Jack Graham - Ready or Not?
Some day soon! Some day soon we will see Jesus! That's what I want to talk to you about today from Luke's Gospel, chapter 17, and we're going to begin reading there. And the title of the message is "Ready or Not". "Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them, 'The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, "Look, here it is"! or "There". For behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.'" This, of course, is a reference to the coming of Jesus the first time in His humanity. The King has come and His kingdom was right in front of them. "And He said to His disciples", verse 22, "'The days are coming when you desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. Jesus is preparing His disciples for His absence. And they will say, "Look there" or "Look here". Don't follow them. 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'".
Circle those three words: "In His Day". Mark those words in your Bible. "In His Day". There is a day coming when the King will come again!
"But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man: They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise just as it was in the days of Lot: They were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all. So will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed. On that day let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away. And likewise let the one who is in the field, not turn back. Remember Lot's wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed: one will be taken, the other left. There will be two women grinding together: one will be taken and the other left. And they said to Him, 'Where, Lord?' And He said, 'Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.'"
Like the Pharisees we are looking for a sign. But frankly, in view of the multiplicity of prophetic signs be fulfilled. I've really stopped looking for the signs and I've started listening for the shouts, because the signs of the times are indicators that Jesus is coming soon. He said in verse 28 of Luke chapter 21: "Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near". We are seeing biblical prophecy fulfilled in an unprecedented rate in real time and in rapid succession. The signs to which Jesus referred in this passage and others in the Gospels are like birth pains.
Now they tell me, I've not experienced this, you understand, ladies. I know what I'm talking about, but they say that these contractions multiply and get more intense. Is that right? And once they begin multiplying and intensifying you know the baby is on the way. Well that's the kind of illustration that Jesus gave regarding mother earth, that the birth pains are developing and as they intensify and amplify in the last days, you can expect that Christ will come. Luke 21:28 "Look up, for your redemption is drawing near". We are seeing this take place in our own generation.
Now please don't shrug this off as another gloom and doom message! The Bible tells us that as believers and followers of Jesus Christ that we should live with constant expectation of His return. One out of every twenty-five verses in the New Testament references the return of Jesus Christ. The Bible in the book of Revelation promises a special blessing to those who read the Revelation which has so much to do with the Last Days and the final hours of human history... A special blessing is promised to those who have high regard and read the Revelation and love His appearing. The Bible tells us that there is a reward for those who long for His appearing, who look for His appearing, who love His appearing!
Now the world says, 2 Peter 3:4 "Where is the promise of His coming? You've been saying this for a generation. You've been saying this for 2000 years, that Jesus is coming back". Peter tells us that in the Last Days scoffers and skeptics will come and they will say, "Where is the promise of His coming"? He goes on to explain that the reason Jesus delays His coming is because 2 Peter 3:9 "He's not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance". And the delay of God is the grace of God to give others an opportunity to come into His eternal kingdom. But the fact is we are nearing the end. I believe it. And we are to live in expectation of His kingdom now.
Now let's clarify: Jesus spoke of His first coming and His second coming in the passage that we just shared. The fact that the kingdom has come... Jesus was in their midst. He is the King and He reigns in the hearts of those who trust in Him. His kingdom is alive in us. But not only has the King come the first time in humility and in humanity, yet holiness; He came the first time to redeem us spiritually... to save us from our sins, to die on the cross, to rise again. He then said, "I will come again". He said, "I'm coming with a future kingdom. So the kingdom is now and the kingdom is next. The kingdom is now in the present; it is also coming in the future".
Hebrews 9, verse 28, the Bible says, "So also Christ died only once as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people; He will come again but not to deal with our sins again. This time He will bring salvation... (that means final redemption) ...salvation to all those who eagerly wait for Him". Count me among those who are eagerly expecting Him! Count me among those who long and look forward to seeing Jesus face to face! I believe He could come in our lifetime. I believe He will come!
You say, "Well, do you know that for sure"? No, I don't but the signs are multiplying; the signs are intensifying. We don't pick dates but we are to stay on ready, we're to stay alert, we're to stay constantly looking for and longing for the return of Christ. You know, I feel like the old country preacher who used to say, "Look, I'm not looking for the undertaker, I'm waiting for the Upper-taker"! And I feel the same way. God may choose to take me through death, and that will be just fine because I'll see Jesus. But I am expecting, totally expecting to meet Jesus in the air! He said, "When I come the second time, you won't have to wonder: it will be like lightning flashing from the sky. It will be heart-stopping, triumphant and glorious when I come again"! And look, when Jesus comes again, people aren't going to wonder, "Is it Him?", they will know for sure!
