Christ as Judge and Bridegroom of believers
The very first end-time revelation of Jesus Christ will be to the body of true believers of all time. That includes the entire New Testament church, as well as Old Testament believers who pleased God and waited on the promise of the Messiah (cf. Heb. 11:24-26, 39-40). Those who have already died will be raised at the resurrection of the just, receive glorified bodies, and be caught up together with the living saints who will be changed and glorified in the twinkling of an eye (cf. 1 Cor. 15:51-53). Paul described this event as follows:
“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16-17). This meeting and union with Christ will not occur on earth but somewhere in space. After that, He will take us to our heavenly homes as promised: “I go to prepare a place for you. ... [Then] I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3).
As part of the glorification of believers the Lord Jesus will award crowns to the overcomers before His judgement seat, according to each one’s works (cf. Matt. 25:14-27; 1 Cor. 3:8-15; 2 Cor. 5:10). Firstly, Jesus Christ will be the Judge of true believers – not to condemn them because they will all have been saved by grace, but to judge their works. Not all the disciples of Christ are serving Him with the same degree of dedication, and there will even be those among them who will appear before Him empty-handed.
After the meeting before the judgement seat of Christ, the heavenly Bridegroom will be united with His earthly bride. After this, the church is no longer called the bride of Christ (cf. Matt. 25:1-13; 2 Cor. 11:2) but the wife of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7). The glorified church is also referred to as “elders” who are gathered around the throne of Christ, and will praise the Lamb: “And they sang a new song, saying, You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open the seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).
It is important to realise that the glorified church which is, in Revelation 4 and 5, described as 24 elders from all peoples, tribes and tongues on earth, will be in heaven before the first seals of God’s judgements are broken in Revelation 6. Why 24 elders? In 1 Chronicles 24, the entire priestly order in Israel is divided into 24 groups, each serving in the temple for two weeks per year. The entire number of the Lord’s “priests” (servants or elders) in the New Testament are here represented as 24, which symbolically refers to the large group of disciples from all nations.
Judge of the unsaved world
Shortly after the resurrection of believers and their catching away to heaven, together with the living believers who also will have received glorified bodies, the Antichrist will be revealed on earth. The presence of the church of Christ on earth is withholding the Antichrist from being revealed and taking full control of the world. Paul says:
“For the mystery of lawlessness [the hidden and mysterious working of the spirit of the Antichrist throughout the centuries] is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess. 2:7-12).
When the true believers – witnesses of Christ through whom His light has been shining in the world – are suddenly taken away, major changes will occur in all spheres of life. The Lord Jesus will then, for seven years, pour out the judgements of “the day of the Lord” (cf. Isa. 13:9-13) upon a world population that has rejected Him as Saviour. They will not be heirs of His heavenly kingdom as they will have rendered themselves His enemies. Among them will also be those who only paid lip-service to the Lord, but whose unregenerate hearts were far from Him (Matt. 15:8).
Three groups of seven judgements each (Rev. 6 to 19) will be poured out upon the earth within a period of seven years when Christ, as Judge, will punish an apostate and rebellious humanity. Among them will also be the majority of Jews who will have, up to that stage, refused to recognise and accept Christ as Messiah. Only the (truly saved) Messianic Jews will have been removed together with the true church.
The tribulation is divided into two parts of 3½ years each. These are two clearly demarcated periods of 42 months or 1 260 days each, of which only the second half is described as the “great tribulation”. The tribulation of seven years begins when the Antichrist concludes a seven-year treaty with Israel and the nations (Dan. 9:27), while the great tribulation of the last 3½ years will commence after the Antichrist has declared himself to be God in the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem and caused an image of himself to be erected in the Most Holy (Matt. 24:15-22; 2 Thess. 2:4; Rev. 13:14-15).
At the beginning of the seven years the first seal of God’s judgements will be broken in heaven, leading to the appearing of a white horse on earth, the rider carrying a bow and wearing a crown. This refers to the Antichrist, who will be a prince of peace with great powers. He is also associated with the subsequent three horses, which will cause the death of a quarter of the world population (Rev. 6:3-8).
It is important to understand that the initial revelation of the Antichrist will be as a popular prince of peace. He will not appear on the scene as a tyrant and mass-murderer but as the “saviour” of humanity who will achieve his goal of at least temporarily establishing peace and unity on earth, also among all religions. All of them will follow him in amazement and openly worship him (Rev. 13:3-4). Initially, everything will appear to be beneficial.
