This post is the conclusion to a series I’ve done on the end times over the previous 7 posts. To read the entire series, please go to “Home” above and then scroll down to see Parts 1-7.
As I said previously in this series, I believe Jesus’ words on the end times, found in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 17 & 21, are the key to understanding what the Bible teaches about the last days. I believe the Old Testament prophecies on the end times, such as those found in Ezekiel and Daniel, as well as the New Testament book of Revelation and the apostle Paul’s teaching on the last days, should all be interpreted in light of Jesus’ own words in the Gospel passages mentioned above.
As I explained in Part 1, I do not hold to the Pre-Tribulation Rapture view, which has been the most popular view among evangelical Christians in modern times. Instead, I take a Post-Tribulation view of the end times, for reasons explained in Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. (A more complete summary and explanation of the Post-Tribulationist viewpoint, as well as a list of known pastors and scholars who hold this view, can be found here.) What I want to do in this post is bring everything together and make some very general predictions about what I think the last days will entail
As I said in Part 1, taken at face value, Matthew 24 gives a pretty clear description of events prior to the rapture and the return of Christ. Those events can be summarized as follows (the following list is taken directly from Part 1 of this series; verse references are to Matthew 24):
- First, there will be many false teachers who will claim to come in Jesus’ name or to be Jesus, but they will not really be from him, and will lead many astray (verses 4-5)
- Wars, ethnic tensions, and natural disasters will increase; yet this is only the beginning of the end (v. 6-8)
- Persecution of Christians will increase (v. 9)
- Many who have espoused the Christian faith will fall away (v. 10).
- False teachers will continue to increase (v. 11)
- Wickedness will be multiplied, causing the love of many to grow cold (v. 12)
- Other Christians will remain faithful to Christ and endure to the end, and through them the gospel will be preached throughout the entire world (v. 13-14)
- Once the gospel has been preached to all nations, the end will come, which will bring about a time of tribulation worse than the world has ever known (v. 14, 21)
- The tribulation will be sparked by a terrible abomination, the nature of which is not entirely explained, rather it seems to be referred to almost in code, the answer to which is contained in the Old Testament book of Daniel. The time surrounding the abomination will be so severe that it will require people to drop whatever they’re doing and flee to the mountains and presumably to remote places where they will have to hide out wherever they can find (v. 15-22). (Many believe the temple in Jerusalem will be rebuilt and that the abomination will take place there; however, I’m not sure a literal temple is necessary for this to take place.)
- Meanwhile the false teachers, false Christs, and false prophets will continue to proliferate, deceiving everyone but the elect–that is, the chosen followers of Christ. The deception will even be bolstered by great signs and wonders performed by these false teachers. There will be rumors flying that Jesus has returned, but we are warned not to listen to them, because Jesus’ return will be so obvious that rumors won’t be necessary (v. 23-28)
- [It’s worth mentioning here that 2 Thessalonians 2:3 warns against a great false prophet who will arise known as “the man of sin” or “man of lawlessness,” traditionally referred to as the Antichrist. More on this below.]
- At the end of the tribulation, signs will appear in the heavens as follows: “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken; then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn….” (v. 29-30)
- Then “they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (v. 30-31). This is the rapture, and as we see, it comes at the very end of the tribulation, at the time of Christ’s return, and not before.
Now, to the idea that we can use this passage to discern end times events, the objection is often raised that wars, ethnic tensions, and natural disasters have always been a part of human experience, so how is this description unique to the end times? Likewise, they say, false teachers, persecutions, and Christians leaving the faith have always been a part of the church’s experience as well.
However, what we need to understand here is the magnitude of what is being described. This passage describes wars, ethnic clashes, natural disasters, the arising of false teachers, persecutions, and falling away from the faith on an unprecedented scale the world has never seen before. The thing that will be different about the end times is that all these tragedies will be “on steroids,” so to speak, at a level of intensity and frequency the world has never known.
To get an idea of what this might be like, consider recent events. In the last few years we’ve seen unrest in the Arab world as never seen before, with the so-called “Arab Spring.” This has resulted in great instability in Egypt, and in the ongoing civil war in Syria, which has now spread to northern Iraq as ISIS militants are trying to take over large swaths of land in both countries. ISIS is persecuting Christians and other minorities in truly gruesome and hideous ways. Their desire is to set up an “Islamic State” in the region which would be run based on an extremely strict interpretation of the Quran and which would seek to exterminate all non-Muslims. At the time of this writing, large sections of Iraq have fallen to these extremists, so that now they are on the very outskirts of Baghdad.
