What Jesus Said about the Last Days
© 2018 Terry L. Craig
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Jesus spoke to his disciples at length about the last days. To dismiss what he said (as irrelevant, nonessential, too scary, or too divisive) is to ignore the importance that Jesus gave to understanding what will take place in the last days. Although your opinion on the timing of the return of Christ ISN'T a salvation issue, it may play a role in whether or not you have faith in those times.
If you have a good translation of the Bible, there is much you can learn about the Last Days. If you are willing to let Scripture interpret Scripture, you can learn a LOT.
This article is a compilation of Jesus' open answers in response to questions his disciples asked regarding the timing of the last days and his return. Definitions of terms he used and and many of the passages of Scripture that are cross references to his words are also provided.
I am providing the text of what Jesus was asked and what he said —and then encouraging you to read them, look at the order, and the context Jesus gave them, then ask relevant questions (which are answered right there within the text or in other passages of the Bible).
When it comes to reading all of the Scriptures about the "last days," yes, there is symbolism, there are allegories, and there are parables. People can be tempted to throw their hands up and say, "Who can understand any of this?" What I would say to you is this: Before you plunge into a study of Revelation, FIRST read and study what is plainly said about the last days by Jesus in the gospels and by Paul in his letters. Once you do, the symbolism of Revelation, in the Gospel parables, and in prophecies of Daniel will make a lot more sense. When you go to a wider study of the end times, keep in mind that, in the Gospels, even when Jesus used symbols and parables—he then told the disciples what they meant (and we get to read what he told them). When you read the Bible, you'll see that Jesus never said one thing in a teaching then privately said he meant something totally different. The "deeper" meaning of any parable or symbol won't contradict or deny what is plainly said. The meaning will be in harmony with Scripture and with God's character.
What people reading the accounts of the last days must try to AVOID is reading ideas into Bible verses (making a passage say something that isn't said, that must be supplied by an outside source). This is where errors abound.
Bible Gateway. I have linked many of the passages listed here to Bible Gateway so if you are doing this online, you can get right to reading what the Bible says and check the cross references. Most of the links go to the NIV version, but you can simply go to one of the two places at the top of each Bible Gateway page and select your favorite version from a drop down menu. You can even select "parallel" to compare different versions side by side. Bible Gateway's only limitation, in my opinion, is that it doesn't have a built-in concordance (where you can look at the meanings of each word in the original Hebrew and Greek).
If you want to go even deeper and look up the words in the Greek and Hebrew, the Blue Letter Bible has the concordance linked right there in the text.
ARTICLE BEGINS HERE
This article will only deal with the direct response Jesus gave to the disciples when asked about the end times and his return because it's essential that Christians grasp what Jesus plainly said before moving on to parables, allegories, symbolism, etc. (Underlined words have links to footnotes with biblical definitions and/or cross references for the topic or term referenced.)
In three of the Gospels, Jesus talked specifically (and at length) about the time leading up to His return to gather those who belong to him. The Gospels of Matthew and Mark read pretty much the same and we will look at them first. Luke's Gospel differs slightly and we will discuss this later in the article. We won't discuss the parables that Jesus told about the last days in this article, but may do so at another time.
In Matthew 24, Jesus describes the last days. Please note that the words "let the reader understand" in parenthesis in this passage are in the Bible, I didn't add them.
Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. 2 And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.”
3 As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”
4 And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. 5 For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many. 6 You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. 8 But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.
9 “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. 10 At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. 11 Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. 12 Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. 14 This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.
15 “Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. 17 Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things out that are in his house. 18 Whoever is in the field must not turn back to get his cloak. 19 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 20 But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath. 21 For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. 22 Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. 23 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. 25 Behold, I have told you in advance. 26 So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them. 27 For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. 28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.
29 “But 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 the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and 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. 31 And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.
32 “Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; 33 so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. 34 Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.
36 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. 37 For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39 and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. 40 Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left.
42 “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. 43 But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. 44 For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.
