Beyond the Crystal Ball: Why I Believe in the Second Coming of Christ
Luke 21:25-29Consider the events of the last few weeks:*In Washington, the government shut-down has entered its sixteenth day, with no end in sight. While politicians argue where to place the blame, hundreds of thousands of workers remain idle.*In Israel, a religious Jew shot and killed Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin, a crime motivated in part by opposition to Rabin’s “land for peace” negotiations with Syria and the Palestinians.*In Russia and the Eastern Bloc, ex-communists made a comeback in recent elections as dissatisfied voters removed reformers with power and replaced them with hard-liners who promised to restore lost glory, halt inflation, curb unemployment, and put food on the table.*Bethlehem is now in Arab hands for the first time in hundreds of years. PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat celebrated the triumph with a huge rally in Manger Square outside the Church of the Nativity. During his speech, he declared, “Next Year in Jerusalem,” referring to the Palestinian desire for control of East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state.*At a recent European Union summit meeting in Madrid, leaders chose the name “euro” for the new currency to replace the various national currencies by the year 2002. Following a three-year phase-in beginning in 1999, the new “euro” currency would replace the French franc, the Dutch guilder, the German mark, and other historic European currencies. Proponents argue that the united currency is a crucial step toward the ultimate goal of an eventual united Europe that would join the various countries in one political and economic entity.*Finally, 20,000 American troops are on their way to Bosnia, in hopes of serving as a peacekeeping force between the Serbs, the Croats, and the Muslims. Work is now almost complete on the pontoon bridge that will allow hundreds of vehicles to enter Bosnia and begin deployment.
Five Years LaterFive years ago (on December 30, 1990) I preached a sermon entitled “Seven Signs of the Second Coming.” It was an appropriate topic because the Persian Gulf War started a few days later. Early in that message I quoted from the December 31, 1990, issue of Newsweek magazine, whose cover read “The 90s: A Survival Guide,” with the subtitle “Issues, people and predictions for the Age of Anxiety.” These were the opening words of the cover story:
The party was over almost as soon as it began. A year ago we ushered in the decade celebrating the end of the cold war and an impressive seven years of economic growth. Now those sunny forecasts have given way to the dark prospects of war in the desert, a free-falling economy and disarray in the Soviet Union. It’s too soon to tell how the 90s will turn out, but they’re clearly shaping up as a far more turbulent—and anxious—age than the 80s. (p. 16)The succeeding five years have proved the accuracy of those comments. This is indeed the “Age of Anxiety.” Gone are the go-go days of the 80s. Now we worry about gang violence, drive-by shootings, small hot wars in a dozen places around the globe, racial and ethnic tension in America and abroad, and the possibility of nuclear blackmail in the republics of the former Soviet Union.And what became of that trouble in the Middle East? We won the war, all right, but Saddam Hussein stayed in power while the Prime Minister of England and the President of the United States were replaced. Speaking of that, recently former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said, “Sometimes I wonder who won that war.”
Perilous TimesThe Bible speaks of these days. II Timothy 3:1 warns us that “in the last days perilous times shall come” (KJV). Jesus himself spoke of a time so frightening that men would faint for fear of what was about to happen:There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world (Luke 21:25-26).Those words seem more relevant today than they did when Jesus first spoke them 2,000 years ago. They perfectly fit the 90s—the “Age of Anxiety.”But Jesus went on to say more about our current world situation:"At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory" (Luke 21:27). Just before Jesus returns the world will be in a situation of unprecedented turmoil. Take the fear and turmoil over the Middle East and multiply it by a factor of 100 and you have the situation Jesus is talking about.
