A Study By
Gary Ray Branscome
Lesson 20

    Although Christ’s Second Coming is one historical event that is yet in the future, we know that He will return, and that when He returns He will come in power, and He will come to judge (Luke 21:27, Acts 1:11, Titus 2:13, Matthew 25:31-32, Matthew 24:36). However, because the Bible tells us that no man knows when He will return, we need to shun those who claim to know, and stick strictly to what God has revealed (Mark 13:32, Romans 1:22, John 8:31, Isaiah 8:20, 2Peter 1:20, Psalm 19:13, Deuteronomy 18:20).


    We know as a fact that the resurrection will take place on the last day (John 6:39,40,44, John 11:24). On that day, “the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air” (1Thessalonians 4:16-17). After that “the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (2Peter 3:10). In other words, just as Sodom was destroyed as soon as Lot was out of it, earth will be destroyed as soon as the saints are out of it (Luke 17:28-30).


    The Book of Revelation gives us a literal description of a vision (or series of visions) that John saw while on the isle of Patmos. However, because that vision uses images that our mind can grasp in order to depict invisible spiritual realities, the book of Revelation is an example of what is known to classical scholars as apocalyptic literature.
    In order to understand what is written, it is important to distinguish between what the words actually say, and the meaning of the vision that they describe. For example, in one place the words plainly tell us that John saw seven candlesticks, and in another place they tell us that he saw a woman (Revelation 1:12 and 17:3). There is nothing hard to understand about that (2Corinthians 1:13). Where people have trouble is in understanding what such images represent. Of course, in this case we are told that the seven candlesticks represent seven churches, and that the woman (in chapter seventeen) is really a great city (Revelation 1:12,20, Revelation 17:3,18). However, in many cases we are not told what the images represent, and that is where those who profess themselves to be wise often become fools (Romans 1:22).

    The symbolism found in John’s vision is actually very similar to that used in parables. For example, like the parable of the wedding feast, the book of Revelation portrays the righteousness that is ours in Christ as a wedding garment (compare Matthew 22:11-12, and Revelation 19:8). In another place, Satan (who is an invisible spirit, not a reptile) is portrayed as a red dragon (Revelation 12:3,9). Christ is portrayed as both a lamb and a lion (Revelation 5:5-6). And, a great multitude of people are portrayed as a sea (Revelation 17:1,15).
    Since the symbolism is clearly evident, and the Bible often tells us what it means, those who cannot see it are just as confused as the apostles were when they assumed that  Christ’s reference to “the leaven of the Pharisees” was a reference to literal bread (Matthew 16:6-12). Furthermore, because John’s vision is highly symbolic, we need to pay close attention to the explanations that are included in the text. We also need to interpret what is said in the light of what the Bible explicitly says about Christ's return (John 6:39,40,44, John 11:24, John 18:36, 2Peter 3:10). Those who let their imaginations run wild, while reading their own ideas into the text and contradicting what the Bible explicitly says, are not qualified to teach, and will have to account to God for speaking falsehood in His name (Isaiah 8:20, Deuteronomy 18:20, Revelation 21:8).


    In order to understand what Christ was talking about when He said “The hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:28-29). It is important to understand that because those words are law rather than gospel, their purpose is not to tell us how to be saved, but to make the unrepentant tremble in fear, and so cry out to God for mercy and forgiveness.
    Nevertheless that statement sometimes troubles believers because they know that they are sinners who deserve God’s condemnation and wrath. What they need to understand is that because Christ took our sins upon Himself and died in our place, the forgiveness that He obtained for us cleanses us so completely that it makes us pure, perfect, and innocent in the sight of God (Hebrews 10:14). In fact, as long as we walk by faith, no sin is imputed to us (Romans 4:1-8). Therefore, those who have “done good” in the sight of God, are not those who seek righteousness by the law, but those who have been cleansed of all unrighteousness by the blood of Christ (1John 1:7).

    Another passage that deals with the day of judgment is Matthew 25:31-46 which says: “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels… And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal” (Matthew 25:31-46).

    Since God is present everywhere, in a certain sense everyone on earth is standing before God's throne at this very moment. Therefore, seeing that the verses that I just quoted are somewhat figurative (in that they speak of sheep and goats rather than people), the judgment being described in those verses could take place in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye, when Christ raptures the saints (1Thessalonians 4:14-18).

    Furthermore, because the verses quoted above are law rather than gospel, their purpose is not to tell us how to be saved, but to make the unrepentant tremble in fear, and so cry out to God for mercy and forgiveness (Matthew 25:31-46). In fact, none of works that are mentioned (feeding Christ, clothing Christ) have anything to do with the righteousness of the law, because Christ wanted to make it perfectly clear that the righteousness of the law is not enough (James 2:10).  


    In order to distinguish between truth and error, we need to distinguish between what the Bible actually (explicitly) says, and what men conclude from its words. For example, Christ plainly said that His kingdom is not of this world, and that He would raise up believers on the last day (John 6:40 and 18:36). Such information is to be gathered together “here a little, and there a little” (Isaiah 28:10). Those who ignore such facts, while constructing a doctrine out of private interpretations that they have strung together, are not qualified to teach, and will have to account to God for speaking falsehood in His name. [2Peter 1:20, John 8:31, Isaiah 8:20, 1John 4:6, Proverbs 30:6.]


1- Does any man know when Christ will return?
2- In describing Christ's return, we must stick strictly to what?
3- What day will the resurrection take place on?
4- What literary form is the Book of Revelation an example of?
5- What is the symbolism found in John’s vision like?
6- Are those who let their imaginations run wild qualified to teach?
7- Are the Words of Christ in John 5:25-29 law or gospel?
8- What makes us pure, perfect, and innocent in the sight of God?
9- Who is standing before God’s throne at this very moment?
10- What should be gathered together “here a little, and there a little”?