45 “Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. 47 Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 But if that evil slave says in his heart, ‘My master is not coming for a long time,’ 49 and begins to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards; 50 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know, 51 and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.—NASB (Bold added by me, underline indicates link)
SUMMARY of what Jesus said in Matthew's Gospel:
His disciples are called to watch out for deception.
False Messiahs appearing (the spirit of the Antichrist would be at work in the world).
Wars, rumors of wars, kingdom rising up against kingdom, nation against nation, famines, earthquakes—just the beginning of birth pains.
Persecution/martyrdom of those who follow Jesus.
Many false prophets will arise who will work amazing signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, the elect.
Because sin will abound the love of most will grow cold (with a promise that those who stand firm to the end will be saved).
The gospel of the kingdom preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations.
"The abomination that causes desolation" takes place. This will be in the time of the "great tribulation"-- the worst time of distress in the entire history of earth. (According to Jesus, nothing will ever surpass the distress of those days.) If those days were not shortened no one would survive, but for the sake of "the elect," the days are shortened.
"Immediately" after that, sun darkened, moon turned to blood, the heavens are shaken, (Isa 13:10; 34:4; Eze 32:7; Joel 2:10, 31; Zep 1:15; Rev 6:12, 13; 8:12).
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 forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. (1Cor. 15:51-58, Hebrews 9:28)
Just as you can observe that summer is near when the trees put forth new branches and leaves—Even so, when you see (all) these things coming to pass, you know that it is near, right at the door. This generation (the one that sees all this coming to pass) shall not pass until all is fulfilled.
Jesus tells us that no one knows the day or the hour, but He says that those who walk with Him will be able to discern the season of His return. [Note: there are no loopholes listed for those who want to claim they know the exact day Jesus will return. If someone says they do know . . . stop listening to them.] But Jesus DID want us to discern and know the season and remain ready. We are to have faith IN JESUS, not in a "day" of deliverance.
In Mark 13, Jesus describes the last days: (Please note that the words "let the reader understand" are in parenthesis in this passage in the Bible, I didn't add them.)
As He was going out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.”
3 As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew were questioning Him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?” 5 And Jesus began to say to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. 6 Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He!’ and will mislead many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be frightened; those things must take place; but that is not yet the end. 8 For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will also be famines. These things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.
9 “But be on your guard; for they will deliver you to the courts, and you will be flogged in the synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them. 10 The gospel must first be preached to all the nations. 11 When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit. 12 Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. 13 You will be hated by all because of My name, but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.
14 “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where it should not be (let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. 15 The one who is on the housetop must not go down, or go in to get anything out of his house; 16 and the one who is in the field must not turn back to get his coat. 17 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 18 But pray that it may not happen in the winter. 19 For those days will be a time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will. 20 Unless the Lord had shortened those days, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom He chose, He shortened the days. 21 And then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ’; or, ‘Behold, He is there’; do not believe him; 22 for false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders, in order to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But take heed; behold, I have told you everything in advance.
24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken. 26 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then He will send forth the angels, and will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of heaven.
28 “Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, you too, when you see these things happening, recognize that He is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. 32 But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.
33 “Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come. 34 It is like a man away on a journey, who upon leaving his house and putting his slaves in charge, assigning to each one his task, also commanded the doorkeeper to stay on the alert. 35 Therefore, be on the alert—for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36 in case he should come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 What I say to you I say to all, ‘Be on the alert!’” --NASB [Bold added by me]
SUMMARY of what Jesus said in Mark's Gospel:
His disciples are called to watch out for deception.
False messiahs appearing (the spirit of the Antichrist will be at work in the world).
Wars, rumors of wars, kingdom rising up against kingdom, nation against nation, famines, earthquakes—just the beginning of birth pains
Persecution/martyrdom of those who follow Jesus.
Gospel must first preached in the whole world.
Believers betrayed and hated, but those who stand firm to the end will be saved.
Abomination described in Daniel takes place (Antichrist declares himself).
Tribulation. Worst time in the entire history of earth. Days shortened for the sake of those who belong to Christ or no one would survive.