When You See These Things HappeningHow will we know when his coming is drawing near? Jesus goes on to give us the answer to that question:"When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." (v. 28).This is a very important verse because it indicates that the return of the Lord will not take place in a vacuum. There will be signs, indicators, visible portents, great movements of men and nations that tell us that the time is at hand.But Jesus is not finished yet. He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near” (vv. 29-31).How much clearer can it be? If you look at a tree and see the leaves sprouting, you know that summer is not far away. It may not come for several weeks or even for a month or two, but once you see the leaves, you know summer is coming. In the same way, there will be slowly-unfolding signs of the return of Jesus Christ. As those things begin to happen, you may be sure that the return of the Lord cannot be far away.Let me go a step further and say that in these verses Jesus encourages his followers to constantly examine the world in which they live for the gathering signs of his return. Let me make that stronger. These verses teach us that Jesus expects his followers to watch for his return.Finally, I think these verses indicate that the signs will slowly unfold before us. Which is why it is impossible to say exactly how the current peace negotiations in the Middle East fit into the prophetic picture. The time frame is too short. We can’t see clearly how any particular current event affects the flow of end-time events. Instead of thinking in terms of days or months when it comes to prophecy, we need to think in terms of years and decades and generations and even centuries.That’s why Jesus said, “When these things begin to happen.” One generation will see one thing beginning; the next sees something else. One generation sees the spread of liberalism among the mainline churches; another sees the rise of communism; yet another witnesses Hitler’s failed attempt to exterminate the Jewish race. That same generation witnesses the establishment of the state of Israel. Twenty years later, Israel controls Jerusalem. And 25 years after that a multi-national coalition went to war in the Persian Gulf.In the last two years, we have seen something that seemed unbelievable even five years ago—a peace treaty between Israel and the PLO. As I write these words, Israeli and Syrian negotiators are meeting in Maryland, attempting to hammer out a solution to the vexing problem of the Golan Heights. When that problem is solved, Israel and Syria will also sign a peace treaty.No single generation sees all these things, but over time, as the generations come and go, a flow and pattern becomes apparent. Some things that seemed important in one generation pass into insignificance in the next. But other events build on what has already happened to produce that flow and pattern evident to the thoughtful observer of world history.
No One Knows The Day Or The HourHaving said that, it is important to recall those other words of Jesus: No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father (Matthew 24:36). That stands as a salutary warning against the dangers of date-setting. The history of prophetic teaching in the 20th century is littered with failed attempts to identify the Antichrist. In September, 1988, a man in Tennessee made national headlines by predicting the precise date of the rapture. Such spurious date-setting serves only to bring legitimate prophetic teaching into disrepute in the eyes of the general public. The same thing happened six years later when Harold Camping predicted that Christ would come in September, 1994.Let me say it plainly. I do not know if Jesus is coming in 1996 or anytime during the 1990s. I do not know if he will come before the year 2000. I don’t know who the Antichrist is (or will be) and I really don’t have any particular names in mind. Furthermore, I don’t know what 666 really means or how the mark of the beast will work.Jesus may come in my lifetime. I hope he does. I think the signs point in that direction. But he may not come for 500 years. The precise date is left in the hand of God.
Finding The Missing PiecesIf we can’t know the precise date of Jesus’ return, what can we know? In Luke 21, Jesus seems to indicate that as we approach the end times, we should see “these things” begin to happen. What are “these things?” They are the great movements of men and nations that Jesus talked about.
Understanding the signs of the times is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.Understanding the signs of the times is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. The Bible gives us a general picture of what the last days will look like. If we put together all the the information from various places in the Bible—Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Matthew, Luke, I & II Thessalonians, II Peter and Revelation (to name only a few books)—we get a fairly detailed picture of the military, political, economic, spiritual and moral situation in the days preceding the coming of Christ.At any given point in history, we are invited (by Jesus himself) to examine the world in which we live and to compare it thoughtfully and soberly with that general end-time scenario revealed in the Bible. When we do that, we will always find some areas of close correspondence and some areas of wide divergence. And yet, if our understanding of Jesus’ words in Luke 21 is correct, as we approach the last days, those areas of correspondence should begin to increase.That is, at some points in history there will only be a 25% correspondence, at other points 45% agreement, and sometimes the pieces of the prophetic puzzle will not seem to move for many years. Sometimes the pieces will seem to stay locked in place for a generation or more.Then suddenly, things will begin to move again. That, I think, is what has happened in the last few years. For about 20 years, it seemed as if the pieces of the prophetic puzzle were stuck in place. Now it is as if some invisible hand has reached down and rearranged the pieces and suddenly, things that made no sense now fit into a larger, slowly-unfolding pattern of events.If I had to speculate (and it is only speculation), I would say that for the last 20 years it seemed as if perhaps 50% of the pieces of the end-time puzzle were in place. Suddenly it seems as if that number has risen to 70-75%.If that is true, then the coming of Jesus Christ may be much closer than we have thought. With that possibility in our minds, I would like to revisit the “Seven Signs of the Second Coming” after five years and see where we stand as we enter 1996.
