Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles
Recently a friend of ours died of leukaemia. His family cared for him while he was in palliative care. It was a hopeless situation. They knew he wasn’t going to be healed. Yet they prayed for God’s will to be done and the funeral was a celebration that he had been delivered from his suffering and was now with the Lord.
Jeremiah’s letter to Jewish exiles in chapter 29:4-23 shows that for God’s people, the situation is never helpless or hopeless because He promises ultimate deliverance and restoration.
Jeremiah prophesized during the last 40 years of the nation of Judah (626 – 586 BC). At this time Judah was influenced by three foreign powers: Egypt, Assyria, and Babylonia. There was tension between these super powers for world supremacy (like between USA, Russia and China today). Power shifted from Assyria and Egypt to Babylonia when Assyria was conquered in 612BC and Egypt conquered in 605BC. These large nations dominated the smaller ones. The Assyrians and Babylonians used their overwhelming military force to terrorize the people of the lands they invaded. They also took heavy tribute and deported masses of people into slavery. So Judah was a weak nation that was surrounded by many enemies.
Jeremiah prophesized during the reign of five kings: Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jahoiakim, Jehoichin and Zedkiah. All of these kings except Josiah “did evil in the eyes of the Lord”.
Jeremiah was part of a line of Old Testament prophets. At the beginning he was a contemporary of Zephaniah and Nahum and later of Obadiah and Habakkuk.
The prophets before Zephaniah announced God’s judgment and God’s restoration of Judah. This was also Zephaniah’s message. Nahum predicted the destruction of Nineveh, the largest city of the time. This would have been good news for Judah who had been threatened by Assyria since the fall of Samaria in 722 BC. It showed that God judges His enemies.
Later in Jeremiah’s period, Obadiah pronounces judgment on Edom, one of Judah’s closest enemies and predicts Israel’s restoration. Habakkuk complains to God because He’s doing nothing about the terrible violence, wrongdoing, destruction, strife, and injustice in Judah. He is perplexed when told that the pagan Babylonians were going to invade Judah. But God reassures him that the Babylonians will eventually be punished as well.
In the book of Jeremiah, he speaks out against the sins of Judah (Ch. 1-38). He warned them for at least 23 years (Jer. 25:2-3). The punishment for these is that they will be invaded by Babylon and taken captive. Chapter 29 is a letter that Jeremiah wrote to all the Jewish captives in Babylon (Jer. 29:4). After chapter 29, Jeremiah predicts that the Jews will be released from captivity and able to return to re-establish their lives in their homeland. He also predicts living under the Messiah with a new covenant.
The letter, written by one of God’s prophets, is comprised of commands and promises (Jer. 29:45-23). This means that it was a command to be followed by the Jewish exiles and promises they were to believe.
The Babylonians attacked Jerusalem three times. On the first occasion in 605 BC, Judah became a vassal state and paid tribute to Babylon and a group of people including Daniel was carried off to Babylon (2 Ki. 24:1-2). Then they laid siege to Jerusalem in 598-597 BC, replacing the king, taking tribute, and taking about 10,000 Jewish captives to Babylon (2 Ki. 24:8-17). Then they laid siege to Jerusalem again in 588-586 BC, destroying the city and taking more Jewish captives to Babylon, including the king (2 Ki. 25:1-21). Instead of being a nation, Judah was now a province of the regional superpower. The remaining Jews, including Jeremiah, fled to Egypt for safety (Jer. 41:16 – 44:30). This wasn’t unexpected because it was the ultimate punishment for breaking their covenant with their God (Lev. 26:31-33; Dt, 28:49-68). Everything that God had done for them since they left Egypt would be destroyed. The goal of the punishment is their repentance (Lev. 26:40-41).
