INDEX

 

Signs of the end times

We have taken a look at some of the prophecies about what is going to happen during the "tribulation" as detailed in the books of Ezekiel and Daniel. It was not intended to be an exhaustive look at these events, but enough to assist in explaining the details mentioned in the book of Revelation. We shall now look at what Jesus said about these same events. Jesus had been remonstrating with the pharisees and the Jewish religious leaders about using the law of God for their own purposes: adapting it as a list of things which had to be done in order to attain (or earn) eternal life. They did not see the law for what it really was: a pointer to the day when Jesus would be sacrificed as the "Lamb of God", fulfilling the requirements of God's law for all people and for all time in one action on our behalf. Jesus publicly called the leaders hypocrites, blind guides and blind fools. (Matthew 23:28) Then leaving behind the furore He had stirred up, Jesus walked off with His disciples. They had been highly impressed by the temple buildings and started pointing out various features to Jesus.

The temple at Jerusalem

The first temple in Jerusalem had been built by King Solomon (David's son) to honour God and it completed in 959 BC. Later, however, the Jewish people turned their backs on God and, as a consequence of their rebellion, He allowed it to be overrun and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. A second temple was then constructed (in 516 BC) by the returning exiles from Babylon. (The story of this temple is told in the books of Ezra, Nehemiah and Haggai, who relate the history of its rebuilding and the excitement of the people as they returned to God.) This building stood in Jerusalem for four hundred and ninety-six years and, just before Jesus was born, Herod the Great, wishing to ingratiate himself with the Jewish nation, had enlarged and embellished it. This took him ten years, from 20 BC to 10 BC. (Jesus was probably born in about 4 BC). The people were naturally proud of their newly refurbished temple and it certainly excited the attention of Jesus' disciples.

Jesus then took them aside to a quiet place on the Mount of Olives, where He sat down with them and began to speak, both openly and in parables, about what would take place in the near future and also in the much more distant future. They must have been astounded when Jesus began by saying that the temple was about to be utterly destroyed! Many of these disciples would have been alive when this prophecy was fulfilled as the Romans sacked Jerusalem in 70 AD. Quite literally, not one stone was left standing on another. Today if you go to Jerusalem, you may be able to walk on the area known as the "Temple Mount". All you will find is the "Al Aqsa Mosque" and the "Dome of the Rock". You may also be able to pray at the "Western Wall" with devout people from all over the world, where you can write a prayer on some paper and slip it between the remaining stones of the temple. The remains of the temple are still there, but God does not inhabit them. As King Solomon said when the first temple was inaugurated, "Will God really dwell on earth? The heavens - even the highest heaven - cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!" (1 Kings 8:27) Indeed, God has no need of a temple built with stones today. His temple is in the hearts of each of His people.

Warnings of what is to come

When they looked down at the beautiful sight of Jerusalem preparing for the passover, with the hustle and bustle of foreign pilgrims and holidaymakers, the disciples must have been dying to know to know what else Jesus had to say. He obviously had a lot on His heart that He wanted to share with them. Their first question - quite naturally - was: “When will this happen and what will be the sign of your comingand of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3) The very same questions are probably on every one of our lips as well - indeed, on those of all who are interested in their faith. So let's look in detail at what Jesus said in describing the circumstances of His return and the end of history as we know it.

False prophets

Firstly, Jesus warned His disciples about people coming to lead them into error. He knew this warning would be for us as well, if we would only listen. He said that many would come in His name, proclaiming themselves to be the Christ (the "anointed one"). They would deceive and lead many astray. (Matthew 24:4-5) Consequently, we must remain vigilant and look out for these things to occur. In recent years, there have been a number of people who have claimed to be "Jesus returned" and who have led many away from the truth, even inciting them to commit mass suicide. For example, in 1978, there was the mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana, when nine hundred and nine people died under the instructions of leader, Jim Jones. In England, a man called David Ike took out whole page advertisements in newspapers, under the misapprehension that he was Jesus.

