Biblical Research & Education Resources
Richard Blaine Robison, M.A., M.R.E.
Published 7 January 2008; Revised 25 April 2012
Sources: Bibliographic data for sources cited may be found at the end of the article. Unless otherwise indicated Scripture quotations are taken from the NASB Updated Edition (1995).
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature and message of the apostolic writings (New Testament) I use the terms Yeshua (Jesus), Messiah (Christ), and Tanakh (Old Testament), and incorporate other appropriate Hebrew and Jewish terms. (See the Glossary.)
An article of faith in orthodox Christian theology is that Yeshua (Jesus) will return to earth. Disciples of Yeshua just don't agree when it will occur. The timing of the Second Coming is usually defined in relation to two other time periods, the millennium and the great tribulation. Many Evangelicals believe that Yeshua will return secretly before the great tribulation and "rapture" or remove believers from the earth, take them to heaven to enjoy the marriage feast of the Lamb while the world suffers and then return publicly seven years later to establish His reign. It is the view of this author that Yeshua will not return for His disciples until after all prophecy has been fulfilled, including the great tribulation. Below are brief comments on critical Scripture passages related to the timing of Yeshua's return.
My passion for studying the Second Coming and related last days events began with a serious discussion with a fellow college student in 1965. As a teenager in the church I had been taught the Dispensational doctrine of the secret rapture. I had accepted this view without critical analysis until this conversation. My friend challenged me to prove from Scripture that the Rapture would occur before the great tribulation and that it would be done secretly. He did not try to convince me by arguing from Scripture, but relied on my own study to come to the same conclusion he had.
I immediately began to pour over the New Testament, reading and rereading every passage that speaks of these events without resorting to commentaries or other books on the subject. After several weeks of study I concluded that I could not prove the pretribulation theory beyond a reasonable doubt. Moreover, I came to the surprising conclusion that events would occur just the opposite and that the Rapture, resurrection and Second Coming were all part of the same event that would occur on one day.
Perhaps the most persuasive Scripture for me is in the Olivet Discourse. When the disciples asked Yeshua the “when” question (Matt 24:3), they didn’t expect to hear about a coming in the clouds. The disciples were ready to establish the Messiah’s kingdom and they could not figure out what was taking Yeshua so long to “come” into Jerusalem and claim the throne. In His long answer on the subject of His (second) coming and the end of the age, Yeshua replied quite simply and succinctly “after the tribulation” (Matt 24:29).
Over the years I’ve had conversations with many who accept the pretribulationism they’ve been taught, but when they have to defend it they realize there are cogent arguments for not believing in pretribulationism and invariably retreat into “pan-millennialism” (however the Rapture and Second Coming occur, it will all “pan” out in the end). Obviously, not every theory of the end times can be right, but, fortunately, salvation is not based on believing the right theory about eschatology.
Disciples of Yeshua should consider the effect of discovering in the light of events that there is no secret rapture. Posttribulationists and pre-wrath advocates would be ecstatic if the Rapture occurred as predicted by the pretribulationists. The same probably couldn't be said of many pretribulationists who have made a strong spiritual investment in the doctrine. Some pretribulationists might actually abandon the faith, having assumed it to be a key article in their total belief system.
If pretribulationism isn’t true, then what about the rest of Christian doctrine, even the Gospel itself. And, if there are those, weak in faith, that do fall away because of having to face the wrath of the Antichrist, then what accountability would the teachers of pretribulationism bear before the judgment bar of God? I shudder to think.
Therefore, I issue the same challenge. Study the Scriptures for yourself. For all the end time prophecies and passages, ask these questions. What does the verse/passage say? What does it not say? What is its straightforward meaning? What would the apostles have understood Yeshua to mean in light of their own expectations of establishing the Kingdom of God? What does the passage actually assert vs. what may be inferred or assumed? What message does the passage have for personal application? What sort of people ought we to be as we wait for the Day of the Lord and the blessed Second Coming of our Messiah? (2 Pet 3:11)
The principal Greek word used in the New Testament for Yeshua's "coming" is parousia, (pronounced ‘pah-roo-see-ah’) which means presence, coming or advent (BAG). A review of all the passages where parousia occurs will demonstrate that it has a variety of characteristics. The word parousia occurs in 1 Thessalonians 4:15 and in context there are these elements:
· Those who have died in the Lord will be resurrected before the living.
