One of the greatest passages in Scripture concerning the End of Times (or the End Times) is found in Mathew 24. In this passage, Jesus responds to a question asked in private by His disciples. Before answering, he moves them to the Mount of Olives and thus His answer has come to be known as the Olivet Discourse.
Just before this, as recorded in Mathew 24, Jesus is speaking about the End of Times which prompts His disciples to ask him:
24 Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. 2 And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”
3 Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”
Before we can examine Jesus’ answer, we first need to understand the Jewish, Old Testament expectations regarding the coming of the Messiah. To the Jewish minds of the time, they expected that when their Messiah came, He would at that time overcome His enemies, free the Jews, and set up His kingdom on earth. Despite the OT prophesizing two comings of the Messiah, once to die and resurrect and once to bring about the End of the Times, they saw those events as all happening in a short period of time with no major interlude. The did not understand the prophecies about the church age nor the Rapture. They only understood one event left to happen. That was the mindset of the disciples.
We know, with the further clarification of the NT, that Jesus is going to return two more times. First, He will return secretly in an event we call the Rapture. Secret in the sense that while the whole world will see the effects of the Rapture, they won’t see Jesus. He will await His children in the clouds and take them to heaven leaving those on earth confused and bewildered wondering how so many people suddenly disappeared. The Rapture is not what Scripture calls the Second Coming.
The Second Coming occurs at the end of the seven-year Tribulation period. This is when Christ returns triumphantly and tramples His enemies and sets up His Millennial Kingdom. This is the coming of the Messiah the Jews expected but without understanding of the Rapture and the Tribulation. If Jesus was the Messiah, then they expected Him to overthrown the Romans and all Israel’s enemies and reign from Jerusalem. It was with this expectation that the disciples asked Jesus what would be the signs of His Second Coming.
That the Messiah first had to suffer and die at the hands of sinners, was foretold by the OT prophets but was missed by the Jews. They could not imagine their Messiah being killed by the like of Roman soldiers. They did not understand that their sacrifices in the Temple could never pay the price for their sin. A perfect sacrifice had to be made and only the Messiah, the Son of God, could make it. They were also blinded by their pride. They were God’s people! The nation of Israel. God’s elect. They looked down upon all others as Gentiles who had no part in the plans of the Messiah. Again, the OT foretold that God had other people who He would also call His children and that there would be a Church Age in which God gathered His children from among the Gentiles and some Jews. The height of the Jews expectations for Jesus occurred during His triumphal entrance into Jerusalem just one week before His death. They lined the roads and threw down their cloaks and palm branches celebrating their Messiah. When Jesus did not, at that time overcome Israel’s enemies, they bitterly rejected Jesus as just another false Messiah. A pretender who must be in league with Satan to have performed the miracles He did. As great as their joy had been in seeing Him as their Messiah, so great was their subsequent hatred for Him when He did not fulfill their expectations.
If we were to look at a timeline it might look like this:
3 BC 30 AD Rapture Tribulation Second Coming Mill. Kingdom New HE
3 BC – the birth of Christ. We think 0 AD, but due to flaws in the calendars back then it was likely more like 3 BC
30 AD – death of Jesus
X – where we are now prophetically though not implying, we are half way to the Rapture
Rapture – when Jesus comes secretly for His church
Tribulation – a 7-year period of events following the Rapture and leading up to the Second Coming
Mill. Kingdom – a 1000-year reign of Christ on earth known as the Millennial Kingdom
New HE – the new heavens and the new earth after God destroys the old in intense heat
NOTE: The distances on the timeline are not to scale.
On our timeline, the events described in the Olivet Discourse occur during the 7-year Tribulation period. There are parallel events found in Revelation that go into more details about the events of the Tribulation.
One thing that has been greatly misunderstood is Jesus’ words recorded in Matthew 24:32-35:
32 “Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So you also, when you see all these things, know that [e]it is near—at the doors! 34 Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.
Jesus made clear to His disciples that “no one knows the hour or the day (Matthew 24:35)” of His Second coming. In these verses Jesus says that we can see the signs of His return approaching even though we won’t know the hour or the day.
