By Mark Conner
‘End Times’ Fever
One of the last questions Jesus’ disciples asked him was about the end of the world (see Matthew 24:1-3). After the resurrection and at the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth, he ascended up to heaven. As he did, two angels appeared and boldly proclaimed, “Why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven (Acts 1:10-11).” The last recorded words of the ascended Jesus are in the book of Revelation. They were to the church and he said, “Yes, I am coming soon (Rev.22:7, 12, 20)!” Ever since that time people have looked for and anticipated the second coming of Jesus and the end of the world. This began with the New Testament believers and has continued right through history but has intensified in recent years (see BLOG post “End Times Fever”). That’s why it’s important for us to have a clear understanding of the end times so that we are not swayed by various trends or world events.
After entering Jerusalem for the final time (Matthew 21:1-11) and weeping over the city of Jerusalem for their refusal to accept him and his kingdom message (Matthew 23:37-39), Jesus gave some final instructions to his disciples for the days ahead of them (Matthew 24:1 – 25:46). Through a series of parables, Jesus showed them God’s plan for their lives, which was for them to be watchful, prepared, faithful and productive during this time. One of these parables was The Parable of the Three Servants (or Parable of the Talents).
Observations about the Second Coming of Jesus
1. Jesus will come again. The early church held strongly to the belief that Jesus would come again as he said he would. A common phrase among them was “Maranatha”, which means, “Come, O Lord! (1 Cor.16:22)” The second coming of Jesus Christ is mentioned 318 times in the 216 chapters of the NT. That’s 1 in every 25 verses. Some entire chapters are given to this subject (Mt.24. Mk.13. Lk.21. 1 Cor.15) and three New Testament writers wrote entire books about it (1 and 2 Thessalonians. Jude. Revelation). Jesus said he would come again. Peter, Paul, John, James and Jude all speak of his coming. Not one New Testament writer fails to mention it. There are more references to this subject that any other New Testament teaching. Every time we take communion or the “Lord’s supper” we proclaim the Lord’s death “until he comes” (1 Cor.11:26). Jesus will return to the earth literally, visibly (“every eye will see him”), physically and personally just like he came. It will be the “same Jesus”, not another. He will come personally to receive us to himself (Jn.14:3). Unlike his first coming, which was in great humility and lowliness, his second coming will be in great glory with his angelic hosts accompanying him (Mt.16:27; 19:28; 25:31).
2. No one knows exactly when. Jesus will return in the Father’s appointed time. No one knows the exact day or hour (Mt.24:36. Mk.13:32. Acts 1:7. 1 Thess.5:2. 2 Pet.3:10. Acts 3:19-21). People who try to set dates or times bring discredit to the Christian faith and cause people to mock (2 Pet.3:4). We can, however, know the “times and seasons”. If we study God’s Word and listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, we can be aware and ready for his coming. We don’t have to be caught “off guard” like the religious leaders were at Christ’s first coming. Dogmatism and intolerance on exact details is not wise. The Scribes and Pharisees missed the first coming of Christ because it did not happen just the way they thought it would. For those who are unprepared, his coming will be like a “thief in the night” – suddenly (Mk.13:36) and unexpectedly (Mt.24:36-51; 25:1-3. Mk.13:32-37. Rev.3:3; 16:15. 2 Pet.3:10. 1 Thess.5:1-11). Therefore, we need to be spiritual awake, watching and ready.
3. The second coming completes what Jesus began at his first coming. At the cross Jesus conquered Satan, sin, sickness and death. He said, “It is finished”! However, we live in the time of the end, which involves a tension between the “now and the not yet”.
• “Already” Satan is conquered (a defeated foe), but “not yet” has his final judgement taken place. In between, he continues to try to deceive the nations and must be resisted.
• “Already” sin has been atoned for and forgiveness is freely available, but “not yet” do we see sin totally eradicated.
• “Already” sickness has been defeated but “not yet” do we see sickness and disease totally removed from the earth.
• “Already” death is defeated but “not yet” do we see death destroyed. Our bodies are all ageing and unless Jesus returns beforehand, we will all die.
The contract has been signed and paid in full but we are living in this “in between time” before what has been legally accomplished becomes a complete reality.
• There is coming a day when Satan and his demonic forces will be judged and cast into a lake of fire for eternity.
• There is coming a day when sin will be cleansed from the earth and from our lives.
• There is coming a day where sickness and pain will be no more, where suffering ceases.
• There is coming a day when death, our last enemy, will finally be destroyed.
