Sunday, 12 July 2015

The End is Near

“The End is Near” sounds like a catchphrase from a B grade movie, or the sort of thing you might see on sandwich boards, paraded in the street by “fanatics”.  Do those doomsdayers have a point?
I became a Christian in the 1970’s, at a time when the end of the world was a popular theme in Christian circles. We went to hear Stan Deyo, of “Cosmic Conspiracy” fame, speak in our city hall. Books such as Hal Lindsay’s “Late Great Planet Earth” were widely circulated amongst Christian youth. End times were a constant theme in preaching in the church which I attended (a large Pentecostal congregation here in Brisbane). I’m sure some people were frightened into committing their lives to Christ.

When considering the possibility of this world as we know it ending, we need to look at what the Bible says.

The Bible is not a work of fiction. The sixty-six books contained therein are written by a number of different authors, and comprise different genres, including poetry and parables, but it cannot be called a mere story book. We are told that scripture is the inspired word of God:

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16,17

In addition, many of the historical events contained in the Bible can be accurately verified by independent sources such as historical records, archaeological digs and discoveries. We know what the Bible says about the past is true.

The Old Testament prophets predicted that a Messiah would come to this earth. They gave many indications about the Messiah – e.g. where He would come from, what would happen to Him. Jesus Christ fulfilled each and every prediction made about Him – over 350 predictions regarding His birth, ministry, death and resurrection, as recorded by the accounts of the apostles in the New Testament.

But what does the Bible say about the future?

Some of the Old Testament prophets including Ezekiel, Daniel and Zechariah not only foretold the coming of the Messiah, but of His triumphant return, the second coming, when He would claim His faithful followers who had not fallen away in times of great trial.

In Matthew’s gospel, chapter 24, Jesus outlines what will happen in this world in the future. There will be a time of great trials, of false prophets, of persecution of Christians, natural disasters and wars. Many Christians will abandon their faith. Finally Jesus will return “on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory” (v.30), to assert His power over the forces of evil and to gather His remaining people to Himself.

In the book of Revelation, the apostle John is given a series of visions regarding these future events. They describe a time known as the tribulation – a seven year period of terrible turmoil before Christ returns to the earth. The four horsemen of the apocalypse will be loosed on the earth – lust for conquest, warfare, famine and death. There will be great earthquakes, such as the earth has never known, and stars will fall in the sky- possibly comets or meteor showers. There will be unprecedented demonic activity and the rise of a person known as the Antichrist who will establish himself as a god on earth. He will control monetary systems and without a mark, nobody will be able to buy or sell. We are warned not to follow him or take this mark. Earthly wars culminate in the battle of Armageddon, accompanied by an earthquake and storm of massive hailstones and the devastating destruction of the seas and earth’s surface. It will be an unimaginably terrible time for those who are left.

Why should all this happen on earth? Because mankind has chosen to do evil and abandon God. When will all this happen? Jesus himself said that He did not know the day or hour, that it was something only known to His Father. The apostles Peter and Paul, in their epistles, made it clear that the church should not forget these warnings of Jesus, but to live as though the time was short, and be prepared for Christ’s return.

So it is twenty centuries later. It’s no coincidence that Jesus followed his warnings in Matthew 24 with the parable of the ten virgins recorded by Matthew in the following chapter. The church, the bride of Christ, should be ready and prepared to meet her bridegroom. The message is to be alert and have our minds on the things of God, not be distracted by the pleasures and day to day living of this life.

When I was a young Christian, I was afraid of the book of Revelation. It’s interesting to note that in his opening chapter, John declares that whoever reads and takes to heart the message of revelation is blessed. We are not blessed by being frightened of what might happen in the future, but rather are blessed by knowing that our Heavenly Father will go before and be beside us throughout our lives and into eternity with Him.

We know that Jesus will claim His believers and take them to be with Him. Paul writes:
For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18)
Some Christian theologians believe that the event when Christians are taken from the earth to be with Christ, known as the rapture, will occur prior to the time of tribulation, others that it will happen only when Christ returns. Some popular Christian movies such as the “Left behind” series take the former view. If millions of Christians suddenly disappear, the people left behind should have a clear message to repent and turn to Christ, and in this scenario, hopefully many will.

As I look out of my window on a clear winter’s day in Brisbane Australia, all these things seem a little fantastic. Yet the world can change quickly, as history has demonstrated. Throughout this world Christians are being persecuted and martyred for their faith. People are dying of starvation and disease. Economic systems are challenged. Violent crime is increasing. Perhaps most tragic of all is the staggering, unseen death of 40-50 million babies each year through abortion. God knows. God sees. He also redeems, forgives and transforms.

Troubled times may be ahead, but God goes before those whose lives are committed to Him, and He leads us along the paths He would have us take. We have a great commission to go into the world and make disciples of all nations, to bring hope, to be light in dark places. As the world becomes darker, so the light of Christ’s hope and love will shine ever more brightly. It’s a light which no darkness can ever put out.  

“the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Matthew 24:13

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