By Billy Graham
For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words. --1 Thessalonians 4:16-18
SOME time ago the book review section of one of the great newspapers of America ran an article entitled, "The Literature of Doom." In it, they listed all the titles of books today that are dealing with the end of the world. Also a number of movies are coming out today that are called "Armageddon" movies. This concern about the last days has dramatically invaded the entertainment world. People are wondering whether there's going to be a world of tomorrow or not. There is concern about what is going to happen by the year 2000 -- or if we'll even reach that landmark year. Because of the armament race and the tension in the world, the turmoil on almost every continent, some world leaders doubt we will survive beyond the year 2000 -- we seem to be getting worse and worse every day.
Some people ask the question, "When is Jesus Christ coming back?" He told us not to speculate about a certain day, but He did leave some signs that we'll discuss later. The coming again of Jesus Christ is mentioned in the Scripture more than 300 times in the New Testament alone. This shows that the Holy Spirit, who directed the writing of the Bible, puts tremendous stress on the fact that Christ is coming back to this earth again.
C. S. Lewis, the great Cambridge and Oxford professor, once said that there are three things which keep people from believing in the coming of Christ. First, he said Jesus didn't come when they expected Him to come in that first century. So people say, "Well, things are going on just as they have always gone, and He hasn't come. Why hasn't He come?" The second reason, he said, was the theory of evolution -- the idea that we are making progress on our own, and we really don't need Christ. We're doing it ourselves! And the third reason, Lewis added, is that the coming of Christ cuts across our materialism and our good times -- all the things that we like the most in this world. Even though he has been dead for some years now, Lewis saw our day with a perceptive eye.
Just a few days before president-elect John F. Kennedy was to be inaugurated, I was invited to join him and Senator George Smathers in Florida for a golf game and an evening visit at the Kennedy compound in Palm Beach. As we were driving back from the golf course, President Kennedy parked the car, turned to me and asked, "Do you believe Jesus Christ is coming back to earth again?" I was dumbfounded at his question. For one thing, I never dreamed that Mr. Kennedy would ask a question like that, and for another, I wasn't even sure that he knew Jesus was supposed to come back! Having only been with him a few times prior to that incident I had no grasp of his religious knowledge. "Yes, sir, I do," I replied.
"All right," he said. "Explain it to me." So for several minutes I had the opportunity to talk to him about the second coming of Jesus Christ. I have often wondered why he asked that question, and I think part of the answer came a thousand days later when he was assassinated. Cardinal Cushing read the verses I've quoted at the beginning of this chapter at President Kennedy's funeral, and millions of people watched and heard the services around the world.
That statement in verse 17 especially stands out: we who are alive on that day will be caught up together with those who have gone before to meet the Lord in the air. That phrase, "caught up," is the translation of a Greek word which means to snatch away. The day is fast approaching when Jesus Christ will come back to "snatch away" His followers from all the graveyards of the world, and those of us who are alive and remain will join them in the great escape! That is the hope of the future for the Christian.
Because of the Promises of the Old Testament
Why is Christ going to come? There are five reasons why Christ has to come back to this earth. First, He must come back because of the promises of the Old Testament that have yet to be fulfilled. Scores of prophecies were fulfilled concerned His first coming. But some prophecies still remain to be fulfilled. For example, the Scripture says, "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David and upon his Kingdom, to order it and to establish it with judgment and justice from henceforth even forever" (Isaiah 9:6, 7). Someone has said, "When our government is upon His shoulder, of its increase and of our peace there shall be no end."
That portion has not been fulfilled to completion. A child was born. A son was given. But the government is not upon His shoulder. He did not bring world peace in that first coming nor did He bring world justice at His first coming. But He's going to bring it the second time, because the Scripture teaches that all of these prophecies are going to be fulfilled. In Micah the prophet says, "He shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" (4:3). But consider the wars that are being fought right now. Look at the armament race that is escalating. Some day, however, men are going to make spears into pruning hooks; and some day, nation will not lift up sword against nation. Why? Because the Prince of Peace is coming back -- He's going to be the world ruler.
Because of His Own Statements
Second, Christ has to return because of His own statements. He is absolute truth. Matthew 24 and 25 are entirely given over to statements about His coming again. For example, Matthew 24:27, "For as the lightning comes out of the east, and shines even unto the west; so shall be the coming of the Son of man." The Bible again says in Matthew 25:31-32, "When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations. . . ." This prophecy has yet to be fulfilled, but He said it and I believe it will be.
Jesus didn't lie to us. He said, "I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there you may be also" (John 14:2, 3). He's going to come back in person. The Lord Jesus is coming back Himself! That's how much He loves us. The plan of salvation is not only to satisfy us in this world and give us a new life here, but He has a great plan for the future. For eternity!
