Maps can be useful in navigating through unfamiliar territory. Unfortunately, I had to learn the value of maps the hard way some years ago. A pastor friend had invited me to Canada to speak at his church’s annual Valentine’s banquet. I departed the Dallas Ft. Worth airport early one morning and, after a plane change in Minneapolis, landed in Winnipeg around 4pm that afternoon with plenty of time to spare. After retrieving my luggage, I stood out front waiting…waiting…and waiting for my host to arrive to pick me up. After about 30 minutes, I strolled back inside the terminal to call the pastor’s home. When I looked at the information letter he had mailed a few weeks earlier, I noticed that the city and province on the letterhead did not correspond to my present location. Because I had preached for the pastor at his church in Winnipeg 10 years earlier, I had assumed he was still in the same location.
I took the letter to the airline counter, explaining that I had apparently traveled to the wrong city. According to the letter, I needed to be in Vancouver, British Columbia. Not knowing much about Canada, I innocently asked, “Is there a bus I can catch to Vancouver? I need to be there in about 30 minutes.”
“A bus?!” All the employees behind the counter exclaimed in unison. “You’ve got to be kidding! Vancouver is 1,500 miles from here!”
Fortunately, a plane was getting ready to depart for Vancouver in the next few minutes. Even though it was a three-hour flight, the two-hour time change worked to my advantage, and I arrived at the church just in time to preach. As I was boarding the flight that evening, the ticket agent handed me a map of Canada (apparently, the story of my mistake had already traveled from the ticket counter to the departure gate). “Here, read this; it might help you next time!” she chuckled. Since then, I have been a firm believer in maps—especially when traveling in a foreign country!
To most people, Bible prophecy is such a country. Let’s take a look at the key events of the End Times.
1. The Church Age (Romans 11:25)
Definition: The Church Age is that period of time from Pentecost until the Rapture, during which Gentiles are invited to participate in the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant.
We are now living in what is called the “church age” or the “times of the Gentiles,” which closely approximates what the Bible calls “the last days.”
Imagine the following situation. You want to give your ten-year-old son a birthday party he will never forget. You purchase an exquisite cake, hire an expensive entertainer, and send out elaborate invitations to your extended family several weeks ahead of time. However, the day before your son’s party, every one of your family members calls and sends his regrets.
They offer all kinds of flimsy excuses as to why they cannot attend the gathering. Not wanting to disappoint your son, you quickly began calling friends, acquaintances, and neighbors and inviting them to attend the party.
Jesus used that example in the parable found in Matthew 22:2-14 about the king who threw a party for his son that none of the invited guests chose to attend, and so he invited strangers to come instead. That is a great example of what is happening in the age in which we are living now, often called “the church age.”
In the church age, God has extended the “invitation list” to be part of God’s Kingdom beyond the Jews to include anyone who will accept His offer of salvation.
Because Israel rejected Christ, we who are Gentiles got invited to the party! Yet, God has not permanently turned His back on Israel. As we saw last time, God will one day fulfill His promise to believe Israel of a land, a seed, and a blessing. God has one final event in mind to turn the Israelites toward Himself: the Great Tribulation. But before that final period of dealing with Israel can begin, another event must first occur.
2. The Rapture of the Church (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)
The Greek word “harpazo,” from which we get our word rapture, means “to snatch away.” And for those who are left behind after the rapture of the church, that’s probably what the event will seem like. In a single moment, all Christians, from the time of Pentecost until the moment the rapture occurs, will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air.
Some people claim the word “rapture” is not in the Bible, but in fact it is.
Four Details of the Rapture
- Christ will descend from heaven.
- The dead in Christ will be resurrected.
- All living Christians will be removed.
- Our bodies will be transformed.
Perhaps the most pertinent aspect of the Rapture is its imminence. There are no prophecies that must take place before it can occur. In short, the Rapture can happen at any moment.
Believers will one day answer to Christ for every thought, word, action, and motivation of our earthly lives. But unlike the Great White Throne Judgment for unbelievers, the purpose of the Judgment Seat of Christ is not condemnation but evaluation and commendation.
At the Judgment Seat of Christ, our lives will be evaluated by Christ—not to determine our eternal destination, since that was sealed at the moment of our salvation, but to determine our rewards in heaven.
Definition: The Tribulation is the seven-year period that begins when the Antichrist signs a peace covenant with Israel and ends with Armageddon and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
The seven-year timeframe of the tribulation is significant in biblical prophecy. It can be traced back to a promise God made in Daniel 9. When the Israelites were in exile in Babylon, the angel Gabriel revealed to Daniel that there were 490 years left on God’s stopwatch to finish His plan with Israel and usher in the millennium. The angel referred to the timeframe as seventy weeks, with each year represented as a day. Seventy weeks times seven years equals 490 years.
However, there would be a separation between the first 483 years and the final seven years—that is, between the first sixty-nine weeks and the seventieth week. Gabriel explained that God would start the countdown when a decree was issued for the Israelites to rebuild Jerusalem. We know from history that this decree was issued on March 14, 445 BC.
According to Gabriel, the time from that decree until the Messiah was presented would be 483 years. On April 2, AD 32—exactly 483 years after the decree to rebuild Jerusalem—Jesus rode on a donkey through the streets of Jerusalem, and people recognized Him as the Messiah.
Gabriel further explained that the Messiah would be cut off—or crucified. After that, there would be a gap of time before the final seven years commenced. That’s where we are right now. On God’s stopwatch, 483 years have passed. There are seven years left for God to complete His plan for Israel, which He will do during the tribulation. His stopwatch will begin again after the rapture, as soon as the Antichrist signs a peace treaty with Israel.