I believe these verses are misunderstood because many Christians think Jesus is talking about the Rapture here or the Rapture and all that follows. I don’t believe that is the case. The wars, the rumors of war, the famines and earthquakes, are all things taking place during the Tribulation. These are not events occurring before the Rapture. I have seen lists Christians have created showing how the number of major earthquakes per year has been on the rise. The same with famines and they see these as signs that the Lord’s return is approaching. While there have always been earthquakes, famines, and wars, Jesus is talking about a very specific set of those events taking place in a very specific context.
For one thing, mankind has only been keeping records of these things for a couple of hundred years. We have no idea how these events over the past two hundred years compares to the preceding thousands of years. For all we know, history might be full of periods of increase followed by periods of decrease. We cannot assume that any uptick in modern times is unprecedented. Secondly, we don’t know to what degree these things will increase leading up to the Lord’s Second Coming. For all we know, what Jesus is describing is daily major earthquakes in different parts of the world. We are seeing nothing like that today.
Jesus is describing cataclysmic events unparalleled in human history. Apocalyptic events. The recent upward trend in earthquakes we are seeing are nowhere near that scale.
Jesus describes these events like birth pangs (Matthew 24:8). A woman normally does not know when labor is going to begin. If her water breaks or labor is induced, she will have some idea. As she approaches her due date, she knows it will happen soon but she does not know the hour or the day. One minute she might feel fine and the next contractions have started. Once started they can progress steadily, start and stop, or progress rapidly. At some point they progress rapidly culminating in the birth of the baby. Jesus’ analogy of these apocalyptic events to a woman’s labor is describing the rapid progression that immediately precedes birth. Once those contractions start, a woman knows the time is short. So it will be during the Tribulation. The wars and famines and earthquakes will come on suddenly and fearfully. The inhabitants of the earth will feel like the earth is being rent in two under them. The earth will seem to be rapidly dying in a cataclysmic way. That is a level of natural disasters humanity has never seen.
By contrast, Scripture describes the Rapture peacefully.
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep [k]in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive [l]and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a [m]shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive [n]and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
Theologians hold to the doctrine of Imminence. This means that there remains NO events that need to take place before the Rapture. Christ could come at any moment. There does not need to be an increase in earthquakes or famines or civil unrest. Life on earth can appear to be perfectly normal. Sometimes contemporary Christians make assumptions based on technological progress. I can recall hearing “experts” talk about the ability to put electric chips in people over 30 years ago. At that time, many believers were convinced a microchip would be the Mark of the Beast described in Revelation. It seemed like a natural fit. If such technology exists, they reason, it’s use as the Mark of the Beast must be fast approaching and before that can occur, the Rapture must occur. According to the doctrine of Imminency, Christ’s return for the Rapture could have taken place anytime from 33 AD to today. Microchips have existed for less than a century. The Rapture has not been waiting until technology invents a way to make distributing and recognizing the Mark an easy thing. Scripture does not tell us what form the mark will take. Just something on the forehead or back of the hand. That could just as easily be a tattoo as a microchip. For us to think the Rapture must be approaching because we have implantable microchips, or microdots, and a global pandemic to provide a perfect opportunity to distribute the Mark, does not mean the Rapture is approaching! The conditions for the inauguration of the Mark of the Beast have existed since 33 AD. Scripture also never teaches that technology will be used or that the first time such technology exists it will be used. Tattoos could have been used as the Mark of the Beast and tattoos have been around for thousands of years. The fact that we have such technology and have a world-wide pandemic tells us absolutely nothing about the timing of the Rapture. That is man reading things into Scripture and making assumptions that cannot be supported from the text.
Remember too that the “signs” of the season Jesus spoke of only apply to His Second Coming NOT to the Rapture. There are no signs required before the Rapture can occur. God does not require a gradual increase in earthquakes to then really cause terror and panic. Like the contractions of labor, they can come on in a hurry when the time appointed for them is reached. In the beginning of the Tribulation, the world will think their problems have been solved. They will look to the Antichrist as a savior. They will rejoice in peace and safety. It is only after the Abomination of Desolation occurs that the Antichrist shows his true colors and the world suddenly realizes it is in the grip of a Satanic leader.
