At the return of Christ, all things will be restored. There will no longer be any death, crying, or pain. He will return on the clouds, with His angels, and with power and great glory. It will not be a secret event, for every eye will see Him. He will then judge the living and the dead. His elect will come to life, but the living wicked will die. The return of Christ will not be a single, sudden event, but will be preceded and followed by many other events. The purpose of these events is to prove the accuracy of God’s judgments.
A series of articles on this website discusses the Second Coming in the New Testament. The purpose of the current article is to explain the Return of Christ from the Book of Revelation. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from the NASB translation of Revelation.
THE SEVEN PARTS OF REVELATION
The book of Revelation consists of seven parts:
- Seven letters to the seven churches (1-3);
- The book with the seven seals (4-7);
- Seven trumpets (8-11);
- Seven wars (12-14);
- Seven last plagues (15-19);
- Millennium (20); and
- The new heavens and new earth (21-22).
Four of the seven parts end with the Return of Christ, but the most complete description of His return is found in the seven plagues. Actually, all seven plagues describe the “Day of the Lord,” which including the Return of Christ. For this reason, this article provides an overview of the final events as presented in the seven last plagues.
This is a summary of the sequence of final events. The detailed discussion follows below.
Mark of the beast
The story of the Return of Christ commences with the war in Revelation 13, where the image of the beast becomes alive (13:15) and forces all people to accept the mark of the beast (13:16-18). But a limited number of people, symbolically 144000, refuse to worship the beast or his image, or to receive his “mark on their forehead and on their hand” (20:4). This battle, therefore, divides the world into two clearly identified groups, those with the mark of the beast, and the 144000 with the name of God on their foreheads.
A time will come, during the persecution of God’s people by the image of the beast, when every person has made his or her final decision for or against God. When this happens, the number of the 144000 and the separation of the people of the world into these two classes have been completed. Then “one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God” (15:7). From this point forward, there will be no repentance. All people have made their final choice.
Purpose of the Plagues
The plagues bring worldwide catastrophes but do not affect God’s people (16:2). The plagues only fall on “the people who had the mark of the beast” (16:2). But still “they blasphemed the God of heaven … and they did not repent” (16:11). That is the purpose of the plagues: It is a test to show that the characters of “the people who had the mark of the beast” (16:2) are permanently fixed and that they are unable to repent, even under the most adverse conditions, even with clear evidence that they are wrong. In other words, the purpose is to prove that God judges accurately.
Kings join forces against God
While worldwide disasters continue, unrepentant humanity receives supernatural support to convince the world rulers to join forces “for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty” (16:14). However, God put it in their heart to destroy Babylon (Rev 17:16-17), which is the false religion that has always ruled over the kings of this world.
All “who have fallen asleep … in Christ” (1 Thess. 4:15-16) are “made alive” (1 Cor. 15:20). This is “the first resurrection” (Rev. 20:5). Together with the 144000, they are “caught up … in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:17).
His bride “has made herself ready”; “It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev. 19:7-8). They “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (7:9, 14). The Return of Christ is being delayed until His bride is ready (7:1-3)!
The war of the great day
“The kings of the earth and their armies (are) assembled (gathered together) to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army” (19:19). The entire unrepentant population of the world is killed (19:21) and Satan is bound in the abyss “so that he would not deceive the nations any longer” (20:3).
One Thousand Years later, all of God’s human enemies, from all ages, are made alive (20:5)! “Satan will be released from his prison, and will come out to deceive the nations” (20:7-8) and “gather them together for the war” (20:8). They surround “the camp of the saints” (20:9), but “fire came down from heaven and devoured them” (20:9). In other words, they die a second time. This is the second death (20:14). Many of the things which we may think will happen at the Return of Christ, therefore actually happen a thousand years later, such as the “resurrection of judgment” (John 5:27-29) and the burning up of “the earth and its works” (2 Peter 3:10-13).
Eventually, all evil is thrown into the lake of fire. This is the end. “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5). “There will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
These end-time events will now be discussed in more detail. However, this is still an overview, as the plagues are discussed in more detail in separate articles.
