Where is this world headed? Do we really know what the future holds for the inhabitants of earth?
The answer is yes.
Just as the Old Testament prophets foretold the coming of the Messiah with precision accuracy, so have the prophets of both the Old and New Testaments foretold the coming of the last days.
Does the term "last days" mean the destruction of the earth and the annihilation of humanity?
Instead, this unique time period described as "the last days," "the end times," and "the time of Jacob's trouble," points to a day of unprecedented suffering and persecution for the world's inhabitants, particularly those who are Jews and Christians.
This is how the prophet Jeremiah describes the end times:
"This is what the Lord says: 'I hear cries of fear; there is terror and no peace. Now let me ask you a question: Do men give birth to babies? Then why do they stand there, ashen-faced, hands pressed against their sides like a woman in labor? In all history there has never been such a time of terror. It will be a time of trouble for my people Israel. Yet in the end they will be saved!" Jeremiah 30:5-7 (NLT)
According to Jesus, Christians will be arrested, persecuted, and killed for following Him:
"Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers. And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other. And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people. Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come." Matthew 24:9-14 (NLT)
Does this mean we should fear the end times?
Absolutely not. While this time period is marked with immense suffering and unparalleled human evil, it's a relatively short time when compared to the vast expanse of eternity. And the end of the end times will mark the beginning of the establishment of the kingdom of Jesus Christ.
This is a kingdom of peace, justice, and righteousness. And His reign will never end.
General Signs of the End Times
So what are the signs of the end times? The disciples asked Jesus this very question almost 2,000 years ago:
"Later, Jesus sat on the slopes of the Mount of Olives. His disciples came to him privately and asked, 'When will all this take place? And will there be any sign ahead of time to signal your return and the end of the world?' Jesus told them, 'Don't let anyone mislead you. For many will come in my name, saying, 'I am the Messiah.' They will lead many astray. And wars will break out near and far, but don't panic. Yes, these things must come, but the end won't follow immediately. The nations and kingdoms will proclaim war against each other, and there will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world. But all this will be only the beginning of the horrors to come.'" Matthew 24:3-8 (NLT)
Much pain and suffering will envelop the world prior to Christ's return, but all these wars, famines, earthquakes, false teachers, and rumors of war are only the beginning. They don't qualify as the main event.
In fact, those who take notice of such events will be ridiculed by non-believers, who will use an illogical argument prophesied by Peter:
"Most importantly, I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. They will say, 'What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.'" 2 Peter 3:3-4 (NLT)
Yet, things are not and will not "remain the same since the world was first created."
So how do we know when the end times are upon us?
One event in particular will serve notice to the entire world.
The Rebirth of Israel
In the Old Testament, God promised that in the last days, He would gather His children (the Jews) from all the parts of the earth where they had been scattered and bring them back to the land of Israel.
"'Do not be afraid, for I am with you. I will gather you and your children from east and west and from north and south. I will bring my sons and daughters back to Israel from the distant corners of the earth. All who claim me as their God will come, for I have made them for my glory. It was I who created them." Isaiah 43:5-7 (NLT)
In A.D. 70, the Romans conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple, and dispersed the Jews to all parts of the Roman Empire to serve as slaves. The Romans intended to destroy the Jewish culture once and for all.
God had other plans.
True to His promise, He regathered His people from the four corners of the earth and made Israel an independent nation once again. He also promised to do so in a single day:
"Who has ever seen or heard of anything as strange as this? Has a nation ever been born in a single day? Has a country ever come forth in a mere moment? But by the time Jerusalem's birth pains begin, the baby will be born; the nation will come forth." Isaiah 66:8 (NLT)
Jesus Himself emphasized the significance of this event:
"Now learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its buds become tender and its leaves begin to sprout, you know without being told that summer is near. Just so, when you see the events I've described beginning to happen, you can know his return is very near, right at the door. I assure you, this generation will not pass from the scene before all these things take place. Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will remain forever." Matthew 24:32-35 (NLT)
In the words of Jesus, the generation that witnessed this event will not pass away until "all these things" (the end times) take place.
So what are "all these things"?
They're the events of the end times...
Specific End Times Events
Following the rapture, several events are scheduled to take place in the end times:
The 7-year time period known as the tribulation
The rise of the revived Roman Empire
The appearance of the Antichrist
Confirmation of covenant between the Antichrist and Israel
The abomination of desolation
The rise and fall of Babylon
The gathering of the world's armies at Armageddon
The Glorious Appearing of Jesus Christ
The 1,000 year reign of Christ
While this isn't a comprehensive list of the end time events outlined in bible prophecy, it does provide a general overview of what to expect. Let's take a more in-depth look at these events which appear on the end times timeline...
