A Portrait of the Last Days
Eschatology is the study of the last things, often referred to as end times, or last days, and even as “the day of the Lord.” These terms are often used interchangeably, even though context and perspective should dictate otherwise. For instance, when we talk about the “last days” what are we actually referring to? When we ask if we are living in the last days, do we mean are we in the last days for Israel, the Church, or the end of mankind? We must differentiate what we are talking about when we discuss the last days with scriptural context. When referring to these terms we need to determine whether the Bible is speaking of the last days as relating to Israel, or of the end times in reference to the church (Hitchcock, Mark. The End). Understand that everything in the Bible is to teach that Jesus has come to fulfill the Old Testament promises and that Jesus is the promised Messiah sent from God the Father. (Luke 1:30-33) The prophets (John 1:29), scriptures, Apostles, and even the angels (Luke 2:10-11), demons (Mark 1:24), and God Himself (Matthew 3:17; Matthew 17:5;Luke 3:22; Mark 9:7) bore witness that Jesus came to the earth, died for our sin, and was resurrected, ascended to his Father, and that he will come again to judge both the living and the dead.
The timeline of the return of Christ is discussed in several portions of the bible, both in the Old Testament and the New. By using the book of the Revelation of John we can get the general flow of the timeline to be in this manner. Revelation 1-3 covers the Church here on earth. The rapture of the Church then happens as covered in 1 Thessalonians 4. The book of Revelation switches back and forth between events in heaven and events on earth. Once the church is raptured then the 7 years of tribulation occurs on earth, depicted in Revelation 6-18, and the Judgement seat of Christ and Marriage of the Lamb occur in heaven as shown in Revelation 4-5;19:1-10. Then the Lord, “the Word of God” returns to establish his kingdom on earth (Revelation 19:11-21), at this time Satan is bound for 1000 years (Revelation 20:1-3). Once the 1000 years has been completed, Satan will be loosed from the pit and will cause the nations to war against the Lamb, and this will bring the final judgement of God (Revelation 20:7-15). The Revelation of John the Apostle ends with the Lord establishing a new heavens and a new earth, and establishing his kingdom for ever (Revelation 21-22).
John Macarthur explains concerning the reading of Revelation,
“The book of Revelation is the ultimate action thriller. Anyone who loves a great novel will certainly love this book. It contains drama, suspense, mystery, and horror. It tells of rebellion, unprecedented economic collapse, and the ultimate war of human history. Revelation is a book of astounding drama and horror, but also of hope and joy. It culminates with a happy ending, as sin and death are banished forever (21:4; 22:3).”(John MacArthur Explains the Book of Revelation.2007).
What has become known as “The Olivet Discourse” is considered to be a concise outline of the end times. This discussion was held by Jesus on Mount Olivet with just four of his disciples: Peter, James, John, and Andrew. This discussion took place shortly after Jesus had made a remark to the disciples concerning the eventual destruction of the temple at Jerusalem. The disciples were concerned with what would be the sign of the destruction of the temple and the return of the Lord. They could not imagine the destruction of the temple and the return of the Lord as separate events (Zechariah 14:1-11). The sermon is recorded in Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, and Luke 21; and addresses specifically the seven years of tribulation prior to the Lords return. In this revelation, Jesus gave 8 signs that would increase in intensity and frequency, “as birth pains”, as the time of His return grew closer.
The signs are: wars; famines; earthquakes (Mathew 24:7); persecution (Mathew 24:9); false prophets (Mathew 24:5; 11); apostasy (Mathew 24:10); lawlessness (Mathew 24:12); and worldwide preaching of the gospel, and “then shall the end come.” (Matthew 24.14). All of these signs have been fulfilled and are continuing to be fulfilled. Jesus said that these signs would be like birth pains growing in frequency and intensity. So that even as when a woman is in labor you can tell that she is about to give birth because her contractions are getting stronger and closer together and the slowly get in more and more pain, then you know the baby is in the birth canal. So we can see that as the time of Christ’s return gets closer we will see more intensity and frequency in the signs listed above. Still Jesus does say that these signs are “just the beginning of sorrows” (Matthew 24:8). Then Jesus mentions a final indication that the time is right for his return. This sign is so significant that he warns that when this sign is seen, that those who witness it should flee and hide in the mountains. They who witness this final sign should be so flee so urgently that they should not even go back into their house to get their coat! “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand. Then let them which be in Judea flea into the mountains: Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house:” (Matthew 24:15-17).
