Keys To Understanding The Last Days!
Lesson three - The Last Days in the Book of Revelation
In the Gospel accounts Jesus gave a brief summary of the events that would lead to His return. But later He filled in many details. Some 60 years passed before He revealed more of the specifics about the end time to the apostle John. This long and detailed prophecy is in the last book of the Bible, Revelation.
Here we find again the outline of the prophecy Jesus gave on the Mount of Olives, but represented in extensive symbolism. We also find additional details.
In the first chapter John writes that, in vision, he was taken to the time he called "the Lord's day"--the same period called "the day of the Lord" by earlier prophets and other apostles (Isaiah 13:6, 9; Joel 1:15; Amos 5:18-20; Obadiah 1:15; Zephaniah 1:14; Zechariah 14:1; Malachi 4:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10).
Vision of the end time
The book of Revelation is a book written to reveal the future, and Jesus Christ is the One who does the revealing: "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants--things which must shortly take place . . . Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him" (Revelation 1:1, 7).
Here is the theme of Revelation: the time of the end of the age and the coming of Jesus Christ to establish God's Millennial Kingdom on earth.
John explains where he was when he received a vision of the end time. "I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. I was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet"(Revelation 1:9-10).
The Lord's day (also known as "the day of the Lord" or "the day of Christ" throughout Scripture) is the time of God's intervention in man's affairs when He establishes His Millennial Kingdom. (Plainly in this context it does not refer to a particular day of the week for worshiping God).
Paul says, "For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, 'Peace and safety!' then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape" (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3).
In another epistle Paul calls it "the day of Christ" (2 Thessalonians 2:2). The reason is that Christ, the Lord, is the central focus ofthese events. This is why the period is called the Lord's day.
John's vision of the Lord's day begins in Revelation 4. "Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne" (Revelation 4:2). After describing the scene in heaven, John focuses on a scroll God holds that, as we will see, lists end-time events. "And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals" (Revelation 5:1).
Only Jesus Christ, called the Lamb, is worthy to open the seals and unleash the end-time events. When God the Father determines the time is ready, He authorizes Jesus to initiate the events written on the scroll. They include the terrifying end-time occurrences prophesied throughout the Scriptures to take place during the last 31/2-years of the Tribulation.
The seven seals describe the events before and during Christ's return to rule the earth. "Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels . . . saying with a loud voice, 'Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!" (Revelation 5:11-12). Here Christ is being authorized to unleash the final events and then establish His Kingdom on earth.
Christ opens the seven seals
John describes the period before the final 31/2 years. Jesus opens, in Revelation 6, the seven seals on the scroll of prophecy. The first four of the seven represent events beginning in the days of the apostles and leading up to the time of the end. Jesus gave the meaning of the seals in the Olivet Prophecy about the end time (Matthew 24, Mark 16, Luke 21).
The first seal (Revelation 6:1-2) represents the deception by a false Christianity that began in the days of the apostles (Matthew 24:4-5). The second seal (Revelation 6:3-4) refers to the increasing devastation caused by war as the end approaches (Matthew 24:6-7). The third seal (Revelation 6:5-6) represents increasing hunger and famines (Matthew 24:7). Other consequences of war and famine are represented by the fourth seal (Revelation 6:7-8)--such things as disease, plagues and civil unrest that kill many people (Matthew 24:7).
All of the events in the first four seals have been occurring, with varying frequency and intensity, from Christ's time to our day. But they will also be greatly intensified in the suffering mankind will have to endure at the time of the end.
The fifth seal (Revelation 6:9-11) brings us directly to the time of the end. It acknowledges the past persecution and martyrdom of God's servants and announces they will have to wait only "a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed," before God avenges their deaths.
In Matthew 24:9 Jesus tells His followers theirs will be a time when "they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake." This will be a time of "great tribulation" unlike anything the world has ever experienced (verse 21).
The sixth seal
The next seal describes how "powers of the heavens will be shaken" (Matthew 24:29) after the end-time tribulation and martyrdom of the saints has begun but before God's wrath is unleashed in "the Day of the Lord" (Joel 2:31). These heavenly signs announce the beginning of the Day of the Lord.
Frightening heavenly signs announce Jesus Christ's direct intervention in world events to save mankind from itself. This shows that while God has permitted the previous end-time disasters, Satan has been their driving force.
