The Approaching End of the Age
The whole world is in a state of fearful expectation. The advent of the atomic bomb with kindred devastating weapons has brought the world face to face with the possibility of the doom of present civilization. It is a matter of common discussion and much literature whether the world’s population faces annihilation and, if not, whether the destructive forces let loose by war will not in any event destroy civilization to the extent that it will lose its present character. To a Christian who accepts the Bible as the Word of God such questions are not merely academic, but rather point to the Biblical question of whether we are approaching the end of the present age.
The Biblical Picture of the Future
Students of the Bible have long studied the Biblical pattern of future events. For those who interpret the Bible literally, this has yielded a definite program for the future. According to the Scriptures, the Lord Jesus Christ will return to meet His church in the air. Following this event, while the church is in heaven, a world government will come into being. In its early stages the political leader of this government will enter into a covenant with Israel providing for Israel’s protection and liberty in their native land of Palestine (Dan. 9:27). As the world government becomes stronger and comes to the peak of its power, absolute control is exercised over the press, business, and religion as well as the political sovereignty of the states in the world government (Rev. 13:7-8, 16-17). The political head will be a dictator of tremendous power who will deify himself (Rev. 13:8). All will be required to worship him and Jews and Christians who resist this order will be put to death in great number (Rev. 7:9-17; 13:7-8, 15). Simultaneous with these events will be a series of great catastrophic judgments which God will pour out on the earth which will destroy most of the earth’s population (Rev. 6-19). The political movement of the time will culminate in a tremendous world war with Palestine as its vortex. As the world’s armies converge on Israel’s ancient land, the Lord will return from heaven with the church and the holy angels to judge the world in righteousness and to destroy all the wicked. Such a sequence of events has never occurred in the history of the world and will be easily recognizable when it takes place. As the coming of the Lord for His church precedes the fulfillment of these prophecies, we need not look for their fulfillment now. The significance of world events in the light of these prophecies is that we can see in our day preparation on a colossal scale for just such a period. The trends of our time toward the fulfillment of prophecy sound a clarion call to attention. The march of these stirring events is about to begin.
Three Lines of Evidence
The Apostle Paul, writing by inspiration, furnishes a divinely authorized division of the peoples of the earth when he refers to the Jews, Gentiles, and the church of God (1 Cor. 10:32). Here is distinguished the purpose of God in these three categories, concerning each of which the Scriptures speak much in detail. During this age the Jews are in dispersion, persecuted, blinded, wandering. This is in fulfillment of many prophecies of the Old and New Testament (cf. Deut. 28:58-68; Rom. 11). For the Gentiles this is the time of power and blessing. To Gentiles the gospel is freely offered. To Gentiles is given political power and wealth. It is still the times of the Gentiles begun in 600 B.C. and the time of the fullness of the Gentiles begun at Pentecost. It is also the time of the formation of the church of God of both Jew and Gentile. In this age God is calling out a people for His name. An examination of these three lines of revelation will unfold a marvelous movement of God in our day. The evidence points to the conclusion that the present age is fast running its course.
The State of the Church
The Scriptures speak not only of the church as the body of Christ but also as a sphere of profession, including many who are not actually saved. In this sphere of profession the Scriptures predict a fearful apostasy and turning away from the truth during the present age. According to 1 Timothy 4:1, “some shall depart from the faith,” and the characteristics of these as defined in this passage are easily found in the world. Peter predicts the coming of false prophets “who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them” (2 Pet. 2:1). One of the most obvious heresies of our day within the professing church is the denial that the sacrifice and shed blood of Christ “bought” us and constituted an actual redemption. Liberals object to such hymns as “Jesus Paid It All” as outmoded theology and contrary to their doctrine that God loves everybody. No point will bring withering scorn among liberals like the Biblical teaching on the blood of Christ. These prophecies concerning false teachers have all been fulfilled in our day.
