the imminence of Christ:
- the preaching of the gospel to all nations (Matthew 24:14)
- all Christians become hated by the entire world (Luke 21:17) (omitted in above text)
- encirclement of Jerusalem and the subsequent profanation of the Jewish temple by the Antichrist (called the “abomination of desolation,” Luke 21:20)
- world anger at Jews and their subsequent captivity and dispersion, also called the Great Tribulation, or "wrath upon this people" (the Jews) (Luke 21:23-24)
When these occur, Christ exhorts us to “look up…for your redemption is near” (Luke 21:28) and “Know ye that it is near.” (Matthew 24:33)* Christ’s clear sequence of the last days ought to make it plain that He taught vigilance but never taught the doctrine of imminence.
Christ taught that the rapture coincides with this single second coming, “at the last day.” (John 6:54) He does not say “in the last days” or three and one-half years (1,263 days) before the last day but literally at the last day. He will rescue Christians out of the world at the exact time He returns to judge the nations and set up His millennial kingdom. That final event, known throughout prophecy by such terms as “the day of vengeance” and the “day of the Lord,” is a unique moment toward which all world events lead. It is a day only Christians will rejoice to see. “The rest of the dead,” Revelations tells us, “live not till the thousand years shall be fulfilled” when they are condemned in the last judgment.
There is no indication anywhere in Scripture that Christians are removed from earth before the revelation of Antichrist.
Christ’s Primer of Prophecy
Prophecy would be relatively simple if Christians read Christ’s “primer of prophecy,” the Olivet Discourse, with the directness in which it was given. But because Christ’s straightforward account conflicts with the idea that His return could be imminent, it has been complicated or else declared largely irrelevant to Christians of the Church age. The Irvingites said this discourse was largely intended not for Christians, who would be raptured out of the world before Antichrist, but for the Jews who remain in unbelief. Proof of this idea was taken from Christ’s admonition in Matthew 24:20: “But pray ye that your flight be not. . .on the Sabbath day.” Since observance of the Jewish Sabbath is binding mostly to Jews, Irvingites said Christ’s discourse was directed at them.
But to whom was Jesus actually speaking when He gave His discourse on the end times? His most important audience was Jewish Christians, the fathers of the Christian church. It was not meant for the Jewish people at large. Christ seldom honored unbelievers with glimpses of unique truth. Matthew tells us that Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives and His disciples came to him privately to ask about the future. It was to a handful of Christians that the mysteries of the end times were unfolded.
It is also to the Jews who will become Christians out of the crucible of the Great Tribulation that Christ speaks concerning flight on the Sabbath. He looks forward millennia to a day when a Jewish remnant, from the smoking ruin of Babylon the Great, will need guidance and warning. Because they are destined to be His, Christ tells them they will not be left comfortless, that He is with them and will shorten the days for their sake.
Thus we perceive the universality of Christ’s words. In “Behold I have told you” He excludes neither Gentiles nor Jews.
Antichrist Comes First
The apostle Paul also asserts that Christ will return only after the appearance of Antichrist. In II Thessalonians 2:3, 4 Paul cautions:
Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.
While Paul upheld the unpredictable nature of Christ’s Second Coming, he severely cautions against the fantasy that Christ would appear before the “man of sin,” the “son of perdition,” is revealed and worshipped in the temple.
The revealing of Antichrist, the crowning climax of at least two millennia of Jewish intrigue and aspiration, could not possibly come after the “day of Christ.” It must precede it, as the final ultimate insult to which the “day of God’s wrath” responds.
Admittedly, it is a very serious offense to affirm, as did the evil servant, that “my lord delays his coming.” (Matthew 24:48) Yet if keeping Christ’s coming in the proper sequence which He outlined is “delaying” His coming, no one is more guilty than Paul, who warns that neither spirit, nor word, nor any letter falsely attributed to him should ever convince believers that the Day of Christ can come before Antichrist. (II Thessalonians 2:2)
By asserting that Christ must follow Antichrist neither we nor St. Paul delay that great event. We merely respect the necessary sequence which the Scriptures decree. Christ Himself, before His passion, said the Father would not override the fulfillment of prophecies that were meant to precede His crucifixion. His reply as to why He had to submit to them was that “the Scriptures must be fulfilled.”
Imminent. . .or Unexpected?
Christ repeatedly urges Christians to watch, to be ready, and to be vigilant. But He clearly described the events that will precede His return. Until those events take place, Christians have no business saying He could come at any time. Christ clearly did not consider an unexpected Second Coming and an orderly prophetic schedule to be mutually exclusive. He taught that the unpredictable exists within the general confines of predicted prophecy. Thus, while Christ emphasized the unpredictable nature of His return, no one ever laid down stricter pre-conditions for His Second Coming than He. His detailed account of events to come makes no provision for such a scrambling of prophetic sequence as His premature appearance would cause.
Jesus often compared His departure to that of a traveler.
Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’ (Mark 13:37)
If that traveler were about to embark on a long journey and reassured his friends saying: “I will be back soon,” no one would take that to mean he would come back the next morning, especially if he had already told them of the long flights and many stops he must make before coming home. Christ’s promise, “Behold, I come quickly,” is more a promise of intent than assertion of imminence.
The Threat of Missing the Rapture
These facts usually meet a horrified reaction from evangelicals. Threat of rapture has been a trendy replacement in evangelism for the threat of hell.
Yet Christianity does not – or should not – work that way. The real motivation of Christianity is less fear of retribution than love and gratitude which the presence of Christ causes to well up in us. The Christian is not obedient because he fears the sudden appearance of a wrathful God. He is righteous because through the transformation of Christ’s atonement he loves to be obedient.
The threat of an imminent appearance of Christ is not a necessary cog in the mechanics of Christian doctrine. Why should it be? Is not the prospect of imminent death sufficient to keep us from backsliding, if coercion is needed? Surely the coming of Christ could not be a more effective deterrent to sin than the specter of imminent death and possible hellfire that threatens the apostate every day.
*Some say that these events were fulfilled in their entirety when the Roman general Titus Flavius encircled and conquered Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The fact, however, that Titus did not commit the Abomination of Desolation (he did not offer a swine on the altar; the destruction of the Temple by fire was strictly against his orders) and the Great Tribulation and Second Coming of Christ did not immediately follow, proves that the real Abomination of Desolation is yet to come.
(Part 2 will be posted on Truthtellers.org, Rense.com, and iTunes on Monday, Sept. 16.)
Rev. Ted Pike is director of the National Prayer Network, a Christian/conservative
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