"I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place.
"And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, 'Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?" (Revelation 6:12-17).
Jesus described this sixth sign in the Olivet Prophecy. "And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption [rescue] draws near" (Luke 21:25-28).
Consequently, near the end of the 31/2-years of Satan's wrath, God will intervene, first with signs and wonders in the heavens, then by orchestrating His final punishments before Jesus Christ's return.
The seventh and final seal
Finally the seventh seal is opened (Revelation 8). It describes seven other aspects of end-time events, each announced with a trumpet blast. In the first four of these, plagues God strikes the earth and mankind's environmental support systems. The fifth trumpet's plague inflicts great pain on those refusing to serve God. In the sixth trumpet plague, God permits an unimaginably destructive and all-out worldwide war to begin (Revelation 8-9).
With the sounding of the seventh trumpet, the Bible reveals, "the mystery of God would be finished, as He declared to His servants the prophets" (Revelation 10:7).
This mystery of the end time was briefly alluded to in the Garden of Eden and its meaning glimpsed by the patriarchs and prophets. John writes: "Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, 'The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!" (Revelation 11:15).
God is in control. Every prophetic detail will be carried out according to His time frame.
As Christ finished the Olivet Prophecy, He warned His disciples who would live during the end time: "But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass [the terrible end-time events], and to stand before the Son of Man" (Luke 21:34-36).
"This Generation Will Not Pass"
Many are puzzled by Jesus Christ's words, "Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place" (Matthew 24:34).
Did He mean that current generation of His disciples? Two biblical reasons eliminate this possibility.
The first one is the context. Jesus had just said, "So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near--at the doors!" (verse 33).
Did His disciples "see all these things" in their generation? Certainly not. They were not in a generation that had the ability to destroy all of mankind. Jesus said of the final, end-time generation, "And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved" (verse 22). Clearly the weapons of that day were not sufficient to bring this prophecy to pass.
Although Christ's disciples did see wars, famines, plagues and persecutions, and some even lived to see the destruction of Jerusalem, these were not the total fulfillment of Jesus Christ's words. They were not the prophesied global events that would directly lead to Jesus Christ's return.
Second, Jesus continually told His disciples that only God the Father knew exactly when the end time would begin. He said, "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (Mark 13:32). If Jesus knew the "Last Days" or "End Times" would be in their generation, He would have been contradicting Himself. He said even He didn't know the precise time. What He did know was the end-time events would all occur within the lifetime of one generation, that "Final Generation" That would be alive at the end of the age.
Even after Jesus was resurrected and appeared to His disciples, they asked Him, "Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" Jesus responded, "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority" (Acts 1:6-7).
Jesus' disciples did not witness the "Last Days" or the "End Times". That was not the time God had established for it to occur. Only one generation, that "Final Generation" will be a witness to all the mounting global conditions described in God's Word. That one generation, that "Final Generation" that would be alive at the "End of The Age" or during the "Last days"
What, then, did Christ mean when He said "this generation will not pass away"? He was merely explaining that, once all the prophesied world conditions are present, they will not continue indefinitely. World conditions will be so threatening that they cannot continue indefinitely or humanity would be in danger of extinction.
These events will not pass from one generation to another. Once the prophesied conditions exist, all will be fulfilled--including the return of Jesus Christ--all this would occur within the lifetime of one generation, adeptly named The "Final Generation"
[See Our on-line document: "Revealing The Earth's Final Generation" For insite to the times and signs of the "Final Generation"]
The Population Explosion and Prophecy
According to population experts, it took almost 1,900 years for the world to slowly rise from an estimated 250 million at the time of Christ to a billion and a half at the beginning of the 20th century. Then, in the 20th century alone, the earth's population has exploded as it quadrupled in size. It has reached the staggering mark of six billion people. In spite of advances in birth control, the world population is still rapidly climbs.
A glimpse at the trend shows why many are concerned. According to the United Nations Population Division, it took 123 years to move from one billion to two billion population. Yet it took only 33 years to reach the three billion mark and 14 years to arrive at the four billion level. Next it took only 13 years to reach five billion, and now, just 11 years later, we have crossed the six billion mark.
From now on, it is estimated, one billion people will be added every 10 years. Provided this rate of growth--adding some 80 million new people per year--continues, our world population will double again in 50 years.