What might lead the world to look to the Antichrist to begin with? We aren’t told except that he will initially appear to be a dynamic world leader who can unite humanity and solve the world’s problems. With the church having been raptured and the restraint of the Holy Spirit removed, the Antichrist will be able to easily deceive the world. While speculation on my part, I can envision that a world-wide Rapture would throw the world into chaos. Imagine millions (maybe a billion or more) people suddenly and for no obvious reason disappearing. Imagine cars crashing without drivers, planes suddenly without pilots, teachers, bankers, and all manner of humanity gone in an instant. That would be more than enough to throw the world into overnight panic and bewilderment. What just happened??? Where did these people go? Was this an alien abduction or some secret world-wide government kidnapping? How could people just disappear into thin air? No arrests or rounding up of people. Just vanishing. People will be in shock and panic. What better circumstances for a charismatic world leader who has the answers? What bigger crisis could there be from which the world will willingly submit to such a man’s leadership. It’s not going to be just explaining what happened but replacing or reorganizing society to do without the leadership and efforts of so many of the earth’s citizens.
In my opinion, this misunderstanding of the unfolding of the End Times has led to endless speculation by many attempting to fit together world events like pieces in a puzzle thinking they can anticipate the Rapture. We can’t. The signs of the season, so to speak, only apply to the Second Coming. Some will say that it’s important for us to know so we can warn others before it’s too late. Has not that been our job since Jesus gave the Great Commission before He returned to heaven? Since the Rapture could have occurred any time after that, the concern that time is running out has always been there or should have been. Why is it suddenly important to think you know the Rapture is approaching? The church, the body of Christ, should always be preaching the Good News and warning the world that the time of judgment is approaching. Not only might the Rapture happen tonight but you could have a heart attack or an aneurism and die tonight. The best time to believe is always now! We are not promised tomorrow. We don’t need to see the “signs of the season” with respect to the Rapture for us to feel a sense of urgency as the people we are witnessing to could have their opportunity ended at any moment. Those signs were given of Christ’s Second Coming which will occur after the Rapture. Scripture teaches that there will be believers saved during the Tribulation. The descriptions of those events are given for their encouragement not ours. We won’t be here.
Rather than scouring current world events to try and fit more pieces into the puzzle, we should be doing God’s work and fulfilling the Great Commission. The world needs Christ and without Him our warnings of the End approaching will fall on deaf ears. You might suppose that while those words won’t be headed now, they might come back to them later after they are saved. Perhaps. Trust God to encourage and enlighten them after they believe should they believe after the Rapture. God knows how to keep His own. If you believe as I do that you cannot lose your salvation (providing you truly have it) then no post-Rapture saint is going to lose their salvation if they don’t know everything there is to know about the events of the Tribulation. God will keep them. Our job today is to bear witness to them and pray for them asking God to add them to His Kingdom. We can get so caught up in speculations about the fulfillment of prophecy. It is of little profit.
We tend to treat the Rapture, the Tribulation, and the Second Coming of the Lord as one blob. Granted, they all happen over a 7-year period so time-wise they are closely related however if you are a saint today your vision of prophecy approaching may not extend beyond the Rapture. The rest of the picture won’t be in view until after the Rapture occurs in which case you will be watching events unfold from heaven. Those alive but unbelieving before the Rapture (but who will live past it) wont’ comprehend these events or put stock in them. Our fixation on the events of the Tribulation and the Second Coming seems misplaced. Not that God would have us be ignorant of them but I don’t see evidence of the Apostle’s spending much time warning non-believers about the events of the Tribulation. Their focus was not on politics or End Times prophecy but simply the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
There is a tendency as humans to want to feel that we must do something to secure our salvation. God may have done the lion’s share of the work, but we have to do our part and without our part salvation would not have been possible. This enables us to pat ourselves on the back and take some credit. We, in partnership with God, earned our salvation and became righteous.
Is this what the Bible teaches? If we contributed in any way to our salvation then we first must have sought God. If you don’t seek God how can you know God and know what to do to be saved? Yet the Bible says:
“There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God.” (Romans 3:11)
Well that doesn’t sound very good but maybe that was part of God’s contribution. Surely our good works counted for something, right? That must have been our part. I mean, we had to believe and we’re not all bad so surely the good in our life must count for something in God’s eyes? The Bible says salvation is:
“not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:9)
“For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” (Isaiah 64:6)
What? Are you telling me God did it all and I had no part?
