The doctrine of the “End Times” (eschatology) is, sadly, controversial, with some Christians polarising over different views and (many) others avoiding the subject, perhaps regarding it as a happy hunting ground for extremists. Yet nearly 10% of the New Testament is about eschatology. It is not a fringe subject. We should not neglect it.

 

The problem is that some people have a natural tendency towards naivety – readily believing assumptions about what prophecies mean and how they relate to current events. Others have a natural tendency towards rationalism – being rather cynical about the subject. I am more like the latter group but because of the importance of the subject in Scripture I seek to overcome it. However we do need to be careful in our approach.

 

Yes, there are those who jump to naïve conclusions about the eschatological significance of current events. Nevertheless I do find an approach which regards prophecies as totally symbolical, rather than referring to literal events unconvincing in the light of the evidence. For example, it is difficult to see Jesus’ prophecy of the End Times return of the Jewish people to Israel as symbolical in view of the remarkable event which has happened 2000 years later. In addition, so many of the Old Testament prophecies have come to pass.

 

One of the main areas of disagreement is over the biblical prophecy of the millennium (the future thousand year reign of Christ on earth). Some believe that happens after Jesus returns, others before he returns and others that it is symbolical about the on-going influence of God in the world. Some years ago, we brought together 75 clergy, ministers and teachers from various denominations for three days of intensive discussion on eschatology. Initially, there was a good deal of tension and apprehension. But, as we listened to one another, that disappeared and, whereas there were respectful disagreements, the conference put out a united statement as to what it agreed over (we must avoid falling out over secondary disagreements over eschatology). You can find the statement on my Christian Teaching website at http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/ChurchLeadersAgreeReturnofChrist.pdf. It ended with the words “We urge all Christians to recognize that eschatology is a vital context and incentive for growth in holiness and for evangelism.” I personally would now add “and as a motive for prayer for Revival” but that was before the Lord spoke to me about Revival.

 

We are called to live in the light of the Return of Jesus

 

On several occasions Jesus says this.

 

“Keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (Matt 24:42; 25:13). “‘But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: he leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. ‘Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the cock crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: “Watch!”’(Mark 13:32-37).

 

“‘Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will make them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or towards daybreak. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.’(Luke 12:35-40).

 

Similarly, Paul writes:

 

“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 labour pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children 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 awake and sober” (1 Thess 5:2-6).

 

Unfortunately many Christians seem to ignore this teaching. But, the Lord says we need to be eschatological in outlook.

 

We are called to take note of the “signs of the times.”

 

It is also clear that Jesus wants us to note the signs of the End Times.

The disciples askedWhat will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’ Jesus answered: ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, “I am the Messiah,” and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth-pains” (Matt 24:3-8).

He is speaking here of long term, repeated signs pointing towards his return – false messiahs, wars, earthquakes, famines, persecution. They do not mean the End is imminent. They are like motorway signs repeatedly pointing towards a distant destination. But he goes on to refer to later signs which are closer to the destination – the ‘abomination that causes desolation’ antichrist, the great distress (often called “tribulation”), cosmic signs – and he adds “Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it [the End] is near, right at the door” (Matt 24:33). He also speaks of the fall of Jerusalem, the exile of the Jewish people to the nations and their eventual return to Jerusalem. (See the footnote for comment on the controversies surrounding Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians).[i]

 

So Jesus wants us to take note of what is happening in society and the world and to understand its significance vis a vis the End. In other words, we have to be prophetic (although we need to be careful and properly critical, rather than jump to conclusions). But many of us never stand back to see the bigger picture. We have our eyes down on the details of everyday life, including church life.

 

The interesting thing is that some secular scholars do stand back to see the bigger picture in connection with the threats to the future of the world and they speak about it in the ways prophets should do. So there is a secular eschatology over such things as dangers from global warming, viruses, war (nuclear and cyber), genetic engineering and artificial intelligence.

