One prediction in the Bible is that mankind near the end of the age would scoff at the prophecies of the Bible being fulfilled. We are seeing this today. Here is what the Apostle Peter had to say in warning about this:
Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder), that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior, knowing this first; that scoffers will come in the last days walking according to 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 creation, for this they willfully forget; that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that they existed perished, being flooded with water, but the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:1-9
In the above verses we find the apostle pointing out what would happen. In the next verses, however, he speaks to the importance of not making that same colossal mistake by saying:
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation… verses 10-14
I find in Scripture that it is not the godly that should be caught off guard by the coming of the Day of the Lord, but, rather the ungodly. It is appropriate to share that passage of Scripture as well before we go on with our subject. Paul the Apostle put it this way when he was writing to the Thessalonian Church:
But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night, for when they say, “Peace and safety!”, then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. 1 Thessalonians 5: 1-6 (emphasis, mine)
Notice the emphasis on the words “you”, “we”, and “us”. Then, in contrast, this passage has the words “they”, “them” and “others”. The Bible makes a clear distinction between the wicked and the righteous. It also makes a clear distinction between those who are caught as if by a thief in the night, and those who should not be caught off-guard in this way. This passage in 1 Thessalonians makes it clear that the sons of the darkness or of the night are the ones that will be overtaken, and there will be no escape. The exhortation to true believers is not to sleep, as others do, but to watch and be sober. It is very plain.
One of the problems, as we discussed in Part 1 of this series, is the fact that many within the Church have been lulled to sleep. Others just don’t really want to see what is unfolding; either because they are too busy, too comfortable, or just don’t want to hear or think about it. But, you and I can; in fact, must be different. We must refuse to “sleep” at this crucial hour. Not only that, we refuse to allow the cares of life or its temporary pleasures to detour us to a side-road where we will not recognize the season in which we live; and thereby miss the opportunities and guidance offered to us by the Lord of the harvest, to finish well.
So, what are the signs that are telling us that our generation is different than any previous generation? Is there a genuine reason to cry “Wolf” today? I believe there is and I am convinced that we need to have an urgency motivating us today because time literally is running out. The Day of the Lord–or Great Tribulation–is about to be ushered in.
Jesus was asked about the timing of the end of the age, and possibly because we have read His answer so many times we now fail to recognize that the very things He said would happen, are now unfolding in real time. We will first take an abbreviated look at the first events that Jesus predicted would happen and then I will present details about the later signs that will present themselves, clear warnings about the end of the age. Let’s first look at what was recorded in Matthew’s gospel.
Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down. Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, “I am the Christ, and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached for all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.
Here we have a scene where the disciples, as they were casually walking with Jesus past the temple in the city of Jerusalem, made a comment about the temple and how impressive this structure was. Jesus, knowing what was going to unfold not long after His death, resurrection, and ascension, made a startling statement. He said that there was a day coming when not one stone would be left upon another. For anyone that has been to Jerusalem, and if you have seen the piles of stones below the temple mount, you will understand why this would have been such a shocking statement for the disciples to absorb. These were not small stones that Jesus was referring to. Although many of the building blocks of the Temple were a mere few tons each, some of the main building blocks weighed as much as 80 tons (160,000 lbs.) each!
It was after this statement by Jesus that the disciples came to Him asking Him when this was all going to happen…and what the sign of His coming and of the end of the age would be. The Master then gave them a basic outline of events that would be unfolding–some, relatively near in the future, and some, as we now know, beginning two thousand years after that conversation between Jesus and His disciples. As we know from history, the Roman Emperor Vespasian, tired of the repeated insurrections and uprisings against the empire, sent his son Titus, who was a Roman general, along with his powerful army to Jerusalem in AD 70. The city and temple were completely destroyed and over 1.1 million Jews were slaughtered. One year later, as an act of finality, the city was plowed with salt.