Return of Christ in the Plagues
Image of the beast
Mark of the beast – The story of the Return of Christ begins with the war in Revelation 13, where the image of the beast becomes alive (13:15) and forces all people to accept the mark of the beast (13:16-18).
The next verses (14:1-5) describe the 144000. While the mark of the beast is put on peoples’ right hands and foreheads (13:16), the 144000 have “His name and the name of His Father” on their foreheads (14:1). In 7:1-8, this is called the seal of God.
Chapter divisions sometimes make it more difficult to understand the Bible. This also applies to Revelation 13 and 14. Since the mark of the beast and the seal of God are similar but contrasted at the end of Revelation 13 and the beginning of Revelation 14, we conclude that the seal of God in the first verses of Revelation 14 is part of the description of the war with the mark of the beast in Revelation 13. Furthermore, we conclude that the war with the image of the beast will divide the people of the world into two clearly identified groups, those with the mark of the beast and the 144000 who are “those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand” (20:4). They refuse to accept the mark of the beast.
Since the 144000 are shown in 14:1 as standing with the Lamb on Mount Zion, the vision in 14:1 implies a key turning point in history, namely when the number of the 144000 has been completed, which means that the separation of the people of the world into these two groups has been completed.
The description of the plagues commences in Revelation 15, where John saw “those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass” (15:2). This description means that they are the same as the 144000. In other words, 15:2 shows us exactly the same group of people as 14:1, and at exactly the same point in history, namely at the height of the persecution of God’s people by the image of the beast, when the separation of the people of the world into two groups has been completed, and when every person has made his or her final decision for or against God, but before the plagues are poured out (Rev. 16). These “victorious” ones stand on the “sea of glass” (15:2), which is before God’s throne (4:6). They therefore symbolically stand before the throne of God, but they are still on earth.
Wrath of God
Then “one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God” (15:7). The four living creatures are “in the center and around the throne” (4:6), confirming that this wrath comes from God.
Next “the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power; and no one was able to enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished” (15:8). Since the temple is where God is (7:15; 16:17), this signifies that nobody is able to come to God any longer; there will be no turning to God (repentance) during the plagues. This confirms that all choices are final. Then the saying will be true:
“Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy; and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy” (Rev. 22:11)
First four plagues
The first four plagues fall on the earth, sea, waters and sun respectively. The number four in Revelation symbolizes the entire world, for instance in 5:9; 7:1, 9; 13:7 and in 17:15. Like the first four seals and the first four trumpets, these first four plagues should not be interpreted individually; they merely imply worldwide catastrophes. The important points rather are that:
God’s people are not affected by these plagues (16:2) and that
“The people who had the mark of the beast” (16:2) “did not repent” (16:9).
The fifth plague falls “on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became darkened; and they gnawed their tongues because of pain” (16:10). Since the catastrophes only fall on the people with the mark of the beast, and not on God’s people, the authority of the beast is eroded, but still “they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds” (16:11). That is the purpose of the plagues. It is, namely, a test to show that the characters of “the people who had the mark of the beast” (16:2) are permanently fixed and that they will not repent, even in the most adverse conditions, even they have clear evidence that they are wrong. It proves that they do not want God and that God’s judgment of them is correct.
The kings of the world join forces against God. In the sixth plague, while disasters continue, the unrepentant humanity receives supernatural support in the form of “spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty” (16:14). But note; the war is not yet described.
In this plague, Babylon is destroyed. In the seventh plague, Babylon receives “the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath” (16:19). Revelation 17-18 then interrupts the chronological flow of events to explain who Babylon is (17:7):
She is a harlot woman (17:5) that sits on the beast with its seven heads and ten horns. This symbol is explained as “the woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth” (17:18).
She also “sits on many waters” (17:1). The “many waters” are explained as the “peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues” (17:15). [Note the hidden number four.] Her sitting on the “many waters” is explained as that “those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality” (17:2).
“In her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth” (18:24). She, therefore, existed from the time of Cain and Abel.
