UPDATED 1st May 2020

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I hope you find the site helpful

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I have various purposes in this blog and my associated websites:

1.TO ENCOURAGE SERIOUS PRAYER FOR REVIVAL

Christianity is growing around the world and some churches in Britain are growing. But one of the main motives for praying for Revival in Britain is the widespread decline of the church numerically, spiritually and morally. Meanwhile British society is increasingly turning away from belief in God, seriously ignorant of Christianity and rejecting biblical morality. The church and country desperately need a special supernatural movement of the Holy Spirit in revival, bringing many to faith in God. We need to pray in depth, in faith and in holiness. There is some relevant material on this blog but for more information see my website Network for Revival.

2. TO ENCOURAGE A SENSIBLE APPROACH TO ESCHATOLOGY (THE DOCTRINE OF THE END TIMES, THE RETURN OF CHRIST, ETC).

Many Christians (including Christian leaders) neglect this, either because they don’t feel competent to deal with it or because they are embarrassed by unbalanced extremists. I want to help rectify this by providing Christian teaching and also comment on current events and trends, with particular reference to anything relevant to Jesus’ teaching on the signs of the End Times. I try to take a constructively critical, extensively researched approach. I have completed the main (systematic) section with teaching on the subjects listed below. See http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/eschatology.html for both a Full (more detailed) Version and a Summary Version.

However you will find Updates on Eschatology on the blog below (which have also been incorporated into the main website above) and you are welcome to comment on them here.

3. TO INFORM PEOPLE ABOUT THE ISRAEL-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT

For a number of years I lived and ministered in Jerusalem, leading an international organisation whose aim is to share the gospel sensitively with Jewish people and leading Christ Church, Jerusalem. Since then I have been seeking to inform Christians about the need, pain and fear on BOTH sides in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, because God loves both sides. See http://www.prayerforpeace.org.uk/index.html. My recent newsletter on the Israel-Gaza conflict is at http://www.prayerforpeace.org.uk/newsletter.html.

4. TO MAKE CONSIDERED PROPHETIC COMMENT ON CURRENT EVENTS AND TRENDS.

See below on the blog.

5. TO PROVIDE FREE, PRACTICAL, USER-FRIENDLY RESOURCES FOR CHURCHES AND INDIVIDUALS

These include apologetics (defence of the faith), biblical material, church development, church issues, devotional articles, doctrinal resources, evangelistic, interfaith and pastoral issues. Additions will be made to these materials. See http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/

ESCHATOLOGY (END TIMES) SUBJECTS COVERED
The signs of the End
Will there be a sudden, secret “Rapture” of believers to heaven?
The ‘Great Tribulation’ and the Antichrist
Secular eschatology – What secular scholars are predicting about the future of the world
The Battle of Armageddon & Cosmic signs
Old Testament Eschatology
The return of Christ
Will there be a literal Millennium?
End times judgment
Approaching death
Resurrection
The destruction of world
The truth about Hell
The hope of Heaven
Appendix: Understanding the Book of Revelation
Appendix: The Place of Islam in the End Times

What about the Good News?

I am aware that, in focusing on eschatology and prophetic comment on the news, I frequently major on bad news rather than good news. Does that mean I’m only interesting in doom and gloom? No, not at all. However, there is a lot of doom and gloom in New Testament eschatology, and we must take it seriously alongside the love, joy, peace and eternal life which results from the gospel.

Jesus himself told us to watch for negative signs of the time: wars and rumours of wars, famine, disease, earthquakes, persecution, church decline and apostasy, false prophets and messiahs, great distress (tribulation) and worrying events in the heavens. The rest of the NT has a fair amount of doom and gloom about the End Times. After all, the Book of Revelation is hardly light-hearted

So I major on giving updates on some disturbing “signs of the times”: artificial intelligence, church decline, genetic engineering, global warming, Islam, oppression & persecution of Christians, secularisation & societal decline, matters of sexuality, significant political developments, terrorism and war, world poverty, etc.

We have to take note of such things if we are to obey Jesus who said: “Watch out that no one deceives you … keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matt 24:4, 42-44).

Having said all this, I do come across Christians who take eschatology seriously but read almost everything in society and the church negatively – it’s all doom and gloom. And I don’t believe that is correct. There is a huge amount of good in the world (theologically-speaking, it is the result of God’s “common grace” or the “general work of the Holy Spirit”). We need to maintain the balance and I do seek to share some good news amidst my main emphasis of keeping watch and noting the “signs of the times.”