That “day” is the second coming of Jesus Christ. So the kingdom is both present (“already”) and future (“not yet”). Until then, we stand firm and continue to pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done.” This prayer is a request for God to reign and to manifest his love, justice and mercy in the earth. Our hope is founded on Christ’s work of redemption that began on the cross and will be completed at his second coming.
The Bible and the End Times
There are a number of books and passages in the Bible that deal specifically with the ‘time of the end’ and the second coming of Jesus. Obviously, the book of Revelation would be the primary source of information concerning the end times. It is a fascinating apocalyptic book with much prophetic symbolism in it that makes it somewhat difficult to interpret. Over the years there have been a variety of approaches to interpreting the book of Revelation (as well as the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 24). There are three broad categories of how people have interpreted this book through the centuries:
1. The Preterist (‘past’) View – this view understands the events of Revelation as having been fulfilled in large parts in the first centuries of the Christian era. In effect the book was written to comfort Christians, who suffered persecution from Rome and also from Judaism. Revelation’s fulfilment is all in the past. We don’t need to be looking for anything happening today that corresponds to its prophecies.
This view has a lot of merit. The book of Revelation was written to real people and real churches in the first century and it had specific relevance to what they were going through. It meant something to them and they would have been able to gain understanding about the times they were living in and to draw comfort and hope from it. In fact, the arguments for a direct correlation between some of the prophetic pictures in revelation and to events in the first century are quite convincing. However, in addition to this, like all biblical books, I believe that Revelation also speaks to believers in all generations and times of history. We must not limit its meaning and application to the first century. In fact, like all prophecy, there are often layers of application to people in different times and circumstances without taking away the direct significance to the first hearers.
2. The Historicist View (‘literal’) – this view sees the events of Revelation as unfolding throughout the course of history. Another variation of this view it what is referred to as a ‘Futurist View’, which argues that the events spoken about in Revelation (particularly chapters 4-22) await the end times for their historical fulfilment.
This view has some good things going for it. The first coming of Jesus historically fulfilled a whole variety of prophecies from generations earlier, and with amazing accuracy. It seems sensible to acknowledge that the same thing will happen with his second coming too. Unfortunately, the task of trying to identify contemporary events with prophecies from Revelation is fraught with danger and must be done very carefully. Otherwise, believers can be caught up in a ‘conspiracy theory’ obsession that only leads to fear and speculation and doesn’t really help anyone.
3. The Idealist View (‘figurative’ or ‘spiritual’) – this view is reluctant to pinpoint the symbolism of revelation historically with any specific social or political events. Rather it sees Revelation as setting forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil that continues throughout the church age. The challenge is to be faithful to Christ and expectant of a victorious future not to seek any literal or chronological interpretation.
This view also has some real merit. There is a lot of prophetic symbolism in Revelation that paints pictures of spiritual activity in the heavens that can’t be fully understand in human or historical terms. However, to limit the entire book to only spiritual matters without any direct correspondence to events on earth would seem an inadequate approach.
As you can see, each one of these views has strengths and weaknesses. I believe that proper interpretation includes the best aspects of all three views.
An Order of End Time Events
We will now look at a possible order of end time events. It is important to mention that dogmatism and intolerance on exact ‘end time’ details are not wise. The Scribes and Pharisees missed the first coming of Christ because it did not happen just the way they thought it would. Every one of us is in danger of doing the same with the second coming. Here at CityLife, we have no official ‘party line’ when it comes to end time teaching. We allow for diversity on the details of these types of matters After all, we’ll probably all be a little right and a little wrong about how it’s all going to happen. I’m sure there will be a few surprises for everyone!
Let’s look at what will likely happen before, at and after the second coming of Jesus. Of course, I encourage you can do your own reading, study and research on this important topic.
Things to occur before the second coming of Jesus Christ
Negative things to occur:
1. Increasing spiritual darkness (Is.60:1-3). Jesus told us that the last days just prior to his coming will be similar to the days of Noah and the days of Lot (Lk.17:20-37). He said that there would be great deception (Mt.24. 1 Tim.4:1) with many false prophets and false “Christ’s” appearing (Mt.24:5, 11, 23-26. 2 Thess.2:1-12. Rev.13). We are told of a great “apostasy” or “falling away” of many who are struggling to hold on to their faith in Jesus Christ (2 Thess.2:1-3. Mt.24:12. Heb.6:3-8).
2. Great Tribulation (times of ‘pressure’). There will be a time of great tribulation (Mt.24) and “terrible times” (2 Tim.3:1-7). Wars, diseases and earthquakes will increase (Mt.24:6-7. Rev.6:1-17). There will be times of intense persecution of believers for their faith (Mt.24:9-10, 21).