So after being warned for at least 100 years, Judah has finally been punished for their sins. The captives in Babylon were suffering grief and loss, forced relocation and slavery. They probably feared the worst and thought their fate was similar to that of Israel in 722 BC. Over 136 years ago, the Assyrians invaded and destroyed the kingdom of Israel and took captives and the people were scattered to other nations. That was the end of the kingdom of Israel and there was no way it could be restored. It seemed the same when Babylon invaded Judah. So the Jews in Babylon thought this was the end of their nation. They cried in despair as they were in a helpless and hopeless situation (Ps. 137:1). Jeremiah also lamented because he saw the destruction of Jerusalem (Lamentations).
Jeremiah also predicts the destruction of those who didn’t go into exile (v.15-19). It’s punishment for their disobedience. They didn’t deserve God’s protection like those sent into exile (Jer. 24:5-7).
What a surprising letter from Jeremiah! They are told to prepare for a long captivity (v.4-7) by settling down to live for a long time in Babylon. To establish families and raise children among themselves; but don’t intermarry with foreigners. God wanted them to grow in number, not dwindle.
Usually captives hate their captors. But the Jews are told to pray for Babylon! To pray for their enemy! To seek Babylon’s peace and prosperity so things will go well for them as well. To pray for the prosperity of their enemy!
What did the exiles think of Jeremiah? Whose side was Jeremiah on, first he says to surrender to the Babylonians and now when they are prisoners of war (POW) he says this? Has he lost his marbles?
Australian POWs in World War 2 endured hard labor working on roads and battling to survive the harsh Austrian winter. Under their German masters, it seemed a hopeless situation. But after 12 months they began receiving Red Cross packages with food clothes and medicine, which were like a ray of light in a sad, dark part of the world. These helped many POWs to survive.
Through the fall of Jerusalem, the exiles learnt that God eventually judges sin (many died, others were POWs, some escaped and their capital city was destroyed). Also, what seemed to be the worst to the captives (being POWs), was actually the best because they would be kept safe in Babylon (most of the rest died). Also, they were to accept the situation that God had placed them in and not hope for something better.
Then God warns the exiles not to be deceived by false prophets who were prophesying lies in God’s name (v.8-9, 21). They contradict the words of Jeremiah (Jer. 27:16-22; 28:3). The captivity was to be 70 years, not two (Jer. 25:11-12; 28:3, 11; 29:10)! God’s prophets predicted disasters, but the false prophets predicted peace (Jer. 14:13-16; 23:17; 28:8). One of them sent a letter to the priests rebuking them for not putting Jeremiah in prison (v. 24-27). Because of their lies and adultery, Jeremiah predicted they would be put to death by the king of Babylon (v. 21-23).
Jeremiah tells the captives to not be gullible by believing their lies. Instead, they should ignore them and not listen to them.
After the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over the Ukraine in 2014, the Russians claimed that the missile was fired by a Ukrainian fighter jet. They were telling a lie.
So the lesson for the exiles to learn was to be discerning and listen to God’s prophets and not the false ones. They needed to know the difference between the two.
Next Jeremiah predicts deliverance and restoration for the exiles. He says that God will bring them back to their homeland after 70 years of exile. Those still alive at the time and their descendants would be able to return to Judah and rebuild Jerusalem, including the temple and the city walls. This restoration was predicted over 900 years beforehand (Dt. 30:3-5).
“For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord” (Jer. 29:11-14NIV).
God hadn’t forgotten them. In fact He had planned their future lives. These plans were for their collective good, to prosper them collectively and give them a hope and future to look forward to. There was hope for their nation after all. But the benefits wouldn’t come for 70 years! In the meantime they were POWs.
God’s plans to prosper the exiles and give them hope and a future (v.11) are described as their return to Judah from exile (v. 10, 14) and these plans were fulfilled with the decree of Cyrus in 538 BC (Ezra 1:2-4; Jer. 29:11). So this promise has already been fulfilled.
God also predicts that by that time they will return to following Him once again. This implies that they will confess and repent of their sins. The Bible teaches that their restoration was conditional on their repentance (Dt. 4:29-31). This shows God’s mercy and His commitment to the covenant made with their ancestors.
Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste has just been released after 400 days in an Egyptian prison. He said the experience was a “baptism of fire” that helped him learn more about himself. It felt like a “near-death experience”, but also like a “rebirth” because he was given an opportunity to look back at his life.
So the lesson for the exiles to learn was that repentance was the way to a restored relationship with the Lord and to their release from being POWs in Babylon. This repentance was essential for their deliverance and the restoration and rebirth of their nation.
They also learnt that their situation is never helpless or hopeless because God promises ultimate deliverance and restoration from whatever situation they are in. The way to optimism is to remember that God has plans for their future. But there was no shortcut; they had to go through suffering along the way.
What are the lessons for us today?
What’s changed since then? We are God’s people today, but we are not a nation with their own home-land like the exiles. Jesus brought a new covenant. He prayed for His enemies (Lk. 23:34) and taught His followers to love their enemies (Mt. 5:44-45). Paul taught that we are to never take revenge, but leave that up to God (Rom. 12:19-21). Because, doing good to one’s enemy, instead of taking revenge, may bring about repentance.
The lesson that God eventually judges sin applies to us as well. People say, what’s God doing about the evil in the world? He seems absent. But the Bible says that He is patiently waiting for more people to turn to Him before He brings judgment (2 Pt. 3:9).
Also, what seems to be the worst for us may be the best because He knows us better than we know ourselves and He ensures that everything that happens to us is for our benefit (Rom. 8:27-28). That’s why God doesn’t always answer our prayers in the way we would like it.
The lesson to accept the situation that God had placed us in and not hope for something better applies to us as well. Paul gives an example of this for marriage (1 Cor. 7:17-20). He also wrote, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th. 5:16-18).
Do we believe all we see on the internet? How gullible are we? How do we know what to believe? Do we compare what people say and write with Scripture? Because there are false teachers out there. In Jeremiah’s day they ignored gross sinfulness and said, God’s not going to judge us. They wanted God’s blessing without going through the suffering of the captivity. But the Bible teaches that suffering precedes blessing and glory, with Jesus the greatest example (Rom. 8:18; 1 Pt 3:18, 22). Christians should expect to suffer for their faith (1 Pt. 4:12-19). We should be skeptical of those who teach an “easy” Christianity that brings lots of benefits because our benefits are largely spiritual (Eph. 1:3-14). Also, beware of false hopes.
The lesson that repentance is the way to a restored relationship with the Lord applies to us as well. In the New Testament, God doesn’t promise to release us from our physical problems (if this happens it is a mercy), but deliver us from our spiritual ones. The steps of repentance include “Come near to God and He will come near to you” (Jas. 4:7-10).
As God’s plans to prosper the exiles and give them hope and a future was fulfilled in 538 BC, this promise isn’t for us today. But what sort of plans does God have for us? We can ask God in prayer (Jas. 1:5). Of course, He wants us to be faithful to Him in everything we do by following the commands and principles He gives for believers in the New Testament. We can begin by being faithful where we are (Mt. 25:21). As we do this, God usually reveals the next step. It’s one step at a time, not a jump to our final destiny.
The lesson that our situation is never helpless or hopeless applies to us as well. However, our ultimate deliverance and restoration is spiritual, not physical. When there’s despair, discouragement or bad news our hope is the good news of Jesus. Heaven is the ultimate hope for Christians, though we may have to go through suffering along the way.
We have seen from Jeremiah’s letter to the Jewish exiles that God judges sin (which is why they were POWs), and cares for His people and warns them not to be deceived by false prophets.
It shows that for God’s people, the situation is never helpless or hopeless because He promises ultimate spiritual deliverance and restoration.
Written, February 2015
In the previous article in this series we saw that some of the prophecies concerning the “day of the Lord” involved the Jewish captivity in Babylon and the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans.
