There’s a lot of confusion about endtimes in our world. It isn’t helped by the fact that there are false prophets springing up all around us, trying to tell us that which is to come. The recent controversy over Harold Camping’s prediction that the world would end on May 21st has me thinking about the study of end times (eschatology).
It’s an area I admit I haven’t studied much. The subject is confusing. There is a staggering array of views about what will happen in the end. The book of Revelation, from which we draw much of our knowledge over what will happen in the end times, can be greatly confusing to both the uninitiated and the scholar.
There are two major themes upon which I’d like to focus: knowledge of the end and our behavior at the end.
1) Knowledge of the end
Thinking about the apocalypse–the end of the world–is a tough issue. Like I said, there is a lot of diversity on the subject. As such, it is important for Christians to look to the Bible to see what we can know about the end. The key is to remember that must always go back to the Bible to see what it says about a subject before we believe what someone tells us it may say.
We are warned by Jesus in Matthew that there will arise false prophets (Matthew 24:24). Harold Camping is one such false prophet. He has distorted the truth of Scripture to gain followers.
Perhaps the most telling verse in the Bible which speaks against us being able to know when the end will come is Matthew 24:36, in which Jesus Himself says “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” If that’s true, then how would any other human know? Not even Christ, in his state of humiliation, could tell us when the last day would come!
The bottom line is that we can’t know and we won’t know when the last days have arrived–not until Jesus Himself is here.
2) Behavior at the end
Suppose for a moment we are at the last days; what should our attitude be? The resounding chorus in Scripture is that we should be diligent and ready, but we should continue to spread God’s Kingdom. Looking back at the Matthew 24 passage, Jesus tells us, ““Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come… Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns” (24:42, 45-46).
So our attitude should be one of the watchful servant: ready for Christ to come, but not letting that distract us from the work He has given us. Rather than put up billboards and go around telling everyone the end is nigh, our task is to continue what should be our “business as usual”–spreading the Word, taking care of the needy, and living our lives as Christians.
It is easy to get caught up in the “end times” controversies. I admit that often when I hear of such predictions, I am more diligent than usual in remembering to repent of my sins. But what does that tell me? It tells me that I need to be more diligent about that at all times. For we need to be ready when Christ does come. A life of readiness for Christ means a life of spreading the Good News about Him to all people. It means living a life of repentance and reconciliation to God. We may not know when the end will come, but it is coming–and we will experience it either in this life or the next.
Check out this blog post by Austin which discusses the Camping controversy: here.
News article discussing Camping’s befuddlement about his failure: here.
Image: “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” by Viktor Vasnetsov, 1887.
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You said: “The bottom line is that we can’t know and we won’t know when the last days have arrived–not until Jesus Himself is here.”
I’m not sure about this statement, how do you reconcile it with these verses?
1 Thessalonians 5:1:
Now concerning the times and the seasons… you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night… But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief.
Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door.
Notice in the first verse that the day does not surprise us, and in the second verse it says that we should “see all these things” and recognize that He is near.
I could grant your premise and maintain that we still won’t know the exact day or hour. But it’s telling where you divide the verses.
Rather than including the whole context, you chose to divide 1 Thessalonians. The entirety of the section is more interesting:
“Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”
In context, the verses are much less compelling for your case. Paul doesn’t say that the day will be known, he merely contrasts what it will be like for unbelievers as opposed to believers. They will not be surprised in a bad way (like a thief), but they may stil be surprised.
Even less compelling is the usage of Matthew 24:32, which, in context, has Jesus specifically saying that no one knows when the last day will happen. We may recognize signs, but we’ll never know for sure.
So I don’t think either of those verse are really useful for your case. As usual, looking at context helps clear up the difficulty with passages like those.
It’s not so bad that a devout follower of Christ is occasionally wrong. Hopefully it drives the rest of us to study the Word in greater earnest. What would be tragic is for an unbeliever to wake up one day and look up just after the heavens have disappeared with a roar and seeing only Jesus sitting on his throne and then hearing the trumpets of God sounding forth one by one while the wrath of God is poured out upon the earth with the knowledge that the opportunity for true repentance has just expired. Christians need to have zeal in carrying the Gospel to the end’s of the earth and loving one another until Jesus returns.
Perhaps we are talking about two different things as I never said that the day will be known. I am speaking to this assertion:
“The bottom line is that we can’t know and we won’t know when the last days have arrived–not until Jesus Himself is here.”
