Jesus is coming soon - a brief overview of Bible prophecy

The book of Revelation has special interest due to its prophetic nature dealing with the end of the age, the return of Jesus Christ, judgement to come and heaven and hell. Unfortunately it is part of God's word which is evidently not well understood since there are considerable differences in interpretation between different Christian writers and teachers. It is certainly true that the language in Revelation sometimes uses symbols and analogies to refer to entities or subjects but these pictures can be understood, at least partially, with some thought and reference to other Scriptures. The teaching of Jesus especially in Matthew 24 and the parallel passages in Mark 13 and Luke 21 (known as the "Olivet Discourse"), must also be harmonised with any comments on Revelation. Similarly also with the prophecies in Daniel 9-12.

The universal Christian view is that Jesus is coming back in power and glory as King, he will be the judge, and the redeemed will enter a new earth and new heaven whilst there will be eternal punishment in hell for God's enemies. The differences in interpretation seem to largely arise due to different opinions as to whether God intends to have a period of time with Jesus reigning physically as Man and God on this earth before the eternal new creation. The view taken on this fundamental factor tends to determine the view taken on the rapture; the various judgements and tribulations described in Revelation; the extent and timing of these judgements; whether God still has purposes for Israel; and of course the 1000 years golden age of Revelation chapter 20. Or in other words, exactly how will the Lord's prayer, "Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven", be answered? How can any Christian not truly yearn in their heart for Jesus to reign as King on earth in righteousness over all the peoples on earth?

There are many more knowledgeable, trained and wise expositors than us, so what can we do? Just read Revelation. It was written for ordinary people, and can be understood especially in overview level if not in all the details, resulting in great benefit to one's faith. The approach we take here is to take it as literally and chronologically as possible, bearing in mind the use of symbolic language where it is clearly not God's intention to specifically reveal the identity of the subject to which reference is made. Perhaps this approach has flaws and if so we pray that God will overrule, correcting us, and ensuring no-one is in any way harmed by the comments made.

Many Christians don't believe in a future specific time of tribulation. To do so, implies that God will bring to an end all evil, his enemies and unbelievers in a moment at his return. Perhaps this will not be so sudden and God will give a last opportunity for repentance? Perhaps He will take 7 years to before final judgement and wrath, in a way very reminiscent of the plagues of Egypt. This will give people a last chance to choose either to repent or to react in anger against God. Many will repent but it will not be easy because there will be great persecution and much political and social pressure to rebel against God's judgments. For those who do repent and are not killed, God will receive them into a time of rest and peace on earth before they are resurrected. This would be the millennium. It is the golden age that all the Old Testament prophets foresaw.

Matthew 23:37-39

"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets, and stones those who are sent to her! How often I would have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house (i.e. The Temple) is left to you desolate. For I tell you, (i.e. Leaders of Israel) you will not see me from now on, until you (i.e. Future Leaders of Israel) say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!' "

Philippians 3:20-21

For our citizenship is in heaven, from where we also wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change the body of our humiliation to be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working by which he is able even to subject all things to himself.

2 Peter 3:13-14

But, according to his promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, seeing that you look for these things, be diligent to be found in peace, without defect and blameless in his sight.

Revelation 22:12-13

Behold, I come quickly. My reward is with me, to repay to each man according to his work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

Summary of Bible Prophecy from Revelation and the teaching of Jesus:

1. Revelation Overall Framework

    John is commissioned to write down the revelation of Christ and sees a vision of Christ.

    The Church is in view and Jesus writes letters to seven churches.

    Jesus, the Lamb and the Lion, is in charge and worshipped by the saints.

    A time of many terrible judgements and great evil.

    The second coming of Jesus brings to an end the period of Tribulation.

    Jesus reigns on earth and this is known as the Millennium, or Golden Age.

    Jesus judges all unbelievers before the Great White Throne and they are sent to eternal punishment.

    The present heaven and earth are destroyed and a new heaven and earth created.

2. Revelation in Some More Detail

The following list is an attempt to go through Revelation Chapters 4-22 summarizing the key points:

3. The Teaching of Jesus regarding the Future - "The Olivet Discourse"

The teaching of Jesus regarding the future is mostly found in Matthew 24 and the parallel accounts of Mark 13 and Luke 21. All three passages need to be considered together to understand the complete answer of Jesus.

The disciples ask Jesus a question (Matthew 24:3; Mark 13:4 and Luke 21:7). It is in Matthew's account that the question is recorded more specifically as: "Tell us, when will these things be? What is the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?"