Outline of Future Events
In the New Testament times, prophecies about the “day the Lord” were given by Christ (Mt. 24; Mk. 13; Lk. 21), Paul (1 Th. 5:1-11; 2 Th. 1:6-10; 2:1-12), Peter (2 Pt. 3:2-12 and John (Rev. 6-20). The timing of these future events is evident from the sequence of topics in the book of Revelation. These are shown in a schematic diagram (a timeline where time increases from left to right; includes events on earth and in heaven): at present the church is on earth (Rev. 2-3), the next event is the rapture when all believers (dead and alive) will be resurrected to heaven (not mentioned specifically here; there is just a jump from earth to heaven between ch 3 and 4), while the church is in heaven (Rev. 4-5) there will be a period of tribulation on earth (Rev. 6-18), which will end with the return of the Lord in great power and glory (Rev. 19:11-21), followed by the 1,000 year reign of the Lord on the earth (the millennium) (Rev. 20:1-10), and then the eternal state of the new heaven and the new earth (Rev. 21-22). The arrows in the diagram show when all Christians will be taken to heaven and when they will return from heaven. The future “day of the Lord” relates to the events between the rapture and the new heaven and the new earth.
The Greek word translated “tribulation” (Strongs #2347) means suffering and trouble. The references to the future time of “tribulation” are also translated as “anguish”, “distress”, “trouble” and “suffering” (Mt. 24:21,29; Rev. 7:14 NIV, NLT, The Message). According to the dictionary, “tribulation” means “grievous trouble” or “severe trial”. Christians may be persecuted by the world, but this tribulation is God’s judgement on the world, which lasts for about seven years.
John wrote, “Then I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals” (Rev. 5:1). The scroll contained a record of the judgements that must fall on the earth before the Lord Jesus can set up His kingdom (Rev.5:9). The judgements included a series of plagues like there were in Egypt before the exodus, which are called: six seals (Rev. 6); seven trumpets (Rev. 8 & 9); and seven bowls of God’s wrath (Rev. 16). This period of tribulation is characterised by “God’s wrath” and “God’s fury” (Rev. 6:16; 14:10,19; 15:1,7; 16:1,19): “For the great day of their (God’s) wrath has come, and who can withstand it?” (Rev. 6:17). It will be a time of intense persecution of the Jews: “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” (Mt. 24:21-22). At the end of this period, Israel is attacked from the south and the north and the armies of the world gather for the final battle at Armageddon (Rev. 16:16). Also, “Babylon the Great”, an influential religious and commercial system based in Rome, will be destroyed by the Antichrist (Rev. 17 & 18).
It is clear that these judgements are not for the church. The church is not mentioned in Rev. 6-19. Christians will not experience the tribulation as God promised the church in Philadelphia, “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test those who live on the earth” (Rev. 3:10). Also, “But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief” (1 Th. 5:4) and “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Th. 5:9). This is about the Tribulation, not hell; as hell is a place, not a period of time. Instead, Christians will be raptured to be with the Lord – they will be taken away, like Noah was taken away from destruction of the global flood and Lot was taken away from the destruction of Sodom.
The key personalities in the Tribulation include:
- Satan and his demons, who are cast out of heaven to the earth and will persecute the Jews (Rev. 12).
- “The beast” (or Antichrist)—a political leader based in Rome who will appear as a peacemaker to solve many of the world’s problems (Rev. 16:2), and be worshipped like a god and will persecute God’s people (Rev.13:1-9). His number is 666. The Antichrist will work like Satan works (2 Th. 2:9-12). He will be able to do miracles and people will be amazed at his signs and wonders. Many will be deceived and believe that that these miracles prove that he is divine. But this is a lie; Satan and demons can also perform miracles. In that day, God will send a powerful delusion so that those who deliberately rejected the truth will believe the lie that the Antichrist is the Messiah; God on earth. As most people rejected the real Messiah, most people in the tribulation will accept the false Messiah. This shows how much Satan and sin have affected humanity.
- “The false prophet”—a religious leader, based in Jerusalem, who uses supernatural powers to support the beast (Rev. 13:11-18). At the mid-point of the tribulation, he will set up an idol of the beast in the Jewish temple and make people worship it or be killed (Mt. 24:15).