1. The Reunification Of EuropeThe year is 600 B.C. A young man, barely out of his teenage years, is living in ancient Babylon. He was brought there along with his friends when the great king, Nebuchadnezzar, conquered his hometown of Jerusalem.The king has had a strange dream he cannot understand. So he calls in his wise men and asks them to interpret it for him. When they cannot, in desperation he calls in this young man. That is how Daniel came face to face with Nebuchadnezzar, the most powerful man in the world.The story is told in Daniel 2. Nebuchadnezzar had dreamed of a giant statue. Its head was made of gold, its chest of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze and its legs of iron. The feet were made partly of iron and partly of clay. In the dream, a giant stone smashed into the statue on its feet of iron and clay and destroyed it. The stone then became a mountain which filled the earth.Daniel 2:36-45 records the divine interpretation. The four parts of the statue represent four successive world empires: Gold representing Babylon, Silver representing Medo-Persia, Bronze representing Greece, and Iron representing Rome. The iron and clay represent a final weakened form of the Roman Empire, a “divided kingdom … partly strong and partly brittle” (vv. 41-42). The people of the Roman Empire “will be a mixture and will not remain united, any more than iron mixes with clay” (v. 43). The stone smashing the statue represents the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth, a kingdom that will replace all earthly kingdoms.The interesting part of this prophecy is that part of it has been fulfilled and part has not been fulfilled. The four empires—Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome—have come and gone. Yet the kingdom of God has not been established on the earth. That leaves us to surmise that we are currently in the “iron and clay” period of world history. That is, what we see today is a welter of nations where the old Roman Empire used to be—Italy, Greece, Turkey, Austria, Germany, Spain, France, Great Britain, to name only a few. Some are strong and some are weak, just as Daniel predicted.But that’s not the whole story. Daniel 7 adds an interesting detail to this picture. In that chapter, the four kingdoms—Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome—are pictured as animals. Babylon is a lion, Medo-Persia a bear, Greece a leopard and Rome an unnamed, vicious beast with ten horns growing out of its head. The ten horns evidently correspond to the ten toes of the stature in Daniel 2. In Daniel 7, a “little horn” arises from within the ten horns, conquers three of them, and subdues the rest. That “little horn” is the beast of Revelation 13, the Antichrist. (For more information on the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation, see Charles Ryrie, The Final Countdown, Victor Books, pp. 20-31).What does all of this suggest? That in the end-times we will see a confederation of nations from the region once dominated by ancient Rome. The Antichrist will somehow arise from within that confederation of nations.If that is true, then as we approach the end-times we should see a move toward emerging European unity. Such a movement might be centered either in northern Europe or it might be along the Mediterranean basin. The Scriptures would allow for either or for both.Consider the events of the last seven years:A. Fall of the Berlin Wall.B. Collapse of communism in Eastern Europe.C. Unification of Germany.D. Formation of a unified European trading bloc.E. Opening of the tunnel linking France and England.F. Decision to implement “euro” currency beginning in 1999.This new bloc of countries (called the European Community or the United States of Europe) will control 4-6 trillion dollars each year with a population of 350-400 million people. Already there are Eurodollars and Eurocurrency. There is a European Parliament in Strasburg, France, and a flag for the new federation.This federation will not absorb the individual nations within it; it merely serves as a means of pooling the resources of many European nations. But that could eventually change. “The twelve countries of the European Community … today represent a clear and permanent commitment to European economic unity soon, and political unity someday.”But it is right in line with what the Bible predicts for the end-time. And as both Israel and the Arab states look increasingly to Europe for protection and security, such a federation could well become the key player in guaranteeing some kind of lasting peace in the Middle East.What we are seeing today is not the final form of the revived Roman Empire predicted by Daniel and Revelation. But it could well be a precursor to it. And in a general sense, the speedy drive toward European reunification seems to fit perfectly into the larger end-time landscape predicted thousands of years ago in the Bible.
