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Apocalyptic Prophecy—the End of Time?
Or is it the end of the beginning? The popular media portrays apocalyptic prophecy in an overtly negative light. Is this the whole story of God's wonderful plan for restoring peace to the earth?
by Darris McNeely
How many times have you heard it said, "The world is coming to an end"? Whenever someone writes or speaks about the subject it seems to conjure up images of gloom and doom, fear and dread. Prophecy can have very dark overtones and leave an impression of total cataclysm when handled in an irresponsible manner.
A recent issue of Newsweek, an American weekly news magazine, had as its cover story the subject of end time Bible prophecy. Featured in the issue was a dreadful picture of the last judgment complete with bodies descending into hell. The title of the lead article was, "The Way the World Ends." Throughout the piece references were made to the end of the world and the idea that time will come to a close with the unveiling of the prophecies of the book of Revelation and the second coming of Jesus Christ. Overall the piece left a distinctly negative impression about prophecy in general and end time prophecy in particular. Most articles written in the mainstream press follow this approach.
Make no mistake, the prophecies of the Bible that speak of plagues, tribulation and woe are serious and very real. The cataclysmic events that lead up to the coming of Christ will produce a time of trouble unlike any previous period of human history. Every student of history knows there have been some pretty horrible epochs of the past. Historian Barbara Tuchman wrote a book titled The Distant Mirror, in which she chronicled the tumultuous 14th century that saw, among other catastrophes, the plague called the Black Death. Our own 20th century has been dubbed the bloodiest in history. Yet Daniel the prophet was told that in the end time "there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time" (Daniel 12:1).
Sin and rebellion against the will of God will bring the world to its most critical juncture. Unless God intervenes through the return of Christ and shortens time, "no flesh would be saved" (Matthew 24:22). A balanced understanding of biblical prophecy comes only from reading all that the scriptures have to say about the future of mankind and this world. The good news is mankind will not destroy life from off the planet, time will not come to an end and justice and peace will be brought to the earth. The kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of God and Christ in a sweeping reform of every human institution (Revelation 11:15).
The positive message of mankind's future is tragically buried beneath the misunderstanding perpetuated by much of today's media. Narrow minded, erroneous interpretations of God's whole design for human life cast biblical prophecy and religion as a whole in a negative light.
Why it must get worse before it gets better
First let's understand why this age-ending peril will engulf the world. God takes no pleasure in the suffering of mankind. From the beginning of man's time on earth there has been a separation from the knowledge represented by the tree of life in Genesis chapter 2. The decision to take from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil set the human family on a course that is opposite of the true plan of God. The result has been a story of struggle and suffering, which is summed up by an old adage about life that says man is born, suffers and then dies. There are peaks of beauty and excellence that have been achieved but at the end of the 20th century we still see more war, poverty and disease than is comfortable to an honest mind. Trying to comprehend why so much evil runs through the world leaves far too many without true faith or hope in the living God.
God's loving, yearning stance is evident in the inspired statement of Ezekiel 18:23, "'Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?' says the Lord God, 'and not that he should turn from his ways and live?'" Man was created with the potential to rise above the human level and walk and live in the image of God (Genesis 1:26), but sin and its aftermath have prevented most from realizing this spiritual goal. When we come to events at the close of the age as depicted in Revelation, two additional scriptures show us why a worldwide tribulation will engulf the world.
The seals of the book of Revelation are a multitude of calamities that represent the "great day" of God's wrath upon the world. As they are poured out in the sequence of events we find that man does not yet come to his knees in heart-rending repentance before God. Notice Revelation 9:20-21, "But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk. And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts." Sadly it will take more to break man's pride and rebellion.
The world will be in the grip of a power defined as Babylon the great (Revelation 18:2). This religious-political system will be the final global effort to spiritually enslave mankind in the defiant system whose roots go back to the Tower of Babel. Even the patience of God will run out when this evil system grips all nations. God will move to end its reign for all time. "'For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury.' And I heard another voice from heaven saying, 'Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues. For her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities'" (Revelation 18:3-5).
It is to save the world and to fulfill the hope of human existence that God intervenes by sending Jesus Christ on His triumphant return as King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16). With the source of all evil, Satan the devil, bound and put away from the presence of mankind, God will then be ready to establish the fullness of His kingdom upon the earth.