See the article Babylon, the mother of harlots for further information. She is the false system of religion that, in all ages, controls the rulers of the world.
Revelation 17-18 also explains the gathering of the kings during the sixth plague (17:12-14), as well as the destruction of Babylon during the seventh plague (17:16-17). Revelation often has such ‘flashbacks’ and our ability to put these flashbacks in their correct historical setting is critical for a correct interpretation of its prophecies. See the article on Revelation 17 for more detail.
The destruction of Babylon is continued. Revelation 17-18 is an interlude, and the story in Revelation 16 continues in Revelation 19, where “a great multitude in heaven” (19:1, 6) praises God:
“For He has judged the great harlot (Babylon) who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and He has avenged the blood of his bond-servants on her” (19:1-5).
In the seventh plague, at the end of Revelation 16, Babylon was given “the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath” (16:19). Here, at the beginning of Revelation 19, God is here praised for the destruction of Babylon. This confirms that Revelation 19 continues where the seventh plague left off.
The multitude also praises Him “for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready” (19:7). Three concepts in this verse demand further explanations, namely:
- The “marriage of the Lamb,”
- “His bride” and
- The word “ready”.
Marriage of the Lamb
The marriage of the Lamb is “our gathering together to Him” (2 Thess. 2:1). Or, as stated by 1 Thessalonians 4:17, “we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord”.
The plagues commenced with the 144000 “victorious” ones standing before God’s throne (15:2). They are therefore included in “His bride” (19:7), but according to 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, “the dead in Christ will rise first”. Only then will all God’s people meet Him (v17), which is the “marriage of the Lamb”. “His bride,” therefore, also includes the resurrected saints. A little later in Revelation, we will read about them. They are:
“those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (20:4).
The “dead in Christ” (1 Thess. 4:16) from all previous generations will rise in “the first resurrection” (20:5). They will be immortal; “over these the second death has no power” (20:6). “In the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:52-53).
This concept of His bride “made herself ready” (19:7) is explained by the next verse:
“It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints”.
Her clothes are clean, which does not only mean that she is forgiven, for her “fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints”. She therefore also has “overcome”:
“He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (3:21).
“He who overcomes will inherit these things” (21:7). (See also 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21; 5:5)
She “made herself ready” (19:7). As said of the “great multitude;” they “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (7:9, 14).
This concept, of the bride being “ready”, which means that God’s people have “overcome” their sinful desires, is also found elsewhere in Revelation:
In 7:1-4 God is “holding back the four winds of the earth” “until we have sealed the (144000) bond-servants of our God on their foreheads” (compare 6:11). Stated differently, the end-time forces of destruction are held back until they are ready.
Once they are sealed, they are described as “the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb. And no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless.” (14:4,5) This means that they are not only forgiven, but through the power of the Holy Spirit, they have developed characters in agreement with their Maker.
When “one like a son of man” comes, “sitting on the cloud”, an angel cries out in a loud voice, “Put in your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is ripe” (14:14-15). The harvest of the earth refers to God’s elect (14:17-20).
“The ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes” (14:4) are “those who are with Him” (17:14). They are “called and chosen and faithful” (17:14).
One of the angels invited John, “Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (21:9). Then John saw “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband” (21:2, compare v10).
We often ask why the return of Christ is delayed. From 7:1-3 we learn that the return of Christ is being delayed until His bride is ready. God is waiting for a people that are ready. Preachers often emphasize our total depravity (Romans 3) and that we are saved by grace. However, the Lord will not return until He has a people that are able to overcome the beast and his image. Just like Jesus overcame (5:5), our quest is to overcome.
Our quest is to be the 144000. Just like the Lord did, we need to be willing to give up everything, even our earthly lives, for Him and His truth. This the 144000 will do, not to be saved, for their own salvation is not important for them, but because they love Him.