2. Rebuilding Of The Temple In JerusalemTo understand this second sign, we need to survey several important passages of Scripture:Daniel 9:27 “He (the Antichrist) will confirm a covenant (or peace treaty) with many (the nation of Israel) for one ‘seven’ (that is, for a seven-year period). In the middle of the ‘seven’ (that is, at the 3 1/2 year mark) he (the Antichrist) will put an end to sacrifice and offering (in the temple, the only place where sacrifice and offering can take place). On a wing of the temple he (the Antichrist) will set up an abomination that causes desolation (some type of blasphemous sacrilege within the temple itself), until the end that is decreed is poured out on them.”Jesus referred back to this prophecy of Daniel in Matthew 24:15, “When you see standing in the holy place (inside the temple) ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand.” This “abomination"—whatever it is—will be clearly seen by those living in that day and it will happen in the temple in Jerusalem.Finally, consider Paul’s description of the Antichrist in II Thessalonians 2:4, “He (the Antichrist) will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.”Putting these things together, we have a clear picture of the “abomination of desolation.” It happens at the midpoint of the seven-year tribulation period when the Antichrist enters the temple in Jerusalem, stops the regular sacrifices and proclaims himself as God and demands that people worship him.For all of that to happen, there must be a temple in Jerusalem. But there hasn’t been a temple in Jerusalem since A.D. 70. Therefore, if these verses are to be literally fulfilled, the temple must be rebuilt in the last days.If we are indeed living in the last days, we should begin to see a serious movement to rebuild the temple.Does the name Gershon Solomon mean anything to you? It should. He’s the leader of a group called the Temple Mount Faithful. In October, 1990, a riot broke out when his group led a march in Jerusalem. They intended to lay the cornerstone for the rebuilding of the temple. The Arabs heard about it, began to throw rocks over the Western Wall, the Israeli police eventually opened fire, some 17 or 18 or 21 Arabs (the exact number is in dispute) were killed and an international firestorm of controversy descended on Israel.My point is not to discuss this incident, but rather to point out that the issue of rebuilding the temple is a very live one. Right now, there are at least five different Jewish organizations dedicated to A) Rebuilding the temple and B) Restoring the ancient Levitical sacrifices. As part of this movement, young boys are being trained to lead animal sacrifices in the rebuilt temple, temple artifacts are being made and new temple garments have been designed.In 1983 Biblical Archeology Review published a very important article by Dr. Asher Kaufman of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in which he suggested that the Dome of the Rock was not built directly over the ancient site of Solomon’s Temple, but that Mount Moriah was actually 100 yards to the north of the Dome of the Rock. Although his suggestion has not been universally accepted, if it is indeed correct, it removes the one major objection to the rebuilding of the temple.Since the Dome of the Rock is a holy shrine in Islam, to even speak of removing it would be to risk sparking an all-out war in the Middle East. For that reason, many people scoffed at the notion that the temple would someday be rebuilt in Jerusalem. But if the true site is 100 yards to the north, then it is altogether possible that in some future negotiations (perhaps mediated by the Europeans) arrangements could be made for the temple to be rebuilt on the Temple Mount without disturbing the Dome of the Rock.In October 1994, during a tour of Israel, I visited the Temple Mount and heard about the ongoing search for the Ark of the Covenant. An increasing number of Christians believe that the Ark of the Covenant has been preserved and will be discovered in the last days. Our tour guide, Mr. Zvi Rivai, stated that he believes the Ark of the Covenant is in one of the sealed storerooms under the Temple Mount and that it will be discovered during the period of the rebuilding of the Temple.If these are the last days, then we should see increased interest in rebuilding the temple in the next few years. If this seems speculative, please remember that even 20 years ago the notion of a new temple in Jerusalem was considered a joke. No one is laughing today.