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul revealed to his fellow Christians that not all Christians will die. Some will be transformed in an instant:
"But let me tell you a wonderful secret God has revealed to us. Not all of us will die, but we will all be transformed. It will happen in a moment, in the blinking of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, the Christians who have died will be raised with transformed bodies. And then we who are living will be transformed so that we will never die. For our perishable earthly bodies must be transformed into heavenly bodies that will never die." 1 Corinthians 15:51-53 (NLT)
This event is known as the rapture, and Jesus Himself promises protect His followers from the horrors of the last days:
"Because you have obeyed my command to persevere, I will protect you from the great time of testing that will come upon the whole world to test those who belong to this world." Revelation 3:10 (NLT)
The "time of great testing" is the tribulation period, and just as God protected Noah and his family from the great flood, so He promises to protect Christians from the tribulation:
"When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah's day. In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn't realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes." Matthew 24:37-39 (NLT)
The Destruction of Damascus
While it's debated as to whether or not his event will take place before or after the rapture of the church, the prophet Isaiah foretold the destruction of Damascus in the end times:
"This message came to me concerning Damascus: 'Look, Damascus will disappear! It will become a heap of ruins. The cities of Aroer will be deserted. Sheep will graze in the streets and lie down unafraid. There will be no one to chase them away. The fortified cities of Israel will also be destroyed, and the power of Damascus will end." Isaiah 17:1-3 (NLT)
Gog and Magog
In addition, the prophet Ezekiel foretold the formation of an end times coalition of nations which would rise against Israel. This coalition is led by the nation of Russia and its leader:
"Get ready; be prepared! Keep all the armies around you mobilized, and take command of them. A long time from now you will be called into action. In the distant future you will swoop down on the land of Israel, which will be lying in peace after her recovery from war and after the return of her people from many lands. You and all your allies - a vast and awesome horde - will roll down on them like a storm and cover the land like a cloud." Ezekiel 38:7-9 (NLT)
Again, it's debated as to whether or not the war of Gog and Magog occurs before or after the tribulation. But one thing remains certain - it's coming.
When most people refer to the end times, they really mean the Tribulation, the final seven year period of human rule before Christ returns to earth. The beginning of this time period is marked by the confirmation of covenant between Israel and the Antichrist:
"The ruler will make a treaty with the people for a period of one set of seven, but after half this time, he will put an end to the sacrifices and offerings. And as a climax to all his terrible deeds, he will set up a sacrilegious object that causes desecration, until the fate decreed for this defiler is finally poured out on him." Daniel 9:27 (NLT)
The mid-point of the Tribulation is signaled by the abomination of desolation, and it marks the beginning of the final three and a half years of the Tribulation, a time known as the Great Tribulation.
The Revived Roman Empire
The end times will also witnesses the resurrection of the Roman Empire as the head of a global government:
"Then he said to me, 'This fourth beast is the fourth world power that will rule the earth. It will be different from all the others. It will devour the whole world, trampling everything in its path. Its ten horns are ten kings that will rule that empire. Then another king will arise, different from the other ten, who will subdue three of them. He will defy the Most High and wear down the holy people of the Most High.'" Daniel 7:23-25 (NLT)
According to Daniel, the revived Roman Empire will be ruled by ten kings, but one will arise from among them, subdue three of the ten, and seize power for himself.
This man known throughout history as the Antichrist...
There will be great spiritual deception in the end times, and the master deceiver of mankind will be the Antichrist, a man literally indwelled by Satan himself.
According to Daniel, the Antichrist will cause a shocking amount of destruction and he will succeed in everything he does:
"The shaggy male goat represents the king of the Greek Empire. The four prominent horns that replaced the one large horn show that the Greek Empire will break into four sections with four kings, none of them as great as the first. At the end of their rule, when their sin is at its height, a fierce king, a master of intrigue, will rise to power. He will become very strong, but not by his own power. He will cause a shocking amount of destruction and succeed in everything he does. He will destroy powerful leaders and devastate the holy people." Daniel 8:21-24 (NLT)
And at the mid-point of the Tribulation, the Antichrist will commit the abomination of desolation...
