The Biblical book of Revelation is most commonly associated with end time prophecy, but many other parts of the Bible contain prophecies associated with the end of the age as well. Revelation is primarily concerned with events during the seven-year period of Tribulation, so we must look to other parts of the Bible in order to find out what will signal the approaching of the last days.
False Prophets and Deceivers
Jesus himself told us what to look for during His Mount Olivet discourse found in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. One of the most prominent signs is the arrival of numerous false prophets.
4 Jesus answered: "Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many.
11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.
23 At that time if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or, 'There he is!' do not believe it. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible.
26"So if anyone tells you, 'There he is, out in the desert,' do not go out; or, 'Here he is, in the inner rooms,' do not believe it.
The number of religions is today is staggering. And it is only increasing. Some, like the Mormon Church, are offshoots of Christianity that claim to have access to the uncorrupted version of the Gospel. Others, like the groups led by Jim Jones and David Koresh, claim to be led by a returned Jesus Christ himself. As recently as 2006, news reports indicated that a former convict and heroin addict in Miami is leading yet another cult and claiming to be the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (http://cbs3.com/seenon/Jose.Luis.de.2.303325.html).
In contrast, note what Jesus says in verse 27:
27For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
When Jesus does return, He will be visible to everyone. He will not require a web site or news agency to get the word out! His return will be so spectacular that there will be no doubt of the authenticity of His identity.
Wars and Rumors of Wars
6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
War is not an uncommon thing on the planet Earth. In fact, during recorded history, it has been very uncommon for the whole world to be at peace without a war occurring anywhere. Therefore, the sign of wars must be a special or different kind of war.
Jesus goes on to say that “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” It has been suggested that this phrase implies a world war that involves most of the nations of the world.
World War I was the first such war that meets that description. The war was fought from 1914 through 1918 and included most of the nations of Europe. The war was also fought on many fronts from Europe to the Middle East.
World War II was an even greater conflict. It was the most widespread conflict in human history. By 1945, there were very few neutral nations left in the world. Fighting took place around the world.
These two conflicts represent the fulfillment of Jesus’ description.
7b There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.
As the time of the end approaches, we can expect food shortages and earthquakes to become more frequent and more severe. Famines and earthquakes are also specifically predicted in the book of Revelation.
Today, the number of earthquakes remains relatively constant according to the US Geological Survey. There have been a number of earthquakes in recent years that caused major loss of life, however. In fact, twelve of the deadliest earthquakes of all time occurred since 1900. Two of these, the 2004 earthquake off Sumatra that spawned the deadly tsunami and the 2005 earthquake that rocked Pakistan, occurred since 2000.
Famine often goes hand in hand with war as crops are disrupted and destroyed by fighting. Often marauding armies attempt to starve civilians so that they cannot support opposing forces. As the world population increases, famines may occur more often.
14And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
Jesus says that the gospel will be preached throughout the whole world. This indicates the fairness of God in that He gives everyone a chance to be aware of His plan of salvation before He brings judgment on the earth.
This prophecy is now possible to be fulfilled in two ways. First, Christian missionaries have preached the gospel for hundreds of years in many different countries around the world. Wycliffe Bible Translators estimate that a Bible translation project will have begun in every language in the world by 2038. The pace of translations is also increasing as translations are started with increasing frequency.
Secondly, modern technology makes it possible for a single sermon to be heard around the world in real time. Satellites routinely beam television and radio broadcasts to every corner of the globe. Likewise, the internet is another method for the gospel to spread to parts of the world where missionaries cannot go.
1 Timothy 4
1The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.
2 Thessalonians 2
11For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.
There will be a falling away from worship of God and instead people will believe a lie propagated by Satan. Today we find a myriad of new religions and the renaissance of many old ones. The New Age movement has spawned numerous cults, such as the Heaven’s Gate cult, whose members committed mass suicide in 1998. Paganism has returned with the renewed popularity of Wicca. Eastern mysticism and its variations remain popular. Islam is growing around the world.
The Laodicea church age (Revelation 3:14:22) also refers to a falling away by the church itself. This church is neither hot nor cold, so is rejected by God. Laodicea churches have forsaken the gospel, but believe themselves to be rich. This church has become prestigious and powerful in the world, but has strayed away from Christ. Many churches today fit this description.
