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Like a Thief in the Night

Like a Thief in the Night
During the Gulf War in 1990, a small team of U.S. Navy SEALS created a diversion so convincing that it completely fooled the Iraqi army. About a dozen SEALS stormed the beaches of Kuwait and created such havoc that Iraqi generals believed the U.S.-led attack was coming from the sea.

In response, Iraq sent the majority of its army to repel this attack—only to find that the main U.S. force had come through the Saudi Arabian desert. The Iraqis had been duped! Within hours the war was over, and it all started with fewer than twenty soldiers.

Every general knows that in order to win a battle, his army must maintain the element of surprise. Clever diversionary tactics have helped clinch victory in numerous battles throughout history. When an army is distracted and watching a diversion, an enemy can creep up from behind and conquer it.

We shouldn’t be surprised to learn that the devil is planning to do the same thing. The deceiver has always wanted to be like God, and his last taunting gesture against heaven will be impersonating Jesus. Satan will pose as Christ by appearing upon the earth as a glorious being. He will deceive billions and receive the worship of a lost world.

How can you avoid being tricked? What does the Bible tell us about the second coming of Jesus Christ?

1. LITERAL, NOT SPIRITUAL
The second coming is not, as some teach, a mere spiritual coming into the heart at an individual’s conversion. It does not take place at a person’s death, nor is it figurative, to be manifested by better world conditions, for instance. These theories directly contradict Scripture.

When Jesus first appeared to the disciples after His resurrection, they were terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost. Jesus then showed them that He was real. “He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have’ ” (Luke 24:38, 39). To reassure them even further, He ate some food in front of them.

Jesus will return in person with a body of flesh and bone. The second coming will be a literal, universal, visible, personal appearance of Christ, just as He promised. As you study the other details of His return, the literal nature of the second coming will become even more evident.

2. VISIBLE
In the first chapter of the book of Acts, the disciples looked on while Jesus ascended into heaven. Here’s how it happened:

“While they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven’ ” (verses 9–11).

To encourage the disciples as they watched their Master disappear from view, two heavenly messengers taught them that Jesus would return to the planet in the same manner He departed. Christ left in the clouds, and He will come back in the clouds. He was visible when He went away, and He will be visible when He comes again. He had a real body when He left, and He will return with a real body.

Only a small gathering of disciples witnessed Jesus ascending. How much more visible will Jesus’ second coming be? To answer this question, let’s look at something Jesus said when He was explaining His return:

“Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30).

We can know with certainty that the return of Christ will be far greater in magnitude than His ascension. Jesus, in all His majesty, will arrive in the clouds with indescribable splendor! Revelation 1:7 makes this point even more emphatic: “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him” (emphasis added). This is too clear to misunderstand.

Every person who is alive at that time, saved or lost, will see Jesus return. A secret gathering up of God’s people is not described in the Bible. (See more about the “secret rapture” on page 26.) Furthermore, Jesus compared His return to lightning that flashes from one horizon to the other. “For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:27). And there’s certainly nothing subtle about lightning, is there?

3. ARMY OF ANGELS
When Jesus comes back, He won’t be alone. The Bible says that angels will accompany Him. “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory” (Matthew 25:31). Notice that it’s not some angels, but all of them. Daniel 7:10 gives this description of the angels in heaven: “A thousand thousands ministered to Him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him.” That’s certainly a lot of angels!

Do you remember what happened at Jesus’ tomb when one angel confronted the Roman guards?

“An angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men” (Matthew 28:2–4).

The brightness of just one angel caused the guards to collapse to the ground!

Angels are able to mask their glory, their brightness, but when Jesus returns, they won’t be holding anything back. The brilliance of all heaven’s angels—perhaps millions of them!—will light up the skies and make Jesus’ second coming too bright for anyone to miss. (See also Luke 9:26.)

The second coming of Christ won’t be visible to only a select group, either. Every man, woman, and child living in the world when Jesus returns will see Him. The staggering brightness of His coming will stretch from horizon to horizon, and the atmosphere will be charged with brilliant glory like lightning. It will not be an isolated event; it will be visible around the entire world.

5. AUDIBLE
While it’s important to understand the visual nature of Jesus’ return, the Bible gives other details that help fill in the picture. For instance, it tells us that we won’t just see this event, we will hear it! “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God” (1 Thessalonians 4:16).

The prophet Jeremiah, speaking about the end of the world, adds, “The Lord will roar from on high, and utter His voice from His holy habitation; He will roar mightily against His fold. He will give a shout” (Jeremiah 25:30). And Psalm 50:3 says, “Our God shall come, and shall not keep silent … and it shall be very tempestuous all around Him.” The second coming of Jesus will be noisy beyond description. There will be nothing secret about it!

Just in case there is any confusion, the apostle Peter also referred to the immense sound: “The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise” (2 Peter 3:10, emphasis added). It’s clear that Christ’s second coming will be loud! There will be shouts and trumpets and all kinds of intense sounds accompanying this event. No one will accidentally miss it. The return of Christ will be loud enough to even wake the dead! (More about that in chapter 5.)

6. CATACLYSMIC
The return of Christ will also shake the very foundations of the earth as a violent, global earthquake demolishes the planet:

“Every mountain and island was moved out of its place” (Revelation 6:14).

“The earth is violently broken, the earth is split open, the earth is shaken exceedingly. The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall totter like a hut; its transgression shall be heavy upon it, and it will fall, and not rise again” (Isaiah 24:19, 20).

“There was a great earthquake, such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth. … Then every island fled away, and the mountains were not found” (Revelation 16:18, 20).

Wow! An earthquake powerful enough to flatten mountains would also set off every volcano on the planet and launch tremendous global tsunamis. Can you imagine? Entire mountain ranges disappear, islands vanish, and land masses are obliterated by gargantuan waves.

Furthermore, 2 Peter 3:12 explains that “the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat.” Since the world will be uninhabitable after Christ comes, no living person on earth could possibly miss this event!

No—there won’t be anything secret or quiet when Jesus comes again; every one of our senses will be bombarded with evidence!

7. PERSONAL
None of these other details would matter if Jesus’ coming weren’t also personal. The truth is that Jesus is coming for you.

“Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8).

If you love the Lord, you will be longing for His arrival with all of your heart. After all, He’s coming to rescue you—and everyone else—from all the pain, violence, poverty, disease, disaster, and death of this dark, broken world. Best of all, we will all see the face of our Redeemer and live with Him forever. Without a doubt, it will be the climax of all our most wonderful hopes and dreams!
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