3. Worldwide Preaching Of The GospelThis particular point may surprise you because we are used to thinking of the signs of the Second Coming in purely negative terms. But along with all the political and economic descriptions of the end-times, we are given a clear picture of the worldwide spread of the gospel in the last days.Matthew 24:14 says, “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached to the whole world as a testimony to the nations, and then the end will come.” Sometimes this verse is exclusively applied to the preaching of the gospel during the tribulation period. While that may be its major thrust, it certainly applies as well to the period preceding the tribulation.The biblical argument would go something like this:1. It is God’s desire to bless all nations through the seed of Abraham. Genesis 12:1-32. The church of Jesus Christ is the spiritual seed of Abraham. Galatians 3:293. Jesus Christ has commissioned us to take the gospel to all nations. Matthew 28:19-204. The coming of Christ is delayed so that all people may come to repentance. II Peter 3:8-105. The gospel must be preached to all nations and then the end will come. Matthew 24:146. In the last days a vast multitude will come to Christ from every nation. Revelation. 7:9-14Therefore, we may reasonably conclude that one mark of the last days is that the gospel will go forth to all the nations of the earth. Please remember that “nations” in Matthew 24:14 does not refer primarily to political entities, but to the various “people groups” of the world.Note the word “then.” It implies a chronological sequence. First, the gospel is preached. Second, it is preached to all the nations of the world. Third, then (and only then) does the end come. According to Jesus, the “end” cannot come until all the nations have heard the gospel message.Does this mean that every single person must hear the gospel message? No. Does it mean that the world must become Christian? No.It means that the gospel must be preached in every nation. What, in a practical sense, does that entail? It means that as we approach the end times, there will be a marked increase in the tempo of world evangelization, it means a renewed interest in fulfilling the Great Commission, it means a new sense of urgency will grip the missionary enterprise and it means a new focus on reaching the unreached people groups of the world.And that is exactly what we see as we enter the last decade of the 20th century. For many years, when Christians have talked about fulfilling the Great Commission, they used it more as a slogan than as an actual mandate for action. But now it seems to be within our grasp. Here are the simple facts:In 1900, there were 500 million Christians.
By the year 2000, there will be 2 billion Christians.In Latin America, there were 50,000 evangelical Christians in 1900. By the year 2000, there will be 137 million. In Africa there were 10 million evangelical Christians in 1900; that number will rise to 324 million by the year 2000. That’s an increase from 8% to nearly 50% of the population in just once century. In Asia it appeared that the gospel was making little headway for most of this century. But now 30% of Korea has become Christian. Did you know that the greatest revival of the last decade was in China? That’s right. China. After the western missionaries left in 1949, there was great fear that the church had simply been wiped out by Mao Tse Tung. But when the borders began to open in the late 70s, it became clear that the opposite had happened. The church had gone underground and survived the communist tyranny. By some estimates there are now 50 million Chinese Christians. (All the above figures are taken from Target Earth, co-published in 1989 by the University of the Nations and Global Mapping International, pp. 140, 166-167.)So, where do we stand in the great task of evangelizing the world? By all accounts, we are closer today to finishing the task than ever before. The missiologists tell us that there are approximately 12,000 unreached people groups left in the world. The good news is that almost 9,000 of those people groups have already been targeted for missionary expansion. That leaves 3,000 people groups unreached and without any clear plan for reaching them. The number is large but it is dropping all the time.As of 1988, there were 230 specific plans produced by Christian groups around the world for fulfilling the Great Commission by the year 2000.All of this fits precisely with what Jesus predicted for the last days. As we near the end of this age, we will see a rapidly-increasing tempo of world evangelization as the gospel goes out to every nation and the final harvest of souls begins.Since I wrote the above in 1990, one great change has taken place. A movement of revival has broken out in many countries, leading to the hope that America itself is on the brink of a great spiritual awakening. Five years ago, few people thought revival was possible in America. But the awakening that spread through many Christian colleges in 1995 shows that God is still able to move mightily in these last days. Key Christian leaders such as Robert Coleman, David Bryant, Tom Phillips and Bill Bright have written significant books in the last several years stating their belief that we are on the brink of a great national (and perhaps worldwide) revival.There are many signs of God’s hand at work today, but none is more significant than the growing prayer movement. In November 1995, thousands of Christians meet in Los Angeles to fast and pray for revival. During 1995 over 750,000 men gathered in Promise Keepers rallies. That number should grow to over 1 million in 1996. Clearly, God is at work in an unusual way in these days.