The 144000 will make it possible for God to make an end to this age of sin. Just like the purpose of the plagues is to prove that God judges the people with the mark of the beast correctly; that they are unable to change, the end-time trials will prove God’s judgment of His people; that the people with the seal of God—the people whom God elected—will not surrender their faith in God, “even when faced with death” (12:11). What they will do will not only say something about themselves; it will be a testimony about all of God’s elect for all ages. Christ died to demonstrate God’s “righteousness … so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). In the same way, the 144000 will demonstrate God’s “righteousness” by demonstrating the characters of God’s elect. Like Job, they will prove that God was right when He elected certain individuals as Him. That is our quest. Please read the War in Heaven for more information.
Return of Christ
The announcement that the “marriage of the Lamb has come” is followed by the Return of Christ. Here, Jesus is “called The Word of God” (19:13) and the “King of kings, and Lord of lords” (19:16). He sits on “a white horse” (19:11) and is followed by the “armies which are in heaven … on white horses” (19:14). According to Matthew 16:27 & 25:31, Jesus will return with His angels. Furthermore, Revelation 12 describes a war in heaven between two groups of angels (12:7). The “armies which are in heaven,” therefore, are His angels.
War of the Great Day
In the sixth plague, the kings of the world are gathered at Armageddon (16:16) “for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty” (16:14), but the sixth plague does not describe that war. That plague describes only the gathering for that war. Now, at the Return of Christ “the kings of the earth and their armies (are) assembled (gathered together) to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army” (19:19). The “war of the great day of God, the Almighty” (16:14), therefore, is the Return of Christ. In this war, all people are “killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse” (19:21). In other words, Christ speaks and they die. The entire unrepentant population of the world is killed, while God’s people are “caught up … in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess. 4:15).
Now that the dead in Christ has “come to life” (20:4-5) and all people with the mark of the beast are dead (19:21), Satan is bound in the abyss “so that he would not deceive the nations any longer” (20:3). After the Male Child is caught up to God and to His throne (12:5), Satan is thrown out of heaven, down to earth (12:7-9). Now he is thrown further down into the abyss. Still later, he will be thrown still further down “into the lake of fire and brimstone” (20:10).
During the thousand years, God’s people will sit on thrones “and judgment was given to them” (20:4). They will evaluate the evidence to understand why they are alive while so many of their loved ones are dead. “They will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years” (20:6).
One thousand years after the Return of Christ the “rest of the dead” (“all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness” – Mat 13:41) from all ages, come to life (20:5). “Satan will be released from his prison, and will come out to deceive the nations” (20:7-8). He will “gather them together for the war” (20:8). They will surround “the camp of the saints” (20:9). End-time humanity rose to war against God before the Return of Christ; one thousand years later all people of all generations prepare to continue that war against God. But “fire came down from heaven and devoured them” (20:9). In other words, they die for a second time; this is the “second death” (20:14).
God’s Judgments confirmed
Why does God resurrect all His human enemies, just to kill them again? Why does He release Satan to again deceive the nations? It is proposed that this will be a test of His judgments. Just like the purpose of the plagues is to show that the people with the mark of the beast will change; not even when they know that they are wrong, the purpose of the events at the end of the thousand years is to convince the universe and His elect of the rightness of His judgments.
In the judgment before the great white throne “books were opened” (20:12), “and if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (20:15). The destruction of Satan and hostile humanity is based on evidence. For a thousand years, God’s people will have had the opportunity to study the records (20:4) to understand why certain people receive “eternal life” and others receive “eternal punishment” (Mat. 25:41, 46). That is how God rules; He wants His intelligent creatures to agree with Him, not because of fear, but because they are convinced that He is right. He rules in love: love is the driving force behind all of His decisions. That is why God brings His enemies to life again, namely to allow God’s people to see for themselves, after they have studied the records for a thousand years, that some of their loved ones are hardened beyond repair; nothing more can be done for them; they cannot be allowed into the New Heaven and New Earth (21:1). “Nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it” (21:27).
Since God’s enemies are killed for a second time when “fire came down from heaven and devoured them” (20:9), and since there is no indication that they come to life for a third time, “the dead, the great and the small” which John saw “standing before the throne” (20:12), are not living people standing before a physical throne. They stand symbolically to be judged. And it is not God that judges; it is God’s intelligent creatures that evaluate His judgments.
