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.

Some Christians are predicting that the Second Coming of Christ will happen this month because there will be a “blood moon” on the 27th/28th. (The Earth will eclipse a full moon blocking direct sunlight reaching it. But rays from the sun travel through the Earth’s atmosphere and reflect a red or brownish light onto the moon). This prediction contradicts the New Testament’s teaching that we do not and cannot know the time of Jesus’ return. I am all in favour of doing what Jesus said – noting occurrences such as wars, earthquakes, famines, pestilences, etc., as reminders that he will return to sort out our needy world. But these are REMINDERS (“the beginning of birth-pains” of the Messianic Age) not signs of Jesus’ imminent return. Sensationalist predictions do damage by bringing a serious study of eschatology into disrepute and putting many people off taking the Bible’s teaching on the End Times seriously.

 

I have recently defended my understanding of Jesus’ teaching on the signs of the End Times in Matthew 24, including by quoting various scholars. Here is an outline of Jesus’ teaching (plus a little from Paul and Revelation):

 

We might call the preliminary signs “Reminders of the End” because they are repeated and Jesus said when we see them “The End is not yet.” However they can and should remind us that the End is coming. Obviously when they occur, our first concern should be to pray and show compassion for those adversely affected by the occurrences.

       I.            THE PRELIMINARY (REPEATED) SIGNS (OR REMINDERS OF THE END)

                Wars, uprisings (Matt 24:6-18)

                Famines (Matt 24:6-18)

                Earthquakes (Matt 24:6-18)

                Pestilences (Luke 21:11)

    II.            THE INTERMEDIATE SIGNS

Persecution (Mt 24:9ff)

Turning away from the faith (Mt 24:10)

False prophets and messiahs (Mt 24:11, 24)

Worldwide evangelism (Mt 24:14)

 

 III.            THE IMMINENT SIGNS

Cosmic disturbances (Mt 24:29)

The Jewish people regaining control of Jerusalem (Lk 21:24).

The rebellion and deceptive ‘signs and wonders’ of the man of lawlessness (Antichrist) who proclaims himself to be God (2 Thess 2:1-12)

The sudden financial collapse of the world system (‘Babylon’) (Rev 18)

 

As you may know, I have written an important article on all this, entitled “Can we ignore what the New Testament says about signs of Jesus’ return?” which is available at http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/CanWeIgnoreSingsOfJesusReturn.pdf. It is a quite long article, so I plan to summarise it on Facebook for the benefit of those who might find that helpful. This will be my policy, to put articles on the blog and summaries on Facebook.

However, from time to time I will comment on current events relating them to the signs of the End, because that is what Jesus encouraged us to do. The first one is now written and I will add a description of it very soon.

 

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

LIVING IN THE LIGHT OF THE END, WHICH IS A NEW BEGINNING

(Updated 23.06.13: Message 18)

This Post only contains shorter messages. There are separate articles on Eschatology which are listed on the Welcome Post above.

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 Near-miss asteroid

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 3

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

Message 4

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 5

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 6

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 7

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 8

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 9

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 10

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 11

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 12

AN EASTER MESSAGE (1 Corinthians 15:19-26)

 

  1. HOPE WITHOUT RESURRECTION IS PATHETIC (“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied”). Those who only seek money, sex and power (or popularity) are to be pitied. They can’t take any of it with them.

 

  1. JESUS’ RESURRECTION IS THE BEGINNING OF OURS (“Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep”). First fruit – means there is more of the same crop to come. There’s much more where that came from, i.e. resurrection. Christians are united with Christ and share his resurrection.

 

  1. DEATH IS UNDER A DEATH SENTENCE (“The last enemy to be destroyed is death”).  Can you imagine a life where there is no ageing, sickness, anxiety, depression, frailty, or dying? That’s where we believers are heading, folks! Death is ‘promotion to glory.’

Message 13

Wars and rumours of wars are one of the early repeated reminders of the End Times Jesus mentioned (Matt 24:6). Hopefully the N Korean threat will remain a rumour rather than a real war (though we need to pray). But it does vividly illustrate the danger of terrorists getting a nuclear bomb. N Korea has much to lose. Terrorists don’t. Quite a reminder!

