Throughout the Bible—especially in the book of Revelation—God helps us see what we cannot see on our own. He gives us an apocalyptic yet hope-filled vision of how the final days of His original creation will play out. Still, some people question why such information is relevant. After all, it involves biblical prophecy. And for many believers, biblical prophecy falls into the same category as advanced calculus—fascinating to a few nerds but irrelevant to everyone else.
Some try to avoid the topic altogether by claiming biblical prophecy is too confusing. However, a closer look at Scripture suggests that’s not the case; God has made His prophecies quite knowable in His Word—if not necessarily the intricate details, then certainly His general plan for closing out the age.
In Matthew 24, Jesus and His disciples had just left the temple in Jerusalem when Jesus made a stunning prediction that one day, that temple would be torn down. Understandably, His announcement piqued His disciples’ curiosity. They said, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3). In other words, they were saying, “Lord, tell us about the end times.”
Jesus’s response was telling. He didn’t dismiss the disciples’ request or tell them the information was above their pay grade. Instead, Jesus warned them of false teachers who would try to mislead them with spurious claims. He spoke of the events of the Tribulation, connecting them with the prophecies of Daniel. He offered a glimpse of the signs that would precede His Second Coming.
More to the point, Jesus rewarded His followers’ hunger for knowledge about Bible prophecy. He wanted them to understand end-times events. Some people believe studying biblical prophecy is fruitless since no one can know when Christ will return. After all, Jesus Himself didn’t know the hour of His coming. Matthew 24:36, He said, “No one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.”
Anyone who claims to know the date of the Rapture or Second Coming is a false teacher. Not even Jesus knew when He was on earth. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t understand some important things about the end times. Even though we can’t know exactly when Jesus will return, we can know the events leading up to His coming. And knowing what to look for is just as valuable as knowing when the events will occur.
1. The Benefits of Understanding the End Times
For all of our hesitation about delving into biblical prophecy, there are three very good reasons for making it a priority.
- The End Times Are a Major Theme of the Bible
There are more than 1,800 references to the Second Coming of Christ in the Old Testament, plus three hundred more in the New Testament. In fact, for every prophecy that deals with the first coming of Jesus, eight prophecies deal with His Second Coming. In fact, 23 out of the 27 books in the New Testament give prominence to the theme of Christ’s Second Coming. If a biblical prophecy is that important to God, it should also be important to us.
- Understanding the End Times Helps Us Interpret and Apply the Bible
Understanding prophecy helps us interpret and apply God’s Word correctly. There are entire sections—and books—of the Bible we will never understand, much less apply, if we don’t understand prophecy. Prophecy is like a framework, a structure on which we hang the rest of the Bible.
- Anticipating the End Times Motivates Us to Live in a God-Honoring Way
Understanding prophecy motivates us to live in a God-honoring way. The Bible never separates prophecy from practical living. In 2 Peter 3, the apostle went to great lengths to describe the future destruction of the heavens and earth. But his purpose was something much more specific than inspiring shock and awe.
2. The Key Events of the End Times
- The Church Age (Romans 11:25)
Definition: The Church Age is that period of time from Pentecost until the Rapture, during which Gentiles are invited to participate in the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant.
Since the time of Genesis 12, the story of the Bible is the story of God’s dealings with the nation of Israel. Over a period of thousands of years, God has attempted to bring Israel into the right relationship with Himself. Although many instances in the Old Testament of non-Jews (Gentiles) being saved, the primary focus has been on Israel. However, after Israel rejected Jesus Christ, God temporarily halted His dealings with Israel and turned His attention toward the Gentiles. The key word here is “temporarily.”
Because Israel rejected Christ, we who are Gentiles got invited to the party! Yet, God has not permanently turned His back on Israel. God will one day fulfill His promise to believe Israel of land, a seed, and a blessing. God has one final event in mind to turn the Israelites toward Himself: the Great Tribulation. But before that final period of dealing with Israel can begin, another event must first occur.
