May the Lord delay His Return for a Thousand Years?
by Dr. David L. Cooper
Every now and then I see an article, or read a book, or receive a letter from someone stating that, though the Lord's coming may be imminent, yet He may not return for a thousand years. It seems that this idea is gaining prevalence and is becoming more popular of late years. Is this position scriptural?
Definition of Terms
A person must have a clear, definite idea of the meaning of terms, specially in scientific and theological discussion, if he is to arrive at a definite, clear-cut conception of a given subject or theme. Let us therefore look at the terms, “rapture” and “revelation” of the Lord Jesus from heaven. The word rapture, though not appearing in our English Bible expresses a definite scriptural doctrine which is referred to in such passages as I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11. According to this quotation the Lord Jesus will, before the Tribulation, descend from heaven to the air, will raise the dead in Christ — that is, their bodies — and will catch up the living saints, all of whom meet Him in the air. Then He turns around and takes them on to glory with Himself. The term revelation usually refers to the Lord's advent at the end of the Tribulation Period, when He comes all the way to the earth to set up His reign of a thousand years. When He thus comes, He lifts the curse from the earth.
Obviously the first phase of the rapture is the catching up of the church of God out of the earth before the Tribulation Period begins as just stated. The second, or last, phase of the rapture occurs at the revelation, or second coming, of our Lord at the end of the Tribulation. The catching up of this latter group of saints is referred to in Matthew 24:31. Let it be noted very particularly that the saints who are thus raptured at the end of the Tribulation are those who turn to the Lord during the Tribulation — after the church has been removed from the earth. Those people who turn to the Lord during the Tribulation, and who survive to the end of that period of judgment, therefore, are the ones who are caught up in the second phase of the rapture.
God Never Fails to Warn of Forthcoming Judgment
“Surely the Lord Jehovah will do nothing, except he reveal his secret unto his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). According to this prediction God always reveals to His servants the prophets the coming of a major crisis. He thus makes these disclosures in order that the prophets might in turn pass on the information to the masses so that they may act accordingly. God foretold the day when the Messiah would appear upon the earth at His first advent. He therefore presented His credentials to the nation in the form of “mighty works and wonders and signs which God did by Him in the midst of you [Israel]...” (Acts 2:22). God held that generation of Jews responsible for not being able to read the signs of the times, the evidence of His presence in their midst (read Matthew 16:1-4 and also 22:1-14).
The Sign of the End of the Age
The disciples came to the Lord Jesus and asked when His prophecy with reference to the destruction of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem would be fulfilled — which events took place in A.D. 70 — and what was the sign of His coming and of the end of the world (Matthew 24:1-8). He answered both of these questions, but Matthew recorded, in chapters 24 and 25, only His answer to the second query, namely, “... what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world [consummation of the age]?”
By a careful study of these verses and a comparison of the flow of thought with the prophecy in Zechariah, chapter 14, a person sees clearly that the Apostles were thinking of the end of the age when Jerusalem will be surrounded by the armies of the world, when the Lord will return and His feet stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives, and when the present age is brought to a close and the Millennial Era is ushered in. Since the Apostles evidently concluded that He was speaking of these future events of the end time, Jesus warned them to be careful and to avoid drawing hasty conclusions with reference to the end of the age whenever a war might break out or they might hear of rumors of wars. He then informed them that there would be local wars occurring all during His absence (during the Christian Dispensation). “And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that ye be not troubled: for these things must needs come to pass; but the end is not yet” (24:6). Hence a local war, according to our Lord had no prophetic significance with reference to the end of the age.