Who will be saved during the Tribulation and enter into the Millennium?
- 144,000 Jewish believers will preach the gospel of the kingdom in the first half of the tribulation (Mt. 24:14; Rev. 7:1-8; 14:1-5). This gospel was preached at Christ’s first coming, but it was rejected by most of the Jews. Now, amidst suffering, some will turn to God and they will suffer intense persecution (Rom. 1:25-26).
- Two prophets who will witness for 3.5 years (Rev. 11:1-13). The Jewish temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem (Mt. 24:15; Rev. 11:1-2).
- There will also be Gentile believers (Rev. 7:9,10,14).
The Tribulation ends when the Lord appears in great power:
- Jesus quoted from Isaiah, saying that He would return immediately after the Great Tribulation: “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.’ At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the peoples of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory” (Mt. 24:29-30).
- The final catastrophic events that precede the appearing are world wide. Lk. 21:35 “For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth.”
- The Lord appears as “King of kings and Lord of lords” as the supreme ruler, with believers (“the armies of heaven”) (Rev. 19:1-21). “With justice He judges and makes war” (v.11).
- The beast and the armies of the world make war against the Lord (v.19). The beast and the false prophet will be thrown into the “lake of burning sulphur” and the others will be killed (v.20).
- Today Christ is hidden and many people even deny His existence. But when He appears visibly, He will be seen by all, so that no one will be able to deny or avoid Him. Christ’s victory will be visible to all. At that time, God will reveal to the world what He has been doing with His people through all these years. So, not only is Jesus Christ revealed, but His followers will be revealed as well (Rom. 8:19; 2 Th. 2:10). God’s plan is that Christians will be with Him and like Him forever (2 Th. 2:14).
- The unsaved will be cast into hell, while the faithful will be gathered to enter the Millennium (Mt. 25:34,41): “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” (Mt. 24:31).
Next Satan will be bound for 1,000 years (Rev. 20:1-6). As this hasn’t happened yet, we are not in the millennium today. During this period, Jesus will rule on earth as the king and those who have part of the first resurrection will reign with Him (Rev. 5:10). These are believers from the church and the tribulation periods.
Peter addressed Jews in Jerusalem, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that He may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. Heaven must receive Him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as He promised long ago through His holy prophets” (Acts 3:19-21). Following repentance of the Jews in the tribulation, The Lord will return in power to establish His Millennial kingdom. According to Joel’s prophecy, the Holy Spirit will be poured out on all people and they will prophesy. The day of Pentecost was a foretaste of this time.
“The Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the LORD and to His blessings in the last days” (Hos. 3:4-5). The Jews will be blessed under the rule of Christ in the Millennium. It will be a time of restoration, peace and prosperity. All of God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their descendants will be fulfilled at this time.
Finally the Lord’s prayer will be answered, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10). For example, there will be no war: “And He (God) will judge between the nations, and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war any more” (Is. 2:4).
After the millennium Satan will be released and deceive many people who were born during the Millennium so that they form an army to attack Jerusalem, but God will intervene with fire from heaven and Satan will be thrown into the “lake of burning sulphur”. After this, unbelievers will take part in the second resurrection, be judged before God at the great white throne according to what they have done and thrown into the lake of fire, which is called the second death (Rev. 20:71-15).
The Great Fire
The poem “The hollow men” by T S Elliott ends with:
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper
But he got it wrong.
“Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ He promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly”. But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pt. 3:3-9).
“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be burned up. … That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat” (2 Pt. 3:10, 12b). This is the final destruction of the heavens and earth with fire. “The heavens” means the atmosphere, and maybe the rest of the universe, but not God’s dwelling place. It will be unexpected. All matter will be destroyed in what resembles a nuclear explosion. We know that matter is stored-up energy. At present it is held together by the Lord (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3). At that time is seems as though the energy stored up in matter will be released, not with a whimper but a bang.