4. GlobalizationWhat will the world look like in the last days? Consider the following verses:Daniel 12:4 - “Many will go here and there to increase knowledge.” This verse specifically describes the tempo of the last days. There will be a vast rise in the desire for “information.” We will see an “information explosion.” People will hunger for knowledge, insight, understanding, a way to grasp the trends of society.Revelation 13:16-17 - “He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name.” There are many mysteries here, but the general thrust is clear. The last days will produce a globally-linked economy in which a one world dictator can control the means of commerce.We aren’t far from that situation today. Already there is talk of a cashless society. Already there are supercomputers with detailed files on everyone living in the United States. Every time you use your credit card or cash a check, numbers are fed into a central computer via the phone lines. The computer then checks your credit record and either approves or disapproves of your transaction. It all happens in seconds and the only human hands involved are those that take your check or credit card at the point of sale. Everything else is electronic.Take a look at the back of one of your credit cards. Do you see that little brown strip? That’s a magnetic strip containing your name, your address, your phone number, your account number, your line of credit and (in some cases) your entire credit history. It’s all there on that little strip. That little strip is what guarantees your right to make purchases with your credit card. If someone tampers with the information, or if the central computer refuses to recognize it, your credit card is worthless.The phone companies have developed caller-ID, a system whereby the person you are calling knows who is calling before he picks up the phone. It is only a short step from there to a system whereby you are admitted or denied access to the phone system depending upon your approval by the central computer system.None of these things are directly prophesied by Scripture. But all of them fit with the general picture of a global economy linked by a global communications system under the control of a global dictator. The first two are virtually in place; only the last one remains unrevealed.1995 Update: All of that is true. But consider one word that is on everyone’s lips today: Internet. The global linking of supercomputers has put the world at the fingertips of anyone with a personal computer and a modem. I can sit at my computer, push a button, and send an electronic message around the world at a cost of less than one penny. The message will arrive at its destination in a matter of a minute or less. But we have only seen the tip of the iceberg. As technology advances and prices fall, soon every home in every nation will be wired into the Internet. This development offers great potential for good, but also enormous potential for evil. I believe that the Internet (and its successor technologies) will be the vehicle the antichrist will use to control the entire world.
5. Final Climax Of EvilThis is the flip side of the third sign. While it is true that the last days will see a tremendous expansion of the gospel, they will also see an enormous expansion of evil. That is, the last days will be marked by twin explosions of evil and good at the same time. This was first suggested to me by Dr. Paul Rees, in a message he gave at World Vision some years ago. Dr. Rees pointed out that the parable of the wheat and tares (Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43) leads us to expect a final climactic harvest of good and a final climactic harvest of evil as we near the end of this age. During the church age we will see good and evil co-existing side by side like plants growing together in a garden. But as the time for the harvest approaches, the plants begin to ripen and to put forth their fruit.Therefore, just as we should expect a final harvest of good, we should also expect to see a final harvest of evil. Revelation 12 makes the point very personal: “But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.” That suggests that we should see an outburst of Satanic activity in the last days. He will be especially active on the earth, because he knows his time is short.That, of course, is precisely what we see today. We see more out-and-out Satanism than ever before. We see witchcraft, child sacrifice, demonism, sorcery and black magic as never before in America. We see it so much that even the secular authorities are concerned about it.That leads me to a chilling conclusion: If these are the last days, then we haven’t seen anything yet. Things will only get worse and worse as the time draws near for the coming of our Lord. The greatest evil is yet to come. If we thought abortion was bad, and the rising tide of Gay Rights was bad, and the rise of Satanism was bad, then we are in for a great surprise. Those things are only harbingers of what Satan will do next. His time is short and his power is great.
