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.

I write as someone who believes God, in his love, has brought Israel back to her ancient homeland and has a purpose for her, and all Jewish people, in Jesus the Messiah. (I also believe God loves the Palestinian people, cares about their welfare and longs for them too to follow Jesus).

 

Some Christians believe that after the Cross and Resurrection God now deals with the whole world and has no more special purpose for the Jewish people or any physical land, particularly the land of Israel. They say the church has replaced the Jewish people (hence ‘replacement theology’). This is a very neat and tidy view but I do not believe it is in harmony with the New Testament.

 

Jesus says of the Jewish people in Luke 21:24 “They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations [this happened from AD 70 onwards]. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” In harmony with the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) he was predicting an End Times return to the land.

 

When the disciples asked Jesus after the resurrection “‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ (Acts 1:6) he didn’t say: ‘You’ve totally misunderstood. I’ve finished with a physical land and kingdom, I’m only interested in a spiritual kingdom throughout the whole world.” No, he said: “‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” The direct implication of this reply is that he would restore Israel but they were not to speculate on when he would do it. Rather they were to get on with world evangelism in the power of the Spirit.

 

(Later Paul taught that God had not forsaken the Jewish people but that there would be a future massive turning of the Jewish people to Jesus – Rom 11:11-31 – but this does not refer to the land).

 

Someone may say that the Luke 21 and Acts 6 passages are very short and isolated but we must not drive a wedge between the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament prophesies an End Times return to the land.

 

However, some Christians believe that because God promised the land to Abraham for the Jewish people it is wrong to support any division of the land to achieve the two-state solution with the Palestinians. There are various issues to be considered;

1.      The “Promised Land” included much of what is now Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

 

In the original promise to Abraham God said: “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates” (Gen 15:18). This is thought to mean between the Wadi al-Arish on the Egyptian border in Northern Sinai to the Euphrates in Northern Syria, fairly near Aleppo. The only time Israel has controlled virtually the whole of this territory is in the time of Solomon (although some dispute that Solomon controlled the whole territory since, for example, the Philistines seemed to retain their independence and Damascus was controlled by Rezon).[i]


So Israel has had the whole of the Promised Land for only some 40 years during the last 4000 years, i.e. 1% of the time.  There are several implications:

  • It has not seemed too important in God’s purposes for Israel over the last few thousand years for it to possess the whole of the Promised Land.
  • It is difficult to imagine Israel controlling much of what is now Syria, Jordan and Lebanon (which is not to say God could not fulfil the original promise again if it is ultimately important to his purposes – even if the two state solution is worked out).
  • During the 1900 years when the Jewish people had no homeland God worked out his purposes of preserving them, despite much persecution, and of ultimately providing a very necessary relatively safe homeland for them at the end of that period, especially after the Holocaust.

 

So it seems clear that God’s purposes for Israel are not frustrated by their not possessing the whole of the Promised Land.

 

(We should note in passing that God made it clear that possession of the land was conditional on obedience, Num 14:24-36; Deut 4:25-27; 11:16-17; Josh 23:15-16; 1 Kings 9:6-9; Neh 1:8; Jer 7:3-7. It is interesting that Jer 7:6-7 states: “ If you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, ….. 7then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave to your ancestors for ever and ever.” See also Jer 9:13-16; Ezk 33:23-26).

2.      Israel is not obeying the law which is a condition of possessing the promised land

 

In Leviticus 25 the Lord commands Israel to observe a “Sabbath year” for the land every seventh year. There should be no sowing or pruning but people may eat what grows by itself. He also commands that every 50th year should be a “Year of Jubilee” when everyone is to return to their own property. Land is to be returned to its original owner (which means land “sold” is actually conveyed on an up to 50-year lease arrangement. Also debts are to be cancelled. The penalties for not obeying these (and other) laws are severe and include exile among the nations (Lev 26:33). Those who argue that the divine promise of the whole land to Israel must be strictly observed must surely argue that the accompanying divine commands must also be strictly observed. But Israel does not follow the Jubilee year law. The rabbis argue that it is impossible in modern Israel to know who the original owners are, but surely, on the analogy of ancient Israel when they first took over the land from the Canaanites, they could call the Jewish owners in 1948, when Israel took over from the Palestinians, the original owners. Since Israel is not observing this divine commandment because they are in a new situation since 1948 it does not seem unreasonable to argue that only having part of the promised land (and allowing the two-state solution) is also acceptable in the new situation since 1948, especially as the penalty for not obeying the commandment includes exile. Only having part of the promised land is far preferable to exile.