What is on this site?

AUDIO SERMONS BY TONY & PATRICIA HIGTON

Tony and Patricia met at theological college and have spoken together in many places around the world for many years.

Go to http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/sermons.html and click the appropriate link.

BLOG POSTS

RECENT POSTS

Update on Abortion

INDEX TO THIS BLOG

ATHEISM (SCIENCE & RELIGION)

Relevant articles include:

Secularisation and non religious spirituality/   2015

Religious people are less intelligent than atheists/

Richard Dawkins speaks favourably about Christianity/

BIBLE

Relevant articles include:

The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture

The nature of God in the Old Testament

An outline of the Old Testament

Revival and the end-times/

Oppression of christians in the west/

The threat to the family part 1-the importance of the family/

The threat to the family part 2-attacks on marriage and the family/

How do we recognise God’s judgment?

The Bible predicts Jesus will rule over Israel

CHURCH

Relevant articles include:

CHURCH DECLINE & DEVELOPMENT

Oppression of Christians in the West

The church desperately needs Revival

Update on Church decline

Update on decline in Christian belief

Update on secularism

Update on the Church of England

Update on homosexual issues

Secularisation and non-religious spirituality

Church growth and decline

Bishop encouraged Osama bin Laden

Update on Signs of the End “Turning away from the Faith”

ESCHATOLOGY (END TIMES)

When asked about the signs of his coming and the end of the age, Jesus told his disciples to take note of the “beginning of the birth pains [of Messiah]” (Matt 24). These are early, recurring signs – rather like signposts on a motorway, each one closer to the destination. He specified wars and rumours of wars, famine, earthquakes, pestilences, persecution, apostasy, false messiahs, false prophets, worldwide evangelism, “fearful events and great signs from heaven.”  So, Jesus wants us to note the often negative trends and events in society and the world which point towards his return. (These posts include detailed updates on such trends and events in society and the world, which are informative in themselves quite apart from their eschatological significance).

[For more teaching on Eschatology see http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/eschatology.html]

 

Why the church fails to teach about eschatology

Can we ignore what the New Testament says about signs of Jesus’ return?

Some thoughts on the Book of Revelation

Jesus preached the present and coming rule of God

John the Baptist said Jesus would baptise in the Spirit and judge the impenitent

REVIVAL

The church desperately needs Revival

Revival and the End Times

RECURRING POINTERS TOWARDS THE END TIMES

“Birth pangs of the Messiah”

Why we should take notice of wars, famines, earthquakes, pestilences

Update on “Birth pains of the Messiah” – Global warming

What is God saying about Coronavirus?

Recognising the significance of major events

TURNING AWAY FROM THE FAITH

Update on Signs of the End – Turning away from the Faith

PERSECUTION & OPPRESSION (Recurring pointer towards the End Times)

Update on persecution

Serious trends in the present situation

Update on Signs of the End – Persecution & Oppression

“Street preachers must not preach about morality”

Tory MP says anti-terror laws against teachers who say gay marriage is sinful

Ex-MI5 Boss warns counter-extremism bill could be used against Christians

Anti-Christian attitudes in Britain – Tim Farron

PANDEMICS (Recurring pointer towards the End Times)

Update on the danger of pandemics

Update on the Signs of the End – Pestilences

WAR (Recurring pointer towards the End Times)

Update on terrorism and war

Update on war and terrorism

Update on war and the threat of war

Update on the serious implications of terrorism

Update on the Signs of the End – Nuclear terrorism an war

Queen’s speech on nuclear war having broken out

DANGERS OF WORLD GOVERNMENT

Update on trends towards world government

Christians and others under antichrist rule

Movements towards World Government

Update on World Government and Oppression

Update on World Government and Political Oppression

RESTORATION OF ISRAEL & THREATS TO ISRAEL

Update on the Signs of the End (Anti-Semitism)

The Bible predicts Jesus will rule over Israel

World Council of Churches statement on the Middle East

An update on anti-semitism and some dangers in combatting it

DANGERS OF EXTREME VIEWS

Will Jesus return by 2070?

“Jesus may return this month”

What should be our attitude to the European Union?

SECULAR ESCHATOLOGY

Alongside seeking to take seriously biblical teaching on eschatology it is instructive to take notice of what is sometime called secular eschatology, i.e. secular predictions by scholars of serious disasters which the future could hold.

