Navigating the topic of the end times is a veritable minefield.
And that’s just when you’re talking about it amongst believers. Try bringing up topics like the Rapture and imagery like the Whore of Babylon and the Beast that she rides with a non-Christ follower and you’ll probably get some rather strange looks.
The fact of the matter is that the second coming of Jesus (and the subsequent upheaval of all that we know and understand) is an incredibly complex area of the faith. Scholars and theologians have debated for centuries about when the world will end, or at least be transformed and renewed by the supernatural power of God.
A quick search on Google for “end times” yields 253,000,000 results. In case you missed it, that’s two hundred fifty-three million search hits. Remember the fears over 2000 and the Y2K precautions that people took? How about the best-selling book series Left Behind? There’s something about the end times and Armaggedon. Everyone wants to know what’s going to happen.
Throughout this year at BGEA, we’ve been talking about the Second Coming or the return of Jesus. There have been articles devoted to this topic throughout the site, in connection with the other areas of life that we all encounter day-to-day. The latest edition of the Billy Graham TV Special focuses on this topic.
While there’s absolutely no way that one piece of this puzzle could even come close to answering all of the questions surrounding the end times, we thought it might be helpful to lay out three basic concepts to help guide the discussion.
1. It is happening.
Jesus is returning one day, whether tomorrow or a thousand years from now. Luke talks about this in Acts, the “sequel” to the Gospel of Luke.
“…he [Jesus] was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “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 1:9-11).
There you go. Pretty simple. In the same way that his first visit to earth was prophesied for centuries, there are multiple verses that tell of his final return (Matthew 24:30, Mark 14:62, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, Revelation 1:7). It is happening, but…
2. No one knows exactly when it’s happening or how it’s happening.
Check out Matthew 24:36.
No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
Did you catch that? The only one who knows when it’s going to happen is God the Father. Not even Jesus knows! Now surrounding portions of this chapter do give other indicators of what life will be like as the time nears:
For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather. Immediately after the distress of those days “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 (Matthew 24:27-28).
As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 24:37-39).
Going by these examples, the end times will reflect the period of Noah, when people were living for themselves. Other passages mention wars, upheaval and suffering. I don’t know about you, but that could describe a lot of dark periods in human history, whether we’re talking about the Inquisition, the Holocaust, or the current genocide going on in Africa. So as much as we might try to figure out the exact timing of Jesus’ return, God is truly the only one who knows.
3. In the mean time, we need to be about the work of the Kingdom.
This next portion of Scripture is a little longer, but worth the read. It comes from 1 Thessalonians 5.
Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11).
This passage from a letter to the church at Thessalonica reiterates that the time of Jesus’ return is unknown. But Paul is also quick to point other key things: this shouldn’t unnerve us as followers of Jesus and we should continue in our path of encouraging one another and living out the God-filled life.
The mention of the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet of the hope of salvation intentionally echoes his letter to the Ephesians where he instructs the brethren to put on the whole armor of God.
This is the message of the Second Coming. We are to be faithful, ever ready for Jesus’ return.