Are We Really Living in the End Times?
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Matthew 24:3-24:8 (NIV, NIRV, TNIV, KJV)
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Are We Really Living in the End Times?
Matthew 24.3-8; Daniel 12:1-4
Preached at Immanuel Baptist Church of Elgin, Illinois on November 25, 2001 By Pastor John Stensrud
Last week, I promised to get into the nitty-gritty of biblical prophecy. And so I shall. But first, I think that if I took a poll of everyone here and asked you what your main question about biblical prophecy was, it would probably be “Are we living in the end times right now?”
The answer to these questions are . . . well, look at the bible, history and current events for yourself and then you decide. There have been many well-meaning teachers, pastors, and bible students who have taught that in their generation the Second Coming of Christ would occur. I have no problem with these people – it is good and biblical to be vigilant.
However, there are others that have erroneously predicted the actual day of His Second Coming. Steer clear of these people. These are the nut cases, the "lunatic fringers" and the biblically ignorant.
The bible is crystal clear about setting dates. In Matthew 24:36 Jesus says "… of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.”
Still there are people that continue in their vain attempt to be modern day prophets. Edgar Whisenant sold 4.3 million copies of his book detailing why Christ would come in 1988. December 31, 1988 came and went and no Messiah. The next year he sold 30,000 copies of a book he wrote detailing why Christ would come in 1989. December 31, 1989 came and went and no Messiah. If you don’t get it the first time, try and try again, right? After missing it twice, the retired NASA engineer who lived in a one-room shack outside of Little Rock, Arkansas said he could, “Stand in front of the Lord and say I gave it my best shot.” It would have been far better for Whisenant to shoot for reading the bible first before making a nitwit of himself.
Acts 1:6 is another text warning us not to set dates or times. The disciples asked Jesus after He was resurrected: "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" 7 He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority.”
Did you hear that? Not even Jesus Christ Himself knows when the Father is sending Him.
It’s similar to what the military does before deployment. I have experienced it myself. The sergeant in charge of the duty roster calls you at home and tells you to get to the base ASAP. He tells you to bring all your gear minus your field jacket and sleeping bag and tells you to kiss your wife and kids goodbye for awhile. You have just 2 hours to get your affairs in order. The clock starts ticking. You can’t find your jungle boots. He just hinted that you are going somewhere warm. If you are not there in less than 120 minutes ready to go to the staging area, you will be considered AWOL. You can’t find your bug spray either. “Laura, where’s my bug juice? as if she really knew?” Finally, you find the missing items, and the wife and kids take you into battalion. You wonder if this is really it. It is. You ask the 1st Sgt., “where are we going, top?” He says, “You’ll know when you get there. It’s not for you to know right now.”
In the same way, for some reason that only God the Father knows Himself, He doesn’t even tell His only begotten Son when His time will be to return in glory to the earth. Don’t try to figure out why this is so. We have to be content with the fact that there are some things we will never know until we arrive in glory. But when that duty sergeant called and told me not to bring cold weather gear, he did give a hint as to where we were going.
Our heavenly Father has done the same for us. Since we are all in God’s army, we must be prepared at all times for the inevitable. As certain as the prophets of old were that Jesus would come the first time – and He did. We are 5 times as sure that He will come the second time because the Second Coming is predicted 5 times as often as the First Advent.
Let’s look at some of the hints that the Father has given us.
In Daniel 12:4 Daniel is commanded “But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase."
What words and what book is Daniel Commanded to Shut up and seal? We are clearly told in Daniel 12:1 "At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. (Daniel’s people of course are the Jews) And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time; (a clear reference to The Great Tribulation) but at that time your people shall be delivered, every one whose name shall be found written in the book.
These people who will be delivered, like I said before, are the Jews. But these are a special group of Jews. These are Tribulation Saints of Jewish descent who come to a saving knowledge of Christ during the Great Tribulation and the book that Daniel refers to is the “Book of Life.”
Let’s focus for now on the latter portion of verse 4 where it says “Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase." Here is our 1st hint or sign of the times that the Second Coming is drawing ever closer.
I believe that the phrase “Many shall run to and fro” is a clear reference to the ability of mankind to travel to any spot on the globe in a relatively short time. In the Hebrew “run to and fro”means "to pass through a land.“ Not until the 20th century has mankind been able nor has he succeeded in traveling to or passing through every parcel of land on the earth.
Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian polar explorer on December 14, 1911 reached the South Pole, becoming the first person known to have accomplished this feat. He and 2 other explorers, an American and Italian, were the first to cross the North Pole by air in 1926. You and I can hop on a plane and fly to any part of this planet, provided that some of the passengers don’t carry box cutters and shout “There is only one god Allah, and his prophet is Mohammed, and ruin our flight by flying it into a skyscraper.
