Occasionally we receive inquiries from students of prophecy who ask, "Where are we now in Bible prophecy?" People naturally want to understand where we are in the march of end-time prophetic events.
Someone recently sent me an e-mail about a fantastic scenario of the end time based on several nonbiblical events. It sought to pinpoint exactly where we were prior to the coming of Christ and the end of the age. I can't fault a person for wanting to understand. After all, it was the apostles who first posed the question to Christ while in Jerusalem. "What will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?" they asked.
Like the apostles, we ask the same question. We want to know how close we are to the time of 10 kings appearing and the time of a great fearsome person or system called "the beast." We want to know who the "false prophet" may be.
Daniel the prophet sought the same detailed understanding of the fantastic visions given to him in his day. Servants of God through the ages have wanted to understand their times, whether they were living in the end days and if they would be among the generation to see Christ return in His glory.
Students of Bible prophecy are like the disciples and Daniel. We want understanding and we want to know when—when will the Beast power come together, when will the Great Tribulation begin. We want to know who will be the man of sin from 2 Thessalonians. We want to construct elaborate timelines to align references to days and weeks, all in an attempt to determine, "as close as we can without setting dates," the time when Christ will return. Like the precision mind of an engineer, we analyze a complex prophecy like Daniel's 70 weeks, attempting to put together the pieces of a historical, geographical and theological puzzle that only God can divine.
But where do we begin to answer this question of the ages? Rather than in Matthew 24, let's go to what Christ revealed to John while the apostle was on the island of Patmos. Doing so will help us get an overview that is critical to keeping a balanced perspective on prophecy.
Balance is a critical key
So often we want to get into the minutiae of prophetic subjects with the intent of understanding everything. Sometimes we want to know all the secrets now, forgetting that God will veil them until the time when He wants to reveal all.
Amos says, "Surely the Lord GOD does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7). Would we not do better to adopt a larger overview of Bible prophecy, accepting what God chooses to reveal and what He chooses to hide? Doing so would keep us from getting mired in the swamps of intricate details, which experience teaches us are tricky and treacherous.
In the first pages of the book of Revelation we see who the Revelator is. He is Jesus Christ. Notice in chapter 1: "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John, who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw" (verses 1-2).
Here we focus on a little-understood role of Jesus. It is His role in telling the future, prophesying of things to come. This is a vital dimension of Christ's ministry, which few fully understand and appreciate.
Here at the beginning of Revelation the scene is set. It is a glimpse of Christ in glory, in heaven among angels and stars and lamps, His face radiating power like the sun. In His hands He holds the power of the stars in heaven. His words carry force and weight and importance.
John describes the awesome scene: "I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet, saying, 'I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,' and, 'What you see, write in a book...' Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.
"And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, 'Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death. Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this'" (Revelation 1:10-19).
Christ is in charge of the events of the world. Nothing takes place without His and the Father's notice (Revelation 4:11).
Christ the Revelator
During His earthly ministry Jesus spoke of a world to come in precise and unmistakable terms. It is a world where death, the enemy of man, will be destroyed: "But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: Neither can they die any more" (Luke 20:35-36, King James Version).
To His closest followers, those who would form the Church's foundation as apostles, He said: "And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Luke 22:29-30, KJV).
The reign of Christ, the first 1,000 years of which are called the Millennium because of the reference in Revelation 20 to a 1,000-year time span, will produce this wonderful age. Many more scriptures, beyond the scope of this article, paint a picture of peace and productive cooperation among peoples and nations. It will be the utopian experience foretold by Isaiah, Ezekiel and other prophets. Peace, like a river, will flow through all the earth.
Before this time of peace there will be a time of world trouble and upheaval like none before. Christ spoke of these events as well with precise certainty. Notice the following unmistakable, interrelated events He foretold.
In Matthew 24, His longest prophetic lesson, Christ spoke of the "abomination of desolation," involving a holy site in Jerusalem (verse 15).
A related unmistakable event is military operations around the city of Jerusalem. Notice Luke 21:20, "And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh" (KJV). He warns those who are faithful followers to flee, indicating they will know who they are and exactly what they should do. These events will signal the beginning of another event called the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:15-16, 21).