Likewise Nigeria has seen the proliferation of Muslim extremism in the growth of a militant group called Boko Haram (which means “Western education is forbidden”). This group has been carrying out terrorist attacks in the northern and central areas of country. They are purported to have killed more than 5000 civilians since 2009–2000 of those in 2014 alone. In April they kidnapped over 200 students from a state run girls school. The girls were forced to convert to Islam and to marry members of Boko Haram. The whereabouts of many of the girls is still not known. This is but one in a long string of incidents perpetrated by this extremist group. (1) (2) (3)
In the Congo region of Africa, a warlord by the name of Joseph Kony leads a militant group that works under the chilling and terribly ironic name of “The Lord’s Resistance Army.” Kony and his followers travel the countryside conscripting children into their army by capturing families and then forcing the children to kill their parents. Women in these families are routinely gang-raped by Kony’s forces.
Meanwhile, conflict continues to escalate in Israel between Palestinians in Gaza and the nation of Israel. Russia invaded Crimea earlier this year, and has now moved into parts of Ukraine and is eyeing the rest of Ukraine as well as other areas which were once part of the Soviet empire. It is said that Vladimir Putin wants to rebuild the Soviet Union again.
In western Africa there has been another outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, which kills well over half its victims. This strain of the virus appears to be more virulent than any before. Previous outbreaks affected a few hundred people and then were contained, and were usually confined to a single locale or region. The 2014 outbreak, though, has infected thousands (current estimates are over 8000 so far, with over 4000 deaths), and has spread to four African countries. There is no sign of the outbreak subsiding yet. Just recently the first case of Ebola was diagnosed in the United States. This patient has since died, and now one of his caregivers has been diagnosed with the virus, becoming the first recorded case of Ebola transmission in the U.S.
Also on American soil is the ongoing turmoil in Ferguson, Missouri after a white police officer shot and killed a black man on August 9. This sparked outrage on the part of blacks not only in Ferguson, but throughout the nation. Initially there were riots in Ferguson, but unrest between protesters and police continues to this day, almost 2 months later. (The collection of events mentioned in the above section on current events was suggested by this blog post.)
I’m sure I’m forgetting some crises as well. There is a lot of stuff going on in the world right now.
Now, (if you can) imagine the above sorts of events multiplied 10 times or 50 times or 100 times in the same span of time. Imagine more wars, more terrorism, more racism, more riots, more crime, more moral decay, more deadly diseases, more persecution and hostility toward Christianity and Judaism. Imagine one natural disaster after another. And imagine all these things happening all at the same time. Then you might begin to have an idea of how dire the events will be when the end times are finally here, when the birth pangs give way to the great tribulation. It will be on a scale the world has never seen.
Second Thessalonians 2 describes a “man of sin” who will arise during that time, too. Traditionally the man of sin has been equated with the Antichrist, and with the beast(s) mentioned in Revelation 12 & 13. The Antichrist is believed to be a political leader who will become a world ruler that will bring great evil during the tribulation.
2 Thessalonians 2:4, 9-12 has this to say about the man of sin:
4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God….
9 The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, 10 and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12 and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.
So we see that the Antichrist will be a leader who opposes all true worship of God, and instead insists on being worshiped himself, much like the Roman emperors of old. The Antichrist will even be spiritually empowered by Satan to do all kinds of miracles, signs, and wonders, but these will be counterfeit miracles in that they won’t come from the true source of power and life, God himself. Instead, they will be rooted in evil and their goal will be to deceive the lost. Many people will follow this man because of the deceptive miracles he will perform, or claim to perform.
How might such a world ruler come to power? Imagine the world plunged into chaos as described above. In such a dire situation, the world would be very hungry for a leader strong enough to manage the situation. Imagine that all of a sudden in the midst of the chaos a ruler appears promising to restore order–in exchange for your total, unquestioning allegiance. In a time of great trial and terror, many people will be only too willing to do anything to have the world return to “normal” again. The above is what we should be on the lookout for with regards to the rise of the Antichrist.
Revelation 13:5-18 says this about the Antichrist:
5 The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise his authority for forty-two months. 6 He opened his mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven. 7 He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. 8 All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast — all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.
9 He who has an ear, let him hear.
10 If anyone is to go into captivity,
into captivity he will go.
If anyone is to be killed with the sword,
with the sword he will be killed.
This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.
11 Then I saw another beast, coming out of the earth. He had two horns like a lamb, but he spoke like a dragon. 12 He exercised all the authority of the first beast on his behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed. 13 And he performed great and miraculous signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in full view of men. 14 Because of the signs he was given power to do on behalf of the first beast, he deceived the inhabitants of the earth. He ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 He was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that it could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. 16 He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, 17 so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name.
18 This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666.
This passage talks about two beasts. There are a lot of theories about that. The challenging thing in interpreting Revelation is knowing what is meant to be taken literally, and what is meant to be taken figuratively.
Verses 5-8 sound similar to what we just read from 2 Thessalonians 4. The beast is very proud, and he blasphemes and slanders God and all that is holy, and demands to be worshiped. He persecutes Christians and the whole earth worships him–everyone except the elect (Christians). The implication is that believers will have the insight to see through this man and recognize who he really is and avoid worshiping him, but unbelievers will be captured under his spell and will be completely deceived into worshiping him instead of God.
