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.

 

The “now and the not yet” is an important factor in understanding the Bible’s teaching on the End Times. It teaches that:

·         There are two ages – this age and the age to come, but they overlap like two intersecting circles and believers now have a foretaste of the age to come.

·         Believers have received eternal life now, but this is only a foretaste of the fullness of eternal life they will experience when Jesus returns.

·         Believers live in the kingdom of God now but this is only a foretaste of what it will be like when the kingdom will be fully revealed in glory when Jesus returns.

·         We already live in the Last Days and yet there will be a Last Day when Jesus returns.

 

Understanding this “now and not yet” factor will help us come to terms with our experience of some prayers, e.g. for healing, not being answered. In the age to come and the fullness of the kingdom and eternal life all sickness will be healed. In the present age not all sickness will be healed. Not all other suffering or injustice will be removed either. So there is the ‘now and the not yet’ of healing and deliverance from suffering and injustice.

 

This age and the age to come

 

Jesus speaks of the two ages – this age and the age to come.[1] The present age is under the influence of Satan, “the god of this age.”[2]

 

However the age to come has already begun. The “culmination of the ages” was inaugurated by the death and resurrection of Jesus.[3] He died to “rescue us from the present evil age”[4] and now he reigns high over all in this age and the age to come.[5] He has promised to be with believers “to the very end of the age” and so God will protect them until Jesus visibly returns.[6]

 

This age is characterized by a worldly ‘wisdom’ which is foolishness in the eyes of God[7] so we believers must not conform to this age but be transformed by the renewing of our minds.[8] When Jesus returns we shall be made like him, so we should seek to be like him now.[9]  In fact, if we are rich in good deeds in this age we are laying up treasure in the coming age.[10] God can enable us to live godly lives as we wait for the return of Jesus[11] and the great thing is that we can taste the powers of the coming age in this age.[12] Jesus gives rewards to committed believers in both this age and the coming age.[13]

 

Jesus will visibly return at the end of this age[14] and he will carry out judgment, separating the wicked from the righteous.[15] We believers will be raised imperishable.[16]  We “will shine like the sun” in the kingdom of the kingdom of God[17] and God will show his kindness to us.[18] We shall see God and understand fully.[19] Jesus will destroy all ungodly “dominion, authority and power” including death.[20]

 

Eternal Life – Now and Then

 

The New Testament teaches that believers receive and enter into eternal life now, in the present age.  Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.[21] It is a gift[22] which is in Jesus so when we invite Jesus into our lives he brings us eternal life.[23] In fact, Jesus is eternal life[24] and eternal life is knowing God.[25]  However, if we have the faith in Jesus which brings eternal life we will be prepared to make sacrifices for him[26] and to do good.[27]

Nevertheless the full experience of eternal life will only happen when Jesus returns.[28] It will be a reward for believers who have shown their faith in good deeds.[29]  Jesus promises to keep them safe until they enter the fullness of eternal life.[30]

Kingdom – Now and Then

The kingdom, or Rule, of God, came into the world with Jesus.[31]  He told the Pharisees: “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed,nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”[32] It is an eternal, otherworldly kingdom,[33] characterised by righteousness, peace, joy,[34] justice [35] and the power of God.[36] So it cannot be shaken, like earthly kingdoms[37]  and it grows phenomenally.[38]  It is a kingdom of believers, all of whom are priests.[39]  They enter the kingdom by being born again.[40]  Characteristics required in the kingdom include humility,[41] penitence,[42] forgiveness,[43] obedience[44] and perseverance.[45]

Jesus majored on preaching the kingdom[46] and he commanded his disciples to do the same[47] as a matter of urgency,[48] so this characterised the ministry of the early church.[49]  They urged people to strive to enter the kingdom by faith[50] as a priority.[51]

However, Jesus not only proclaimed the kingdom, he demonstrated it in healing and exorcism.[52]  He taught that the kingdom interfaced with the kingdom of Satan[53] and he sent his disciples out to heal the sick[54] and to cast out demons as a sign of the kingdom. We also are called to preach the kingdom.[55]

Jesus said in Matthew 16:28 that some listening to him would not taste death before they saw the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. He may have been referring to the Transfiguration (which happened shortly afterwards) or to Pentecost. Either way it was not the ultimate revelation of the kingdom. He also said at the Last Supper that he looked forward to eating with his disciples at the messianic “wedding supper” when the kingdom is fully revealed.[56]