Now I think this would be a good time to give you a quick flyover, a panoramic view of what the Bible tells us about the Second Coming of Christ. Before Jesus comes, prophecy must be fulfilled. And let me give you an overview of the sequence of events that will take place in the Last Days. The next big event on the prophetic clock is the Rapture. The word Rapture means in Latin, it means to snatch away, to take away by force, taken. It's the very thing that Jesus described here as we read a moment ago, that one would be taken and the other left behind. Paul spoke of this incredible event in First Thessalonians 4. So you should turn in your Bibles to First Thessalonians 4, and we're going to begin reading at verse 13, describing the Rapture, the translation, the taking away, the catching up of people from the earth into the presence of the Lord: "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, This refers to those who have died in faith".
Some of the Christians of the first century were wondering what happened, what was the future of their loved ones who believed in Jesus, and yet died before His return. Will we ever see them again? He said: "I don't want you to be uninformed, brothers, about this... that you don't grieve as those 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. Those who have gone on; they have died, they've been laid to rest in a grave. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep".
The reason we know that is because the Bible says, 2 Corinthians 5:8 "To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord". The moment you breathe your last on earth, if you are a follower of Jesus, you will be in His presence immediately. Your body, however, will await a day of resurrection. There will be a great getting' up morning when the dead in Christ shall rise first. But then watch this, verse 16: "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so will we always be with the Lord. So there is a resurrection of the saved dead; their bodies united with their souls in the presence of Christ, and then a Rapture, when we who are alive will be taken". Snatched away!
The word literally means taken by force, and into the presence of the Lord. The Bible describes this in First Corinthians 15 as "In a moment, the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall all be changed". Instantaneously, "in the twinkling of an eye". Almost invisibly we will be raptured in the presence of the Lord. We will be reunited with loved ones and friends who have gone before us. We will be rewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ, and we will all see Jesus face to face. "Face to face with Christ my Savior. Face to face; what will it be? When in Rapture I behold Him who died for me".
Resurrection, Rapture into the presence of the Lord of all the believers who are on earth, reunited with loved ones, family and friends, rewarded! And then what happens to those who are left behind? That is retribution, what the Bible calls the Great Tribulation. This will be judgment upon the earth and the earth dwellers. It will be a time of horrific, horrible judgment upon the earth. It's described in Revelation chapter 6 all the way to chapter 19: these various judgments that are poured out upon the earth. At that time the beast... the antichrist will be revealed. But don't get the idea of the beast as being ghastly or ghoulish. Rather than some monster, the antichrist will be a smooth operator, a powerful orator! He will be so persuasive that he will have convinced the whole world to follow him and his solutions.
Now remember, the world will be in such turmoil that if a savior came along... For example, in Nazi Germany the economy was so poor in Germany after the First World War that it made it easy sailing in for a dictator to assume power in Nazi Germany. We wonder how could such a thing have happened? Easy, when people are in search and desperate for someone to bring solutions. And so with the world in such terror and turmoil, the antichrist will seemingly be the answer. He will be charismatic, and convincing. He will promise peace. Even Israel will buy in to the antichrist's plans and programs and economic system and world religion. By his side the antichrist will have a world religious leader which who will unify the religions on the world, ultimately to worship the antichrist himself. He promises peace but he can give no peace. Ultimately he will commit what the Bible calls the abomination of desolation, when he erects his image, the image of the antichrist on the Temple Mount at the Temple in Jerusalem.
You say, the Temple? What Temple? The Temple will be rebuilt. When you go to Israel today, you don't see the Temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. You see rather, the Dome of the Rock, which is considered by Muslims the third most holy place in the world. The glistening, golden dome that you see on the Temple Mount is a Muslim shrine. But between now and the Tribulation, or even during the Tribulation, the Temple and Temple sacrifices will be re-initiated, but the antichrist will set him up there, to be worshiped. This is the abomination of desolation. He will then move against the forces of Israel, God's people, and there will be a great final battle fought on the plains of Megiddo.
I brought you some footage from Israel. This was taken two weeks ago where the final world battle will be fought. There it is. That's the Valley of Jezreel. Napoleon called it the world's most perfect battleground. And it looks like a pastoral scene; it looks like a countryside, but there are runways that are driven into the plains of Jezreel in which Israeli jets are kept underneath, and in moments of time these jets can fly to anywhere in the world... anywhere in the Middle East. And this piece of land has been critical. It's been a critical battlefield in the Middle East from the beginning of time to this very day. What is the cradle of civilization will become the coffin of civilization. And the last world battle will be fought there. And in the midst of the battle, Jesus Himself will return!