6. Total Religious ApostasyDr. John Walvoord notes that:
In prophecies of the end time there are many indications that there would be an increasing trend toward religious deception and conflict as the end of the age neared. Christ himself warned of false prophets who would rise to prominence in a gullible world looking for some religious answer to the world’s problems.Note carefully what I Timothy 4:1 says: “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.” These religious leaders will abandon the faith (the Christian faith) and will follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.Jesus himself warned us that "many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many” (Matthew 24:5). And Paul, writing in II Thessalonians 2:9-10 says that the Antichrist will display the work of Satan by using “all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders.” He will be so successful at mimicking the work of God through his “miracles” that millions of people will follow him to their ultimate destruction.Taken together, these verses paint a picture of unprecedented religious apostasy in the last days. They especially apply to so-called Christian leaders who depart from the Christian faith. These are the leaders who (in the name of ecumenism) deny the inerrancy of the Bible, deny the necessity for the blood atonement, deny the virgin birth, deny the lostness of all people, deny the reality of eternal hell, deny that those who die without Jesus Christ are lost forever.They turn away after fads and popular social causes and pander to the powers that be. They support the killing of unborn babies, support Gay Rights, support the right of pornographers to practice their evil trade. They do not preach the gospel because they do not even believe the gospel. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing.The pulpits of America are increasingly filled with such religious charlatans. I have before me an article from the Chicago Sun-Times (Sunday, December 30, 1990, p. 5) entitled “Protestants Split: Leaders on Left, Laity on Right.” In the article, Daniel Lehmann discusses the wide gap between the pulpit and the pew. Increasingly the mainline denominations are led by men (and women) who support liberalized rules on the ordination of homosexuals and follow radical feminists views of the Bible. Lutheran Professor Gracia Grindal warned that a number of Christians have “flirted with the New Age so much that they have been seduced by its charms and crystals.”But that should not surprise us. The Bible predicts a great wave of religious apostasy in the last days. As Dr. Walvoord says, all this simply prepares the world to follow the Antichrist when he is finally revealed.1995 Update: These words have certainly come true in Oak Park. The last five years have seen the following developments: A) The founding of a “Gay Church” six blocks from Calvary, B) The Community of Churches changing its name to the Community of Congregations so as to include non-Christian religions, C) Liberal pastors speaking out in favor the Gay Rights Ordinance in 1994, D) Calvary being picketed by liberals and gays for its stand on the Gay Rights issue.
7. False Sense Of SecurityThis one may seem odd in light of the events in the Persian Gulf. But the Bible clearly pictures the coming of Christ at a time when the world does not expect it. In fact I Thessalonians 5:1-2 speaks of the Day of the Lord coming at a time when men cry out, “Peace and safety.” And Jesus said that “as it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be in the days of the coming of the Son of Man” (Luke 17:26-27). They ate and drank and got married and paid no attention to Noah who warned them for 120 years that a flood was coming. Daniel 12:9-10 says that in the time of the end, “many will be made purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand.”Here is the final paradox of the last days. The signs will be there for all the world to see. Wars and rumors of wars. Great movements of nations and armies in precise fulfillment of Scripture. Israel once again in her own land. The temple rebuilt. Widespread religious apostasy. The gospel preached to all nations. Europe reunited. A peace treaty for the Middle East. All of it exactly as predicted thousands of years ago.Those who are wise will see it and understand. But the rest of the world will go blithely onward, ignoring the signs, living from crisis to crisis, crying “peace and safety” while they eat and drink to their heart’s content. But when the end comes, they will not be ready, not be prepared, not be informed. When Armageddon finally looms over them, they will look for some strong leader to save them—a Churchill, a Kennedy, a Roosevelt, a Lincoln, a Washington—someone, anyone to save them from destruction.In the moment of crisis, the world cries out for a strong leader. Who will it be? Boris Yeltsin? Possibly, but he is barely hanging on in Moscow. The Pope? Possibly, but he is old and in bad health. Bill Clinton? But he is fighting for his political life and may or may not be re-elected next November. Or is there someone else, a lesser figure waiting in the wings, a man (or woman) who has not yet stepped onto the spotlight of history?That brings us back to Newsweek’s article on “The Age of Anxiety.” Under the heading of “Leadership,” Jonathan Adler writes that “the prospects of war, recession (even depression) and huge upheaval abroad have all conspired to renew an age-old demand for strong leadership” (p. 24). The times cry out for leadership, but where will it be found and how will we know our leader when we see him?Remember the cry of the last days—"Peace and Safety.” If a man—any man—could only bring peace and safety to the Middle East, he would be hailed as the greatest leader of the last half of the 20th century. As I write these words, Israel and Syria are moving closer to a negotiated peace settlement. Even the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin cannot stop the march toward peace in the Middle East.If only someone could end the long conflict between the Arabs and the Jews. If only someone could bring peace to Jerusalem and a just settlement for the wandering Palestinians. If only someone could do all those things, what a hero he would be.Then there would at last be a “new world order.” Europe is uniting, communism is dying, Russia has no revolution left to export, China is self-absorbed with her own problems. Strange, isn’t it, that the last tinderbox is in the Middle East? Strange, because that’s where it all started thousands of years ago.If only someone could bring peace to the Middle East, he would literally hold the world in his hands.Thus the scene is set for the rise of the Antichrist—the false “man of peace” who promises what he can never deliver and in the process deceives the entire world.How far are we from that? Perhaps not as far as we think. The world is looking for a leader, and when he finally makes himself known, he will set in motion a chain of events that will produce untold sorrow and the “war to end all wars” at a place called Armageddon.The signs are everywhere. Time rushes toward its appointed climax. The first rays of dawn streak the eastern sky. The countdown has begun. In heaven, the sound of trumpets and a King prepares to leave his palace. On earth, his children pray with new excitement and new understanding of the words he taught them so long ago … “Thy Kingdom Come.”