2 Peter 3
3First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." 5But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
Increasingly, people are also rejecting religion outright. A number of popular books espouse atheism and attack religion, specifically Christianity. These authors deny the existence of God and claim that religion is the root of all misery on earth. Some go so far as to claim that, if God does exist, that He is bad rather than good.
The attacks of the atheists run the gamut from questioning the validity of Biblical texts to pointing out hypocrisies of self-proclaimed Christians. People who believe in God’s creation of the world are attacked as ignorant and uneducated. They deny the Great Flood of Noah and thus question the future judgment.
Dreams and Visions
28 "And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.
We do not hear much about dreams and visions in the western world, but in other areas they are becoming increasingly common. In many Muslim countries, where the preaching of the gospel is forbidden, Jesus is revealing himself through supernatural visions, dreams, and miracles.
Jesus typically appears and gives details of the last days of His life (Muslims accept Jesus as a prophet, but deny the details of His death and resurrection). The Muslim contacted by Christ typically sees a calm and peaceful face that they recognize as Isa-Masih, Arabic for “Jesus Christ.” Often, Jesus is robed in white with His arms outstretched. In some cases, the dreams prepare the dreamer for encounters with other Christians. In other cases, the dream itself tells the whole story of Christ and leads to the dreamer’s conversion. Jesus also frequently refers the dreamer to the Bible.
Although Jesus’ appearance in dreams and visions to Muslim men and women began at least twenty years ago, such reports are dramatically increasing.
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.' " 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.
11 Then he said to me: "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, 'Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.' 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.' "
God revealed to Ezekiel that He would one day restore Israel as a nation. Israel is the only ancient nation to maintain its ethnic and cultural identity. There are no more ancient Babylonians, Assyrians, Egyptians or Persians. Some of these countries still survive in name, but their people, cultures, and religions have changed.
One of the leaders of the Zionist movement that established the current nation of Israel was Chaim Weizmann. Weizmann was a Russian Jewish chemist who settled in Britain during the early 20th century. He assisted the British government in WWI by devising a method to extract acetone, an ingredient in gunpowder, from maize. This discovery aided the Zionists in convincing the British government to establish a Jewish state in Palestine. Thus, Israel’s existence began with the “noise” of exploding gunpowder.
Tim Lahaye, author of the Left Behind series, has called the restoration of Israel “the super-sign” of the approaching end times. Lahaye points to Matthew 24:32-34 as one of the most important verses for determining the time of the Day of the Lord.
32"Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 33Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. 34I tell you the truth, this generation[e] will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 35Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
“These things” in verse 33 refers back to the signs of the end times that Jesus discussed earlier in chapter 24. There are several possibilities as to the identity of the “generation” that will not pass away before the coming of the Kingdom of God. The first possibility is the World War I generation (verse 7).
The second possibility is rooted in the Biblical symbolism of Israel as a fig tree. Numerous Old Testament references (including Jeremiah 8:13, 23:5, 24:5-7, 29:17, Hosea 9:10, Joel 1:7-12, and Micah 7:1) link the fig tree with the nation of Israel. An incident from Jesus ministry in which he cursed a barren fig tree (Matthew 21:18-19, Mark 11:12-14) also linked the fig tree with Israel.
If the blooming of the fig tree symbolizes the restoration of Israel, then the generation in question may be the generation alive when Israel became a nation in 1948. It might also refer to the generation alive in 1967 when Israel regained control of Jerusalem in the Six Day War. Finally, it might refer to a generation of the future in which Israel regains control of the Temple Mount.
We must also ask what Jesus meant when He said “generation.” Again, there are different possibilities to consider. The term could refer all the people living at the time of “these things.” The other possibility is that “generation” could mean a specified period of time, usually considered to be thirty to forty years. It seems that Jesus’ meaning is most likely the contemporaries of “these things.”
Gog and Magog
Tim Lahaye refers to the War of Gog and Magog, together with the rapture of the church, as the number one and two events of the end times. It is unclear which of these events comes first, but we can be certain that this war has not yet occurred. The prophecy immediately follows the prophecy of the dry bones in Ezekiel 39, so we know that the war will occur after the restoration of Israel.