The tribulation will fulfill two purposes. The first is the salvation of Israel. At the beginning of the seven-year period, God will save 144,000 Jews, who will serve as His witnesses throughout the tribulation. Through the work and testimony of those witnesses, many Jews—and even some Gentiles—will be saved.
The second purpose of the tribulation is the condemnation of unbelievers living on earth. The seven-year period will be a time of unprecedented judgment against the world by God. In Revelation 6–19, John identified three series of judgments God will pour out on the earth—seal judgments, trumpet judgments, and bowl judgments—each more devastating than the last.
4. Armageddon and the Second Coming of Christ (Revelation 19:11-21)
Definition: The War of Armageddon is the final world war that will be fought in Israel and will result in the visible return of Jesus Christ to earth.
According to Revelation 19, at the end of the tribulation, all the world’s military forces will gather on the plain of Megiddo in Israel to wage war against the Antichrist and his forces. This final world conflict is called the Battle of Armageddon.
But as the armies prepare to destroy one another, suddenly, their attention will be diverted upward to a sight they will never recover from—the second coming of Christ. Here’s how the apostle John described it, saying, “I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness, He judges and wages war. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, ‘King of Kings, and Lord of Lords’” (Revelation 19:11, 14–16)
When Christ returns, the tribulation will come to an end. All unbelievers alive at that time will be cast into eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46), but believers who put their faith in Christ during the tribulation and survive to see His return will be ushered into the millennium.
All of these labor pains the earth experiences during this seven-year period will result in the birth of God’s kingdom on earth: a period we call . . .
5. The Millennium (Revelation 20:1-10)
Definition: The Millennium is the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth that will occur after the Second Coming.
For one thousand years, Jesus Christ will reign on earth, fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 15. God promised Abraham that his believing descendants would one day possess a land where the Messiah would rule on the throne of David from Jerusalem. Abraham believed Him, and so did his descendants. For centuries, the people of Israel clung to the hope of that promise.
With Satan bound for a thousand years, part of the curse of sin will be removed. This is the time Isaiah 65 describes when infants will not die, when people live to be at least one hundred years old, and when we won’t have difficulty in agriculture with thorns and thistles. The millennium will see a renovation, but not a re-creation, of the earth.
At the end of the millennium, Satan will be released “for a short time” (Revelation 20:3). The question is, Why would God let him go, especially when things will be going so well?
Here’s what we need to understand: only believers will enter the millennium and experience the earthly reign of Christ. Those of us who were saved before the Tribulation, along with the people who became believers during the Tribulation and then died, will enter the millennium in our new, resurrected bodies.
But people who became believers during the Tribulation and survived until Christ’s Second Coming will enter the millennium in their natural bodies. That means they will be able to marry and have children. During the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth, children will be born, grow up, and have families of their own from generation to generation.
Keep in mind, too, that it’s necessary that every person choose whether to follow Jesus. So, at the end of the thousand years, God will release Satan for a short time and allow him to work his evil influence. Amazingly, some people who were born and grew up during the millennium will choose to follow Satan instead of Jesus. That is the final rebellion.
6. The Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11-16)
At the Great White Throne judgment, all the unbelieving dead will appear before the Lord and be judged by their works. That criterion is only fair since unbelievers say, in effect, “I don’t need God’s forgiveness; I’m good enough to get into heaven on my own merit.”
So, God agrees to their terms and judges them by their works. Unfortunately, the standard by which God judges is the perfection of Jesus Christ.
Unbelievers will not be destroyed after they are judged; instead, they will suffer for eternity. The same Greek word that is used to describe the eternal nature of heaven is also used to describe the eternal nature of hell. The horrible truth about hell is this: when you’ve spent three trillion years in the agony of hell, you will not have reduced by one second the amount of time you have left. That’s the fate of everyone who dies without trusting in Jesus Christ.
7. Eternity Future (Revelation 21-22)
Definition: Eternity Future is the permanent state of both believers inhabiting the new heaven and earth and unbelievers inhabiting the lake of fire.
Popular images of heaven feature believers worshiping God in an ethereal, cloudlike setting. However, as John’s vision in Revelation 21 makes clear, the reality of heaven will be much more familiar to us. Our eternal dwelling place will be a new earth. Though in many ways, it will seem familiar to us, it will also be very different from the earth we know. It won’t be the renovated earth of the millennium. The earth on which we will spend eternity will be entirely re-created and restored to its original purpose. God will allow us to enjoy forever the world as He originally created it to be.
Amazingly, our enjoyment of eternity will be enhanced by the work we do. Humans were created to find fulfillment and joy in work. Contrary to what many people believe, work is not a curse from God as a result of Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden. Before the first couple ever took a bite of the forbidden fruit, God gave them the responsibility of work. Genesis 2:15 describes it like this: “Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.”
Although Eden was perfect, it was not self-sustaining. Humans were given the responsibility of cultivating it by tilling the soil and planting and harvesting crops. While it’s true that Adam and Eve’s work became much harder after the fall because of God’s judgment, work has always been—and will always be—part of God’s plan for us.
In eternity, our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being will be assured. Our resurrected bodies will be perfect. Cancer, heart attacks, and strokes will all be things of the past. So will blindness, deafness, and paralysis, as well as gray hair, wrinkles, and widening girths. From the top of our heads to the bottom of our feet, we’ll be perfect in every way.
Full Passage: Selected Scriptures