Then Daniel speaks of "knowledge increasing” Beginning with the telegraph, telephones, radio, televisions, computers, and now the internet, we can know virtually anything in a matter of seconds with a flick of our fingers if we have a modem, a computer, and an Internet Service Provider or ISP like America On Line, Compuserve, Microsoft Network, or a host of other internet companies. The scary part is that Microsoft has a virtual Monopoly of the personal computer market -- especially when it comes to the operating system.
Now, let’s take a look at some of the Signs of the End that Jesus Himself warned us to be on the look out for......signs that He said would come to pass just before His Second Coming and the "end of the world" as we now know it:
At the beginning of Matthew chapter 16 Jesus’ religious enemies challenged Him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered and said to them, "When it is evening you say, ’It will be fair weather, for the sky is red’; and in the morning, ’It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times." Today modern technology has vastly improved our ability to forecast the weather, but are we any less blind to the ominous signs of times in which we’re now living?
The foremost passage in the entire bible to determine the signs or hints that the Second Coming of Christ is imminent can be found in Matthew chapter 24 from the very words of Jesus Himself. In vs. 3 it says, “As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?"
Vs. 5 gives us His first tip-off “For many will come in my name, saying, I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.” As the time of Christ’s return draws near there will be more and more individuals like the Rev. Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church who actually claim to be Jesus Christ.
One Christian leader claims that since 1900, over 1,100 people have claimed to be Christ. I’m not sure where he came up with the number 1,100. But there have been scores of people this century who claimed to be the Messiah including Jim Jones of the People’s Temple, Moses Guibbory, David Koresh of the Branch Dividians, and the Christ Mytraya,
In the Jewish World Review, just a few years ago, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the late leader of the Lubavitch movement based in New York City was believed by his followers to be the Messiah. The Lubavitch movement denies this. But a recent visit to the movement’s Crown Heights headquarters revealed a large banner in its main sanctuary proclaiming Rabbi Schneerson the Anointed One (viz. the Messiah) and children attending the movement’s educational institutions are encouraged to consider their late beloved leader the Messiah who will rise from the dead.
On Dec. 24, 1997 - God’s Salvation Church, a cult similar to the Heaven’s Gate group located in Garland Texas claimed that one of the children in the group is a reincarnation of Jesus Christ. They believed that God will arrive in a spaceship on March 31, 1998. So it turns out that Jesus is none other than Alf! Do you remember that show? To them their Messiah hates cats and is constantly in a feeding frenzy. In case you don’t know, ALF is an acronym standing for Alien Life Force.
Marshall Applewhite of the Heaven’s Gate UFO Cult was apparently considered a reincarnation of Christ (or another being like Christ) by his followers. This is not to mention Father Divine, Charles Manson, Maharaja Ji, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi of Transcendental Meditation fame, and The Dalai Lama of Tibet who was the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner. When I lived in London there is a tradition in Hyde Park since 1855, for speakers on soapboxes to air their views. I remember there was some misguided soul who got up on his soapbox with a vacuum cleaner hose around his neck and insisted that he was Jesus Christ. I wondered to myself as he spoke if his vacuum cleaner sucked out his brains.
Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s chief propagandist, said in a broadcast on 19 April 1936, that "Germany has been transformed into a great house of the Lord where the Fuhrer as our mediator stands before the throne of God." It was Hitler himself who ordered that he be presented as a deified messiah. Another powerful voice in the Nazi party, Dr. Robert Ley, proclaimed that "We believe on this earth in Adolf Hitler alone! We believe in National Socialism as the creed which is the sole source of grace!"
Joseph Stalin, a former seminary student, used his theological training to develop a program to deify the leader of the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was Stalin’s belief that Russians were forever looking for a god-tsar, so he decided to present them a new god, in place of the one overthrown by the Bolsheviks. The new god-tsar was an atheist messiah, the god, Vladamir Lenin.
The majority of evangelical Christians believe that the presence of these false Christs (of which I have mentioned only a few) will culminate in the appearance of one final Anti-Christ who is mentioned in 1 John 2:18. With breathtaking advances in mass media, this time more than any other time in history false Christs can disseminate their messages on a world-wide scale. But very soon a false Christ will be widely accepted on a world-wide scale.
In vs. 11 Jesus added “And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.” 12 “And because wickedness is multiplied, most men’s love will grow cold.” I have personally witnessed persons who hold to orthodox Christian doctrine, who believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven, that the bible is God’s inspired and inerrant Word, yet do not have the love of God in their hearts. In John 13:35 Jesus says: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." If we do not love one another-by this I mean agape love—not a liver-quiver feeling or sentiment but seeking someone else’s highest good—then it is time we reevaluate our faith.
Matthew 7:21-24 is the most frightening passage to me in the entire bible: in it Jesus says "Not every one who says to me, Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’And then will I declare to them, I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’ Love for others, including our enemies is the surest indication that we are true disciples of Jesus. Let us not allow our love to grow cold.