3.      Israel has a God-given responsibility towards the Palestinians

 

Some Christians concentrate almost exclusively on God saying to the Jewish people that he has promised them the land. But that is not the only thing he has said to the Jewish people. Equally important is what he has said about justice and loving one’s neighbour.

 

God commands us all to love foreigners, people from another tribe, race, social or religious background as ourselves, to treat them as our native-born and help them where necessary: “When foreigners reside among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigners residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God” (Lev 19.33-34). “Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow” (Deut 27: 17, 19).

 

God’s law applies to everyone, including Palestinians, but we are thinking here of the welfare of Israel so we must stress Israel’s responsibility to God. God rules out unjustified and indiscriminate violence, such as Palestinian suicide attacks or irresponsible Israeli attacks which can be expected to injure or kill innocent civilians. It also calls for honesty and reliability in political and economic co-operation or negotiation. Justice also requires the two people groups to respect the national concerns of each other – the Israeli need of a secure homeland and the Palestinian yearning for their own state.

 

Zionists need to realize that the same Scriptures which they believe foretell the final return of the Jewish people to the land also strongly call Israel to justice. By the nature of the situation, Israel has much greater power and influence than the Palestinians. Consequently it has greater moral responsibility.

 

The Jewish (Hebrew) Scriptures show that God requires Israel, in its relationship with the Palestinians, to:

  • Regard Palestinians (and Israeli Arabs) as loved by God as much as they themselves are.
  • Care for the welfare of the Palestinian people
  • Treat Palestinians as they would fellow-Israelis, as far as practically possible.
  • Use only justified violence against legitimate Palestinian targets.
  • Act justly in all financial matters to do with the Palestinians.
  • Respect Palestinian land rights.
  • Protect the livelihood of Palestinians.
  • Be generous towards the poor and needy.
  • Uphold justice for Palestinians in the court system.
  • Provide compensation where Palestinians have been treated unjustly.
  • Avoid humiliating Palestinians.
  • Avoid maltreating and humiliating Palestinian prisoners.

 

If Zionists (Jewish and Christian) love Israel they should, where possible, urge Israel to fulfil these biblical obligations. If God has brought the Jewish people back to the land it is partly so that they can practice justice and righteousness. So Israel has to take seriously the yearning of the Palestinians for their own state.

4.      The single-state solution is not really viable for Jewish Israelis

 

It might seem ideal to those who feel strongly about Israel possessing the whole of the Promised Land. But the Jewish people are, understandably, very concerned about their security. They have suffered centuries of persecution, culminating in the Holocaust. Anti-Semitism is, sadly, alive and well in the world today. Some nations and political groups are dedicated to the destruction of Israel. So the Israelis see it as vital that they are in control of their own country and its security systems. However there are already some 1.5 million Arab Israelis (20% of the Israeli population). If Israel were to incorporate the 3.76 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and give them citizenship, that would mean an Arab population of over 5 million which is almost equal to the Jewish population. Given that the Arab birthrate is higher than the Jewish birthrate, very soon, if Israel remained a democracy, the majority of the population would be Arab.  That would be the end of a Jewish (controlled) state, a fearful prospect for Jewish Israelis. Christians could hardly support Israel becoming undemocratic, let alone an apartheid society with Palestinians as second-class citizens, as this would be against God’s law.

5.      If Israel does not make peace with the Palestinians the world will turn against her

 

This is already beginning to happen because of the peace process being frozen in the last two years. It has to be a concern for genuine friends of Israel. Israel is becoming isolated at a time when the Arab Spring in the surrounding countries seems to be turning into an Arab winter with hard-line Islamists taking power.  Some Christians might say that Scripture foretells such a turning against Israel. But it is important for Israel not to bring unnecessary or premature trouble on herself just because of some ‘prophetic’ resignation or fatalism. Rather she should act in the right way, in obedience to God.

But what about Joel 3:1-3? Doesn’t that show God’s condemnation on those who divide the Promised Land? God says through Joel: “In those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat.There I will put them on trial for what they did to my inheritance, my people Israel, because they scattered my people among the nations and divided up my land. They cast lots for my people and traded boys for prostitutes; they sold girls for wine to drink.”

