I’ll be preaching for the rest of May, and I thought I’d do a short series for the next three weeks. This is a series that could go on and on for three months, but I didn’t want to extend it too long because we could easily get lost into a quagmire of ‘what ifs’ and ‘maybes’ and by the end of it our heads would be spinning (including mine) and my job is to make scripture understandable not confusing. And that would be the topic of The End Times.
When I was leaning toward doing this series, I thought I’d ask some pastors if I could borrow some of their notes. For those of you who know David Daniels who pastors the Baptist church up the hill in Reading, he gave me this long email. And, as if I needed to make this sermon any longer, I’ll read it to you. It said this:
Jeff, here’s what I can offer you, don’t know it will be of much help. By way of intro — I grew up in the church and have been a believer for 68 years, was baptized over 63 years ago.
In my youth, at my home church, the 2nd Coming, the rapture, the tribulation were constantly subjects of preaching, SS classes, revival meetings, conferences, etc., etc., etc.
Out of college, I was involved in a Christian singles group, where we started a Bible study. The first suggestion for our study was eschatology. We met regularly for a number of years and never changed that primary focus. We had one person, who was well versed in the area, leading it the whole time, although the membership changed considerably. Not sure how long it continued, but I was part of it for 6 years and no longer single when I moved out of state and ended my participation.
Moving to NY 40-some years ago, we became members of a church in Cortland as laypeople. When they found out my background, Bible College, a seminary degree, jobs in Christian ministries, etc. I was asked to teach an adult SS class. I gladly accepted. Over the years, I’d cover a particular theme for some time, and when that came to an end, the class members would select the subject matter to pursue next. Two or 3 times, they wanted stuff on the end times, and I complied. My theological position has changed several times in all this. Pre-trib/Pre-mill . . . Post-trib /pre-mill . . . Amill . . . back and forth more than once. I’ve never held to a post-millennial doctrine — although I find the idea very appealing. Too bad there doesn’t seem to be any biblical foundation.
All that to say, I’ve had a lot of experience in this area. When I was going through the ordination process, I was assigned a “mentor.” When my paper was in its final stages, he said, “You don’t have anything on eschatology. That’s required.” I said, No, it isn’t,” and showed him the booklet I had been given to follow. Requirements had been changed since his day, and it was no longer needed. I said I wasn’t putting anything in. He replied, “You’d better be prepared for a question on it at your ordination council.”
I did anticipate a question, and I’ll leave you with this. The question was raised, and I said: “He’s coming back.” If they had asked for more, I would have replied: “I’m waiting.” Actually, they asked for nothing further and I didn’t offer anything.
That is the sum total of my current theological and eschatological position. At 75 years of age, I really don’t expect it to change beyond that.
Have fun with it,
In a follow-up email, he wrote: Nothing below is copyrighted. You’re more than welcome to use any or all of what I wrote – use my name or not – I don’t care. (You can make me Anonymous, he’s kind of a famous guy, wouldn’t mind being identified as him.)
So all that to say, The End Times can be tricky. It’s hard to interpret, and other than “He’s coming back,” the theologians have differing thoughts on how to interpret all of the end times stuff. Like David said, amillennial, postmillennial, pre-trib, post-trib…what does it all mean, and which one is correct?
To give you another example, there’s a Youtuber that I watch often, his name is Mike Winger, and he’s an associate pastor at Hosanna Christian Fellowship in Bellflower, CA. He’s put together teaching videos on a number of different topics, and they are all very good and very well-balanced. One of them was a Youtube video that was over an hour and a half long on six different interpretations of The End Times.
So as you can see, it’s not as cut and dry as I wish it was. You know the old saying, “the more I learn, the less I know.” It applies to the End Times.
And why is it hard to understand? Because the End Times are in pieces throughout the whole Bible. It’s in the Old Testament, it’s in the New Testament; each time it’s discussed, it’s in fragments. So there is no whole piece of The End Times in scripture. So theologians have had to try to put it together the best that they can.
So why bother doing a series on The End Times when it’s not really settled?
Well, because there are those fragments that we can take and look at as individual pieces and talk about those. And since I have the next three weeks to preach, I’ll be looking at three different parts, and these are pieces that we have looked at before, and instead of going back and looking at three new subjects, I felt compelled to go back to these.
I also felt as if God had confirmed that this was the right sermon series for now. For one, I keep hearing people referencing The End Times a lot lately––more so than any other time I think in my lifetime. And on Thursday, the day before I do my sermon prep, I got an email from Kingdom Winds, which is a platform that some of my blog posts and sermons are published on, and out of nowhere, I got a notification that a blog on The Rapture that I posted up in February was going to be posted on Kingdom Winds later today, which I took as God kind of saying, “yeah, you’re supposed to be talking about this now.”
So if you have your Bibles, we’re going to look primarily at Matthew 24, we’ll be starting with verses 32-35, and then we’ll skip down to verses 42-44.
We’ll read more from that chapter, so you may want to keep your Bibles open to it, but to start, we’ll look at Matthew 24:32-35 and 42-44.