The Abomination of Desolation
According to Jesus:
"The day is coming when you will see what Daniel the prophet spoke about - the sacrilegious object that causes desecration standing in the Holy Place." Matthew 24:15 (NLT)
At the mid-point of the Tribulation, the Antichrist will enter a rebuilt Jewish Temple, enter the Holy of Holies, and declare himself to be God. This act is known as "the abomination of desolation," and it kicks off the beginning of the Great Tribulation, a time of unprecedented pain and suffering for God's people.
The Mark of the Beast
It is during this time that the Antichrist will institute the mark of the beast:
"He required everyone - great and small, rich and poor, slave and free - to be given a mark on the right hand or on the forehead. And no one could buy or sell anything without that mark, which was either the name of the beast or the number representing his name. Wisdom is needed to understand this. Let the one who has understanding solve the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. His number is 666." Revelation 13:16-18 (NLT)
Those who take the mark of the beast will effectively proclaim themselves eternal enemies of God. This will be a conscious decision, not an accident. As such, the final destination of these people is one of fire and burning sulfur.
The most vivid illustration of humanity's wealth, opulence, and abundance in the end times is the City of Babylon. Babylong will become the center of world trade and a concentration of wealth unparalleled in the annals of human history.
Nevertheless, Babylon will be destroyed in the end times:
"They will stand at a distance, terrified by her great torment. They will cry out, 'How terrible, how terrible for you, O Babylon, you great city! In a single moment God's judgment came on you.' The merchants of the world will weep and mourn for her, for there is no one left to buy their goods. She bought great quantities of gold, silver, jewels, and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk, and scarlet cloth; things made of fragrant thyine wood, ivory goods, and objects made of expensive wood; and bronze, iron, and marble. She also bought cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, olive oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle, sheep, horses, chariots, and bodies - that is, human slaves." Revelation 18:10-13 (NLT)
While most end time references to Armageddon conjure images of nuclear annihilation, giant asteroids, worldwide pandemics, or other existential threats, the reality of Armageddon is quite different.
In bible prophecy, Armageddon refers to a geographical location:
"And they gathered all the rulers and their armies to a place called Armageddon in Hebrew." Revelation 16:16 (NLT)
Armageddon, the modern day City of Megiddo, will be an end time staging ground for the armies of the world.
To do battle with the Lord Almighty and His chosen Messiah, Jesus Christ:
"Then I saw the beast gathering the kings of the earth and their armies in order to fight against the one sitting on the horse and his army." Revelation 19:19 (NLT)
In fact, the Antichrist will take on Jesus Christ in battle:
"He will even take on the Prince of princes in battle, but he will be broken, though not by human power." Daniel 8:25 (NLT)
The Second Coming
The gathering of the world's armies at Armageddon precipitates the Glorious Appearing of Jesus Christ, an event also known as the Second Coming.
Jesus told His disciples about this day:
"And then at last, the sign of the coming of the Son of Man will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the nations of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man arrive on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send forth his angels with the sound of a mighty trumpet blast, and they will gather together his chosen ones from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven." Matthew 24:30-31 (NLT)
On that day, the Lord of Heaven's Armies (Jesus Christ) will vanquish God?s enemies and establish an earthly monarchy with Christ as King.
The Millennial Kingdom
This earthly reign by Christ is known as the Millennial Kingdom:
"Then I saw thrones, and the people sitting on them had been given the authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony about Jesus and for proclaiming the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his statue, nor accepted his mark on their forehead or their hands. They all came to life again, and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years." Revelation 20:4 (NLT)
Following the Millennial Kingdom, Satan will be thrown into the lake of fire for all of eternity.
Look to Jesus Christ for Answers
So when will these end times events take place?
No one knows the exact day or hour:
"However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows." Matthew 24:36 (NLT)
However, Jesus teaches us that we should know the general "season" of His coming:
"One day the Pharisees and Sadducees came to test Jesus' claims by asking him to show them a miraculous sign from heaven. He replied, 'You know the saying, 'Red sky at night means fair weather tomorrow, red sky in the morning means foul weather all day.' You are good at reading the weather signs in the sky, but you can't read the obvious signs of the times!'" Matthew 16:1-3 (NLT)
The rebirth of Israel as an independent nation acts a giant billboard that all the world can see. Right now, it's screaming out to all who will listen that Christ's return is near, right around the corner.
Those who seek peace will find it if they only trust in Jesus Christ:
"I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world." John 16:33 (NLT)
For this world is full of pain and suffering, but it is only temporal in nature. But one certainty upon which we can base our lives is that Christ is coming, and when He does, the world as we know it will make way for His Kingdom:
"See, I am coming soon, and my reward is with me, to repay all according to their deeds. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End." Revelation 22:12-13 (NLT)
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