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.

Sadly, there was an 11% increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the UK in the first half of 2016 compared with 2015. 557 ‘malicious acts’ against Jewish people was the second highest ever recorded for a January-June period, most of them verbal abuse but 41 of them violent. The worst time was in April – June when anti-Semitism in the Labour party was highlighted in the media.

Brexit, the UK’s decision to leave the EU has not helped because it has destabilised the EU and brought right wing views and xenophobia to the fore. Pinchas Goldschmidt, President of the Conference of European Rabbis, told the European Parliament that Jewish people felt they were standing on a dangerous train track with “trains coming at each other with ever increasing speed … One train is the train of radical Islam and Islamic terrorism… The other train is the anti-Semitism of old Europe, the extreme right.” He went on to say that 22% of Jewish people in nine European countries avoided Jewish events or sites because they feared for their safety. 40% of Jewish people in France and 36% in Belgium said they avoided wearing symbols that identified them as Jews for fear of attack. Tens of thousands of Jewish people have emigrated from France and Belgium.

 

Baroness Jenny Tonge spoke in a House of Lords debate on the living conditions of Palestinian children. She accused Israel of “creating a generation of terrorists who will have a justified grudge against Israel and the countries who support her.” Jonathan Sacerdoti, of the Campaign Against Antisemitism, responded: “By suggesting there would be Palestinian terrorists ‘with a justified grudge’ against Israel, she is effectively justifying the terrorism that is aimed at Jewish people in Israel and around the world by Hamas and other terrorist organisations.” Baroness Tong has a history of making anti-Israel comments and was forced to resign from the Liberal Democrat party in 2012.

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the UK Labour Party, claims to be against racism but in 2013 he attended an event organised by Paul Eisen who is a Holocaust denier. Corbyn also praised Sheikh Raed Salah and Islamist who believes in the old ‘blood libel’ (that Jewish people have murdered Christian children and used their blood in rituals).

 

Ken Livingstone, a well-known Labour politician defended Labour MP Naz Shah who suggested Israeli Jews should be transported to the US. He also claimed that Hitler was a Zionist. He said on the Arabic TV station Al Ghad Al Arabi : “The creation of the state of Israel was fundamentally wrong, because there had been a Palestinian community there for 2,000 years …  We should have absorbed the post-Second World War Jewish refugees in Britain and America. They could all have been resettled.” Livingstone was suspended from the Labour Party for these comments.

 

In March Tom Harris, a former Labour MP, wrote in the Daily Telegraph: “Labour does indeed have a problem with Jews. It can acknowledge that problem’s existence, confront it and deal with it. Or it can shrug, mutter something about UN Security Council resolutions and continue to court the support of those on the far Left who are the source of the problem.”

 

The co-chair of the Labour club at Oxford University resigned saying the club had “some kind of problem with Jews”. He said that one club member had organised a group to shout “filthy Zionist” at a Jewish student whenever they saw her. Some National Union of Students delegates applauded speeches opposing the commemoration of the Holocaust.

 

 

In March 2016 Lord Jonathan Sacks, former UK Chief Rabbi, wrote an article entitled “Anti-Zionism Is the New Anti-Semitism” in Newsweek. He said:

 

“Criticism of the Israeli government is not anti-Semitic. …. It is, though, a front for the new anti-Semitism, an unholy alliance of radical Islamism and the political left.

 

“What then is anti-Semitism? It is not a coherent set of beliefs but a set of contradictions. Before the Holocaust, Jews were hated because they were poor and because they were rich; because they were communists and because they were capitalists; because they kept to themselves and because they infiltrated everywhere; because they clung tenaciously to ancient religious beliefs and because they were rootless cosmopolitans who believed nothing.

 

“Throughout history, when people have sought to justify anti-Semitism, they have done so by recourse to the highest source of authority available within the culture. In the Middle Ages, it was religion. In post-Enlightenment Europe it was science. Today it is human rights.”

Jonathan Sacks shows the irrational nature of the evil of anti-Semitism. It makes little sense. I have concluded that the only explanation for it is that it is demonic. God has not finished with the Jewish people and the New Testament predicts a massive turning to Jesus as Messiah by the Jewish people. Satan would love to destroy them to prevent this being fulfilled.

 

Some British Christians who believe God still has a purpose for the Jewish people, oppose remaining in the European Union because they believe the EU is much less favourable towards Israel than Britain is.

 

A Israeli view

 

Ironically, there is a strong hope in Israel that the UK will remain in the EU.  Anshel Pfeffer, an Israeli journalist, wrote in the “Jewish Chronicle on-line” in March 2016: “Israel does not want to lose Britain – one of its more dependable allies – as a strong voice arguing its case in Europe. Whatever the diplomatic differences between London and Jerusalem, Israel has usually been able to rely on whoever is occupying Downing Street, as well as other senior cabinet ministers, to fight its corner. Post-Brexit, Israel would have less backing in Europe. Notwithstanding occasional disagreements, David Cameron is uniformly seen as one of the most pro-Israel British prime ministers, and has a very good relationship with Mr Netanyahu. The Israeli government would not like to see his downfall following a referendum vote.”[1]

 

Similarly, an article in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz in April 2016 stated: “A Britain outside the EU means Israel will lose an important insider voice and critical traction in the shifting and sometimes hostile EU debates about what policies to adopt toward Israel.”[2]

 

Ilene Prusher, another journalist at Ha’aretz, referred to the UK as “one of the world’s friendliest countries to Israel.”[3]

 

A 2014 BBC World Service Poll discovered that 50% of Israelis have a friendly attitude towards the UK.[4]

 

Is the UK more positive to Israel?

