Should We Be Worrying About the End Times?
A global pandemic, natural disasters, locusts, global warming, immorality, persecution – what is happening to Planet Earth?
Any event that knocks society off its equilibrium is bound to raise the anxiety level of people. Some Christians are especially prone to wonder if the words of Jesus about the end times are starting to be fulfilled:
6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
9 Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. 10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. (Matthew 24).
Luke even mentioned disease as a sign of the end times:
10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. 12 But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake.” (Luke 21).
On the heels of a locust plague of historic proportions (MNN), the whole world is dealing with pestilence, too. With the global pandemic of the COVID-19 coronavirus, some may beginning to wonder if this is more than just a happenstance. It’s important to keep these principles in mind.
- There have always been plagues throughout history. The Black Death killed at least 25% of the European population, and plagues ravaged Constantinople in the time of Justinian. Before modern medicine tracked down sources of disease and instituted hygienic practices (see our biographies of Simpson, Pasteur and Lister), much greater percentages died of infectious disease. The current virus is mild compared to the common flu, and as of today, less that 1/1000th of 1% of Americans have been infected.
- There have always been wars and rumors of wars, some much more devastating than occasional skirmishes going on now.
- There has always been lawlessness.
- There have always been earthquakes, signs in the skies (comets, solar flares, meteors) and other natural disasters.
- False Messiahs and saviors have come and gone since before Christ.
- Anti-Christian persecution is as old as Christ’s crucifixion.
- Jesus spoke of these things as the “beginning of the birth pains” but the “end is not yet.”
- Jesus said that no one knows the day or the hour. Whoever thinks he knows, therefore, proves that he doesn’t.
On the other hand, there are unique things about our times to consider.
- Until the 20th century, there has never been rapid global communication by satellites and digital media, including social media, allowing most people around the world to see events at the same time. (Read about Morse and the telegraph.)
- One prerequisite for the end times in Bible prophecy is Israel returning to its native land. That has come true.
- Although disasters were predicted, they will increase in frequency and intensity just like “birth pains” in a late pregnancy. This has arguably not happened yet regarding natural disasters. It may seem so because of instantaneous reporting and videos on the news, and the growth of population into disaster-prone areas. But some events may qualify as unique and different: World Wars I and II and its famines and genocides, the Holocaust, global warming (whether or not it is man-caused), world-wide pollution.
- The gospel has been preached around the world to a greater extent than ever before. Although many remain unreached, Christ predicted that the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom of God around the world would precede his coming.
- Antisemitism is on the rise again, and persecution of Christians is arguably worse than ever before in history.
- The European Union, made of nations in the old Roman Empire, resembles the “feet of iron mixed with clay” spoken of by Daniel. Brexit may be an example; now, some other member nations are complaining.
- The possibility of a global government under the Antichrist is more credible than ever before.
- Jews in Jerusalem are planning the Third Temple and preparing for it. It needs to be in place for the prophesied time of Tribulation. Many evangelicals take the position that the rapture of the Church precedes the Tribulation. If so, then it is the next thing to occur on the prophetic calendar.
So while the “signs of the times” are interesting, and deserve careful evaluation, Christ-followers cannot know how far off the actual return of Christ is. In the meantime, they should be doing what they should always do: live at peace without anxiety, pray, share the good news, live holy lives before the world, and love God and our neighbors. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), Jesus taught his disciples to act as the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
Since nobody knows the day or the hour, the Christ-follower needs to be ready all the time. The apostles lived expectantly of the imminent return of Christ after Jesus ascended, but they should have known it would be awhile. On the mount of ascension, Jesus told them that they would be his witnesses to the ends of the Earth. That was going to take a long time. Two millennia seem excessively long to us, but from God’s perspective it’s only like two days (cf. II Peter 3:8-10; consider history, too – the Messianic prophecies were given often centuries before they were fulfilled). Paul told the Thessalonian church that there would be a great falling away first. He comforted the people who had been misled into thinking the second coming had already occurred. Cults, sects and denominations that have tried to establish the date of Christ’s coming have failed, sometimes with agonizing disappointments to those who trusted the dates.
When interpreting Bible prophecy, it’s necessary to distinguish between prophecies regarding Israel and prophecies regarding the Church, because while related, they are not contemporaneous. Jesus did emphasize that his disciples needed to “Watch.” That means to be alert to the signs of the times. His final instructions to the disciples in Passion Week concerned being alert and watchful. When you see the signs increasing in frequency and intensity, “Lift up your heads,” he said, “because your redemption draws near” (Luke 21:28).
Bottom line: we can watch and work at the same time.
Be thankful that Christ warned us that the end times would be terrible; otherwise, his disciples might have become discouraged and doubtful. They might have remembered his saying that the gospel would spread like leaven, and assumed the world would grow more godly over time. The “post-millennials” who took this interpretation certainly are not watching the world get better and better! They should have listened to Paul, who wrote to Timothy, his pastor-apprentice, about this:
3 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. (II Timothy 3)
As with Jesus’ words, there is an aspect in which this has been the norm through history, but a sense in which it will increase in frequency and intensity before the end times. The global pandemic of COVID-19 is interesting but not that exceptional. What is exceptional is that the world can follow the news simultaneously, without having to wait days or weeks for a messenger on horseback to spread the news, and the virus can spread across the globe within hours because of rapid air travel. With common sense hygiene, there’s no reason to be fearful of the virus. Instead, let the world fear the coming Judge who is no respecter of persons, and will mete out righteous judgment for sin. One must be “in Christ” to receive mercy and be saved by God’s grace (see Site Map).
Recommended Resource: Short video of a call to prayer by Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council.