The Bible says we are going to reign with Him. We're joint heirs with the Lord Jesus Christ, and we're going to spend eternity with Him! What is He doing now? He's preparing a home for us! It's been nearly two thousand years. What a home it must be! Eye cannot see nor ear hear, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what God has prepared for those who love Him!
Because of the Present Position of Satan
There is a third reason why Christ must come: the present position of Satan. The most powerful being in all the world today, outside of God Himself, is the devil. And the Bible says, strangely enough, that he has access to heaven itself -- to the throne of God. The Bible says that he's the accuser of the brethren, night and day. He's called the anointed cherub -- he's called the roaring lion -- he's called the king of beasts. He's going about seeking whom he may devour. And at the temptation he showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, and he said in effect, "I will give you all of these if you will bow down and worship me" (Matthew 4:9). Jesus did not dispute him. Satan had the power to give Jesus the cosmos, the world system of evil. But, thank God, our Lord quoted Scripture, and that's one thing the devil can't stand! The Scripture defeats him every time.
In 2 Corinthians 4:4 he's also called, "the god of this age." That means that he's the director of the false religions and philosophies of the world. The Bible says the whole cosmos (world) is under his control. What's going to transpire if something doesn't happen to Satan? Who's going to dispose of evil? Who's going to dispose of Satan? Humanity is helpless before him. Legislation is impotent. The United Nations does not know how to handle him. They don't even understand that they're dealing with a spiritual power -- an enormous power of evil in the world today.
Let's not forget one fact, however. There is One who is more powerful than Satan! This One defeated him two thousand years ago on the cross. The devil didn't want Jesus Christ to go to the cross, because he was afraid of what Christ would do on the cross. He knew that when Christ died on the cross, He was bearing the sins of the whole world. And God was saying to mankind from the cross, "I love you. I want to forgive you of all of your sins. I want you to be My child, and one day to join Me in heaven." And if Jesus had come down from the cross, we couldn't be saved. We couldn't go to heaven. That's why they taunted Him, "If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross." Satan suffered his greatest defeat at the cross, and in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
But the devil is still loose, still in charge of the cosmos, the evil that is in the world. All the injustices, all the wars in the world, the devil is promoting -- all the crime, all the wickedness, all the terrible things that are going on. In his supernatural power, he has a supernatural plan, even to try to dethrone God.
There's only one person in heaven or earth who can deal with the devil, and He's coming back to deal with him. He's going to throw Satan into the bottomless pit, and ultimately into the lake of fire. Then there will be no devil anymore. We're going to be freed from this terrible pull of evil, and the satanic power that has controlled the hearts of men for so many centuries. That's why Christ has to come. He's the only One who can do it. The world right now is looking for a deliverer, as I read in one of our magazines the other day: "Oh, that the world had a deliverer."
Because of the Present Chaos in the world
And then fourth, Jesus must return because of the present chaos in the world -- a world everywhere racked with pain, suffering, hunger, war, murder, lust, greed, hate, fraud, and corruption. Every possible form of human government seems to be failing. Each new one seems to be unsuccessful in dealing with our problems. The world is becoming more and more hopeless as we enter this terribly involved and complicated computerized technological age. The Scripture says, "say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not; behold your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense; he will come and save you" (Isaiah 35:4). Jesus Christ is going to save us from ourselves. There are many sociologists and scientists today who believe we have the capability to destroy ourselves. and we can. The human race has the power right now to destroy itself. But Christ is going to come. And just as man is ready to hurl those bombs at each other. He's going to come to set up His kingdom of righteousness and glory and peace and justice. What a world that's going to be!
Will you be ready?
Because of the Dead in Christ
The fifth reason Christ must come is the dead in Christ -- those people who died believing in God and trusting Him. When I saw the film, "the Holocaust," I thought of all those people who were murdered by Hitler -- many of them true believers. Thousands of people have suffered injustice, and killings, and all that has gone on in history, as believers in Christ and wondered why they had to die. Many must have wondered why they had to suffer for their faith. Jesus is coming back and there's going to be a great resurrection. Believers are going to be raised from the dead! And then those who are alive and remain shall be caught up in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord. When is that going to take place? We don't know the exact day, but I believe it's drawing near. It's certainly two thousand years nearer than when He made the prediction.
Jesus left some signs behind for us to watch for. He said, first of all, there will be intellectual and mental confusion and disturbances throughout the world: "Upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity . . ." (Luke 21:25). That word "distress" means tossed from all sides. and that word "perplexity" means no way out. We as a human race are going to reach a point where there's no way out.
