The Christian Faith The End of Time
IS THIS THE END- AGAIN?
“When you see all these things take place you will know the end is near- I tell you the truth this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” (Matt. 24:33-34)
Signs of the End
Just before He died, Jesus Christ preached a sermon on two subjects: the destruction of Jerusalem in about 40 years (AD 70); and His return and the end of the world as we know it. This is found in Matt. 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21. He promised certain historical events (signs) would signals that His return was near. What makes it hard to interpret is that some, or all, of these signs would announce the destruction of Jerusalem forty years later in 70 AD. In fact this entire sermon to when the Temple would be torn down. (Mt. 24:1-3). The 10 signs most people agree on are:
False messiahs and prophets,
Wars and news or wars,
Persecution of Christians,
An increase of wickedness,
The gospel preached to allthe world,
Bewilderment among the nations,
An evil expression of anti-Christ (Mt.24:14; 2 Th. 2),
Increased wisdom and travel (Dan. 12:4)
Jews would return to Palestine and Jerusalem
IN THE FIRST CENTURY
(Matt , 16:28 / Matt. 24:34)
Jesus said, “This generation will not pass away until all these things (the signs) take place.” (Mt. 24:33). First Century Christians expected the return of the Lord. Peter said in the first church sermon that we are living in the “last days” (Acts 2). Twenty years later James said, “The coming of the Lord draws near / the Judge is standing at the door.” (5:8-9)
During this time the church believed that the “day of the Lord had come” (2 Thess. 2:1); e.g. the signs had been fulfilled and Jesus was at the door. As Christianity spread from Persia to England Paul said the “gospel has been preached to the whole world” (Col. 1:15). But Paul knew one sign had not appeared- the rise of anti- Christ to destroy Jerusalem. He called him the “man of sin” (2 Thessl. 2). But Paul also knew this did not have to be in some far out in the future..
He said his “lawless spirit” was, “already at work in the world.” (2 Th. 2) Forty years later after the Temple had been destroyed and more than a million Jewish people killed, John said the anti-christ had already come. He saw him in the cruelty of the Roman Empire as it was now persecuting the church and in the false teachers in the churches saying Jesus was not both God and man (Gnosticism). He wrote:
“You have heard that the anti-Christ is coming.
Many anti-christs have come / Who is THE
anti-Christ except the one who say Jesus has
not come in the flesh?” (! Jn. 2).
A lot of wild pictures of some end time world ruler are being taught today, but John does an amazing thing. He looked at Gnostic teachers in the churches, who said Jesus could be God or human but not both and called them “the antichrist”.
SIGNS THROUGHOUT HISTORY
When we think of false teachings (apostasy from the faith), earthquakes, hunger, etc. we know every generation from the First Century has them so it is no surprise that every generation believes they could expect Jesus could come in their lifetime. These signs are part and parcel of history. Every generation of Christians could have sung:
Jesus is coming to earth again / What if it were today?
This is the way God intends for us to live. The First Century people were not wrong. Jesus is always at the door. The New Testament did not teach Jesus would come, but that He could. We need to live every day as if Jesus was coming today, and work for Him as thought He was not coming for another thousand years. Now lets glance as our brothers and sister in the past as they looked up and said, “Even so, come Lord Jesus” ().
Expectations All Through History
Europe 999 AD The place is Rome. The date is December 31, 999 AD. Pope Sylvester raises his hands before a packed house in St. Peter’s as the clock moves to midnight. All people are weeping, some are trembling with fear; some lie prostrate on the ground and some were not there because they had literally died of fright. Terror has settled over Europe like a fog. In almost every village and town, people were giving their goods and homes to the poor. Some were confessing sins to those they wronged. Some brought money to the church to pay for their sins. Some were beating themselves or each other with rods and whips as a sing of penance. As midnight approached, whole towns gathered together around makeshift crosses.
Why was all this happening? It was because they believed doomsday was coming at midnight, when 999 AD became 1000 AD. The end of the millennium had been preceded by the signs Jesus spoke of. Nuns reported seeing fiery armies in the sky. A huge meteor in the sky had stunned England. Famine and disease was widespread. Asian warriors called Magyars had been riding down with their strange masked faces and decorated armor to pillage and kill. Giants from the North called Vikings had done the same on foot and in ships. Towns were sacked, churches were burned, and increased taxation was demanded. The people said the horsemen of the Revelation are upon us. Also, the year 1000 was coming and there is something is magical to us about the end of a century and something terrifying about the end of a millennium.
The Pope’s hands were held high in the air; the people were breathless; and the clock struck midnight. One minute passed; and then another; and nothing happened. Slowly the Pope’s hands came down and one by one the people went home. And this same scene was repeated all over the world. The people went home and resumed their lives.
