A Different Look at “Signs of the End”

If wars, earthquakes and famines are signs of the age, it should not surprise us that what many call the “signs of the end” have been with us from the beginning of the Christian age. There were false messiahs already in Jesus= day (Acts 5:36-37), and plenty more shortly after. While peace characterized the Roman province of Palestine in AD 31, there were “wars and rumors of wars” throughout the 60s. There were famines (Acts 11:28), earthquakes (Laodicea in 60 AD, Pompeii in 63, Jerusalem in 64, and Rome in 68), and heavenly signs. It is reported that the quake in Jerusalem damaged the newly finished temple, just before the Roman sieges began in AD 66. The NT also contains abundant accounts of persecution, false teachers and false prophets in 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Colossians, 2 Peter, 1 and 2 John, Jude and Revelation 2-3 (note 2:20 especially). Paul could even claim that the gospel had gone to the world within his lifetime (Col 1:23; Rom 1:8; 16:26). It is no wonder, then, that the apostles believed that they were living in the last days (Acts 2:14-21; Heb 1:2; 1 Pet 1:20; 1 John 2:18).

Compounding the issue is the question of just how unusual the events of the End will be. There is no question that NT descriptions of the final days are momentous. People develop strange diseases, rivers and seas turn to blood, and humanity is subject to climate change of searing proportions (Rev 16:1-9). Nations are angry (Rev 11:18) and confused (Luke 21:25), and the world is seriously divided over issues of faith (Rev 17:14). Unusual events take place in the sky and earthquakes, storms and disasters become more severe (Luke 21:26; Rev 6:12-15; 16:18-21). There is the deceptive confusion caused by competing claims to truth (Matt 24:24-27; Mark 13:19-23; 2 Thess 2:8-12; Rev 13:13-14) and direct demonic intervention (1 Tim 4:1). Although they were realities already in Paul=s day, social unrest and contempt for faith are expected to increase (2 Tim 3:1-5). The people of God suffer greatly from persecution (John 16:2; Rev 13:15-17; 16:4-7; 17:6). And many more considerations could be given.

But there is another side to NT teaching on this subject that is often ignored. Both Jesus and Paul portray the last days as exceedingly normal times in spite of all the spectacular events that will take place. As in the time just before the Flood (Matt 24:37), people will pursue their normal round of eating and drinking, and weddings will not be postponed (Matt 24:38). As in the days of Lot, there will be buying and selling (Luke 17:28), which suggests that the basic economic structure of the world is still intact. Planting and building continues (Luke 17:28). Most people seem to have no premonition that the End is upon them (Matt 24:39). Believer and unbeliever are working together in the field or in a factory on the day when Jesus comes (Matt 24:40-41).

Paul announces to the Thessalonians that the terrible destructions associated with the Second Coming itself (see 2 Thess 1:5-10) will come at a time when people are proclaiming “peace and safety” (1 Thess 5:2-3). To the average person on the street, the last days may seem like a golden age of peace and prosperity. The troubles, disasters, social disruptions, and persecutions of the End-time will be on the radar screen, but will not seem out of proportion to normal times. The majority, perhaps the vast majority, of people on earth will be surprised to see the ultimate end of history take place when it does. This should make us cautious in our broad and confident pronouncements regarding current events. But at the same time we must not overlook that the same text assures us that God=s true people will not be surprised (1 Thess 5:4-7). The normalcy will only be an apparent one, apparent to those without the eyes of Christian faith.

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