Verse 2 needs to be seen in context. It is referring to a time when the nations scatter the people of Israel among the nations and abuse them like slaves, then divide up the land. What happened in the 20th century is the opposite of this. The world, through the UN, provided a homeland for the scattered people of Israel and facilitated their return to that land, or at least to part of the Promised Land, which they had not possessed for 2000 years. The Joel passage cannot therefore be applied to the present situation and to the prospect of Israel (not the nations) giving land to the Palestinians who already live in that land.

Conclusion

 

It seems clear to me that, in view of God’s faithfulness to Israel despite her not having the whole of the Promised Land throughout most of history and not having a land at all for many centuries, we need to take the way of faith in our thinking. God has shown with abundant clarity that he can fulfill his promises to Israel despite all the anti-Semitism and persecution and, one might add, her rejection of God’s Messiah. The way of faith includes obeying what Scripture teaches about justice and loving one’s neighbor, which must be applied to foreigners and those from another people group. It means trusting God to protect Israel (although this does not, of course, rule out taking proper precautions). The two-state solution seems the best for Israel as well as the Palestinians, although I don’t think it will mean an end to all danger and strife. But Israel will regain support from powerful allies against those seeking to destroy her. If it is God’s purpose for her ultimately to have more of the Promised Land, God is not limited by Israel agreeing in the near future to the Palestinians having their own state. One thing is certain, he would reward her obedience.

—————————————————

[i] 1 Kings 4:21 “Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the River Euphrates to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. These countries brought tribute and were Solomon’s subjects all his life.”  2 Chron 9:26 “He ruled over all the kings from the River Euphrates to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt.” Some interpret this as meaning Solomon did not control the Philistine territories and that the Philistines kept their independence.
 
See also 1 Kings 11:23f  “God raised up against Solomon another adversary, Rezon son of Eliada, who had fled from his master, Hadadezer king of Zobah.  When David destroyed Zobah’s army, Rezon gathered a band of men around him and became their leader; they went to Damascus, where they settled and took control. Rezon was Israel’s adversary as long as Solomon lived, adding to the trouble caused by Hadad. So Rezon ruled in Aram and was hostile towards Israel.” Damascus was within the territory ruled by Solomon.

What is God saying to us through the remarkable coincidence on February 15th 2013 of the arrival of the near earth asteroid (which we were expecting) and the meteor strike in Russia (which we weren’t expecting)? Some would reply: “Nothing.” Others: “We need to step up our observation and (hopefully) protection against such bodies.”

 

We are talking about a 10 ton meteor creating a devastating sonic boom, a temperature of 2,500 degrees centigrade and an enormous explosion. Astronomers say such objects enter our atmosphere between once a year and once a decade. They can only hope to find a fraction of objects the size of this meteor and the much larger asteroid which passed earth later the same day. To deflect asteroids would probably require decades of warning. It is only a matter of time before one hits the earth, as has happened in the more distant past.

 

I do not believe the combined event signals the imminent end of the age! Nor do I believe “God did it.” What I am saying is that we should ask what God wants us to learn from it. Think about it. The coincidence is quite astonishing.

 

Listen to the comments in the secular newspapers, e.g. the Guardian (16.02.13).

 

“Traditionally, a torpedo across the bow is fired as a warning to change one’s behavior – and this coincidence of events should be a warning to humanity that meteors are not always as benign as “shooting stars” and that the next asteroid might not miss! Will we, the crew of SS Earth heed this warning?” (Rusty Schweikhart).

 

“Perhaps it’s better to use asteroids and meteors as a way of thinking about the fragility of existence. If the world were to end tonight ….” (Roz Kaveney).

 

Then Professor Alan Fitzsimmons, a professional astronomer searching for Near-Earth Asteroids, wrote in the Independent: “…a small asteroid strike and flyby within 24 hours may have been cosmic coincidence, or perhaps mother nature is telling us to take this threat a little more seriously.”

 

Russian prime minister prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev commented: “It’s proof that not only are economies vulnerable, but the whole planet.”

 

So, the secular prophets are interpreting the event: a shot across the bow as a warning to change behaviour; the fragility of existence; “mother nature” speaking to us and even a reference to the end of the world.