Peter concludes his extended section (2 Pet. 2:1-3:18) on apostasy with a prediction that unbelievers will scoff at the doctrine of the second coming: “Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation” (2 Pet. 3:3-4). One of the most evident facts of modern Christianity is that liberals do not preach the second coming of Christ. The great mass of church-going, professing Christians are ignorant of the simple elements of the doctrine of the second coming because they have been robbed of it by an unbelieving leadership. The doctrine of the second coming of Christ and its accompanying teaching of judgment upon sin is not palatable to modern rejectors of the truth of God. The precise form of opposition anticipated in the Bible nineteen hundred years ago is found in contemporary theology as never before in the history of the age. An examination of these and many other prophecies concerning the course of the church in the world will impress one with the fact that every prophecy concerning the church in the world has been fulfilled except the resurrection and translation of the true church, which events close the age, and the divine judgment on the apostate church which occurs later in the great tribulation. As far as the church is concerned, the trends of prophecy point to the imminency of the consummation, the glad moment when Christ will come for His own, the dead in Christ being raised and living believers translated into His glorious presence.
The State of the World
The state of the world, like the state of the church, is in the climactic stage. The frantic scramble to find a solution to the problem of the atomic bomb, the obvious disaster which faces much of civilization in the event of another world war, the disintegration of moral standards among nations, the impending clash of races and ideologies, and the growth of crime and cruelty combine to pose a problem of formidable proportions. These factors in their general character foreshadow unmistakably the apocalyptic events predicted for the tribulation.
In the world at large the rise of Russia as a great military power is a pointed fact. The prophecy of Ezekiel 38-39 has long been associated with Russia and the passage states expressly that the military invasion which sweeps upon Palestine comes from the north (Ezek. 38:15-16). While this maneuver is not dated in Scripture, it seems to be related to the events which close the age. It may well be that the Lord will come for His church before the invasion. The strategic position of Palestine astride the route from Europe to Asia, the tremendous oil reserves in that portion of the world, and the astronomical value of mineral deposits in Palestine all make it a unique prize. The rise of Russia certainly fits into the larger picture of the close of the age with amazing precision.
Coupled with Russia in our time is the incomputable military strength of the Orient. According to the Scriptures, one of the major elements in the final great battle which culminates in the return of the Lord to establish His kingdom on earth is the invasion from the east. A great army of two hundred million are pictured in Revelation 9:16 as related to the release of the angels bound in the River Euphrates to the east. Revelation 16:12 discloses that the way of the kings of the east, the leaders of the great Oriental army, is prepared by the drying up of that river. The convergence of this tremendous army upon Palestine is a preparation for Armageddon. The kings of the whole earth are “gathered” for “the battle of that great day of God Almighty” (Rev. 16:14). Never before in the history of the world has such an invasion been a greater probability. The moving of such a force overland to Palestine is possible in our day of mechanization as never before. The linking of the Orient with Russia is an alliance little dreamed of outside the Scriptures, but today this has become already a fearful reality.
Among the other phenomena of the present day which are of striking significance to the student of prophecy is the rise of atheism and the worship of power. For the first time in the history of the world a modern nation, Russia, has officially embraced atheism as its belief. Never on such a comprehensive scale has there been an organized attempt of this magnitude to erase every vestige of religion whether true or false. This has significance particularly as compared with the apostate religion which will characterize the time of the great tribulation. According to Daniel 11:38, the world leader will “honour the God of forces,” or, as it is stated in the R.S.V. and A.S.V., “the God of fortresses.” The god of apostasy will be the god of power, the personification of military might. With its roots in atheism and its utter blasphemy of the true God, modern Russia is the prototype of that which is to come. Already its subtle, God-defying philosophy has permeated the world and awaits the release which will come when the restraint of the Holy Spirit is lifted at the translation of the church.