The “day of the Lord” is a theme that is particularly applied to the Jews and their enemies in the prophetic Scriptures from Amos and Isaiah to Revelation. It is a period of time when God intervenes in the world, primarily for judgement. It also describes God’s triumph over all His enemies and His granting security and blessing to His people. It will be a time of justice and retribution; of punishment and reward. A time when it will be clear to all that God is in control of our world. Some of the prophecies concerning the “day of the Lord” concerned the Jewish captivity in Babylon and the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans. As these prophecies came true, so will those concerning the future.
Like food, prophecy is “sweet” and “sour/bitter” (Rev. 10:10). There is good news and there is bad news.
- The bad news is: much suffering and judgement is coming to all who reject the Saviour (during the Tribulation and eternally); the prophets warn people of their sinful ways and the need to repent and turn to God.
- The good news is: God will triumph over Satan and his demons and all who do evil; Jesus will be acknowledged as Lord and Saviour; there will be justice and He will rule during the Millennium.
Lessons for us
The choice for us is rapture or God’s wrath. What will it be for you? Only believers escape the judgment coming on the earth in the Tribulation. We need to repent and turn to God.
Since there is a coming time of Tribulation, a Millennium and a great fire, how should we live as believers?
- “So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober” (1 Th. 5:6). Believers should be awake, not asleep. This means expecting Christ’s return at any moment and living for Him; not being lazy, careless, distracted from living for God, wasting time in self-indulgence, seeking wealth or fame, or falling into patterns of sinful behaviour. Secondly, believers should also be sober, not drunk. This means taking life seriously and using the opportunities we have to further the kingdom of God, instead of always seeking amusement and entertainment. It also means being self-controlled and not losing control over our behaviour including our speech, eating and drinking.
- God will rapture all believers to heaven before the Tribulation, so they are removed from the suffering of that part of the day of the Lord (1 Th. 5:9). The rapture will be a great reunion of believers dead and alive. Like the early believers, we should expect it to occur at any moment. Are we eagerly waiting for it and encouraging one another with this promise (1 Th. 5:11)?
- “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives …” (2 Pt. 3:11-12a). As the material world will be burnt up, we should not be devoted to it. Instead, live for the spiritual things that last by being holy (separated from sin) and godly (be devoted to worship and serve God).
- Paul taught the young believers at Thessalonica about these future prophetic events (2 Th. 2:5). This gave them an eternal perspective and helped them endure suffering and persecution. Likewise, we should know and teach these things to help keep our eternal perspective.
Written, May 2007
See the other article in this series:
– The Day of the Lord. Part 1: The past
Revelation is the major prophetic book in the New Testament. It is the best reference that Christians have on future events because:
- the Bible is a progressive revelation of God’s dealings with humanity;
- John wrote down what was revealed to him by God (Revelation 1:19); and
- It is the Bible’s final prophecy – the words are not to be changed in any way (by addition or subtraction) (Revelation 22:18-19).
The timing of future events is evident from the sequence of topics in the book of Revelation (see below).
At present the church is on earth (Revelation 2-3) and the next event is the “rapture” when all believers (dead and alive) will be resurrected to heaven. The rapture is not mentioned specifically in Revelation; but in Revelation 4, the church is in heaven. While the church is in heaven (Revelation 4-5), there will be a period of tribulation on earth (Revelation 6-18), which will end with the “appearing” of the Lord Jesus Christ in great power and glory (Revelation 19:11-21). This will be followed by the 1,000 year reign of the Lord on the earth (the millennium) (Revelation 20:1-10), and then the eternal state of the new heaven and the new earth (Revelation 21-22).
The key to understanding the second coming of the Lord is that the second coming is associated with a series of events, not one event and these occur over a period of time, not all at once. From the order of events in Matthew 24:15-31 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13 – 5:11, it is clear the “rapture” is before the tribulation and the “appearing” is at the end of the tribulation. Jesus said the great distress (tribulation) occurs immediately before His second advent (Mat.24:21-31). Also, the judgements in Rev. 6 – 18 are associated with the great tribulation (Rev. 7:14), and they conclude with Christ appearing as “King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16).
