How Near the End?
|By: Dr. William Varner; ©1999|
|Wars, earthquakes, floods, famine, peace treaties…. As more and more news stories focus on these and other events, Christians ask, “Are we nearing the end times?” Dr. Varner explains how he answers this question, and why.|
HOW NEAR THE END?
If there is one question that is asked me more than any others when I preach on Biblical Prophecy, it is this one: “Do you believe that the coming of the Lord is really near?” I suppose that I could give the answer that I know they want to hear (i.e., “Yes!”), but I don’t. So, usually I answer their sincere question by saying, “I don’t know.” I can tell by the disappointed look on their faces that this admission of ignorance was not the response they were expecting. You see, I have to be honest with my own convictions about what the Bible clearly teaches–that we can’t know the time of His coming. If I do believe His coming is near, such a view must be expressed as simply my own opinion and not the clear teaching of the Word.
Someone recently gave me a book about prophecy that is organized around twenty five “signs” supposedly taking place in Israel today. Although the authors, one of whom is not a believer, never clearly state what these “signs” are “signs” of, it is obvious that they intend the reader to conclude that these conditions in Israel indicate that the eschatological drama is about to unfold. Some of the “signs” are very questionable. For example, one is “increasing rainfall” in Israel. Show that “fact” to any Israeli who has suffered through a number of years of consecutive drought and he would laugh out loud at how completely false such a “sign” really is. On the other hand, some of the things the authors mentioned are very exciting to notice: “A Possible Middle East Peace Treaty” and “Restoration of Temple Worship.” It is simply impossible, however, to state that on the basis of these or any other so-called “signs” that the Coming of the Lord is near in time. The only “sign” about His coming that Jesus gave was when the people alive during Daniel’s Seventieth week will see the “Abomination of Desolation” mentioned earlier by Daniel the Prophet (Matthew 24:3-15). This “sign” would indicate that the “Great Tribulation” would commence, followed by other cosmic “signs” (24:29) and then the great “sign” of the Lord’s coming would take place! (24:30). To put it simply, most of the trends and conditions that many preachers call end-time “signs” are not what the New Testament indicates as such.
Oftentimes Jesus and later writers of the New Testament warn us about not knowing the time of His coming. A perusal of such warnings as Matthew 24:36, “But of that day and hour no one knows, no, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only” should keep us from such speculation. Furthermore, if the Rapture is truly “imminent,” (and Scripture certainly implies that), then it must be “signless” and we are wrongly using Scripture to prove something that has no signs. Yes, “signs” will precede the Second Coming in glory. Matthew 24 and 25 make that clear. But we are not living in Daniel’s Seventieth Week. We are living in the Church Age and looking for His appearance and our “catching away.” I repeat: No “signs” are evident today, in the Biblical sense of the term.
Most of the so-called signs today are simply wrong, based on sensational mis-information. Other so-called signs are not the “signs” that the Bible mentions as preceding the Coming of the Lord. We simply do not know if the Lord will come soon or perhaps at a much later time. HOWEVER, it is certainly evident that there are some fascinating trends that have emerged in Israel and in the world at large that should be noticed by those who believe the Prophetic Word. As long as we understand them as “trends” similar to those existing at the end and not “signs” of the soon Second Coming, we are on safe ground. And as long as we do not try to state or imply that these trends insist that the “end is near,” we can safely observe them with great interest. These trends may be a prelude to actual conditions that will exist in the days prior to the Rapture and/or the days of the Tribulation itself.
In general, the sentiment expressed in John Lennon’s famous song, “And the World Will Be As One” is one of those trends. The Bible pictures the world under the rule of the Antichrist as a world-wide political and religious unity, based not on Truth but on force and non-absolutist “World Religion.” Political trends today that are characterized by surrender of national sovereignty (the “U.N.”) and “ganging up” militarily on another country (a la Iraq and Serbia) are possible examples of a developing political “One-Worldism.” The infamous “New Age Movement” with its complete surrender of all Absolute Truth in favor of total “tolerance” is another possible example of religious “One-Worldism.” Biblical references that describe such a situation are found in Revelation 13 and 17, just to mention a couple.
While these and many other trends ought to cause us to sit up and take notice, they are not signs in the Biblical sense. For all we know, it may be many years before the final eschatological drama opens. We need to be awake and aware of the times, but we must be careful not to give the impression that we know by these trends that the “end is near.” Such speculation can unjustifiably raise expectations about the coming of the Lord. When these expectations do not materialize, they often end up crashing and discouraging weaker believers. Jesus did not give us leave to know more than the angels and even Him in His humanity. We need to listen to Jesus’ advice to His disciples in Acts 1:7,8: “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”