 

But what about the Christian prophets? Some may speak out in similar ways (and, sadly, some of these will be extremists) but experience teaches that many will not.  Even on the Sunday after these astronomical events many preachers will have avoided the subject.

 

Why is this? I believe there are several reasons:

 

  • Many Christians simply are not aware of the eschatological (End Times) dimension to life. Neither are many Christian teachers and preachers.

 

  • If those teachers and preachers think about the subject they either feel lacking in confidence to speak about it or they are embarrassed to do so because they see it as happy hunting ground for unbalanced ‘prophets of doom.’

 

  • So they ignore the subject as much as possible, despite the fact that Jesus and the New Testament emphasize it and call Christians to live in the light of the End Times.

 

  • Thus they fall into a deceptive trap of the devil to prevent the vital End Times message being conveyed to Christians and, in appropriate ways, to unbelievers. They fail to convey a message which is a strong motive for holiness and evangelism amongst Christians and for thinking seriously about eternal matters amongst unbelievers.

 

So what is God saying to us through this remarkable astronomical coincidence which shows the fragility of life on earth? In brief:

 

  1. It is a reminder of the prospect of the End Times. Jesus spoke of preliminary reminders – “wars and rumours of wars … earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven …. but the end will not come right away.” He intended us to remember his coming when these traumatic events take place, even when the End is not imminent.

 

  1. Beyond that, after a time of great distress and suffering for the inhabitants of earth, Jesus says: “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’”(Matt 24:29).  When such things happen, Jesus will return (Matt 24:30-31).

 

  1. Christians need to find their security not like the world does – in material things, human efforts and superficial assumptions that “all will be well” – but in God’s love and their relationship with him.

 

  1. Christians need to be aware of their ultimate accountability to God (and of the world’s ultimate accountability to him too). We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. We need to be prepared for that.

 

  1. The church and its teachers need to wake up to these three issues and to proclaim that message as part of our evangelism.

 

Will we listen? Will it change us?

 

Tony Higton

Message 1

The New Testament really does teach we should be thinking frequently about the End Times. Jesus stressed the Kingdom which is ultimately eschatological. He taught us to pray regularly for his eschatological Kingdom to come (in the Lord’s Prayer). He also said we are to celebrate Communion and so to proclaim his death “until he comes.” Communion looks forward as well as backwards. I counted 118 passages on eschatology in the NT excluding Revelation. This includes 8 major passages plus a whole book – Revelation. For more information on eschatology see http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/

Message 2

Richard Dawkins says religion “peddles false explanations” but he hasn’t a credible clue about what caused the Big Bang and why we are here.
Message 3

Government Minister Lady Warsi says “People who do God, do good.”

Archbishop Welby says the church has the greatest opportunity since 1945 – to fill the void caused by a dwindling welfare state

In the light of eternity it isn’t enough to do good. The church must also major on prayer and proclaiming Jesus as Saviour. It often doesn’t.

Message 4

Could Jesus’ statement that “stars will fall from the sky” before his Return be literal? Is tonight’s near-miss asteroid relevant?

The size of an office block, doing 5 miles a second it will pass nearer than many of our satellites. Will the next one be bigger and hit us?

Astronomers are concerned and scanning the skies, having found 10,000 others which could threaten Earth. No immediate danger but it makes you think. Jesus would say it’s meant to.

Message 5

End Times teaching is a strong motive for holiness and evangelism amongst Christians and thinking seriously about eternity amongst unbelievers

Message 6

Now we’re back from holiday here’s an update on the eschatology (End Times) campaign. It is, of course, early days but things are going well. More people are showing interest and I’m meeting up with some Friends to discuss co-operation. I’m continuing my research and writing, and some interesting ideas are emerging (more on that later). I’ll be circulating material from time to time and hope to arrange conferences and speaking engagements.  Suggestions are welcome.

Message 7

Yesterday I went to the Thanksgiving Service for a Methodist Minister friend who died recently. It was a salutary experience which focused attention on the shortness and purpose of life, and gave opportunity to ask: “How am I doing in terms of living my life for God?” As I’ve said before, thinking about eschatology (which includes death) is a strong encouragement to holiness and mission. How are you doing?

