The last things: All things newIntroduction
Like a game of "Monopoly", we move through life buying and selling. One truth soon becomes evident, all games must come to an end. Soon the Creator will come and close up the board. Where will we stand in that day? The day of judgement, when Christ returns, will be a blessing for some, but a curse for others. For the members of the Kingdom it is a day of rejoicing.
The coming day
In the Bible, God's prophets (messengers from God) announced that our world is only a passing phase; it is but a speck compared to the reality that is to come - its days are numbered. God will soon set up an eternal dimension where his children will dwell with him forever. In that day, the world and our universe will be consumed; it will be absorbed up into a new infinite dimension, a new heaven and a new earth.
The Old Testament prophets, Jesus, Paul the apostle and John (in Revelation), all speak of this day as close at hand. Jesus is at this moment bringing all things into subjection to himself and preparing for the coming day, Jn.14:1-3. When all is ready he will return.
The sequence of events
1. The Last Days.
The term "Last Days" actually refers to our present time. This is the period from the death of Jesus in 30AD till the events just preceding the return of Jesus and the end of the world as we know it. During this period the following will occur:
i] False Messiahs - Mk.13:21-23. They will call for the allegiance of men and women and lead them away from Jesus. In a sense, they take the place of Christ. They are individuals, political leaders, ideologies, governments and even religious leaders.
iii] Natural disasters.
iv] Evil times - getting worse toward the end.
v] Persecution of Christians, Mk.13:14-20, Matt.10:17. Times of persecution will come and go, but as the return of Christ draws near there will be a growing intensity of trouble for believers.
vi] The great falling away of believers, Matt.24:9-14. A general failure of the Christian church to be obedient to the teachings of Jesus. A growing coldness, lack of love and a general abandoning of the Christian faith. This will be accentuated toward the end. This time of apostasy will not necessarily be easily observed, for the framework of Christian commitment will remain, but do so with little life in it. This will be the age of fraudulent faith.
vii] The incoming of the Jews, Rom.9-11. God's historic people, the Jewish race, will increasingly accept Jesus as their true Messiah. Even today, many Jews become believers.
This present age is best described as the gospel age. It is the period of time in which the human race has the opportunity to become part of the age to come. During this age, the Good News of God's Kingdom is to be spread throughout the world. This message will powerfully influence individuals and nations causing many people to follow Jesus. This age primarily exists to call out the "lost" and prepare them for the new Kingdom age in heaven. We may wonder why Jesus delay's his return, but the delay stems from God's mercy - he wants all to have the opportunity to be part of the new age to come. You and I wouldn't have had that opportunity if Jesus had returned a hundred years ago.
2. The Tribulation
Very close to the end, AntiChrist will be revealed. The AntiChrist is the embodiment of evil. He/she/it could be an ideology, a government, a dictator, a computer...... even a religious leader. He is the last and the greatest false messiah. The source of his power and direction will come from Satan. He will have a tremendous sway over the world and will even gather so-called Christians into his camp, 2Thess.2:1-12.
The AntiChrist will bring about the "abomination that desolates" or "desolating sacrilege" cf. Dan.9:27, Matt.24:15. This is probably some form of violent persecution of Christians, although it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is. When it occurs we will know it and so we will know that the end is near.
When we see this happening we are to escape; we are to run away from the troubles so that we will not be engulfed by them. It will be a time of massive social disorder, a time of great darkness. The work of the gospel is to cease in that day as it will have no further effect. The best we can do is to seek refuge. Many believers take this literally and look to the day when they will have to take refuge out in the bush,or on farms in the country. We are to escape civilization in that day, for society will turn on those who love Christ. We are not to fear that day as we will be able to read the signs and we will have time to escape and await the coming of Christ. He will come soon to cut short the violence perpetrated against his people. Matt.24:15-22.
Social disorder will usher in cosmic upheaval leading to the destruction of the world by fire, Matt.24:29-31, 2Pet.3:10.
3. The return of Jesus
For the sake of God's children (believers) caught up in the Great Tribulation, the troubled time will be shortened by the return of Christ, Matt.24:22.
Jesus will return in the same way he ascended to heaven after his earthly ministry. That is, he will return appearing from the clouds. He will return in the full view of everyone in the world, Matt.24:30.
Jesus will gather into the air all that are his, Matt.24:31. This will include all those who have died believing in Jesus. They will be raised first and be joined by all the Christians who are alive at the time of Christ's second coming. This is called the "rapture". All those who belong to Christ will be taken up from the world just before its destruction. They are taken away, while the rest are left, Matt.24:40-41, 1Cor.15:51-54, 1Thess.4:13-18, Phil.3:18-21. Jesus will then enter into battle with the nations led by AntiChrist under the control of the powers of darkness, Satan. The Nations will be destroyed. John.12:31, 2Thess.2:8, Heb.2:14, 1Jn.3:8, and the Universe will then be consumed by fire, 2Peter.3:10.
4. The Judgement
All mankind will stand before the living God, 2Cor.5:6-10, Heb.9:27. Those who have lived without Christ, who have ignored him, will find themselves condemned to destruction, Matt.11:20-24, 12:33-42, 25:31-46, Lk.13:1-5, Jn.5:28-29, 2Pet.2:9, 3:7. Those who have put their faith in Jesus will find themselves acquitted on the basis of Jesus' death on their behalf. They will receive their reward - eternal life.
We need to remember that at the centre of the judgement is the sorting of sheep from goats, weeds from wheat. It will be a time when the true believer will be separated from the fraud. In that day many will say "'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'" Matt.7:15-23. cf. Matt.13:24-30, 36-43, 25:31-46.
5. New heavens and a new earth
Jesus has promised that even now he is preparing the new dimension that we will be part of. The good life on earth is but a taste of what eternal life in God's Kingdom will be like. Our universe will be absorbed up into an infinitely greater dimension. Even nature yearns to cast off its present bondage and find release in the new world, Rom.8:18-23. Our present bodies too will be transformed into a resurrection body - an effective vehicle for the new heavens and the new earth, 1Cor.15:35-50.
So, after the victory we will join with Christ in the heavenly assembly. The Bible describes it as a feast - a great time of fellowship with each other and Christ forever, Lk.18:28-30, Jn.6:39-40, 14:1-7, 17:24, Rev.7:9, 21.
In that day we will be given authority and power to rule the cosmos.
How to live awaiting the end
For the person who doesn't know Jesus, there is only one possible response: Get to know him quickly and trust him day by day.
For the believer there are four responses outlined in Matthew 24 and 25.
i]. Be watchful. 24:32-35. Watch unto your faith.
ii]. Be prepared. 24:36-44, 25:1-13. No one knows the exact day of Jesus' coming so always be prepared. Don't be caught unaware, rather be sure you rest on Jesus for your salvation.
iii]. Be faithful. 24:45-51. There may be a delay in the coming of Jesus, and when he does come it will be when we least expect it. So, in the interim be firm in your faith.
iv]. Be diligent. 25:14-30. Stick firmly with the Master.
1. Paul once told an audience of unbelievers that God "has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man (Jesus) he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead", Act.17:31. On the basis of this truth God calls on "everyone everywhere to repent". Have you turned to Jesus that you might stand in that dreadful day?
2. When we understand the events leading up to the end, the end and the glory of the age to come, we are faced with a number of responses in our Christian lives. How do you think your Christian life will be affected by a clear understanding of the Last Things?