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8)
You see, man has two problems. The first is that God hates sin. God cannot sin and will not allow sin to dwell in His presence. Why is that a problem? Because we are sinners! We can’t go one day without sinning much less a lifetime. Well, what if we don’t sin too much? First, if we could see our lives through God’s eyes, we would realize we sin a LOT more than we think. Remember, sins are not just things you do or say but includes your thoughts, your motives, your desires. God can see all that. How many sins does it take to be a sinner? ONE. That’s it, just one. Raise your hand if you have never sinned? No hands. Didn’t think so. So, by definition you ARE A SINNER. What did we say about God and sin? He hates it and won’t allow it to dwell in His presence.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
Is God going to be in heaven? I know, dumb question. So, if God hates sin, and God won’t allow sin in His presence, and God is in heaven, how can we, sinners, go to heaven? Well that’s only in God’s presence. God must have a fancy throne room in a fancy building in heaven and so long as we don’t go in there, we are free to enjoy the rest of heaven. Oh really? Does God have a body? No. Jesus does but not God the Father, not the Holy Spirit. Can God be contained in just one location? No. God is omnipresent which means He is everywhere all at once. There is no place you can go where God is not. Since God is everywhere at all times, I think that includes heaven! So, no sin in heaven.
“Can a man hide himself in hiding places So I do not see him?” declares the LORD. “Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?” declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 23:24)
Well I can’t live a perfect life, and I have sinned, so I guess I can’t go to heaven? You can! Because
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
You see when Jesus went to the cross, for a moment the sin of all the world for all time was put on Him. Even though Jesus had never sinned, He suddenly became sin. But Jesus was righteous. Jesus had never sinned. Jesus was the Son of God. His blood is sufficient to wash away all our sins. Just one drop. God demanded the death of the sinner. Look back at Romans 6:23 I quoted earlier. What are the wages of sin? Death! Are wages gifts? No. You earn your wages. They are due you. You have sinned against God and you have earned the wages of death. Not physical death, though that will happen, by spiritual death which means eternal separation from God!
Jesus took our place and He died for us. God’s justice was satisfied. The sin problem was dealt with. It was literally nailed to the cross. That’s why Jesus went to the cross. He went there to take on our sin and die for it. It’s like you committed a capital offense, were found guilty, and sentenced to death but then Jesus came and sat in that electric chair for you. Because He died, you don’t have to. Jesus gave His life for yours. It was a free gift.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8)
We call that mercy which means unmerited favor. Unmerited means you didn’t do anything to deserve it. Jesus didn’t die for your sins because you’re a nice guy and He felt sorry for you. No, there was nothing special about you that caused Jesus to die for you. He did it out of love and now is offering you the free gift of His death and His blood to pay the penalty for your sins and to wash them away in His blood. It’s a gift. Can you earn a gift? No. If you earn it then it’s not a gift. Gifts are freely given by the giver. Don’t let our modern holiday and birthday gifting taint your view of gifts. You might give a gift in certain circumstances because you feel it’s expected. You would rather not give it but you feel you have no choice. We might call that a gift but if you feel obligated to give it then it’s not a gift. Not really. True gifts are given because YOU want to give them. You don’t have to, you’re not obligated to, you simply want to. Jesus wants to give you His gift. He loves you. He really wants you to have it. To get a gift though you have to receive it. The gift is not yours until you receive it. How do you receive Jesus’ gift then? We’ll get to that.
You said there were two problems? What’s the other one? Glad you asked. God has another requirement to enter heaven. It’s not enough that you have no sin. You have to also be perfectly righteous. Ah, that’s where our good works come in right? Wrong. You cannot do enough good works to be perfectly righteous. Plus, do you think a sinner is perfectly righteous? Well maybe once God washes us in the blood of Christ, and removes all our sin, then we are perfectly righteous? Nope. That’s kind of like someone paying off all your bills and so you owe no one anything but you have zero dollars in your bank account. Do you get a perfect credit score of 800 if you have zero dollars but no debt? No. Even if after you are saved, you go on to do lots of good works through the Holy Spirit you still haven’t done enough to be perfectly righteous. Well then, it’s impossible!