The restoration of all things
In one of his first sermons to those gathered in the temple in Jerusalem, Peter made reference to the primary goal that God has desired since the beginning.
"Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began" (Acts 3:19-21).
It is God's plan to restore "all things."
What was first removed that must then be restored? It is the rule of God upon the earth. Christ came announcing the kingdom of God was at hand (Mark 1:14). The gospel of the kingdom of God is about the restoring of God's way of life to the human family. This way, based on the eternal spiritual law of God, was removed at the time of Adam and Eve's decision to listen to the words of the serpent. It is a way of love, rooted in an outgoing concern for the welfare of others, devoid of an overriding concern for the self. Verse 21 is a prophecy of the wonderful coming kingdom of God on earth. This is a positive view of the future beyond the negative headlines of today and the world-shaking events of the end of the age.
The coming kingdom of God will restore the knowledge of the true God to all peoples. The prophet Habakkuk says that knowledge of God will cover the world as the waters of the sea cover the earth (Habakkuk 2:14). When human relationships are built upon God's way, then peace will be built into a network of relationships that will produce order and harmony among peoples.
The fifth kingdom
The book of Daniel records the dream of Babylon's King Nebuchadnezzar in which he saw a great image. The interpretation by Daniel showed it to be a prophecy of four empires that would culminate in the establishment of a fifth-"a kingdom which shall never be destroyed [the kingdom of God]." God's kingdom will be a divine rule that will never be replaced, unlike the previous kingdoms. It shall "break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever" (Daniel 2:44).
Take special note of the phrase "the kingdom shall not be left to other people." To whom is it left? The answer to this helps us understand a vital part of the grand purpose of life. When we understand to whom the kingdom will be given, we will then have a key to properly understanding prophecy. We will understand why the terrible prophecies of the future must come to pass. Beyond this we also see the hope God holds out to all mankind. The future does not end with Armageddon and a battle between Christ and the Antichrist. Those events are only passages to a time when God's reign will supplant all human rule and bring about the conditions that will result in the salvation of humanity.
Into a far country
In spite of a world that has been deceived by Satan, God has always worked with individuals and groups to prepare a people to assist Christ in restoring peace to the world. God works with a sure and proven plan for the ages.
In the days prior to His death, Jesus perceived that His followers expected the imminent appearance of the kingdom of God. Knowing this would not be the case, He told a parable of a nobleman's journey to a far country to receive a kingdom. To each of his servants, the ruler gave a sum of money. His departing instruction was, "Do business till I come" (Luke 19:11-13). The servants, in this case those who wait on the coming of the Lord, are to spend their lives preparing for His return. The money represents the calling and gifts of God to those He calls. As the parable shows, with the return of the ruler, an accounting will be required of those entrusted with the calling and knowledge of the kingdom. There are rewards according to how much increase each person has achieved (verses 14 to 27).
The parable of the talents shows that those called out of the world in advance of the kingdom are being prepared to reign with Christ. Like the nobleman who entrusted money to his servants, God has entrusted to His elect the understanding of the kingdom and how it will function. Those called now, in advance, are to prepare for an eternity of service.
Those who overcome this world, who endure to the coming of Christ, will qualify for places with Christ in the structure He is now building (John 14:1-3). The kingdom will be given to those saints and they will reign with Christ for a thousand years (Revelation 20:4).
This, too, is a part of prophecy that must be understood along with the apocalyptic visions. God will not punish without cause or without a promise and a hope beyond.
The end of the beginning
The future that God has planned is full of positive hope for mankind. Look at the final question the disciples asked Christ prior to His ascension to heaven: "Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6). Restoring not only Israel, but also the entire world to a place of peace, justice and equity is the focal point of God's plan. The reign of Christ over the kingdom of God on earth is the good news beyond the age—ending troubles that the Bible foretells. What comes to an end is the unrighteous rule of man's governments that have never achieved peace. Christ's return will end forever the fear of war and its terrible consequences.
During the Second World War British Prime Minister Winston Churchill spoke of the turning point which came with the Allied landings in North Africa in the fall of 1942. At last, after months of battle, there was a breach that could lead to victory. Speaking to a group in London he said, "Now is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."
The terrible events that end with the return of Christ as King of kings will not be the "time of the end." They will merely be "the end of the beginning." The apostle Paul describes it beautifully: "For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Romans 8:20-21).
Properly understood, prophecy offers a positive and hopeful new beginning for mankind. WNP
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