Not Yet the End of the WorldBy Nathan Mates
Approaching the calendar turnover on 1/1/2000, many attach emotional significance to all the zeroes, and from that platform, try and attach some theological significance to it. Sorry, but that's wrong-- our current calendar system was set up centuries after Jesus's death, there is no year zero, making 2001 the start of the next millennium, and due to math errors by those setting up the calendar, Jesus was born a few years back in the B.C. ("Before Christ") era. [Haven't done enough research on this, but I've seen 3-7 B.C., with 6 B.C. being the year I hear most.] In any case, it's been more than 2000 years since Jesus's arrival, and the world hasn't ended yet.
Unfortunately, some would try and rush God into the end of the world. Just a few months ago, an apocalyptic bunch of American "Christians" were arrested in Israel, because they were there to try and kickstart the Battle of Armageddon by inciting religious violence. I'd barely call them "Christians" because their views on things are dead wrong-- trying to stir up Muslims, Christians, and Jews to kill each other is wrong. Further, they're deluded into believing that God "needs" their help in starting a war. Sorry, but God spoke this universe into existence-- and he can have a war anytime he wants, no "help" needed from anyone. God chooses to involve Christians in the process of evangelism, but that's for our learning as well. Finally, these apocalyptic types are trying to rush an event, rather than trusting in God and waiting for God to bring it about.
While it's easy to dismiss these apocalyptic people as non-Christian, I have seen a number of others in the Church buying into less-severe apocalyptic notions. The "Year 2000" bug, in my opinion, has started producing buggy results in humans as well. Some are hoping that civilization fails, and the well-prepared (them) will be the ones to rebuild society. Others just panic, and pass on that panic to others. In their minds, it's the end of the world, and they're going crazy over it.
Now, look at the Biblical evidence for things related to the end of the world (aka end times), which is eschatology. Consider Jesus's words on this subject: "At that time if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ !' or, 'Look, there he is!' do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect--if that were possible. [...] No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come." [Mark 13:21-22,32-33]
Some things we can glean from Jesus's words: the devil will try his best to fake out Christians in the end times. Satan knows scripture better than any human, and can use that to his advantage in deceiving others. Next, signs and miracles will happen to try and convince people that their substitute is Jesus. I believe that the false Christs will probably try and duplicate just about every miracle Jesus did-- turning water into wine, healing thousands, walking on water, raising the dead, and the like. In short, every thing in the devil's bag of tricks will be used to pull off a convincing false Jesus.
The problem with expectantly watching for Jesus's return is that you're looking for certain things-- and the devil knows that. You're more susceptible to taking the bait when you're focused on it. There's a huge difference between being alert as a Christian, and being focused on signs of the end to the exclusion of everything else. We must be ready for Jesus's arrival at any moment, and/or our own deaths-- you should be focused on a right relationship with God first, and doing his commandments. At a way lower priority is the trying to see when things'll happen.
While the millennialists would like to claim that many, many signs of the end times have already been fulfilled, I can find a whole lot that haven't. I think it's intellectually honest to look for the evidence that Jesus's return is just around the corner, as well as prophecies that don't seem to be fulfilled yet. Use parts of the list as a checklist, if you want, of signs being fulfilled, should the first group be right about the end being near.
Stuff that could be counted as "completed:" "When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains." [Mark 13:7-8] The sarcastic side of me says "and when have such things not been happening?" We don't know which wars, earthquakes and famines Jesus was talking about here, so this could be considered to be completed, or not.
Also, since 1947, the restoration of the state of Israel figures highly as something that needs to happen. "I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: "The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins." [Romans 11:25-27] and also "As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I will rule over you with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with outpoured wrath. I will bring you from the nations and gather you from the countries where you have been scattered--with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with outpoured wrath. I will bring you into the desert of the nations and there, face to face, I will execute judgment upon you." [Ezekiel 20:33-35]
Stuff that hasn't really happened yet (and these may not be in chronological order; don't take this list as the order of things)
1) Formation of a 1-world government, and subsequent fracturing of that government into 10 parts. "He gave me this explanation: 'The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on earth. It will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it. The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings." [Daniel 7:23-24] The end of 7:24 hints at the anti-Christ, who will try and claim to be the returned Christ and take over.
2) "And the gospel must first be preached to all nations." [Mark 13:10] A few years ago, I attended a talk from people involved with the US Center for World Missions (USCWM)-- they read "nation" as "people-group," which was a set of people, united by language, culture, and the like. Not every people-group has been evangelized, according to the belief of the USCWM. Missionaries are still going out to unreached people-groups, and it's some time (5-15 years) before all people-groups have had the gospel preached in their midst.