One fact about this destruction of Jerusalem that is worth noting is that the Christians in the city remembered Jesus’ warning of a time when the city of Jerusalem would be surrounded by enemy forces. They also remembered Him saying that one should get out of the city immediately, not even stopping to grab belongings, or even clothing. The Christians heeded that advice and so many were spared from the great slaughter. This was a layered prophecy and the same prophecy would be fulfilled more than once. The Bible tells us this very thing would happen again right at the end of the age–just prior to the return of the Messiah.
After telling the disciples about the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem, Jesus, as we have discussed before, strongly warned them (and by extension, the Church) not to allow themselves to be deceived by the many false prophets who would rise up. He also warned about those who would come throughout history, even claiming to be the Messiah. Many would be deceived.
Jesus then said that wars and rumors of wars would come, nation rising against nation, kingdom against kingdom. The original translation of “kingdom” includes ethnic conflicts. In addition to the different conflicts and wars, Jesus said there would be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various, unusual places all over the world. After He warned about these coming events, He made a statement in verse 6 that we tend to read right past, missing something that I believe Jesus was alluding to. He said, “all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet”. Then in verse 8, He said that “All these are the beginning of sorrows.” We’ll touch on what I believe was meant by this statement before we conclude our subject.
In verse 9, Jesus warned about the persecution that would be coming to the Church. Being a follower of Jesus Christ would bring great persecution, hatred, and even death. Some would betray one another and thereby save their own lives. All these things have been happening ever since the Church was formed on the Day of Pentecost. Literally millions of Christian believers have been martyred since that time. I should also mention that statistics today show that more Christians have been martyred in the last century than in all the previous centuries combined!
It is interesting to note that each one of the Gospels has a narrative included within its chapters in which Jesus is discussing “end time” events–with the exception of the book of John. These narratives are not identical; they were not given at the same time or place, nor do all the details necessarily speak of the same exact period of time, but the thrust of His narrative has to do with the times of the end. Some of the details Jesus gave had to do with what was going to happen in AD 70, but most had to do with the very last of the “last days.” We find the subject covered in Matthew 24. In Luke, we find it in the 21st chapter, and then in Mark, it is found in chapter 13. But what of John?
Of the four evangelists, as they are sometimes called, the disciple John actually provides the most detail of all regarding the end of the age. It is, however, not found in the Gospel of John but rather in the Book of Revelation, the last book in the New Testament. We find that the sixth chapter is John’s version of the narratives recorded by Matthew, Luke, and Mark in their respective chapters.
At this point, I would like to take a small diversion and discuss the timing of this first group of prophetic events. I believe that our understanding of the timing has a considerable bearing on our being able to pinpoint where we are on God’s timeline of events leading up to His second coming.
Traditionally, it has been taught by most prophecy experts that all of the 21 judgments; the Seal Judgments, the Trumpet Judgments, and the Bowl Judgments listed in the Book of Revelation will be fulfilled within the seven year time period of the Great Tribulation–in the Old Testament, called the “Day of the Lord.” This is the understanding I grew up with and have had for most of my life. However, as I have made a study of prophetic End Time events, referencing both Old and New Testament prophecies, I have come to allow the possibility of a differing view–not a new doctrine, but a differing opinion concerning the timing of the opening up of the first five Seals. I will explain how I get there.
In both Revelation 4 and 5 we have a heavenly scene where we are introduced to a great Throne Room. In this room, we see God the Father sitting upon His throne with a great sea of glass, looking something like crystal, before Him. There are also 24 lesser thrones which have 24 Elders seated upon them. There are also the seven lamps of fire burning before the throne which are the seven Spirits of God. We are also told about the four Living Creatures that John saw in the midst of the throne as well as around it. This fourth chapter is a scene where John witnesses the four Living Creatures and the 24 Elders worshiping Almighty God on His Throne.
In the fifth chapter we are told about a scroll that is held in God’s right hand. This scroll was sealed with seven seals. A strong angel then cried out with a loud voice asking for anyone who might be worthy to open these seals, but no one came forward. As John became quite distressed by the lack of someone worthy to open the seals, he was told not to stress because the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, had prevailed and was worthy to open the scroll and loose the seven seals.