 

Many Christians need to wake up to what is going on. And we need to be discerning because often something developed for good reasons can go wrong and have bad effects. Here are some concerns very briefly:

  • The dangers in globalisation in our ‘global village’ becoming oppressive. (The current moves against globalisation could misfire and are very likely to be reversed by the pressures of inevitable international interdependence in trade, security, etc).
  • The dangers of the development of dictatorships (including through the growth in populism, political leaders on the extremes of politics, surveillance etc).
  • The growing influence of a major world religion, Islam, which believes in a Christ who is not divine, didn’t die on the cross or rise from the dead but who will come to earth in power.
  • More widespread worldwide persecution of Christians than has ever happened previously (Jesus foretells an increase in persecution).
  • Huge problems with water sources, extreme weather, mass migration, starvation, conflict caused by global warming, pollution etc (which seems relevant to New Testament prophecies)
  • The possibility of sudden global economic collapse (foretold in the New Testament in the End Times).
  • Israel becoming more central to world affairs and the nations (particularly the UN) becoming more negative towards her (also prophesied in Scripture). There is also a growth in antisemitism.
  • (I might also refer to the serious concern that NASA etc., have about the possibility of a large asteroid or meteorite colliding with the earth which seems to relate to the prophecies about cosmic signs, even though some of the language may be symbolical).

 

See my Christian Teaching website for detailed teaching on eschatology in both a full version and a summary http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/eschatology.html.

 

I find no difficulty in seeing the relevance of all these issues to biblical prophecy about the End Times and I think this is justified by reasonable thinking, not naïve jumping to conclusions.

 

We are called to hasten the return of Christ by praying for revival

 

We have noted that the New Testament makes it clear that we are not to ignore the “signs of the End.” Nor are we, as some do, just to be excited by the subject. We are to “look forward to the day of God and speed its coming” (2 Peter 3:12). The apparent delay in the coming of the day of God is because God is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Similarly, in Acts 3:19-20, Peter says: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you – even Jesus.” Hence in the predominantly eschatological Book of Revelation Jesus called the church not just to take an interest in the End Times but to come to repentance (Rev 2-3).

 

So praying for Revival (alongside evangelism and living “holy and godly lives”) is a very important way of speeding the coming of the day of God, the return of Christ.

 

What Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost is very significant:

“This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:16-21).

 

He uses the term “the last days” and we need to remember that the last days began at the time of Jesus’ first coming. When we use the term we often mean “the end of the last days.” But Joel’s prophecy about the outpouring of the Spirit is definitely related to “the end of the last days” or what we call the End Times. It is associated with cosmic signs of the End e.g. by Jesus in Mark 13:25 and Luke 21:25. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that there will be a major outpouring of the Spirit (Revival) in the End Times.

 

Some Christians who are interested in eschatology focus on doom and gloom and almost seem to be excited about it. Others are fascinated by eschatology but it doesn’t affect their lives or motivate them to greater obedience and witness. But if we are truly eschatological we will seek to do something positive in the light of the doom and gloom, including living holy lives, doing evangelism, but also praying and preparing for revival, which is much more far reaching, in terms of the numbers affected, than our evangelism. In that way, we will be speeding the return of Christ.

 

When the Lord spoke to Patricia (my wife) and me about Revival he seemed to be underlining Luke 1:17 “Make ready a people prepared for the Lord” which was John the Baptist’s calling. And that is an excellent motive for prayer and preparation for Revival. We are praying for the formation of a people prepared for the Lord – a more numerous people than can be achieved by evangelism (although evangelism remains an important priority).

 

So, by the grace of God, we are seeking to hasten the return of the Lord by making ready a people prepared for the Lord through Revival.

 

However we are also seeking to have a positive impact on society and the world by praying and preparing for Revival. It is a historical fact that the Wesleyan Revival had a profound positive effect on 18th century society which previously was described as a spiritual and moral quagmire. How we need that again.