We need to guard our own, close relationship with Jesus and our Father, so that we can understand the Bible for ourselves. Blindly following the words of one leader, or one single church, without reading the Bible for ourselves under the instruction of the Holy Spirit is sheer folly. Many have fallen into that trap over recent years and the media is not slow in pointing out to us when people, especially Christians, fail morally - not that the copywriters themselves are necessarily any better!. When the famous pastor of a large, well-known church got divorced for the third time, the headlines trumpeted the message: "Pastor sins again!" Of course, those who lead churches and other Christian organisations have a responsibility to lead in the Spirit and in truth.

War, famine and natural disasters

Jesus then spoke to them about events that would be happening at the "end of the age": wars, famines and earthquakes. (Matthew 24:6-7) Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Algeria, Morocco, Bahrain, Libya and Iran have all been (and in some cases still are) in turmoil, with brother fighting against brother. We now hear news of natural disasters, such as earthquakes and volcano eruptions, on a regular basis. We know, too, that the last half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st have seen more fighting and earthquakes than at any other time in history.

At the time of writing this (November, 2015) it seems that the media have only just finished reporting one war and its aftermath, when another springs up in an entirely different part of the world. Burundi and the Central African Republic are in turmoil, as are parts of Nigeria and North and South Sudan. The Muslim world is in turmoil as various factions seek to impose their own particular brand of "religion" on the world. For example, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has developed its own brand of atrocities against Christians and all who wish to lead a peaceful, secular life in the areas in which it tries to extend its so-called "caliphate". Terrorism is the way in which these people seek to impose fear on others and fear is Satan’s biggest weapon as he seeks to impose his will on nations and communities. The Greek word for "nation" here is the word "ethnos" from which we get the English word, "ethnic", meaning a tribe or a race of people. We remember ethnic fighting between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes, leading to genocide in Rwanda; then there were the Kikuyu, Luo and Kalenjin tribes in Kenya, fighting and murdering in a bloody, ethnic brawl; let's not forget also the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Sunni and Shiite Muslims in Iraq, Iran, Syria (and wherever else they live) who all appear to be unable to settle their differences amicably.

And there will be famines and earthquakes in place after place; all this is but the beginning [the early pains] of the birth pangs [of the intolerable anguish].” (Matthew 24:7-8 - Amplified version) The famines in the Sudan, Ethiopia, Chad, Laos, Cambodia, Namibia, Mali and Somalia come to mind, but also the devastating hunger in Bangladesh and parts of India. (These are just the ones that we hear about!) We can add to this the many people in our own country who are going hungry and now depend on food banks. The situation is not helped by the mass movement of illegal immigrants entering Europe, many of whom are fleeing from terror in Muslim countries, especially Syria.

Christian witness today

This is a quotation from a daily reading, published in November 2015: “We continue considering the fact that Jesus is the only one who can offer full salvation. Since this is so, we who are Christians are praying daily that multitudes all over the world will come to acknowledge this truth." An outstanding Eastern philosopher wrote: "We had high ideas of God before Jesus came, but Jesus is the highest expression of God we have seen. He is conquering us through the sheer force of His own person." (Quoted from Seedbed) A South American politician who claims no commitment to Christianity remarked: "Our problems would be solved and our difficulties overcome if we could bring the spirit of Jesus Christ into our working relations." And a highly respected Hindu leader, speaking of Jesus’ influence in history, said: "We have not been able to escape Him. There was a time when our hearts were bitter against Him, but He is melting them by His sheer winsomeness.”

These statements bring to mind something that happened years ago in the mosque of Saint Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey. Originally a Christian cathedral, all signs that it had been a place of Christian worship were removed when it was taken over by Muslims. Centuries later, a Christian tourist, standing in the mosque, looked up at the dome beneath which a Christian altar had once stood. With amazement, he noticed the figure of the ascending Christ showing through the paint that had been used to cover the image. There is a truth to be drawn from this. Jesus cannot be written out and washed over. People may attempt to cover Him with the whitewash of contemporary ideas but, through the frayed edges of this present age, the figure of the ascended Christ is showing through.

Christians (and Jewish people) are suffering in many areas of the world, particularly (but not exclusively) in largely muslim areas. Idolatry is found in many countries, where our Enemy is hard at work to eradicate all signs of Christianity. Consequently, we hear of many who are being martyred for the sake of their faith. Our media are filled with reports of atrocities and persecutions occurring in countries such as Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia, Uzbekistan, Israel, the Gaza strip, Egypt, South Sudan, China, Pakistan, North Korea and, in fact, in many places throughout the world. Perhaps they are not yet occurring in epidemic proportions, but they are increasing enough to remind us that, in many of these places, including more liberal western nations, just to be a Christian is enough to face persecution.