· Yeshua will descend from heaven with a shout.
· Yeshua will descend with the voice of the archangel.
· The living will be caught up to be with Yeshua and with the resurrected saints in the clouds.
Other passages add these elements:
· The parousia of the Son of Man will be as the lightning flashes from east to west (Matt 24:27).
· The parousia of the Son of Man will take place after the great tribulation (Matt 24:29-30).
· At the parousia the elect will be gathered from the four winds and from one end of the heavens to the other (Matt 24.29-31).
· The objects of God's wrath in the parousia will be like Noah's generation who did not understand until the flood took them all away (Matt 24:37, 39).
· The parousia is followed by Yeshua delivering the kingdom to His Father and all human rule and authority is abolished (1 Cor 15:23-25).
· God will establish our hearts unblameable in holiness with all His saints at the parousia (1 Thess. 3:13).
· The parousia and the Day of the Lord are viewed as one and the same event. (2 Thess 2:1-2) The Apostle Peter likewise links the parousia and the Day of the Lord (2 Pet 3:4, 10).
· Yeshua will slay the lawless one with the breath of His mouth at His parousia. (2 Thess 2:8)
· Coincidental with the parousia the heavens and the earth will suffer the judgment of fire. (2 Pet 3:12)
When all these passages are taken together it is clear that the parousia contains many elements, some of which are assigned by pretribulationists to the secret return of Yeshua (the “Rapture”) and others to the visible return of Yeshua. A straightforward reading of Scripture requires there be only one parousia and NO passage depicts the parousia as lasting any significant amount of time or divided into a secret coming and a public coming separated by 3½ or 7 years.
A significant argument in favor of the posttribulation view may be found in the “gathering” parables involving field, fish and flock employed by John the Immerser and Yeshua. John the Immerser by divine revelation was given a vision of the future and used the first gathering parable to describe the beginning and the end of the last days.
“He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matt 3:12)
The straightforward meaning of John’s parable is that the wheat symbolizes the righteous and the chaff refers to the unrighteous as in Psalm 1. The last days would begin with Pentecost and end with the Parousia. The Greek word originally meant to dip, soak or immerse in liquid so that what is dipped takes on the qualities of what it has been dipped in (Stern 15). Associating “baptize” with Holy Spirit would imply being infused with the character of God and empowered for a life of service to God. Such was the Pentecost experience. However, to baptize with fire, rather than portending the tongues of fire at Pentecost, more likely refers to suffering and tribulation that disciples could expect (cf. Mark 9:49; 10:38; 1 Cor 3:13-15).
John prophesied that a great harvest would occur. The Messiah will gather the wheat, his righteous ones, and burn up the chaff, the wicked who oppose his rule. The mention of unquenchable fire refers to the final judgment. Yeshua later defined “unquenchable fire” as a chief characteristic of hell (Mark 9:43-44). Also, in John’s parable the One mightier than he would use a winnowing fork, parallel to the use of the sickle in Revelation 14:14-16, and both harvesting and winnowing are accomplished in the same event.
Yeshua told two gathering parables that have the same elements as found in John’s parable. In the parable of the wheat and tares (Matt 13:24-30), Yeshua substituted tares for the chaff and reversed the order of the gathering description. However, Yeshua adds the detail of using reapers, i.e. the angels, to do the actual gathering to whom He says, "First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn" (Matt 13:30). In the explanation of the parable that follows in Matthew 13:36-43, Yeshua makes it clear that the field is the world, the tares are the sons of the devil, or the stumbling blocks in His earthly kingdom and the wheat is the righteous. Both sons of the devil and the righteous are "gathered" at the same time, with judgment rendered as in the other parables (Matt 13:42-43).