“The Tribulation” will be a time of suffering for those on the earth. The church is not mentioned during this period because it is in heaven (Revelation 6-18). Instead there are 144,000 Jewish witnesses (Rev. 7 and 14), a Jewish temple (Rev. 11:1-13), and Jewish persecution (Rev 12). Also, the advice “Whoever has ears, let them hear” is addressed to Christian churches in Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22 whereas in Revelation 13:9, it is addressed to believers, but there is no mention of the church.
As the following events haven’t happened yet, they are still in the future, as they were for John in 95 AD when he called them “what will take place later” (Rev. 1:19):
- At the Rapture, all true Christians will be taken from the earth.
- There will be a Jewish temple in Jerusalem during the tribulation (Rev. 11:1-13), whereas this has not been the case since it was destroyed in AD70.
- At the Appearing, Jesus Christ will return to the earth and defeat all His enemies (Rev. 19:11-21).
- During the millennium, Satan will be bound so he can’t deceive people (Rev. 20:1-3).
Learning from the past
Prophecy about the future will be fulfilled literally, just as has prophecy of the past. For example, when the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah predicted that the Jewish captivity would be 70 years (Jeremiah 25:11-12), it turned out that this prediction was literal, not symbolic.
Since the prophecies about Christ’s first coming were fulfilled literally, then the prophecies relating to His second Coming will also be fulfilled literally. Although symbols and figures of speech are used in giving both of these prophecies, this does not affect their historical and prophetic fulfillment.
Written, March 2010
How our view of the future can influence the present
Some people are optimistic about the future – they see advances in science and technology, so they hope for the best that can happen. Others are pessimistic – they see damage to the environment and social and economic breakdown, so they fear the worst that can happen.
The bad news is that there is a lot of evil and despair in the world and some people are frightened by the future. But there is good news as well: it is clear from the Bible that God offers hope for the future if we follow Him.
Let’s consider some facts about the future, their consequences, and the impact they can have in our daily lives.
We All Have A Future
How can those facing death due to a terminal illness or an accident have a future? Like a criminal facing execution, they seem to be in a hopeless situation. But Jesus actually told a criminal facing execution, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk. 23:43 NIV). This gives us a clue – no matter what the circumstances, there can be a bright future for those who trust in God.
The Bible teaches that there is a future beyond our current lives. Death is not the end of our existence, but a doorway between this life and a future destiny. So in this sense, we all have a future.
This is illustrated by the example of the rich man and Lazarus, whose lives are shown to continue after death, with consciousness, communication and memory (Lk. 16:19-31). They were in two different places – heaven and hell – and the rich man wanted his brothers warned so they would not end up in the place of torment. This wish was denied, illustrating that decisions made on earth can have eternal consequences.
Also, God will raise everyone from death (Acts 24:15). In fact, there are two resurrections, the first for God’s people and the second for the judgment of those who have rejected God (Rev. 20:5-6).
Paul looked forward so much for this future that he considered dying better than living, because it meant he would be with Christ (Phil. 1:21-23). Elsewhere he wrote, if we have hope in Christ only for this life, we are the most miserable people in the world (1 Cor. 15:19). This is because it would mean that there was no raising from death and no hope beyond death (1 Th. 4:13).
Lasting Hope Comes From God
The Bible was written so “we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). In the Old Testament God promised this to His followers: “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” And again He says, “There is hope for your future” (Jer. 29:11; 31:17). So, if they followed God and not false prophets, they were assured of a future filled with hope.
In the New Testament, He is described as “the God of hope” because He is the source of hope, and those separate from Him are said to be “without hope” (Rom. 15:13; Eph. 2:12). The believer’s hope is in God because He has given them a hope that lives on, and an inheritance that awaits them in heaven (1 Pet. 1:3-5,21).
