Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. (1 John 2:18, NIV)
Many of us who identify with the Christian faith are familiar with its central claims. Even those who would not regard themselves as regular church goers but who have grown up in a Christian home, or have a nominal affiliation with Christianity are familiar with the story of Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection. Two of our major holidays are based on these events. Yet there is an aspect of the Christian faith that is often neglected or misunderstood: the promise of Jesus’ return! Associated with this event is the Bible’s warning of a coming time of trial, an “hour of testing” that is “about to come upon the whole world” (Revelation 3:10, NASB).
In the verse at the top, the Apostle John speaks of the “last hour” and the coming of “the antichrist”, and the fact that we are already in the last hour. According to Dr. Charles Ryrie, “the last hour” is the full period of time between the first coming of Christ and the Second coming of Christ (Charles Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible, Commentary on 1 John 2:18). As the first coming of Jesus Christ is a matter of history, the Second Coming of Jesus is a matter of prophecy. It lies ahead. Yet it is as certain to happen, even as the first coming has happened!
The Second Coming of Jesus Christ – a glorious event that will usher in a period of peace and righteousness in the earth – occurs at the conclusion of this “hour of trial” that is coming. The “hour of trial” that Jesus refers to in Revelation 3:10 is believed to be one and the same with the period of end-time tribulation that Scripture reveals is coming upon the earth, a period that will feature divine wrath and tremendous judgements poured out on a Christ-rejecting world – a sinful world! The Book of Revelation documents this time of testing in significant detail.
The warning from Scripture is that judgement is coming. God is incredibly merciful and loving! Yet as a just God, He must punish sin! In His love, God has provided a way by which sinful human beings can find forgiveness, mercy, and eternal life. The Bible is clear that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NIV). It is equally clear in Scripture that “the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23, NIV). That means that death – both physical death (separation of body and soul) and spiritual death (separation of a person from God) – is the price we pay for sin, of which we are all guilty. If one should die physically in a state of separation from God, then judgement is their portion eternally, for the wrath of an infinite God towards human sin has no end.
Yet this is where the love of God comes in. In His mercy, God became a man in the Person of Jesus Christ and suffered death on behalf of all men and women – death on a cross! Hebrews 2:9 indicates that Jesus has “tasted death for everyone” (NLT). What this means is that Jesus has died a death as a substitute for sinners. Jesus Himself had no sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). Yet He died – the very price of sin! Why? The death He died was for you and me. The sins we all have committed, these Jesus died for as if they were His own (though they were not His own)! Isaiah 53:6 states that “…the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (NIV), – “him” being a reference to Jesus Christ. His death was an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world so that you and I could be forgiven of all our sin, and be given eternal life since Jesus took the punishment for our sins! 1 Peter 3:18 states: “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God…” Jesus’ death was of infinite value, since He Himself was God in human form! Thus, His death fully satisfies God’s anger at human sin. You and I are now invited to place our trust in Jesus and what He has done for us on the cross. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead testifies that what He has done on the cross is sufficient to pay for the sins of all humanity. God is satisfied! Thus, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1, NASB) – “those” being a reference to the ones who have believed in Jesus Christ, since Christ took the condemnation that they deserved. This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ – “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…” (1 Corinthians 15:3 – 4, NASB).
16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:16, NASB).
And so this is the command that has gone out to the world – to believe in Jesus Christ for salvation and forgiveness of sin. This involves trusting in what the Bible says concerning who Jesus is, and what He has done on our behalf in dying for our sins to save us. It also involves us believing and trusting that Jesus actually was raised from the dead. We believe all the claims of the Bible concerning Jesus, and trust in an actual Person who is alive and has ascended back to heaven – Jesus Christ. We don’t trust in a religion, or set of rules, or our own “goodness,” but rather another Person who is qualified, able, and willing to save us.
For approximately 2,000 years, the church of Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, has taken this message of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ to the four corners of the globe. Many have believed, yet many have rejected this message, and in so doing stand condemned in their own sins. God will punish sin! He has punished all sin in Jesus Christ, but if Christ is rejected, that judgement must fall on the sinner! Concerning Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God, John 3:36 states: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them” (NIV). God’s wrath remains on the one who does not believe in Jesus Christ because Jesus Christ is the one who endured God’s wrath at all human sin and satisfied that wrath! To reject Christ is to reject the only means of forgiveness. Outside of Christ there is no forgiveness. Jesus Christ shed His blood to pay for human sin, and Hebrews 9:22 states that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” So to reject Christ is to reject the forgiveness of sin that God offers!
And so this is the message that humanity is confronted with: will we believe in Jesus Christ, or will we reject Him? The Tribulation period that is coming, the “hour of trial,” will be a period of divine judgement on a world that has rejected Jesus Christ and stands condemned. God is full of mercy and grace! He has called, and continues to call us back to Himself through the Gospel. But eventually judgement must come upon an unrepentant people.
