The concept of the end-times, or the "last days," is found in almost every Christian Bible. It refers to the time in the future when the sovereign Lord, Jesus Christ, will return to reign over planet Earth. How the end-times will unfold is a question that has generated much debate, but from the Scriptures, we can gather some basic truths.

To correctly understand what the Bible teaches about God's end-times plan, we must first recognize the primary and foundational message that Jesus portrays in the four Gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John tell the story of Jesus in the context of the "kingdom of heaven," a kingdom that Jesus has come "to proclaim" (Matt. 4:23, NIV). That kingdom, Jesus states, would not arrive in his first advent, but is inaugurated gradually as God works through the lives of believers.

The first arrival of Jesus was not to establish his kingdom directly and in fullness, but to introduce us to his coming kingdom and to provide the only means for sinful people to enter this future, utopian reality—by receiving him as Lord and Savior.

Jesus' first advent was preparatory to the "restoration of all things" (Acts 3:21 NIV). In light of this truth, we can now consider the Lord's instructions and parables on the end-times. The following analysis is by no means exhaustive, but it covers major themes and principles concerning what the Scriptures teach about these climactic events.


The Father's Sovereignty Over His Own Schedule

In discussing the time of the end-times events, Jesus explicitly taught that no one knows the specific day or hour of his return. This sovereign secret is reserved for God alone (Matt. 24:36). Jesus calls his return "that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (Mark 13:32 NIV).


The Signs of His Return

Jesus teaches that there will be signs preceding his second advent. However, his disciples tend to misconstrue these warnings and are prone to distraction, causing them to miss the main message, which is "the need for constant, diligent readiness" (Esler, A Possibility of Esteem). Jesus elaborates these signs in two contexts: general warnings and specific events.

In general warning, the Lord urges his followers to "be on the alert" (Matt. 24:42, NIV), "to keep awake" (Mark 13:37), and "to watch" (Luke 21:36). This calls for a readiness that surpasses the world's preoccupations with the mundane matters of life. It is the watchful anticipation that comes from deep, unwavering faith in Jesus Christ and from a sincere love for the Master's well-being and mission.

In context 2, the Lord describes specific events during the end-times. These occurrences are known as the "birth pains" (Matt. 24:8, Mark 13:8, Luke 21:10-28), the "tribulation" (Matt. 24:21, Mark 13:19, John 16:33) or Jacob's "trouble" (Jer. 30:7), or as "end-time sights and wonders" (2 Thess. 2:9-12). These events should be interpreted in a general, prophetic sense, not as a detailed prophetic timetable. Jesus warns of deception, persecution, natural disasters, false Messiahs, and unprecedented global upheavals. In his message, he emphasizes the inevitability of these events but not their precise timing.


The Rapture or Catching Up

Christians often refer to the "rapture" or "catching up" (1 Thess. 4:16-17) to denote the event where living Christians are immediately caught up, or "resurrected," to be with the returning Jesus in the clouds. This passage suggests an element of surprise and shock for unbelieving observers. This concept is a subject of ongoing debate among scholars. Some argue that the rapture is a misinterpreted rendering of "catching away" (Greek, harpazo) and believe in the resurrection of believers at the "last day," at the end of the millennial reign.


The Lord's Millennial Reign

Scripture speaks of a millennium, a thousand-year period of peace and justice that Jesus will establish after his return (Rev. 20:1–6). He will rule from Jerusalem, and true worship and justice will cover the earth. Jesus' rule will be marked by God's sovereign and powerful intervention in human affairs, bringing global subjection to the righteous principles of the Kingdom of Heaven. This future age is marked by a high degree of righteousness and an unprecedented witness of God's end-times purposes.


The Final Judgment and Everlasting Penalty

The end-times' climax will come with the final judgment, whereby the Lord will determine the eternal destiny of the entire human race. Scripture warns that Christ will return to "judge the living and the dead" (2 Tim. 4:1), and that all "who have rebelled against me will die by the sword," but "those who are blameless will inherit the land, and will live there forever" (Zech. 9:8-9, NIV). There will be "weeping and gnashing of teeth" for those who reject the love of God and fail to accept his redemptive work in Christ Jesus (Matt. 13:42, 49-50, Mark 9:43, Luke 13:28).


The New Earth

The end-times will culminate in a new earth, where "righteousness dwells" (2 Pet. 3:13), and where all things will be reconciled to God, in absolute fulfillment of God's covenant promises (Rev. 22:3, Jer. 31:33-34, Eph. 1:10).

In sum, the teaching of the Scriptures about God's end-times plan revolve around Jesus Christ, his supreme authority, his prior concealed sovereignty of the sequence of events, the signs of his return, the catching away/resurrection event, his millennial rule, the final judgment with its eternal consequences, and the ultimate establishment of the new heaven and the new earth, characterized by peace, justice, and the glorious presence of Almighty God. This study should engender in our hearts a stronger hope and faith in Jesus, and a readiness to faithfully serve him in the face of the world's challenges.

Questions & Answers

Q: If no one knows the day or hour of Christ's return, why did the early church attempt to predict the events leading up to the end times?

A: Though Jesus emphasized the unknown specific day of his return, the general signs of the end-times were clear. Christians through history have debated, discussed, and speculated about specific events and their place in the sequence, but they never claimed to know the day, as Jesus forbade such presumption (Matt. 24:36). The early church certainly identified a timeframe for the "last days," but they didn't have the millennial overemphasis or the specific date-centeredness that some groups have promoted in modern times.

Q: In the context of the rapture or 'catching up,' how does the metaphor of the ten virgins in Matthew 25 relate to the end times?

A: The parable of the ten virgins (Matt. 25:1-13) speaks of a group of persons eagerly waiting for the arrival of the groom, representing the eager Christians awaiting the Lord's return, in the context of the end times. The five wise and the five foolish represent believers and non-believers. Both groups experience sudden surprise in the return of the groom; the key differentiating factor is their level of preparedness (oil symbolizing readiness through dependence on Christ and remaining alert). While the 'catching up' metaphor doesn't directly use this scenario, the theme of surprise and readiness perfectly aligns.


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