COULD CHRIST RETURN THIS YEAR?
The biblical answer to this burning question is - yes and no! Yes, He could return from heaven at any moment now to meet His true Church - His body and bride - in the air. And, therefore, no - He will not come down to the earth during the next twelve months. His return to the earth will occur seven years after the Church has been caught up to heaven.
Why does the Bible make this distinction? Because the second coming of our Lord, just like His first coming, It is a complex series of events covering a number of years. Think for a moment of the first coming. It began with the miraculous conception of the God-man in the womb of a Jewish woman about 4 BC. Then came His birth, growth, public ministry, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension back to heaven - requiring more than a third of a century.
So also, the second coming of Christ will cover a number of years, beginning with the resurrection of dead Christians and the rapture of living Christians (1 Thess. 4:13-18). Then, for the Church, there will be a period of examination by her Bridegroom to determine gain or loss of rewards (1 Cor. 3:10-15), culminating in "the marriage of the Lamb" (Rev. 19:7-9).
In the meantime, on the earth, a number of spectacular things will take place, requiring eighty-four months, or seven years (Rev. 11:2-3), before He sets foot again on this planet (Zech. 14:4). Two witnesses will suddenly appear in Jerusalem, one of whom will be Elijah (Mal. 4:5-6, Rev. 11:3-6). After they have led the nation of Israel back to God (Matt. 17:11), they will be killed by the Antichrist (Rev. 11:7-13). But during the last three and a half years of the Tribulation period, 144,000 of their disciples, from the twelve tribes of Israel, will take "this gospel of the kingdom . . . to all the nations" (Matt. 24:14; cf. Rev. 7:3-8; 14:1-5).
As soon as the Church is removed from the earth (John 14:1-3; 2 Thess. 2:1-8), the "little horn." (i.e., "the Antichrist," or "the Beast") will be launched by Christ Himself into his steady march to global dominion (Dan. 7:8; Rev, 6:1-2). He will make a firm covenant with the majority of Israelis for a seven-year period (Dan. 9:27) and lead them to international prestige. At this time peace is finally declared (1 Thess. 5:3).
After forty-two months, the Antichrist is killed (presumably by the King of the North; (Dan. 11:40-45; Rev. 13:14), but he rises again to mortal life and kills his arch-enemies, the two witnesses (Rev. 11:7-13). He then turns against Israel (which is by now a basically converted nation; (Isa. 66:8; Rev. 12:1-6, 13-16), stops the temple sacrifices (Dan. 9:27), sets up "the abomination of desolation" in the temple of God (Matt. 24:15, KJV), and demands worship of himself with horrible consequences for those who refuse to submit (Rev. 13:11-17). Under Satan's direction, he will gather the armies of the world to challenge the Lord Jesus Christ at His glorious second coming to the earth (Psa. 2:1-6; Rev, 16:12-16; 19:19).
By means of these complex events, God will prepare the Church, the nation of Israel, and the Gentile nations for His glorious one-thousand-year kingdom on earth.
But when will all of this begin to happen? We wish we knew - but our Lord warned us about setting the date! "But of that day or hour no one knows, not the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone" (Mark 13:32). Now think of this statement! Our Lord knew that the exact date was unknown to all mere humans, and to all of heaven's angels, and even to Himself (during the non-glorified phase of His incarnation)! The Lord Jesus had set aside the independent exercise of certain attributes of greatness (such as omniscience) at His first coming (Phil. 2:5-8; Luke 2:52). But He remained totally divine and totally sinless, and He received from His Father a perfect understanding of the temporary limits of His knowledge (John 5:20).
This year could see the beginning of Second Coming events! For believers today, this is the blessed hope, for we know that "when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is" (1 John 3:2). But for all mankind, our Lord gave this urgent warning: "Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come. ... What I say to you I say to all, 'Be on the alert!" (Mark 13:33, 37).
To which we should joyfully reply, "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus" (Rev. 22:20).