The Lamb that was slain had defeated the enemy before Jesus ascended back to the Father. I believe this heavenly scene may very well have played out at the beginning of Church history, rather than at the end. There does not appear to be anything in these two chapters that really provides a designated historical timeline. There are those who would immediately object by saying that the first verse of chapter 4 is the connecting verse between the Church Age illustrated in the second and third chapters, and the prophetic judgments yet to come described beginning in chapter six. This verse reads:
After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.”
This verse in fact is used as a description of the Rapture of the Church, before the official beginning of Daniel’s 70th Week, or the seven years of the Apocalypse. Although I am a firm believer in the Rapture of the Church (harpazo, in the Greek) before the onset of God’s great judgment upon this wicked and rebellious planet, I don’t believe that this verse can be used as an exclusive proof of the point.
Another argument inevitably used to show that the Seal Judgments are exclusively part of the seven year Apocalypse is that the 24 crowned elders in the heavenly scene in Revelation 4-5 must be representatives of the redeemed of the human race. And, when one reads from the 1611 version of the King James Version Bible or the much more current New King James Version, it does sound like these 24 elders must be redeemed humans. I have some question about this and here are some of my reasons:
- Not only is it specified that the 24 elders sing the new song of Revelation 5:9-10, but so do the four Living Creatures, which are not in the least human, nor have they been redeemed as the human race has through the Blood of the Lamb of God.
- Nearly every other translation or version of this passage of Scripture differentiates two main words. Instead of the word “us” being used as it is in the KJV or NKJV, the word “them” is used. In addition, instead of the word “we” being used, again, as it is in the KJV or NKJV versions, the word “they” is used.
The verses in question are in Revelation 5:9-10, but let’s include the entire context of the passage from Revelation 5:8-14. This is how it reads in the New King James Version:
Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed “us” to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and “we” shall reign on the earth.” Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!” And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: “Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!” Then the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshipped Him who lives forever and ever.”
The translation of those two little words, “us” and “we” make all the difference in the world as to who they might happen to be. The fact that the four living Creatures surrounding the Throne of God are singing this song, by its very context, gives pause as to who the whole group may be that sings the song in verses 9-10. These special Beings have six wings, which contrasts them with Cherubim, which only have four wings. The six-winged Creatures (or Beings) are Seraphim, and they are not, nor will they ever be the redeemed, nor will they ever sing the song of the redeemed. So, they cannot have been singing as the “us” or the “we”.
- It has also been found that there are much older manuscripts than the 1567 and 1550 versions which became the texts for the 1633 AD Greek text used for translation purposes. The “Sinaiticus”, circa 350 AD and the “Alexandrinus”, circa 375 AD have been found and they both also use the words “them” and “they” for the words “us” and “we”, respectively.
The seemingly minor difference in these very small words do leave a strong possibility of a bit of a different flavor in the scene described in Revelation 4-5. We at least can see, because there is a good possibility that these 24 entities may not have been representatives of the redeemed, that this scene may very well have commenced very near the time after Jesus the Messiah ascended back to the Throne with Father God.
I have also always found it interesting how the Apostles in the New Testament described the very beginning of the Church Age. Here are some examples:
Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. 1 John 2:18
…knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you…1 Peter 1:18-20
But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words. For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh…Acts 2:14-17a
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things through whom also He made the worlds…Hebrews 1:1-2
This is only a handful of Scriptures that show that the early Christians saw the time they were living in as “the last days.” I believe that the Church Age itself was the beginning of the last days. We are however now at the last of the last days. We are at the very end of this age and it is critically important that we recognize this fact.
It only takes a bit of historical research, starting with the initiation of the Church on the Day of Pentecost, to realize some things we should consider. The first four seals in Revelation 6 are a unit. They work independently of one another but yet the judgments they mete out are connected and overlap in their effects. The judgments of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse also are identical to the descriptions we find Jesus giving in His discourses in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. He did not say that they were necessarily events that would only unfold right at the very end of the age. In fact, as we will remember, after Jesus said that that there would be wars and rumors of wars, He said not be be troubled because these things must be, but the end is not right away yet.