Probably the most obvious feature of our day in the light of prophecy is the United Nations. For the first time there has been a workable union in which the great nations of the world have participated actively. In view of the predicted world government of the tribulation time (Rev. 13), the trend in our day toward centralization of power and the popular acceptance of world government as the way out of world chaos is of great importance. The man on the street, as well as the statesman in his secret councils, is looking for some sort of international agreement which will dissolve the tensions now existing and pave the way for world peace. Such a movement of minds and nations is the foreshadowing of the acceptance of the world government of the tribulation time and the bowing of the knee to the world dictator of that day as the unifying personality.
In the world today we can see, then, a portent of the gathering storm. The military might of Russia and the Orient is already a reality. The rise of atheism and of world government are already upon us. Never in the history of the world has there been such a converging of more ominous tokens that the climax is not far distant. For the Christian this is a divine sign that the day of deliverance is at hand.
The State of Israel
From the time of Abraham the state of Israel has been an important barometer of the movements of God upon the pages of human history. The comparatively dormant state of Israel during so many centuries, with no noticeable progress in the fulfillment of her destiny, stands in contrast to the twentieth century. In the plan of God the Jew has been preserved through the captivities of the Old Testament and the dispersion of the New. Persecuted and hounded in most nations of the world, and subject in our generation to the most awful pogroms of her entire history, Israel today is a people being formed anew as a component of political society. Before World War I less than fifty thousand Jews lived in their ancient land of Palestine. Before World War II there were spasmodic attempts to repopulate Palestine. Since World War II there has been a swelling tide of immigrants. Returning at the rate of more than a hundred thousand a year, the present report is that 1,800,000 Jews are now living in Palestine. Never since the time of Moses has there been such a movement back to the land of their fathers. Not only have the numbers swelled, but a political state of Israel has been formed and recognized by the nations of the world who are friendly to the Jew.
For long years students of prophecy have predicted the return of the Jew to Palestine. Before World War I this interpretation was rejected by some who abruptly pointed to the opposition of the Turks to such a scheme. After World War I and even World War II opposition persisted to their return, but legally or illegally the movement continued.
As all students of prophecy know, the precise world conditions immediately after the coming of the Lord for the church anticipated that Israel would be in Palestine in sufficient numbers to be a recognizable political entity. With them the world leader would form a covenant (Dan. 9:27) and their ancient sacrifices would be reintroduced. Before World War I this would have been almost impossible, and prior to World War II this would have been improbable. But the formation of the State of Israel and the influx of pilgrims make the plausibility of such a covenant evident to anyone. In other words, in our day, and more precisely in the last ten years, there has been a movement of God among Israel which has set the stage as never before for exactly that fulfillment which is predicted for the period immediately after the translation of the church. We can even observe in our present world situation the tensions between Israel and Russia and the Orient which are seen in Scripture for the tribulation time. More prophecies have either been fulfilled or prepared for fulfillment in our day than in all the previous centuries since the first of our era.
The converging trend of fulfilled prophecy and preparation for fulfillment in the three areas of the church, the Gentiles, and the Jew point in the same direction. It is most obvious to conclude that we may expect the Lord momentarily. While the absence of some of these factors was not of sufficient importance to dim the hope of saints in centuries past for the imminent return of the Lord, the presence of these significant omens should surely strengthen our hope. The preparation for the final drama is being, carried on before our eyes.
The Challenge of the Hour
The revelation of the prophetic Word was not designed simply to comfort and to enlighten. The hope of the Lord’s return should constitute an impelling challenge. The task is large and the days are few. It is time for searching of heart and purification of life. It is time for prayer and devotion, for sacrifice and effort. Now is the time to preach the good news of a Savior who died for the sins of the whole world that all who believe might live. It is a time to press on through closing missionary doors, through opposition, unbelief, and indifference. It is time to remind ourselves of that searching evaluation of our life and labors that awaits us at the judgment seat of Christ. The coming of the Lord is as near as our next breath, the next beat of our hearts, the next word of our lips. While we wait, may we be “stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).