In the two millennia since the apostle John was given the visions of Christ's return in Revelation, generations have come and gone and humanity still survives. Jesus has not returned to set up His Father's Kingdom.
The popularity of the Left Behind series of novels and movies, based on two authors' opinions of the events leading to Christ's return, is testimony to the present fascination with the time of the end. Theologians, scholars, evangelicals, fundamentalists, preterists (those who believe that all Bible prophecy has already been fulfilled) and science-fiction buffs debate the exact interpretation of biblical prophecy, especially the imagery in the book of Revelation.
Newsweek reports that while 36 percent of Americans believe that the book of Revelation contains actual prophecies concerning the future, 47 percent believe that it is metaphorical and not to be taken literally.
Skeptics like to point out that the signs of the end predicted in the Bible are just common events that have existed at all times.
They point out that there have always been wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes and disease epidemics. The wars and bubonic plague of the Middle Ages—and the Great Depression, the Holocaust and massive devastation of World War II—were all cataclysmic times that some heralded as the end of the world. Adventists in the United States believed Jesus was returning in the year 1844. Yet here we are. Time goes on.
In the Olivet Prophecy, Jesus predicted great cataclysmic events preceding His return. These events haven't yet occurred in history. In fact, their completion has only become possible in the past few decades. Three major events have yet to happen.
The gospel will be preached to all the world
Matthew 24 contains the most complete prophecy given by Jesus Christ concerning the events that would precede His second coming. He tells of wars, disease epidemics, earthquakes and persecution of His followers. In verse 14 He said, "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come."
Jesus sent His disciples to spread the gospel throughout the Roman Empire. They never reached the entire world. In the centuries since, the gospel message brought by Christ has at times been almost extinguished, a small flicker of light in a dark world. The printing press, which opened the Bible to millions of people in common languages, and the creation of mass media have only recently made the fulfillment of this prophecy possible.
The ability to destroy humanity
Jesus makes some remarkable statements in Matthew 24:21-22. He says that the time before His return will be so chaotic and terrible that it will be like no other time in history. He also says that if He would not return, "no flesh would be saved."
Humanity has experienced terrible calamities, both natural and man-made, over the course of history. The Jewish people of Jesus' time suffered a national disaster in A.D. 70 when the Romans sacked Jerusalem. According to contemporary accounts, over a million people died.
Yet these events pale when compared to the millions who died from the wars and plague that racked Europe in the 14th century, or the suffering and death of the First World War and the flu epidemic that followed, or the 20 million who died in Stalinist Russia, or the 50 million who died in World War II.
Even then, self-annihilation of humanity wasn't possible until the creation and stockpiling of nuclear and biological weapons. It was impossible to kill off humanity with spears and swords, flintlock rifles or even machine guns, tanks and thousand-pound bombs. Only when scientists discovered the awesome energy released by splitting the atom was it possible to kill every living thing on the planet. Today there are enough biological weapons stored around the world to kill more people than all the plagues in history.
The reinstitution of sacrifices in Jerusalem
In Matthew 24:15-19, Jesus warns that "when you see the 'abomination of desolation'... standing in the holy place," then you can know the end is near. The holy place is associated with the historic temple that existed in Jerusalem, which was symbolic of the throne of God. "Holy" intimates God's presence.
Biblical prophecy many times has a former and latter fulfillment, meaning that the prophecy happens twice. The events first happen in a limited way and then in a more complete way. (Some prophecies have several limited fulfillments.) There was a limited fulfillment in the first century, when the "holy place" of that time—which included the entire temple, as well as the altar—was destroyed. But we should take note of verses 21 and 22, which predict a time like no other in history—a time when all flesh can be destroyed.
After A.D. 70 the Jewish people were scattered throughout the Middle East, Europe, Eastern Asia and eventually the New World. Generations of their descendants longed to return to a Jewish homeland and reestablish the temple in honor of the God of the Hebrew Scriptures. With the establishment of a Jewish state in 1948, the future construction of a temple became possible.
However, it is not necessary that the full temple be rebuilt in order to fulfill the prophecy. Sacrifices being offered to God on an altar—a holy place—is all that is necessary. Ezra 3:2-7 shows Jewish exiles returning to Jerusalem and offering sacrifices before construction of a temple building.
The prophet Daniel predicts that, before the coming of the Messiah, sacrifices will be reestablished in Jerusalem. This requires a Jewish presence and control of that city. This wasn't possible in A.D. 1000, during the Reformation or even in 1940. But today, with the establishment of the modern state of Israel, it is possible for this prophecy to be fulfilled.
The good news
We are the first people living in the time when these events can begin to happen. The time before Christ's return will be worse than the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, or the events of the 14th century that killed between 25 and 30 percent of Europe, or the First and Second World Wars of the 20th century. The good news is that Jesus Himself promises to return and save us from ourselves.
Christ's return won't be like His first coming as a human baby in a barn, but with such power and glory that all peoples of all nations will see Him. At that time all peoples will hear the trumpet announcement of the King of Kings who will then establish His Father's Kingdom on all the earth.
Read of this inspiring Bible teaching that was the central focus of everything Jesus taught in our booklet The Gospel of the Kingdom. Request a free copy from any of our offices listed on page 15 or request or download it from our Web site at www.wnponline.org. WNP