We’ve been having some wacky weather for the past month or so, but for the past few days, it’s been more seasonally Spring. And so today, we are going to look at the season of His return. How will we know when the season for his return has come and why should we know it?
Jesus taught us that we should keep an eye out for His return, and to understand the season of his return when it is about to happen in order to be encouraged when we see chaos surrounding us.
Scripture: Matthew 24:32-35; 42-44
32 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. 34 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
And then down to verse 42:
42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
So, just to get it straight: we are not going to know specifically the day or the hour, but we are going to know the season. What I want to say to you today is that we have a promise of Christ’s return, and we have a promise of knowing the season in which it will happen. Like I said before, we might not have every single detail all ironed out. We might not have the timeline figured out. But we’ll be able to see what’s going around and be able to know the season we are in. Like Jesus’ example, Summer is near. Not only literally, but figuratively in this context, I truly believe the time of His return might be soon.
The reason why Jesus–and others throughout both the Old Testament and the New Testament gives us these signs is both for encouragement, and a warning. For those of us in Christ, it is an encouragement, but we are not to keep that encouragement to ourselves. It’s not so that we can gloat or hoard our peace, but to use our peace to give hope to the world during a chaotic season before it’s too late.
Point 1: So let’s look at what Jesus said prior to what we read. The whole chapter is devoted to what Jesus had to say about his own return. And you’ll notice in what we read, even Jesus himself does not know the day or the hour of his own return. So we certainly can’t predict something specific like that. People have tried. And obviously, they’ve been wrong.
If we go back to verse 4 and read through verse 8, Jesus says:
“Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.
So what we see here, is just the beginning. Jesus describes them as ‘the beginning of birth pains,’ the beginning of the event. When someone has birth pains, those pains will tell you, it’s time to get to the hospital, something is about to happen. And if we look at it from the right perspective, birth pains tell you that something you’ve been waiting for is about to happen.
You know you’re going to give birth soon, but the hour of that event is unknown.
Some say these birth pains have been going on since the time of Christ, and have been increasingly intensifying, as birth pains do, right? So the problems of this world have been increasingly intensifying for 2,000 years with false Christs, wars, plagues, famines, earthquakes, and other natural disasters, but will peek in intensity just before Christ returns.
We know that the idea of false Christs will ultimately culminate into an Antichrist who will be in control for seven years, but will wreak havoc with full control of the world for three and a half of those years. It doesn’t sound long when you put it that way, but The Bible tells us that it is long enough for major destruction and persecution like the world has never seen. And we know that it’s easy even today to wreak havoc and major destruction almost instantly with the kinds of warfare we have–think of the cyber attack we just had on our pipeline and how destructive that could be on a large scale. Imagine that happening on a worldwide scale. What if every single pipeline in the world was cut off at once?
This year marks the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Do you remember thinking, “what is going to happen next?” Do you remember that feeling? We knew war was imminent, we were going to strike back, but how was war in the Middle East going to affect everything else? There have been rockets launching against Israel this past week. And there are people––even elected officials in Washington, who are not standing by Israel but seeing them as the enemy.
Israel will be seen as the enemy in the End Times, and the Antichrist will want to wipe it off the face of the earth, and he’ll have the backing of nations to help him do that.
Moving on, if you still have your Bibles open, let’s look at Matthew 24, verses 10 and 11: “10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.”
Going down to verses 23 through 25, Jesus said, “23 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you ahead of time.”
I want to take a few moments now and talk about this: A false Christianity deceiving even the elect. ‘The elect’ is another term for Christians. In fact, Jesus starts his dialogue in verse 4 with the phrase, “Watch out that no one deceives you.”
The apostle Paul warned young Timothy that there will be terrible times in the Last Days. Then he lists a number of ways in which people at that time will live––boastful, proud, lovers of money, lovers of themselves, wicked, abusive, disobedient to their parents––he goes on, and then he finishes up with “5 having a form of godliness but denying its power.”
In other words, there will be many who call themselves Christians, but live like sinners. Sound familiar? A lot of Christians used to go to church on Sunday and live like the world the rest of the week. Only they’d hide it from fellow church members. There’s a song that came out when I was my kids’ age called, “Hide the Beer, the Pastor’s Here.”
That’s kind of how people lived. But now, churches are teaching their congregants it’s okay to live like the world, just be good and kind and seek unity because it’s all about being nice and helping people. There’s no such thing as sin or hell. You’re fine just the way you are.
John Bevere said of those verses in Timothy, “The reason for the terrible times would not be persecution from the government or atheists but instead would stem from widespread deception within the church.”
Like I said, there are things being preached in churches now, that would have never been taught 20 or 30 years ago. I came across a video of Billy Graham on The Tonight Show from 1973, and it’s amazing how times have changed when it comes to how Hollywood and talk shows treat evangelical Christians and the whole concept of evangelism.
It’s as if not only Israel is the bad guys, but we’re the bad guys.
