Relevant Passages: Matthew 24-25; Acts 1:6-8; Thessalonians 5:1-3
Essential Knowledge in the Days of the End. When Jesus was on earth, the disciples were very curious about the end of time. As he sat on the Mount of Olives shortly before His death, He announced to them the destruction of the Jerusalem temple. The disciples then put to Him a two-fold question: “When will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matt. 24:3). At His ascension they put a similar question to Him: “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). How does Scripture help us answer those questions in our day and age?
1. Old Testament: Day of the Lord, Day of Judgment, Time of the End. In the Old Testament, the end-time drumbeat sounds from several key passages. Psalm 96 announces that the Lord is “coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.” Amos warned that the Day of the Lord would be a “day of darkness, not light; as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall, and was bitten by a snake. Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?” (Amos 5:18-20). Amos 8:9 promised a dark day, as did Joel 2:30-31. In Daniel 8:17, 19, the angel declares that the vision of the ram and the he-goat is for the “time of the end.” If the “end” was being predicted way back then, what does that tell us how we should live in our time of the end? Do we know it is near or do we live as if it were near?
2. New Testament: Return of Jesus, Time of the End. On the day of Pentecost, Peter quoted Joel’s prophecy about the “last days” and applied it to his day (Acts 2:16-21), this was the same prophecy which early Adventists quoted to affirm the arrival of the last days in the 18th and 19th century (1780: dark day; 1833: falling stars). In 2 Thessalonians 2:1-11, Paul sounded a cautionary note about those who were claiming that the Day of the Lord had already arrived. The “rebellion” and the “lawless one” must be revealed first, he said (2:3), but he did not project a long period of time. But perhaps the most pointed counsel comes in the following three passages:
- Matthew 24-25: In response to the disciple’s question about the destruction of the temple and the end of the world, Jesus noted several catastrophic events as signs, but added, “Don’t be alarmed” (24:6). Why? Because you haven’t seen anything yet! After listing yet more signs, He then shifted the focus to the “surprise” element: “But about that day and hour no one knows” (Matt. 24:36). There will be delays and the real end will come as a surprise. Then in Matthew 25, three parables tell how God’s people should live in the time of the end: a) Virgins: when the bridegroom was delayed even the wise virgins slept — yet they were prepared when the “end” came; b) Talents: No one knew when the end would come; the Master simply expected them to be faithful until the end. His coming was a surprise; c) Judgement of the Sheep and Goats: When the end does come, the King will simply ask one question: What have you done to be helpful while you were “waiting”?
- Acts 1:6-11: When the disciples asked if this was the time when Jesus would restore the kingdom, His answer was pointed: “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (1:7-8). In short, it doesn’t make any difference when the end will come. You have work to do: Be my witnesses.