November 11, 2008

Q and A 2.0 Revisited: #9--End Times

Are we seeing the end times happening right now?

You might want to grab a cup of coffee. This is going to be a little lengthy.

People freak out about the end times. How many of you have ever watched an “end times” movie growing up in church? Thief in the Night was one of the more popular ones when I was growing up. Back in the 80’s, we watched these movies made in the 70’s. They involved people disappearing in the rapture, and they would scare you to death. I couldn’t sleep for weeks.

You may not realize this, but probably a lot of what you believe about the end times is based on what someone else told you. And probably what you believe or what you have heard was not so much based on what the Bible says, but it’s based on someone's interpretation of what the Bible says.

So, as we approach this subject, don’t freak out. I want to try to give you a brief overview of what the Bible says about the end times in response to your questions, and show you what we can know for sure, and what is speculation and opinion. I’m going to simply scratch the surface of all the arguments that exist about the end times. It would take weeks or months to exhaustively examine every passage and argument, and if you're looking for more reading on the subject, I'll be happy to recommend some things for you.

So, are we seeing the end times happening right now?

Simple answer: yes we are. 100%, yes we are.

How can I be so sure?

Because we have been living in the “last days” for about 2000 years.

When the New Testament speaks of “the last days”, it is always speaking of the time between Jesus’ First Coming and his Second Coming. Something that you need to understand when you are reading the NT: every writer of the New Testament understood themselves to be living in the last days.

John 21:21—“When Peter saw him (John), he asked, ‘Lord what about him?’ Jesus answered, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.’ Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die.”

The rumor in the early church was that the apostle John would not die until Jesus returned. They thought they were living in the last days. In Acts 2, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was given to the believers. Peter clearly understood this to be a fulfillment of a prophecy from the book of Joel…he quotes that prophecy:

Acts 2:17—“In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.”

Clearly, they understood that this prophecy was being fulfilled, and that these were the last days. Peter, again:

2 Peter 3:3—“First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.”

The writer of Hebrews: Hebrews 1:2—“In these last days, he has spoken to us by His Son…”

So, are we living in the end times? Yes we are.

Now, when someone asks this question, what they really mean is this: is Jesus about to come back? Right?

So, is Jesus about to come back? What does the Bible say about his 2nd coming?

1. There is one return of Christ, and it is a sudden, personal, and visible, bodily return of Jesus Christ.

  • Matthew 24:44 “So you must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

  • Acts 1:11 “[The angel said, ] ‘This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’”

  • Revelation 1:7 “Look, he is coming with the clouds and every eye will see him.”

2. We should long for Christ’s return.

  • Titus 2:12-13 “[God’s grace teaches us] to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

3. We don’t know when it is going to happen.

  • Matthew 24:44 “at an hour you do not expect”

  • Matthew 25:13 “Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

Since I’ve lived in Hattiesburg, I’ve gotten 4-5 emails or pamphlets that people have sent me telling me that the things that are going on in the world today indicate that Jesus is about to return. What happens is that people take the Bible in one hand, and put the newspaper in the other, and they start connecting the dots.

You cannot decipher when Christ is return this way. It’s not a code to be cracked. If it is, then there are a lot of people who are getting mixed signals.

Many people have tried and failed to predict Christ’s return. In September 1988, Edward Whisenant said that Christ would return on the 12th. Thousands of copies of his books were sold and many otherwise sober-minded Christians read it and believed it. I remember being in Mrs. McPherson’s 5th grade class and a bunch of my friends freaking out because their parents had bought into this. Across the nation, some even pulled their kids out of school to be together as a family when Jesus came back…which he didn’t.

This kind of stuff isn’t just silly, but it’s disobedience to God’s Word. We do not know when it will happen. It is possible to have an unhealthy obsession with this kind of stuff!

My challenge to you is to figure out what you believe about end times theology, and don’t dwell on it constantly. Back to the list...

4. I said this earlier, but there is a lot of disagreement over the details of the last things. So we have to be careful about building concrete theology on passages that we are unclear about.

The Bible does, however, give us some things that will happen before Christ returns:

1. The gospel preached to all the nations

  • Matthew 24:14 “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

o 2. The Great Tribulation

  • Mark 13:7 “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginnings of birth pains.”

3. False prophets doing miraculous things

  • Mark 13:22 “For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles…”

4. Signs in the heavens

  • Mark 13:24 “But in those days, following that distress, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.”

5. The coming of the man of sin and rebellion who is the last and worst of a series of antichrists, or false prophets, that 1 John 2:18 talks about.

6. Large numbers of Jews will trust in Christ.

  • Romans 11:25-26 “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved.”

So have these things been fulfilled, or have they not? And, how can we tell?

The truth is, we don’t know. We don’t know if these things have been fulfilled, or if they haven’t. It’s possible that some have, and it’s possible that they haven’t. But we cannot say for certainty.

The best things for us to do:
1. Read and understand the Bible in context
2. Be prepared for Christ’s return
3. Be humble in our understandings and interpretations of end time events

Beware of people who see the prophecies of the book of Revelation as being fulfilled in current events. Every time throughout history that people have made these claims about the prophecies being fulfilled in their eras, they have been 100% wrong. Tthat should warn us against believing the same things in our time, too.

If someone speaks a prophecy about what God is going to do, or is doing in current events, and then they are proven wrong, then what does it make that person? A false prophet.

Eugene Petersen, the creator of The Message Bible says this in his book, Reversed Thunder: “One of the unintended and unhappy consequences of St. John’s Armageddon vision is that it has inflamed the imaginations of the biblically illiterate into consuming end-time fantasies, distracting them from the daily valor of dogged obedience, sacrificial love, and alert endurance. This is exactly what St. John did not intend as even a cursory reading of Revelation makes evident. When people are ignorant of the imagery of prophets and gospels, and untutored in the metaphorical language of war in the story of salvation, they are easy prey for entertaining predictions of an end-time holocaust…conjured up from newspaper clippings on international politics. Jesus told us quite clearly that the people who make these breathless and sensationalist predictions are themselves false Christs and false prophets that they are pretending to warn us against.”

In the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 13:1-18), prophets who spoke on God’s behalf, but then their predictions didn’t come true were stoned to death. Of course, we don’t hold to that, but that should give us reason to write them off and pay them no attention.

Deuteronomy 18:22 “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message that the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptiously. Do not be afraid of him.”

A follow-up question was asked: Is there a difference between the end times and the events described in The Revelation?

There is a view of The Revelation that says, "yes", and it is called "preterism". You can read more about it by clicking on the link. Most evangelicals, however, hold that The Revelation describes future events as opposed to past events.

As with most "end times" theology, it's a pretty complicated journey to figure all of the different views, so good luck in your endeavors.

Tomorrow, we’ll cover questions about “The Rapture”. Check out all of the Q and A series here.


Jennifer said...

Good post Jay! You summarized that so nicely. =)

h2ostudents said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brandon Johns said...

It's been good to hear your thoughts on all the questions you are answered. I was in a small group last year who went through the Lahaye book, "Revelation Revealed." It was fun to be the only one who wasn't a total follower of his stuff. They used me to be the antagonist during the study. It was great. I cant get past the part of the 7 churches actually being 7 churches, not just the whole dispensationalist view that they all have. Wouldn't be funny if Lahaye was the final anti-christ? We'd never see it coming.