How long until Christ returns? Before this greatest of all events occurs, the Bible speaks of a period called “the last days”—“the time of the end”—“the end of the world [age]”—“the end of these things”—“the end of the days”—and of a time when the course of human history, as we know it, “shall be finished.”
Of course, many professing Christians do not believe in a literal Return to earth by Jesus Christ. Of those who do, most believe that it could be hundreds of years away. Some believe it could be “a thousand years in the future.” Others are somewhat concerned about “Armageddon.” They feel that time may be short but have no sense of how to know.
What do you believe?
The original apostles thought that Christ would return in their lifetimes. Paul, in I Corinthians 15:51 and I Thessalonians 4:15, when speaking of the resurrection of the dead to occur at Christ’s Second Coming, using the word “we,” expected to be among those who were “alive and remain[ing] unto the coming of the Lord.”
In his second epistle to the Thessalonians, Paul had come to realize that he had previously misunderstood the timing of specific events that must precede Christ’s Return. He even warned of those who would deceive others about the issue of when this would occur. He wrote about the “coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” and that the brethren should be careful to “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition” (II Thes. 2:1, 3).
Could you be deceived?
Are we in the last days? If so, can you know for sure that this is true? Jesus said to His disciples, “I will come again” (John 14:3). Further, forty days after His Resurrection, two men (angels) told His disciples as He was rising to heaven, “this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as you have seen Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Matthew records the words of Christ: “For as the lightning comes…so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Matt. 24:27, 30, 37, 39, 42, 44, 46). Will the world soon arrive at this climactic event? Again, can we know?
Make no mistake! The Bible is plain about the Return of Jesus Christ. Many more verses could be quoted that speak of His Second Coming to earth. It will happen—and it does not hinge on the opinions of men. However, before this climactic event occurs, many other things are foretold to happen in the period leading to the final terrible events that precede it!
The idea of the end of the world has been a subject of speculation, ridicule, general discussion, fascination and fancy for 2,000 years. Yet, few realize how much the Bible shows can be understood about this time.
In the famous Olivet prophecy of Matthew 24, the disciples asked Christ, “Tell us, when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the world?” (vs. 3). After answering this question in detail, Christ, thirty-three verses later, added, “But of that day and hour knows no man, no, not the angels of heaven but My Father only” (vs. 36).
Does this mean we cannot know the general time of Christ’s Second Coming? Some believe this—and these same people shrug off any need to even be concerned with the timing of Christ’s Return.
what does Matthew 24:50-51 mean when it says, “The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looks not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites”? It is clear that almost everyone is not looking for Christ’s Second Coming at the right time. In fact, He will come when most are not looking for Him at all. What will cause so many to not recognize the onset of such an enormous event?
Why are so many unable to recognize the arrival of the last days?
In verses 32-33, Christ spoke a parable: “Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near: So likewise you, when you shall see all these things, know that it [margin: He] is near, even at the doors.” Christ states that we can know the “season” of His Second Coming.
Do not be willing to settle for anything less than what the Bible tells you!
Years ago, a catchy tune called “A Sign of the Times” became popular. I enjoyed it and you may remember it. The title was actually derived from another verse in Matthew. In Matthew 16, the Pharisees and Sadducees confronted Christ, desiring a “sign” from Him. He called them hypocrites, saying, “You can discern the face of the sky; but can you not discern the signs of the times?”
While the intent of their question was that they wanted a sign that Jesus was the Messiah (see Matthew 12:38-40), Christ’s point was that they were unable to properly discern events they were witnessing—the “signs of the times.”
Can you discern the signs of our times?
Christ told His disciples, “And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draws near” (Luke 21:28). The “things” He referred to include a whole series of events prophesied to occur for the first time in history! These things are happening—and intensifying—now! A quick study of them will not do. Only a more thorough examination reveals the clear picture. We must look carefully to properly discern the “signs of the times.”
God has allotted man 6,000 years to try his own governments, philosophies, value systems, religions and forms of education. Humanly-devised ideas of men do not and cannot work in solving the world’s truly big problems. The 6,000 years is almost up. And, in the last 200 years or so, the world has changed dramatically—and rapidly. Events are speeding up in a way that has never been seen before!
Everyone is familiar with the kooks and oddballs who stand on street corners shouting, “Repent! The end is near!” Hollywood has depicted many of them. Of course, no one takes such people seriously. But times have changed, and many are the voices of reason who now tell us that something is wrong—even terribly wrong!