Update on secular eschatology

Will Artificial Intelligence be the end of the human race?

Update on Global Warming

ABORTION

Update on Abortion

HOMOSEXUALITY

My attitude to homosexuals

We are called to love our neighbour and that includes our homosexual neighbour. If we do not love our homosexual neighbour we are being sinful. We are to love our neighbour but that doesn’t mean loving his/her wrong behaviour. The old saying is relevant: “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” And that applies to all sinners, including sexual sinners – heterosexual or homosexual.

I address the subject, not because it is the only sin or the worst sin facing the church, neither because of any hang-up about God’s wonderful gift of sexuality, but because it is strategically important. It is the sin the church is beginning to justify, with dire consequences.

The basic issue is whether homosexual practice is God’s will for human beings. I conclude that the Bible says it isn’t. You can read my detailed reasons for this conclusion in the following three articles

What does the Bible say on homosexual practice?

Homosexuality and the Church (a study guide)

What about gay marriage?

Here are my blog posts on the subject:

The undermining of God’s plan for the family

The threat to the family – Part 1 The importance of the family

The threat to the family – Part 2 Attacks on marriage and the family

Update on societal decline

What about the Irish referendum on gay marriage?

The wrong attacks on freedom of belief and speech

Oppression of Christians in the West

Update on the oppression of Christians

I agree with Peter Tatchell over Asher’s bakery!

The Belfast gay cake controversy

The decline of the church partly over this issue

Update on the decline of Christian belief

Update on church decline

The church desperately needs revival

SECULARISATION OF SOCIETY

Secularism and populism undermine the foundation of society

Update on secularisation

Update on secularism

Secularisation and non-religious spirituality

Update on the Signs if the End – “Turning away from the Faith”

Richard Dawkins speaks favourably about Christianity

So the government wants to relax the Sunday trading laws

Is the UK more Christian than the rest of Europe?

·         DISCRIMINATION AGAINST CHRISTIANS

Discrimination against British Christians

Discrimination against British Christians: Update 1

Oppression of Christians in the West

Iraqi Christian leader refused entry to US to advocate for persecuted Christians

See also above “Church Decline & Development

ISRAEL & MIDDLE EAST

My attitude towards Israel and the Palestinians

The decline of Christianity in the Middle East

World Council of Churches statement on the Middle East

Is the UK more pro-Israel than the EU?

Update on the Signs of the End (Anti-Semitism)

Update on Anti-Semitism

The Bible predicts Jesus will rule over Israel

The Middle East situation and its effects on Christians and Israel

ISLAM

We must love and respect our Muslim neighbour but that is not incompatible with expressing disagreement with the teachings of Islam.

Christians and others under antichrist rule

Serious trends in the present situation

Chair of Islamic Society of Great Britain says the next coronation should be Christian

Good News: Palestinian rescues 5 Jewish students under attack in the West Bank

Former Imam who attacked churches converts to Christianity

Muslim Imam raises money for church vandalised by young Muslim

Thank God for this Muslim leader’s comments

Homosexual baker strongly disapproves of homosexuals bullying Christian bakers

Update on Middle East tensions

GENERAL TOPICS

Issues of Morality  Transexualism, polygamy, divorce, abortion, gene-editing

World inequality

 

 

Alongside seeking to take seriously biblical teaching on eschatology it is instructive to take notice of what is sometime called secular eschatology, i.e. secular predictions by scholars of serious disasters which the future could hold. Global warming is one such.

Scientists have warned that there would be a climate crisis in the second half of this century but there are warnings that the crisis is already here. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by 143% since pre-industrial times. 2016 is likely to be the hottest year ever measured. 2015 broke the record for temperature as did 2014. In fact 15 of the 16 warmest years ever recorded have occurred this century. Arctic ice now covers a smaller area than ever recorded. Because of unusual thawing of ice in Siberia the bodies of animals which died in the 1941 anthrax epidemic have caused an anthrax outbreak. There have also been very serious droughts in India and bleaching of coral reefs.

Although thermometer records only go back to 1880, scientists are able to examine ice cores, corals and tree rings showing the earth is at its hottest for 5000 years. But CO2 levels are the highest for almost a million years. Prof Stefan Rahmstorf, at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany says the rate at which humanity is emitting CO2 is the fastest for 66 million years. CO2 is the main cause for the extreme weather in 2016 but scientists also say that about one fifth of the temperature rise in recent months is due to El Nino (the climate cycle in the Pacific Ocean which goes through cyclical changes).