"In the days following (the things above),"the sun darkened, moon not giving its light, stars fall from the sky, the powers of the heavens are shaken, (Isa 13:10; 34:4; Eze 32:7; Joel 2:10, 31; Zep 1:15; Rev 6:12, 13; 8:12).
Just as you can observe that summer is near when the trees put forth new branches and leaves—Even so, when you see (all) these things coming to pass, you know that it is near, right at the door. This generation (the one that sees this coming to pass) shall not pass until all is fulfilled.
In Luke 21:7-36, Jesus describes the last days:
“Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”
8 He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”
10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.
12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.
20 “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. 22 For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. 23 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
32 “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”--NIV
SUMMARY of what Jesus said in Luke's Gospel:
Disciples are called to watch out for deception.
Many claiming "I am he" (Jesus/the Messiah) do not follow them. (The spirit of the Antichrist will be at work in the world).
Nation rising up against nation, kingdom rising up against kingdom, famines, plagues, earthquakes.
Fearful events and great signs in the heavens
But before all this,
Persecution/martyrdom of those who follow Jesus.
Jerusalem will be surrounded by armies who will decimate its inhabitants
These will be times of distress (not the same word used for "tribulation")
Jerusalem will be trodden under by the Gentiles until their times are fulfilled.
(See the information on the differences between Luke and other Gospels below.)
Signs in the sun, moon, and stars
The heavenly bodies will be shaken.
People's hearts will fail them for fear of what is happening.
Then the appearance of the Son of Man, in great power and glory.
In three of the gospels, Jesus warns us that before he gathers his people . . .
Disciples (those who follow Jesus) need to watch out for deception.
False messiahs will appear.
Wars, famines, plagues, and other disasters will occur—but these are just the beginning birth pangs.
There will be persecution of those who follow Christ.
Signs in the sun, moon, and stars (the gospels of Matthew and Mark are more specific saying "the sun will be darkened and the moon turned to blood").
In Matthew and Mark, Jesus also warns that the "abomination that makes desolate" in the prophecy of Daniel will take place before he returns.
The Important Differences in Luke (and Why They Matter)
I want to take a moment here to address the belief that MANY people have been given regarding "The Rapture" (the return of Jesus to gather his people). Whether it be from the pulpit or through the popular "Left Behind" fiction series, a lot of people have been given the idea that Jesus will come and take Christians away (in "the rapture") before the "Great Tribulation" of the last days starts. The promotion of this idea has created two large problems.
First, to come to this conclusion, teachers have redefined terms (such as "elect") or skipped over verses so that the obvious meaning of last days texts is denied. The convoluted explanations given to defend these teachings gives listeners the impression that only "the experts" can ever know what the Bible means. Surely scholars throughout the centuries have been a great blessing to the Body -- but we must all remember that Jesus originally delivered the Gospel message to ordinary men, not scholars, and trusted them to deliver it to the world. In the early years of the Church, Paul (a Pharisee--a religious scholar of his day) became a believer, but the closer he drew to God the more he realized that he needed to set aside his elaborate religious teachings in exchange for the simple message of Christ. We must be thankful for faithful teachers but also remember that the Spirit of the Living God DWELLS IN every believer (Rom.8:9-10, 1Cor.6:19; Col. 1:27, 2Tim.1:14). To think you cannot read the Bible without expert human guidance is to deny this fact.
The second problem we have when people believe that Christians will leave prior to the Great Tribulation (putting their hope in escape, not in Christ) is that if this idea falls flat, MANY will be tempted to think that Jesus has abandoned them.
One of the ideas used to promote the thought that "Jesus may return at any minute" is that the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple that Jesus foretold in Luke has already happened. They say that it took place in 70 AD when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. Yes, Jesus foretold this destruction in the context of his "last days" discourse in Luke . . . but the destruction in 70 AD is NOT what Jesus describes in the gospels of Matthew and Mark.