The book of Daniel covers what is commonly referred to as the 70 weeks of Daniel and is considered the “Backbone of Bible Prophecy” and “God’s Prophetic Clock”. The 70 week time period covers an expanse of 490 years. The 490 years is a countdown to the fulfillment of the promises of God concerning the nation of Israel. The church is not directly included in this timeline. Mark Hitchcock explains in his book, The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days, that the 70 weeks have six divine goals in their purpose, as listed here:
- To finish the transgression
- To make an end of sin
- To make atonement for iniquity
- To bring in everlasting righteousness
- To seal up the vision and the prophecy
- To anoint the Most Holy Place
The clock of Daniel started ticking in 444BC when Artaxerxes, King of Persia, allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild (Nehemiah 2:1-8). Xerxes allowed Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem with written letters of authorization for safe passage and use of the king’s forests for supplies to rebuild Jerusalem. Then 483 years transpired between the actions of Nehemiah 2:1-8 and the coming of Jesus as the Messiah in AD 33 (Luke 19:28-44). This means that the first 69 weeks prophesied in Daniel have already occurred (Daniel 9:25). There is only one week in remaining, the 70th Week of Daniel. This is the final week, or period of 7 years.
We are now living in what is called “The Church Age”, or the “Age of Grace”. The prophetic clock for Israel has been halted for almost 2000 years, since the fulfillment of the killing of the Messiah for our sins (Isaiah 53; 1 Peter 2:24; Romans 5:6-8) and the destruction of the Temple (Matthew 24; Daniel 9:26). The church age was established to give a time for Grace to abound. The church, the body of Christ, are here to be a light to the lost, by our manner of living and to show the testimony of God’s grace. In this way God is glorified. (Matthew 5:13-16). The Lord has paused the timeline, for our benefit. He is has not abandoned the world, or thrown in the towel. He is demonstrating patience and love to us because he does not want anyone to die in their sin, but to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
The church looks forward to the rapture of the church. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15 we should be ready because in an instant the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed and be made immortal. We will be brought up and glorified in Christ.
“But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have not hope. For it we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descent from heaven with shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
If all we had to go by on the rapture were these two references, it would be enough to understand that: (1) we cannot inherit the kingdom of God in these “earth suits”, because they are mortal and corrupted. (2) the rapture is concerned only with the church and is only the 1st phase in the line of events that leads to the return of Jesus as Lord, and (3) this is solely dependent on the grace and will of God Himself. The rapture of the church is the next great event that will occur in bible prophecy. Jesus will return and claim his bride. “The ‘Marriage of the Lamb,’ as described in Rev. 19:1-10, will take place in heaven, during the time of the awful ‘Wrath of God’ being poured out upon the Earth.” (Sharrit. 1978). That is to say that the church will be raptured up by Christ prior to the tribulation, and the marriage of the Lamb will take place in heaven while the 70th week of Daniels prophecy continues on earth.
The 70 Weeks are for Israel’s benefit, so that they can repent and accept Jesus as the Messiah. The prophet Daniel continues on in his vision. The final antichrist will come on the scene, and he will make a peace treaty with many for one week. This is the final week, the 70th week of Daniel (Daniel 9:27). Then halfway through the peace period, the antichrist will break the peace. He will double-cross Israel and sacrilege the temple in Jerusalem (Matthew 24:21; Revelation 13:14-15). The Antichrist will proclaim himself as God (Danial 11:36; 12:11). This marks the final 3 ½ years of the tribulation.
During this time, since the church will have already been removed in the rapture, God will send two witnesses. These two witnesses will be responsible to preach and prepare the way of the Lord. They will be given miraculous powers and have the authority and ability to call down fire from heaven and to cause it to not rain. Their miracles will be similar to those of Moses and Elijah (John the Baptist), who also appeared, to minister to Jesus, in the account of Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain recorded in Matthew 17. Jesus tells us that Elijah had already come to clear the way for his (Jesus’) coming. Malachi 3.1 declares, “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, who ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts.” Elijah is the Lords profit. Jesus declared that there has been no greater profit in history, which is to say that there has been no prophet with a more important purpose than John the Baptist. The reference to the messenger of the covenant could only be Moses who brought the law down from Mt Sanai, Moses and Abraham are the most influential prophets in Judaism. Moses however, is the messenger of the covenant. These two Elijah and Moses will be given their unique message and extraordinary powers in order to reach out to the nation of Israel for a last chance to accept Jesus as Lord, prior to his return. Their time will be brief and they will eventually be martyred and put on display in the streets of Jerusalem. After 31/2 days there will be a major earthquake, a sign from God, and the two witnesses will be raised from the dead and ascend into heaven. This earthquake will cause great destruction in Israel and kill many inhabitants, but those who remain will believe and give glory to God (Revelation 11).
This time period is also known as the time of Jacob’s trouble (Jeremiah 30:7; Daniel 7:21).He will then begin to persecute all those who refuse to accept his lordship. The intensity of the persecutions is so intense that nothing like it has ever been seen on the face of the earth since time began, and there will never be anything like it again; it will be un-parallel in human existence (Matthew 24:21). Jacob is Israel, he had 12 sons and God made him change his name to Israel (Genesis 32:28), the descendants of Jacob (Israel) are the Jews. The passages referring to this period as Jacob’s trouble refer to this being an Israeli plight. This period of tribulation is targeted at Israel and his descendants. This is necessary because if we continue to read the passage it tells us “But he shall be saved out of it.” The great tribulation results in salvation for Israel.