The Way Out
Jean-Paul Sartre wrote a book entitled No Exit, and he told us there is no exit from the human dilemma. No way out. I tell you, there is a way out. And that way is the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus also said there would be a collapse of morals just before He comes back. Jesus said, "Likewise, also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; but the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all" (Luke 17:28, 29). Then He said, "Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed" (v. 30). "As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be in the days of the coming of the Son of man" (Luke 17:26). In both instances, in Lot's day and in Noah's day, morals had collapsed, and moral fiber is collapsing all around us right now. The world is on an immoral binge such as it's never known in history. Jesus said just before He returns that will be the condition of the human race.
Third, Jesus also said there will be a falling away. That means that people who were believers will be falling away individually or collectively. And "many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many." Look at the false prophets we have today. Now "the Spirit speaks expressly that in the latter times, some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils" (1 Timothy 4:1). There will be a falling away from true faith. Many have a false idea of God and see a caricature of Christianity. They are not really true disciples of Jesus Christ. They have already unwittingly fallen away -- maybe not intellectually. They may still believe, but they've fallen away in the way they live. Your life justifies what you believe. Jesus says, "By their fruits you shall know them." And the devil is still coming around and saying, "Yea, hath God said?" trying to make us doubt His holy Word. A lot of false prophets are coming around today and saying, "This cannot be trusted." I tell you, the Bible was inspired by God from cover to cover. It is God's holy Word. And there are those who are telling us, "Jesus Christ was a mere man," that He was not God. He is the God-man. Equally God and equally man. Filled with love for us, so much that He died for us.
A fourth point: Jesus indicated there would be an increase in lawlessness. He said that as lawlessness spread, men's love for one another will grow cold (Matthew 24:12). Newspapers are filled with these accounts right now. Have you ever heard of such terrorism all over the world? Terrorist activities are increasing in almost every country. Because of modern technology, people don't know how to cope with it. Jesus said in Luke 21:9, "You shall hear of wars and commotions," and that word "commotions" carries with it the idea of rebellion against all authority. We're seeing that in many parts of the world. Jesus said that would be one of the signs. And then He said there will be peace conferences. Paul wrote, "For when they shall say peace and safety; then sudden destruction comes upon them" (1 Thessalonians 5:3). The prophet Isaiah wrote, "There is no peace, says the Lord, for the wicked" (48:22). Never before have we had so many people seeking peace. The United Nations goes into one emergency session after another. The Congresses and the Parliaments of the world are searching for peace. The leaders of the world -- our Secretary of State goes back and forth around the world seeking peace, trying to patch this little place here, and this place there. By the time he gets back to Washington, trouble has broken out somewhere else. Jesus said it would be like that: "If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened" (Matthew 24:22).
Then Jesus said something else: there would be a worldwide emphasis on evangelism, and the proclamation of the gospel before He came back. "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; then the end shall come." For the first time in history, the gospel is now being heard all over the world. By radio, by television, by literature, by satellite in every part of the world. There's not a place that they could not hear the gospel. For the first time.
Now, what are we to do? How do we face this? First, we purify ourselves. The Scripture says, "Every man who has this hope in Him purifies himself." Do you have the hope of the coming again of the Lord Jesus Christ? Then you should live it -- a pure life, a godly life, a surrendered life, a consecrated life. There's a sense in which we're sanctified when we receive Christ. There's a sense in which we grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ in progressive sanctification. But one day we shall see Jesus face to face, and total sanctification is when we're perfect, as He is perfect. We shall see Him as He is.
Second, we are to wait with patience. I know sometimes we get a little anxious and wonder if Jesus is really going to come back. The Scripture says, "For in just a very little while, He who is coming will come and will not delay" (Hebrews 10:37). He has appointed a day. God knows the day. It's all set. He will be back right on time -- He won't be an hour late or an hour early.
The third thing we're to do is to watch. That word "watch" means that we are to desire His coming. We are to be constantly thinking about His coming. At the beginning of this chapter I quoted the verse, "Looking for that blessed hope and glorious appearing."
The fourth thing is that we're to work. People say, "Well, Christ is coming back -- let's quit all these activities that we're involved in." No! He may not come for a hundred years, or a thousand years. He may not come in our lifetime. Let's do our best to help reach our fellow man for Christ. His return should be our incentive toward work.
The last point: we're to be prepared. Are you prepared? "You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him" (Luke 12:40). The Scripture says, "By faith Noah being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house." That word "fear" means terrified. Yes! Some people are drawn into the kingdom of God by love and some come into it in terror. We have a right to be terrified. Because for those who know not Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, it means judgment, it means hell. We must come to Christ while we can.