You see them on the newsstands every January. That’s when certain publications prominently feature astrologer’s predictions about what will happen during the coming year.
“So-and-so will be voted out of office.” This movie star will be married for the 6th time.” “That investment tycoon will lose a fortune.” “Hundreds will perish in a skyscraper fire.” “A cure for the flu will be discovered.”
Prophetic utterances like these make exciting reading for many. But if, at the end of a given year, you would try to verify such forecasts, you would see how seldom they come to pass.
Still, it’s human to want to know the future. Animals are aware of the present. And they retain certain impressions from the past. But they don’t think in terms of tomorrow or next month or next year. Humans, on the other hand, have been given minds that can conceive of the future. We can conceive of it, but we can’t of ourselves, know what it will be.
“No man knows what is to be,” the Bible tells us (Eccl. 10:14). No, “You do not know what will happen tomorrow” (James 4:14). But there is a God in heaven for whom the future is no mystery! He alone has the ability to accurately know it all ahead of time.
“For I am God,” he proclaims, “and there is no other: I am God, and there is none like Me. Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done” (Isa. 46:9-10). That doesn’t mean we humans are left in ignorance about the future, though. To the contrary, God has revealed to certain human beings – much vital information about future events. “Surely the Lord God does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7).
Many of His prophets, in turn, recorded in written form the prophecies they were given by God. We have them in the Bible. One whole third of the Bible is prophecy. And most of it is about events that are yet to happen.
The purpose of these prophecies is to reveal – not to keep secret-- the future. The key prophetical book of the Bible is even called the book of Revelation, that is to say, the book of revealing. Notice how it begins:
“The Revelation of (from, belonging to) Jesus Christ, which God (who alone knows all things about the future – see Matthew 24:36, Acts 1:7) gave Him” - for what purpose? – “to show His servants (those who obey God, who serve Him) – things which must shortly take place (in other words, future events)” (Rev. 1:1).
It is interesting that in scoffing, the scoffers are themselves fulfilling biblical prophecy (II Peter 3:3-4)! They have overlooked the very thing God said not to overlook: that it was God who inspired the use of the word shortly. And to God, a few hundred years, even a few thousand years, in the working out of His plan, are but brief periods.
God allowed the early apostles and Jesus’ followers through succeeding ages to live in expectation that Jesus’ return was near, even though that expectation at times caused them to be the object of ridicule. Christ could have said: “I will return after (a certain number of centuries). Preach the gospel in the meanwhile.” And then his Church would have known. But no, the time of His intervention in world affairs was yet distant, and was not clearly revealed.
James, the brother of Jesus, referred to the “last days” as though his readers were then living in them (James 5:3). So did the apostle Paul (Heb. 10:25, Rom. 13:11-12). Paul left no doubt in two of his letters that he hoped to be alive at Jesus’ return (I Cor. 15:512-52, I Thes. 4:15-17). The apostle Peter wrote of “these last times” (I Peter 1:20, 4:7). John and Jude used similar expression (I John 2:18, Jude 18).
It was toward the end of their lives that these men realized they would die before Jesus Christ came and they began to refer to the “last days” as being yet future (II Tim. 3:1, 4:6-8, II Peter 1:15, 3:3-4).
Nor were they alone in history. For centuries there have been those who expected, in their generation, the end of the age and the coming of the Messiah to rule on earth. They publicly proclaimed it. They intensely wanted to see it happen. But in spite of the depth of their feelings, what they looked for did not come to pass – then.
The very place Jesus’ feet shall touch when he comes back is clearly designated (Zech. 14:4). Not so for the date and time of his arrival. Did you ever notice that? Even Christ’s final words in the last prophetic book of the Bible, “Surely I am coming quickly” (Rev. 22:20), have had the effect of keeping His Church alert and watching.
This is for a purpose. Can you imagine how the morale of Jesus’ followers would have been affected had they been aware that the “time of the end” was centuries, yes, almost two millennia off into the future? The human tendency to let down, to become complacent, lethargic, would have become overwhelming.
Jesus specifically wanted His people in all ages to be anticipating His return and the establishment of the Kingdom of God. The reason is that attaining the Kingdom of God is the central purpose for human existence. Jesus said to seek that kingdom first – above anything else in life (Matt. 6:33). “Thy kingdom come,” He told His followers to pray.
Could they all, living in the midst of societies gone amok, have put their hearts into such a prayer as easily if they knew the outcome was thousands of years away?
Allowing His Church through the centuries to live in expectation of the imminent establishment of His Kingdom has been a prod and an encouragement from God that has given strength to withstand trials, persecution, even martyrdom.
And consider this: God’s Kingdom, for all practical purposes, did arrive for each of God’s people down through history, at the time of their deaths. The next thing they will be conscious of is God’s Kingdom, when they are raised in the resurrection. The Kingdom was that close to them – it is that close to each of us today!
But how do we today know we are really living in the “time of the end”? We have the answer in Jesus’ own words. Christ unmistakably pinpointed our time in a lengthy prophecy recorded in Matthew 24. His disciples had asked Him, “What will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age” (v. 3)? What was Christ’s reply?
The end of the age will come, Jesus explained, when the good news of the Kingdom has been preached “in the entire world as a witness to all the nations” (v. 14).
The Gospel or good news that Jesus was speaking of is the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, which has been hidden from the world as a whole for most of 20 centuries.
Jesus also identified the time of the end as our time when he declared (vs. 21-22) that world troubles would increase until human life would be in danger of extinction. That is the time we are in now!
Which specific events or occurrences fulfilling biblical prophecies will take place this coming year we cannot say, because God has not revealed this information? We do know, however, that we will see a continuation of the prophetic trends leading to the end of this age.
Watch for wars and rumors of wars, famines, disease epidemics and also earthquakes (Matt. 24:6-7). Look for more tension in the Middle East, and further movement toward a union of 10 nations in Europe with the blessing of the great religious leader.
Curses for transgression of God’s spiritual, civil, financial and health laws (the curses are enumerated in Lev. 26 and Deut. 28) will continue to take their toll in the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and other Israelitish nations.
Are you sick and tired of all the nonsense and corruption in the world? Prepare yourself to see yet more, for the Scriptures warn us to expect “that in the last day perilous times will come: for men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power” (II Tim. 3:1-5).
We can expect to see such conditions intensify, for “evil men and imposters will grow worse and worse” (v. 13). At times some of the prophetical trends may appear to go into “remission.” Do not be deceived by appearances, however, for the trends fulfilling the sure word of prophecy always reappear more vigorous and intense than ever!
In the meanwhile, God’s Work – the Work putting out the very article you are reading at this moment-- will continue to grow in effectiveness and strength until the good news of the coming Kingdom of God has been preached in all the world as witness to all nations (Matt. 24:14). The very existence of the Work is a sure sign that we are very close to the end of this age!
2014 is almost upon us. We don’t know exactly how many years remain, either for this age of human mismanagement and bungling or for any of us as individuals. But all converted Christians can say for sure: By one whole year, “Now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed” (Rom. 13:11).