One thing that really gets my attention as I read the history of the last two thousand years, is that the actions of the four horsemen can be seen already beginning to affect the earth right after the inception of the Church on the Day of Pentecost, 10 days after the ascension of Christ on the Mount of Olives. Because of the fact that throughout history we find Biblical prophecy being fulfilled in layers, meaning that it can happen more than one time, and in different manifestations, I believe that these same four horsemen will run in a final stampede around our globe as a final fulfillment of the judgments of the Apocalypse as outlined in Revelation 6. These Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which are phantom beings allowed by God to accomplish His purposes, are however already on the earth, and have been since the beginning of the Church Age.
The world population in 1 AD is estimated to have been between 200 and 300 million. The world population at the end the year 2016 is estimated at approximately 7.5 billion. I have found conservative estimates that there have been about 56 billion people born since the year 1 AD. These statistics add up to something that has had me wondering for a number of years. In Revelation 6:8, after the fourth horseman of the Apocalypse has been released, we find the Apostle John making this statement:
So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth.
By the time the pale horse enters the scene here in chapter 6, the white, red, and black horses of the Apocalypse have already been released. Revelation 6:8 tells us that as a unit, the four horsemen have brought death to a quarter of the world’s population. Here’s my question: Is it possible that in the last 2,000 years, that somewhere near 13.5 billion souls have lost their lives in the same basic ways the Apocalyptic horsemen are described to take the lives of humans in Revelation 6? I believe so. In my search, I looked up just the seven worst plagues since the time of Christ. These were: Smallpox, Spanish flu, Black Death, malaria, AIDs, cholera, and typhus. Between just these seven plagues, some estimates have the death toll at 2 billion.
When we read back through history, it is stunning to read details of hundreds and hundreds of wars that are recorded in history. There is the 30 year war, and then there is the 100 year war. There have been the revolutions, always with masses massacred. One empire after another would overrun the previous power, again, multitudes being killed. Then there were the ethnic cleansings, or, rather exterminations; once again, millions upon millions murdered. Mankind’s history can be pretty ugly reading. So, we add billions more killed through war to the billions killed by diseases, pestilences, and plagues.
I looked for statistics on how many abortions have been done worldwide just since they were made legal in the United States in 1973. I found there have been well over 2 billion! And there is no estimate of the number of babies killed by abortion since this act was first committed.
Then, century after century there have been terrible droughts, bringing famine and starvation, often to millions at a time.
Just in the few short paragraphs above one can see that easily 25% of the world’s historical population may have perished due to the very things attributed to the four horsemen of the Apocalypse with the opening of the first four Seals in Revelation 6.
Then we have the 5th Seal. I don’t believe that the martyrs described in Revelation 6:9-11 are the Tribulation martyrs. I believe these martyrs are the those that have been gathered under this great altar ever since the first martyr, Stephen, was stoned to death for his faith not long after the Church was formed. The book of Acts has recorded within its pages a number of Christian martyrs. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs is another record of the stories of Christian martyrs. Only the Bible has been read by more people than this sobering book. This world has murdered tens of millions of Christians over the past 2,000 years. I have seen statistics of anywhere from 70-100 million Christians having been murdered for their faith since the first century. An astounding fact is that more Christians have been murdered for their faith within the last 100 years than all the centuries before combined! Most of us know of the brutal persecution the early church went through under the Caesars of Rome. History has recorded that, as heinous as the persecution these emperors put the Church through, it did not compare with the twisted, diabolical treatment from the Roman Popes. It seems there is no limit to the depth of depravity a human being can fall to in their treatment of other humans when they are being influenced by the evil entities of hell. As I stated above, these martyrs are Church Age martyrs but there will be another great multitude of Christian martyrs coming directly out of the Great Tribulation as well. These are the ones that are represented in Revelation 7:9-17.
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”…These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb…Revelation 7:9, 10, 14
It may be a difficult concept to accept, but I believe that the first five seals of Revelation 6 have already been opened and, in an ongoing process, are nearing their completion. The next prophetic events are on their way.
We will continue in Part 3.