Rahmstorf added: “What is happening right now is we are catapulting ourselves out of the Holocene, which is the geological epoch that human civilisation has been able to develop in, because of the relatively stable climate. It allowed us to invent agriculture, rather than living as nomads. It allowed a big population growth, it allowed the foundation of cities, all of which required a stable climate.”

A 2014 report by the Royal Institute of International Affairs said the global livestock industry produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all cars, planes, trains and ships combined.[1] The author stated: “Preventing catastrophic warming is dependent on tackling meat and dairy consumption.” That is hardly a popular warning!

Europe will experience extreme weather causing severe wildfires, river floods and windstorms. The UK government has hopefully woken up to the fact that severe flooding is likely to recur.

Greenhouse gases have caused the Indo-Pacific Warm Pool, the largest area of warm water in the world, to increase in size and temperature. This has led to five small islands in the S Pacific disappearing. The pool is known to oscillate in size and temperature over a 20-year period but researchers have discovered that it has grown by one third in size and 0.3C temperature in the last 60 years. Because it is so big (9000 by 1500 miles) this has a huge effect. Scholars have said only 12-18% of the temperature rise has been caused by this cycle and the rest by global warming.

The Antarctic Ice Sheet covers almost 5.4 million square miles at the South Pole and contains about 61% of all the fresh water on Earth. The effect of global warming on this ice could raise sea levels by almost three metres.

In 2015 thousands of people died of heatwaves in Europe and Asia. Scientists predict that if the temperature reaches two degrees above pre-industrial level some countries in the Middle East and N Africa could experience daytime temperatures of 46C by the middle of the 21st century. Prolonged heat waves and desert dust storms could render some regions uninhabitable. One study predicts that by 2100 temperatures in countries like Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain could occasionally reach 74-76C which could cause fatalities.

In 2009 The Lancet medical journal published a report commissioned by University College, London which predicted that global warming could so affect the quality of food that between 300,000 and 700,000 people could die each year by 2050. In particular they predicted that by 2050 climate change would seriously reduce the amount of fruit and vegetables and processed meat. They called climate change the greatest threat to health in the 21st century due to floods, droughts and increased infectious diseases. They added that it could reverse 50 years of progress in medicine.

The World Economic Forum recently published a report by 750 experts which saw climate change as the biggest threat to the global economy. Cecilia Reyes, the Zurich Insurance Group chief risk officer, said: “Climate change is exacerbating more risks than ever before in terms of water crises, food shortages, constrained economic growth, weaker societal cohesion and increased security risks.”[2] The World Bank said that 100 million people could slide into extreme poverty because of climate change, in addition to the 703 million who are already in extreme poverty. Global warming leads to crop failures, natural disasters, higher food prices and the spread of waterborne diseases, creating poverty.

The Paris Agreement to tackle global warming

In December 2015 177 nations agreed to try to prevent the world’s average temperature rising more than 1.5C above the pre-industrial level (it is already 1.3C). They will set targets every five years after the agreement comes into force in 2020. But analysts have said that the measures they have actually agreed so far would mean a rise of between 2.6C and 3.1C by 2100. This, of course, breaches the 2C limit beyond which scientists have predicted there will be catastrophic and irreversible droughts, floods, heatwaves and sea level rises.

The rich countries promised to provide $100bn (£66bn) to help poorer countries switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy and to protect them against dangers such as increased flooding.

The agreement also includes aiming at having “net zero emissions” during the second half of the century. This means that any CO2 produced would need to be captured and disposed of or offset by planting huge numbers of trees. However, in a joint letter to the press, British climate experts[3] stated: “This involves rapidly growing trees and grasses faster than nature has ever done on land we don’t have, then burning it in power stations that will capture and compress the CO2 using an infrastructure we don’t have and with technology that won’t work on the scale we need and to finally store it in places we can’t find.”[4]

Already Ban Ki-moon’s climate change envoy has accused the British and German governments of backtracking on the agreement by providing subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. It is also not encouraging that the UK government has abolished the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

Scientists are talking of the need to close down all coal-powered power stations by 2025 and to abolish the combustion engine (petrol/diesel engines) by 2030.

Professor Chris Field, of Stanford University, said that the 1.5C goal looks impossible or very, very difficult and he warned that closing down fossil fuel plants before renewable alternatives are established would mean there would be insufficient energy and people would suffer.