“Now gather thyself in troops, O daughter of troops: he hath laid siege against us: they shall smite the judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek. But thou, Beth-lehem Eph’ra-tah, though thou be little among the thousands of Juda, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from old, from everlasting. Therefore will he give them up, unto the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth: then the remnant of his brethren shall return unto the children of Israel. And he shall stand and feed in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God; and they shall abide; for now shall he be great unto the ends of the earth.” (Micah 5:1-5)
At the end of the 70th week God will kill the antichrist and bind Satan in the bottomless pit for 1000 years (Daniel 9:27; 2 Thessalonians 2:8; Revelation 19:20). Jesus will rule from the throne of David as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Isaiah chapter 11 gives a view of what the millennial kingdom will be like. There will be a time of peace, which only the Lord Jesus could bring. The whole earth will be blessed through the Lord dwelling in Israel. “Shout and be glad, O Daughter of Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,’ declares the Lord. Many nations will be joined with the Lord in that day and will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you.” (Zechariah 2:10-11). Isaiah continues to describe this period with peace towards man and all of creation. Even predatory animals like lions and bears will be at peace with one another and with man, just as it was in the beginning. Once this time has been fulfilled, then Satan will be set free for a short period of time.
When Satan is released he gets busy with the task of deceiving the nations, and leads them in a rebellion against Jesus. This culminates in the battle of Armageddon. When the armies of Satan are arrayed out against the armies of the Lord fire comes down from heaven and destroys the complete army of the deceiver. Once the armies of the nations who rebelled are destroyed, Satan is thrown into the lake of fire, where the beast and the false prophet were cast into.
Then the judgment of all the wicked before the throne of God occurs, and everyone whose name is not found in the Book of Life will be cast in to the lake of fire just like the devil and his demons. “And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.” (Revelation 20:11-12). There won’t be any place to hide. It won’t matter how rich and poor you were in life, it won’t matter how influential you were in this life. Everyone will be judged by the same standards. First, did you believe and follow Jesus? If you did not, then you will be judged by the very Word of God you rejected. What now? All of this being true, should we not have an urgency about the work to which we have been called?
Jesus warned us that he would return when we did not expect it. “But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man (the return of Jesus) be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered in to the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” (Matthew 24:37-39). Christians can look forward to this return with great anticipation, and can be encouraged knowing that the things that they suffer through and endure for Christ’s sake are being noted and will be rewarded, not just now in this life, but in the kingdom to come.
We also have a grave responsibility as stewards of this knowledge. As we look around us we know that the world political climate is growing more unstable by the moment. The spread of persecution against the church and the Hebrew people has grown exponentially since the turn of the Century. While our capacity to reach civilizations all over the world for Christ through television, radio, social media, and the ease of modern day travel has increased the actual mission in the field and financial support for such missions has declined. Churches report baptizing and serving fewer members than ever in recent history indicate an apostasy (2 Timothy 3). The last days are characterized in the bible by “lawlessness” or “iniquity or iniquities”. We have kicked God out of our Governments, schools, and even most of our churches. In the United States, as of June 8, 2017 there have been an estimated 405,471 abortions performed since 1973. (“Number of Abortions – Abortion Counters.” Number of Abortions in US & Worldwide – Number of Abortions since 1973. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 June 2017). Homosexuality and Transgendered tendencies are not only accepted, but expected.
Those who speak out against this abomination are ridiculed fined and even suffer loss of jobs and imprisonment, even here in the United States. Everyone has freedom of speech except those who proclaim the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the way it was before the flood of Noah’s Ark. God was sorry that he even made man (Genesis 6:6). We all know someone who needs to know the truth. We all know someone who needs to turn and repent before it is too late, before we are taken away in the rapture and they then have to face the wrath of God. Being stewards of the knowledge of the Word of God gives us an awesome responsibility to reach out to those who walk in ignorance. Our boldness does not come from arrogance, but from love and understanding of the peril that our loved ones are in imminent danger and are out of time. Jesus could come right now. As John said. “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”(Revelation 22:20)
Hitchcock, Mark. The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days. Ed. Adan Graber`. Illinois: Tyndale House, 2012. Print.
Sharrit, John T. Soon Coming World-shaking Events. Phoenix, AZ: Christian Missionary Society, 1978. Print.
Wiersbe, Warren W. The Bible Exposition Commentary. Vol. 2. Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1989. Print. Ephesians-Revelation.
MacArthur, John. Because the Time Is Near: John MacArthur Explains the Book of Revelation. Chicago: Moody, 2007. Print.
“Number of Abortions – Abortion Counters.” Number of Abortions in US & Worldwide – Number of Abortions since 1973. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 June 2017.