“Paul doesn’t say that the day will be known, he merely contrasts what it will be like for unbelievers as opposed to believers. They will not be surprised in a bad way (like a thief), but they may stil be surprised.”
If believers will be surprised, why did Jesus say to watch for the signs of his return?
“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates.”
In context, Matthew 24 lists the following events before the gathering of the elect:
-False prophets and false miracles.
-A reference is made to the abomination of desolation, which seems identical to the circumstances Paul speaks of in 2 Thessalonians 2.
-People will be rallying around these false prophets.
-The tribulation of those days. (specified at the beginning of Matthew 24).
-The sun will not shine.
-The moon will be darkened (like blood according to other passages).
-The stars will fall.
Furthermore, Jesus says that all of these events will happen during the lifetimes of a single generation, meaning that these events cannot drag on for more than the span of a single life.
Continuing on to the last section:
36″But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. ”
As Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5, unbelievers will be sure of their safety, unaware of the coming destruction. But, Noah and his family were aware that at some point in time, during their life, rain would come.
40Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. 42Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
Notice above in verses 32 and 33 that Jesus told us to watch for the signs of the seasons, now he says to be ready as he will come at an hour we do not expect. The exact details about the timing of his return will remain a mystery, but if everything about it is unknown, how are we to know and watch for the season?
If you’re primary assertion holds, then it seems that there is no way to determine if the season is upon us. Why would Jesus tell us to watch out for false saviors and false miracles (which are very believable according to Paul and John) and about cosmic signs that seem to precede his return?
This may help:
2 Thessalonians 2:
Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him,
Context: Coming of Jesus and the rapture.
we ask you, brothers, 2not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.
Now here’s the key part:
3 Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.
The return of Christ will not happen until this event occurs. This event is also spoken of in Matthew 24 when Jesus speaks about the abomination of desolation.
5Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? 6And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. 7For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. 8And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. 9The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders,
This mirrors what Matthew 24 says about false miracles.
The focus here is that events must take place before Christ returns. As well, Paul says not to let anyone deceive us in anyway about Christ’s return; saying that Jesus could return at any moment, without any of the signs of the season from Matthew or the revelation of the man of lawlessness from Thessalonians leaves people with ideas that are quite contrary to what the Scriptures as a whole are proclaiming.
Your study of endtimes is obviously more in depth than my own. As I admitted on writing this post, it’s an area I have to exercise some humility in. I think my point still stands, however, which is that we simply will not know the day or the hour. And I think many of the verses you quote have at least the possibility of being interpreted either literally or figuratively. I’d have to do a bit of studying, but I would guess that there is some meaning behind the moon’s color, as well as some other themes, in first century thought.
I’m with you, JW. I haven’t studied the subject in much depth and I have found it a bit confusing. However, I’ve been recently looking into Preterism and I have found it a really fascinating alternative to some of the other views out there.
I have found it to be refreshingly less-cartoony than the futurist position and apparently a lot of scholars embrace it, such as N.T. Wright. Of course neither of those reasons are good reasons for embracing it alone, but from what I have learned of it, it does make a lot of sense, historically and exegetically; although for all it answers, it also raises other questions that at least I have not settled yet. Anyway, for a good intro, Glenn Peoples has an intro to the subject at a talk he gave at his church.
Again late to the party. Here are some important things to note:
Matthew 24 can only be understood in the context of what Jesus is saying. Note in verse 3, the question to which He is responding is, “What shall be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?” Looking for signs (or clues) is different than looking for the actual coming, so verse 32-34 speak to signs of the coming, and there are some interesting and worthwhile views as to what this is actually speaking of and that it might have already happened.
2 Thessalonians 2, if you look at the context and the original Greek, is not referring to the rapture of the church, but rather to Christ’s coming to establish His kingdom on the earth. This is supported by the use of the phrase “day of the Lord,” which Paul uses in other passages to speak to the Glorious Appearing.
Perhaps the end times would be a worthwhile discussion topic for Christian Diversity. We haven’t used that in a long time. 🙂
sabepashubbo, what is your view of this verse?
2 Thessalonians 2:1:
Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him,
In what way is it not referring to the gathering of the elect? Can you illuminate what you mean when you reference the original Greek?
It depends on how you define “gathering of the elect.” The way I read the Scriptures concerning the end times is that this is done twice, once prior to the Tribulation period and once after it. I believe this is referring to the time after, based on the Greek explanation for the word “gathering.” This is used elsewhere (Hebrews 10:25) of a physical assembly, and note that the language here doesn’t mirror that seen in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, where Christ descends into the clouds and Christians rise to meet Him. Rather, He comes and assembles the believers with Himself in a more literal sense, as purported by those who believe in distinction between the Rapture and the Glorious Appearing.