Many scientists say the only hope is to develop new techniques of extracting CO2 from the atmosphere as most of the current possible techniques are unworkable.

 

[1] ‘Livestock – Climate Change’s Forgotten Sector – Global Public Opinion on Meat and Dairy Consumption’, December 2014.

[2] http://www.policyconnect.org.uk/appccg/news/economists-label-climate-change-biggest-threat-global-economy

[3] Professor Paul Beckwith, University of Ottowa, Professor Stephen Salter – Edinburgh University, Professor Peter Wadhams – Cambridge University, Professor James Kennett of University of California, Dr Hugh Hunt – Cambridge University, Dr. Alan Gadian -Senior Scientist, Nation Centre for Atmospheric Sciences, University of Leeds, Dr. Mayer Hillman – Senior Fellow Emeritus of the Institute of the Policy Studies Institute, Dr. John Latham – University of Manchester, Aubrey Meyer  – Director, Global Commons Institute, John Nissen –  Chair Arctic Methane Emergency Group.

[4] http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/cop21-paris-deal-far-too-weak-to-prevent-devastating-climate-change-academics-warn-a6803096.html

When Jesus was asked about signs of his return he included pestilences but made it clear that these were not a sign that that the End is near but what he called “the beginning of birth pains [of the Messiah]” – a reminder of and pointer towards the End.  Hence we should take note of them whilst praying for and helping those affected by them

The danger of man-made pandemics

There is concern amongst scientists about the danger of man-made pandemics.  Filippa Lentzos, a senior research fellow in the Department of Social Science, Health and Medicine at King’s College London wrote about it in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists in December 2014.[1] She pointed out that scientists are “tinkering with viruses to make them more deadly and more able to spread.” During the Cold War this was done in order to use them in biological weapons. But now it is done for “gain-of-function” experiments. These are experiments which enhance bacteria or viruses, giving them functions not found “in the wild” so that scientists can assess the danger of pandemics. There is real concern that such enhanced bacteria or viruses could escape and actually cause a pandemic. For example, scientists have created an enhanced avian flu which can spread between mammals, not just birds.

Then there is the problem of mistakes made by laboratories. In 2015 the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah mistakenly sent live anthrax to commercial labs in nine states – California, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, Virginia, Texas and Wisconsin – and South Korea. Gigi Kwik Gronyall, a senior associate at the Center for Health Security at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland, said that such mistakes are “a problem that happens pretty regularly.” In 2014 it was reported that high-security British laboratories handling very dangerous viruses and bacteria have reported over 100 accidents in the previous five years.

The effect of climate change

The World Health Organisation has stated that “climate change affects the social and environmental determinants of health – clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter. Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress.”[2] However other experts regard this as a conservative estimate. Even the warming of the oceans can cause an algal bloom (a rapid increase of the number of algae) which can cause infections to humans.

The effect of increased population movement

The increased global movement of refugees and others will clearly also spread infectious diseases. The WHO warns that Zika is spreading across the Americas and epidemiologists warn this could lead to 4 million cases per year over the continent. An article on Ebola in the science journal ‘Nature’ in January 2016 said: “there are other lethal viruses that could cause as much suffering as Ebola has in West Africa, or even more. This outbreak has demonstrated that the world is much more vulnerable to global epidemics than anyone realized two years ago.” It warned that “The world isn’t equipped to deal with international public-health crises, especially in poor countries.”

Failure to cope with epidemics

A recent UN report has warned that a global epidemic far worse than Ebola could kill millions because the world is not prepared to deal with such epidemics. The UN panel on the subject said that the World Health Organisation should set up a center for emergency response and that this centre “must have real command and control capacity” with the best surveillance technology. Countries must comply with this.[3]

There is real concern that the US declared measles eradicated in 2000 but by 2014 the country had 667 cases from 27 states. The question has been raised that if the US can’t prevent the spread of an easily preventable disease that “was eradicated” what hope is there of preventing more serious diseases?

Dr David Nabarro, the UN Secretary-General’s special envoy on Ebola, warned the world to prepare for more major outbreaks of diseases which can pass from animals to humans which he said were a “local and global threat to humanity”. He added that climate change was increasing the range of disease-carrying mosquitoes, causing a threat to millions more people from malaria, dengue fever, etc.