Conclusion

 

Prayer and preparation for Revival is properly related to eschatology. We Christians are not only called by God to
live in the light of the End Times and to take note of the “signs of the times.” We are also called to pray and prepare for Revival in order to “make ready a people prepared for the Lord,” for his return and to seek to counteract the negative “signs” in society and the world.
Tony Higton

 

[i] I am very aware of the justice issues in the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. I was General Director of the Church’s Ministry among Jewish People and Rector of Christ Church in the Old City of Jerusalem and had contact both with Jewish Israelis and Palestinians/Israeli Arabs. I have seen the conflict first hand (and heard the bombs going off). For years I have encouraged Christians (via a mailing list and website http://www.prayerforpeace.org.uk) to pray about the needs, pain and fears of both Israelis and the Palestinians. Both sides act wrongly at times. But we must not ignore Jesus’ prophecy about the return of the Jewish people to Jerusalem (plus Old Testament prophecies on the issue) as a sign of the End Times.

We are living through a time of significant political change. I have in the past written about globalisation – its benefits and dangers. But now we are in the Trump-Brexit era which seems to be moving away from globalisation. How are we to understand what is going on relative to biblical predictions about the End Times? Does it mean that world trends are no longer moving in a direction which could ultimately facilitate the rise of the Antichrist as a global leader?

 

We are seeing how easy it is for extremists to gain power

 

In fact, the current reaction against globalisation shows how easy it is for extremists to come to power. I am aware that many US Evangelicals support Donald Trump. One of the main reasons is that, unlike Hilary Clinton, Trump takes a conservative line on abortion. Abortion is a big deal in the US but isn’t in the UK. I myself am conservative over abortion and many years ago mounted a local campaign against liberal views of abortion. But we need to realise that there are other very important moral issues as well as abortion and similar matters of personal morality. Trump may be conservative over abortion but many of us think that in other ways he is an extremist:

  • He is very self-promoting
  • He rubbishes anyone who disagrees with him (including the press)
  • He regards any news he disagrees with as “fake news.”
  • He says people who protest against him are being paid to do so
  • He claims that he alone represents the people against “the elite”
  • He thrives on divisiveness and claims his opponents are un-American.
  • He bullies, threatens and holds grudges
  • He acts hastily on important issues such as global warming and other international threats (e.g. N Korea, use of chemical weapons in Syria).

The Pope recently reminded people of what happened in Germany in 1933 and warned: “A people that was immersed in a crisis that looked for its identity until this charismatic leader came and promised to give their identity back, and he gave them a distorted identity, and we all know what happened.” This shows how a charismatic, extremist can gain power and go on to become a dictator.

Mark Malloch-Brown, former UN deputy general secretary, expressed deep concern about “the growing cult of the strong man.” He said: “In a range of countries there are very strong leaders, not always that respectful of the rules of the game.” He instanced the current leaders of China, India, Turkey together with Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. They are a very powerful group on the G20 which is a major factor in globalisation. Malloch-Brown said that “democracy is being replaced by a generation of Caesars.”

 

Paul Mason, writing in the Guardian, said: “Putin has, at the cost of diplomatic isolation and the suppression of democratic rights, restored growth, order and national pride. Now all over the world there are mini-Putins.”

 

Tony Blair stated: “In a world of uncertainty, people want strength in their leaders. It’s our job to make sure that that does not bleed across into authoritarianism.”

A recent survey for The Independent discovered a fear of global fascism amongst British people. Contributory factors were the appointment of Trump, Brexit and the danger of far-right wing leaders coming to power in Europe. 53% of Britons said global fascism is growing. 46% said it was growing in Britain and 48% that it is growing in Europe.

Globalisation, one trend relevant to the eventual rise of Antichrist as a global leader, may be partly in reverse in some places. But the trend towards the emergence of extreme world leaders, another trend relevant to the eventual rise of Antichrist, is obvious.

 

Trump has a policy of rubbishing people who disagree with him. He does this with the media who, for all their faults, are crucial to freedom of speech and democracy. He is effectively supporting those who reject free speech and human rights. Human Rights Watch warned about the emergence of leaders who magnify their own authority. They “directly challenge the laws and institutions that promote dignity, tolerance, and equality.” They are “seeking to overturn the concept of human rights protections.”

 

Until recently it was assumed that the political extremes – left or right – would not be able to take over. That assumption has been shattered recently. Extremists can come to power and take over and that is just as relevant to the eventual rise of Antichrist as globalisation.