The Scene Repeated Over and Over
Though not as dramatic, there are countless other times when great numbers of preachers have preached and believers have believed that the end was at hand. William Miller, a Baptist farmer in the Northeast, covered his walls with Bible verses and time charts and set the date of Jesus return, between March 21, 1843 and March 21 1844. As chance would have it, a meteor shower filled the skies in 1833 and a year later a huge comet streaked across the night sky. Out of this false hope the “Millerites were born and under the leadership of Ellen G. White became the “Seventh Day Adventists”
It is not that people set exact dates, but that people who give their lives to studying the Scriptures and the times in which they live, have been convinced almost beyond any doubt that Jesus was coming in their lifetime.
When God first raised up Billy Graham, his radio program almost week warned people that the end was near. His preaching in his later years changed. He always says Jesus can come but he no longer emphasizes that He will come in our day. Had he continued this emphasis he would have lost his credibility with many. To be honest with you; before I became a Christian my friends and I were amused at this. The program would come on the car radio and we would say we’d better watch out the end of the world is coming. This is not to say he probably won’t come. Jesus said:
“Always be on guard because you do not know the hour
when your Lord will come. Homeowners never know
when a thief is coming and they are always on guard
to keep one from breaking in. Always be ready! You do
not know when the Son of Man will come.”
(Matt. 24:42-43 CEV).
THE SIGNS TODAY
The Obvious Signs
Most of the historical signals (signs) abound in our day. As to false prophets and turning from the faith we have Mormons, Jehovah’s False Witnesses, and Protestant Liberals numbering in the tens of millions. For years Mormonism is the fastest growing church in the earth. As to earthquakes hundred of thousands of people have been killed in my lifetime. As to wars we have had two Global wars. As to news of wars we can see them happen on our TV screen. As to warfare itself, we now have instruments of mass destruction capable of killing everyone on earth.
As to bewildered nations we have only to look at the failure of the UN and the global hopelessness in Third World countries. As to famine- 24 thousand people a day die from the effects of world hunger. As to signs in the heavens this is the era of UFO’s seen in 1000’s of sightings. Just last week (May 2004) several Mexican pilots in an observation aircraft looking for drug runners spotted a row of circular lights flying in from of them and radioed home, “We are not alone up here.” As to persecution of Christians, America has been spared but worldwide there have been more believers put to death in the 20th century than in all other centuries combined. The greatest mass murderer was not Hitler. It was Stalin who killed over 10 million Russian peasants in his revolution, most of them Russian Orthodox Christians.
The Particular Signs
We have today, the Nation of Israel. Jesus said in His sermon on the end, “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the time of the Gentiles comes to an end. (21:24) In 1948 Israel became the first nation in history to be driven out of and reclaim their land. We have increased knowledge and travel No century has even come close to ours in this. Our great-great grandparents lived much like people in the First Century. Horse power came from horses; there was no electricity, no cars, telephones; no planes. Now we have the world wide web and phones that take and send pictures.
As to the spirit of lawlessness our day is characterized by the very sins that caused the destruction of Sodom and the great flood- homosexuality and violence of cruelty. As to homosexuality the majority of people in Western Civilization see nothing wrong with it. As to cruelty, third world jails are know for their torture and teenagers are committing suicide because they are being bullied or shamed on the internet by cruel classmates who hurt people for the fun of it..
As to anti-christ, our greatest threat is Militant Islam, whose avowed purpose is the execution of every non Muslim on earth, especially Jews and Christians.
Other unique 21st Century Signs
Three more horrible things could well make our day unique and could well signal the end. We are now on the verge of cloning human beings and I for one have a hard time believing God is going to allow that. When homosexuality came out of the closet aids came out of the southern jungles from monkeys. It is hard not to see this as the Judgment of God. Finally, millions of babies have been aborted in the last fifty years for convenience. Vance Havner used to say, “If God does not destroy America He should apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.
A final unique sign is the world conflict that is before us. In Revelation 16 the end is pictured as armies gathered to Armageddon. Not a shot is fired so this is a symbol of good versus evil as the signs converge before the end, and part of this is warfare.
If we look East across the Med. Sea we come to the plain of Megiddo between Palestine’s central mountains and the coast. This has been the site of great battles from the time of Persia to World War II. Still going East you cross Nazareth, the home of our Lord, high in the mountains. Still going East your cross Syria; and then Iraq (Babylon). In Irag you come to Tekrit, the birthplace of Saddaam Hussein. The interesting thing is that Tekrit, to the Arab world is the traditional site of the Garden of Eden. Go north east from there and you find China. Go north and you find Russia. Go northwest and you find Europle. God West and you find the United States. All these super powers, with atomic bombs in most hands, is gathered around Megiddo and the Garden of Eden- right where we started. Tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor. The only reason we are all looking there is that the Lord God, when he planned this universe and the drama that would play out, put oil under all that sand.