Studying the Bible: The Future and Prophetic Scenarios
- Thursday, November 05, 2009
Speculations concerning the future multiply as fast as snowflakes in a blizzard. As this decade comes to a close, Christians need to know that not all end-times opinions are facts. Jesus told His disciples:
"No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father....Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come" (Matthew 24:36-42, NIV).
This passage seems to dismiss study and speculation about the Second Coming. But look closer: the second portion of Jesus' statement commands us to pay attention and eagerly expect His return: "Therefore keep watch..." The best way to keep watch is to know what God has revealed about the future, and to attempt a biblical understanding of events around us.
Jesus' disciples attempted to understand the future, often questioning Him about prophetic events. They even wondered if His first coming would result in political and military upheaval and the overthrow of Israel's oppressors (Acts 1:6). They were wrong in that case, but they never lost hold of the central end-time events: the final judgment (Matt. 25:46); the resurrection of the dead (1 Thess. 4:13-18); the glorification of God's people (Col. 3:4; Matt. 16:27); and the "destruction" of death (1 Cor. 15:25-26).
Central Themes of the End Times
Almost one hundred passages refer to the end times. However, many of these can be grouped into six end-times themes. An easy way to remember these themes is to relate each of the six topics to the six letters of the word F-U-T-U-R-E.
F — Final Judgment. The final judgment of humankind is described clearly in passages like Acts 17:31, Hebrews 10:27, and Revelation 20:4-15. Scripture indicates that Christ Himself will be the Judge (John 5:22; Acts 10:42; 2 Tim. 4:1).
U — Unknown Hour. No one can know the exact time of the Second Coming. Despite the sensationalistic ideas you may have heard from cult leaders as well as from well-meaning but mistaken Christians, no one knows the timing of the Second Coming. Several biblical passages emphasize this, including Matthew 24:27-42 and Acts 1:7.
T — Time and Eternity. Though Christians have differing views on the timing of certain end-time events, they agree on the future eternal state. Following the final judgment of humankind, time will give way to eternity.
Jesus spoke of the eternal state when He said that the wicked "will go away into eternal damnation, but the righteous into eternal life" (Matt. 25:46). Everyone must ultimately be ushered into one of two final states: eternal heaven or eternal hell (Rev. 20:11-15; Luke 16:26; Matt. 25:41-46). Christians will spend eternity with God in heaven; unbelievers will spend eternity apart from God in hell.
U — Unbelief. Apostasy — a widespread defection from the true faith — will characterize the time immediately preceding the second coming of Christ (Luke 18:8; 2 Thess. 2:3; 1 Tim. 4:1-3; 2 Tim. 4:3-4; and 2 Pet. 2:1-3). There will also be widespread mockery of the truth by nonbelievers (2 Pet. 3:3-5). At the final judgment, unbelievers and mockers will have to answer for their actions.
R — Resurrection. The resurrection of the righteous will occur at the Second Coming. Jesus' resurrection — the "firstfruits" of resurrection life — guarantees and typifies the resurrection of the righteous (Luke 14:14; 20:34-38; Matt. 22:29-32; Mark 12:24-27).
E — Essential. The Second Coming is a foundational fact. All Christians and all Christian churches since the time of the apostles have affirmed the Second Coming as an essential or foundational belief. All early church creeds include the Second Coming, such as the Apostles' Creed — "He will come to judge the living and the dead." While Christians unite in the belief that Jesus will literally and physically come again, cults, by contrast, commonly deny a literal and physical Second Coming. The Jehovah's Witnesses, for example, teach that Christ's return was "invisible" and occurred secretly in 1914.
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