And not only is it coming from Hollywood and talk shows and other forms of media, even now the 21st Century church is different. We’re getting bombarded with doctrines from different groups who call themselves Christian. I talked about a blog I wrote on the Rapture, and I’ll post that on the church’s Facebook page so you can read it. A few years ago, I wrote a blog series called, “Apostasy and Heresy is Suddenly Percolating.” And I’m posting that on our Facebook page too so you can read it.
Deception among not just the world, but among believers is a sign of the end times. But on the bright side, Warren Wiersbe said that Amos 8:11-12 warns us that the day will come when there will be a famine of God’s Word, and people will run here and there seeking for truth but won’t find it. But God’s promise to Daniel in the last days is found in Daniel 12:4 where people will run here and there seeking and even increasing their knowledge of prophetic Scripture as they intently search the Word of God. Remember Jesus says that the gospel will be preached to all the world before he comes.
In other words, in the last days, we will see an increase of people seeking scripture and finding its knowledge because they will recognize and understand the season they are in.
I had breakfast with some seasoned pastors Friday morning. One was Harry Vellekoop, and another was a former Elim pastor and teacher who lives in Dansville, and another was a retired Assemblies of God pastor who worked alongside David Wilkerson. And the pastor who lived in Dansville was so discouraged by everything that he saw going on around him and pastor Harry and Lorin just had story after story of God’s goodness and things happening on a personal level like praying for the sick and then when they went back to the doctor, they were shocked because their condition was suddenly gone. That’s the kind of thing you’re not going to see on the news.
It really encouraged myself and the other Dansville pastor. And I think it’s going to be like that in the Last Days. Chaos around us, but Christ will be the calm in the center of the storm. He will still be at work in the hearts and minds of believers, and even in the minds of doubters who will come to know him because they’ll be prayed for and God will show up in an unbelievable way in their life. And so I think that during the End Times there will be both an apostasy and a revival at the same time. You’re going to see an apostasy increase in culture, but a revival in more personal ways.
Going back to Matthew 24, verses 32-34 32“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. 34 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
Before I go on, what did Jesus mean when he said, “this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened?” I mean if Jesus didn’t know the day or hour of his return, then how could he know if the generation he was speaking to would pass away before his return?
But, if you look at it in context, who Jesus was referring to was not the generation he was talking to, but the generation he was talking about. They would not pass away until all these things have happened. That means everything he is describing will happen within one generation.
When we look at this passage, Jesus wants us to know the signs of the times. He wants us to know in order to encourage us so that when chaos happens, we’ll understand it. We’ll see it with the correct lens. We will know and recognize what is happening and we’ll see it with hope and gladness. Yes, even fear, but fear with faith. We’ll see it and be able to discern what is going on so that we can bring hope to the world.
It’s like I just read from Daniel. People are going to want to know. And we can give them the answers and be a shining light to the world that is seeking the truth in the midst of chaos.
When the Antichrist comes, when wars and rumors of wars break out, when natural disasters occur, we need to know the scriptures of the End Times well enough that not only do we receive an understanding of what is going on around us, but we can point people to the scriptures as well and give people hope of Christ’s return, and an invitation to receive Christ.
On that same Friday, after breakfast, I stopped in at the library, which is next door to the restaurant, and I knew that the lady behind the desk went to the Lutheran church in Dansville. And I asked her how her church was doing. The church is about the size of ours, not many people attend. But she said it’s actually been doing better after COVID, and she thinks it’s because people are seeing that something is going on in the world and that they need God.
There’s a quote from an unknown source who said: Many evangelical believers have only heard preaching about the second coming of Christ that used fear as the motivation for readiness. As a result many people live with a certain resentment toward God and the idea of the second coming. But the dominant pattern of New Testament teaching is that Christ’s return will be a time of great joy for those who are prepared to meet Him. For those who are ready, that day will be a day of celebration and joy as Jesus’ followers enter His presence for unbroken fellowship with Him. Such a joyful possibility should also be a major motivation to be ready for that day.
I want to end with a couple of passages. If you want to turn to 2 Peter 3, we’ll read quite a bit from there. As you’re turning there, I’d like to read a short passage from James 5:7-8.
7 Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. 8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.
See, here again, we see the sense of The Lord’s coming with hopeful anticipation in its proper season. Here, James uses the autumn season in which we are about to enter.
In 2 Peter 3, starting with verse 8, Peter urges his readers to be patient as well as they wait for the coming of the Lord.
8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
10 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.
11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 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. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.
14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 15 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16 He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.
17 Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.
One more short verse and we’ll close. Luke records Jesus’ parable of the fig tree as well, but he prefaces it with this. “28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
I want to urge you to watch and wait expectantly for the Lord. Keep an eye on the times. Don’t get panicky or over-cautious. But keep a ready and steady gaze on what is happening and discern how things might be progressing to that promised day. Every day, inch by inch for the past 2000 years has been steadily growing closer to that day. I don’t know if it’s going to be now or two hundred years from now, but who knows, it might just be sooner than we think.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on First Baptist Church of Watkins Glen