Message 8

On holiday last week we walked on England’s famous Jurassic Coast and I discovered a couple of fossil Ammonites. It is awesome to think they had been lying there for perhaps 190 million years. It spoke to me of the wonder of creation and the greatness of our Creator!

Message 9

I think that what ultimately matters is not when or how God created the universe but THAT he created the universe. To me it would be just as wonderful whether he created the universe 13.7 billion years ago, 6000 years ago or last week and it would be just as wonderful if he created it over billions of years, seven days or instantaneously.

Message 10

The UN has declared March 20th from this year the first International Day of Happiness and is encouraging us to make other people happy. Peter wrote to believers who “suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1 Peter 1: 6). Yet he speaks of them being “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” even though they don’t see Jesus “now” (verse 8). This inexpressible and glorious joy is largely based upon our sure hope of seeing him face to face “then”. The more we think about that, the more we will experience the joy which is vastly greater than mere happiness.

Message 11

Canon Giles Fraser, writing in the Guardian, cynically wrote off the Evangelical emphasis on having a “personal relationship with Jesus.” I know that can be used as a cliché and could, in some people’s minds, turn Jesus simply into an innocuous friend. But to me it is incredibly meaningful. I want to ask Giles: “How can you love God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength without having a personal relationship with him? We might express ourselves in different ways but if we are not at least beginning to be aware of having a personal relationship with God we are not experiencing the real thing as far as Christianity is concerned. The relationship is there for the asking. Jesus is more ready to become a Friend than we are to ask him to be.

Message 12

HOLY WEEK ESCHATOLOGY 1: Early in Holy Week Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Temple (which was brought about by the Romans 40 years later in AD70). But he also prophesied the End Times and urged his disciples to look out for both early (recurring) and later signs of his Return (see Matthew 24). His prophecies here are typical of biblical prophecy:

  • Prophecy can have an early and a later fulfillment.
  • Prophecy can concertina events widely separated in time to appear close together.

So Jesus speaks of the events of AD70 and of his still future return in the same passage.

Are you looking out for the signs of Jesus’ return? (see “Can we ignore what the New Testament says about the signs of Jesus’ return?” http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/CanWeIgnoreSingsOfJesusReturn.pdf ) .

Message 13

HOLY WEEK ESCHATOLOGY 2: Jesus also told the parable of the Ten Young Women (Virgins) in Holy Week. They were waiting for the bridegroom to come but he “was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep” (Matthew 25:5). That’s a good picture of the church and of many Christians today. Because the ‘bridegroom’ (Jesus) is a long time in coming (the Second Coming) they have stopped concentrating and don’t think about his Return. However, Jesus’ message is for those who have not made any preparation for his Return, i.e. have not come to faith in him, shown in obedience. Such people, he says, when he returns, will be shut out from his presence – a solemn warning.

Message 14

HOLY WEEK ESCHATOLOGY 3: Jesus’ teaching in Holy Week includes a description of the last judgment (Matthew 25:31-46). When Jesus returns he will judge the people of all nations. The criterion of judgment is people’s attitude towards the followers of Jesus (which, of course, shows their attitude towards him). Only those who show love and kindness towards the followers of Jesus (and so to him) will have eternal life.

Message 15

HOLY WEEK ESCHATOLOGY 4: At the Last Supper, Jesus teaches that Communion not only looks back to his death but forward to when he will drink wine with his disciples in his Father’s kingdom (Matthew 26:29). Paul says Communion proclaims the Lord’s death “until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26). Jesus was referring to a prophecy of Isaiah that God “will prepare a banquet for all the nations of the world—a banquet of the richest food and the finest wine. Here he will suddenly remove the cloud of sorrow that has been hanging over all the nations. … will destroy death forever …. will wipe away the tears from everyone’s eyes” (Isa 25:6-8). Are you looking forward to that?

Message 16

HOLY WEEK ESCHATOLOGY 5: When Jesus was tried by the Sanhedrin (Jewish court) the high priest said: “Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus replied: “‘You have said so ….. ‘But I say to all of you: from now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.’” (Matthew 26:63-64). Jesus looked beyond the horror of the cross to the time (still future) when he returns “on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:30). I strongly recommend that you think of his return daily. How about it?

Message 17

On Good Friday, as I do every day, I checked the TV programme list to see if there was anything worth recording. I didn’t find anything connected with Good Friday (except an old film about Barabbas). I found this sad and yet, somehow, meaningful. I was reminded of the words: “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look around and see. Is any suffering like my suffering…?”