Persecution

However, notice that Jesus does not say that there will be general persecution. It will, rather be persecution for His name’s sake. Many parts of the world comprise nations that were once known as Christian countries, so attending church may not, of itself, be a problem but, as soon as people begin to discuss power in the name of Jesus - His power to heal, deliver, set free from addiction and the power to change people’s lives for salvation and prosperity in every area of our existence, including finance - then they can immediately expect to come up against opposition. Imagine the hostility that occurs when these things are spoken about in a nation where the Enemy holds sway. Jesus tells us here that, when the "end of the age" comes, the persecution to be suffered by believers will be much, much worse and more extensive than we can contemplate. The Holy Spirit is still holding Satan back from doing what he would really wish to do, even though we are witnessing unthinkable atrocities being carried out by radical islamists and many others.

The Day of the Lord

Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians clearly instructs us about this time. (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12) Already in his day, Paul says that deceivers had appeared, claiming that the "Day of the Lord" (the return of Jesus) had already come and the Thessalonians had missed it! His letter was written to encourage them to stand firm in what they had been taught. Paul made the following points, regarding the conditions in which people would be living when Jesus returns and emphasising that this day would not happen until two criteria had been met:

  • There will be a time of great rebellion against God, just before "the man of rebellion" (the "antichrist") arrives. (2 Thessalonians 2:3)
  • He (the antichrist) will defy every god there is and tear down every other object of adoration and worship. He will go in and sit as God in the temple of God, claiming that he himself is God. (2 Thessalonians 2:4)

Paul then goes on to describe what the antichrist will do when he comes:

  • He will be Satan’s tool, full of demonic power. (2 Thessalonians 2:9)
  • He will be able to perform miracles and to trick everyone with his occult powers. (2 Thessalonians 2:9)
  • He will completely deceive those who are on their way to hell because they have said "no" to the truth. (2 Thessalonians 2:10)

Preparing for the Day of the Lord

We have not yet witnessed these conditions, but we do need to be aware of them and to remain vigilant. If unbelievers have not become believers before the "rapture" occurs, they should immediately be able to realise the relevance of the times in which they are living. Some, of course, will not recognise the situation, especially those who have refused to have anything to do with Jesus before the "rapture". Others may very well recognise it and welcome it as they have been expecting their lord (Satan) to be revealed. However, it is important to note that it will be very difficult during that period to become a believer. The antichrist will be permitted to make use of all his wiles of congeniality, magic and satanic powers and there will be considerable opposition to anyone who admits to having faith in God. What a challenge to warn people of this time ahead! (2 Peter 3:9-10)

Already we see signs around the world today that churches and Christians are being persecuted more and more. In study eleven we saw Jesus' warning to the church at Laodicea about becoming lukewarm in their affection and commitment to the good news. Jesus warns that something similar will happen shortly before the "time of trial" begins. "Many will be offended and repelled and will begin to distrust and desert [Him Whom they ought to trust and obey] and will stumble and fall away and betray one another and pursue one another with hatred. And many false prophets will rise up and deceive and lead many into error. And the love of the great body of people will grow cold because of the multiplied lawlessness and iniquity, but he who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24:10-13 - Amplified version)

Jesus is warning us that we are at risk of being offended and repelled by the truth, leading us to turn away from faith in God. Believers in the western world today have "never had it so good" so far as spiritual resources and opportunities are concerned. Consequently, the atmosphere in many churches is easy and relaxed when it comes to standards of moral behaviour which, not so long ago, were clearly taught and rigidly upheld in most churches. Sadly, there are some in authority who are eager to maintain the "relevance" of churches by compromising the beliefs and practices that used to be regarded as sacred. These "deceivers" actually place people who oppose biblical truth into positions of standing. They also lead the gullible astray by telling only part of the story: they say (quite rightly) that God is a God of love, but fail to mention that He is also a God of justice and neglect entirely to explain the way of salvation from sin through Jesus.

