There is never a lack of interest in the “end times.” People with little to no religious background seem just as interested in the questions surrounding the end of the world as those who have fervent belief. Just as there is no lack of interest in the end times, there is also no lack of competing theories and ideas about exactly how and when the end of time will come. But what does the Bible really teach about the “end times”?
You have probably heard stories about one world governments, the “Antichrist,” the “rapture,” and things like these. Some people have made a lot of money writing books about these subjects. The only problem with these stories is that they have no basis in Scripture! They are not consistent with the story of God and His Kingdom that the New Testament teaches.
The Bible does tell us that we are living in the end times; Hebrews 1:2 indicates that God has spoken to us in these “last days” through His Son Jesus Christ. The “end times” began with the day of Pentecost (cf. Acts 2) and will ultimately close with the return of Jesus.
Since we are living in the “end times,” can we look to the Bible to give us some more specific indications as to when Jesus will return? Jesus and Paul both attest to the fact that we do not know the day or the hour, and that Jesus’ return will be “like a thief in the night,” at a time and in a way that the majority do not expect (Matthew 25:1-13, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-10). We have no indication that there will be a specific seven year period that features a “rapture” and a “tribulation” as is often claimed.
Instead, at a particular time, Jesus will simply return just as He departed: from the heavens (cf. Acts 1:11, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17). Paul indicates that believers will meet Jesus in the air, but that could mean that they will escort Him to the earth as easily as it could mean that they will immediately depart with Him for the heavens (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).
The Bible teaches that this moment is the time for judgment, when everyone will receive the due consequence of their works: for those who are found to be the obedient servants of God in Christ, eternal life; for those who are found to be disobedient, condemnation (cf. Matthew 25:31-46, Romans 2:5-11, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9, Revelation 20:11-15).
At this point it seems that the current heavens and earth will be destroyed at the elemental level with a great heat, and then the “new heavens and the new earth” will be established (2 Peter 3:10-13, Revelation 21:1). However constituted, this “new heaven” and “new earth” is where God’s people will dwell in the presence of the Father and Son forever, and their glory is described beautifully in terms of a jewel-encrusted city in Revelation 21:2-22:6. The original purposes of the Creator for His creation are restored; mankind lives in entirely unbroken association with God, and the creation is redeemed from its subjection to futility (cf. Romans 8:19-23).
This is the picture we obtain from Scripture regarding what will happen when the “end times” have their final consummation at the return of Jesus Christ. While it may not have the flair for the dramatic of many other presentations, it maintains consistency with the whole of the message of the New Testament and God’s purposes in reconciling His creation to Himself.
How, then, shall we live? Many people have put much time and energy into attempting to ascertain the exact time and sequence of Jesus’ return. In the end, however, such is futile, for we will not know the day or the hour (Matthew 25:13). Nevertheless, God does not expect us to live in suspended animation. Since Jesus’ return will be sudden and may take many unawares, God’s counsel is quite clear: be ready (Matthew 25:1-13, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-10, 2 Peter 3:10-13, Revelation 22:7, 12). We must live our lives as faithful servants of God, always prepared to meet Him, for we do not know whether we will continue to live beyond this breath (James 4:14) or precisely when the Lord shall return. Let us not be deceived into thinking that we have time and that certain things must take place before Jesus returns, for the Scriptures do not so teach. He could return at any moment. Are we ready?
Ethan R. Longhenry