The Greek in this sense appears to denote a distinction, which is why I brought it up in my response. Is that what you were asking for?
re: “The way I read the Scriptures concerning the end times is that this is done twice, once prior to the Tribulation period and once after it.”
I’ve spiritually resisted this convenient and scripture lacking pre-tribulation indoctrination for over 30 years. This is a great deception widely taught in the church today. A consequence of such errant teaching is that Christians will not be spiritually prepared for the life and death battle for their souls that will come when the tribulation begins.
Why would Jesus rapture the strong, faithful, and mighty saints just prior to the Great Tribulation only to leave weak, new-born, and uneducated Christians to endure the beast of Revelation without seasoned Christians to exhort, encourage, and pray with them? The answer is that Jesus would not do this because there is only one body of Christ.
Did Jesus rescue 1/2 of the Hebrews before they entered the Red Sea and save the others at some future time ? Of course not and I pray that Christian’s everywhere wake up to such a foolish and short-sighted teaching called “pre-tribulation” rapture.
Jesus exhorts his followers to endure the tribulation and also calls them Blessed when they die for the sake of His name.
Rev 13:7 He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation.
Rev 13:8 All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.
Rev 13:9 He who has an ear, let him hear.
Rev 13:10 If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed.
This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.
Rev 14:11 And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name.”
Rev 14:12 This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus.
Rev 14:13 Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”
The rapture WILL happen but not before the Great Tribulation.
That’s a pretty interesting point, especially considering Christ did exactly this thing by ascending to heaven and leaving the disciples here on earth. Only when the Holy Spirit came down at Pentecost did the disciples gain the courage and faith to boldly preach Christ’s resurrection. So to say that Jesus wouldn’t do that is patently false.
I know the objection. “But Jesus taught His disciples before He left!” And the same can apply to us as Christians today. We can give the world as much information and teaching about Jesus as possible so if they miss the Rapture they will know what is happening and be able to accept Christ’s gift of salvation at that point.
I think it’s dangerous to say things like, “The rapture WILL happen but not before the Great Tribulation.” The truth is that no one knows. God purposely left that mysterious because He doesn’t want us to know for certain. But would you rather be in a position of earnest preaching and reaching souls for Jesus because you’re not sure if He’ll be rapturing His church tomorrow, or one where you could feasibly rest on your laurels and wait for the events of the Tribulation to start happening before you preach Christ?
I’d rather be winning souls for Christ now and with fervor, so I don’t think my leaning does a dis-service at all, and I would encourage you to re-consider being so certain about something that the Bible does not make so.
I’m taking the view that there is one appearance of Jesus Christ, immediately followed by the rapture of all Christians (upward to heaven), followed by the wrath of God upon this earth (7 trumpets and7 seals) which lasts no fewer than five months, followed by the physical return of Jesus Christ to Jerusalem. The timing of the rapture is indeterminate but known to be sometime within the 1260 day count during the rule of the beast. Meaning that earths entire Christian population will understand that they are in the great tribulation (this could be a very large number of Christians perhaps exceeding 100 million souls). And guess what they won’t need to go out and buy the latest bestseller … they will just open up the book of Revelation and finally understand it.
Interesting take. I have to admit that I’m not buying it, because the entire Matthew 24 answer through verse 34 is in reference to the disciples’ question, “What will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?” As you take it, the question would have to be, “When are you coming, and what will be happening at that time?” As you can see, the questions are rather different, so to accept your interpretation I would have to stretch a little bit.
But it is an interesting take. Just because I don’t buy it at this time doesn’t mean it won’t happen that way. That’s why the end is purposefully mysterious, because God doesn’t think we need to know everything. Thanks for sharing your opinion!
Quote: “I’m not buying it, because the entire Matthew 24 answer through verse 34 is in reference to the disciples’ question, “What will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?”
You assume that Jesus is answering their question, but on many occasions he ignores the question posed to him and answers something else entirely.
Good point, but isn’t it more of a stretch to assume He’s not answering their question than that He is? If we apply the wonderful Occam’s Razor our atheistic friends so like using against us, a whole new set of assumptions has to be made in order to grant your assertion.
In addition, I would say that verses 1 & 2 provide good context for the rest of the passage. Jesus makes a prophecy that was fulfilled literally, so we have good reasons to assume that the passage takes on a more literal approach and that the answer logically follows from the question.