The warning from Scripture is that judgement is coming! But the promise of Scripture is that there is a way of escape! At some point in the future – perhaps the very near future – the Tribulation period will begin. Many Christians share the belief that the stage appears to be being set in the world today for the events of the Tribulation hour. While it is beyond the scope of this blog to go into detail with respect to the prophetic “signs of the times,” a few things should be noted:
- The establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 suggests that the Tribulation hour may be relatively near, since certain prophecies of the Bible depict the Jewish people in their ancient homeland in the Tribulation period.
- The recapture of East Jerusalem by the Jews in 1967 suggests that the Tribulation hour may be relatively near, since one of the features of the Tribulation is a rebuilt Jerusalem Temple. East Jerusalem includes the site where it is believed that Jerusalem’s ancient Temple stood, so the fact that this part of Jerusalem has come under Israeli sovereignty may suggest that the stage is being set for the Tribulation hour.
- The reunification of parts of Europe in the form of the European Union suggests that the Tribulation hour may be relatively near, since – as the Bible reveals – it is the Roman Empire that governs the earth in the days leading up to the Second Coming. The Roman Empire, of course, included significant parts of Europe.
- The current geopolitical relationship between Russia and Iran may suggest that the Tribulation hour is relatively near. Ezekiel 38 describes a coalition of nations who come against Israel “in the latter years” (Ezekiel 38:8). In light of the geographical areas Ezekiel mentions in this prophecy, it is believed by many that Russia is involved in this coalition. Allied with what is believed to be or include Russia is Persia. The modern Iranians, of course, are Persians! Many believe this invasion of Israel takes place in the Tribulation period. If that is indeed the case, and if certain modern alliances are setting the stage for this invasion, then we have good reason to suspect that the Tribulation hour may be very close!
- The world trend towards a more globalized and interdependent world suggests that the Tribulation hour may be relatively near, since the Book of Revelation presents a coming ruler who ultimately will have authority over all nations (Rev. 13:1 – 10).
These are just five of many signs that could be looked at. A central character in the coming tribulation period is the one most often referred to as the Antichrist, a world leader who arises over the nations in the days before Jesus’ Second Coming. He is called the beast in Revelation 13:1 – 10. Ryrie believes that the antichrist (singular) that John mentions in 1 John 2:18 is one and the same with this beast of Revelation (Charles Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible, Commentary on 1 John 2:18), though of course many antichrists were already present in John’s day. Yet many Christians also believe – with very good reason – that before this hour of tribulation begins, and before the Antichrist is revealed, the Lord will fulfill His promise to return for His church – for all true believers in Jesus Christ. This event – the coming of Jesus Christ for His church – is popularly known as the Rapture, and is believed by many to be a distinct event from Christ’s coming to earth at the end of the Tribulation. The coming of the Lord for His church will feature the resurrection of deceased Christians, and the rapture, or catching up of Christian believers alive in that day. The Apostle Paul describes it in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 – 18. In this passage, he refers to the “dead in Christ” (believers in Jesus Christ who have died) being raised from the dead, and living believers (Christians who are alive when this event happens) being “caught up” (a phrase in which the Latin rendering – rapturo – is the basis of the English word rapture) to meet the Lord. Both those who have died in Christ and are raised at this event, and those Christians alive when it occurs, will be clothed in glorified, incorruptible bodies fit for everlasting life (1 Corinthians 15:35 – 56) – bodies that cannot die! This event is the fulfillment of John 14:1 – 3 where Jesus promised to return for His people to take them to the Father’s house.
This rapture event will rescue God’s people from the coming time of judgement. Recall that the Tribulation is a time of divine judgement on a Christ-rejecting world. All who believe in Jesus are already forgiven of all sin. Thus, they are precluded from experiencing the wrath of God towards sin. Consider these two passages of Scripture. The first one is a promise directly from Jesus Christ to His people in the ancient church at Philadelphia:
Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. (Revelation 3:10, NASB).
…and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:10, NASB).
What all of this means is simply this: Divine judgement is coming to a Christ rejecting world. That is the warning. There is a period of tribulation coming upon the earth which, in light of present world developments, may be very, very near! But it also means that the coming of the Lord for His church may also be very near! This is the promise – that through faith in Jesus Christ we can escape divine wrath and be prepared for His coming for the church, His people! Somewhere, perhaps in Europe, a man may soon emerge who gains the worship and attention of the whole world. Perhaps he is already on the scene, but not yet revealed as the man of sin. He will gain authority over all nations. He will lead a re-born Roman Empire. This is the man of prophecy, the Antichrist. Yet before he is revealed, the Lord shall descend, the dead in Christ will rise, and all true Christian believers the world over will suddenly be in the presence of Jesus, and will be with Him forever. We are in the last hour. The command is to believe in Jesus for salvation. For those who have never placed their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, your most pressing need right now is to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. Believe in Jesus! Trust Him and call upon Him to save you! The Bible promises us that “…’WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED'” (Romans 10:13, NASB). The warning is that Judgement is coming upon a world that has rejected Jesus Christ! But the promise of Scripture to the believer is that Jesus Christ is coming for them, to take them to be with Himself forever. And in this we rejoice! Maranatha! “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20, KJV).