When the Bridegroom Returns

Being Prepared for When the Bridegroom Comes

Then the kingdom of heaven shall be like ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went out to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out. But the wise answered, saying, No lest there should not be enough for us and you: but go rather to those that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and those that were ready went in with him to the wedding: and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Assuredly I say to you, I do not know you. Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of man is coming. Matt 25:1-13

There is much emphasis in both Jesus and the apostles teaching about future events and in particular that we should be ready for when Jesus returns. This well known parable about the Kingdom is directly connected to the concept of the Bridegroom and Bride. There are different terms used in scripture that describe the same event. As individuals we are referred to as guests of the bridegroom Matt 9:15 or in this parable like a virgin. We are not referred to individually as the Bride, that is because the Bride is not any one individual but the collective body of believers (both Jew and Gentile) who are His. And so in this passage where we are being taught about our individual responsibility to be ready we are likened to virgins. One of the key principles Jesus is teaching is that we must be ready for His coming because “those that were ready went in with him to the wedding and the door was shut”. In other words if we are not ready we will not be at the wedding, but more than this, we will also be shut out with the judgment “I do not know you”

How is it then that we can be prepared? Learning from this parable, the issue is one not only of whether we have oil in our lamps but whether we have extra oil. The reason the virgins needed extra oil was because the Bridegroom was a long time in coming, and didn’t arrive until midnight, so that the lamps original oil needed to be replaced. Could this be the Bridegrooms intention all along to ensure that only those who were diligent in their preparation would be able to enter the wedding? The foolish virgins had oil in their lamp at first, but did not have the means to refill them when the oil had run out. Because they had no oil when the Bridegroom came, their lamps could not be lit, and if the lamps were not lit they were not able to go out and meet Him.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Ps 119:105

A well accepted picture of the Holy Spirit amongst others is that of oil. It is the oil of the Holy Spirit which illuminates the Word of God so that we have a lamp to our feet and a light for our path. This raises the importance of both the Spirit and the Word. Both are necessary for our preparation. We may have the Word, but without the Spirit we have no revelation or illumination of what God is saying to us through His Word. The relevance for us is that without the revelation of the inspired Word of God or the continual indwelling of the Holy Spirit within us, we are not prepared to go out and meet the Lord when He comes as our Bridegroom. Satan knows this full well, and has set himself to do everything possible to distort and corrupt our understanding of the Word of God. In fact Satan has been doing this from the very beginning in the original sin, enticing Adam and Eve to doubt the Word of God spoken to them previously Gen 3.

One of things we are warned will happen in the last days is that there will be many false doctrines and false teachers. Without passing judgement it is not difficult to see evidence of this today. One observation is that they all tend to undermine our preparation for the future and what is foretold. Satan knows that when Jesus returns will mark the end of his time, and so will do whatever he can to hinder the return of Jesus, destroy or shipwreck the faith of as many as possible, or cause us to be unprepared.

He will speak against the Most High and oppress his holy people and try to change the set times and the laws. Dan 7:25

How can Satan undermine our preparation for the future? There are many ways could be explored here. For example we could be deceived into thinking that the Lord isn’t coming back for such a long time that we have nothing to concern ourselves with in the present. Or we could be deceived into thinking that just because we walked with the Lord once, it is no longer necessary to stay close to the Lord or to endure in the faith, because our eternal future is secure no matter what.

“Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith.” 1 Tim 1:18,19

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons” 1 Tim 4:1

“He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” Titus 1:9

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. Rom 16:17-18

The Bridegroom returns at Midnight

In stands to reason that if Time Out Mission is to prepare the church for the coming of Jesus the Bridegroom King then we must have a solid grasp of what the Bible teaches about the future, the nature of His return, when will He return, what will happen when Jesus comes, and how should we live today in the light of what will happen tomorrow. After all, so much of the underlying emphasis in Christian faith is about the future. The basis of our hope is that the best is yet to come, for we shall be changed to be like Him when we see Him as He is. 1 John 3:2 Satan and all the dominion of darkness will once and for all be removed from planet earth (apart for a short time after the Millennium), that the dead shall rise again, the judgement, the millennial reign, a new heaven and earth, and we could go on. How alarming therefore, that the church today is largely ignorant about the future, with a limited understanding about what will happen next. For example the classic assumption is when we die we will go to Heaven and live for eternity there with the Lord. But a closer look at scripture will we soon discover another final destination. For God has always desired to live with man upon the earth. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” Rev 21:2,3 One could ask if we are already present with the Lord in spirit when we die, then why is it necessary that our earthly bodies should also be redeemed? Rom8:2

In fact the church is not only unaware of much Biblical teaching about the last days, but also divided over the interpretation of key biblical passages, forming in some instances largely differing opinions about what will happen, or what has already happened or is happening now. Aware of the dangers here in presenting our own interpretation, it is not something that we can avoid, but believe we have a responsibility before God, to communicate as best we can what the Bible teaches about the future, or eschatology. And so, we present here our best understanding after many hours of study and prayer not as an absolute without room for others own opinion, but as our perspective. We realise that this will be different from what others may be teaching today or what you have already concluded, but we do believe it is also what the early church fathers believed and taught. This subject is not one which can be taught in any great depth in such a short time, and so our journey here will be brief, in the hope that it will inspire you to search the scriptures for yourself to form your own conclusions. And finally before we begin, it is important to realise that the Book of Revelation and other eschatological passages are not given primarily as a strict chronological blueprint for us to follow as we see world events unfold and prophecy fulfilled, but it’s underlying message is that we must be prepared now, and that we should be encouraged to know no matter how difficult things may become we have hope because the Lord is coming back.