The identical pattern follows in the parable of the dragnet of fish in Matthew 13:47-50 with good and bad fish hauled onto the shore at the same time in one large net. The fish are then separated with a similar outcome as in the parable of the wheat and tares. Yeshua emphasizes that the righteous and unrighteous are gathered together in the same time event and then the wicked are separated from the righteous. It is interesting that Yeshua explains all the elements of these two parables except the “barn” in the first (Matt 13:30) and the “containers” in the second (Matt 13:48). The description of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21 might well qualify as the “barn” from a structural point of view and the “containers” may correspond to the many rooms of John 14:2.
The obvious fact of these analogies drawn from the farming and fishing practices is that time is of the essence in accomplishing the gathering and preserving. No farmer would harvest grain and then wait 3 or 7 years before he winnowed and placed it in his barn. Similarly, the fisherman has to act quickly to get the "good" fish to market. The straightforward meaning of these parables is that the similarity between the story details and the Second Coming also applies to the time required to accomplish the work.
Perhaps the key passage on which pretribulationists rely to support their theory that the rapture is a secret event and one that can occur any time before the Antichrist appears is this mysterious saying in the Olivet Discourse:
“For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left” (Matt 24:37-41).
Yeshua uses the analogy of Noah and the global flood, as well as the rescue of Lot from doomed Sodom (Luke 17:28-30), to describe His coming. Noah was told 120 years before the fact that God would destroy the world and he did his best to warn his neighbors (Gen 6:3; 2 Pet 2:5). Noah had plenty of time to get ready. Lot didn’t know until the angels showed up and he had little time to get his family out of town. However, Noah didn’t know the actual day or hour he was to enter the ark until God told him and shut him in (Gen 7:1, 15-16). We, too, don’t know the day or hour (Mark 13:32).
The reference to the activities of that time stresses the preoccupation of people to the things of this world to the neglect of their relationship with God. They simply could not believe that God would destroy them. Thus, the people of Noah’s day were spiritually unprepared to meet their Creator. Yeshua succinctly recounts that the flood came and “took them all away” (Matt 24:39).
The obvious fact that has a direct bearing on the Second Coming is that the deliverance of the saints occurred on the same day as God’s judgment on the wicked (Gen 6:11, 13; Matt 24:38). In Lot’s case he was aided by angels. We, too will be rescued from the wrath to come (1 Thess 1:10) and the angels will assist us in that time (2 Thess 1:7). If the coming of the Son of Man will be like the days of Noah and Lot, then deliverance of the saints and destruction of the wicked will occur on the same day, not seven or 3½ years apart. This is essentially the message of 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10.
After saying His coming would be like the days of Noah and Lot, Yeshua went on to describe some be taken and others left. The Greek word paralambanō, translated “taken” in verses 40 and 41, means to “take to oneself, take with or along, or to receive (BAG). It is the same word Yeshua used in John 14:3 to come and receive His disciples, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” When Yeshua returns He will take His people to Himself in the air, 1 Thess 4:17. The Greek word aphiêmi, translated "left," has a broad range of meaning, but in this context means to leave or to abandon because of its obvious contrast to “taken.”
It should be noted what Yeshua did not say. Yeshua did not say that half of all the people on the earth will be saved, when He had already said in His sermon on the mount that “few” would be saved (Matt 7:14). Yeshua did not say that the ones “taken” are taken to heaven and the ones left are “left behind” to endure the great tribulation. The context is of the Day of the Lord, so the ones taken are simply removed from the line of fire.
What is the significance of the analogies of two men and two women being separated in contrast with Noah’s flood? Flood waters are not discriminating. Noah’s family was only saved by being in the ark. On the Day of the Lord, the living believers will be plucked from the earth and the ones left behind will be destroyed by fire (cf. Ps 11:6).
