In the Last Days, the Return of Christ will be preceded by the judgments of God that will strike heaven and earth, and the unrepentant among mankind. Often times, the passages that describe these judgments are confused with the actual Return of Christ because they describe these judgments in terms of the Lord coming down or as occurring on the day of the Lord.
The Day of the Lord
In the Scriptures, the day of the lord is a phrase that is used to describe a day of destruction.
Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light. Am. 5:18
As a description of a day of destruction, this phrase is often used to describe the judgments that will occur before the Lord returns. This can be seen in the following verses that describe the Attack on Jerusalem, which will occur on the day of the Lord.
A day of the Lord is coming, Jerusalem, when your possessions will be plundered and divided up within your very walls. I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it; the city will be captured, the houses ransacked, and the women raped. Half of the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be taken from the city. Zech. 14:1-2
Similarly, the Battle of Armageddon is also described as taking place on the Great Day of God Almighty.
They are demonic spirits that perform signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty. “Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed.” Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon. Rev. 16:14-16
The use of the phrase the Great Day of God Almighty to describe the Battle of Armageddon is a reflection of how during this war, the armies of the whole world will be defeated, and the Beast and the False Prophet will be thrown into the Lake of Fire. Accordingly, this phrase is not describing the actual Return of Christ, but, rather, His coming in judgment against the kings of the earth.
A Thief in the Night
In the above verses, the Lord is also said to come like a thief, which is another phrase that is used to describe a day of judgment when those in darkness will be destroyed.
Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 1 Thess. 5:1-4
When Christ is described as coming like a thief in the night, it should not be taken to mean that the Lord himself will appear, but that He will come in judgment. In particular, this phrase is used to describe the judgments that will come at an unexpected time to those who are in darkness and who will be completely unaware of their impending doom.
The Son of Man is Revealed
The future Attack on Jerusalem provides another example where a phrase that describes the judgment of God is confused with the future Return of Christ. This occurs in the following verse when the Attack on Jerusalem is described as day when the Son of Man will be revealed to His people.
“It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. On that day no one who is on the housetop, with possessions inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything.” Luke 17:30-31
In these passages, the word revealed refers to how the people of Israel will know in their hearts that it is God who is judging them, and not that Christ will literally appear to them. This can be seen by how the word that is translated as revealed (apokalupto; SEC 601)* means to uncover and is used in the Scriptures to describe when a person receives an inner revelation from God.
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed (apokalupto; SEC 601) to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” Matt. 16:15-17
In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed (apokalupto; SEC 601) by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. Eph. 3:4-5
All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear (apokalupto; SEC 601) to you. Phil. 3:15
From the above passages, we see how the word that is translated as revealed, and that is used to describe the Attack of Jerusalem, is elsewhere used to describe when a person receives an insight from God. Correspondingly, when the Scriptures say that the Lord will be revealed to Israel during the Attack on Jerusalem, it does not mean that He will literally appear to them but that the people will know in their hearts that the attack is the result of the judgment of God.
Feet, Hands, and Arms
During the Attack on Jerusalem, the Lord will spare a Remnant by providing a way of escape by means of an earthquake that will split the Mount of Olives in two.
“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.” Lk. 21:20-22
When the Mount of Olives is split in two, those who heed the word of the Lord will escape by fleeing through the mountain valley. Likewise, in the description of the earthquake that will provide a way of escape, the Lord is portrayed as standing with His feet on the Mount of Olives.
On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south. You will flee by my mountain valley, for it will extend to Azel. You will flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him. Zech. 14:4-5
The above description does not mean that God’s feet will literally appear on the mountain, or that the Return of Christ will take place at this time. Instead, this is the Scripture’s way of describing how it will be the Lord who will cause the earthquake to occur. This is a common theme in the Scriptures where God’s intervening in acts of nature is described as the Lord’s arm coming down or as the Lord sweeping His hand over the earth etc.
The Lord will cause people to hear his majestic voice and will make them see his arm coming down with raging anger and consuming fire, with cloudburst, thunderstorm and hail. Isa. 30:30
The Lord will dry up the gulf of the Egyptian sea; with a scorching wind he will sweep his hand over the Euphrates River. He will break it up into seven streams so that anyone can cross over in sandals. Isa. 11:15
In the events described in these verses, God’s physical arm or hand do not literally appear. Instead, these are instances where figurative language is used to describe how God will bring judgment through acts of nature .
The Return of Christ
In the above examples, the Scriptures must be read with the understanding that whenever the Lord is described as coming down or being revealed, or when His hand, feet, or arms are said to appear over the earth, it does not mean that Christ himself will appear but that He will be seen in acts of judgment.
The actual Return of Christ will not take place until the Destruction of Heaven and Earth by fire, on the Last Day, when the Lord Himself will come down, and the dead in Christ will be caught up to meet Him in the air. (To read about the Return of Christ, see The Timing of the Rapture)
For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 1 Thess. 4:16-17
When the Scriptures tells us that the Lord Himself will come down, it is a description of the literal Return of Christ when the dead will be raised and the living will be caught up to meet Him in the air.
To read more about the Return of Christ and the order of events that will take place in the Last Days, click here: The Order of Events of the Last Days.
*The numbers in parentheses are from Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance (SEC)
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