In our previous sessions we have already linked the return of Jesus to two specific events. First that the Gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in all the world, Matt 24:14, and second that the Bride is prepared for the Bridegroom Rev 19:7 These are both true and necessary before Jesus second coming, but there are other issues here to explore.

“Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion (also falling away, apostasy) occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.” 2 Thess 2:1-3

Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica (who were Gentiles not Jews) to address concerns that some of the believers had heard reports that Jesus had already come. He instructs them to not let anyone deceive them in any way about the second coming of Christ, and the basis of his argument is that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed. This is reference to the antichrist appearing at the time of the great tribulation.

This reflects what Jesus himself taught in a key passage

For then there will be great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equalled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you ahead of time. So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather. Immediately after the distress of those days ’the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. Matt 24:21-27

This passage is very clear. Jesus returns after the great tribulation. Not many would argue with this point, but where confusion has come has been with a relatively new system of biblical interpretation known as Dispensationalism which came in the 1800’s through John Nelson Derby and the Brethren movement (this is a generalisation). The basis of Dispensationalism is that God relates to human beings in different ways under different biblical covenants in a series of dispensations or periods of time in history. The assumption here is that because we are not appointed unto wrath 1 Thess 5:9 then the church cannot be upon the earth during the great tribulation because this is seen as the outpouring of the wrath of God. So if the church is not upon the earth at that time, then they must have been removed before, which is known as pre-tribulation, that is to say the rapture is before the tribulation and not after.

It is important to accept that Jesus tells us we will have tribulation in this world. The point isn’t that we are spared by being removed from tribulation but there is strength through Christ to overcome. We have the opportunity to exercise love and demonstrate faithfulness in the face of hardship, so that we can be the light of the world when the darkness is the greatest, and be present for both Israel and those who will come into the Kingdom during this time. It is during the great tribulation that the Bride will be purified, and where she will make her final preparations in getting dressed.

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. John 17:15

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me you might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.) Rev 19:7,8

The central text used by pre-tribulationists is found in 1 Thessalonians 4:14 – 5:2

“For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 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. Therefore encourage one another with these words. 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.” 1 Thess 4:14-5:2

The expression “thief in the night” is thought to mean that Jesus comes in a way which no one will see or is unexpected. The phrase “caught up” in the Latin is “rapizo” meaning to snatch which is where we get the word rapture from. But if we read further Paul explains what he means

“But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.” 1 Thess 5:4

Yes, the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night, but because we are not of the night, we should not be surprised. It will be those in darkness who will be surprised. Jesus himself said “see I have told you ahead of time” Matt 24:25 and also “when you see these happening you know that the day is near” Mark 13:29 To say again, the phrase “a thief in the night” isn’t referring to whether he is seen or not, but is in reference to the element of surprise.

This also goes to dispel the popular belief that the Lord could come again at any moment. Although Jesus does warns us “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” Matt24:42

There are no explicit passages to support that there is a secret coming of Jesus to rapture the church, it is a deduction made based upon the idea that we are not appointed to wrath. But there are many scriptures which demonstrate the presence of God’s people upon the earth during the tribulation.

“If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.” Matt 24:22

The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ ’An enemy did this,’ he replied. The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’  ’No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’ Matt 13:27-30

We suggest the simplest interpretation of these scriptures is the right one.

Two more thoughts.

  1. The Last Trumpet

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 1 Cor 15:51,52

In both the 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15 passages Paul refers to the trumpet call as happening when the dead in Christ are raised or at the resurrection. But Paul also uses the phrase the “last trumpet”. In Revelation we read “The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.” Rev 11:15 The question here is whether these two trumpets are the same, because if they are then there is little place for a pre-tribulation rapture.

  1. The First Resurrection

Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. Rev 20:6

The question to ask here is, if the first resurrection is found here in Revelation 20 which is after the tribulation (see Millennium notes), how can there be another resurrection before this, because if there was another resurrection before, then surely the resurrection we find in Revelation 20 is not the first.

Why is this important?

A person’s perspective and belief about the rapture is very important because it will significantly affect the way they view the future, and whether they should be prepared or not. If someone believes that they will be raptured before the tribulation, they will not have the same sense of necessary preparation required for them to overcome. Repeatedly we are warned and encouraged to remain strong, to overcome, to watch and pray, so that we are prepared for His Coming.

A warning from a faithful saint

Corrie Ten Boom, who suffered through the terrible atrocities of the German concentration camps in WWII, had these sobering words to say about the tribulation– “I have been in countries where the saints are already suffering terrible persecution. In China the Christians were told: ‘Don’t worry, before the tribulation comes, you will be translated, raptured.’ Then came a terrible persecution. Millions of Christians were tortured to death. Later I heard a bishop from China say, sadly: ‘We have failed. We should have made the people strong for persecution rather than telling them Jesus would come first.’ Turning to me, he said: ‘Tell the people how to be strong in times of persecution, how to stand when the tribulation comes – to stand and not faint.’ I feel I have a divine mandate to go and tell the people of this world that it is possible to be strong in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are in training for the tribulation. Since I have gone already through prison for Jesus’ sake, and since I met that bishop from China, now every time I read a good Bible text I think: ‘Hey, I can use that in the time of tribulation’ Then I write it down and learn it by heart.