The effect of antibiotic resistance

The growing resistance to antibiotics is a huge threat to human health. It is estimated that some 25,000 people die every year in the European Union from infections caused by bacteria which are resistant to antibiotics and this could grow to 390,000 by 2025. Experts are warning that this could lead to routine operations becoming fatal and many drugs becoming ineffective. It is estimated that resistance to antibiotics could lead to 10 million deaths per annum by 2050. Some calculate this could cost the global economy $100 trillion.

[1] http://thebulletin.org/preventing-man-made-pandemic7856

[2] Fact Sheet No 266 Sept 2015. See http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs266/en/

[3] http://www.un.org/News/dh/infocus/HLP/2016-02-05_Final_Report_Global_Response_to_Health_Crises.pdf

It should go without saying that our prime concern should be to pray for and, where possible, assist those affected by such traumas. It is, of course, a Christian responsibility to love one’s neighbour. This means we must defend and rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed and set them free; oppose injustice; provide food, shelter, clothing for the needy, hungry and oppressed (Psa 82:2-4; Isa 58:6-10). All this includes the foreigner (Zech 7:9-10). See also what Jesus says in Luke 12:33a and 14:13.

However, there is another reaction we should have to these traumas. The disciples asked Jesus: “What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matt 24:3). Jesus replied at length but he first of all mentioned wars, famines, earthquakes and pestilences and he called them “the beginning of birth-pains.” This is a technical term meaning the birth pains of the Messiah, i.e. the traumas which will herald his return. He made it clear that they were early signs. Some Christians regard them as irrelevant but Jesus didn’t and, as you will expect, I’m going to agree with Jesus!

Someone will say: “But these things are always happening and have done throughout history. They will get worse just before Jesus returns (Luke 21:25-28) and it’s only at that stage they will be signs.” However, Jesus makes another very significant statement. He urges us all to keep watch – not at some time in the future but now – day by day.

He says: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Matt 24:42-44). He goes on to tell the parable of the ten virgins to confirm his command to watch.

Mark reports him as saying: “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).

How do we keep watch for the Lord’s return? I have noted elsewhere that Jesus wants us to think and live eschatologically. We are to pray regularly “Your kingdom come.” We are to celebrate communion and so “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” We need to live our lives in the light of the coming judgment (a very neglected truth today) and redemption.

Part of this keeping watch is to note the signs “the beginning of birthpains” which Jesus mentions in the immediate context of his command to watch. We must avoid naivety – thinking these very early pointers mean the Lord will come imminently, because many more things need to happen. But we are to see them as reminders of the Lord’s coming. They jog our memory. They help us to keep watch. This would not work if we only think of future signs. The signs will grow in intensity in the future. But we need to notice the lesser signs now.

The Lord’s command to us is to keep watch. Are we doing so, and, if so, how?

Jesus said that wars, famines, earthquakes, pestilences etc., were “the beginning of birth-pains” of the Messiah (Matt 24:6-8), i.e. early reminders that he would return to deal with injustices and suffering of the world. Global warming fits into this category of “the beginning of birth-pains” of the Messiah.

Global warming sceptics

There are, of course, people who deny that global warming is happening, for example Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, many members of the US Republican Party and the Wall Street Journal. Nigel Lawson’s Global Warming Policy Foundation also does so. According to press reports in September 2014 the GWPF is secretly funded by the Institute of Economic Affairs which is itself funded by fossil fuel companies which have a vested interest in denying global warming.

On the other hand, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, which have cast doubt on global warming in the past, have now changed their tune and accept that it is happening and human beings play a role in it.

One argument against global warming is the claim that warming has been on pause in the last 15 years. However scientists point out that, whereas global warming has slowed down, there has still been a rise of 0.2℃ over the last 15 years. They also point out that a reason for the slowdown is that excess heat is being stored in the Atlantic and Southern Oceans and that a natural ocean cycle will cause the temperature to rise in around 15 years’ time. The Pacific may also have a similar role. Trade winds help the oceans to absorb heat into an area 100 -300 metres below the surface. These trade winds are likely to drop in some years’ time (probably soon after 2020) which will facilitate the heat being released. Scientists also point out that volcanic eruptions spread particles into the atmosphere which reflect the sun’s heat back into space, thus acting against global warming.

The fact is that the World Meteorological Organisation has reported that 13 of the 14 warmest years have occurred since 2000 and each of the last three decades has been warmer than the previous one, with 2001-2010 the warmest on record.