Every heard of imputation? Impu-what? Imputation. No. Fancy word but to have something imputed to you means to have something not of you credited to you. It’s like having that zero-bank account and less than 800 credit and someone with a perfect credit score gives that score to you and the credit bureaus now view you as having a perfect credit rating. You didn’t earn that credit score. You did absolutely nothing to get it. That’s imputation. When it comes to salvation, God takes Christ’s (Jesus’) perfect righteousness and imputes it (credits it) to us. Now in God’s eyes we are perfectly righteous. We weren’t but we were made righteous by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.
“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2nd Corinthians 5:21)
So, if we except Jesus’ gift we can have our sins forgiven and washed away? Yes. Good news. What? Jesus really has two gifts for you. The first is His shed blood and death for you. The second is the imputation of His righteousness. So use the money analogy, you started out in terrible debt and facing a death sentence. Jesus came along and paid off your debts and took your place on the electric chair and died for you. You are so thankful because you know you were in terrible debt and that was your own fault. You also know you deserved to die. All you had to do was say yes and all this happened for you!
“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.” (John 3:16)
That’s probably the best-known verse in the Bible. Ever see the guy in the background at football games or other TV events and he’s holding a sign that says “John 3:16?” This is the verse. What did God do according to this verse? He gave his only begotten Son (Jesus). Note God gave us Jesus. That’s a gift. Why did God offer us this gift? Because “God so loved the world.” God did it out of love. How do we receive the gift? “whoever believes in Him.” You have to believe. Is believing a work? No. It takes place in your mind and in your soul. What results from the gift? “[you] shall not perish, but have eternal life.” God offers you a gift out of love. The gift is His Son Jesus who died for your sins and offers you His righteousness. If you believe, you are no longer deserving death and God gives you eternal life!
What’s the catch? I mean, this sounds too good to be true and usually things that are too good to be true come with a catch so what’s the catch? There’s no catch. No hidden clauses. However, in accepting these gifts you have to acknowledge the giver of the gift. Jesus isn’t just some guy. He’s God. He’s sinless and perfectly righteous. He created time and space and everything in it. He is Lord. He is above all kings, all rulers, all countries, all armies, all royalty. He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. You have to know that and believe that. You can’t just say Jesus was a good man, or a prophet, or a guru, or some great philosopher or teacher. If Jesus were any of those things or all of those things that still wouldn’t have made Him perfectly righteous and no amount of His blood could have washed away your sins. It’s because He is God that He is perfectly righteous because only God can be perfectly righteous. It’s because He is God that His death could satisfy God perfect justice. We sinned against God and it’s God we have to answer to and our own death would not be enough to pay the price for our sins. Only Jesus’ death could do that. If you believe Jesus is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords then what should you do? What did regular people always do in the presence of their king? They got down on their knees and prostrated themselves before their king. They also pledged their allegiance to him and promised to do all he commanded. In return he protected them and provided for them. We don’t bow to Jesus to earn salvation. We bow in recognition of who He is. We humble ourselves and bow before our God and Savior.
If you have any other concept of who Jesus is then believing in that Jesus will not save you. There are a lot of counterfeit Jesus’ out there and lots of groups who claim they’ve got the real Jesus or they claim it’s doesn’t matter who or what you believe in just that you believe. They are wrong. You have to bow your knee and accept the free gift from the one and only true Son of God. He is the only one who can save you. You don’t need to know everything about Him when you ask for His forgiveness. You just need to acknowledge He is God. He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords and that your sinned against Him and need His forgiveness and His righteousness. Do that and He will give you His gifts and welcome you into His family.
How can you know more about Jesus? Read his book. It’s called the Bible and is the number one best seller of all time even today. He’ll help you to understand it too even though it’s not hard to understand. He will give you the Holy Spirit to live inside you and guide you. He will always be with you. Don’t buy the lie that God has other books. Just the Bible.
Jesus did it all and He offers all of us the free gift of salvation. Don’t make the mistake though of thinking your earned it nor the mistake of thinking you have to add to it. You can’t accept His gift and think you earned it at the same time. You have to acknowledge that you sinned and became unrighteous and that you could not save yourself or contribute anything to your salvation. It’s all Him. Our pride might not like that. We want to think we had some part to play. If we think that then we have no idea how bad our sin is and how useless we are in contributing to our salvation. You have to come to Jesus humbly acknowledging that your only hope for salvation is found in His death and His righteousness. If you believe it was me + Jesus, then you got the wrong gospel and you have not been forgiven. It’s not me plus Jesus. It’s just Jesus.
