Living in the End Times
Several of the points made here, as well as the verses used to back them up, were inspired by an
article by Dean VanDruff. Please view it here.
Several recent events, (the September 2001 attacks and the escalating trouble in Israel are two examples) have stirred up conversation about the possibility that we are living very close to the end of the Church Age. In fact, Christians have believed that the return of Jesus was imminent pretty much ever since He ascended almost 2000 years ago. This idea is nothing new. However, some time around the early 1970's, when Hal Lindsey published "The Late Great Planet Earth," the attitude of many Christians has taken a bit of a wrong turn toward fear.
This fear has spawned, among other things, an entire industry of books similar to those of Mr. Lindsey. In general, these books, as well as the movies, magazines, radio and TV programs, and websites inspired by them, have the ability to whip believers into a frenzy about the coming of the Antichrist, leading to speculation about such things as his identity, the identity of the nations which will be under his control, and the identity of the False Prophet, the Mark of the Beast, the identity of Babylon, and of course, the Rapture.
What does God's Word say our response should be, then?
1 Timothy 4:12-14". . . be an example to believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Do not neglect the gift that is in you"
Let's look at this passage in small bites. First, it is important to note that verse 1 (not included here) lets us know that we are speaking of the Last Days. Verse 12 tells us to show love to others, and do our best to live holy lives. Verse 13 tells us that public reading of Scripture is appropriate, and 14 tells us to use our spiritual gifts that God gives to each believer.
Matthew 24:6". . but see to it that you are not alarmed."
Matthew 24 is a chapter which contains an often-quoted discussion between Jesus and some of His disciples concerning the Last Days. [This discussion, known as the Olivet Discourse, also appears in Mark 13 and Luke 21.]
James 1:2-4"Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything."
Mark 13:11"Do not worry beforehand about what you are going to say--simply say the words you are given when the time comes. For it is not really you who will speak, but the Holy Spirit. "
Does this sound like we should be worrying? Does this sound like we should be hoarding freeze-dried foods and guns? The Christian life is one of joy, regardless of the circumstances.
Let's have some "Yeah, buts":
Yeah, but didn't Jesus give us warning signs so we could run and hide when we see this bad stuff coming?Actually, no. While it's true that Scripture includes details about signs of the end times, (including some direct quotes from Christ Himself, as we see in the previous section), a complete reading of these discourses reveals that He had specific intentions for our behavior during this time, and fear is not one of the options. The current end-time "industry" of books and media is leading Christians down a road which is diametrically opposed to His commands as given in the Olivet Discourse.
Yeah, but what about Matt 24:16-20, where Jesus advises people to flee for their lives?Two things about this passage that don't apply to you and me right now: (1) it seems to specifically target those living in what is now Israel ("let those who are in Judea flee . ."), because the Antichrist is going to bring his army to that area and try to annihilate the Jews and claim Jerusalem for himself. (2) Even if that interpretation is not correct, and it is a warning to all believers, it is still a warning about what to do when the worst part of the tribulation period is occurring, not now.
The point in Matt 24 is that before the bad stuff happens (i.e. now), we are to love others, and spread the good news of the Gospel while there is still time. Besides, even when it is the appropriate time to run for the hills, Jesus isn't suggesting that we stop and read and write books speculating about timelines and debating pre-trib vs. post-trib.
Yeah, but what's so wrong with looking out for the coming rule of the Antichrist?Looking out for the coming time is one thing; fearfully focusing exclusively on it is another.
Besides the fact that it conflicts with what Jesus says our response should be, here are the pitfalls of the current teachings of many end-time ministries:
1. Focus on the wrong thingThe focus seems to be to warn people that the Antichrist is coming, when the real story is that Jesus is returning.
2. ParanoiaOften, this kind of thinking leads to conspiracy theories, which can, but not always, lead to anti-Semitism. And once you start losing perspective on the special place God has in His heart for the Jews, you are simply placing yourself in a very dangerous position, spiritually.
3. False DoctrineOften, these theories can lead to finger-pointing based on loose evidence, at best, and can lead to the forming of McVeigh-type militias, Koresh-type cults, and many other destructive actions based on fear.
4. MisdirectionMany believers have been known to spend countless hours of study in order to make predictions & timelines of the events of the 7-year (or 3 1/2 year) period, Trumpets and Seals, etc., when there are people out there who need to hear the Gospel.
5. Hoarding GoodsMany modern-day Apocalyptic fear-mongers suggest preparing for the End Times by gathering non-perishable foods and guns, Branch Davidian-style, and heading for Montana. [We saw some examples of this behavior with the Y2K scare]. Nowhere in Scripture is this kind of behavior mandated. In fact, if the worst were to happen, we should be willing to demonstrate God's love to our neighbors by sharing what we have with them in time of need.
6. Division, division, divisionIt seems there have been as many arguments among Christians concerning the timing of the Rapture (pre-, mid-, and post-trib) as any subject mentioned in Scripture.
Yeah, but . . .There is no "Yeah, but . . " One of the worst things you can do as a Christian, regardless of the subject, is to say, "I know what the bible says, but . . ." We never have that option. God's word is God's word. If Jesus says not to be alarmed, then we are to not be alarmed.
Take a quick look at fearFear of the future does not come from God:
2 Timothy 1:7"For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind."
1 John 4:18"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love."
Avoid the fear of man by focusing on God:
Hebrews 13:6"So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me."
Matthew 10:28"And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."
Fear of man can cause us to ignore spiritual truths:
Galatians 2:12"For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision."
Fear = bondage:
Romans 8:15"For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father."
Hebrews 2:15"And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage."
What should be our response, then?First, we should know God's Word and have it tucked into our hearts:
Matthew 24:44" . . .So you also must be ready . . ."
Luke 21:34-36"Be on your guard. . ."
Going back to the passage from 1 Timothy, Paul encourages us to love others. The word used in that sentence is "agape," a Greek word which means unconditional love. This is a good place to point out that no one is saying that we should not notice the times we are living in, and how news events line up with Scriptural prophecies. Rather, we should use these events as a springboard to love and serve others, so that they will see Christ in us, and will be receptive to the Good News of the Gospel:
Luke 21:13"this will be your chance to witness for me."
In anticipation of the current mindset of many Christians, Jesus says that there will be professing believers who will do just the opposite of what He has commanded:
Matthew 24:10-12"At that time, many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other . . . because of the increase in wickedness, the love of most will grow cold . . . "
So we shouldn't be afraid?Absolutely not. Remember, fear of the future is not something that comes from God. See the TIME OUT section earlier in this article. Boldness comes from God, not our own strength. To learn more about praying for boldness, please go to the Boldness page.
SummaryI am certainly not denying that we are nearing the End Times, and the return of Jesus. I fully believe that many people I know, and many reading this, will give their lives simply for testifying for Jesus. The contention here is that modern attitudes about the Last Days are leading to many unscriptural responses, including fear mongering, speculation, false doctrines, and lack of focus on the Gospel. I personally wasted a few years being overly concerned about this subject, when I could have been pursuing a relationship with the Lord ("Seek ye first the kingdom of God, then all these things will be added unto you") According to God's Word, our End Time response should be:
1. Love others
2. Witness to others
3. Know the Word
4. Do not be afraid
If you find that a particular study has been helpful, I'd love to hear from you. Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.