 

Appreciation of the benefits of globalisation will return

 

Globalisation has brought about increasing interdependency and interaction between nations. It seems that nations are returning to protectionism and restrictions on overseas workers and refugees. Some think the apparent reaction against globalisation is merely a reaction against the inequalities caused by multinationalism which will ultimately lead to a fairer globalisation. Many feel that globalisation has to re-orientate in order to cope with inequalities and global warming.

 

Stephen Hawking argued for the importance of globalisation: “For me, the really concerning aspect of this is that now, more than at any time in our history, our species needs to work together. We face awesome environmental challenges: climate change, food production, overpopulation, the decimation of other species, epidemic disease, acidification of the oceans.”

 

In any case we live in an electronic global village. That cannot be reversed. It is a world dominated by the internet and social media. One very important factor in the move towards globalisation is technological change. Goods can easily be ordered across national boundaries if they are more suitable to the consumer. Politicians have little control over this.

 

Roberto Azevêdo, Director General of the World Trade Organisation stated recently that tit-for-tat protectionism in the Great Depression of the 1930s led to world trade shrinking by two-thirds in three years. He added that if this were to happen today it “would be a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions.”

 

Globalisation promotes peace

 

Many people are already beginning to see the dangers in the reaction to globalisation. Take Donald Trump, for example. He has spoken of a nuclear arms race and has made aggressive statements about how America will deal with N Korea (a very dangerous nuclear power). He has also been provocative towards China including through his irresponsible tweets. However globalisation has been a movement towards word peace. The United Nations, NATO and the European Union which Trump tends to treat with contempt, have been powerful forces for peace. It is likely therefore that eventually people will react against the views propounded by Trump in favour of a fairer globalisation.

 

Boris Johnson commented: “We should never forget the old truism that when goods and services no longer cross borders then troops and tanks do instead. By rebelling against globalisation we endanger as system that has been associated with 70 years of post-war peace and prosperity and that has allowed billions to lift themselves out of penury by toil and enterprise.”

 

However Wolfgang Ischinger, chairman of the Munich Security Conference, said that the world is on the brink of a ‘post-Western age’ with European and American influence declining allowing other states, including Russia, to shape a new global order.  He asked: “Will this new era again be marked by greater tensions and, possibly, even outright conflict between the world’s major powers, not least between China and the US? Is this a post-order world in which the elements of the liberal international order are fading away because no one is there to protect them? The world is about to find out.”

 

Globalisation promotes free speech and human rights

 

We have noted that Trump is effectively supporting those who reject free speech and this is true of other extremists who have come to power. There will be a growing reaction against this and an appreciation of the support for free speech and human rights which globalisation provides.

 

The dangers of Surveillance

 

Since November 2016 the UK has had what is being called the most extreme surveillance laws ever passed in a democracy. Like the CIA, MI5 will be able to spy on citizens through their smart TVs, cars and cell phones. Silkie Carlo, policy officer at Liberty, said: “Under the guise of counter-terrorism, the British state has achieved totalitarian-style surveillance powers – the most intrusive system of any democracy in history. It now has the ability to indiscriminately hack, intercept, record, and monitor the communications and internet use of the entire population.”

 

Jim Killock, executive director of Open Rights Group, said: “The UK now has a surveillance law that is more suited to a dictatorship than a democracy.” Lord Strasburger commented: “We do have to worry about a UK Donald Trump. If we do end up with one, and that is not impossible, we have created the tools for repression.

 

GCHQ has warned the leaders of Britain’s political parties of the threat Russian hacking poses to democracy. They said: “This is not just about the network security of political parties’ own systems. Attacks against our democratic processes go beyond this and can include attacks on parliament, constituency offices, think tanks and pressure groups and individuals’ email accounts.”

 

It seems clear that globalisation will continue. But there is also the worrying emergence of extremist, authoritarian leaders and of very pervasive surveillance. All of these trends have relevance to the biblical predictions of the End Times about the ultimate rise of Antichrist etc.

 

Concerns here are not only about the replacement of democratic national governments by remote world government but also about the danger of oppression inherent in world government.