Each of these brief vignettes is remarkably parallel to the harvest or gathering parables found in Matthew 3:12 and 13:24-50. All of the stories start with a group that is then divided, with one part of the group being removed from the rest of the group. It seems reasonable that the pattern established in the harvest parables would hold true in the Olivet Discourse, including the timing of the event. The context of the Olivet Discourse clearly places the “taking” and “leaving” after the great tribulation. If the “taking” refers to rapturing saints, then it must be a restatement of the gathering of the saints described in Matthew 24:31 (cf. Mark 13:27).
"And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way."
Pretribulationists assume that when Yeshua raptures the Church He will remove the Holy Spirit in order for the Antichrist to appear, based on 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7. John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), reputed father of dispensationalism and author of the pre-tribulation theory, plainly declared in his commentary on 2 Thessalonians Chapter Two that after the Rapture the “Holy Ghost as the Comforter is no longer dwelling here below.” Cyrus Scofield famed author of the Scofield Reference Bible, attempted to distinguish between the “Holy Spirit in the church” and the “Holy Spirit in the world” (note on 2 Thessalonians 2:3). However, if the Holy Spirit only performs His role through the church and the church is not present, then by his interpretation there can be no active presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the world during the “tribulation period.” Another moderating view is that the sealing activity of the Holy Spirit is performed on the converts who accept Yeshua during the period of the church’s absence.
It seems very strange to this writer that the presence of the Holy Spirit has not restrained any previous world dictator in history nor the persecution of God’s people, so why should the Holy Spirit be suddenly removed so this last despot can make his appearance? Actually, Paul makes no explicit reference to the Holy Spirit in these verses. While the Holy Spirit may depart individuals (cf. Num 14:42-43; Josh 7:12; Judg 16:20; 1 Sam 16:14), the whole notion that any part of God's universe could ever be void of His Spirit, which is His presence, is utterly impossible. There simply is no Scriptural evidence that God’s Spirit ever has or ever shall literally depart in any partial or complete sense from any part of His universe (cf. Ps 139:7-12). And wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, God’s grace and mercy are available.
The concept of removing the Holy Spirit is devastating to the gospel, which asserts the indispensable role of the Holy Spirit in conviction of sin, justification, regeneration, sanctification and other spiritual graces (John 3:5, 6, 8; 6:63; 14:17, 26; 15:26; 16:13; Romans 8:2, 5, 9, 15; 15:16; 1 Corinthians 2:14; 6:11; 12:3; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Galatians 4:6, 29; 5:18, 22; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; Titus 3:5; and 1 Peter 1:2; 1 John 3:24; 4:13.). The report of apostolic ministry detailed in Acts also demonstrates that successful ministry depends utterly on the work of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5, 8; 2:4; 4:8, 31; 5:32; 6:3, 5; 7:55; 8:17, 29, 39; 9:17; 10:38, 44-45; 11:12, 16, 17, 24; 13:2-4, 9, 52; 15:8, 28; 16:6-7; 19:21; 20:22-23; 21:4, 11). Without the Holy Spirit how could the Father expect anyone to be convicted of sin when the angel proclaims the “eternal gospel” for the last time (Rev 14:6-7)? Without the Holy Spirit what is left is “another gospel” that would rely on legalistic works to achieve salvation.
The original Greek of 2 Thessalonians 2:7 says, “to gar mustêrion êdê energeitai tês anomias monon o katechōn arti eōs ek mesou genêtai,” which Marshall's interlinear translates literally as "only the restraining (or the restraining one) just now until out of the midst it comes” (Marshall, ad. loc.). There are two key words in the verse that argue against the pretribulationist theory. First, the verb normally translated as "taken out of" is genêtai, the aorist middle subjunctive of the verb ginomai, which means to come to be, become or originate [BAG, 157]. When the English word “taken” is used to translate ginomai in the rest of the apostolic writings it is normally in the sense of an event taking place. If the apostle wanted to convey the notion of taking “away” the Greek word airō, which does include that meaning, would seem to be more appropriate.
