I just finished reading Christian Endgame by Ken Samples of Reasons to Believe. In this short booklet, the author attempts to throw some cold water on speculation concerning the imminent return of Jesus Christ that is rampant among prophecy-minded Christians right now. While I am sympathetic to his attempt to curb egregious abuses like setting dates or calling various politicians the Antichrist, I disagree with the basic premise of the book. This premise seems to be the idea that we as Christians cannot know that the return of Christ is near because Jesus will return at an unexpected time like “a thief in the night”. For this reason, the author reasons that Christians should not speculate on the meaning of Bible prophecies or use the apparent fulfillment of prophecy to share with non-Christians. While I hate when someone calls a politician that they do not like the “Antichrist” and I agree that setting a month or a year is ridiculous, I also believe that the return of Christ is near for many reasons.
During the first century, it would have been very hard for a small group of people to do a lot of damage to society. At that time, a few hundred committed fanatics could grab swords and start an army. If they trained for a while and had some luck, they might succeed in killing a few hundred people or perhaps even a few thousand. Before very long, however, any such group of insurrectionists or malcontents would have been tracked down and eradicated by Roman soldiers.
Over the centuries, the ability of a small number of people to inflict destruction has remained stagnant or increased only slowly. Bows, crossbows, flintlocks, repeating rifles, cannons, tanks and airplanes represented only a marginal increase to the threat posed by small numbers of people inclined to violence. This slow increase in the ability to inflict mass casualties over the last twenty centuries, however, stands in stark contrast to the modern era. In the last hundred years, the advance of science and industry has facilitated the development of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons of mass destruction that represent an enormous increase in the danger posed by fanatical elements of society. As technology continues to increase, these weapons are within the grasp of an ever expanding number of dictators, terrorists and rebels. Apocalyptic scenarios that would have been impossible to imagine one hundred years ago are a very real danger at the present time.
Why do I take this as an indication that the end is near? As you read certain prophecies in the Bible, it seems plain that the only way certain things could be fulfilled in the absence of some kind of supernatural agency is through the use of weaponry that has been unavailable for most of human history. The prophecies are filled with references to plagues, fire and brimstone that could only refer to weapons of mass destruction if they refer to effects caused by man. While earlier generations of Christians may have sincerely believed that they could have seen these prophecies fulfilled, they could not have known that in our time the proliferation of devices that could cause this kind of widespread devastation would be an issue of major concern for people around the world. The bottom line? Weapons of mass destruction that can cause effects similar to those described in the end times prophecies are here and they are in the hands of men with the will to use them. To me, the words of Jesus spoken two thousand years ago could be true today when they could not have been true at any previous time in human history:
And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved (Mark 13:20)
One of the things that is striking to me as I read the Book of Revelation is the number of environmental disasters that seem to be described. The fish are dying, the water is poisoned, the sun scorches human beings, the trees and grasslands burn. This destruction of the earth seems to be attributed to human agency as Revelation talks of “destroying those who destroy the earth” (Revelation 11:18) The destruction of the environment and the divine rebuke for this destruction seems to imply that humanity has had a global environmental impact. Once again, this could only have been true in the last hundred years.
The Spread of the Gospel
The other obvious sign that Jesus gave that could not have been fulfilled in previous generations but could easily be fulfilled in our current generation is the spread of the gospel message:
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)
The Nation of Israel
To me, the strongest evidence that our current generation is living near to the return of the Lord is the miraculous return of the nation of Israel in 1948. Those who want to interpret the prophecies in Daniel and Revelation figuratively know this and they must dismiss the current nation of Israel as a nation of unbelievers who are not religiously observant and therefore are not representative of historical Israel. As far as I am concerned, this idea represents bad theology. As I have discussed in my posts on understanding the Old Testament, the correct way to view the ancient nation of Israel vs the modern nation of Israel is as in the figure below:
As can be seen in the figure, the word of God given to Moses in the Old Testament succeeded in teaching the nation of Israel the basics of morality. For the modern nation of Israel to go back to the Old Testament law described by Moses would be a step back for them. The only way for them to go is up towards the cross of Christ.
The Boy Who Cried Wolf
There is one aspect of the arrival of Jesus Christ in an unexpected manner that perhaps Ken Samples did not consider. Is it possible that the reason that Jesus arrives unexpectedly is precisely because a number of excitable Christian prophecy watchers have been declaring His imminent return for so long that the world has decided that He is not coming?
Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:3-4)
Having said all that I have said above, I am not holding my breath waiting for the Lord to return. Why? Because there seems to me to be one sign that the Lord discussed which has not yet come to pass as far as I can see:
For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many (Matthew 24:5)
Are there a number of people running around claiming to be Jesus and deceiving many people and I am simply unaware of it? We know that this sign must precede His coming since He explicitly warns us against being deceived. For myself, I don’t think that David Koresh and some guy in Korea qualify as a fulfillment of this prophecy.