3) Apparent peace and safety: "Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, "Peace and safety," destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape." [1 Thessalonians 5:1-3] Thus, just as people are feeling comfortable, God will surprise them.
4) The temple in Jerusalem will be rebuilt and sacrifices practiced for some time-- Daniel 9:27 says of the Antichrist: "He will confirm a covenant with many for one 'seven.' In the middle of the 'seven' he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing of the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him." [Also referenced in Mark 13:14] Those are the same sacrifices referenced in Leviticus 1-7, and aren't happening right now.
5) Mass persecution of believers: "You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them." [Mark 13:9, others]
6) The rapture/return of Christ. Jesus's return will be sounded by a loud trumpet (actually a 'shofar', or trumpet made from a Ram's horn), and believers will be yanked out of what they're doing to meet Jesus: "For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever." [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, see also 1 Corinthians 15:51-54]
This rapture most likely follows Jesus's triumphant and visible return: "At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens." [Mark 13:26-27]
All this about end times, and the book of Revelation hasn't been mentioned once so far. Some would believe that all of the above takes place before the troubles mentioned in Revelation, some think some parts are before and during, some after. There's no concrete answer, and as Jesus said, some things are only for God to know right now.
Here's a quick summary of what Revelation says will happen. If many of these start getting fulfilled, really start checking to make sure your salvation is secure, if you have a moment to spare.
7) The seven seals of judgment [Revelation 6:1-8:1] They are (A) conquest, (B) Tribulation wars, (C) Famine, (D) Death-- 1/4 of Earth destroyed, (E) Persecution of Christians, (F) Earthquakes, removal of mountains and islands. Also, the sun will turn black, and the sky will "recede like a scroll rolling up" and (G) To be determined. [The 7th seal's results are not recorded, except for about half an hour of silence in Heaven.]
8) Seven trumpets & disasters associated with them [Revelation 8:2-11:19]. (A) 1/3 of earth burnt up (B) 1/3 of the oceans and seas turned to blood (C) Star falls to earth, destroying 1/3 of rivers & springs (D) 1/3 of heavens destroyed (1/3 of sun, moon, stars) (E) invasion of the Abyss, scorpion-like locusts-like creatures (demons in true form?) will torment people (F) 4 fallen angels released to kill 1/3 of mankind (F.1) Two witnesses in Jerusalem for 1260 days, eventually killed and resurrected (G) Judgments and rewards.
9) Woman, dragon, beasts, lamb, and 144,000. Revelation 11:20-14:20 for these, and even more death and destruction.
10) Seven bowls of judgment [Revelation 15-16] (A) ugly and painful sores (B) seas fully turn to blood, all sealife dead (C) rivers & springs turn to blood (D) Sun overheats, scorching everyone (E) Darkness again (F) Euphrates river dried up, (G) Earthquake that collapses all cities on the planet. These bowls of judgment closely parallel the 7 trumpets, but are listed separately, as if they're two sets of events.
11) Wars again-- Armageddon [Revelation 16:16], destruction of Babylon (Isaiah 13:1-5), fall of Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:1-2)
Other end-times prophecies that are awaiting fulfillment:
12) Parts of Egypt will be saved [Isaiah 19:16-25]
13) After the full number of gentiles come to know Jesus, their turn will be over, and God will focus on only the Jews after that. [Romans 11:25-27]
I could probably locate even more details of the endtimes in the Bible, but the list above is pretty big of things that haven't happened yet. Make no mistake-- God could arrange for most of the above to happen before noon tomorrow, if he chose. But, some of them (especially the 1260 days parts) take some time, and so I'd say we're at least 1260 days (3.5 years, give or take) away from the end of everything.
A number of people will probably be annoyed by my saying "wait some more," as they expect Jesus's return asap. They most certainly could be right: move the rapture to the top of the above list. However, these people may be spending too much time away from God's commandments-- the great commission to preach the gospel to all the nations, etc-- and too much time looking for signs. We're naturally curious about the end times; the Mark 13 dialog of Jesus I quoted many times above was sparked by the disciples, and Jesus didn't rebuke them for asking.
Like all things, we must keep curiosity of the end times in balance. We should not be obsessing over the end times, as that (1) takes our focus off doing God's will, and (2) opens us being faked out by the devil. Focus first on a right relationship with God, your fellow humans, do God's will in your life, and if you've got time left over, investigate the signs.
Staying with God's will in your heart first will be the best prevention from being tricked by the devil's schemes to sucker many down the wrong path. If you happen to die before the end times, you'll have done the right thing in staying close to God first-- a good situation to be in. Pray that you keep your heart always focused on God first, not the world around you.