Message 14

Professor Stephen Hawking has warned this week that humans must explore space if we are to survive the coming millennium. “We must continue to go into space for humanity. We won’t survive another 1,000 years without escaping our fragile planet.” The problem is that most of us, including Christians, live as if everything will continue “as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.”  Even the scientists warn that the Apocalypse is coming.

Message 15

Messianic Rabbi Binyamin Sheldrake wrote: “

“Shalom Tony! Knowing your interest in end times.. just finished reading an excellent (traditional) Jewish commentary on Daniel and have been crunching through some thoughts. I am beginning to wonder if in fact the prophecies contained therein and elsewhere were in fact fulfilled in the latter part of the run up to the first century and slightly after, into the lifetime of Yeshua. If that is the case (and certainly the Jewish commentaries seem to advocate such a view, with dates and names of kings, rulers etc who do meet the historical criteria well) then you begin to wonder whether it is worth attempting to extrapolate them into more modern times at all, in fact the conclusion could be even more serious and transformational: If the birth and death of Yeshua were the apex of Jewish history, the moment in time towards which everything had been planned leading to the salvation of Israel and through us the whole world, then the subsequent time span (last 2000 years) only exists as a time bracket brought about due to our (the Jewish people’s) failure to rise up to our historic and prophetic call to be a light to the nations and bring the harvest of the nations in to the God of Israel. He has still ensured that that harvest happened by using those of the nations who did respond in faith, but attempting to label ‘this is this’ from the Prophets suddenly becomes a meaningless exercise, not in the mind of the Prophets at all who saw only the course of prophetic history as regards Israel, and her still at that point in time unclear choice as to whether she would respond to God in the right way. Let’s be clear about what we DO know: the UK, America, Russia etc are never mentioned in the Torah or Messianic Writings (NT) by name, all labels are interpretational. At best only the ‘right at the end’ bits of prophecy, the bits after the break between the 3rd and 4th cups of Pesach (he who has insight will understand 😉 ) can be called upon for real prophetic meaning and application (if it is possible to discern such texts with certainty).

Would be interested in your thoughts on my ramblings.

I responded:

 

Thank you for this stimulating post, Binyamin. I’ll try to do justice in the confines of Facebook. I think I’ll use numbered points for clarity (and, as always, I’ll seek to write in a way which will be meaningful to the non-theologically trained reader):

1.      I’m sure you’re aware of the view called Dispensational Premillennialism  (Reader, don’t worry about that mouthful: I’ll explain it in a later post) which sees the Jewish people and the church as completely separate. They see the “church age” (the last 2000 years) as an interval in God’s purpose for the Jewish people. In this interval the Gentiles are prominent but eventually God will resume his main purpose which is realised in the Jewish people.

2.      As you know, I am not one of those Christians who believe God has finished with the Jewish people and is only interested in the (largely Gentile) church. I believe Romans 11 is clear that God has a purpose for the Jewish people – a massive turning to Christ which will have a profound effect on the world. However, I also believe firmly what Paul says in Gal 3:28-29 “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

3.      Paul speaks in Eph 2:11-22 of God’s eternal purpose to bring the Gentiles into the covenant through the blood of Christ, making Jew and Gentile one, destroying the barrier between them. So Jew and Gentile become “fellow citizens” and the whole Jewish-Gentile ‘building’ becomes “a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”  In Eph 3:4-11 Paul makes clear that this was the great “mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations” so you’re right: it wasn’t revealed to the Prophets but it was “revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.”

4.      However, this does not mean that the church is a sort of after-thought or interlude. It was the mainstream purpose of God. So Paul continues: “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus …. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph 3:4-11). This is why I disagree with Dispensational Premillennialism – I cannot see the last 2000 years as “a time bracket brought about due to … the Jewish people’s failure to rise up to our historic and prophetic call …” as you put it. The last 2000 years was God’s intention, although ideally it should have been with full Jewish participation, but God was not caught out by their disobedience, as many of Jesus’ parables underline

5.      As you may have seen, I have been explaining why I don’t believe the prophecies of Jesus in Matthew 24 etc., were all fulfilled in the 1st century AD. See “Which aspects of the teaching of Jesus on the Mt of Olives refer to the Second Coming?”  http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=349 and “Jesus teaching about the future on the Mt of Olives – some scholarly opinions” http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=364

These are my thoughts, Binyamin. By all means continue the discussion. Shalom.

