A genuine Christian point of view in considering the past or the future is that God is unfolding an intelligent purpose in human events. History, while not always understood, is the outworking of this sovereign purpose of a sovereign God. There are no accidents in history, The same God who ordained that history would take place as it has and unfold its tremendous revelation of God and His dealings with creation, has also the ability to prewrite history and give us what we call prophecy.
The age in which we live is sensing that it is moving forward to some sort of goal. There is no clear voice among the wise men of our day, however, to tell us where we are going. The reason why men do not know and cannot tell is that they have neglected the only Book in all the world which will tell us accurately and without error concerning future events. The Bible has demonstrated by fulfilled prophecy over thousands of years that it predicts accurately and literally. This has been proved by hundreds of fulfilled prophecies which have already taken place. Because of this assurance, we can come to the Word of God with the same confidence that future events will take place according to the revealed will of God as we have concerning the record of history which has already been fulfilled.
If the Bible is read from Genesis to Revelation with special attention to prophecies which have not been fulfilled, it will be found that they number into the thousands. It is possible, however, to arrange these prophecies in a simple outline o£ eight major divisions.
The Calendar for the Present Age
The Word of God provides, first of all, a revelation concerning the present age. One of the reasons for confusion concerning future events is the failure to analyze correctly the purpose of God in this present age. Some have come to the Bible without a proper method of interpretation. The premillennial return of Christ contains many important doctrines, but it also provides the key to unlock the prophetic Word. One of the reasons for failure to understand God’s program of events is that some have tried a key other than the great truth of the premillennial return of Christ. This is true particularly of the meaning and purpose of God in this present age. The amillenarian, who denies that there will be a future millennium or kingdom reign of Christ on earth, tries to find in the present age the fulfillment of God’s purpose to establish a righteous kingdom on earth. He is therefore obligated to find some explanation of the many chapters in the Old Testament which picture a period of righteousness and peace and of justice in the earth. Because this is so obviously not true, amillenarians have been forced, particularly in recent generations, to spiritualize the Scripture to the point where they have taken these prophecies as a picture of heaven or the intermediate state. With such a system of interpretation, there is not only no key to the future but there is also no key to the present. The premillennial point of view, assumed here, permits an intelligent understanding of what God is doing in the present age.
According to the revelation of Scripture, there are three aspects of the present age which are prominent in the prophetic portrayal of this age. First, it is revealed in Scripture that it is the purpose of God in this present age to gather out from both Jew and Gentile a people called the church, the body and bride of Christ. In Matthew 16:18 there is a declaration of this purpose from the lips of Christ. He said to Peter, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” Those last five words are emphatic. “I” speaks of Christ as the One who will fulfill the prophecies. “Will” indicates a future work in distinction to what God has done in the past. “Build” implies a process, something not accomplished in a moment, but spread over the age. “My” makes clear that the church is the personal possession of Christ. The word “church,” which comes from a Greek word meaning to call out, speaks of the present purpose of God in calling out from Jew and Gentile those who will trust in Jesus Christ as Savior. These called-out ones, being baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ, form a new entity, a saved people, an organism united by life to Christ at its head.
In Ephesians 5:25-27 this purpose is stated in simple and wonderful words, given in connection with instruction to husbands:
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.”
It is God’s purpose to take Jew and Gentile alike, sanctify them by the Holy Spirit and by the blood of Christ, and form them into His church. Eventually, as the Scriptures anticipate, He will present them to Himself as a bride which is spotless, a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and without blemish. This purpose of God is in the process of being fulfilled. It will come to its climax when Christ comes for His church and takes His church home to heaven.
Along with this purpose of calling out a church, a second aspect of the present age is revealed in Matthew 13, under the figure of the kingdom of heaven in its mystery form. This passage describes the progress of Christendom in its largest meaning. The wheat and the tares will grow up together, representing those who are truly saved and those who seem to be saved but who are not. Both continue until the harvest. In the parables in Matthew 13 Christendom is likened to the mustard seed, which with a small beginning grows into a great tree. Organized Christianity—Protestant, Roman, and Greek together —has grown into a tremendous tree, something which all the world recognizes, but this is not synonymous to the church which is the body of Christ. It is the professing church; it is Christendom; it is the kingdom of heaven in its mystery form.