The thing we want to watch out for is this: If (when) the world plunges into utter chaos, be on the lookout for a political leader who promises to restore a sense of normalcy, performing mighty–even seemingly miraculous–works, and demanding total allegiance. He will force Christians, and perhaps people of all religions, to choose between their faith and following him. Those who refuse to worship him, those who disobey him, those who question him, those who refuse to renounce their faith for him, will be killed. It will be a choice between life and death.
Revelation 13 also talks about the mark of the beast. There has been a lot of speculation about what form the mark will take. Many believe it will be literal, such as a tattoo of some sort on the forehead or hand signifying total allegiance to the beast and allowing for commerce. Some have speculated that it will be a microchip implanted in the hand or elsewhere in a person’s body that will take the place of money and will allow the government of the Antichrist to track people at all times.
Others think the mark of the beast may symbolize a cultural mindset that will be utterly opposed to the worship of Christ, such that Christians will be forced to choose between their faith and their physical life. Whatever it is, though, it’s clear that the mark of the beast will require Christians to choose between total devotion to Christ or total devotion to the Antichrist. There will be no neutral ground, and no escape.
So the question is: How will we know when these events have come to pass? Well, I believe we won’t have to wonder, we will know. The events described in Matthew 24 and its parallel passages in Mark and Luke will be of such magnitude and severity that it will be plain to everyone that the times described there have come. So if you look around at world events and you have to wonder whether it’s the end times yet or not, then probably the answer is no, not yet. For the times foretold in Matthew 24 will be so severe and of such intensity that everyone will wonder what hit them.
People sometimes say “If things keep getting worse in America then God is going to have to apologize to the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.” And I just laugh when they say that. Go read Genesis 19 again and then tell me things in our day are worse than they were back then. Not even close. When the day comes that mobs are going door to door throughout our cities gang-raping everyone in sight, then maybe we can talk about it, but until then, we have a very long way to go before our situation will come anywhere close to the days of Sodom. Things can and will get much worse before the end comes.
Now Jesus was clear that no one knows the day or the hour of his return. But he did instruct us to watch for his return (Matt. 24:42), and to observe the signs of the times (Matt. 24:33). He said we’ll know it’s coming because the signs he described will be taking place. Remember, again, the key is the horrific scale on which everything will be happening.
One thing that’s noteworthy about the times we live in is that for the first time in history the technology is available to make possible a totalitarian one-world government. Imagine, for example, what horrors would be possible if GPS technology was employed by a totalitarian power on its citizens. Imagine if all the capabilities of the US military were at the disposal of an evil power. This is all you have to think about to envision how bad things could get, and how possible it would be for an Antichrist figure to rule the world with an iron fist, and to strike terror in the world’s population, and to command total allegiance.
What will life be like for God’s people in these times? I think on the one hand we will experience uncommon power and grace. God will empower us to do the things we need to do, to fight the spiritual battles we need to fight. God will protect his children from many things. But also we’ve already seen that there will come a time when Christians will have to run for their lives, when–if we remain true to God and refuse to take the mark–we will no longer be able to buy the things we need like our basic necessities–food, gasoline, utilities, paying the rent, etc. Times when we will be hunted and murdered for our faith, unless the grace of God intervenes. This is why Revelation says this of believers in the end times:
11 They overcame him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death. (Revelation 12:11)
This will require supernatural courage, but saints throughout history have been given that courage when their lives were in danger, and history is filled with the stories of courageous martyrs who found God’s presence and peace in the face of death.
Let me conclude by saying, I wouldn’t mind being wrong. I wouldn’t mind at all if the pre-tribulationists turn out to be right, and we are all raptured out before things get really bad. But I don’t believe that will happen. I don’t believe God wants His children to have an escapist mentality in the world’s darkest hour. The Bible says we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Don’t you think God would want us to be those things even in the end of days, as He has throughout history? Isaiah 60:1-3 says
60 “Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
2 See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
3 Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
I believe these verses apply to the end times more than any other. It will get dark, but as the dark gets darker, the light of God’s people will shine brighter.
I also wouldn’t mind if I’m wrong and things don’t get as bad as I think they’re going to. I wouldn’t mind if the preterists turn out to be right in their claim that the worst time the world has ever seen already happened back in the first century. Although they are rather vague about what the future does hold in store. But I won’t mind if things don’t get as bad before the end as I think they’re going to. I won’t mind being wrong.
But I think it’s going to get bad, and I feel compelled to warn people of what’s coming.
So what do you think about the scenario I’ve described? Do you agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section.
I believe this is an important and timely message, because I believe the times I described here may be upon us soon. So I want to get the word out. If you agree, will you share this message using the social media sharing buttons below? Thank you!