Second, the word translated as “way” in standard versions is mesos, which means midst, middle, or center (BAG). The only other translation of mesos as “way” in the apostolic writings is Colossians 2:14 where it is used in the sense of taking out of everyone’s sight or out of the midst of everyone (and there airō is used instead of ginomai).
Pretribulationists assume that “way” means “earth,” but why didn't Paul say "earth" if he meant "earth?" While the literal rendering of the Greek sentence may sound strange, it must mean that the spirit of the Antichrist is being restrained in the abyss, or bottomless pit (at the center of the earth), and one day the evil spirit will be released to possess the future man of sin (cf. Rev 13:11; 17:8). Commentaries on 2 Thessalonians I have surveyed offer no cogent explanation based on Greek grammar why eōs ek mesou genêtai should be translated “taken out of the way.”
It is also difficult to believe that the rabbinic trained Apostle Paul would speak of this theoretical leaving in such a clumsy manner as translated by standard English versions. Even if the translation of the standard versions were preferred, the meaning would still be that the Antichrist is being restrained (2 Thess 2:6) and someday the restraint on the Antichrist will cease. Rosenthal’s suggestion that “taken out of the way” means “step aside” (257) is made without citing any Greek authority, making his reasoning that Michael the Archangel is the “restrainer” a forced interpretation not adequately supported by the actual text of 2 Thessalonians or Revelation.
To summarize, the whole prophecy in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12 is about the coming of the Antichrist, not the leaving of the Holy Spirit, and 2 Thessalonians 2:7 confirms the prophecy of Revelation 11:7 that the beast will come from the abyss.
What does the word "first" mean? It means that nothing comes before it or it wouldn't be called "first." The first President was George Washington. There was no President before him; that's why he's called the first President. Let's consider two significant uses of "first."
In 1 Thessalonians 4:16 the Apostle Paul stated that the dead in the Lord will rise or be raptured first before the living. That is, there will be no rapture of the living until the dead are resurrected. Revelation 20:5 speaks of the first resurrection and the verse just before it identifies those who participate in it. The first persons resurrected are identified as those beheaded for their testimony and those who had refused to worship the beast or receive the mark of the beast. It's difficult to comprehend how people raptured before the tribulation and enjoying heaven could be beheaded by the beast.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:3 Paul says, "Let no one deceive you, for it [the parousia in verse 1 and the Day of the Lord in verse 2] will not come unless the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed." This passage can only mean that before the parousia occurs, which is when the first resurrection occurs, the man of lawlessness or Antichrist must first be revealed and carry out his idolatrous activity.
What does the word last mean? It means that nothing comes after it or it wouldn't be called last. With regard to end time events we find the word last used two ways:
In 1 Corinthians 15:51 the Apostle Paul says that the resurrection will take place at the “last trumpet.” This must mean there is more than one trumpet. The book of Revelation identifies seven trumpets which signal key events in the end time drama. Revelation 11:15 recounts the sounding of the seventh, or last, trumpet which signals the beginning of the Lord's reign. In verse 18, God's wrath and the reward of the saints are viewed as coincidental events, both of which occur after or at the sounding of the last trumpet.
Jews divided time into the present age and the age to come when Messiah would rule. In John 6:39 & 40 Yeshua says that He will raise up (resurrect) those who believe in Him on the “last day.” The last day must be called last because there aren't any days after it in the present age. When Yeshua returns the age to come will commence. The last day wouldn't be last if there were 3½ or 7 years of the tribulation following it.