Once we’ve been forgiven then we begin a new life. Now we have the Holy Spirit of God within us. When we obey God and do good works, it’s not to earn our salvation or maintain it. Jesus did it all. It’s done. Past tense. We do good works now because we love God and want to do His will.
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)
Notice we are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus. Who did the work? Not us. God did it. What did he also do? He created good works for us, beforehand, so that we would walk in them. God has big plans for you. We aren’t doing good works to get right with God. We are doing good works to please God, to obey Him, and because we love Him.
One more thing. Ever heard of an “Indian giver?” Thankfully that saying is out of style. It means someone who gives you a gift and then changes his mind and wants it back. That’s not what the Indians did. The term came from a cultural misunderstanding in the 1700’s. In Indian culture when a gift was given, something of equal value was expected back. If you did not want to give something back then the Indian might be offended and take his gift back. Hence the term.
We already established that you didn’t do anything to earn your salvation and that you didn’t do anything to receive except to believe. We also learned that God offered us salvation out of love. God doesn’t care if you’re wealthy or poor, young or old, have light skin, dark skin, or any other shade of skin, if you’re from America or Russia, you’re a man or a woman. God’s gift is for everyone. God does not play favorites. Once you receive God’s gift, you have eternal life. You can’t lose it, have it taken away from you, or stolen from God.
“and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” (John 10:28)
Some people teach that once you are saved you have to keep doing good works or you could lose your salvation. That’s not what the Bible teaches. We read the verse earlier that God prepared “beforehand” good works for us to do. He prepared these for us to do after we received His gift of salvation. We just read that we can’t lose our salvation so there is nothing more we need to do after receiving God’s gift. These people think that you have to keep your salvation by adding good works. They get this idea from something James wrote:
“What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14)
If you read what James wrote, all of it, you see he’s trying to make a point here. An important point. Anyone can go around claiming to be a Christian; claiming to have saving faith. We have some expressions, talk is cheap. The proof is in the pudding. Put your money where your mouth is. Actions speak louder than words. We all know what those expressions mean. Walk your talk.
What did Ephesians 2:10 said God did? It said he prepared good works for us to do. Salvation is about more than making us right with God. God loves you so much that He wants you to be like Jesus. He gives you the Holy Spirit to aid you in living your new life of faith. Those good works you do, that God prepared beforehand, that are the “proof in the pudding.” They are the evidence of the salvation you already possess. That’s what James was arguing. If you say your saved and have faith but your life is not showing any evidence of it, then maybe your faith was not true faith. Maybe you didn’t really mean it. Maybe you talked yourself into saying the words but in your heart they were not true. If that’s your “faith” then that faith cannot save you. You are saved by faith alone but your faith does not leave you alone. You change. God begins working on you. Some things might change quickly while other things might change more gradually. You don’t become perfect. Not this side of heaven. We still have that old habit of sin hanging around that we have to resist. But you do change. If you live a long life after your claim faith and nothing ever changes, then you ought to question if your faith was genuine.
The Apostle Paul, in writing to the believers at the church in Corinth, said:
“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you– unless indeed you fail the test?” (2nd Corinthians 13:5)
Paul was warning them against complacency and false faith. It is always a good thing to take a good hard look at your life and ask yourself the hard questions. If you see some answers you don’t like, then you know what to work on. A changed life and evidence of a relationship with Jesus is a good test. Was your salvation a one-time event in your life and after that you just went back to your old life and never spent time with God? You never changed, you never sought God in prayer, you never read His Word (the Bible), you never sought the company of other believers. That’s what Paul means by testing. He’s not saying you can lose your salvation but maybe you’ve stopped walking in those good works or maybe you never had saving faith.
So, no you don’t need good works to be saved. You just need faith. That faith is a seed from which a new life will sprout and grow and produce good fruit. That is the outworking and evidence of our faith.