What does this all mean? Is the earth equipped to sustain this constant overpopulation without bringing on dire consequences?
Signs of global environmental fatigue
Already the earth shows serious consequences from this rapid population increase combined with the excessive consumption of the earth's resources. In 1989 the fishing industry reported a dwindling of fish catches in oceans, and the decline has continued. Diminishing reserves of metals, fossil fuels, forests, arable lands, freshwater and wildlife are facts of life.
Pollution has already reached a global scale, and with it, Global Warming and Extremly Destructive Weather Conditions, leaving us with hardly any part of the earth free from contaminated air, water and soil. This is not an extremist view, but rather what world organizations such as the UN and the Red Cross are continually reporting.
Perhaps in the United States, Europe and Japan, where funds are available to curb the most damaging effects of the rise in population, there is not so much concern. But these nations comprise only a sixth, or a billion, of the world's inhabitants. The rest of the world is in a far worse condition.
More famines predicted
The dramatic increase in the world population has placed great strains on the political, military, economic and social systems around the planet. Some relief agencies already consider parts of Africa to be in a chronic state of hunger.
The population explosion is not only a problem of quantity, but of quality--because of varying living standards. While the birth rate in industrialized countries has plummeted, in backward regions it remains quite high.
It is estimated that more than 95 percent of population growth will take place in world's 130 poorest countries. Already one fourth of the earth's inhabitants live on less than a dollar a day. Yet this is part of the group that is dramatically multiplying. Half of the world's population is concentrated in China (1.2 billion), India (one billion) and Africa (800 million).
As the population grows, it strains the relations within cities and among nations. More crime, violence and disease will invariably appear as people are increasingly forced to live in cramped and unhealthy quarters.
According to 1990 UN statistics, Tokyo was the most populous city, with 25 million, followed by New York City's 16 million. But the UN calculates that in the next 15 years the largest cities will be in poor nations, such as Bombay, India, with 28 million; Lagos, Nigeria, with 24 million; Shanghai, China, with 23 million; and Mexico City and São Paulo, with 20 million. Can these impoverished nations continue to provide basic services and enforce the peace as their resources dry up?
Prophecy on the march
How is any of this related to prophecy? First, according to the end-time scenario of the Armegeddon battle described in the book of Revelation, a massive army from the east of the Euphrates River will cross the river and bring a disastrous world war. "And I heard a voice . . . saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, 'Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.' So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released to kill a third of mankind. Now the number of the army of the horsemen was two hundred million" (Revelation 9:13-16).
For this prophecy to come to pass, billions of people must exist on the planet for this region of Asia to field 200 million able-bodied soldiers. Until the latter part of the 20th century, Chinese and other Asian people could not even muster half that number. But now, for the first time in history, they can provide such a massive military force.
Also, as world population multiplied in the 20th century, so did the explosion of knowledge, made possible by improved communications, travel and technology. We can easily see the fulfillment of the prophecy God gave to Daniel: "But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase" (Daniel 12:4).
We take for granted such things as rapid international travel, computers, the Internet and the knowledge explosion, but these were widely available only beginning during the closing years of the 20th century.
Parallel to Noah's day
The prediction of a rapid increase in population is related to: The Conditions in Noah's Time. Christ compared the society of Noah's day to the end time: "But as the days of Noah were, so also will be the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be" (Matthew 24:37-39).
The people of Noah's day were not aware that God's judgment was being carried out because of an increase in their evil deeds. The Bible says the earth was full of violence and corruption, which was the reason God brought about the Flood (Genesis 6:5-12).
The New American Bible translates: "In the eyes of God the earth was corrupt and full of lawlessness. When God saw how corrupt the earth had become, since all mortals led depraved lives on earth, he said to Noah: 'I have decided to put an end to all mortals on earth; the earth is full of lawlessness because of them. So I will destroy them and all life on earth' " (Genesis 6:11-12).
Christ's prediction that end-time conditions would be similar to those of Noah's time does resemble the description of our day, although we don't know exactly how long God in His patience will permit time to go on before He intervenes. He prophesied He will eventually punish the earth's inhabitants for their evil ways and establish His Kingdom of peace. Peter reminds us, "God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built" (1 Peter 3:20, New International Version).