3. The revelation of the Antichrist. The title ‘antichrist’ refers to someone who is ‘against Christ’ or who sets themselves up ‘instead of’ or in competition with Christ. Jesus himself predicted the appearance of “false Christ’s” (Mt.24:5). There is a ‘spirit of antichrist’ at work in the world (1 Jn.4:3). The apostle John tells that there will be ‘many antichrists’ in the last day (1 Jn.2:18). There also seems to be an indication that there will be one very strong individual Antichrist (‘the’ Antichrist) who will be revealed in the last days before Jesus returns (see 2 Thess.2:1-12). The Antichrist will be revealed and will set up his kingdom for a time (Dan.2, 7, 11. Rev.13; 19:11-21). Satan knows that his time is short and in the last days he will throw everything he can against God and his work on earth.
4. God’s judgements will be revealed (Rev.14:7; 16:7). These judgements are outlined under the seven seals, seven trumpets and seven bowls of anger to be poured out on the earth (Rev.6-16), as people reap the consequences of their decisions and actions.
Positive things to occur:
1. A worldwide outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all people (Joel 2:28-32. Acts 2:17-21. James 5:7-8). This began on the day of Pentecost and will be completed in the “last days”.
2. A great spiritual harvest. Many people will become followers of Jesus and there will be a great harvest of people brought into the kingdom of God. The gospel will be preached to every nation and people saved out of every nation or “people group”, before the end comes (Mt.24:14). Revelation tells us about a multitude of people worship around the throne from ‘every tribe, language, people and nation’ (Rev.5:9). We still have more work to do here.
3. A glorious church. The church of Jesus Christ will be united (Jn.17), glorious (Eph.5:25-27) and victorious (Mt.16). The “last day” church will be greater than the first church (Acts 3:19-21). We are not there yet.
4. The fulfilment of all true prophetic words. All words spoken by the prophets will be fulfilled (Acts 3:19-21). Not one word spoken by God through his prophets will be left undone. Everything will come to pass. In fact, one reason I don’t believe Jesus will come back tonight, is because there are a number of things yet to be accomplished before he returns.
Darkness and light (Prov.4:18-19. Is.60:1-3), the mystery of lawlessness and the mystery of godliness, the weeds (tares) and the wheat are growing together as the coming of Christ draws near. The evidence of many of these “signs” is all around us today and they will increase in intensity as the return of the Lord comes closer. We live in exciting yet challenging times.
Things to occur at the second coming
1. The appearance of Jesus in glory. Jesus’ return will be with “a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God” (1 Thess.4:13-18). He will return in great glory, the glory of his Father (Mt.16:27; 19:28; 25:31). The angelic hosts will accompany him. Every eye will see him (Rev.1:7). John gives us a vivid picture of Jesus riding on a white horse – eyes blazing with fire, a two-edged sword coming out of his mouth, his robe dipped in blood and the armies of heaven riding with him (Rev.19:11-16).
2. The resurrection of the righteous. All believers who have died “in faith” will have their bodies resurrected and will live forever with a glorified body (1 Thess.4:13-18. 1 Cor.15:51-57. Heb.9:28. Phil.3:20-21). In that sense Jesus is coming ‘with’ his saints. This refers to all of the righteous believers who have died in faith since time began – their spirits are in heaven right now but they are waiting in expectation for the resurrection and glorification of their bodies.
3. The ‘rapture’ of remaining believers. Although the word ‘rapture’ in not mentioned in the Bible, the concept is. Jesus will return for (those who are “alive and remain” and escape death) and with his saints (those who “died in faith”). In this sense, Jesus is coming ‘for’ his saints – those who are alive and remain on the earth when he returns (1 Thess.4:16-17). There is a generation that will never die. Jesus will come in their generation while they are still alive. They will be “caught up” to meet him in the air. Many have hoped to be a part of that company and we do too.
What a day that will be! It will be more dramatic, more explosive and more exciting than any movie you have ever seen. The second coming is a great source of comfort and of hope for us as believers. There is coming a time when pain, crying and suffering will be gone. We will be reunited with our loved ones who have died and gone to heaven.
Things to Occur After the Second Coming
1. Judgement and reward for believers. Believers will appear before the judgement seat of Christ, which is not about salvation but about reward for the good works we have done (2 Cor.5:10).
Another area of debate amongst end time theologians is when the ‘millennium’ spoken about in Rev.20:1-6 will be. The ‘millennium’ is a 1000-year period where believers will rule and reign with Christ on the earth as a reward for their faithfulness. Some people believe we are in the millennium now and therefore that the second coming occurs after it (post-millennialists). Some people believe that it does not refer to a literal period of time but rather is symbolic of the entire period between the first and second comings of Christ (a-millennialists). Still others believe the second coming will occur before it (pre-millennialists). The challenge for all interpreters is that Revelation 20 is the only explicit reference of the millennium in the Bible and there is no mention of the relation of the second coming to the millennium in the actual text (whether it is before or after). Personally, I don’t think we’re in it now (you call this rest?). I tend to think it will be after the second coming but even that view has some challenges. We should not be dogmatic because there are too many unknowns.
