United Church of God, ia
Portland Oregon/The Dalles Oregon

Preaching the Gospel, Preparing a People

What is the Time of the End?

It seems like every time we turn on our TV's open a newspaper or follow the trends of social media, there's bad news. How long can it last? Are we in the time of the end?

Who could forget the devastating images from the typhoon that hit the Philippines in 2013, or the 2011 tsunami that seemed to come close to causing a nuclear meltdown in Japan? What about the stunning destruction from hurricane Katrina in New Orleans?

Bad news isn't limited to natural disasters. So many people lost so much in the 2008 financial crisis. In fact, the ripples of that event are still felt in continuing economic woes around the world.

Then there's bloodshed. Fighting in the Middle East, tensions with Russia and Ukraine, North Korea's threats, ethnic cleansing in Africa and India and Burma, race riots in the United States—and the list goes on.

What about the constant fear of diseases becoming pandemic? Ebola, AIDS, malaria, the flu, even measles is becoming a problem.

What does it all mean? Some say these things point to the end of the world. What does the Bible really say about it?

The end of the world?

Will the world really end? If so, how? Will it be by natural disasters, nuclear war, disease epidemics or some other devastating factor? The only source that will give you the facts about what people call "the end" is the Word of God—the Bible. What does the Bible say about this crucial and disturbing question?

Jesus promised He would return to the earth. He told us: "I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself" (John 14:2-3).

His disciples earlier asked Him, "What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" (Matthew 24:3, King James Version).

Religious people aren't the only ones asking these questions. Many others express concern about the possibility of the end of the world. Politicians, educators, even scientists, foresee potential world destruction from a number of causes—whether global pollution, killer diseases, overpopulation, a collision with a comet or asteroid or weapons of mass destruction. Experts share the concern that we could see the end of civilization as we know it.

No wonder we live in an age of anxiety—wherein so little seems certain. For many of the world's citizens, every single day is an existential crisis. Millions upon millions go to bed every night not knowing what the next day will hold. Will they have food to eat and water to drink? Will the area they live in erupt in violence or bloodshed?

Even if you live in a prosperous and peaceful nation, society is never more than a few disasters away from total meltdown.

Here's truth to rely on: You don't have to live in uncertainty and fear, with some vague sense of the end of the world. You can discover that the Bible details specifics about what's called "the time of the end." And yes, it does prophesy the end of the world as we know it—but not in a way you might think. There is more to the story, and God wants you to know that there is hope.

End of an age, not the world

When Jesus' disciples asked Him about "the end of the world," they weren't talking about the "world" in the sense of our physical planet, the earth. The Greek word used here, aionos, from which the English aeon or eon is derived, literally means an age, an epoch, or an era of time. Many Bible versions render the word as "age." So Jesus wasn't talking about our physical planet being totally destroyed. He was specifically talking about the time of man's wayward self-rule. This is what will come to an end.

The apostle Paul called the present era that began with Adam and Eve's sin "this present evil age" (Galatians 1:4). For the "the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one" (1 John 5:19), so that Satan is effectively "the god of this age" (2 Corinthians 4:4).

The age "which is to come" (Ephesians 1:21) begins with Christ's return to establish His Kingdom on the earth.

Scripture spells out that our present age—of civilization and society as we know it today—will terminate in unimaginable destruction and violence that will climax at the return of Christ. In the New Testament alone, more than 300 verses refer to these events.

Paul and the other apostles understood that at the end of this age, man's corrupt civilization will be swept away, and a new era will then dawn. Can we know the signs that will lead up to the time of the end of this age? What are those signs that will signal the end of man's rule under Satan's influence and that terrible time of trouble?

Jesus responded to His disciples' questions by giving several warning signs.

Signs of the end of the age

Jesus mentioned various signs in His famous Olivet prophecy, recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21.

For instance, He talked about famine (Matthew 24:7). There will an extreme scarcity of food. This could be caused by weather—such as drought or unusual temperatures that destroy crops. It could even come from government corruption. Regardless of the cause. Christ foretold that many people will be starving to death.

Next, He mentioned pestilence (verse 7), referring to deadly epidemics of disease. It's very possible that we'll see widespread outbreaks of terrible killer illnesses like Ebola, smallpox, AIDS and pandemic flu.

Jesus also mentioned earthquakes (verse 7). We've already seen the destruction that earthquakes can cause when they hit heavily populated areas. Japan and Haiti are some recent, extreme examples. Such will become more and more frequent and deadlier as the end approaches.

Our health and our safety will be threatened due to these increasingly disruptive events that will occur. But that's not all.

Our lives will become more and more chaotic as we experience what Jesus foretold: "And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet" (verse 6).

Just look around today. So much of the world is already involved in conflict in one way or another. This sets the stage for a more destructive and difficult time when "nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom" on a massive scale (verse 7).

With mounting civil war and unrest, it's not too hard to imagine increasing campaigns of ethnic cleansing as opposing tribes and religions fight for dominance. Nations will fight for sovereignty—and not just for power, but over natural resources and strategic locations.

The development of high-tech weapons of mass destruction that have the ability to annihilate the human race is a sure sign of the end of the age. Jesus taught about his destructive potential being a sign of the end in saying, "If that time of troubles were not cut short, no living thing could survive" (verse 22, Revised English Bible).

False prophets and false christs

All of these things will put our physical lives in danger and yet Jesus warned about another serious threat—a threat to your spiritual life.