The “hope” of the Scriptures is a confident expectation of a future event, not just a possibility or a desire. This is because God has a perfect record for keeping His promises.
A New Heaven And A New Earth
The eternal inheritance of Christians is to be “with the Lord forever” in paradise, and they will all be transformed to be like Christ (1 Th. 4:17; Phil. 3:20-21). Their main purpose in heaven will be to celebrate, praise and worship Jesus Christ and God – it will be like a great wedding feast (Rev. 19:6-9). At this time they will receive rewards, they will see God glorified, and they will reign with Him (Rev. 22:12; 1 Jn. 3:2-3; Rev. 20:6). God is in the business of destroying the effects of sin such as decay, sadness, evil and death. He wants to renew all His creation. At the end of time He says, “I am making everything new” (Rev. 21:5).
One of my favorite verses is: “We are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Pet. 3:13). It is described as a place where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4). What a great prospect to be a part of this!
It is important to realize that this aspect of the future of believers does not depend on their efforts or their success in life. It is a gift to be accepted from God (Eph. 2:8-9).
The Fruit Of Hope
Our view of the future affects our daily lives by influencing our attitudes, feelings and behavior. Hope is a vital attitude for the Christian that is associated with faith and love and that should result in encouragement for the journey of life (1 Cor. 13:7,13). Its fruit include security, strength, perseverance, holiness, an eternal perspective and joy.
- Security: The hope that God offers us is described as being like “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Heb. 6:18-19). It is also likened to a helmet and believers are “shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Th. 5:8; 1 Pet. 1:5).
- Strength: The Old Testament promised, “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isa. 40:31).In the New Testament Paul wrote: “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe” (Eph. 1:18-19). So God’s great and mighty power is available to believers.Those whose hope was in the Lord remained strong in the faith. For example, when everyone deserted Paul, he said, “The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength.” This was his hope: “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom” (2 Tim. 4:16-18).
- Perseverance: Paul praised the Thessalonians for their “endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Th. 1:3). Then, after considering the resurrection body he wrote, “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).Knowing some of God’s plans gives us purpose and motivation to persevere and to “hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” Believers are urged “to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised” (Heb. 10:23,36).
- Holiness: After writing about the hope of eternal life, Peter urged believers to live a holy life: “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’”(1 Pet. 1:14-15). This means purifying ourselves from everything that contaminates body or spirit and working toward complete purity out of reverence for God (2 Cor. 7:1).The hope of being like Jesus when He appears makes us keep ourselves holy, just as Christ is holy (1 Jn. 3:2-3). In view of our heavenly home, “we make it our goal to please him” (2 Cor. 5:9).
- Eternal Perspective: Since heaven is the believers’ home, they are to live as foreigners on earth (1 Pet. 1:17). They are urged “as foreigners and strangers on this earth, to abstain from sinful desires” and to live such good lives that others will come to glorify God (1 Pet. 2:11-12).Similarly, the Old Testament people of faith lived as strangers on earth as they were looking forward to the heavenly place that God had promised to prepare for them (Heb. 11:9-10, 13-16).So, we are to put our hope in God and not in idols such as money (1 Tim. 6:17-18; Mt. 6:19-21); and we are to “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen” (2 Cor. 4:18). This means focusing on eternal things rather than those that are only temporary.
- Joy: Consideration of the believers’ lasting hope and eternal inheritance leads to great joy even if they are enduring trials. Christians are said to be “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” because they can see the end result of their faith, their complete salvation (1 Pet. 1:6-9).
- Your Future:Is there hope for your future? The Bible says if you are without God, you are without hope for the future. In this case, your only hope is in this life, which can be very disappointing. Why not make heaven your eternal home? Then you will be with Christ when He returns, and will share in the coming new world.If you are a believer, are you letting the fruit of hope grow in your life as you anticipate what God has in store for you? This should be evident as security, strength, perseverance, holiness, an eternal perspective and most of all joy. Are you always ready to explain your hope to others (1 Pet. 3:15)? You should be.