In both Matthew and Mark--Jesus doesn't just talk about the destruction of Jerusalem, he specifically says that in the "last days" the "abomination that makes desolate" that is described by the prophet Daniel will happen. He is citing a prophecy about a particular individual (whom we call the Antichrist) who "confirms" a covenant regarding Jerusalem, then eventually the desecrates of the the altar in the Jerusalem temple (the abomination), and declares that he is above all that is worshiped. He will put an end to the offering in the temple.
Does that mean Luke was wrong? No! Luke's Gospel includes some additional information for the believers who would be living in the days just beyond Jesus' crucifixion. Jesus tells the disciples what would happen in their time, PRIOR to the last days. Let's look at it:
In Luke, Jesus gives a brief summary of the end times (which correlates with Matthew and Mark), then he digresses from that topic for a few sentences by saying: "But before all this . . ." and he talks about the persecution that some of them (and the early church) will personally suffer.
In talking about the disciples' (soon coming) persecution, Jesus says, “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled."
The paragraph above describes the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD very well—but it isn't a fulfillment of Daniel's prophecy regarding the temple that Jesus references in Matthew and Mark. ALSO NOTE that the Greek word translated "distress" here isn't the same word as the word translated "tribulation" in Matthew and Mark.
Jesus also predicts something in Luke that isn't in the other Gospels: "Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled."
In Matthew and Mark, Jesus says the "abomination that causes desolation" -- a specific event -- would happen in a time of tribulation which would remain unequaled in all the history of the world. (This event is also referenced by Paul the apostle in 2 Thessalonians 2 [see article on 2 Thessalonians 2].)
I invite you to study the events surrounding the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in 70 AD. And ask yourself if the specifics line up with Daniel's prophecies regarding the Antichrist or the temple. And, while 70 AD was certainly a time of great horror -- could it be said that those days constituted, the worst time of distress in all of the world's history, that if God hadn't intervened no one would have survived it? If we consider World War 2 and the Holocaust (and other dire events), we can see the events of 70 AD don't fulfill the criteria of "a time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will." that Jesus describes in Mark 13:19-20 and Matt 24:21-22.
Luke's gospel isn't inaccurate, Luke is giving information that the Gospels of Matthew and Mark don't include. In Luke, Jesus describes the disciples being betrayed and put on trial, Jerusalem surrounded by armies, the desolation of Jerusalem. Jesus said this would take place before the last days [and it did]. What took place in 70 AD foreshadows the destruction of the last days, but isn't "the abomination that makes desolate" foretold in Matthew and Mark.
For two thousand years Jerusalem was out of the control of the Jews. For many centuries, Christians tried to "spiritualize" the prophecies about Jerusalem and the temple and make them "symbolic" (because they could see no way these words could be fulfilled literally). Until this past century, we cannot blame believers for thinking these things. But, in 1948, Israel became a country again! And, in 1967, they were able to move into eastern Jerusalem again. (And, in truth, the city of Jerusalem is still not completely under the control of the Jews, so it is still being "trampled on by the Gentiles.") Yet here we are in a new era . . . Israel is a state, Jerusalem may soon become its capital, and there are real possibilities that the temple may be rebuilt in the not-too-distant future. An actual fulfillment of what Jesus said (and the prophet Daniel said) is now possible.
I believe that Jesus meant what he said about the last days. Do you?
POINTS TO PONDER
Jesus gave specific instructions/warnings to believers regarding the unfolding of the last days and also said, "the gospel must first be preached to all the nations." He spoke of persecution and martyrdom, saying, "And you will be hated by everyone because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved." He said that, prior to his return, "the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place" (a particular, identifiable event inside the temple in Jerusalem would occur during a time when a seven-year covenant was in place) would happen, then signs in the sky (sky darkened, moon turned to blood, stars falling) would be seen. So consider the facts.
The Gospel has NOT yet been preached to the whole world.
And, in Jerusalem there is currently:
NO ongoing sacrifice or offering in the temple
NO covenant concerning Jerusalem/the temple
NO man recognized as a world ruler to "confirm" the covenant (and then break it after 3½ years by desecrating the temple, and abolishing the sacrifices and offerings).