The idea of one world government, designed to save the planet and mankind from itself, is heard more often. However, no one seems to know how to create such a government and then acquire the cooperation of everyone necessary to make it succeed!
Look at the world around you. What do you see?
As a whole, the world was a much more stable place until the early part of the nineteenth century. At that time, the Industrial Revolution gave birth to the Modern Age. It was not until about a century ago that men began to drive cars and fly, and, since then, civilization has gone from the “Nuclear Age” to the “Space Age” and to the “Information Age” in a little more than a half century.
The arrival of new inventions, at the fastest rate in history, is changing life daily. Just think of the impact of the printing press and you can appreciate how dramatically a single invention can change the world. Modern computers have done the same—and there is no turning back from the huge impact of just this one invention. Jet travel has only arrived in the last half century. Although estimates vary, it is now believed that mankind’s total fund of knowledge is doubling every few years. Some think this could soon accelerate to every six months!
In the early 1970s, Alvin Toffler wrote a book called Future Shock. This large book described a certain “psychological stunning,” or shock effect, due to the high speed of changes in society. Toffler demonstrated that these changes began occurring in the 1970s at such a rate that people could no longer properly process them. Society as a whole began to go into what Toffler described as overload—or “shock.” He explained that the “future” was becoming the “present” so fast that people were beginning to “short-circuit” in a way that civilization had never seen before. Some years later, he wrote a sequel called The Third Wave. This second book described the advancing of this condition.
The picture he described was not good, and it has only gotten worse!
While all this “advancement” is occurring, mankind’s problems have never seemed greater or more insoluble!
The scope of the HIV/AIDS epidemic projections are being constantly revised to reflect an outlook that is far more alarming than previously thought. Entire sections of Africa’s population are projected to be virtually wiped out in a few years by the presence of this single terrible disease.
Earth’s population of almost 6.4 billion people (early 2004) is rising consistently at 1.2% each year. This means that it will reach almost 11.1 billion by 2050! This projection comes despite the fact that disease and starvation are expected to be worse in the fastest growing parts of the world! High fertility rates in the less-developed parts of the world have already brought these expected population increases right on schedule.
Let’s consider some Bible passages that describe certain crucial, end-time prophecies!
We explained that Paul came to realize that he did not live in the age when Christ would return. However, God did use him to record what conditions would be like when that time would finally come. Consider his prophecy of the widespread degeneration of attitudes and character, just prior to Christ’s Second Coming. He wrote, “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof: from such turn away” (II Tim. 3:1-6).
This is a powerful prophecy describing the complete breakdown of character in “the last days.” This time has come!—and these widespread conditions grow worse daily! Look around. People’s conduct is rapidly changing—seemingly always for the worse. More educators and others in authority are sounding the alarm that conditions have exploded out of control!
Who can doubt this trend?
Recognize that this “personal” is not intended to be written in an in-depth fashion. Otherwise, many pages would be required just to describe the conditions that Paul refers to in this single prophecy!
But the degeneration of people’s attitudes and behavior is stark when compared to a generation ago. There have always been acts of terrible violence but now they occur more often. There have always been liars but now the problem of deceit is more pervasive. There has always been adultery but the percentage of people who commit it is now epidemic. There has always been divorce but today it is much more common. There have always been disrespectful young people. Soon an entire generation will have forgotten the fifth commandment, “Honor your father and mother.” While there has always been thievery, statistics show that it has never been worse—even in the most affluent countries, where people already have many more physical possessions simply because of where they were born!
So much more could be said of each term or phrase used in Paul’s prophecy. And we have not talked about pornography, child abuse, crime and trends in perverted sex, drug abuse, hatred and war! All of these conditions have combined to create an age correctly described as “perilous”—or very dangerous! Collectively, this becomes an indicator that these are the last days!
Taken together, Matthew 24, Luke 21 and Mark 13 comprise Christ’s Olivet Prophecy. The account begins with His disciples (Matt. 24:3) asking Him about the events that would precede the “end of the world.” This time, what was being sought was a “sign” of when the end of the age—end of civilized society as we know it—would come. As mentioned, His disciples originally believed this would occur in their own lifetime, because they saw it in conjunction with the destruction of the physical temple in Jerusalem. This is because Christ had just explained this coming destruction moments before they had asked Him their question. While this temple was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70, Christ understood that His Second Coming would be over nineteen centuries later. He prophesied that certain other events would precede it.
Christ described the breakdown of character similar to the way Paul did. In Matt. 24:36-39, Christ warned that conditions would mirror “the days of Noah,” which Genesis 6:11-12 describes: “The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth.”