Lake of Fire – Eventually all evil is in the lake of fire. At the return of Christ, the beast and the false prophet are “thrown alive into the lake of fire” (20:20). A thousand years later the devil is thrown into the lake (20:10), and finally also all of God’s human enemies (20:14-15). The lake of fire “is the second death” (20:14). In Revelation, whenever a being is thrown into the “lake of fire” (19:20; 20:10; 20:14-15), that being is never again seen doing anything. The “lake of fire” is the “eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mat 25:41), also called the “unquenchable fire” (Mt. 3:12) or the “furnace of fire” into which “those who commit lawlessness” will be thrown “at the end of the age” (Mt. 13:40-42).
John saw “a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away” (21:1). Perhaps this means that this physical world, on which so much evil has been committed, will be completely obliterated. As Peter wrote, “the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10).
Thousand years apart
One purpose of this discussion is to show that the duration of “the day of the Lord” is actually one thousand years. Many of the things which we may think will happen at the Return of Christ, will actually happen one thousand years later. This includes the “resurrection of judgment” (John 5:27-29) and the burning up of “the earth and its works” (2 Peter 3:10-13).
The previous article, on the Second Coming in the New Testament, analyzed a large number of verses that describe the return of Christ. The current article focuses on the return of Christ as described in Revelation, and specifically in the Seven Plagues. The book of Revelation confirms the conclusions of the previous article. Similar to what was found in the previous article:
The return of Christ is “the great day” (6:17 – compare Luke 17:24; Phil. 1:10; 1 Thess. 5:2, 23; 2 Thess. 2:1-2; 2 Peter 3:10).
That great day will be “the … restoration of all things” (Acts 3:21), for John saw “new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away” (Rev. 21:1). “There will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
The return of Christ will be preceded by signs in the sky; the sun and moon will be darkened, the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken (Rev, 6:12-14 – compare Mt. 24:29; Luke 21:25-26).
He will return “on the cloud” (Rev. 14:14 – compare Mat. 24:30; 26:64; Mark 13:26; 14:62; Luke 21:27; Acts 1:9-11; 2 Thess. 1:7; Rev. 1:7);
He will return with power and great glory (Rev. 19:11-16 – compare Mt. 16:27; 24:30; 25:31; Mark 8:38; Mark 13:26; Luke 9:26; Luke 21:27).
He will return with His angels (Rev. 19:11 (armies of heaven) – compare Mt. 16:27; 25:31; Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26;
The return of Christ will not be a secret event, for “every eye will see Him” (Rev. 1:7 – compare Luke 17:23; Mt. 24:27, 30; Acts 1:9-11; 1 Thess. 4:16; Mat. 24:31).
He will judge the living and the dead; He will reap the “harvest of the earth” (Rev. 14:15-16), which is His elect, and He will reap “vine of the earth … and threw them into the great wine press of the wrath of God” (Rev. 14:18-19 – compare Mt. 16:27; Mt. 25:31-46; Rom. 2:5-8, 16; 1 Thess. 5:2, 23; Rev. 6:15-17; 7:9; 14:14-20.)
On that day His elect “came to life” (Rev. 20:4 – compare John 5:28-29; 1 Cor. 15:20-23; 1 Thess. 4:16; 1 Tim. 1:25).
They will try to hide from His presence (Rev. 6:15-17), but the wicked will be “killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh” (Rev. 19:21 – compare Luke 17:29-30; 1 Thess. 5:3; 1 Cor. 15:24; Rom. 2:5; 2 Thess. 2:8; Mat. 24:30; Rev. 1:7).
Jesus said “I am coming quickly” (3:11), which may mean unexpectedly, but probably means soon (compare Mt. 16:28; 24:34; Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27).
Revelation, therefore, confirms the conclusions from the previous article, but significantly expands on the description of the “Day of the Lord”. This is not simply the physical Return of Christ, but includes a long list of events preceding and following the Return of Christ, as described in Revelation 15 to 20, stretched over a period of 1000 years. These events are very important because their purpose is to prove the accuracy of God’s judgments.