Yesterday I was going through some messages in a new area I had on the BBS and came across the question of one reader about the signs of the times. That person wrote,
"I'm curious what you believe will be the first signs of the beginning of the end. Certainly we have seen earthquakes and ethnic wars increase since 1900, and I've offered that up to alot of non-christians and they've made excuses for both. So what do you believe will be the first real "oh my gosh" sign? The invasion of Israel?"
The signs of the time of the "end" have been repeated in various forms throughout the New Testament and in general can be summarized that (a) things will get worse and worse, and (b) things will carry on normally. In other words, the summation of the day of the Lord will come in the middle of a trend not as a consequence of some specific action.
In a letter to Timothy, Paul wrote that "In the last days there will come times of stress", and then described the characteristics of people, that would fit many today. (I Timothy 3:2-5) In a couple of sentences later, he then notes that "Indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and imposters will go on from bad to worse..." (I Timothy 3:12,13)
When Jesus warned about the end times, his warning was that there wouldn't be a significant happening that demonstrated that the end was there. The sign of the end, then, could be when things are going on as always, with really no concern about the end. It would be as he described the day of Noah,
"As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away." (Matthew 24:37-39)
One of the things we can see from the vagueness of this question is the fact that people are generally as ignorant about what the end times are as they are about truly being a Christian. There's no secret. It's in the Bible. People are simply ignorant because what is happening on the football field several times a week, what is happening in their favorite soap opera, or situation comedy, or the activities of their clique group is more important than the Bible and the end times and our responsibility to know about either.
To many the end times might be described as an event when the world comes to an end, the good people go to heaven, the bad people go to hell. That's not the biblical case. I won't try to chronologize the events, but there are several things that will happen as a part of what we might think as the end times. The most important thing, and the one thing that will happen as such a shock to everyone is the rapture, or "catching away". This event is such a mystery that even Jesus didn't know when it would happen. "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only." (Matthew 24:36) Not only do we not know the day, but the day will come and go quickly. It's not a "this is your last chance" kinda deal. When that day comes, the deal's done, those that are ready will be taken and the rest left. "Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left." (Matthew 24:41)
This is one of the most popular analogies in scripture concerning this day; that it will come as a thief. Jesus described it that way, as did Peter and Paul. Peter uses the same thief analogy in his summary, "But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up." (II Peter 3:10)
In a letter to one of the churches, Paul wrote this as a summary of the end times, "For you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When people say, 'There is peace and security,' then sudden destruction will come upon them as travail comes upon a woman with child, and there will be no escape." (I Thessalonians 5:2-4) As much as the world powers focus upon "peace" as the highest virtue, it's not hard to imagine such an attitude developing.
These summaries group all the activities of the end times together, while Revelation describes them with more details. However you look at it, it's a tragedy when you find that you have been left.
As revealed in Revelation, one of the things that will characterize the end times is the extreme political machinery that will surround the activities in controlling the world's population. There will be a mark (or incision) of the beast that will be required in order to buy or sell. That mark is simply a means of controlling global economic activity, and there hasn't been a time when global economy was not more important to the leaders of the world.
There has been a lot of speculation about the mark, with some saying it could be like a global credit card, and others indicating that it might be a computer chip that's been implanted (i.e. with an incision). Whatever it is, characteristic of this is the fact that those who will not receive the mark will be put to death by the political machinery of the anti-christ. (Revelation 13) Salvation has REAL meaning in a situation like this.
Other things are listed in the book of Revelation, where God's wrath is literally "poured out" on the earth and its inhabitants. And yet, the mind-set of the people who are living on the earth will be so hard, that they won't even repent in the face of destruction, but will curse God for all of this. (Revelation 16)
And, as if that is not enough, there is the judgement of the world, known by some as the Great White throne judgement. It is also something that's a mystery to many people. The preconceived idea is that good people go to heaven, bad people go to hell, when in fact, the opposite could be true. Heaven is reserved for believers. Hell is reserved for unbelievers. But, both will be judged based on their works and rewarded or punished based on their works. (Revelation 20:11-15)
What all this means is you need to be ready at all times. You need to be a Christian with a faith and lifestyle that reflects your discipleship under Christ. In the last column I attempted to jolt you into evaluating you circumstances. You need to KNOW what it means to really be a Christian.
There are any number of microwave salvation plans put out by the various organizations but it's up to the individual to determine if they are truly representative of what the Bible teaches. Jesus, himself, said that in the last day many will think they are "safe", only to find they aren't. Be sure!
As a Christian, you need to be faithful, busy with what he has given you to do, and waiting for his return. That is something that needs to be kept in perspective. Be ready!
Following a description of the destruction of the earth, Peter asks us to THINK, "Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God." (II Peter 3:11,12)
It's when you look at life from the end time (or eternal) perspective, with your focus on Christ, that you can have a radical faith.