Spiritual deception will be the main characteristic of the tribulation period. Because lost humanity are not followers of the true Messiah, they will receive strong delusion that they might believe the lies of the Antichrist (2 Thess. 2:9-12). They will firmly believe that the false messiah is the true messiah, and wholeheartedly worship him. They will all regard him as a divine saviour and peace-maker as he will perform great signs and wonders, avert a threatening third world war, create conditions which are conducive to the restoration of the world economy, bring about peace and unity among the divided nations and religious groups, and take globalisation into its final stage by the institution of a world government with executive powers.
This intense deception will coincide with the process of increased globalisation during the first 3½ years of the tribulation period, and the vast majority of the world population will be highly pleased with their new world order. A considerable number of people, although still a minority, will realise during this time that the Antichrist is a deceiver from Satan’s kingdom, and warn as many people as possible against him. This movement will arise from a revival in which 144 000 Jews will be saved (Rev. 7:1-8). Through their testimony, many other people from the Gentile world will be saved (Rev. 7:9-17).
These converts will take a stand completely in conflict with the ideology, laws, and principles of the new world order. In due course, more severe persecution will be instituted against them, as they will warn people against the disasters and judgements of the day of the Lord, which will afflict the world in full force after 42 months of false peace.
During the middle of the tribulation there will also, from other sources, be opposition to the world government of the Antichrist, and he will be attacked by an assassin. But his wound will miraculously be healed, after which he will be completely possessed by a satanic spirit and become the most brutal tyrant of all time (Rev. 13:11-18). The false prophet will be his co-ruler and they will act mercilessly against all adversaries who refuse to worship the Antichrist and to receive his number.
Then, the Antichrist will no longer be the rider on the white horse of peace, but be revealed as the rider on the red horse of war, the black horse of rationing and famine, and the pale horse of death. During this time, the Lord will pour out unprecedented judgements upon the wicked empire of the beast. Among these will be natural disasters with devastating power. These plagues and judgements will eventually become so severe that fallen humanity will realise that it is God who punishes them and, together with the Antichrist, they will blaspheme Him because of the plagues (Rev. 13:5-6; 16:9-11).
While the wicked persist with their blasphemy and the hardening of their hearts, the plagues and disasters will become more severe. The earthquakes will eventually become so intense and widespread that there will no longer be a safe place for habitation on earth. Buildings will collapse everywhere, and the empire of the beast will be shaken to its very foundations: “... and 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. And great hail from heaven fell upon men, each hailstone about the weight of a talent [about 50 kg.]. Men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, since that plague was exceedingly great” (Rev. 16:18-21).
The surviving people will know very well that there is no scientific explanation for these exceptional disasters, as they will quite evidently be the judgements of “the day of the Lord” (cf. Isa. 13:9-13; Joel 2:1-2, 10-11, 31; Zeph. 1:14-15). Buildings will collapse everywhere, massive hailstones will cause devastation, and parts of heavenly bodies (meteorites and asteroids) will fall in many places and destroy everything in their vicinity (Rev. 6:13). Panic-stricken people will flee to the mountains, but the mountains will also be shaken and even flattened. The fugitives will cry out to the mountains and rocks: “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Rev. 6:16-17).
The culmination of the judgements which Christ, as Judge, will pour out upon lost humanity will be during the battle of Armageddon on the day of His second coming. John says: “And I saw the beast [the Antichrist], the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse [Christ] and against His army. Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh” (Rev. 19:19-21).
Christ will only utter a word, which will cause the immediate annihilation of His enemies. Zechariah expounds further on this event: “Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle. ... And this shall be the plague with which the Lord will strike all the people who fought against Jerusalem: Their flesh shall dissolve while they stand on their feet, their eyes shall dissolve in their sockets, and their tongues shall dissolve in their mouths” Zech. 14:3, 12).
After the judgement of Armageddon, Christ will first be reconciled with the remnant of Israel, when all of them will be saved (Zech. 12:10–13:1). After this, the Lord Jesus will summon all the Gentile survivors on earth to appear before His throne of glory to separate the goats from the sheep. The unsaved ones will be judged while the saved ones among the nations will inherit the millennial reign of peace which Christ will institute:
“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. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. ... Then the King will say to those on His right hand, Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me. ... Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me. Then He will also say to those on the left hand, Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:31-41).
