Wednesday, September 22, 2021
Signs of the End of the Age
3 And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5 And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7 And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.
9 “But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. 10 And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. 11 And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12 And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. 13 And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
In the mid 1990’s, the apocalyptic, religious-fiction book series Left Behind exploded into the Christian subculture. In the novels, which have sold nearly 80 million copies worldwide, authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins lay out a frighteningly realistic world in which billions of people simultaneously vanish—including catastrophically many in the transportation and safety industry like airline pilots, taxi drivers, and many others—and those who are left behind are sent searching for answers. While many self-professed Christians, including some pastors and church leaders, remain on the earth, those who have disappeared were the only true believers, graciously raptured to heaven before the final days of terrifying judgement on the nations before Jesus returns once and for all.
While not the quality of literature of say a Dickens or Hemingway, the series is filled with fast paced action and surprising plot twists that succeeds in keeping the reader on the edge of their seat in anticipation of what will happen next. Particularly compelling is the way the authors interpret the prophetic passages of Scripture, specifically the book of Revelation, arguing that they were given thousands years ago to warn those who came to faith in Christ after the rapture of what to anticipate and prepare for in the tumultuous last days.
The Left Behind series did an exceptional job of popularizing a view of eschatology—a big word which simply means the study of the end times—known as dispensational premillennialism. Those who hold to this view believe Christians will be taken out of the world, or raptured, before the final judgment and that the apocalyptic passages of Scripture will be literally fulfilled by particular events in specific periods of time, known as “dispensations,” before Christ returns to rule the world and the nations for 1000 years. Pre-mil dispensationalists would read about the locusts in Revelation chapter 9, which John describes in vivid imagery as being “like horses prepared for battle” with “human faces,” “teeth like lions,” “breastplates of iron,” and wings that sound “like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle,” and interpret them as, in reality, some form of modern military technology like Apache attack helicopters.
Historically speaking, however, premillennial dispensationalism is a relatively new method of interpreting Biblical apocalyptic literature, dating back only to the mid 1800s. From that point onward, as the world careened through one disaster after another, including global pandemics, economic collapse, mass genocide, multiple world wars, and the advent of nuclear weapons, it is not surprising that western Christians in particular were drawn to this understanding of scripture. It became common to read the newspaper in one hand with the Bible in the other in an attempt to match up the prophetic and mysterious passages of scripture with real life events taking place on the global stage.
Of course, premillennial dispensationalism is just one of several ways of interpreting Scripture’s apocalyptic passages. While it would be a bit too simplistic to dismiss this view just by pointing out the number of significantly discounted copies of once popular books like 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988—specifically between September 11th and 13th—on the shelves of the used bookstore nearest you, we begin to at least get the idea of why attempting to identify specific current events as the fulfillment of specific Biblical prophecy usually makes us look foolish. It is only natural that as each day passes without Christ’s promised return, we anxiously look for clues and signs that will provide us some hint of what will happen next.
Without exception, beginning with the very same disciples who witnessed the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, every generation of Christians has earnestly believed that He would return in their lifetime. Alarmed at Jesus’ declaration that the Temple would soon be destroyed, once again, two sets of brothers, James and John along with Peter and Andrew, took Jesus aside in search of answers. The Temple was a massive and glorious building, so they thought that surely its impending destruction must coincide with the end of the world.
Jesus began His response by reiterating that they must not be deceived, or led astray. Jesus warned that there would be many who came after Him claiming to be Christ reincarnate. Unfortunately, many undiscerning people would eagerly flock to these false-Christs hoping to satiate their desires to understand the secret things of God and the end times.
Jesus told His troubled disciples that many frightening things were still to come in this world. On the horizon were major natural disasters and geo-political events, but not everything that appears to be a sign of the end of the world is actually a sign of the end of the world. In fact, these terrible things would not just happen once, but repeatedly, and they were only the beginning of what was to come.
He explained that their primary job was not to spend time worrying about what, or who, might come next. Instead, Jesus reminded that their never-ceasing duty was to be His witnesses to the world, to take the gospel to all the nations. Jesus didn’t sugar-coat anything here, He warned that their task was going to be difficult. In fact, it would be utterly impossible on their own, but they would not be alone. Jesus promised that even though they would be hated the world over for the sake of His name, that He would not just watch over them, but be with them and even speak through them. In the face of even the worst pain and punishment the world might offer, His followers need not be anxious, because He is the one who saves in the end, and what He has promised, He will surely do.
Just as surely as the world continues to rage 2000 years later, the words of Jesus remain just as true today as when they were first spoken. The world is still a scary place, and horrific things continue to happen. It can be easy to be overwhelmed by the things we see and hear, to allow fear to control us, and to want to retreat back into our safe spaces. And it can be just as easy to grow numb to the needs of those around us, to become fatigued by the endless pain and suffering and only worry about ourselves. But Jesus calls His followers to a different path, the path of surrender. Incredibly, when we give our anxious, lifeless hearts to Him, we discover that His ways are always better. He is the way, the truth, and the life, and there is no other.
Prayer for Today:
We confess that we often place our hope in people, institutions, or even places to bring us happiness and contentment. Yet we still grow restless and weary, and far too often we wish not that Your will be done, but that we could just find a moment of peace in the midst of our chaotic world. The truth is that You do offer peace, and not for a moment, but forever. Help us to see that Your desire is that we come and submit ourselves totally and completely to You. Replace our hearts of stone with hearts of flesh, remind us that nothing else can satisfy like only You can. May we live in such a way that the world would see You in us. We ask this in the powerful name of Jesus, Amen.