The Scriptures also make plain that another characteristic of the professing church is its growing apostasy, its utter departure from God as it reaches its climax. Second Timothy 3:13 states: “But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.” Therefore we have, first of all, in the present age the calling out of the church, the body of Christ, and, second, we have the organization of Christendom growing to tremendous proportions, but in the process traveling the road to utter apostasy. A third aspect which is revealed in Scripture concerning the present age is that it will be characterized by war, by pestilence, by earthquake, and by wickedness. In other words, the Gentile world as a whole is going to be continually in turmoil. The Scriptures anticipate that at the close of the period it will grow worse and worse until finally it ends in the great tribulation preceding Christ’s coming to establish His kingdom. The Bible has, then, a very specific program or calendar of events for this present age.
Next Event: The Imminent Translation of the Church
When this present age has about run its course, the translation of the church will abruptly bring the church age to a close. In this major event, there are four parts. In 1 Thessalonians 4 it is revealed that at the time of this event the dead in Christ will be raised. The very moment following this, the translation of the church will occur, which is described not only in 1 Thessalonians 4 but more specifically in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52. There we are told that in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, we will be changed from these mortal bodies to immortal bodies and from corruptible bodies to incorruptible bodies. The dead in Christ will rise first, and Christians living in the world at that time will be transformed in a moment of time and caught up with them to meet the Lord in the air.
The Scriptures also reveal that when this event takes place we will go home to heaven. John 14:3 records that when Christ was leaving His disciples He told them, “I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” The promise is that when we meet Christ in the air He will take us home to the Father’s house, another expression for heaven, where Christ is now preparing a place for us.
Following this there is a fourth event, the judgment seat of Christ, pictured in 2 Corinthians 5:10-11 and 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, describing the event in heaven when we appear before Christ and receive our rewards. In connection with this, we are joined to Christ in the marriage of the Lamb, which could be regarded as another event. When Christ comes for His church, there unfolds for us who are Christians this sequence of tremendous events which are a part of our intelligent Christian hope.
The Seventieth Week of Daniel and the Second Coming
While these events are taking place in heaven, there is another series of events which are taking place on earth and which make up the third major division in the program of God in the future calendar of events. That series of events is the fulfillment of the seventieth week of Daniel’s program for Israel climaxing with the second coming of Christ. In a word, it is the fulfillment of Daniel 9:27 which predicts that there is yet ahead a period of seven years of human history on earth which will begin with a covenant between the Gentile world ruler and the Jewish people. Palestine is set apart as the national home for Israel, where Jews are protected and sheltered. This enables Israel to re-establish their ancient sacrifices. This will be cut short by the beginning of the great tribulation and the breaking of the covenant with the Jews, with the result that Israel becomes the object of persecution and wrath instead of being protected.
Along with this program for Israel, the Scriptures reveal that tremendous events will take place in the earth. In that period of time the great prophecy of Ezekiel 38—39, predicting a military invasion from Russia of the land of Palestine, will probably take place. There will be other great military conflicts. Out of it will come a world government with a world dictator accompanied by a world religious ruler, both of whom are clearly described in Revelation 13. The whole world will be united in one world government ruled by this evil character who, according to Scripture, is a blasphemer of God and who sets himself up as God.
The last three and a half years of this seven-year program will be the time of Jacob’s trouble and the time of great tribulation. It is a time of trouble such as this world has never even dreamed of to this hour, apart from the revelation of the Word of God. At the conclusion of this period, the Scriptures indicate that Christ is coming back in power and great glory. The heavens will be ablaze with glory when He comes to establish His kingdom on earth.