Although Israel has fought several wars in its short history, none of them fits the details of the Magog war. Verses 3-6 list the nations involved in the attack on Israel. This list is very interesting in light of recent international events.
Gog is the title of a leader of Magog, which is identified with some degree of confidence by many Biblical scholars as Russia. This is supported by verse 15, which says that Gog will come from the remote parts of the north. Moscow is located almost due north of Jerusalem and has never been directly involved in a war with Israel, although Russia has provided the Arabs with training, supplies, and strategy in past wars.
Persia can be clearly identified as Iran. In fact, Iran was called Persia until 1935. Today, Iran is ruled by Muslim mullahs and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iran has made no secret of its desire to rid the world of Israel at any costs, and, to that end, has initiated a program to develop a nuclear weapon. This program could be complete within the next three or four years if not interrupted.
Today, Iran has an authoritarian and anti-Israeli regime and Russia is moving that way. Vladimir Putin recently announced that he will become Prime Minister after his term as president ends in 2008. Putin has killed dissidents, jailed journalists, and curbed freedoms while simultaneously strengthening Russia’s military and bullying Russia’s neighbors. Also, for the first time in history, Russia and Iran have established political and military alliances.
Turkey (Togarmah), Sudan (Cush), Libya (Put) and other various nations of the Middle East and Africa will round out the attacking armies.
Also notable are the countries specifically excluded from Gog’s alliance. Iraq, which has taken part in most wars with Israel, is not mentioned. Currently Iraq is embroiled in an insurgency and is rebuilding its armed forces with a focus on defense. Egypt is also conspicuously absent in spite of being at the forefront of many Arab-Israeli conflicts. Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1979.
22 I will execute judgment upon him with plague and bloodshed; I will pour down torrents of rain, hailstones and burning sulfur on him and on his troops and on the many nations with him.
The war will conclude with supernatural intervention that saves Israel. Gog’s whole army will be destroyed by fire from the sky reminiscent of the Old Testament destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Needless to say, no previous Middle East war has ended this way.
Times of the Gentiles
24They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
The times of the gentiles started with the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC and continue to this day. Jerusalem was divided between the Arabs and Jews in 1948. The Israelis captured the Arab section of Jerusalem in 1967, but allowed Muslim authorities to retain control over the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site.
1 In the last days
the mountain of the LORD's temple will be established
as chief among the mountains;
it will be raised above the hills,
and peoples will stream to it.
Because the Temple Mount is also home to the Dome of the Rock mosque and under the administration of Muslims, the heart of Jerusalem is still being “trampled by the Gentiles. For the Israelis to violate the Dome of the Rock would mean touching off a major religious war, therefore a major change in the current political situation is needed to end the times of the Gentiles. The War of Gog and Magog may be this change.
The chapters of Ezekiel following the prophecy of Gog’s war contain the description of a temple to the Lord. Given that this part of Ezekiel seems to be in chronological order starting with the valley of dry bones coming to life in chapter 37 and leading to Gog’s war in chapters 38 and 39, it may be that the vacuum left by the supernatural destruction of Gog’s army may lead to an opportunity for the Jews to rebuild their temple.
36"No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
42"Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
Jesus clearly states that we don’t know when He will return. We can see the signs that He has given us when we watch the news or read the newspaper, but we don’t know His exact timing. All we know for sure is that His return is drawing nearer every day.
As Benjamin Franklin said, “Work as if you were to live 100 Years, Pray as if you were to die To-morrow." I don’t recommend cashing in your 401k or quitting your job unless you get specific guidance to do so from the Holy Spirit. What I do recommend is that you make sure that you are spiritually prepared for Christ’s return.
So what should we do? The answer is obvious.
If you do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, you should accept Him as your Savior and Lord. This is the only way to assure that you will receive eternal life whether you die a natural death or survive until Jesus returns.
If you are already a Christian, you should follow Jesus’ Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) and do your part to spread the Gospel. Realize that time may be short for our friends and neighbors to accept Christ. If they delay, they may indeed be left behind.
Nelson Study Bible, Radmacher et al, T. Nelson Publishers, 1997
Are We Living in the End Times?, Tim Lahaye, Tyndale House, 2001
Epicenter: Why the Current Rumblings in the Middle East Will Change Your Future, Joel Rosenberg, Tyndale House, 2006