What are the most important events that must take place before Christ returns?
, Associate Professor of Ancient Scripture, Brigham Young University
The scriptures explicitly prohibit the speaking of the time of Christ’s return in terms of the day and the hour. It is clear that the calendar we use is not to be one of months and years but rather one of events. There are unconditional prophecies that must be fulfilled before Christ will return. These events are described in the scriptures as the “finishing of his work” and are to take place primarily “in the beginning of the seventh thousand years [of the earth’s temporal history]—the preparing of the way before the time of his coming” (D&C 77:6, 12).
In Revelation 9 [Rev. 9] we read of the wars and plagues to be poured out during the seventh seal. By revelation, Joseph Smith told us that these things “are to be accomplished after the opening of the seventh seal, before the coming of Christ” (D&C 77:13).
The faithful Saints can recognize these events and thus be prepared to receive Christ when he returns. Let us briefly consider six key events (not necessarily in chronological order) that must be accomplished before the Second Coming. They are (1) the preaching of the gospel in all the world; (2) the gathering of Israel; (3) the building of temples; (4) the appearance of Christ at Adam-ondi-Ahman; (5) the battle of Armageddon; and (6) signs and wonders in the heavens.
1. The preaching of the gospel in all the world. It is the destiny of the gospel restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith to be preached among every nation, kindred, tongue, and people before Christ returns. Those of every nation, family, and language must have the opportunity to accept or reject Christ as he is testified of in the Book of Mormon (3 Ne. 21:11). Included are the peoples of Russia, China, India, and the Moslem nations. All are to be taught the restored gospel in their own language and by their own peoples (D&C 90:11; Alma 29:8). In all these nations will be found congregations of Latter-day Saints “armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory” (1 Ne. 14:12, 14). It would appear that great changes must take place among the governments of men before such prophecies can be fulfilled.
2. The gathering of Israel. Through the teaching of the gospel will the prophecies about the gathering of Israel be fulfilled. This applies to Lamanite, Jew, or those of the lost tribes alike. All were lost or scattered because they rejected Christ and his laws. They will have claim again upon their ancient inheritances when they have returned to Christ and his everlasting covenants. After they have been “restored to the true church and fold of God,” they will return under the direction of the prophet who holds the keys of the gathering of Israel to the lands of their inheritance (2 Ne. 9:2; D&C 110:11).
3. The building of temples. As Israel is gathered Zion will be established, and as Zion is established temples will be built. Temples have as their purpose to prepare people to meet God. Malachi promised that in the last days the Lord would suddenly come to his temple (Mal. 3:1). Isaiah identified temple building as a sign of the gathering of Israel preparatory to the coming of Christ (Isa. 2:1–3). Prophetic promises include the building of temples in both the Jerusalem of old and the New Jerusalem of Jackson County (D&C 84:4; D&C 124:36).
4. The appearance of Christ at Adam-ondi-Ahman. Before the great and dreadful day when Christ will come both to claim his own and to bring judgment upon the wicked, before he descends openly and publicly, he will appear privately and quietly to some of the faithful Saints of all ages in the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman. Here those who have held keys and powers from the time of Adam to the present will account for their stewardships. They will return their keys to Adam, who in turn will return all keys to Christ. All will thus be readied for Christ to commence his millennial reign (D&C 116; Dan. 7:9–14, 21–22).
5. The battle of Armageddon. When Israel has returned to her land, having come from all the nations of the earth, and the Old Jerusalem has been rebuilt with the temple of the Lord, then will come a time of great wickedness and destruction which will culminate in the battle of Armageddon.
It has been falsely supposed that it will be a state of righteousness that ushers in the millennial era. Such is not the case; the whole world will be wallowing in wickedness. Two of God’s prophets will be slain in Jerusalem, and their bodies will lie in the street for three and a half days before God brings them forth from the dead (Rev. 11:8–11).
According to divine providence Jerusalem’s tribulations will parallel her sins: the city shall be taken, the houses rifled, the women ravished (Zech. 14:2). It appears that only the righteous will escape this destruction and depredation.
Such is the setting of the last great battle, the battle of Armageddon. This culminating battle in a religious war, a war which pits the cause of Israel and their Christ against the forces of Gog and Magog, will be waged on the plain of Esdraelon in the ancient land of Palestine. According to Revelation 9:16 [Rev. 9:16], here some “two hundred thousand thousand,” (that is two hundred million men and more) will he involved in a battle which will embrace and extend to all the nations of the earth. During this battle Christ will place his foot again upon the Mount of Olives and the sacred mount will split in two. He will rescue his people and stand in judgment on the wicked. The defeat of Gog and Magog will represent the final destruction of the enemies of Israel and the end of earthly nations and kingdoms. Soon thereafter, Christ will reign as King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 9; D&C 45:48; Rev. 19:14–16).
6. Signs and wonders in the heavens. Some 2,000 years earlier while on the Mount of Olives, Christ had told his disciples of the destructions that would come again upon Israel in the last days. He then promised: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven shall be shaken” (JS—M 1:33).
This then is the final great sign, for “then,” he promised, “shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven, and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn; and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory” (JS—M 1:36).