There are three parts to the question which, though the disciples may not have fully realised what they were asking, Jesus answers separately, however to distinguish the separate parts requires some care.

  1. When will these things be? - Jesus had just been speaking of the destruction of the Temple.
  2. What is the sign of your coming? - this is the second coming of Jesus to the earth in His Power and Glory.
  3. What is the sign of the end of the age? - this is really the consummation of the current age; the end of conditions as they are now; it is the start of the Tribulation.

From what we already know we can attempt to answer these questions ourselves and then see how Jesus describes things.

  1. When will these things be? - we know that the Temple was destroyed in AD70.
  2. What is the sign of your coming? - we know that Jesus returns at the end of the Tribulation so the signs will be very clear.
  3. What is the sign of the end of the age? - this is when Jesus returns for the Church and it marks the start of the Tribulation but we do not know exactly when this will be: there are no particular signs.

Now let's see what Jesus says:

1. The first question concerning the destruction of the Temple is answered only in Luke 21:20-24

Luke 21:20-24

"But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is at hand. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let those who are in the middle of her depart. Let those who are in the country not enter therein. For these are days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who nurse infants in those days! For there will be great distress in the land, and wrath to this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled down by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

Note: The destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple occurred in 70AD by the Romans:

2. The second question concerning the sign of the second coming is answered in Matthew 24:7-31.

Matthew 24:7-31

For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there will be famines, plagues, and earthquakes in various places. But all these things are the beginning of birth pains. Then they will deliver you up to oppression, and will kill you. You will be hated by all of the nations for my name's sake. Then many will stumble, and will deliver up one another, and will hate one another. Many false prophets will arise, and will lead many astray. Because iniquity will be multiplied, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end will be saved. This Good News of the Kingdom will be preached in the whole world for a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come. "When, therefore, you see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take out the things that are in his house. Let him who is in the field not return back to get his clothes. But woe to those who are with child and to nursing mothers in those days! Pray that your flight will not be in the winter, nor on a Sabbath, for then there will be great suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, nor ever will be. Unless those days had been shortened, no flesh would have been saved. But for the sake of the chosen ones, those days will be shortened. "Then if any man tells you, 'Behold, here is the Christ,' or, 'There,' don't believe it. For there will arise false christs, and false prophets, and they will show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the chosen ones. "Behold, I have told you beforehand. If therefore they tell you, 'Behold, he is in the wilderness,' don't go out; or 'Behold, he is in the inner rooms,' don't believe it. For as the lightning flashes from the east, and is seen even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. For wherever the carcass is, that is where the vultures gather together. But immediately after the suffering of those days, the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken; and then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky. Then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. He will send out his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together his chosen ones from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.

Note: The similarities between the description of Jesus and the Tribulation described in Revelation and Daniel:

3. The third question concerning the sign of the end of the age is answered in Matthew 24:32-44.

Matthew 24:32-44

"Now from the fig tree learn this parable. When its branch has now become tender, and produces its leaves, you know that the summer is near. Even so you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Most certainly I tell you, this generation will not pass away, until all these things are accomplished. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But no one knows of that day and hour, not even the angels of heaven, but my Father only. "As the days of Noah were, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ship, and they didn't know until the flood came, and took them all away, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and one will be left. Watch therefore, for you don't know in what hour your Lord comes. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what watch of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched, and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore also be ready, for in an hour that you don't expect, the Son of Man will come.

Notes: The Rapture and start of the Tribulation will be sudden and unannounced - therefore be ready.

In other words there ARE signs for the second coming and they are the events of the Tribulation which will be unmistakable and the duration of the Tribulation is foretold as 7 years. But for the start of the Tribulation which begins with Jesus taking his believers out of the world: there are no specific signs: this will come like a "thief in the night" and could be at any time. Therefore Christians in all ages are to live in a way such that they are ready for Jesus return.

4. Bible and Prophecy Timeline

The following slides are an attempt to summarize some key stages in Bible history and prophecy:

To download these slides as a Powerpoint Presentation:

Bible Timeline: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses
Bible Timeline: Promised Land, David, Israel in Captivity, Jesus
Bible Timeline: Church Formed, Temple Destroyed, State of Israel, Church Age
Bible Timeline: Rapture, Tribulation
Bible Timeline: Armageddon, Second Coming of Jesus
Bible Timeline: Satan's Release, Judgment. New Heaven and Earth