The population explosion is a fact of life. But little have people realized that these circumstances are leading to the fulfillment of end-time prophecies--ultimately bringing the solutions to a troubled world that only God in His mercy can provide.
God's Framework for End-Time Prophecy
What is the proper view of prophecy? Can it provide spiritual benefits?
The apostle Peter mentioned that prophecy should serve to strengthen our hope and faith in the future. He said: "And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts . . ." (2 Peter 1:19).
Here Peter compared Bible prophecies to a light that provides visibility until the final coming of God's Kingdom, brought by Jesus Christ to earth. When this occurs every eye will see His glory as if it is a great light (Matthew 24:27, 30; Revelation 1:7).
God gives us an outline and sequence of prophetic events, but many specifics remain unclear. Some things we can see clearly, but others are beyond our view at this point in history.
In other words, the Bible provides a reliable framework of prophecy, but it can be counterproductive to try to interpret every yet-to-be-fulfilled detail in the light of our circumstances. Such circumstances could change dramatically before those details come to pass.
So what is the framework of prophecy that steadfastly remains? Among the many prophecies of events leading up to Christ's return, some major prophetic scenarios can be identified and specifically confirmed as they occur. As Peter said, we "do well to heed" them.
First condition: Man's ability to annihilate life
The first of these certain prophecies deals with a specific condition described by Christ that would be present only as the end time drew near. He said to His disciples: "It will be a time of great distress; there has never been such a time from the beginning of the world until now, and will never be again. If that time of troubles were not cut short, no living thing could survive; but for the sake of God's chosen it will be cut short" (Matthew 24:21-22, New English Bible).
Jesus warned that a time would come that would see the destructive capacity of mankind so awesome that all human life could be erased. This is what makes the time of "great distress" so terrifying, unequaled in human history.
Mankind has been fighting wars since the dawn of history. But man never had the ability--with rocks and clubs, bows and arrows, cannons, or automatic weapons--to literally exterminate every human being on earth.
This changed in 1945 with the detonation of the first atomic bombs, followed by the development of far-more-destructive hydrogen bombs. With thousands of nuclear weapons at his disposal, man has the ability to destroy all human life from the planet many times over. This situation never existed in history until the latter half of the 20th century. Man has never been a great caretaker of the earth, but never before did he have the capacity to destroy all human life. But Christ predicted that, left unchecked, mankind would do exactly that, and this is one of the reasons He must intervene to save mankind.
Second condition: the Jewish nation reborn-The Budding of the Fig Tree!
The second condition that must exist before Christ's return concerns the existence of the nation of modern Israel.
The survival of the religion and culture of this ancient biblical people, which witnessed the rise and decline of such great civilizations as Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome, goes against the odds. The fact it was never assimilated into the nations where it was scattered is unprecedented. A historian of the 19th century, Heinrich Graetz, stated that "a nation which has witnessed the rise and decay of the most ancient empires, and which still continues to hold its place in the present day, deserves the closest attention."
Historian Randall Price relates an anecdote about Napoleon. The French emperor was passing near a synagogue and heard weeping inside. He asked, "What is this crying?" He was told it was weeping over the destruction of the temple. Impressed, Napoleon said, "A people that longs so much for its city and its temple are bound to restore them one day!"
That prediction has partially come to pass. Now the Jews--descendants of the ancient Kingdom of Judah again are in possession of Jerusalem, and their "weeping" takes place on the western side of the Temple Mount, at the retaining wall for the vast platform Herod the Great constructed to support the rebuilt temple. There, at the Western Wall, many Jews still cry and bemoan the loss of their temple and pray for its restoration. Thus the place is also sometimes aptly called the Wailing Wall.
Christ described conditions under which, as the end time approached, Jews would again control Jerusalem and the "holy place." Later He said the holy place would be desecrated. He stated, "Therefore when you see the 'abomination of desolation,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever reads, let him understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains" (Matthew 24:15-16). The abomination of desolation, described in Daniel 8-12, deals with the defiling of the holy place in Jerusalem.
Before 1948 this seemed like an impossibility. The Jews had been scattered for close to 2,000 years, and the Arabs were firmly entrenched in the land. Jews did not have the military power, unity or backing of most of the world to come to Palestine. Many books were written about the overwhelming odds against Zionism, the attempt to establish a Jewish homeland. Yet a Zionist state was established.
