People have always been intrigued by the future, and that fascination has not diminished with the onset of a secular scientific age. In Bible days the trappings of the occult featured in Nebuchadnezzars quest for guidance (Ezek 21.21), and soothsaying was alive and well in ancient Philippi (Acts 16.16). The trend lives on, and today horoscopes, ouija boards, séances and fortune-telling all play a significant part in modern society. The Prophecies of Nostradamus, and Michael Drosnins The Bible Code have much acceptance with a gullible public. Believers, however, are satisfied that the only safe source of information about the future is the inspired Word of God. Its statements are plain, and it needs no computer to unlock a hidden code. Its predictions have proved themselves reliable, with Old Testament prophecies regarding the first coming of the Lord Jesus being fulfilled in remarkable and detailed ways. That gives us confidence in its predictions of events surrounding His second coming.
A Wake-up Call
Without falling into the trap of interpreting Bible prophecy in light of current happenings, there is a general feeling among believers that events in the world are moving to a climax. Generally, people are dismayed at political conditions across the planet and are concerned about the seemingly endless string of natural disasters. Statements like these are common: "It cant go on like this", "Wheres it all leading to?", "Somethings got to happen". They have no idea of what that "something" is, but the Bible-believing man or woman can fill in the blanks and point to the Scriptures with their predictions of divine intervention, a series of events that will culminate in the Lord Jesus reigning in this world for a thousand years.
In one of his books, Dr Tatford tells of a little girl who was counting the chimes of the clock in the village square. Due to a mechanical problem the clock struck thirteen times. She ran home and said to her mother, "It has never been so late!". What we call the signs of the times proclaim to all, "It has never been so late". Present conditions ought to be a wake-up call to a slumbering world, but, sadly, the last-day sceptics are still saying, "Where is the promise of his coming?" (2 Pet 3.3-4).
New Testament believers were never taught to look for signs of impending events. We have been told often enough that they were not looking for signs, but waiting for the Son (1 Thess 1.10). There is no need to dredge through the newspapers every day in quest of significant pointers to His imminent arrival. Having said that, observing developments across the world is compelling, and reinforces the conviction that "the coming of the Lord draweth nigh" (James 5.8). There is an inexorable march towards federalism in Europe which is interesting in the light of Bible prophecy. The re-emergence of Russia as a world force and her sympathies with Iran seem significant in view of the fact that they will be part of a confederacy that will invade Israel in a future day (Ezek 38-39). The emergence of Far Eastern powers as leading trading nations, allied with their military capabilities seem major factors in setting the stage for events described in the book of Revelation. As ever, the fluid situation in the Middle East and the constant emergencies that arise leave Israel perpetually in the spotlight, and that is where the final drama of human history will be played out.
The moral features of the last days are described in the first few verses of 2 Timothy 3. What is said there is a commentary on present conditions. To be sure, many of the things mentioned have always been a feature of human society, but today, as never before, these things have permeated the whole social order. No attempt is made to conceal what was once unacceptable behaviour; sin that was formerly practised covertly is now glamorised and practised brazenly - "whose glory is in their shame" (Phil 3.19). A few comments on some of the statements of the verses in 2 Timothy will suffice to show how they describe the present age. "Men shall be covetous". Covetousness is endemic to society whether it is the benefit cheats at one end of the social scale or the sharp bankers at the other, with their greed bringing the banking system to its knees.
The problem of undisciplined youth is mentioned - an alarming feature of our society. "Unholy": a description of the moral decadence that took root in the 1960s and blossomed spectacularly in the promiscuity and perversion of the present day. "Without natural affection": hence increased divorce and the abuse of children. The demise of religion in favour of "pleasures" is indicated; religion that remains is declared to be powerless. There is a seeming reference to the tactics of cultists as they worm their way into the homes of unsuspecting contacts.
It could be argued that we are applying these verses to western society, a mere fragment of the overall population of the world. The fact is that with the advance of communications the standards and lifestyle of western society are being absorbed universally. All over the world images are being flashed into peoples homes, and what is being projected has a baneful effect on their thinking and their morals. 2 Timothy 3 describes conditions universally, and not parochially. For the believer the point is this: if the age of grace is moving to its conclusion with the return of the Lord Jesus, does it inject any sense of urgency into our service for Him, remembering that He said, "Occupy till I come" (Lk 19.13)?
The goal of these articles is to provide an introduction to the subject of Bible prophecy. The approach will be elementary, keeping in mind the young believer or the new believer who may be exploring these truths for the first time. For many readers, then, it will be a refresher course, a restatement of facts they have known for many years, but it is hoped that it will be helpful to "stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance" (2 Pet 3.1).
To say that we are approaching the subject in a simple way may be somewhat misleading, for it has to be admitted that the theme is not uncomplicated. God did not put all the information on the subject on the same page of Scripture. In reality, to get the overall picture we have to draw in details from Genesis to Revelation and look to God to give help to put all the pieces of the jigsaw in the right place. Over the years Bible students have presented different views of prophetic events. The line that will be followed in this series will be teaching regarding a pre-tribulation rapture of believers with an ultimate 1000-year reign of Christ over the world.
Chronology of the Main Events
There are four major events that must be seen in their proper chronological order, and predictions about other matters fit around these four major events. God willing, in future articles space will be devoted to why we see these events in the order presented here. The first is the Rapture. The main teaching regarding it is found in 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18. Opponents of the truth of the Rapture argue rightly that the word is never found in the Bible. In a secular dictionary the word is defined as follows: "seizing and carrying away", so while the word itself never appears in Scripture the concept is contained in the words "caught up" (1 Thess 4.17). The word "rapture" relates not to the Lord coming down, but to the saints being caught up, but His descent will signal their removal: "Maran-atha"; our Lord cometh (1 Cor 16.22).
Subsequent to the Rapture there will be the Great Tribulation, a phrase we lift from Matthew 24.21. Over a period of years the world will experience unparalleled hardship which, if allowed to continue, would mean the extermination of the race. Much of the book of Revelation is taken up with describing the horrors of the tribulation period.
At the end of the Tribulation there will be the third major event, the Appearing in Glory. We use this phrase to describe the return of the Lord Jesus right to the earth. At the Rapture, He will descend only to the air, but at His Revelation, or appearing in glory, He will come right to the earth and vanquish the massed armies of the world as described in Revelation 19.11-21.
The fourth significant future event is the Millennium, so called because the rule of Christ in the world will span one thousand years, a phrase that is used six times in Revelation 20.1-10. Following His manifestation (another word that Scripture uses to describe His appearing in glory) He will establish His Kingdom in this world and rule for that period of time.
To be continued.