2. Judgement of the devil. The devil will be judged and cast into a lake of fire for eternity (Rev.20:10). This judgment has been a long time coming being prophesied about in Genesis 3:15 and initially enacted by the work of Jesus on the cross and his subsequent resurrection.
3. Eternity in either heaven or hell (based on our choices in life). There will be a judgment for unbelievers, the great white throne judgement where the book of life will be opened. Those who names are not in the book of life will be cast into a lake of fire (Rev.20:11-15) where the devil and his angels are.
The godly, those who have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, will live forever in heaven with the Lord (Rev.21:27). Heaven will be a place like nothing we have ever experienced – more wonderful than we could ever think or imagine. God’s heart is that no one perish but that all have an opportunity to receive forgiveness and eternal life (2 Pet.3:9). Hell was made for the devil not for people. God does not wish anyone to end up in hell, that’s why he sent his Son.
4. The creation of a new heavens and a new earth (see 2 Peter 3:1-13. Rev.21). The end of the biblical story (Revelation 21-22) return us to a new world without sin, suffering or death, just like God originally intended (Genesis 1-2).
How should we then live?
We should live ready for Christ to come at any moment (Lk.21:34-36) but working diligently as if he may not come back in our lifetime. We should avoid extremes (over-preoccupation with a sneaky rapture vs. trying to create heaven here on earth). As Tony Campolo once said, “Any theology that does not live with a sense of the immediate return of Christ is a theology that takes the edge off the urgency of faith. But any theology that does not cause us to live as though the world will be here for thousands of years is a theology that leads us into social irresponsibility.”
1. Live with full devotion to the Lord. Be prayerful and watchful. Love him with all your heart and develop a close relationship with him. Many nominal believers will be shocked on that day (Mt.7:21-23). Don’t be caught without “oil” (Mt.25:1-13). Be spiritually awake, refusing to allow lethargy or apathy into your heart (Mk.13:32-37. Rom.13:11-12. 1 Thess.5:1-10).
2. Live your life in light of eternity. What we do in time echoes through eternity. We have only one life to life. This is not a dress rehearsal or a practice run. This is the real thing so give it all you’ve got. Use your gifts, talents and abilities for the benefit of others (Mt.25:14-30. 2 Cor.5:10-11. 1 Cor.3:1-15). We will be rewarded for faithfulness with what we have been given, not because of the gifts we received or the positions we held.
3. Live with an evangelistic edge. Make heaven’s priority yours. Be stirred to a spirit of evangelism. Build relationships, take risks, look for opportunities, share your faith and invite people to church and to Christ. Join God in his mission in the world.
Life is short, live wisely! Know God’s will, seize every opportunity and invest your time in things that count for eternity (Eph.5:15-17).
There are a variety of views within the Christian church about all of these ‘end times’ matters. With so many unknowns, it is wise to hold our own views about the future cautiously and with an open mind. Here is some recommended reading for those who’d like to dig a little deeper.
• Four Views on the Book of Revelation, edited by C. Marvin Pate (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998).
• Three Views on the Rapture: Pre-Tribulation, Pre-Wrath, or Post-Tribulation, edited by Craig A. Blaising (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 2010).
• Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond, edited by Darrell L. Bock (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999).
• Four Views on Hell (Second Edition), edited by Preston Sprinkle (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 2016).
• Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World, edited by Clark H. Pinnock (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996).
• Four Views on Eternal Security, edited by J. Matthew Pinson (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 2002).
• Four Views on the Role of Works at the Final Judgment, edited by Robert N. Wilkin (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 2013).
1. What evidences do you see of ‘end times fever’ today?
2. Have your ever read the book of Revelation? How did you find it? Did you understand it? Discuss the various ways people interpret this book. What do you think about them?
3. When do you think that Jesus will return? Soon? In our life time? In another generation?
4. What are some things happening today that may indicate that Jesus is coming soon?
5. Do you ever think about the second coming of Jesus? What do you think that day will be like?
6. Do you think the church, in general, focuses too much on ‘end times’ or not enough?
7. Discuss the things to occur before the second coming. Do you believe Jesus may come back tonight? If so, why? If not, why?
8. Discuss eternity – heaven and hell. What do you think they will be like?
9. How does your belief in the second coming affect your daily life?