Corruption is mentioned three times in this one short description. Yet, this passage is highly specific and speaks of men as having individually and collectively degenerated to a condition of absolute corruption—with civilization “filled with violence.” Notice God’s use of both the singular word “his” and the collective word “all” to drive this point home!
Consider how often acts of mass violence now occur in schools, restaurants or other places in ways that were virtually unheard of until recently! Who ever heard of serial snipers—or suicide bombers—before recently? The relatively new phenomenon of terrorism is also now becoming more global in nature. This is prophesied to spread worldwide!
In Luke 17:26-30, Christ also compared the conditions at the time of His Return to those found in Sodom and Gomorrah. Genesis 18 and 19 show that these two cities were so rotten and evil that, just before God rained fire and brimstone upon them, only three people (Lot and his two daughters—his wife later turned to salt) were deemed worthy to escape. Also, only eight people were allowed to enter the Ark before God flooded and destroyed the world.
Ask yourself: How much longer before conditions cannot grow worse?
What about religious confusion? Matthew 24:4-5 records Jesus’ warning about a coming great deception. He said, “Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in My name saying I [Jesus] am Christ; and shall deceive many.” In other words, many would claim to represent Jesus, and acknowledge that Christ was indeed the Christ, while bringing a message that deceives their listeners. The many divided, confused, disagreeing and competing groups within professing Christianity today surely prove the accuracy of Christ’s prophecy.
It is critical to note one other aspect of Jesus’ warning about those who would say, “Christ was Christ.” Almost all modern preachers stress the Person of Jesus Christ Himself, instead of the message that He brought! They focus on the Messenger instead of His message! Saying that Christ was, in fact, the Christ—the Messiah—is a true statement! The deception of “many” starts when His message of a coming world-ruling kingdom, with all that this soon-coming colossal event means, is ignored—and even suppressed. Herein lies the greatest deception! Understand this!
Let’s be more specific.
Jesus proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom of God. Mark 1:14-15 records this as the very first words He spoke: “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying…the kingdom of God is at hand: repent you, and believe the gospel.” Many New Testament verses show that Christ consistently preached this message. (To learn more, read our booklets Which Is the True Gospel? and What Is the Kingdom of God?)
Within thirty years of Christ’s crucifixion, Paul warned of those who were already perverting the true gospel into a different, false, counterfeit gospel (Gal. 1:6-7). This understanding was so important that a double curse was pronounced on any who did this (Gal. 1:8-9). He also warned, “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that comes preaches another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if you receive another spirit, which you have not received, or another gospel, which you have not accepted, you might well bear with him” (II Cor. 11:3-4).
Paul indicted the many false ministers who bring such deception when he said, “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers [Satan’s] also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works” (vs. 13-15). This verse demonstrates the power of deception held by the “many” (which Christ referenced in Matthew 24)—the many ministers of this world’s brand of Christianity. It plainly speaks of preachers who misrepresent Christ by preaching “another Jesus” and bringing “another gospel,” different than that of the kingdom of God.
The ministers of this world’s churches do not preach this message! They talk incessantly about “baby Jesus,” “Christ on the cross,” “the virgin birth” and various social gospels. But how often have you heard that Christ is coming to rule earth as a King—bringing a great supergovernment that will supplant and replace all of the governments of man? Probably never.
Until Herbert W. Armstrong began to proclaim this same gospel to the world in 1934, the gospel of the kingdom of God had not been taken into all nations for nearly 1,900 years. From the time of the apostles, until the beginning of the 52-year ministry of this one man, the true gospel did not go out in any real power to the world as a whole!
Matthew 24:14, also part of the Olivet Prophecy, states, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” Mr. Armstrong reached an unprecedented hundreds of millions during his ministry. This included a readership of approximately 25 million people (over 8 million subscribing households) of the Plain Truth magazine just at the time of his death, in early 1986. This magazine was published in seven languages! Mr. Armstrong personally visited one-third of all the heads of state on earth during the last two decades of his life. He always brought this same message of the coming kingdom of God.
There were few places on earth where this message was not heard on either radio or television. This message was broadcast over many hundreds of stations. At one time, his World Tomorrow telecast topped the Arbitron ratings as the most listened-to religious telecast on earth. The gospel of the kingdom went out in great power—like no other time in history!
Christ’s prophecy was, and still is, true!
(Read our booklet Are These the Last Days? to learn more.)