While the desecration and destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in 167 BC and again in 70 AD each may foreshadow end-time events, Daniel's specific prophecies (referenced by Jesus) still haven't been fulfilled.
In the Gospels, does Jesus promise to "rapture" believers prior to the Great Tribulation?
Some interpret the final verses of Matthew, Mark, and Luke (along with several other passages of Scripture) to say Jesus could return any minute. Let's look at some of verses from Jesus' "end time" passages that are used to support that idea.
"Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”—Luke 21:36, NIV [Bold added]
This is a key verse for those who teach that Jesus will come back prior to the Great Tribulation—but let's look at the context of the whole chapter [Luke 21]. To whom is Jesus speaking? Remember, in Luke's gospel Jesus spoke NOT ONLY of the "last days," but of a terrible persecution that the disciples in the early church would face—before the last days. He was warning them that when it happened they should flee. Note that he says "about to happen."
Also: The word "able" in "able to escape" in this verse comes from the Greek word meaning "have the strength" but it is translated "worthy" in the King James Version. Some will cling to the KJV word "worthy" (thinking the "worthy" Christians will leave before it all happens). But let's look at the whole sentence again. Jesus says that they should pray that they will be able (have the strength, or be worthy) to "ESCAPE" what is "about to happen." The word translated "escape" here means "to flee out of, flee away to seek safety in flight."
QUESTIONS: If someone told you of a terrible time you would face in the future and then said, "pray you are able [have the strength] to escape [to flee, to seek safety] from it,"--does that sound like the promise of a rescue before disaster happens? Was Jesus' statement a reference to the rapture or to the not-too-distant need for the believers to flee from Jerusalem?
Let's read the verses just prior to the one above:
“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth.”—Luke 21:34-35, NIV
QUESTIONS: Who are the ones who will find "that day will close on you suddenly like a trap"? Believers or those who are caught up in the things of this world? Is the point of the passage that believers should be looking to leave the planet at any moment . . . or that they should stay faithful so the day won't catch them by surprise?
JESUS [and the apostles] wanted the church to be prepared for what was to come—so they wouldn't surrender their faith in difficult times. Giving people the idea that Jesus will return to take them away before distress comes is contrary to what Jesus himself said and it's an idea that may result in people falling away from faith in the last days.
“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other . . ." [Jesus speaking specifically about the last days] —Matthew 24:9-10a, bold added by me
Most importantly, I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. They will say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.”—2 Peter 3:3-4 NLT
Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy* comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.—2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 NASB, bold added by me
*falling away from faith
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith . . . —1 Timothy 4:1a NASB, bold added by me
In his descriptions of the end times, can you find a verse where Jesus makes the specific promise to remove (deliver, rapture) his people before the times of distress in the last days begin?
Why did Jesus spend so much time talking to believers about the last days? Was it so we could offer escape of hard times if people accepted Christ . . . or was it to encourage believers everywhere to keep the faith?
Given the order of events Jesus gave in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, do you think he was saying that he might return at any moment?
Does Jesus have a purpose in teaching BELIEVERS about the last days?
Do I want to be a person with enduring faith?
I hope you will give it some thought and prayer!
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© 2018 Terry L. Craig, last updated 3/3/21
Two more articles in this series are:
The Last Days, According to the Apostle Paul and,
More end times articles can also be found on our Articles page.