 

It is certainly true that the current UK government is particularly positive towards Israel which is why some Israelis regard the UK as more positive than the rest of the EU and one of its strongest allies. In March 2016 the UK abstained on two UN resolutions on Palestinian rights. It applied pressure to the Palestinians to remove reference in the bill to constructing a list of firms which trade with Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory and warned that retaining it could affect aid to the Palestinian Authority. When the Palestinians refused the UK also abstained on another resolution about accountability and international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In October 2015, the Conservative Party said that the government would introduce “new rules to stop politically-motivated boycott and divestment campaigns by town halls against UK defence companies and against Israel”.

 

The EU, however, tends to be less positive towards Israel. For example, in October 2015 France presented a Security Council resolution on behalf of the Palestinians calling for international observers to be deployed in Jerusalem. Israel and the US opposed it.

 

On the other hand, there is a great deal of negative opinion about Israel in the UK. Recent polls have discovered that:

  • 66% of the British surveyed have a “generally negative” view of Israel.[5] This was the highest “generally negative” view in Europe. Only Spain equalled the UK figure.
  • A year later a similar service found 69% of British people have a negative view of Israel.[6]
  • Israel, along with North Korea, ranks third behind only Iran and Pakistan for “negative influence” in the world.[7]
  • 4% of British people polled agreed with the statement that “Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians….”[8]
  • 9% of British people agreed with the statement that “considering Israel’s policy I can understand why people do not like Jews…..”[9]
  • Israel was top of the list of 24 countries where people would “least like to live”.[10]
  • It was also the country considered by those questioned to be the “least deserving of international respect”, and also thought to be among the world’s “least democratic countries”[11]
  • two thirds of British people think that ordinary Israelis reject the idea of a Palestinian state.[12]
  • two thirds of British people think that Israel has never offered to give up land for peace.[13]

 

A 2014 YouGov poll asked people which side they sympathised with in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. 27% of Britons said the Palestinians compared with 18% of French. 12% of Britons and 11% of French said Israel.

 

In 2001 Conrad Black, a member of the House of Lords, strongly criticised the attitude of some British papers towards Israel: “The BBC, Independent, Guardian, Evening Standard and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are rabidly anti-Israel.” He also wrote that “wittingly or not, are stoking the inferno of anti-Semitism.”

 

Britain’s attitude towards Israel is clearly mixed. Public opinion is often negative but Israelis deem the British government to be more positive towards Israel than the EU.

 

The 2014 BBC World Service Poll found that:

  • 64% of the population of France
  • 61% of the population of Spain
  • 67% of the population of Germany
  • 72% of the population of Britain

were “mainly negative” to Israel’s influence.[14]

 

What is the EU attitude towards Israel?

 

Israel has had a special economic relationship with Europe since the 1960s and signed an economic agreement with the European Economic Community in 1975. In 1996 Israel and the EU signed a trade and cooperation agreement. Also in 1995 Israel was accepted as the first non-European member of EU’S Fourth Framework Research and Development programme. Europe is Israel’s largest trading partner.

 

However, one factor is that the EU practises realpolitik – an approach based on practical rather than moral considerations. So it seeks to maintain a good relationship with Arab countries despite the lack of democracy, civil liberties, oppression of women etc., in these countries. This approach can, of course, strengthen an anti-Israel approach.

 

The UN Human Rights Council has virtually passed more resolutions condemning Israel than it has on the rest of the world combined!  In July 2005 Dore Gold, former Israeli ambassador to the UN, commented: “Europe’s voting record at the United Nations shows a longstanding anti-Israeli bias. Every year the UN General Assembly passes between 18 and 22 anti-Israeli resolutions. …. The Europeans abstain in some cases, but mainly support these resolutions …” He added: “The European collective is frequently neutral on issues at the UN. Then often in meetings of the EU diplomats the French ambassador tries to break the consensus and move the entire group in an anti-Israeli direction. Rather than pressure France, the Europeans tend to be dragged along with its position. Therefore, France plays a particularly negative role in the formation of an anti-Israeli European position at the UN.”[15]

 

Allison Kaplan Sommer, an Israeli journalist writes:When asked by Israel for an explanation of their votes, the Europeans say they feel a responsibility to balance the pro-Israel stand of the United States and to defend what they believe is a distinction between armed struggle and terrorism.”[16]

 

Conclusion

 

Influenced by the media, a high percentage of the British population holds negative views towards Israel, sometimes in excess of the percentage in other EU countries. However, because the current UK government is quite positive towards Israel it is viewed by Israelis as one of the more friendly countries and they hope it will stay in the EU to counteract the anti-Israel views held by members, particularly France.

 

 

 

 

[1] Anshel Pfeffer, “Why Israel wants Britain to stay firmly inside the EU,” Jewish Chronicle on-line, March 3rd 2016

[2] Jacques Lafitte and Denis MacShane, “Why a British Exit From the EU Should Worry Israel” Ha’aretz 04.04.16

[3] http://time.com/3506269/israeli-palestinian-conflict-british-vote/

[4] BBC World Service Poll 3rd June 2014. See http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/country-rating-poll.pdf

[5] BBC World Service public opinion survey, 2011

[6] BBC World Service Survey May 2012

[7] Ibid.

[8] Friedrich Ebert Stiftung survey results, April 2012

[9] Ibid.

[10] January 2005 Daily Telegraph YouGov Poll.

[11] Ibid

[12] Populus poll – May 2011

[13] Ibid.

[14] BBC World Service Poll 3rd June 2014. See http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/country-rating-poll.pdf

[15] http://jcpa.org/article/europes-consistent-anti-israeli-bias-at-the-united-nations/

[16] http://bama.ua.edu/~afi/monthly_article.htm