Judgment of Living Gentiles
The fourth great prophetic event in the divine calendar of the future is the judgment of the Gentiles. In Matthew 25:31-46 the Gentiles are gathered and judged by God. These are not resurrected ones, but living Gentiles who have come through the time of tribulation and now are being judged by Christ in relation to their fitness for entrance into the millennial kingdom of righteousness and peace. The separation of the sheep from the goats takes place and the sheep are ushered into the kingdom. The goats, those unworthy, are cast into everlasting fire. The basis of this judgment is the treatment given “my brethren,” the Jews. In the tribulation, no one except a believer in Christ will befriend the Jews. Accordingly, kindness to the Jews becomes an evidence of salvation by faith.
Regathering and Judgment of Israel
A fifth event described in Ezekiel 20:34-38 is the judgment of Israel. The regathering of Israel has already begun in our present generation. Over 1,800,000 Jews are now in Palestine. More than ten percent of all the Jews in the world have gone back to the land of Palestine. This process of regathering is going to be continued after Christ comes for His church and will proceed during the first three and one-half years of that seven-year period prophesied by Daniel. This regathering will be abruptly stopped at the beginning of the great tribulation. When Christ comes back, one of the things He accomplishes at the beginning of His millennial reign is the completion of the task of bringing all the Jews back to the place where He will judge them. Ezekiel 20:38 says that He is going to purge out the rebels of Israel which is a purging out of the unbelievers from among those who in the dark hours of the tribulation time turned to Christ as their Messiah and their Savior. This godly remnant who welcomed Him when He came back will be ushered into the millennial kingdom and into the land which was promised their fathers.
The Millennial Reign of Christ
The sixth division of the divine calendar is the millennial reign of Christ itself. In Revelation 20:4-6, it is disclosed very specifically that this is going to be a period of one thousand years beginning at the return of Christ and ending with some very specific events. The Scriptures declare that during this time Satan will be bound. All demonic activity will cease in that time, and for the first time in all the history of the human race man will be without any satanic temptation. Any evil which arises must arise in that time from the heart of man alone. Christ will reign over this world and there will be righteousness, peace, and justice. There will be joy in the earth and prosperity in economic things.
The Final Judgment at the Great White Throne
At the close of the millennium there will be a seventh great event in God’s calendar: the final rebellion and the judgment of the great white throne. Scripture indicates that Satan will be loosed from his binding and he will be permitted once again to deceive the nations. As he goes forth to deceive the nations, a great horde of the human population from those who are born on the earth during the millennium—who merely professed to follow Christ without ever having been really born again—will follow Satan and be deceived by him. The Scriptures state that fire will come from heaven and devour them. The millennial earth and the present heaven will be destroyed, and a new heaven and a new earth will be created. Before the new heaven and new earth are created, the judgment of the great white throne, described in Revelation 20:11-15, will take place. Christ will bring into judgment every unsaved soul, and everyone who does not have eternal life—whose name is not written in the Lamb’s book of life—will be cast into the lake of fire.
Creation of New Heavens and New Earth
The great climactic event, the creation of the new heavens and the new earth (Rev. 21:1), follows immediately the final judgment, beginning what Peter seems to refer to as the Day of God (2 Pet. 3:12), the eternity which stretches on without end, concerning which we have no detailed program revealed in the Scripture.
The prophetic program of Scripture emphasizes the urgency to receive Christ and to trust Him for Salvation. We need the assurance that our part in that program will be that of one who has trusted in Christ, who is a member of the body of Christ, bound for glory.
If this calendar of events is true, it also emphasizes the responsibility of every child of God to spend the moments, the strength, and the opportunities which God gives in a way that is profitable from the standpoint of eternity. One of these days all of us will stand before Christ in judgment. The question which will be raised at that time is: “What have you done with the gospel message, with the life I have given you, with the substance, with the time, with the opportunity, with the spiritual gifts with which you are endowed?” Paul speaks of the terror of the Lord in 2 Corinthians 5:11 as he contemplates the possibility of being one for whom Christ died, one who claimed the grace of God, and who is cleansed by the precious blood, and yet with a wasted life, a lost opportunity, a life that has not been spent intelligently in relation to God’s prophetic calendar of events. As we study the stupendous program which God has before us, may our hearts be challenged to make every day count for our Savior, living with the divine calendar of future events guiding our steps.