“We prefer to forget the future.” This was the title of a newspaper article about the world economy. But it seemed an appropriate description of the attitude of many Christians. Some are afraid of thinking about the future. Others are put off by the unbalanced views put over by people who do think about the future.

 

However, it is clear from the New Testament that we shouldn’t forget about the future. Rather we should think seriously and frequently about it.

 

I recently read through the New Testament to see again what it said on the End Times (Eschatology). Although I know the NT very well I was surprised by the amount of teaching on this subject. Here are a few brief points which show the importance of our thinking about the future.

 

1.    Jesus stressed the Kingdom which ultimately is eschatological

 

There are two aspects to the Kingdom. One is the present rule (or “kingdom”) of God in the lives of Christians and in the world. This is very important. But the other is the future manifestation of the Kingdom when Jesus returns. The concept of the Kingdom includes a very definite eschatological message. This is the “age to come” when God’s royal rule will be fully revealed, transforming the whole of creation.

 

2.    Jesus taught us to pray regularly for his Kingdom to come

 

This is, of course, contained in the “Lord’s Prayer”: “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” So in the great pattern prayer Jesus taught us we pray for this eschatological Kingdom to come so that it may be heaven on earth. Clearly, therefore, Jesus intends us not only to be frequently thinking about the return of Christ but praying for it to happen.

 

3.    The NT teaches us Communion has an eschatological perspective

 

Paul wrote: “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” So Communion is looking forward to the return of Christ as well as looking back at his death and resurrection.

 

4.    The NT regularly focuses on eschatology

 

I counted 118 passages on eschatology in the NT excluding the Book of Revelation. This includes eight major passages (whole chapters, give or take), plus, of course, almost a whole book  – Revelation. In terms of the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels I noted that there are 46 passages in 33 chapters.

 

I listed the eschatological subjects referred to in these passages throughout the NT in order of emphasis (the figures are the number of passages I counted): heaven/eternal life (42); judgment (42); the Return of Christ (40); the wrath of God/Hell (22); looking for signs of the times (11); resurrection (9); the restoration/transformation of all things (5); the eschatological aspect of Communion(4); the antichrist (4);the future of Israel (2). Again, these figures do not include the Book of Revelation.

 

5.    Conclusion

 

It is clear that Jesus intended us to think frequently about eschatology. It is also clear that the apostles thought about it regularly and taught the church accordingly. But many of us do not do so. Eschatology needs to be reinstated in the church and in the thinking of the individual Christian. It is perhaps helpful to realize that this is in line with the creeds and liturgies of the church, as the Appendix makes clear.

 

Tony Higton

Appendix

1.      The creeds show church tradition regards eschatology as important

 

The creeds contain important sections on eschatology:

“he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in …. the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”

 

“He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. …. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

2.      The Anglican Church (for example) includes eschatology in its liturgy

 

Following on from the previous point it is helpful to note the incidence of references to eschatology in one mainstream church.  The various eucharistic prayers in the Communion service include the following words:

  • Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord (which is an eschatological statement)
  • we look for the coming of your kingdom,
  • looking for his coming in glory
  • he instituted, and in his holy gospel commanded us to continue, a perpetual memory of his precious death until he comes again.
  • May we and all who share this food offer ourselves to live for you and be welcomed at your feast in heaven where all creation worships you
  • we proclaim his death and resurrection until he comes in glory.
  • help us to work together for that day when your kingdom comes and justice and mercy will be seen in all the earth. Look with favour on your people, gather us in your loving arms and bring us with … all the saints to feast at your table in heaven.
  • we long for his coming in glory.
  • Gather your people from the ends of the earth to feast with …. all your saints at the table in your kingdom,
    where the new creation is brought to perfection in Jesus Christ our Lord;
  • Bring us at the last with [N and] all the saints to the vision of that eternal splendour for which you have created us;

 

The various Acclamations in the Communion service include the words:

  • Christ will come again.
  • Lord Jesus, come in glory.
  • When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory.
  • Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
  • Every time we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

 

This is good as it indicates that eschatology is not a fringe issue officially. However the issue is that in very many churches these liturgical references are not associated with the clergy teaching with any regularity (or at all) about eschatology or the congregations thinking about it.