We have all heard the word apocalypse mentioned before. In times like these, when the world is in the midst of a global pandemic like coronavirus, the idea of the end of the world can move quickly to the front of your mind.
Growing up in NYC I remember many times walking in Manhattan and seeing a man with a two-sided billboard sign draped over his neck, proclaiming the end of the world: “The Apocalypse is coming.” (Generally, this was a middle-aged man whose hair had not been cut in months and who was desperately in need of a shave.) What we need to consider is what the Apocalypse is, and whether there signs of it mentioned in the Bible?
As believers and students of the Bible we have to take look at this topic through a different lense. While others may look around and get more fearful, when you understand what is going on you can have faith and hope.
What Is the Apocalypse?
According to Dictionary.com one of the meanings of apocalypse is a prophetic revelation. As Christians, this revelation points to the eventual second coming of Christ and the establishment of his kingdom on the earth. For those who are nonreligious or nonbelievers, the apocalypse is seen as the end of the world, the day of doom, or a disaster.
In a 2018 Washington Post article by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, she spells out this difference. “Many Christians believe that the end of the world is going to come, even if they don’t know when, and that it’s part of God’s plan. But for the nonreligious doomsday messages, the end is something to avoid, and the clock serves as a warning.”
For clarity’s sake, we will define the Apocalypse not just as the end of the world as we know it, but more importantly we will define it by Christ’s return to the earth. Quite simply, as Christians we should be excited by Christ’s return because we understand what that end means. However, for those who don’t know Christ, that ending is far different and honestly far more frightening.
The Signs of the Times – What Does the Bible Say?
The history of mankind has been forever changed by the person of Jesus Christ. We know he came, died and rose again to pay the ultimate price for our forgiveness and freedom from sin. Once he left and ascended into heaven, the clock began ticking until when he would return again (Acts 2:9-11). Between the time of his ascension and his second coming many things would happen in the earth. As his second coming draws near the conditions in the earth would get worse.
Let’s consider some key components regarding the return of Christ.
There are many scriptures that point to the “signs of the times,” indicators that Christ’s return is drawing near. Some of them include Matthew 24, Luke 21, 2 Timothy 3, 1 Thessalonians 4, 2 Peter 3 and Jude 1:18-19. While the breadth of this topic is far greater than one article, let’s build a framework that you can build upon.
In Matthew 24:3 the disciples asked Jesus directly for these signs. As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
If you read the rest of Matthew 24 and Luke 21 Jesus begins to lay out for the disciples the signs that will point to his return. Here are a few of those signs taken directly from Matthew 24:4-7.
- False Messiahs
- Wars and rumors of wars
- Nation rising against nation
- Kingdom against kingdom
- Famine and earthquakes in various places
After mentioning these signs, Jesus lets them know these are the “beginning of birth pains.” This means these things point to what eventually will happen, just like a woman going into labor. When a woman goes into labor we know the baby is coming, we just don’t know when. All the signs give evidence and proof that Christ will return. Our responsibility is to recognize them and be ready for his return.
Let’s Get on the Same Page…
When you consider the Apocalypse and the signs mentioned in the Bible, there are four things I want to consider. Look at these as the shell of the events to come.
- Last days – The period of time that began with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and will continue until Christ’s return (Acts 2:16-18, 2 Timothy 3:1-5).
- The Rapture – When all believers will be caught up to meet Christ in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18).
- The Great Tribulation – A seven-year period of unimaginable distress, misery and persecution that falls upon the earth before Christ’s return (Matthew 24:21-23). This period is divided into two sections each lasting three and a half years.
- The Second Coming of Christ – When Jesus physically returns to the earth and establishes his reign on the earth (Revelation 20).
Within these four, the one which gets debated most frequently is the timing of the rapture. There are three distinct views argued as to when this event will happen. Pre-tribulation (Pre-Trib), Mid-tribulation (Mid-Trib) or Post-tribulation (Post-Trib). Let’s define them:
Pre-Trib – The rapture happens and immediately after it occurs, the seven-year period of the Great Tribulation begins.
Mid-Trib – The rapture happens right in the middle of the Great Tribulation.
Post-Trib – The rapture happens at the end of the Great Tribulation, immediately followed by the second coming of Christ.
As far as which one is right, I will leave that up to you to debate and decide for yourself. Ultimately Jesus said no one knows the day or the hour (Matthew 24:36). Paul echoes the same thought to the Thessalonian church:
“Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3).
Are We Living in the Last Days?
You can be confident that we are living in the last days. Not just because of how we defined it earlier, but because the signs point to Christ coming soon.
We see it in the culture – the shifting attitude towards God and the tenants of Scripture. We see it in the character of people – the way we treat each other, especially in this social media age. We see it in the condition of men’s heart – the love of many are growing cold.
Notice Matthew 24:9-14:
“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
Consider also 2 Timothy 3:1-5:
“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.”
Clearly, we are living in the last days. To further the case, we now have the capability to reach the whole world via physical travel or the internet, so the gospel can be preached to every corner of the earth.
Why You Should Be Encouraged
“When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).
The thought of the Apocalypse and the signs mentioned in the Bible should not be a source of fear, but a source of encouragement. The prize of our salvation and the joy of our redemption is to see our Savior and to be with him forever and ever. As the world moves closer to this reality, it should motivate us to draw ever closer to the Lord. The first century church understood this. It shaped their hopes and more importantly shaped how they lived.
“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him” (2 Peter 3:10-14).
There really is only one way to tie all of this together. Regardless of your opinion as to when this will happen we know that Jesus is coming soon. That could mean a few years or it could mean many more. But in light of eternity, it is happening soon. With this in mind, may you find comfort in the words of Jude 1:24-25 knowing that God will keep you until Jesus returns.
“To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.”