One of the puzzles in the study of the Second Coming and related events is the relation of the prophecy of Peter to the chronology of Revelation. Peter views the Parousia, or the Lord’s coming, and the Day of the Lord as coincidental events (2 Pet 3:4, 10; cf. 2 Thess 2:1-2) and asserts,
“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which 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. Since all things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heaven will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!” (2 Pet 3:10-12)
Pretribulationists usually associate the “coming as a thief” metaphor (v. 10) with the secret rapture. However, since Peter says the heavens will pass away with a roar on the Day of the Lord, the thief metaphor cannot incorporate secrecy. That would be like saying you can have a quiet explosion. In addition, the idiom of the thief metaphor (cf. Matt 24:43; 1 Thess 5:2,4; 2 Pet 3:10; Rev 3:3) always points to the suddenness and unexpected nature of God’s destruction of His enemies, not the gathering and salvation of the saints. In other words, His coming in judgment will occur without any prior warning. The fact that the thief metaphor is used in connection with the Day of the Lord means that it does not occur at a different time than the rapture of the saints.
In addition, Peter emphasizes three times that on the Day of the Lord the earth and the heavens will be destroyed by burning (2 Pet 3:7, 10, 12; cf. Isa 51:6), followed by God’s provision of new heavens and a new earth (2 Pet 3:13). Yet, in Revelation the new heaven and new earth appear a thousand years after the Second Coming of Yeshua. Revelation twice describes the old earth and heavens as “passing away,” just as Peter, yet only after the thousand-year millennium (Rev 20:11; 21:1). Peter says nothing about a millennial reign. The prophecies in Revelation depict horrendous devastation on the earth from the trumpet and bowl plagues, but the destruction of the old earth and heavens are described in tame language compared to Peter: “fled away” in Revelation 20:11 and “passed away” in 21:1. In actuality, the problem may lie with our English translations and reading too much into Peter’s descriptions.
The account of the destruction of the heavens and the earth in 2 Peter 3:10 need not refer to an obliteration of the earth’s existence. The meaning of the key Greek words used in this verse needs to be carefully considered.
· The verb “will pass away” (Grk. parerchomai) literally means to pass by, to come to an end or to disappear, and is also used in Matthew 5:18 and 24:35 (also parallels in Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33) to refer to the heaven and earth passing away (BAG).
· The word “elements” (Grk. stoicheion) had four basic uses in the first century. It referred to (1) the elements of learning, such as the alphabet, or fundamental principles; (2) elemental substances from which everything is made and of which it is composed, i.e. the four elements of nature (earth, air, fire and water); (3) the elementary forms of religion or syncretistic religious tendencies; and (4) the heavenly bodies (BAG). Rienecker also suggests that it may refer to the atomic particles that are the basic structure of nature (II, 435). While Greek philosophers speculated on the hidden structure of matter, it is hardly likely that such a meaning was intended by the Lord or Peter. The common usage of stoicheion in the first century stressed the design of nature, that all things function in some kind of order.
· The verb “destroyed” (Grk. luō) literally means “to loose.” It has many applications in the apostolic writings, including breaking up of a constructed structure (John 2:19) and as a root word for divorce (Matt 19:3). In its strongest usages luō can mean to destroy, abolish, bring to an end or do away with, meaning that the component parts come apart (BAG).
· The participle “with intense heat” (Grk. kausoō) means to be consumed by heat or to burn up (BAG). Rienecker notes that it may be intended to denote a blaze arising from internal heat, such as a volcano (II, 436f).
· The verb “will be burned up” is applied to the “earth and its works.” The earth, of course, has no works, so the phrase is a euphemism for humanity and all that man has built in recorded history (cf. 1 Cor 3:13ff; 2 Pet 3:4). The Textus Receptus (on which the KJV is based) has katakaiō, meaning burned up, burned down or consumed by fire (BAG) but the Nestle Greek Text (followed by modern versions) has heuriskō, which means to find or discover (BAG).
· The word “earth” (Grk. gê) was used to refer to the soil or ground, the land in contrast to the ocean, the earth in contrast to the heavens and the inhabited globe (BAG).