Read about Terry's End Time novel trilogy: the Fellowship of the Mystery
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 A translation of the Bible differs from a "paraphrase" version. A translation is rendered when scholars evaluate the original Hebrew or Greek text and—as faithfully as possible—render it into the English language as closely as they can, word for word, so it is a more "literal" rendering of Scripture. A paraphrase version is a "dynamic translation" where concepts are translated into modern terminology—tending to be less "literal" but meant to capture the meaning of the original language. According to Tyndale: [https://www.tyndale.com/stories/literal-translation-vs-paraphrase-of-the-bible]
Even the most “literal” translations necessarily provide aids to the reader in the translation because certain concepts in the original languages would be nonsensical to most English readers. Likewise, even those Bibles that tend more toward the “paraphrase” side of things are often quite literal for passages where the literal rendering gives a clear meaning in English. [Back to top of page]
 "The abomination that makes desolate" found in Daniel 9:26-27, Daniel 11:31, and Daniel 12:5-11
Daniel speaks of an "abomination which makes desolate" (that Jesus specifically references in both Matthew and Mark). This will be a time when the Antichrist goes into the temple in Jerusalem and desecrates it just prior to a time of unequaled, worldwide tribulation. Daniel 9:27 describes this as a time when a ruler "will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven’. In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him." (According to Hebrew scholars, the Hebrew word "seven" here can mean a "week" or "seven years"). So how does one know it's years and not a week? In Daniel 12:11, it says "1290 days" (3 1/2 years) in reference to half of this time.
Jesus makes specific reference to Daniel's prophecies in both Matthew and Mark during his warnings about the last days. (In Matthew, Jesus says, "So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel..." In Mark, He says, "so when you see the 'abomination that causes desolation'. . ."--both of which refer specifically to prophecies by Daniel.) This event is also referenced by Paul the apostle in 2 Thessalonians 2 [see article on 2 Thessalonians 2]. Back to Matthew 24
 The Great Tribulation--a time of distress and suffering unequaled in all the history of the world. A specific period of time in the Last Days correlating with the prophecies of Daniel. [ See Daniel 12:1, Joel 2:2, Matthew 24:21 & 29, Revelation 7:14 ] Back to Matthew 24
 The or His elect. In the New Testament, when the term "the elect" is used regarding people, it means Christians (disciples of Jesus Christ). [See the definition of the Greek word translated "elect" in Blue Letter Bible.] Back to Matthew 24
 The Rapture -- The event some Christians call "the rapture" is the resurrection of those who belong to Jesus Christ. This term isn't in the original Greek NT— but is a homophone (sound-alike) for the Latin word for "caught up" (the root for the term used in the Latin Vulgate Bible 1Thess. 4:17). The English sound alike is "rapture" which not only sounds like the Latin root word, "raptus," it aptly describes the event (since rapture means ecstasy, delight, bliss, joy, etc.) and for those "caught up" in the first resurrection, it will be a time of rapture.
Please note that the resurrection is not "reincarnation" (being physically born over and over again). Resurrection is a single event in which those who belong to Jesus Christ (whether living or dead) are suddenly changed, they see Jesus face to face, and are "like Him" (with glorified bodies). Many Scriptures speak of the resurrection (among them is a verse from Job--thought to be the oldest book of the Bible). Here are some of the verses: If you click on the link HERE, all of the text for each verse listed below will display in another window at BibleGateway.com.
Job 19:26, Isaiah 26:19, Daniel 12:1-3, Matthew 27:53, Mark 16 (whole chapter), Luke 20:35-36, John 5:25-29, John 11:23-25, Acts 1:22, Acts 2:26, Acts 2:31, Acts 4:2, Acts 4:33, Acts 13:33, Acts 17:18, Acts 17:32, Acts 23:6, Acts 24:15, Acts 24:21,Romans 1:4, Romans 5:10, Romans 6:5, 1 Corinthians 15 (whole chapter), Philippians 3:10-11, Colossians 3:1, 1 Thessalonians 4:13, 2 Timothy 1:10, 2 Timothy 2:18, Hebrews 6:2, 11:35, 1 Peter 1:3, 3:21, Revelation 20:5-6
There are only two resurrections mentioned by Jesus in the gospel of John (John 5:28-29) which correlate with the two resurrections mentioned in the book of Revelation. The "first resurrection" (Rev. 20:4-6) is for those who belong to Jesus and they will enter into eternity. The second is for those who will stand before him to be judged for what they have done. [Go back to article]
Scriptures marked NIV are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked NASB taken from the New American Standard Bible®,
Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973,
1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation
Used by permission." (www.Lockman.org)
Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.