- The Rapture of the Church (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
Definition: The Rapture is the snatching away to heaven of all Christians before the beginning of the Tribulation.
Different Views of the Rapture
There are three different views regarding the timing of the Rapture.
- Pre-Tribulation Rapture – Occurs before the Great Tribulation.
- Post-Tribulation Rapture – Occurs at the end of the Tribulation and is almost concurrent with the Second Coming of Christ.
- Mid-Tribulation Rapture – Occurs after the first three and one-half years of the Tribulation.
- The Tribulation (Revelation 6-19)
Definition: The Tribulation is the seven-year period that begins when the Antichrist signs a peace covenant with Israel and ends with Armageddon and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
The Purpose of the Tribulation is Two-Fold
- The salvation of both Jews and Gentiles.
- The condemnation of unbelievers.
- The Second Coming of Christ (Revelation 19:11-16)
Definition: The Second Coming of Christ is the visible return of Jesus Christ to establish His kingdom on earth.
The climax of the tribulation will occur during the war of Armageddon, during which the major powers of the world will seek to defeat the Antichrist and his forces. However, as the world forces prepare to destroy one another, the heavens will suddenly open, and all attention will be directed upward as the entire world sees a sight they will never forget.
Although there are some similarities between the Rapture and the Second Coming, they are two entirely different events. At the Rapture, the Lord comes secretly for His children. He appears in the clouds only to His followers, and His feet never touch the earth. However, believers and unbelievers will witness Christ’s return to the earth at the Second Coming.
Definition: The Millennium is the thousand-year period during which Christ will reign on the earth, fulfilling God’s promises to Abraham and his believing descendants.
God made a literal, eternal, and unconditional promise to Abraham that his descendants would one day possess a specific land and that one of his descendants would rule the entire world. The Old Testament prophets anxiously anticipated this earthly reign of the Messiah. It is impossible to place these extensive Old Testament prophecies about Christ’s rule on the earth in this present age or eternity. Before the new heaven and earth described in Revelation 21-22, there must be a future time when God will fulfill these promises to believe in Israel. That time will be the Millennium.
- The Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11-15)
Only Christians will enter into the Millennium (those unbelievers who survive the Tribulation will be judged at the Second Coming of Christ), and there will be people born during the Millennium who will choose to follow Satan rather than Christ. The Bible teaches that these realities will precipitate God’s final judgment of all unbelievers at an event known as the Great White Throne Judgment.
Important Characteristics of the Great White Throne Judgment
- The Subjects of the Judgment: Unbelievers (Revelation 20:13a)
- The Basis for the Judgment: Works (Revelation 20:13b)
- The Result of the Judgment: Eternal Condemnation (Revelation 20:14-15)
- Eternity Future (Revelation 21-22)
Definition: The permanent state of believers inhabiting the new heaven and earth and unbelievers inhabiting the lake of fire. After the Great White Throne Judgment, the present earth will be destroyed by fire. The Apostle Peter wrote of that event in his second letter in 2 Peter 3:7,10. Significantly, John saw both a new heaven and a new earth. Many Christians have been taught that our eternal home will be in heaven. But as we will see later, earth, not heaven, will be our final destination. Likewise, just as the new heaven and new earth are the eternal destinations for believers, the lake of fire is the permanent destination for unbelievers.
- How We Should Respond to the End Times
For Christians, the fact that we are currently living in the Church Age seems to put us in limbo as far as the timeline of biblical prophecy is concerned. What can we do now, aside from waiting for the Rapture? As we discover in Scripture, there is much to do in the meantime.
By examining your relationship with God, you right now can determine whether the Rapture and the other end-time events are a prelude to an eternity of blessing. Instead, they will be a prelude to an eternity of judgment.
John 16:33 “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world, you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” And those who belong to Jesus Christ will also overcome the world.
That’s what every Christian needs to know about the end times.
Full Passage: 2 Peter 3:9-13