Once the fledgling nation of modern Israel began in 1948, it appeared its inhabitants would never control Jerusalem, and the populous Arab nations that surrounded her pledged they would never allow it. Yet in 1967, in the Six-Day War, the state of Israel took possession of Jerusalem. But control of the Temple Mount, the platform on which the temple had stood, was temporarily leased to the Arabs.
Since the Arabs temporarily control the Temple Mount, or the "holy place" that Christ referred to in His prophecy, there is still a part of the prophecy that has not been fulfilled. Since 1989 organized efforts have continued to prepare for the building of a new temple. From 1990 on certain Israeli Jews have tried to place the first stone of the temple on the Temple Mount to no avail. Police and Arab authorities have prohibited their entrance, yet the resolve is there.
That is how matters stand. Christ's prophecy has been partially accomplished, with Israel in control of Jerusalem, but with other parts of His prophecy waiting to be fulfilled.
Third condition: A new power in the world- The Revived Roman Empire
The third prophecy deals with the latter revival of the Roman Empire (EU), prophesied extensively in Daniel and Revelation.
The prophet Daniel, interpreting Nebuchadnezzar's dream of a colossal human image, spoke of a series of "kingdoms" to arise on the world scene. The first of these, said Daniel, was the Babylonian Empire under Nebuchadnezzar himself (Daniel 2:28-38). It was to be followed by three other kingdoms (verses 39-40). Comparing history with other prophecies, we can understand that these four kingdoms were, in order, the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greco-Macedonian and Roman empires.
Speaking of the fourth and final kingdom, the revived Roman Empire, Daniel said it would be "strong as iron, inasmuch as iron breaks in pieces and shatters everything; and like iron that crushes, that kingdom will break in pieces and crush all the others" (verse 40). Rome indeed proved to be more dominant and enduring than its predecessors, swallowing up their remnants in a reign that lasted for centuries.
However, Daniel also revealed fascinating prophetic details of this kingdom. He said the legs and feet of the image in Nebuchadnezzar's dream represented a kingdom, later shown to be the Roman Empire. The image had feet and toes composed "partly of potter's clay and partly of iron." This indicated that "the kingdom shall be divided" and "partly strong and partly fragile." Also, "just as iron does not mix with clay," the components of this kingdom would not adhere firmly together for long (verses 41-43).
Then, says Daniel, "in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed . . .; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever" (verse 44).
The Bible prophesies that a group of 10 "kings," geo-political regions or national leaders, through alliances or other arrangements will give rise to a union (EU) that will fulfill these end-time predictions. Daniel's prophecy indicates these leaders will preserve their cultures and languages, so it will not be one integrated group of states, such as the United States, but 10 individual political and cultural entities united in union for a common purpose. Some will be much stronger than the others.
Notice that the book of Revelation gives more details: "The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast. These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast. These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen and faithful" (Revelation 17:12-14).
Some question whether the current moves to unify European countries are related to this prophesied power. It is interesting to let history reveal the roots of the movement. Michael Elliot of Newsweek reported: "In January 1957, six nations signed a treaty on the site of the ancient Roman Capitol, and brought into being the European Economic Community or the Europen Union . . . An aide to Paul-Henri Spaak, the then Belgian foreign minister, remembers that his boss said, 'Do you think that we have laid the first stone of a new Roman Empire?' Recalls the aide, 'We felt very strongly we were Romans that day' " (Jan. 29, 1996, p. 40).
At least the idea of beginning a new Roman Empire was on the minds of the founders of the current organization of European nations. It has continued to prosper as barriers to integration tumble and greater cooperation and unity in economic and military affairs come about. Time will tell where these trends will lead--and how quickly.
What does this mean? Where does this leave us?
With mankind possessing the capacity to destroy all human life in several ways, with Israel in control of Jerusalem and a desire among some Israelis to restore the temple and sacrifices, and with a strong and determined effort afoot to unify the nations of Europe under the auspices of the European Union, we do well to heed the warnings of biblical prophecy and not ignore its connection with world conditions.
These scenarios appear to be the most likely way various prophecies of Daniel and Revelation could be fulfilled in light of current conditions. However, whether they occur in this way or not, the Bible remains the inspired Word of God. The prophecies of the Bible will come to pass regardless of whether we understand them. In the meantime we should heed Jesus Christ's warning, "Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect" (Matthew 24:44).