Is it any wonder that Jesus warns us that there will come a time, when even those who believe, but do not have solid teaching and understanding, will turn their backs on Him; will stumble, fall away, betray each other and pursue one another with hatred? (John 15:9-12) We need to focus ourselves on Jesus and His word, not on what people say, think and do. Jesus experienced Satan’s temptations in the wilderness and understands completely the depth and extent of all our weaknesses. Satan offered Jesus everything, if He would only bow down and worship him. With each temptation, Jesus used God's word to rebuke Satan. (Matthew 4:8-10) How much more do we need to have scripture on the tip of our tongue at all times, to use when we are under attack? “At that time... many false prophets will appear and deceive many.” (Matthew 24:11) This is not confined to any one denomination, today. Paul encourages believers to stand firm, holding on to everything they have learned and to keep thanking God for their fellow believers. (2 Thessalonians 2:13-15)

The end is nigh

Jesus then shares one more remarkable piece of information with His disciples about the time immediately before judgement begins: the good news will be proclaimed throughout the world. (Matthew 24:14) We saw something of this in study seventeen during the last part of the "hour of trial" ("tribulation") and, even at the very end, God sends an angel to announce one final chance to repent. (Revelation 14:6) God does not want any to be condemned to an eternity in hell. He has done everything possible to give all people, everywhere, the opportunity to choose salvation for themselves. Sadly, despite all the love, encouragement and final warnings, many will continue to choose death, rather than eternal life. The preaching of the good news to every nation, tribe and tongue will not be accomplished before the "rapture" occurs, but it will be completed during the seven years of "tribulation".

This means that we must be prepared for Jesus to call us to Him "in the clouds". Under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, the apostle, Paul, describes it this way: “For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven with a mighty shout and with the soul-stirring cry of the archangel and the great trumpet-call of God. And the believers who are dead will be the first to rise to meet the Lord. Then we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and remain with Him for ever.” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17) This may happen sooner than we think. We have little time left to finish our work on earth!

The end of the age

Jesus now talks to His disciples about the end of the age. (Matthew 24:15-22) In study eighteen we looked at "the abomination that causes desolation" and saw that this would be none other than the antichrist himself, standing in the "Holy of Holies" at the temple in Jerusalem and proclaiming that he is God. This is gross blasphemy and will be instigated by Satan himself, who controls the antichrist.

In order for this to happen, some changes will have to take place in Jerusalem. Currently, there is no temple in the city. The second temple was completed just before the birth of Jesus. It was destroyed completely by the Romans in 70 AD. Some of the huge stones can still be seen today but, on top of Mount Zion (which, as we read earlier, is the second most "holy place" in Islam), stands the "Al-Aqsa Mosque" and the "Dome of the Rock". Unless a diplomat of great skill arises and persuades muslims to allow the building of this new temple, or the Jews recapture the "Temple Mount" from Arab rule, it will not occur. However, the Bible states that a third temple will exist!

During the first half of the "tribulation", the Jewish people will be allowed to rebuild their temple and there is good reason to believe that a prefabricated building stands ready, even now, to be constructed as soon as this becomes possible. Whether it happens through diplomacy or the recapture of the "Temple Mount" in Jerusalem, only time will tell. Furthermore, rumours abound that the "Ark of the Covenant" is not lost, but has been rediscovered. Whether this is true or not also remains to be seen. One thing we do know is that during the seven years of the "tribulation", it will be replaced in the "Holy of Holies".

At the beginning of the second half of the "tribulation", the antichrist will set himself up as God in the temple. This is when opposition to religion will take on a completely different dimension. Every religion – which had been tolerated up to this point – will be persecuted - none more so than Judaism. It goes without saying that Christianity will be outlawed after the "rapture". Believers and followers from any and all religions will be portrayed as the reason why all the trouble in the world has occurred!

