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The End TimesProphecy
One might think that the doctrine of the end times (eschatology) has very little to do with living the Christian life, since we are to live the same Godly lives whether Jesus returns today or in a thousand years. However, this doctrine is presented to believers in the Epistles so that we might have hope and comfort about our temporal destiny as well as eternity (1 Thessalonians 4:18). The book of The Revelation promises great tribulation just before the end of the world as we know it. Presented here is only a brief summary of the events of the end times.
There is much speculation about the events of the end times, and there are many different assumptions made by various theological experts. The doctrine of the end times is difficult to follow because it is presented in small pieces of noncontiguous scripture throughout the Bible. As a result, the subject of the end times is quite controversial, even among evangelicals. The specific points of controversy most often deal with the rapture, and the kingdom, and these will be discussed below.
The Last Days
Paul told Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:1-3 that in the end times, it will be common for people to fall away from true doctrine and practice false doctrine including the doctrine of demons. Paul says that people will be hypocrites and liars, and some will forbid certain practices such as marriage and the eating of certain foods as part of their doctrines. He gives an even more explicit description of the last days in 2 Timothy 3:1-7. He says that these will be difficult times because people will be wicked, mean, and full of hate, and they will love fighting. They will love themselves and be boastful, conceited, and arrogant. They will love money and pleasure, and live dangerous, reckless lives, and children will be disobedient to their parents. People will be ungrateful, unholy, and malicious gossips, and they will be without self-control. Imagine a world without self-control, yet we see signs of this today.
The epistles give such extended warnings about false teachers that we wonder why so much attention is given them (2 Peter 2:1-22). In 2 Timothy 4:3, we see that in the end times, people will actually seek out false teachers who will tell them the things that they want to hear, in place of the truth. Apparently these warnings against false teachers are so numerous and emphatic so that we will have to give constant attention to identifying them. They are subtle, and they will easily deceive the unsuspecting (Romans 16:17-18). We will know them because they preach a "different" gospel (2 Corinthians 11:4). although they disguise themselves as apostles (2 Corinthians 11:13-15,23). We are told that they speak arrogant words of vanity (2 Peter 2:18). We will have an uneasy feeling towards them.
We are accountable to test the spirits (1 John 4:1-2). Even if an angel preaches falsely, he is to be accursed (Galatians 1:8). When we identify false teachers, we shouldn't even greet them or let them enter our homes (2 John 10). We are to ask questions. Hiding behind our confidence in a pastor or another priest will not suffice on judgment day. We are accountable for ourselves, and if we disagree or don't understand, we must ask questions--that is how we learn. However, we can be confident to learn from those we know well and trust (2 Timothy 3:14).
In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul describes an even which he calls being "caught up" to be with Jesus Christ. Over the centuries, we have come to refer to this event as the rapture. Jesus will come from Heaven, and a trumpet will sound (1 Corinthians 15:52). The dead bodies of believers will rise from the earth, whether they be in graves or elsewhere, to unite with their souls which are already with Jesus. Then the believers who are still living will also be raised to meet Jesus in the air. The bodies of all of these believers will be transformed or changed (1 Corinthians 15:51-52) into new glorified bodies (Philippians 3:21), in the same form as the body of Jesus Himself (1 John 3:1-2). We are told that this whole company will ascend to Heaven with Jesus, similar to the way that He ascended the first time (Acts 1:11). In traditional dispensational theology, the rapture will mark the end of the Age of the Church.
Some believe that the rapture will occur at the beginning of the seven-year period of tribulation at the end of time, which is described in the book of Revelation. This view is called the pre-tribulation view of the rapture, and with this scenario, Christians would escape the wrath of God during the tribulation period (1 Thessalonians 1:10, 4:18). This view is shared by dispensationalists. A pre-tribulation rapture implies that the rapture is considered to be imminent, meaning that it could now occur at any time, because all prophecies which the Bible indicates must be fulfilled before the rapture have already occurred.
Others believe that the rapture won't occur until the end of the tribulation period. This view is called the post-tribulation rapture view of the rapture, where Christians would have to endure God's wrath during the tribulation, just like everyone else.
Still others split the difference, citing the occurrence of the rapture at the midpoint of the
seven-year tribulation. This view is called the mid-tribulation view of the rapture, where believers would escape the worst of the tribulation period (the last three-and-a-half years), but not the first half of it.
However, most in the three camps above would agree that the rapture is premillennial, meaning that it will occur before the millennium, the thousand-year reign of Christ in His earthly kingdom. Yet another variation on the teaching of the end times is that the rapture will occur at the end of the millennium (post-millennial). Some who hold this position would teach that there will be no specific and spectacular rapture event, because it simply corresponds with the end of time, where none of mankind is left on the earth.
The Judgment Seat of Christ
In John 14:1-3, Jesus prophesied this event as He explained that our dwelling places await us in Heaven. Although the Bible does not specify exactly when we believers will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ to receive our rewards (1 Corinthians 5:10), it seems reasonable that this judgment of believers will probably begin at this point, immediately following the rapture, and continue through the period of great tribulation and trouble on the earth. However, it seems somewhat futile for us to try to comprehend and explain events of eternity in temporal terms.
The Tribulation Period
Many Bible scholars believe that the Great Tribulation described in the books of Daniel and The Revelation will occur in the seven years immediately following the rapture, although there is much disagreement and speculation about the order of these end-time events. Evil and trouble will be the norm for this period (Revelation 6-18); the Antichrist will reveal Himself (Daniel 11-12, Revelation 13); and, Russia and her allies will attack Israel, but they will suffer defeat as Russia is destroyed by an earthquake (Ezekiel 38-39). China and her allies will attack Israel at the Battle of Armageddon.
The Second Advent
However, just as it appears that Israel will be defeated, Jesus Christ will return to earth--the Second Advent--and personally defeat Satan and Israel's enemies in the most devastating battle of all time (Revelation 19). The Second Advent is further described
in Psalms 22:19-31.
Some people believe that the kingdom is an actual earthly kingdom (premillennialists and dispensationalists), but others believe that it is only symbolic, or that we are already living in the kingdom today (amillennialists). Those who believe in an earthly kingdom would argue that the kingdom on earth begins at the Second Advent. Christ will reign as King over His earthly kingdom for 1000 years (Revelation 20). Satan will be bound during this period, but at the end of the 1000-year period, Satan and his demons will be released, they will retaliate, and finally they will be cast into the lake of fire for eternity. Then all unbelievers will be judged at the Great White Throne of God, and they will also be cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20, 2 Peter 3).
Then God will form a new Heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21), and all believers will live in eternal paradise forever (Revelation 22). This eternal blessing is possible because of Jesus's sacrifice on the cross for our sins, and this blessing belongs to anyone who believes that Jesus is his savior (John 3:16).
The future is bright for believers, and dismal for unbelievers. Believers will spend it in paradise, and unbelievers in the lake of fire, after much tribulation on earth. We should use what we know of the end times as an encouragement and a witness until Christ returns.
Owen Weber 2009