Jerusalem has been surrounded and conquered many times in the past, but this section speaks of a time yet ahead when a sequence of specific events will coincide in a perfect prophetic storm.
Additionally, Christ indicates there will be a great spiritual deception (Matthew 24:24) that will even threaten to deceive the elect, God's chosen. Herein is a puzzling matter. The world is full of many students of the Bible who have accurate insight into today's world events and the connection to prophecy. They, too, look for a power in Europe to arise and dominate the world. They look in all the right places for the appearance of two individuals, one secular and one religious, in fulfillment of Revelation 13. So why will there be a deception so great that only "the elect" will escape? What will they understand that many other people tuned in to prophecy will not?
Part of the answer lies in understanding how the Holy Spirit works in the people of God. The Spirit does lead us into all the truth as Christ said it would. Christ's faithful people worship Him in spirit and in truth, keeping themselves unspotted from this present evil world. Through the Spirit in them, they have the ability to understand the times and to be vigilant in their personal affairs. The spiritual deception of the end times will not impair their judgment.
Right now we are in a time best described as one of broad trends. We do "see darkly" in some cases as we await specific fulfillments. On the other hand, we can see an unrelenting erosion of morality in society. General trends are important to understand. For if the elect are not able to identify and understand them, then deception is very likely. Sometimes a societal change takes place over several decades.
A recent Wall Street Journal column gave an example of how Western society has changed its morality over the past 40 years. There is a current revival of a play, A Raisin in the Sun, first produced in 1960, currently running on Broadway. The story is of a family set in 1950s America. It is an intact nuclear family where everyone works hard and dreams of success. An important moment in the plot comes when a character announces she is pregnant and has decided to have an abortion. She has already put $5 payment toward the action with a neighborhood back-alley abortionist. Of course, in the 1950s abortion had not been legalized in the United States.
When this play first came out in 1960, it stirred agonizing emotions. Abortion was a moral matter dealing with the sanctity of life. Societal norms weighed heavily against this choice. But the reaction of a 2004 audience reflected a monumental shift in societal values in the ensuing decades:
"They heard the young woman say she was about to end the life of her child, and they applauded. Some of them cheered. It was stunning. The reaction seemed to startle the actors on stage, and shake their concentration.
"I was startled. I turned to my friend. 'We have just witnessed a terrible cultural moment,' I said. 'Don't I know it,' he responded. Afterwards, thinking about it, I said to my friend, 'When that play opened that plot point was understood—they knew it was tragic. And that was only what, 40 years ago.' He said, 'They would have known it was tragic even 25 years ago.' And it gave me a shiver because I knew it was true. So much progress followed the 1960s, in so many ways, but applauding abortion isn't progress. It's ugly" (Peggy Noonan, "'Raisin' and Falling," April 29, 2004).
Changes like this indicate a worsening moral climate in America and other large Western nations. Those who "sigh and cry" over the abominations of our nations are getting fewer and fewer. Trends like these lead to a time when faith will be scarce among the nations of the earth.
Christ spoke of discerning the times in which one lives. "Then He also said to the multitudes, 'Whenever you see a cloud rising out of the west, immediately you say, "A shower is coming"; and so it is. And when you see the south wind blow, you say, "There will be hot weather"; and there is. Hypocrites! You can discern the face of the sky and of the earth, but how is it you do not discern this time?'" (Luke 12:54-56).
We have not seen the specific events to which Christ refers. When we do, they will be unmistakable to the elect. In our lifetimes we have seen a steady decline in the glory and strength of two peoples, America and Britain, two nations descended from two brothers upon whom the name of Israel and that of his fathers, Isaac and Abraham, had been placed (Genesis 48:16). (For a full biblical and historical explanation of why we identify these nations with Israel in prophecy, see our free booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy.)
America and Britain have been a "multitude in the midst of the earth." They have dramatically influenced the past 200 years. That we can talk about the divine connection openly and in the midst of freedom and prosperity is an anomaly of history. It is due to God's ultimate mercy. But after this comes a judgment.
Where are we in prophecy? We are in a time when we should be watching, learning and repenting. It is a time to heed the warnings of Jesus Christ, the Revelator and greatest of all the prophets. WNP