The WMO also reported that concentrations of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere increased faster in 2012-13 than at any time since 1984. They were 142% of pre-Industrial Revolution levels. Methane was 253% and Nitrous Oxide 121% of pre-industrial levels, both of them greenhouse gases. The seas are becoming more acidic at a greater rate than for 300 years.

The effects of global warming

It would be a mistake to put all the extreme weather and other disasters (floods, hurricanes, drought, heatwaves, etc) down solely to global warming. The world population has doubled since the 1970s and many expanding cities are either built on the coast or on flood plains. Some scientists are considering declaring 1950 to be the start of a new geological age called the Anthropocene which refers to the human domination of the planet. It has been characterised by dramatic population increase and industrial development leading to great pollution and waste. Pollution is said to cause 1 in 8 human deaths. The so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch – a floating ‘island’ of rubbish – is said to be twice the size of the United States. Forests have been cut down, oceans over-fished and many species becoming almost or actually extinct. This will all be evident in the sediments which will form the rocks and fossils in the future.

However, climate change is predicted to have serious effects:

Extreme weather: Hotter air holds more moisture which will lead to extreme precipitation, and, of course, water expands as it grows warmer which will lead to flooding. This can be linked with melting ice caps. Also the Amazon rainforest, the “lungs of the earth” is drying out making it vulnerable to massive forest fires. In 2005 and 2010 it became a net producer rather than an absorber of Carbon Dioxide.

Hunger: because of reduction in food production and increasing prices.

Heat-related deaths: The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health points out that “many countries experience annual heat-related and cold-related deaths associated with current weather patterns.” It added that “heat-related deaths would be expected to rise by around 257% by the 2050s.”

Violence: because of growing poverty and hunger and resulting migration. The 2014 IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Report stated: “Throughout the 21st century, climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hot spots of hunger.” It is also obscene that half of the world’s wealth is owned by 1% of the population. The US Center for Naval Analyses Military Advisory Board, described climate change as a “catalyst for conflict.” It claims that it “will aggravate stressors abroad, such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability and social tensions – conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence” as “massive floods, water shortages and famines … are expected to hit and decimate unstable nations.”

Water shortage and flooding: experts are speaking of the 21st century being characterised by “water in the wrong place” – a lack of drinking water in some places and flooding in others. Water tables are falling in every continent. Arctic ice is disappearing much faster than scientists expected. Flooding in Europe is likely to double by 2050. Dame Julia Slingo, chief scientist at the Meteorological Office, said that in early 2014 the UK had seen the “most exceptional period of rainfall in 248 years.”

Ocean acidification: because of absorption of carbon dioxide. This will lead to a shortage of fish for those dependent on it as a food.

Extinction of species: In 2007 the IPCC suggested that 20 to 30% of plant and animal species faced an increased risk of extinction this century if the planet keeps warming. The wildlife population is less than 50% of what it was 40 years ago and valuable habitats are being destroyed.

John Kerry US Secretary of State said in February 2014: “Climate change can now be considered another weapon of mass destruction, perhaps even the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.”

Attempts to combat global warming

Various methods have been suggested, for example:

Reflecting sunlight back into space: This could be done by spraying sulphate particles high in the atmosphere, whitening low clouds by spraying salt water above the oceans, thinning high cirrus clouds to allow more heat to escape from the earth, whitening the ocean surface to reflect more sunlight by generating microbubbles or covering deserts with shiny material. However a study in November 2014 showed that these methods would cause worse floods and droughts for billions of people.

Extracting Carbon Dioxide from the atmosphere: This would require burning many plants and trees in power plants and capturing the Carbon Dioxide from them. It would require the planting of huge numbers of trees. This would be very expensive.

Climate Change talks

At the talks in Lima at the end of 2014 every country committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions. There is, however, much more to be done and commitments are not always worked out in practice.

A call to action

As always, when considering events and trends which fit into the category of “the ‘beginning of birth-pains’ of the Messiah” we should seek to do whatever we can to counteract the harm involved. Desmond Tutu, writing in The Observer in September 2014, said: “Never before in history have human beings been called on to act collectively in defence of the Earth. If we don’t limit global warming to two degrees or less we are doomed to a period of unprecedented instability, insecurity and loss of species. The most devastating effects of climate change – deadly storms, heat waves, droughts, rising food prices and the advent of climate refugees – are being visited on the world’s poor. Those who have no involvement in creating the problem are the most affected, while those with the capacity to arrest the slide dither. Africans, who emit far less carbon than the people of any other continent, will pay the steepest price. It is a deep injustice.”