In Matthew 24:6 Jesus gives us another clue: And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: 8 all this is but the beginning of the birth-pangs.
Historians all agree that the 20th century was unparalleled in the scale of its human misery created by other humans. No period has witnessed the escalation of wars as has the 20th Century. The Red Cross has estimated that over 100 million people have been killed in wars since the 20th Century began. This is not including genocide of Russians opposed to Stalin, the Jews exterminated during the Holocaust, Idi Amin’s or Pol Pot’s, or Mao Tse Tung’s Evil and bloodthirsty regimes. Up until 1914, war had never been universal, but in both World War 1 & 2, total war was waged.
Since World War II, there have been numerous major wars & hundreds of rebellions & revolutions. The death toll in conflicts since the end of World War II has topped 23 million.
Jesus also predicted in vs. 7...and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in various places..." On March 27th, 1964 Alaska was devastated by a massive earthquake measuring 8.4 on the Richter scale. In the 30 years since the great Alaska quake, there have been as many major earthquakes as in the entire previous 2000 years of world history!
The World Almanac tells us that there were only 21 earthquakes of major strength between the years 1000 and 1800. But between 1800 and 1900 there were 18 major earthquakes. In the next 50 years, between 1900 and 1950, there were 33 major quakes, and between 1950 and 1991 there were 93 major earthquakes, almost tripling the number of the previous half century, and claiming the lives of 1.3 million people around the world. This dramatic increase of severe quakes has led many scientists to predict that we are entering a new period of great seismic disturbances.
...and there shall be famines, and pestilences...." (Matthew 24:7)
The HIV virus, which causes AIDS, has currently infected at least 13 to 14 million people around the globe. In 1993 AIDS became the leading cause of death of U.S. males between the ages of 20 and 45. Harvard University scientists estimate that there are over 25 million people worldwide who have full-blown AIDS, and an additional 100 million people will be infected with the HIV virus. However, AIDS is not the only modern plague to afflict mankind. Virtually unheard of among our ancestors, over 100 different kinds of cancer now kill over 5 million people every year. The depletion of the ozone layer, which blocks much of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation, is thought to be responsible for a dramatic rise in melanoma, a deadly skin cancer.
The world recession, resulting in poverty and homelessness, has devastated the health care systems of many countries and diseases once thought banished by modern science have made an alarming comeback. Epidemics of typhoid, diphtheria, and even the Black Death, have afflicted areas of India and the former Soviet Union. Deadly new strains of Malaria, Tuberculosis and Cholera are becoming resistant to all known antibiotics and are killing millions of people.
The most underrated health epidemic, known as the Spanish Influenza pandemic because it grew to worldwide proportions, is believed to have been born in early March 1918 after soldiers at Fort Riley, Kansas burned tons of manure. Two days later the first soldiers reported feeling sick. Forty-eight soldiers died at Fort Riley with a listed cause of pneumonia. But the virus behind the sickness followed troop movements to Europe and more became infected and the sickness grew more deadly in the process. Worldwide, the epidemic killed 20 to 40 million people. In the United States, estimates place the death toll between 500,000 to more than 675,000. As a comparison, fewer than 300,000 Americans lost their lives serving in the armed forces during World War II. The specter of resurgent smallpox is ominous, especially given the enormous efforts that have been made to eradicate what has been characterized as the most devastating of all the pestilential diseases. Unfortunately, the threat of an aerosol release by terrorist elements of smallpox is real and the potential for a catastrophic scenario is great unless effective control measures can quickly be brought to bear.
I know that my children have not been vaccinated against Smallpox. With renegade nations who have biological weapons of mass destruction such as Iraq and North Korea, the CDC is trying to produce vaccines as quickly as possible but it will take them a year to produce enough vaccine to protect every citizen in our nation.
How then should we respond or as the late Francis Schaeffer has said, “how then shall we live?” Jesus told us in Matt. 24.6 “see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet.” All of these clues do not suggest that the end of the world has come. Yes, Christ can come at any time and it could be today. But look with me at vs. 8 “all this is but the beginning of the birth-pangs.” I have been in the delivery room for both of my children’s births. My wife will tell you I was no help at all. Don’t believe her. When Johnny arrived on the scene he came out of the womb smoking a cigar, demanding his own way and he was an unsightly infant. Since he is in Arizona and can’t defend himself—I feel fairly safe. Suzie, on the other hand was a beautiful baby from the git-go.
Having said that, my point is when Laura told me she was getting labor pains, it did not mean that in the next moment our child would be born immediately. Her first contraction was merely a sign that her nine months of labor were coming to an end. But with Johnny, it took 15 hours after Laura’s first contraction for him to come out smoking that stogie. What I have just discussed are the initial birth pangs. Next week we will continue to look at some other signs of the soon return of Christ. But we will end with the signs where the contractions are intense and what must happen when history will be in the very last phase.