Waiting for the End of the World

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Waiting for the End of the World

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Armageddon and Apocalypse are in the air. The turn of a new century and a new millennium intensifies a nervous eschatological impulse. Some expect the end of the world and Jesus Christ’s return on Jan. 1, 2000.

Strange things are going on. For instance, a small Christian group moved to the Mount of Olives, just outside Jerusalem, to help usher in the second coming. In a separate incident the Israeli government had to intervene and cancel a simulated Christian enactment of the events of Armageddon—a purported preview of the coming catastrophe. They deported members of another group whose leader predicted that he would meet a violent death in Jerusalem this December. Not long ago hundreds of members of yet another doomsday group disappeared into the remote mountains of Colombia.

Millennial madness is all the rage as 1999 draws to a close.

There have always been Christians who believed so intensely that they knew exactly when Christ must return that they tried to make it happen. How absurd this must seem to God. Christ is our Lord and Master—not the other way around (John 13:13 John 13:13You call me Master and Lord: and you say well; for so I am.
American King James Version×
).

Nonetheless, He did tell us to be alert to world events, trends and conditions that would precede His second coming (Luke 21:36 Luke 21:36Watch you therefore, and pray always, that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.
American King James Version×
), but we should approach them in a balanced and rational way—never attempting to set a date.

No man knows the exact time

When it does occur, the return of Jesus Christ will take its place alongside the creation, Noah’s flood and Christ’s first coming. But God the Father has reserved to Himself the decision of the exact time that will take place. Even Jesus Christ Himself did not know when it would be (Matthew 24:36 Matthew 24:36But of that day and hour knows no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.
American King James Version×
).

The disciples continued their persistent questioning after His resurrection to eternal life. They still wanted to know when. Christ gave them virtually the same answer He had previously: “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority” (Acts 1:7 Acts 1:7And he said to them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father has put in his own power.
American King James Version×
).

Historically this reply has been hard for people to accept. Somehow we want to circumvent Jesus’ own words and figure out some way to know exactly when.

Over the last nearly 2,000 years many have wound up with egg on their faces. From time to time the misguidedly zealous have set dates only to see them come and go without the appearance of Jesus Christ. One would have thought we would have learned the lesson by now.

Many, however, seem to be prone to this weakness. Even the early apostles weren’t immune, thinking Christ would return in their lifetimes. But later in life they came to a more accurate understanding (see 2 Peter 3; 2 Timothy 4).

To better understand God’s thinking, let’s take a brief scriptural look at Christ’s first and second advents from the biblical perspective.

Carefully planned far in advance

The first coming of Jesus Christ was a carefully planned occurrence. It did not happen by accident or just at a random time in history. The Bible tells us that “when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law” (Galatians 4:4 Galatians 4:4But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,
American King James Version×
, emphasis added throughout).

Other translations render this expression as “the appointed time,” “the right time” or something similar. God establishes plans and timetables, and “the right time” is that particular period most suitable to His plan and purpose.

Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God was “slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8 Revelation 13:8And all that dwell on the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
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; John 1:29 John 1:29The next day John sees Jesus coming to him, and said, Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world.
American King James Version×
), but the actual event didn’t occur for several thousand years. Almost 2,000 years have passed since His death and resurrection. But, as Hebrews 9:28 Hebrews 9:28So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and to them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin to salvation.
American King James Version×
reminds us, “Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.”

Scripturally both comings are connected and intertwined (Isaiah 61:1-2 Isaiah 61:1-2 1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is on me; because the LORD has anointed me to preach good tidings to the meek; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; 2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn;
American King James Version×
), yet a considerable time lapses between these two events. Both are enormously important steps in God’s plan for humanity.

Consider the words of the apostle Paul to the church at Ephesus: “In Christ our release is secured and our sins forgiven through the shedding of His blood … He [the Father] has made known to us His secret purpose, in accordance with the plan which He determined beforehand in Christ, to be put into effect when the time was ripe, namely that the universe, everything in heaven and earth might be brought into a unity with Christ” (Ephesians 1:7-10 Ephesians 1:7-10 7 In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; 8 Wherein he has abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; 9 Having made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he has purposed in himself: 10 That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:
American King James Version×
, Revised English Bible, emphasis added throughout).

Paul here speaks of a time that undoubtedly includes the second coming of Christ yet apparently extends beyond that crucial event.

The divine timetable

We can be absolutely sure no major event in prophecy will occur without God’s knowledge, if not His direction and participation. In looking back, crucial occurrences will have happened “when the time was ripe” (Ephesians 1:10 Ephesians 1:10That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:
American King James Version×
) and not before.

The Bible makes this it clear that God can guide and direct events to accomplish His ends. “For this was the plan of the One [the Father] who shapes the whole course of events to His appointed ends” (verse 11, Translator’s New Testament).

God the Father will send Jesus Christ back to earth at precisely the right time. Unlike us, He can see the whole picture, everything that is happening in the world at any given time. He alone has perfect knowledge of the past and future. We can perceive only a part of the scenario. “We know in part and we prophesy in part,” wrote the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 13:9 1 Corinthians 13:9For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
American King James Version×
).

Yet Christ told us to pray “Your kingdom come,” plainly telling us He wants us to eagerly and enthusiastically seek the time of His direct, decisive intervention in human affairs. In the meantime we are to take diligent care to see that our spiritual life is in order (Luke 21:29-36 Luke 21:29-36 29 And he spoke to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; 30 When they now shoot forth, you see and know of your own selves that summer is now near at hand. 31 So likewise you, when you see these things come to pass, know you that the kingdom of God is near at hand. 32 Truly I say to you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled. 33 Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away. 34 And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come on you unawares. 35 For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 Watch you therefore, and pray always, that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.
American King James Version×
).

Sober words of warning

We should carefully heed Jesus Christ’s words of warning in the Olivet prophecy, given shortly before His death: “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect … Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it” (Matthew 24:23-24 Matthew 24:23-24 23 Then if any man shall say to you, See, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. 24 For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; so that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.
American King James Version×
, 26).

If people would only understand and heed the words of Jesus Himself, they wouldn’t be setting up residence on the Mount of Olives or trying to act out the events of Armageddon in advance. Truly the second coming will be a global event (verse 30). God’s angels will gather His elect from anywhere on earth they happen to be (verse 31).

Jesus expects His followers to carry out His work of spreading the gospel of the kingdom (Matthew 24:14 Matthew 24:14And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations; and then shall the end come.
American King James Version×
) and sharing His truth with the world (Matthew 28:18-20 Matthew 28:18-20 18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. 19 Go you therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatever I have commanded you: and, see, I am with you always, even to the end of the world. Amen.
American King James Version×
). We are to wait patiently for His return (Luke 21:19 Luke 21:19In your patience possess you your souls.
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), knowing that “he who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13 Matthew 24:13But he that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved.
American King James Version×
). GN

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