Thursday, November 17, 2011

Are We in the End Times?

I’ve been in ministry for about 20 years and have often been asked, “Are we in the end times?” The question is usually connected with some current catastrophic event. When some major calamity occurs, the query is natural. The Tsunami, Katrina, the Recession, Global Warming, Social Unrest, and the Israeli/Arab Conflict have all solicited such questions. The world often seems to be in turmoil, so it makes sense to wonder if we’re close.
This question also was on the minds of the early church. For example, in 2 Thessalonians, the church had received news that the “day of the Lord” had begun. A false prophecy had circulated claiming that the world was in the terrible end times’ period known as “the tribulation.” The Prophet Daniel prophecied that a time of judgment would come that would be seven years long. Jesus referred to it in Matthew 24:29 as the tribulation as did other prophets throughout Scripture. It was also frequently called the “day of the Lord” by the prophets. The term “day” in this phrase had more of an “age” connotation to it (like when we say “your day is coming!”). Since the Thessalonian church was in a time of great persecution, they naturally were prone to believe that they were actually in the tribulation and had missed God’s deliverance from it known as “the rapture.” In a previous letter (1 Thes. 5:9), Paul had promised them that they were not appointed to God’s wrath (speaking of the tribulation), and therefore it is logical to assume that the church would be “taken out” before the tribulation by the rapture. So, if the false prophecy claiming the tribulation was upon them was true, then they must have missed the rapture’s rescue from the tribulation. To ease their fears, Paul writes 2 Thes. 2. His answers also provide clarity for us about the end times.

Check out vv. 1-4:
“1 Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, 2 not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. 3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.” (2 Thes. 2:1-4).

Notice, Paul refers to “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him.” This is the rapture. They thought they may have missed it. But Paul calms them down. In v. 2 he encourages them to not “become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy . . . saying the day of the Lord has already come.” They thought they were in the end times and that the tribulation had come. And they were freaking out over it! But Paul says that they were given a false prophecy. Just recently, a radio personality and self-proclaimed Bible scholar predicted the coming of Jesus in May of this year and then again in October. He gave false prophecies and many people believed him, even selling their homes. That kind of thing has happened over and over again for thousands of years. Even while the Apostles themselves were still alive, people were making false prophecies and frightening many. But Paul corrects the error and says in v. 3, “Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way.” We’re to keep our eyes open for spiritual deception and counter it with biblical truth. Then Paul reminds them of what was predicted by Daniel hundreds of years earlier, namely, that the Antichrist will be clearly identified in the last days. Specifically, he will be “revealed” and will set himself up as God in the temple in Jerusalem (v. 4). Since that had not happened at the time of the Thessalonian church, they were assured that they were not in the tribulation, and, therefore, had not missed the rapture.

This teaching applies to us today as well. While the earth is in chaos in many ways and Christians are persecuted terribly throughout the world, we have not yet arrived at the end. How do we know? Well, the Antichrist has not been revealed yet and we have not seen him exalt himself in the Temple of Jerusalem and demand that the world worship him. However, just because we’re not in the tribulation yet doesn’t mean it’s not near. Scripture is clear that it could start at any time, like a “thief in the night” (1 Thes. 5:4). Therefore, it’s important to make sure you’re on God’s side because the end will not be pretty for His enemies. Take a few moments right now and make sure you are Christ’s. If you’re not, tell Him you believe in Him, repent of your sins, ask His forgiveness, and accept the gospel. Then get ready for the rapture!