This time not in humanity, but in great glory and great power and great majesty! And with the word of His mouth defeat the antichrist and the forces of evil! And that begins the millennial reign of Christ for one thousand years. Millennial means one thousand, of course. One thousand years! Peace on earth. No more war, no more nukes, no more mass shootings, no more babies aborted, no more disease, no more death! A perfect environment. The Utopia that man has always prayed for, dreamed about will be established as Christ reigns and rules from Jerusalem.
And after a brief rebellion at the end of the thousand years, the new heavens and a new earth will be established. Forever and ever we will be with Christ! There will be a Great White Throne Judgment! (Are you listening fast? Ha! I told you this was a flyover.) There will be a great and final judgment of the unsaved, and Christ will reign forever and ever and ever! Now that is the prophetic calendar! Resurrection of the saved dead, Rapture of the living saints, reunion in heaven, reward in heaven, retribution and judgment on earth, the return of Christ in majesty and glory, His reign and His rule forever and ever!
So you see, you need to make a distinction as we see in the passage here, and throughout the teaching of the New Testament of last things, a distinction between the Rapture and the Return of Christ. These are two unique and distinct events. The Rapture is when Jesus comes for His people, to take us away into His presence. The Return is when He returns at the Battle of Armageddon with His people... with His saints. Talk about the ultimate Holy Land Tour! That will be it! In the Rapture we will meet the Lord in the air! In the Return He will descend to the earth and we will be with Him! In the Rapture will take place before the Tribulation, and the Return will take place at the end of the Tribulation. Got it?
Now it is clear that Christians... the Church will not face the judgment of the Tribulation. Revelation 3:10 says: "Because you have kept My word about patient endurance I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming to the whole world to try those who dwell on the earth". God has not appointed us to judgment; therefore in Christ there is no condemnation. The Tribulation is a judgment upon the earth and upon those who have rejected Christ. And so we are out of here! You say, "Well, that's the chicken's way out". Well, by the time the devil gets through with this old world everybody's going to be looking for the exit sign, alright? And this will be the great escape when we as followers of Jesus will be translated, taken into His presence.
Now Jesus alluded to this also in the very passage that we read earlier when He talked about Noah. Remember Noah? Noah... "as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the coming of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and giving in marriage". In other words, there was indifference, there was indulgence, there was immorality. You read the times of Noah, God was sick of it. He said, "I'm going to send judgment on the whole earth. I'm going to destroy it all and start over". But before He destroyed the earth with the judgment, because of Noah... his righteousness, He said, "I'm going to take you, Noah, and your kids, your family... Team Noah, and we're going to get you out and then the judgment's going to come".
And so the boat was built, and before the rain and judgment came upon the earth, Noah and his family were taken out. They were put... they got on the boat and when they were on the boat safely inside then the judgment came. Same thing happened at Sodom and Gomorrah. Before the judgment came upon Sodom and Gomorrah He took out Lot, even though Lot was a carnal and compromised believer... He took Lot and his family out and then the judgment came. So you see this is illustrative of the way it will be before the final Tribulation upon the earth. Christians will be taken out. We will be saved out of even as of by fire... and we will be taken into the presence of the Lord. Well, there are signs that are multiplying, but the super sign, the sign of all signs, the big sign... Here's your sign! Israel! And it is the fact that Israel has returned to its homeland and has been restored as a nation, that tells us that the end is near.
Now Jesus predicted that Israel would be scattered to the ends of the earth. He said this in Luke 21:24. "They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all the nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled". Did that happen? Check! AD70 the Roman general Titus came in with His forces and burned Jerusalem to the ground, killed Israel one by one, mothers and daughters, and sons and fathers; killed them with the sword. And what was left of them was scattered to the nations, apparently to be no more!
And from AD70 until the nineteenth century, or twentieth century actually, Israel did not have a homeland. The Jew was scattered everywhere. They lived in America, they lived in Europe, they lived in Russia, very few lived in the Middle East, but they were scattered. Everyone assumed that the Jew would not survive. Even the language became a dead language, the Hebrew language. But God kept the movement alive and the sovereign hand of God arranged history so that in 1948... May 14, 1948 David Ben-Gurion, the Prime Minister of the newly elected state of Israel, declared Israel to be a state again. This is where it happened! And Israel is back in the land. And they will never leave! Now the prophetic clock is ticking. This generation will not be removed! Jesus said, "When you see this happening, look up! Your redemption is drawing near"!