But a world war, He declared, would be indicative of the coming of Christ and of the end of the age: “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be famines and earthquakes in divers places” (24:7). “Nation shall rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom” is an Old Testament idiom which indicates a war that starts by one nation's rising up against another; then another nation joins in the fray. The conflict spreads until it involves all the territory before the prophet's mind when he used this special phraseology. Such is the significance of this peculiar Hebrew idiom. Since our Lord had a world outlook in Matthew, chapters 24 and 25, and since He used this idiom, it can have but this one signification, namely, a prediction of a world war that begins by one nation's rising up against another; then another nation enters it until it becomes a global affair. Such a war attended by famines, pestilences, and great earthquakes in different places in the world would constitute, said Jesus, “the beginning of travail” — the first birth pain. When therefore the disciples should see such a global conflict beginning and spreading until it involved the whole world — accompanied by famines, pestilences and great earthquakes — they would recognize such a world catastrophe as the first birth pain, the warning pain, notifying the people of the earth that the time is approaching rapidly for the creation to be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God (Romans 8:18-25). Since the disciples asked for the sign of His coming and of the end of the age, since He warned us not to attach any prophetic significance to local wars during this dispensation, and since He said that a world war attended by famines, pestilence, and great earthquakes would constitute the first birth pain, it is abundantly evident that our Lord intended to teach that a world war and the accompanying phenomena (as He foretold) are the sign of His coming and of the end of the age. Said our Lord, The generation seeing these things should in nowise pass away until the whole prophetic program, outlined in the sermon, would be fulfilled (Matthew 24:34).
Brethren, we have had that sign, which came in the form of World War I of 1914 - 1918. The generation rising at the outbreak of World War I is the generation that shall not pass away until the whole prophetic program of the Olivet Discourse, including the lord's glorious return, shall be accomplished. It is therefore non-scriptural for anyone to say that the Lord's return to earth may not occur for another thousand years. The reason for my dogmatism on this point is my unswerving faith in the knowledge, integrity, and veracity of our Lord.
The Sign of Our Redemption
And there shall be signs in sun and moon and stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, in perplexity for the roaring of the sea and the billows; 26 men fainting for fear, and for expectation of the things which are coming on the world: for the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. 27 And then shall they see the son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 But when these things begin to come to pass, look up, and lift up your heads; because your redemption draweth nigh.”
In verses 25 and 26 our Lord is talking about signs and wonders in the heavens above and the roaring of the seas — great tidal waves, monsoons, and typhoons — upon the earth, causing great distress for the nations. These phenomena in the physical world begin before the Tribulation starts, according to Joel 2:28-32. This situation clears up, only to recur in the first part of the Tribulation — at the breaking of the sixth seal (Revelation 6:12-17). Again the atmosphere clears up, and these pass away — only to recur at different times during the Tribulation. Then they reappear for the last time at the end of the Tribulation (Matthew 24:29 ff).
Our Lord said, according to Luke 21:28, “But when these things begin to come to pass, look up, and lift up your heads; because your redemption draweth nigh,” Since these signs in the heavens above and the distress of nations upon the earth begin before the Tribulation, and since our redemption draweth nigh when they begin to come to pass, we may be certain that they will occur before our redemption draws near. Since our lord was talking to His disciples and spoke of their redemption, it seems clear that He was foretelling the rapture of His people, the church. If this is the correct interpretation of the terms used, the signs in the heavens above and the distress of the nations upon the earth will immediately precede the rapture of the church. We may also conclude from our Lord's words that, as soon as these signs begin, we are momentarily to expect the Lord to catch us up out of the world to be with Himself.
Since we do not know when these signs may begin — for they may begin at any second, so far as we know — we should have our lights trimmed and burning, working for the Lord. There can be no doubt that it is far later than most of us think. May we therefore be like the five wise virgins, who had taken every precaution, who had made all preparations, and who were expecting the bridegroom to return momentarily.
Israel — having been evangelized and having been convinced that Jesus, whom the nation has through the centuries rejected, is his Messiah — will pray for mercy and restoration to divine favor in order that he may declare God's truth and salvation to the ends of the earth and may lead all men to a saving knowledge of Messiah. The prophecy which foretells this momentous event, and which is at the same time a prayer, is Psalm 67:1-7:
God be merciful unto us, and bless us,
And cause his face to shine upon us; (Selah)
That thy way may be known upon earth,
Thy salvation among all nations.
Let the peoples praise thee, O God;
Let all the peoples praise thee.
Oh let the nations be glad and sing for joy;
for thou wilt judge the peoples with equity,
And govern the nations upon earth. (Selah)
Let the peoples praise thee, O God;
Let all the peoples praise thee.
The earth hath yielded its increase;
God, even our own God will bless us,
God will bless us;
And all the ends of the earth shall fear him.