Jesus Christ's Olivet Prophecy: Where Are We?
Jesus Christ, in the Olivet Prophecy (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21), predicted several major trends that would increase and intensify before His return.
When His disciples asked Him what signs would precede His return and the end of this age, He responded: "Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows" (Matthew 24:4-8).
The major trends Jesus predicted were religious deception, wars, famines, pestilences, disease epidemics and earthquakes. Do we see these things happening in our day?
Religious deception and confusion - A Counterfeit Christianity!
We have been horrified by the headlines of mass cult suicides and murders in recent years: Jim Jones and his followers in Guyana in 1978, David Koresh's Branch Davidians in Texas in 1993, the Heaven's Gate cult in Southern California in 1997, the Solar Temple Cult of Canada and France, and the Ten Commandments Cult in Africa. These tragedies made the news because charismatic leaders led their followers not to life, but to death.
But by no means should we assume this is the only kind of religious deception Jesus intended by His warning. Even in the early days of the Church, Paul warned of "false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ . . . For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness . . ." (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
Other apostles also warned of a great religious conspiracy masquerading as Christianity - A Counterfeit Christianity. Peter warned of "false teachers . . . who will secretly bring in destructive heresies" (2 Peter 2:1). John wrote that even in his day "many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1). He also reveals the power behind this great deception: "Satan, who deceives the whole world" (Revelation 12:9).
Some two billion people claim to be Christian. Yet they are divided among thousands of churches and denominations, all claiming to follow Christ even while they hold to a bewildering variety of contradicting beliefs and practices. Is this the Christianity of the Bible, or is it part of the religious deception and confusion Christ predicted?
Wars and rumors of wars
World War I was supposed to be the war to end all wars, after it took eight million lives. A generation later World War II claimed almost ten times as many.
But what about other wars? Hundreds of thousands more have died since in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Bosnia, Somalia, Israel and other countries. Although most rarely made the news, 20 to 30 wars raged around the world at any given time in the 1990s.
According to some estimates, wars in the 20th century have killed more people than all earlier wars combined.
When the Japanese city of Hiroshima was destroyed by an atomic bomb on Aug. 6, 1945, the commander of the B-29 that carried the deadly payload wielded the power to destroy a medium-sized city. Today the commander of a single nuclear submarine carries enough destructive power to vaporize more than 150 large cities--quite enough to bring several countries to their knees.
Dozens of such submarines bristling with nuclear weapons prowl the oceans, and that number doesn't begin to include the nuclear warheads that can be rained from other warships, aircraft, artillery and silos or trailer-launched missiles. Jesus said the circumstances at the time of the end would be so menacing that "no flesh would be saved" unless He returned (Matthew 24:21-22). Only within recent decades has mankind held the enormous destructive capability to literally exterminate all human life many times over.
What will the next great war bring? According to Jesus Christ's revelation to John (Revelation 6:8; 9:13-18), well over two billion people will be slaughtered, or one third the world's population. With terrifying arsenals of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, such staggering casualties are a sobering possibility.
You may be old enough to remember the headlines of the 1960s and 1970s, when drought and exploding populations led to the starvation of hundreds of thousands in India and Africa. Only later did we learn that millions had died in China, the Soviet Union, Cambodia and Ethiopia during war's aftermath and communist takeovers in those countries.
Famine doesn't have to be caused strictly by natural conditions; humans have been shown to be perfectly capable of producing their own famines through ill-founded policies and practices. Famine is also a natural consequence when economies, transportation and normal agricultural cycles are disrupted during wartime.
With the passing of each year, we see the unprecedented increased devastation of famines in selected areas of the world. But it's likely only a matter of time before a surging world population brings major drastic food shortages to all counties and nations. In this century alone the world population has quadrupled to more than six billion. Some 80 million new people are being added every year, with another billion people expected to be added every decade.
If the rate of growth continues, the global population will double again in 50 years. What troubles many world leaders and organizations is that most of this growth will occur in countries least able to provide food, shelter and clothing for a flood of new citizens. With so many new mouths to feed, starvation--and accompanying social disruption--will inevitably spread.
