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 fast approaching turn of a century and a new millennium is greatly intensifying a nervous eschatological impulse. Some even expect the "end of the world" and Jesus Christ's return precisely on January 1, 2000.

Not a few people have gone right "over the top." For instance, a small group has moved to the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem to help usher in the second coming. In a separate incident the Israeli government has had to intervene and cancel a simulated "Christian" enactment of the events of Armageddon-a so-called preview of the coming catastrophe. Millennial madness seems to be in vogue during 1999.

Not long ago hundreds of members of a doomsday group disappeared into the remote mountains of Colombia in South America. They were said to be members of a Gnostic church.

There have always been some Christians who believed so intensely that they knew exactly when Christ must come back to this earth 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 watch world events (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×
). We are to carefully assess the genuine signs that would precede His second coming, but in a balanced and rational way-never attempting to set a date!

A Decision Reserved to the Father

But when it does occur, the actual return of Jesus Christ will be remembered as one of those hugely important benchmark events in world history. It will take its place alongside the Creation, Noah's Flood and Christ's first coming. The time factor is so crucial that God the Father has reserved the decision to Himself. At the time of His humanity even Christ 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×
).

But 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 that 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 very hard for us humans to accept. Somehow we want to circumvent Jesus' own words and figure out some way to know exactly when. For nearly 2,000 years a few have wound up with egg on their faces. From time to time the overly zealous have set dates, and they have all come and gone without the appearance of Jesus Christ. One would have thought that we would have learned the lesson by now.

At one time or another we all seem to be prone to this weakness. Even the early apostles fell victim to the belief that Christ would return in their lifetimes. But later in life they came to a more realistic view (see 2 Peter 3, 2 Timothy 4).

Now let's take a brief scriptural look at both the first and second advents from the overall biblical perspective.

Carefully Planned in Advance

The first coming of Jesus Christ was a very carefully planned occurrence. It did not happen by accident, or just at any time in history. "But 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×
). Other translations render this expression variously as "the appointed time," "the right time," etc. God plans what He does in advance. The right time is that particular period which is most suitable to His plan and purpose.

"The Lamb [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.
American King James Version×
), but the actual event was postponed for several thousand years. Remember the New Testament passage-"so 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" (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×
). Scripturally both comings are connected and interlocked together (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 there is a considerable prophetic time lapse between these two separate events. Both are enormously important steps in God's master 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).

Paul speaks of a general period of time that certainly includes the second coming of Christ in retrospect, yet is way out on beyond that crucial event. He is apparently primarily referring to the time of the new heavens and new earth of Revelation, chapters 21 and 22. All is divinely purposed according to a step-by-step plan revealed to the Church through God's annual Holy Days.

We can be absolutely sure that no major event in prophecy will ever occur without precise planning. 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 crucial point very clear. "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 Christ back to this earth at precisely the right time. He always sees the whole picture-everything that is happening in this world at any given time plus His perfect knowledge of the past and the future. We can only perceive a part of the overall scenario. "We know in part and we prophesy in part," wrote the apostle Paul.

Yet Christ told us to pray "Your kingdom come," plainly telling us that He wants us to eagerly and enthusiastically seek the time of His massive intervention in human affairs. In the meantime we are to diligently watch world news and trends while taking care to see that our spiritual life is in order as well (Psalms 50:23 Psalms 50:23Whoever offers praise glorifies me: and to him that orders his conversation aright will I show the salvation of God.
American King James Version×
, KJV).

Sober Words of Warning

But we should also heed Jesus Christ's own words of warning in the Olivet Prophecy. "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 very words of Jesus Himself, they wouldn't be setting up some sort of prophetic residence on the Mount of Olives or trying to act out the events of Armageddon in advance. Truly the second coming is a global event (verse 30). God's angels will gather His elect everywhere on earth-wherever they happen to be (verse 31). Our principal role today is preaching 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 waiting patiently. "He who endures to the end shall be saved" (verse 13). WNP