With so much war, turmoil, disease, natural disasters, and economic uncertainty in the world today, a common question being asked is, “Are we living in the end times?” Theologically speaking, the “end times”, or “last days” began about 2000 years ago with the first advent of the Christ (Heb 1:1-2, 1Jn 2:18). I believe what most people mean by the question however, is “Will Jesus return during our lifetime, or soon thereafter?”
When Jesus’ disciples inquired about the time and circumstances of his return, He replied, “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors 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” (Mt 24:4-8). He then elaborates and illustrates further throughout the chapter, including making references to the OT book of Daniel.
Looking at history, we find many wrong predictions regarding the end of days. In the second century, a Roman priest predicted Jesus would return in 500AD based upon the dimensions of Noah’s ark. Many predicted the end would come at the beginning of 1000AD and 2000AD simply because of the year number. Others predicted 1033AD or 1533AD based on a crucifixion date of 33AD (Christ was crucified either 30AD or 33AD). Archbishop Ussher forecast a particular day in 1644 while others predicted 1666 because of the number of the beast. Jehovah’s Witnesses guessed 1874, 1878, 1881, 1910, 1914, 1918, 1925, 1975, and 1984 before announcing they would make no further predictions. In our modern times, a popular book in the 80s gave 88 reasons why Jesus would return in 1988. When this failed, the same author wote another book offering 89 reasons why the rapture would occur in 1989 (which didn’t sell many copies for some odd reason). Just this year, Harold Camping set his latest date for the rapture when his previous predictions failed to come true. This is just a few of the predictions that have been made throughout history, so maybe we should look instead at what Jesus himself had to say on the subject.
Regarding the time of his return, Jesus says “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.” Mt 24:36-41.
Just before his ascension, they asked Him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority” (Ac 1:6-7).
So, we know that Jesus will definitely return (1Th 4:16-17), but we can only speculate whether the Second Advent will take place in our lifetime, shortly afterward, or at a date in the distant future. The signs are certainly evident, and there are no additional events that have to occur before His return. In addition to those already mentioned, we’ve witnessed a great increase in knowledge (primarily from technology) and the resettling of the Nation of Israel in the Promised Land. We’ve also seen more major wars in the last hundred years than in the past two millennia. Furthermore, just in the last ten years or so, we seen an unprecedented amount of natural disasters and human crisis such as war in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, hurricanes (Katrina), tsunamis (Japan), earthquakes (China), AIDS, Swine flu, famines, and economic collapses. We also see the current administration in America virtually abandoning Israel as other countries line up against her. With the current conditions surrounding us, it’s difficult to imagine the world lasting much longer.
On the other hand, many men who were much smarter than me, such as Martin Luther (early 1500s) and Jonathan Edwards (mid 1700s), thought Christ would return in their lifetimes. Therefore, while I believe Jesus’ return is likely to be relatively soon, it could still be hundreds of years away. This uncertainty however, should make us no less diligent in our Christian walk. As I once heard it so well stated, we should prepare for a journey of a thousand years, but be prepared to abandon ship at any moment.
Update: Part 2, The Study of Bible Prophecy - in Perspective is loaded. In this post, we discuss the study of prophecy within the context of our overall Bible study practice.
Update: Part 3, Present Living in Light of Prophecy is loaded.