To associate Peter’s prophecy with the heaven and earth “fleeing away” in Revelation 20:11, or “passing away” in Revelation 21:1, creates a serious complication in the meaning of the term “Day of the Lord.” All biblical prophecies treat the Day of the Lord as a singular event. In the same way there cannot be a Second Coming and a thousand years later a “second” Second Coming. Peter’s description of the Day of the Lord coincides with the vision given to John of the desolation that God brings on the earth in the seventh bowl of wrath, using the tectonic and volcanic forces of the earth to destroy and then to reshape its land surface into a plain as alluded to in Revelation 20:9. The earth as we know it will come to an end at the Second Coming of Yeshua by fire, just as the earth as Noah knew it for most of his life came to an end by means of the global flood. Finally, Peter does not associate the expectation of new heavens and a new earth with the Day of the Lord, so the separation of these events in Revelation by a thousand years is consistent with Peter’s teaching.
“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats and He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on the left.” (Matt 25:31-46)
At the beginning of the parable the sheep and the goats of the nations are apparently mixed just as in the harvest parables. However, in this parable Yeshua provides a summary transcript of the trial or judgment that results in separation, reward and punishment of the flock. It should be noted that the gathering of the nations takes place when Yeshua comes in His glory with His angels, which according to His earlier explanation in Matthew 24:29-31 occurs after the great tribulation.
The scene would be thus: "these brothers of mine" (v. 40) are in the background or to the side of the throne. In front of Yeshua are the "nations," which in normal apostolic parlance refers to Gentiles. Yeshua said that the nations are separated "as" sheep from goats, a Hebrew metaphor referring to the house of Israel (Ezek 34:17). He does not say that the "sheep" are His sheep in the sense of John 10:4, although they might be the "other sheep" of John 10:16. In the context of the judgment they become His sheep by virtue of how they treated "his brothers" (v. 40). Thus, being in the world they would not understand the concept of the unity of the Body of Messiah and the identification of the Lord with His disciples (Acts 9:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 1:22-23) and they do not "see" Yeshua in their acts of charity (Matt 25:37, 44). The apostles strongly emphasized doing charitable acts for God’s people (Gal 6:10; James 2:14-17; 1 John 3:16-17; cf. Deut 15:7-8).
Charity toward the poor of the world should not be done because one “sees” Yeshua in them (because Yeshua is not “in them;” He is only in His disciples), but because the gospel was intended for the poor (Luke 4:18; 6:20; 7:22) and the nature of righteousness inherently involves care for the needs of others (Matt 6:1-4; 19:21; Luke 12:33; 14:13; 19:8-9). By caring for His poverty-stricken, homeless and imprisoned brothers, the "sheep" of the nations identify with the Shepherd and receive His commendation as in the cases of Roman centurions who performed charitable acts for Jews (Matt 8:4-10; Luke 7:1-5; Acts 10:1-2; cf. Matt 10:40-42; Rom 8:29). Conversely, the "goats" of the nations aided and abetted the persecution and thus deny the Lord.
“These brothers of mine” can only have three meanings in the apostolic writings: (1) The siblings of Yeshua in the flesh (Mark 3:22; Acts 1:14); (2) His native countrymen, i.e., other Jews, including His disciples (Matt 28:10; John 20:17; Acts 3:22), and (3) those who believe in Yeshua and are obedient to the will of God (Matt 12:50; Rom 7:4). Since the first usage of “brothers” does not fit the parable’s overall story, the other two definitions yield two possible interpretations. First, the Lord is rewarding and punishing Gentiles on the basis of how they have treated God’s chosen people (cf. Gen 12:3). The second interpretation is that the judgment of those who have not accepted the Gospel, whether Jew or Gentile, is made on the basis of how they treat believers in Messiah, whether Jew or Gentile (Stern 77).
Since the context of the parable is the Second Coming and related events, then the trial probably depicts God doing justice for the great tribulation martyrs (cf. Rev 6:9-11; 7:14-17; 17:6; 18:4-6, 20; 19:15, 20; 20:4). During the great tribulation there will likely be many sympathetic to the plight of Christians and Jews and do whatever possible to provide aid in the face of the beast’s persecution. Those who ignore, accept or support the beast’s injustice will be treated as accessories to the crime.