Message 16

In a debate about “What makes a good bank?” this week, the Archbishop of Canterbury said: “banks, to be good, need the fear of hell and the hope of heaven, not merely the fear of penury and the hope of a larger bank account.” My response is “and so do the rest of us.” Sadly, the church has failed to convey this message to society.

Message 17

PlayStation has just released a game which depicts a Britain abandoned for 20 years after a poisonous fungus has wiped-out almost all the world’s population, leaving nature to gradually reclaim towns and cities.

The blurb says: “Eerie computer-generated images reveal how UK landmarks could crumble and decay if humanity was wiped out.”

They include a crumbling Buckingham Palace, Brighton Pier falling down, a broken-down Battersea Power Station billowing black smoke, Liverpool’s Albert Docks as an overgrown mess, a ruined Clifton Suspension Bridge near Bristol, King’s College, Cambridge as a crumbling ruin and a ruined Clyde Arc with a smouldering Glasgow in the background.

Many in the general population have a fascination with apocalyptic events. Why do Christians fail to take the prophetic and apocalyptic predictions of Scripture seriously? Why doesn’t the church include reference to them in its message to society? Maybe they are more ready to hear than we are to speak.

Message 18

 

CURRENT AFFAIRS: SURVEILLANCE & UNNECESSARY SECRECY

Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, has criticized the government for requesting unnecessary secret court proceedings against an Iranian bank, claiming it was too sensitive to be heard publicly.  He said: “Having held a closed hearing, it turned out that there had been no point in the Supreme Court seeing the closed judgment.” They said the bank was treated in an arbitrary, irrational and disproportionate manner and given no opportunity to defend itself in procedures that were “demonstrably unfair.”

 

On Monday the Guardian reported that British intelligence had spied on delegates at two G20 summits, chaired by Gordon Brown in 2009. Laptops and mobile phones had been hacked, and internet cafes bugged. The government banned the rest of the media from reporting it.

These two incidents add weight to the criticism that we have a government that wishes to be unduly secretive. This Big Brother tendency should concern us all as citizens and as Christians.

PS. There are reasons for covert operations and it may not be easy to draw the line between what is acceptable and what isn’t. But “Evil triumphs when good men do nothing” so the worst thing we can do is to be complacent. The current lively debate is a good thing: it will keep the authorities on their toes. The Big Brother tendency is always present.

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

“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.

The New Testament teaches that we can hasten the return of Christ. 2 Peter 3:12 urges us to “speed its coming.” There are various ways in which we can do this. One is evangelism.

 

Evangelism

 

Jesus teaches that the gospel must be preached before “the end will come.” “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14).

We also hasten the return of Christ by repentance and godly living.

Repentance and obedience

 

Peter teaches that repentance will facilitate the return of Christ. “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” (Acts 3:19-20).

 

We read in 2 Peter 3:11-12 “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.” As we obey the Lord and manifest his kingdom we bring the return of Christ closer.

 

This teaching fits in with what the Jewish Rabbis have traditionally said: “If Israel would perfectly keep the Torah [Law] for one day, the Messiah would come.” “It is the sins of the people which prevent the coming of the Messiah. If Jews would genuinely repent for one day, the Messiah would come.”

 

We also hasten the return of Christ by praying for it.

 

Prayer

 

Jesus himself urged us, whenever we pray to say “Your kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10). Similarly, Paul uses the word Maranatha, which means “Come, Lord!” in 1 Cor 16:2.

 

Similarly, the next to last verse in the Bible states: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev 22:20).

 

Conclusion

 

It is clear therefore that we are to hasten the return of Christ by witnessing and evangelism, so that the gospel goes to the whole world; by repentance and obedience which manifest the Kingdom and by praying for the Lord’s return to usher in the fullness of his Kingdom.

 

Tony Higton