On End Times Prophecies

On End Times Prophecies December 15, 2022

Yesterday we discussed an End Times prophecy that was off-target, but the Biblical text it went off from proved quite relevant.  More needs to be said about those prophecies of Christ’s Second Coming that are so often grossly misinterpreted.  And yet Scripture gives them as “signs” of Christ’s return, so we need to take them seriously, especially in Advent, the season devoted to such reflections.

We Lutherans are confessionally safeguarded from the worst excesses of End Times speculation.  The Augsburg Confession says this in Article XVII.  Of Christ’s Return to Judgment:

[Our churches] teach that at the Consummation of the World Christ will appear for judgment, and will raise up all the dead; He will give to the godly and elect eternal life and everlasting joys, but ungodly men and the devils He will condemn to be tormented without end.

They condemn the Anabaptists, who think that there will be an end to the punishments of condemned men and devils.

They condemn also others who are now spreading certain Jewish opinions, that before the resurrection of the dead the godly shall take possession of the kingdom of the world, the ungodly being everywhere suppressed.

That last bit refers to Millennialism, the notion that the saints will enjoy a thousand year reign on earth.  Premillennialists believe that Christ will come before His thousand year reign.  That means that the woes described in Revelation will happen before this period of earthly paradise, though Christians will be “raptured” away before the really scary stuff happens.  This view is taken for granted by most of the End Times preachers we hear on TV or the internet.

Postmillennialists believe that Christ will come after the thousand years of earthly paradise in which the church will reign.  This view was held by promoters of the “Social Gospel” in the 19th and 20th century, when mainline liberal theologians sought to bring “heaven on earth” through political activism.  It can also be found on the opposite political spectrum, among “dominionists” of both the Reformed and the Pentecostal variety.

Both kinds of millennialists focus on this world, as in the TV preachers who see “today’s news” as fulfilling Bible prophecy and in the political activists who seek to “take over the world for Christ” by setting up a theocratic political order.  Both are “Jewish opinions,” in that they see the Messiah as a political ruler of this world.

Millennialists approach the Biblical prophecies of the Last Days as symbolic, rather than as literal depictions of demonic and angelic forces at war, and what they symbolize is current events.  I remember when Henry Kissinger was said to be the Antichrist.  Then it was Mikhail Gorbachev (something about the “mark” on his head).  Today some are saying Vladimir Putin is the Antichrist. One day, when I was a boy, I was rummaging through my grandmother’s books and found one from the 19th century saying that Christ’s return was imminent, citing the same symbols and relating them to the current events of that day.  It occurred to me that the prophecies might well apply to every age, so that Christ could come back at any time.  Which is pretty much what Jesus says (Matthew 25:13).

The other signs of Christ’s return certainly apply to every period of our history, including our own times.  Wars and rumors of wars. False Christs.  Famines and earthquakes.  Lawlessness.  False prophets.  Persecution.  (See Matthew 24.)

These are all “signs,” signifying that the world is broken, that in this world we shall have tribulation, that, in the words of Tom Hughes the End Times preacher I talked about yesterday, we are experiencing “The Collapse of Everything!”

The point is, we are indeed in the End Times, which began at Christ’s Ascension.  This is a time of warfare between Christ and Antichrist.  And yet, Christ is reigning.  The church is reigning.

At any time, He could return to judge the living and the dead.  That prospect is terrifying for those who do not know Him.  But for those who do, their Judge will be the very one who took their judgment into Himself.  The dead will rise!  And we will receive “eternal life and everlasting joys.”

Perhaps all of these signs will intensify as the day approaches.  I am struck by statements that have a strange contemporary resonance, such as the “many will be offended” text that we discussed yesterday.  And there is this:

For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ (Luke 23:29)

How strange this text must have sounded in the ancient, the medieval, the Renaissance, the 19th century, and most of the modern world.  Being unable to have children was considered tragic, as we see in the Biblical stories of Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Manoah’s wife, Elizabeth. Not that these faithful women’s value was only in having children–indeed, the Bible is always championing the cause of the barren–but these women yearned to have children and prayed to God for a child.
Now, though, we go to great lengths, devising elaborate technologies and heartless medical procedures to prevent pregnancy and childbirth.  Today’s attitudes of not wanting to have children are extraordinary in the context of human history and human cultures.
A sign of the End?  May be.
One thing we do know, though, is that we have no business predicting the day or the hour, as so many End Times preachers insist on doing. In Matthew 24, in which Jesus gives us the signs of the End, He says, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36).
Even Jesus doesn’t know when He will return!  We certainly cannot know.
Just before His Ascension, the disciples asked him if he would now restore the Kingdom to Israel.  “He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority'” (Acts 1:6).  But what He would do for them is another apocalyptic act:  He will give them the Holy Spirit.  “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  The Holy Spirit will give them power to restore His Kingdom not just to Israel but to people of all nations.
Thus, Christ indeed reigns.
Illustration: Book of Revelation Chapter 9-1 (Bible Illustrations by Sweet Media), Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

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