If you are a follower of Christ, and you consider yourself to be an orthodox Christian who faithfully holds to the teaching of scriptures regarding all matters pertaining to life and death, then you are part of the untold number of Christians in every language and culture who believes that one day Jesus will come again to bring redemptive history and the world as we know it to one ultimate conclusion.
Despite the belief that Christ will come, there are great differences regarding the nature of his return and what is often referred to as the end times.
What images come to your mind when you think of the end times? Do you envision fire raining from the heavens, airplanes falling from the sky, chaos ruling in every corner, and life as we know it coming to an end?
If you’re like me and you have any working knowledge of the Bible and the end times, it is possible that your mind is filled with images of death, destruction, and hopelessness that result when God and his archenemy, the devil, finally get together to duke it out in a “winner-takes-all” brawl.
Of course, no one would ever admit to such a perspective, but truthfully, many people think of the events of the last days in such terms.
Signs of the End Times in the Bible
When we look to the Bible to inform us of our end times’ perspectives, what we discover is that from the very earliest of times, the Bible fuels our hope that a day will come when the Creator will culminate His own purpose to make right all that sin has broken and destroyed.
Even in the garden, as the dark cloud of the curse was falling on paradise, God spoke life-giving hope in the face of death and rebellion. God promised,
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15, ESV).
And there it is. Before the dust from man’s mutiny settles, the divine announcement reverberated through the celestial air assuring us that it won’t always be this way.
From the earliest days of Israel’s history, the people of God clung to the hope that a day of reckoning would come, which would bring judgment and wrath for God’s enemies and blessings and renewal for God’s chosen.
The prophet Isaiah would proclaim, “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest mountain and shall be lifted up above the hills” (Isaiah 2:2, ESV). And if that is not enough to indicate a radical future hope, Isaiah speaks with greater clarity in the following paragraph when he says, “The haughty looks of man shall be brought low and the lofty pride of men shall be humbled and the LORD alone will be exalted in that day. For the LORD of hosts has a day against all that are proud and lofty . . . (Isaiah 2:11-12, ESV).
The Day of the Lord
The way in which this future hope was spoken of is by the phrase, “The Day of LORD.” When Israel and Israel’s prophets used this phrase, they were invoking the hope that was first brought to life in the garden by a sovereign God.
The belief that our God will one day come is not some new contemporary teaching created by a hopeless people but rather an ancient one as old as the story of redemption itself. The prophets Joel, Amos, and Zechariah are just a few of the voices that proclaimed with great resolve the promise that God would one day act in the context of human history.
“The LORD, my God, will come, and all the holy ones with Him… And the LORD will be king over all the earth; in that day the LORD will be the only one, and His name the only one” (Zechariah 14:5,9).
Israel’s hope was infused with the promise that one day God would write the last chapter of this story with the climax ushering in, not the end of the story, but the true beginning. This hope kept and sustained Israel through slavery, mockery, defeat, and waywardness. I wonder if this same hope grounds modern believers, as we oftentimes face similar struggles in desolate places.
The Day of the LORD is not a reference to a day as we understand a 24-hour period of time. The Day of the LORD refers to an event in which judgment and blessing are put into motion as one might understand the last scene in the last act of a play.
The Day of the LORD is the answer to the cry of the martyrs in Revelation 6:10, “How long O Lord holy and true, will you refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”
A moment in time will come when God will refrain no longer, and this certain reality should strike fear into every rebel heart but bring life-giving hope to those who bear his kingdom mark.
Jesus Is the Sign of the Times
As the risen Lord spoke his parting instructions to his followers in Acts 1, they asked Him, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” Though the disciples still did not fully understand Jesus’ ultimate purpose, they were, nevertheless, gripped by the hope that He would act decisively and victoriously on their behalf.
The Lord’s response still serves as a reminder to us today when He said, “It is not for you to know the times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority” (Acts 1:8). Though we are not privy to the exact day and moment when the Lord will return, neither are we to be totally oblivious to the signs that the day is drawing near.
As they had done on numerous occasions, the Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus one day in an effort to trap Him into saying something that might indict Him as a lawbreaker. This particular day they tested Him by asking for a sign from heaven to be performed in much the same way a magician would amaze the crowd with a magic trick.
Jesus’ response forms the very basis for our hope and serves to place us at the very center of the redemptive story. Jesus replied, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah” (Matthew 16:4).
By Jesus’ own admission, the story of Jonah serves as a shadow of a much greater reality. The prophet’s three nights in the belly of the fish and subsequent resurrection from his watery tomb points to the very death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord.
Jesus speaks of Jonah’s ordeal as a “sign” so that we might “discern the signs of the times” (Matthew 16:3). Unbelievable! Did Jesus just say what I think He said? The sign that God has given, which points to the fact that the end times are underway is the life of Christ. The very coming of the Messiah as a man to dwell among men is the unmistakable indication that the final act of the story has begun.
The writer of Hebrews affirms this when He writes, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son. . .” (Hebrews 1:2).
Jesus ushered in the last days with His coming and will bring the last days to an end with His second coming. We are living in the last days and we have been for over 2,000 years.
Meaning of Christ and the End Times
All of the New Testament writers are in unison in their belief that the appearance of Christ was the sign that God was acting in time and space to set things right. Jesus’ own miracles and exorcisms of demons become the visible evidence that the restoration of God’s good world is underway.
Peter connected the events of Pentecost with the prophecy of Joel which begins, “And it shall be in the last days, that I will pour out my Spirit on all mankind. . .” (Acts 2:16). In Peter’s own estimation, the last days had begun.
As the story of redemption draws to a close and the last pages are written, you and I have the extraordinary opportunity not only to witness it but to participate in it.
Knowing that we are players on our Maker’s stage and the final curtain will soon close should ignite our hope and focus our vision as nothing can. May this firm hope lead us all to be an encouragement to those around us “and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25).
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Rick Kirby, along with his wife and children, live in Anderson, South Carolina. Rick serves as a corporate chaplain in the upstate of South Carolina, in addition to shepherding micro-church movements, which he does in partnership with the Evangelical Free Church in America and the Creo Collective. Rick has written as a freelance writer in the past with organizations such as The INJOY Group, InTouch Ministries, and Walk Through the Bible. Rick holds a Master of Divinity degree from Erskine Theological Seminary and presently is a Doctor of Ministry student at Erskine, as well. Through the years, Rick’s family has been deeply engaged in discipling efforts globally in Brazil, Ecuador and most recently in Puerto Rico. Among the many things Rick enjoys are woodworking in his woodshop and roasting (and drinking) coffee.