He then went on to call for a boycott of events, sports teams and media programming sponsored by fossil fuel companies; demand that their advertisements carry health warnings; ask our religious communities to speak out on the issue from their various pulpits, etc.

It remains to be seen if global warming becomes the global nightmare it has the potential to be. In the meantime it fits into this category of “the ‘beginning of birth-pains’ of the Messiah” alongside wars, famines, earthquakes and pestilence.

Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple and the disciples asked him “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matt 24:3). It seems clear that Jesus spoke of signs of the end of the age in much of the chapter. Initially he speaks of what I call preliminary, repeated signs or reminders of the end. They are like recurring motorway signs pointing towards a distant destination. One of them is “pestilences” (Lk 21:11).

So, Jesus teaches us to take notice of “pestilences” as a reminder of the end. Obviously, our first concern is what we can do to help those affected by them. But we should also remember they are reminders!

Ebola

Ebola is “the most severe, acute health emergency seen in modern times,” said Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization in October 2014. She added that it is a “crisis for international peace and security” and added “I have never seen a health event threaten the very survival of societies and governments in already very poor countries. I have never seen an infectious disease contribute so strongly to potential state failure.”

Others have accused her of alarmism. One such is Ruth Schuster, an Israeli journalist. She points out that whereas several thousand people have died from Ebola, 35 million are infected by HIV, 130 million for hepatitis C and 300 million for hepatitis B. In 2013 1.5 million died of AIDS, over a million from viral hepatitis, and half a million from flu. But then she writes: “The next generation of virologists and immunologists needs to be prepared because in this age of jet travel, a contagious disease could devastate the human species. The flu pandemic of 1918 killed 20 million to 40 million people and that’s before people and their germs were casually climbing onto planes.”

The UK International Development Secretary, Justine Greening, reported that ministers were shocked by the US public health institute that 1.4 million may be infected by Ebola by January 2015 if it is not checked.

Certainly, the Ebola crisis is a solemn reminder of the dangers of “pestilences” in our global village. But it isn’t the only reminder in the news. There have been alarming recent reports about dangerous lapses of security at laboratories containing lethal viruses.

Dangers from laboratory experiments and security failures

In September 2014 scientists discovered old vials containing smallpox, ricin, plague and botulism between 60 and 100 years old in a US laboratory. They were not stored in accordance with security regulations. In July 2014 6 vials of smallpox viruses were found in a cardboard box in a Maryland laboratory. The same month anthrax was discovered in unlocked refrigerators (or refrigerators with a key in the lock) some in an unrestricted hallway. Some anthrax containers were missing and had to be found. Some 75 scientists in Atlanta may have been exposed to anthrax because proper procedures were not followed. Samples were transferred to laboratories not equipped to deal with them.

Professor Yoshiro Kawaoka has been researching mutated forms of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic flu virus. He has been accused of risking creating a new pandemic not least because his laboratory does not have adequate biosecurity. Kawaoka has also created copies of the virus which caused the deadly Spanish Flu pandemic which killed some 50 million people in 1918.

Robert Kolter, professor of microbiology at Harvard Medical School, was quoted as saying: “The scientists doing this work are so immersed in their own self-aggrandisement, they have become completely blind to the irresponsibility of their acts. Their arguments in favour of such work, i.e. increase ability for surveillance, remain as weak as ever.”

Antibiotic-resistant ‘superbugs’

David Cameron spoke to the press about the emergence of untreatable bacteria. He said: “This is not some distant threat, but something happening right now … If we fail to act, we are looking at an almost unthinkable scenario where antibiotics no longer work and we are cast back into the dark ages of medicine, where treatable infections and injuries will kill once again. That simply cannot be allowed to happen and I want to see a stronger, more coherent global response.”

Dr Keiji Fukuda, the World Health Organisation’s assistant director general for health security said that unless adequate international action is taken, once-beaten diseases will re-emerge as global killers and common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades will once again kill people. It is regarded by experts as a threat equal to climate change and global terrorism.

We need to pray for those affected by disease and for those seeking to combat these dangers. But we should also note that pestilences are a reminder of His coming and the end of the age. There will be no pestilences in the new heaven and new earth..

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See my main writings on Eschatology  (the End Times: the Return of Christ, Judgment, Heaven etc) at http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/eschatology.html for both a Full (more detailed) Version and a Summary Version.