He tells us that many deceivers will come claiming to represent Him (Mark 13:6) and that "false christs and false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect" (verse 22).

Prophecy shows that these counterfeits are out to deceive everyone they can. In fact, there will be a marked rise in false teachings and widespread heresy and sacrilege. Have you wondered if it's already begun? Would you recognize it?

Just imagine—there will be so many false religious doctrines and false religious teachers that true believers will experience the persecution Jesus warned about. He says: "Watch out for yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues. You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them" (Mark 13:9).

No doubt, these are sobering times.

The good news is that God gives us this warning for a reason. He wants us to understand what's coming, and He wants to help us through it and give us hope. There's a better time coming, not just for those who hear this message today but for all people.

An age of lawlessness

We live in an age of awesome scientific and technological advancements that have brought mankind so much good, but also the ability to extinguish human life.

World conditions point to the fact that we are heading into difficult times. Jesus taught that the troubles and evils will not be caused by only external events. It won't just be wars and natural disasters and diseases.

He prophesied about a very specific kind of people during this time. These attitudes and behaviors of people are one of the signs of the end time. Christ said, "Because of people breaking the laws and sin being everywhere, the love in the hearts of many people will become cold" (Matthew 24:12, New Life Version).

Is this evident today? Think about that for a moment. These people are said to be lawless. They don't want to follow the laws of man, let alone the laws of God. Respect for the law fades, and the protection and safety that should come from the law will vanish.

Doesn't that way of thinking start in the home? Have children become increasingly disobedient to parents and authority? Do you think that the family unit, the basic building block of society, has deteriorated? Is it fair to say that as the family unit breaks down even further, society will continue to negatively reflect that breakdown? That's what your Bible forewarns!

People will be greedy and selfish, loving things and money more than people. We're already there. Look at bargain-hunting at pre-Christmas sales. We're no longer surprised by tramplings, shootings, stabbings and brawls over mere electronics or the latest kid's doll.

The Bible reveals that we'll see more looting and stealing and people hurting others to get what they want. And society rubs off on all of us to varying degrees. We watch the news reports and we shake our heads. But are we sure that we're not part of the problem?

An unloving world

We're given a thorough listing of the characteristics of people of the end time in 2 Timothy 3: "But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy. . ." (verses 1-2), and the list goes on.

Think about how pride leads to so many problems. People are less likely to apologize. They'll be more likely to antagonize and provoke others and take control to prove themselves superior.

Hasn't this already begun?

The list of end-time attitudes continues: "…unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good…" (verse 3). So people become cruel and vicious towards each other. Ethnic rivalries flare, racial tensions ignite and people lose a sense of empathy for those around them.

With no self-control, people act out their callous impulses without regard for the lives and well-being of others. They turn on each other to save themselves, to serve their own needs, out of greediness, or perhaps out of hatred even for those closest to them.

Society spirals further out of control as people are no longer loyal and become traitorous, not just against their country but against their friends and family.

Bible prophecy says that the combination of world events and the character of people living at the end time would be like a horror movie coming to life. The admonition the apostle Peter gave in his own day applies even more so now: "Be saved from this perverse generation" (Acts 2:40).

A time of change

The prophecies of the end time aren't given just to frighten you. God doesn't want us to live in terror. He warns us of what's to come for a specific purpose.

He warns us so we won't be caught off guard. Now you may think, "But how could we be caught off guard? Aren't these signs immense and obvious?"

We have to realize that many people will dispute even the possibility of the end of the age. You've heard the skeptics—so many today saying: "We've always had earthquakes and war and disease—these things don't point to the end of anything."

Yet God inspired Peter to write 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, New International Version).

Even though the signs are evident and unmistakable, there are those who will doubt. Many will be caught off guard. Jesus said, "But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly" (Luke 21:34).

You see, God loves us, and He warns us so we can seek to change our lives now! If you understand what's coming, the only wise action is to turn to God in repentance and start obeying Him. We're told that God "now… commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed [Jesus Christ]" (Acts 17:30-31, NIV)

It is not a question of whether or not man's corrupt civilization will end. God's Word says it will. Our biggest concern shouldn't be when it will end. Instead, our main focus should be to seek God and be prepared spiritually now for the times that are coming: "But keep on the alert at all times, praying in order that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man" (Luke 21:36), New American Standard Bible).

Prepare by seeking God now

Now is the time to draw close to God. Now is the time to change. Now is the time to have a relationship with Him. He wants us to seek Him in heartfelt repentance and faith, leading to baptism and receiving His Holy Spirit (see our free study guide Transforming Your Life: The Process of Conversion to learn more).

Ultimately, Bible prophecy tells us the dreadful time of the end is the precursor to the most spectacular event that will happen on earth—the return of Jesus Christ!

We can look forward to that awesome event and remain faithfully obedient while waiting for it. Jesus gave us a promise: "He who endures to the end shall be saved" (Matthew 24:13). So we shouldn't live in terror. Yes, the end time is a period of unprecedented world trouble. But it's also the threshold of God's Kingdom!

We must spiritually prepare for the time of Christ's return, regardless of when it comes: "So then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. . . For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thessalonians 5:6-9, NASB).

Take comfort in God's promises and the knowledge that He's made available about the end time. The good news is that it's not too late to change. Begin today by letting God lead you to deeper understanding through His Holy Bible. Dedicate yourself to getting to know God even better and learning His ways thoroughly.

If we prepare ourselves spiritually, this can be a time of confidence, hope and of joy leading to the wonderful Kingdom of God!

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