After Jesus returns his kingdom will be fully revealed[57] and will replace the “kingdom of the world”[58] and the power of Satan.[59] The saints will share in his rule over the nations.[60]We should be ready and watching for the kingdom to be revealed[61] and pray regularly for it to be revealed.[62]  One of the signs of that time drawing near is the message of the kingdom being preached throughout the whole world.[63]  Ultimately Jesus will hand over the kingdom to the Father.[64]

The Last Days and the Last Day

 

We already live the in Last Days. The coming of Jesus 2000 years ago ushered in the Last Days.[65]  Peter makes it clear that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost was a fulfilment of the prophecy by Joel that God would pour out his Spirit “in the last days.”[66]  The fact that the New Testament teaches that we are in the Last Days shows that we are meant to live in the light of the return of Jesus.  It warns that there will be terrible times in the Last Days in terms of sinful human behaviour. “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,  without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good,  treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power.[67]

 

Another characteristic of the Last Days in which we are living will be people scoffing at the idea of the return of Christ. People will say: “Where is this “coming” he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”[68]

 

However there will be a Last Day when Jesus will raise up all believers.[69] All will be judged on this Last Day,[70] and those who reject the gospel will be cast out from God’s presence.

 



[1]Matt 12:32; 13:22

[2]2 Cor 4:4; Eph 2:1-2

[3]1 Cor 10:11; Heb 9:26

[4]Gal 1:4

[5]Eph 1:20-21

[6]Matt 28:18-20; 1 Thess 5:23-24

[7]1 Cor 1:20; 2:6; 3:18-20

[8]Rom 12:2

[9]1 John 3:1-3

[10]1 Tim 6:17-19

[11]Titus 2:11-13

[12]Heb 6:4-6

[13]Luke 18:29-30

[14]Matt 24:2-3

[15] Matt 13:38-42, 49-50; John 5:24-29

[16]1 Cor 15: 50-54

[17]Matt 13:43

[18]Eph 2:6-7

[19]1 Cor 13:12

[20] 1 Cor 15:22-26

[21] John 3:36, compare John 3:14-16; 4:14; 5:24; 6:47, 54; 1 Tim 1:16; 6:12

[22] Rom 6:23

[23] 1 John 5:11-13

[24] 1 John 5:20; compare 1: 2

[25] John 17:3

[26] Matt 19:28-29; Rom 6:22

[27] Rom 2:6-7; Gal 6:8-9

[28] John 6:40; Titus 3:5-7; Jude 21

[29] Matt 25:46; Mark 10:29-30

[30] John 10:27-28

[31] Matt 3:2; 4:17; Mark 1:15

[32]Luke 17:20-21

[33]Luke 1:30-33; John 18:36-37

[34]Rom 14:17-18

[35]Heb 1:8

[36]1 Cor 4:19-20

[37]Heb 12:28-29

[38]Matt 13:31; 33; Mark 4:30; Luke 13:18-21

[39]Rev 1:5-6; 5:9-10

[40]John 3:3, 5; 1 Cor 15:50

[41]Matt 5:3 “poor in spirit”; 18:1-4; 19:12-14; 22:2-3; Mark 10:14-15; Luke 18:15-17

[42]Matt 21:31

[43]Matt 18:23-25

[44]Matt 5:19-20; 7:21; 8:11-12; 16:19; 21:43; 1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-21; Eph 5:5; Col 1:9-13; 1 Thess 2:11; 2 Peter 1:10-11

[45]Matt 5:10; Acts 14:21-22; 2 Thess 1:4-5

[46] Matt 4:23; 9:35; Luke 4:43; 8:1

[47] Luke 9:2

[48] Luke 9:59-62

[49] Acts 8:12; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23-32; Col 4:11

[50] Matt 9:47-48

[51] Matt 6:33; 13:44-50; Mark 10:24-25; Luke 14:15-18

[52] Matt 12:28

[53] Matt 13:24, 38-39, 41; Mark 4:26-29

[54] Luke 10:9-11

[55] Matt 10:7

[56] Rev 19:7

[57] Luke 21:27-31

[58] Rev 11:15

[59] Rev 12:10

[60] Mt 19:28; 1 Cor 6:2-3; Rev 3:21

[61] Matt 25:1

[62] Matt 6:10; Luke 11:2

[63] Matt 24:14

[64]1 Cor 15:22-28

[65]Heb 1:1-2

[66]Acts 2:16-18

[67]2 Tim 3:1-3; James 5:3

[68]2 Peter 3:3-4

[69]John 6:39-40, 44, 54

[70]John 12:48