The situation is so tenuous that Global Warming along with weather disruptions in food-producing areas could bring immediate food shortages at any time. An often-overlooked factor in weather patterns is the relationship between people and God.
We have lost sight of the fact that God controls the weather. King Solomon understood this when he prayed: "When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because [the people] have sinned against You, when they pray toward this place and confess Your name, and turn from their sin because You afflict them, then hear in heaven, and forgive the sin of Your servants, Your people Israel, that You may teach them the good way in which they should walk; and send rain on Your land which You have given to Your people as an inheritance" (1 Kings 8:35-36).
As people's behavior continues to degenerate as the time of the end approaches, other prophecies indicate that drastic changes in weather patterns--and resulting famines--are a tool God will use to get the attention of an increasingly rebellious humanity.
Medical researchers are shocked by a recent development: the sudden emergence of baffling new diseases and epidemics (32 new diseases have appeared since the 70s) AIDS has garnered the most headlines--and rightfully so, since in sheer numbers it has claimed more lives than the black plague that devastated medieval Europe.
AIDS is only one of the incurable plagues that worry governments and scientists. The exotic-sounding names of such killers as Legionnaires' disease, Lassa fever, hantavirus, E. coli, West Nile, Machupo virus and Ebola, belie their deadliness. Some of these have resisted treatment or cure simply because they spread so fast and kill so quickly that scientists have not been able to study how they are transmitted.
Equally frightening is the emergence of drug-resistant strains of old scourges such as tuberculosis, bubonic plague and some common bacteria. Other diseases once thought conquered--including malaria and cholera--are springing to life with deadly vengeance. Lest we forget, an unusual strain of influenza killed 20 million people in a worldwide epidemic in 1918 and 1919, taking more lives than were lost on the battlefields of World War I.
The 20th century saw skyrocketing rates of diseases rooted in human behavior, diet and other environmental factors: cancers, sexually transmissible diseases, diabetes, heart disease and cirrhosis of the liver, to name a few.
If these were not enough, keep in mind that the breakdown in the social structure that inevitably results from war and famine will no doubt lead to massive and widespread epidemics. Chemical and biological weapons are another chilling possibility when we consider how biblical prophecies may be fulfilled.
Earthquakes in various places
Only in recent decades have scientists understood the underlying causes of earthquakes. The crust of the earth, they have discovered, is like a cracked eggshell encasing an interior of liquid magma. The giant pieces of earth's shell slowly move as they float on the magma. Where the shell is thin, or where pieces grind against each other, earthquakes and volcanoes are now continually rocking the earth with ever increasing frequency and intensity.
Earthquake zones include some of the most densely populated areas of the world--including much of the U.S. West Coast, Italy, southeastern Europe, Turkey, the Philippines, Taiwan, Indonesia and Japan. Potentially devastating volcanoes shadow such major cities as Seattle, Portland and Mexico City.
Are earthquakes increasing? It's difficult to make long-term comparisons since modern seismographs have been in use for only just over a century. The Richter scale, which gauges earthquake magnitude, dates only to 1935. Also, far more sensitive instruments are in place today, so many earthquakes are detected that would have gone unnoticed in earlier years.
Even so, records from the: U.S. National Earthquake Information Center show more than 20 quakes in the 20th century that killed 10,000 or more people, including several monster quakes that took more than 100,000 lives. Well over a million people have died in earthquakes in the last 100 years.
Currently literally thousands of earthquakes take place daily, although most are so minor they are detected only by instruments. However, there are almost 1,000 moderate to strong earthquakes (5.0 to 6.9 on the Richter scale) in an average year, plus an average of 18 major quakes (7.0 to 7.9) and one massive quake of 8.0 or higher. Whether earthquakes are increasing in strength or frequency or not, Jesus Christ's prediction of "earthquakes in various places" certainly describes the 20th century.
Remember, though, that Jesus said "all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet . . . All these are the beginning of sorrows" (Matthew 24:6-8). The many tragedies we see around us are chilling reminders of Christ's words and a foretaste of even greater catastrophes yet to come.
As a result of these terrible things, those who survive and remain will eventually be humbled enough to finally repent and accept our Creator's promise of a bright future in the world beyond our age. Only then will the age-old prophecies of a utopian world of peace and plenty find their fulfillment.
Proceed to lesson four - Preparing for The Last Days!