The enemy unleashed

This point in time is where Jesus warns His people to run for shelter to the mountains and warns them in the strongest possible terms not to wait. They are to go straight to the mountains, not even going home for a coat or suitcase, nor even the most treasured possession, but just to flee! The "tribulation" that will descend on the Jewish people by the remainder of the population, as a result of the antichrist’s influence, will be none other than an intense burst of satanic activity, the length of which will be shortened by God for the sake of "the elect": His chosen people, the Jewish nation. This is because no human being could endure and survive a longer demonic attack. (Matthew 24:22)

The deception that Satan will unleash on the world at this time will be very difficult to counteract. There will be many false christs, false messiahs and false prophets. They will be embroiled, to the fullest extent possible, in witchcraft and demonic activity, including demon worship. (Matthew 24:23-27) Christ’s warning is clear. Salvation is available now (and has been for almost two thousand years) and will continue to be so in advance of all this occurring – if only everyone would listen and respond! When Jesus comes this time, it will not be a case of someone saying, "He’s here!" or "He’s there!"; everyone will know about it, from East to West, North to South. Not one person will miss this event! Jesus’ return will be glorious, triumphantly bringing victory over Satan and all his demons. It will be a magnificent return with all His saints (the believers), who will rule and reign with Him.

The Jewish nation will have responded and been hidden, through divine intervention, in the mountains of Israel. They will have left with nothing beyond the clothes they were wearing and, just as God provided for them in the original exodus, He will again supply their every need! (Exodus 12:31-36; Nehemiah 9:20-21; Ezekiel 20:35-38; Zechariah 13:7-9) Things will be reaching their climax. There will be signs in the heavens: the sun, the moon, the stars and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. (Matthew 24:29-31) Then at that very moment, what we have fervently and excitedly been waiting for will take place: Jesus will return! His appearance will be with power and great glory. What a celebration that will be!

Final warnings and illustrations

Having described these future events for His disciples, Jesus now tells them how to recognise when they are about to take place. (Matthew 24:32-36) He gives an illustration of a fig tree, which would have been familiar to them because fig trees grew in abundance throughout the land. It was easy to tell the season by the state of a fig tree and to know that summer was near when its leaves began to sprout. Jesus said that when all these events that He had been talking about began to occur together, they would know that His return was imminent. (At present, we see plenty of isolated incidents, such as earthquakes, terrorist attacks or wars, here or there, but the sign of the end will be a concerted barrage of such events.)

He also gave them an illustration from the days of Noah. (Matthew 24:37-39) When Noah had finally finished building the ark – it took him one hundred and twenty years – the day came when those who had rejected Noah’s advice and invitation to join him in the safety of the ark, were swept away by the flood. What had they been doing up to that point? Living ordinary lives! So when the "rapture", followed by the start of the "tribulation" occurs, people will expect that things will continue just as they have always done. The effect of the "rapture" on the population of planet Earth will be shocking, but most people will rationalise the bizarre disappearance of millions of people - all Christians - in some way and simply carry on with their lives as before.

As if that were not enough, Jesus gives further illustrations (of people working together when one of them suddenly disappears), as well as another parable. It will not be easy to explain the disappearance of a large number of people from every nation on earth. It will happen quickly and in a manner that may, to the casual onlooker, seem almost random, especially if they don't realise that all those who have disappeared were believers. (Matthew 24:40-44) This would not have occurred had people known when Jesus was coming. Many will continue with their lives, trying to fill that "God-shaped hole" at the core of their beings with things which do not fit and do not satisfy. We need to ask the Lord to give us new ways to reach people. It is our responsibility to encourage them to make a decision for Christ. Jesus told us that we are in charge of His household, so we are responsible for "feeding His servants". At the time of His return, He will see what has been accomplished. (Matthew 24:45-51) What "food" and "supplies" is Jesus talking about here? He is talking about the word of God! If we are obedient, then Jesus will reward us with more responsibility on His return.

Do we need to acknowledge and confess an element of apathy when it comes to thinking about our future? Do we need to take up the challenge to use our God-given gifts for His people and for those who have yet to become believers before the time comes for us to be taken from the earth? It is then, that we shall face judgement: for some it will be congratulations on a job well done, rewarded with appointment to positions of authority, when we return with Him to rule and to reign on the earth.

Our destiny is to labour for the good of the kingdom of God, both now and into eternity. There is work for all of us to do. In these days of uncertainty, let's not turn back from all that the Bible tells us. “The just shall live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4) Let's fill our minds, hearts and mouths with His word!


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