The expression “these My brethren” clearly refers to a third group that is neither sheep nor goats. The only possible group would be Jews, the physical brothers of the Lord Jesus. In view of the great distress which awaits Jews during the tribulation period, they will have a very difficult time surviving it as the powers of the Antichrist will try to annihilate them (Matt. 24:15-21). Gentiles going out of their way to assist Jews during this time will clearly show that they do not accept the Antichrist’s instruction for genocide of the Jews, and that they are motivated by the love of the true Christ to lend a helping hand to fugitive Jews. It will be very dangerous to render assistance of this nature as the Antichrist will regard it as treason if Jews who have rejected him are in any way helped to survive.
The works of these Gentile Samaritans will not save them but will render evidence of their salvation. They will rule together with Christ in His kingdom while the lost people who persecuted Jews together with the Antichrist, will be judged.
Jesus Christ as King of the world
When the Lord Jesus comes again, He will come as “King of kings” (Rev. 19:16). He will establish a world-wide Messianic kingdom and rule from Jerusalem on the throne of David. The following promise was made before His birth to Mary: “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of his father David” (Luke 2:31-32).
The Lord Jesus was not accepted as King at His first coming as He will only hold this office at His second coming: “After this I will return and will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up; so that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, says the Lord who does all these things” (Acts 15:16-17)
Even before the Lord Jesus will set foot on the Mount of Olives at His second coming His earthly kingdom will be announced in heaven: “Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (Rev. 11:15). That will also be the fulfilment of a prophecy in Daniel 2:44-45, which indicates that the earthly empires will be physically destroyed in the end-time and a heavenly kingdom established in their place.
During this time, after the destruction of the Antichrist and his powers (Rev. 19:19-21), the devil, as the deceiver of the nations, will be bound (Rev. 20:1-3). Because of this, warfare and rebellion against the kingdom of God will completely cease. The Lord will be honoured and His spiritually revived people of Israel will be held in high esteem. The following prophecies will all be literally fulfilled:
“Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths. For out of Zion shall go forth the law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isa. 2:2-4).
“At that time Jerusalem shall be called The Throne of the Lord, and all the nations shall be gathered to it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem. No more shall they follow the dictates of their evil hearts” (Jer. 3:17).
“Thus says the Lord of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, Inhabitants of many cities; the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us continue to go and pray before the Lord, and seek the Lord of hosts. I myself will go also. Yes, many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you” (Zech. 8:20-23).
In our dedication to the Lord Jesus we should consider all the capacities in which He reveals Himself as each of them imposes different demands on us. Our relationship with Him starts on the day when we receive Him as our Saviour. This decision should be followed by a complete surrender in order to be filled with the Holy Spirit and also fully experience Christ as our Sanctification (1 Cor. 1:30). That will enable us to keep on growing in the knowledge and grace of Christ (Eph. 4:13-14; 2 Pet. 3:18).
We should continuously fix our attention on the capacities in which Christ will reveal Himself to us at His second coming, namely as Bridegroom and Judge. As far as His position as Bridegroom is concerned, we must lead a life now which will ensure that we will be blameless in holiness when we appear before Him as His bride (Eph. 5:25-27; 1 Thess. 3:13; 5:23-24). We must also take care that we will be able to appear before His judgement seat with confidence, to give account of our lives after repentance (Rom. 14:10-12).
If we are found worthy to appear before Jesus Christ as Judge and Bridegroom we will also be worthy to rule with Him as kings in His kingdom (Rom. 8:17; 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 5:9-10). The Lord will say to a faithful disciple who earned ten minas with his mina: “Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities” (Luke 19:17). The mina which he used refers to the power of the Holy Spirit which enables a believer to work for the Lord, and He expects all His servants to do works that are worthy of repentance.
As far as the unsaved world is concerned, they have done nothing to escape the wrath to come (cf. 1 Thess. 1:10). During the coming tribulation they will discover that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb. 10:31). They did not heed serious warnings such as the following, and will have to bear the consequences of their neglect: “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And if those days had not been shortened, no flesh would be saved” (Matt. 24:21-22).
The “great tribulation” specifically refers to the second half of the tribulation period, which will begin after 42 months of antichristian deception and false world peace. That will be followed by the judgement upon those who have survived the tribulation, and then the institution of Christ’s reign of peace. At the end of His millennial rule, all sinners of all time will appear before the great white throne to be judged (Rev. 20:11-15).His judgement His