Are We Living In The Last Days?No one knows for sure. But consider these facts:1. There is a clear pattern of events laid out in the Bible concerning the last days. If you put together the various strands of prophetic teaching from the Old and New Testaments, you discover a fairly detailed picture of the end-time landscape—morally, politically, spiritually, militarily and economically.2. There is an amazing similarity between our world and the world the Bible describes at the end of time. If you doubt that, take your Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. See how well they fit together.3. If that is true, then we may indeed be the generation privileged to see the coming of Jesus Christ.4. Every sign points in one direction—it won’t be long now.
Before The Curtain RisesLet us suppose you attend a play in a great theater. Before the play begins, there is noise, bustle, confusion, movement behind the curtains, the sound of instruments warming up. Ushers seat latecomers, friends greet each other, find their seats and study the program.Then the lights flicker on and off. The time is at hand. How much longer? No one can say exactly. Before long, the house lights go down, a hush falls, the conductor lifts his baton, the overture begins and the curtains slowly rise.Where are we in this sequence in 1996? The curtain is still down, the music has not started, people are still coming in. But I left out one thing. Just before the house lights go down, the noise of the crowd rises to a roar as everyone talks at once. They know the play is about to begin.That, I believe, is where we are. Almost everyone is seated now. The appointed hour is almost here. The noise you hear is the cacophony of voices in the world just before the house lights go down.Will we live to see the end of all things? Are we the terminal generation? Is it possible that we will hear the shout, the trumpet and the voice of the archangel? It is very possible. The stage appears to be set for the final act of human history.
How Should We Then Live?If that is true, what sort of people should we be? What difference should it make if we believe that we are living in the last days?1. We ought to be good students of culture and history. Not like those who constantly scan the papers looking for the final clue to the prophetic puzzle. But instead watching for a pattern, a rising tempo, the slow unfolding of end-time events.We have seen Romans 1 come true before our eyes. And Ezekiel 38 in this generation. And Matthew 24 even as we speak. As Francis Schaeffer said, “There is a flow to history and culture.” Unless we see that, the lessons of history are lost to us.2. We ought to live with zeal and enthusiasm. The message of the coming of Christ ought to fill us with tremendous excitement. These are great days to be alive. We ought to say to each other: “Go for it.” This is no time to put off living for God. It is rather a day to be fully committed, fully engaged, fully involved, aggressively serving the Lord. This is no time to play it safe.3. We ought to take an inventory of the way we’ve been living. Often people say, “If I knew Jesus were coming tomorrow, I would ________________,” and they list the changes they would make. But one day it will be true. Therefore, we ought to live that way today.4. We ought to face the future with optimism. The world looks at all the problems and says, “Is there any hope?” For those who know Jesus Christ, there is enormous hope. If he comes today, we win. If he comes in 50 years, we win. If he comes in 1000 years, we win.
Great Days To Be AliveThese are great days to be alive, the greatest days in all human history. Think of it. We may well be the generation privileged to see the return of Jesus Christ.—If that is true, there’s never been a better time to be a Christian.—If that is true, there’s never been a better time to tell someone else.—If that is true, there’s never been a better time to raise a Christian family.One final word: If it is true that we are the terminal generation, then we will see increasingly scary things in the days ahead.
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Why I Believe
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Ready to Give an Answer I Peter 3:15
Beyond the Crystal Ball: Why I Believe in the Second Coming of Christ Luke 21:25-29» Index for this sermon series