If you have never asked God’s forgiveness, do so now. Ask Jesus to forgive you. Ask for His blood to wash away your sins and His righteousness to be imputed to you. Tell Him He’s your Lord and you will strive, with His assistance, to lead a fruitful life out of love and obedience to Him. There are no special words. You don’t have to be in a church when you pray this prayer. Prayer is just talking to God. He can hear you. No matter where you are. He loves you no matter what you’ve done. More than you know. He will make you beautiful in His eyes. No matter who you are, what you’ve done He loves you. You think God could never love you because you’ve done so many bad things? You’re wrong. God’s love is unconditional. He loves you despite who you are and what you’ve done. He has seen it all. No one is beyond God’s reach. You can’t be too bad for God. Don’t believe Satan’s lie that you’ve cross a line, are too far gone, and God could never forgive you. God can and will even when you are not ready to forgive yourself. Maybe you’ve never experienced that kind of love and forgiveness and it’s totally foreign to you. That’s ok. God understands. Trust Him. I promise you will never regret it.
The Doctrine of Imminency
The return of Christ has been expected by the Church since the time of Christ. This expectation that His return could happen at any time with no preconditions is known as the Doctrine of Imminency. The Church is told to “watch” and to “look” for his return. In the description of the Rapture of the Church, we see believers going about their daily lives working in the fields and doing other normal activities. Suddenly some are taken while others are left behind. To me this suggests they were not aware the Lord was about to return (other than knowing it could happen at any time. If any of the events described as occurring in the Tribulation had to occur before the Rapture, then Christ’s return would not be imminent. We would have recognizable events we would expect to see first. This contradicts all the Scriptures that depict His return as imminent and without warning.
The Church in the Tribulation?
In John 14:1-3, in connection with the promise of Christ, “I will come again,” the purpose of His coming is revealed to be to take believers to “my Father’s house,” by which term He describes heaven. After He meets the church in the air, He will take them to the place prepared. In contrast, at His coming to establish the millennial kingdom, all believers remain in the earthly scene. In 1 Thessalonians 5:4-10, believers are assured that they are children of light, not children of darkness. They are comforted with the promise that the day of wrath will not overtake them as a thief, as it will the world. They are promised, “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:9). In 1 Thessalonians 1:10 our hope is stated: “To wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.” If believers are delivered “from the wrath to come,” why inflict upon them a day of wrath designed for the ungodly? Are not believers assured: “Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him” (Rom. 5:9)? In Revelation 3:10 the godly church at Philadelphia is promised: “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.” In a word, they are promised that they will be kept “from” the period of tribulation ahead. That is different from being kept “through” this time. (https://bible.org/seriespage/6-will-church-go-through-tribulation)
We see in Scripture two programs of God. First, God established the nation of Israel and revealed Himself to them. There were many faithful Jews who responded to God’s revelation and faith in the future-coming Messiah. Not all did, however. Many strayed and by the time of Christ’s first coming faith among the Jews was waning. They thought themselves righteous by virtue of lineage and thinking they were keeping the law. While much of Jesus’ ministry was to Jews, not all of it was. He spoke of “other children” and in the Book of Acts we see the Gospel going to the Gentiles which had been God’s plan all along. While some Jews came to accept Jesus as their Messiah, the majority have not. In 70 A.D. Roman soldiers sacked the city of Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple putting to an end the sacrificial system of Judaism. Jesus’ death on the cross had already rendered that system of no further value. It was to point to the ultimate sacrifice in Jesus. Once Jesus died, there was no longer a need to sacrifice in the Temple (see Hebrews 10.) Most of the Jews rejected Jesus and continued in their useless ceremonies until the Romans destroyed their Temple and dispersed them.
In the over 2000 years that have followed, we have been in the Church age where God’s focus has turned to the Church though He has not forgotten Israel. The Church age will culminate with the return of Christ and the Rapture where His church will join Him in heaven to dwell with Him forever. That is not the end though. As God always saved a faithful remnant of Jews in the OT, He will also save a remnant during The Tribulation. God’s gaze now returns to Israel and the fulfillment of His plan for them. Some Jews and some Gentiles will come to believe during the Tribulation. They are who are in view in Revelation 13:7. They will suffer for their faith but spend eternity with God. At the end of the seven year Tribulation, Christ will return again with His angels and end the reign of the Antichrist and bound up Satan and the demons and the 1000 year Millennial Kingdom will begin.