 

Reaction against globalisation

 

Supporters of globalisation point out its economic benefits. However global economic growth has fallen from 3.5% to 2% since 2008. Also there is an awareness of rising inequality, e.g. the wealthy pay less tax proportionately than the poor. The banks have been producing money which, instead of funding wages and job growth, has found its way into the assets of the rich and is pushing up prices. In Britain, whilst wages rose by 13% the stock market rose by 115%. World trade talks have been disappointing and the issue of immigration has come to the fore. Globalisation has produced a volatile economy. Industries, jobs and careers which used to be secure are no longer.

 

In fact, there is a growing trend against globalisation, and in favour of nationalism, led by right-wingers such as Donald Trump. Experts say that ISIS wants to induce western countries to become more right wing, nationalist, intolerant and xenophobic so that many citizens turn against Muslims, and therefore encouraging greater radicalisation, providing more terrorists and suicide bombers. Closer economic integration is seen as to some degree incompatible with national sovereignty and national democracy. There is a growing anti-establishment movement. Successful re-election of existing political leadership has virtually halved since 2008. Brexit is one evidence of a reaction against globalisation.

 

On the other hand, many issues call for close global co-operation, e.g. terrorism, global warming, world poverty and undermining of human rights. Also economists warn that anti-globalisation will worsen the global economic slowdown we are experiencing.

 

Despite the current reactions against it, the trend towards globalisation will not go away.

 

Disturbing definitions of ‘non-violent extremism’

 

This is one of the most serious areas of concern and could lead to government oppression, including over those (including Christians) who teach conservative values.

 

Britain is at the forefront of preparing legislation to prevent violent extremism. Theresa May, now prime minister, has been a leading figure in this process. Yet the government proposals have been subjected to very serious criticisms. In July 2016 the Joint Committee on Human Rights found that the proposals:

  • gave “no impression of having a coherent or sufficiently precise definition of either ‘non-violent extremism’ or ‘British values’”.
  • Would give the authorities “wide discretion to prohibit loosely defined speech which they find unacceptable”.
  • would “potentially interfere with a number of human rights including freedom of religion, expression and association”.

The committee also said that the government assumed “that there is an escalator that starts with religious conservatism and ends with support for jihadism”. They expressed “very grave” concerns about proposals to compulsorily register out-of-school education settings, such as church youth work. It said this could penalise Evangelical Christians, Orthodox Jews and others who have conservative religious views but do not promote violence.

 

Fiona Bruce, MP for Congleton warned that Sunday Schools and other church groups could still face inspections by the school regulatory body Ofsted. Several MPs have warned that the legislation could be used to target Christian groups that teach marriage is between a man and a woman.

 

Simon Cole, Chief Constable of Leicestershire, said the plans risked creating thought police – judges of “what people can and cannot say.” Alistair Carmichael, MP for Orkney and Shetland, said the definition of extremism as “the vocal or active opposition to our fundamental values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs” could be used against those who oppose the government, believe the monarchy should be abolished or disagree with same-sex marriage. He added that it would only be a matter of time before the powers are used in a way for they were never intended.

 

Commenting on the government emphasis on “British values”, the Bishop of London said: “The business of the State is to ensure that the living traditions in our pluralist society have space to flourish without the State itself being drawn into the role of an ideologically driven Big Brother, profligate with ever more detailed regulation.”

 

In February 2016 a Hampshire school called the police after a 15 year old pupil viewed the UKIP website on a school computer. He was interviewed by police for viewing “extremist views.”

 

The Scottish Government Named Person Scheme

 

In a very disturbing move, the Scottish Government proposed to assign a state guardian to monitor every child’s ‘wellbeing.’ This would undermine the parent-child relationship. It would also allow public bodies to share sensitive private information about children and parents without their knowledge or consent. Christian parents would be particularly concerned that such a system would undermine the Christian upbringing of their children.

 

Fortunately, in July 2016 five judges of the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the scheme was unlawful. However it is a cause of deep concern that the Scottish Government ever embarked upon this oppressive course of action and it shows the danger of such ideas being repeated in the future.