The last days

A summary of articles concerning the end of history.

The history of the world has a beginning, middle and end. Jesus Christ has been revealed as the beginning, because he was the Word, the intelligent agent, through whom all things were made. He is also the end, because in due time all things will be made subject to him. The middle was a time of ignorance that God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent, for he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world, in the person of Jesus Christ, his son and appointed representative. That the Son has authority to do so was vouched for when God raised him from the dead.

Man has a soul; that is, he has the property of consciousness, whether awake or asleep. His whole conception of himself as a rational, moral being is founded on the conviction that his ability to control his body and distinguish true from false, right from wrong, does not boil down to mere chemical reactions in the brain, over which he has no control. Since the soul has not always existed, it must enter the womb from God. Yet his philosophy tells him that he is no more than molecules. In another age this self-negation would have been described as a form of madness, but it is a spiritual disease, not a physical one. Britain, along with Western society as a whole, is digging up its Christian foundations and making out that belief in a Creator God is irrational. It has fooled itself into thinking that man is free to desecrate the divine image with which he is stamped, in the name of a higher morality that serves his body. The State is not an idle bystander. The Equality Act 2010 both normalises sexual deviancy and denies freedom of conscience to people in business and the public services who do not see it as normal. Citing ‘British values’, the State’s education watchdog uses the Act to compel schools to promote the new morality to children, even as young as 4. Students entering university after this indoctrination are showing less tolerance for freedom of speech and conscience than their teachers.

NabonidusNebuchadrezzar was the second king of the Chaldaean or Neo-Babylonian empire (612-539 BC) that succeeded the Assyrian empire. In chapter 2 of his book Daniel, a courtier at the time, relates how the king had a dream he knew had special significance. In the dream he saw a colossus made of four different metals and ending in feet of iron and clay. In answer to his prayer, God told Daniel what the dream meant, and Daniel told Nebuchadrezzar. The king had seen a vision of four successive empires and finally a weaker group of states, after which the whole colossus would be smashed by a stone not made by human hand. The stone, representing an eternal kingdom not from this world, would become a great mountain and fill the whole earth. Looking back, we can identify these four empires and see that we are living near the end of the age of merely human government.

The idea that anyone can accurately outline the course of history hundreds, even thousands, of years in advance is a challenge to atheistic thinking, and the historicity of Daniel’s remarkable book has been questioned. The article goes on to summarise recent scholarly work that supports its bona fides.

Jeremiah prophesised that Judah would be in servitude to the king of Babylon for 70 years. If you quantify future time because you really do have that ability, you may as well do it precisely. Nonetheless commentators still wonder whether 70 was an exact or an approximate figure. The trouble with an exact figure is that it suggests not only that God foresees what has yet to happen but that ultimately he determines it. On the other hand, if it was an approximate figure, there is more reason to suppose that the prophecy was made up and inserted into the book after the event – not very likely, seeing that it had to be inserted into II Chronicles and Daniel as well as Jeremiah. Moreover, while II Chronicles Bulla of Gedaliah son of Pashur, mentioned in Jeremiah 38:1 as one of his accusersindicates that the 70 years were fulfilled exactly, it does not provide the details which would verify the statement. For that we have to draw on various sources – evidence, surely, that the prophecy was not a fix.

Daniel lived through the entire 70 years, and as the 70th year approached, it was no academic matter whether the promise of liberty would be fulfilled. He prayed for assurance that it would be, but what he got was another prophecy with exact figures. Sixty-nine times seven years were to be counted from the issuing of a word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of Messiah. Then there would be another, final seven, in the middle of which the Messiah would be cut off. John the Baptist began preaching in AD 26, precisely 69 x 7 years after Artaxerxes decree in 458 BC. The Messiah’s life was cut off in AD 30, leaving the final three and a half years of the prophecy still to be completed.

More than ten commentaries on the Book of Revelation have been published in this century alone, while the internet is awash with individuals claiming authority to teach. If interpreting this book of prophecy is itself an act of prophecy, there are many false prophets in the world, and more false ones than true. Certainly they cannot all be true. In the midst of this bedlam of competing claims, whoever seeks to discern what is true and of God must test everything against Scripture and listen to the voice: is it the voice of the good Shepherd, or some other voice? We must hold onto the fact that the book is important – Jesus himself pronounces a blessing on those who seek to understand it – and now perhaps more than ever. It explains what will happen at the end of the age. Coming at the end of the New Testament’s revelation of Jesus, it summarises that revelation. And coming at the end of the Bible as a whole, it summarises in the richness of its allusions to the Old Testament the entire revelation of God, showing that it is a self-consistent unity. Although the book is undoubtedly difficult to understand and full of symbols, usually either the text itself explains the meaning of the symbols or the Old Testament does, and one must be careful not to over-interpret. In some cases, visions that might once have seemed figurative, not least because they were too frightening to be taken literally, can now in the 21st century be recognised as essentially factual. Burning mountains falling into the sea are clearly falling asteroids, fire from heaven is an ejection of mass from the Sun’s corona. More problematic is determining the order of events. But again, the most straightforward approach – taking the structure to be fundamentally linear, with pauses during which the author goes back to illuminate one theme or another in more detail – is also the easiest.

Ezekiel was granted a vision of the throne of the Almighty above a fiery vehicle of living beings, with wheels but no horses, moving across the earth wherever it willed. Although Jerusalem had been the place where he had set his throne, it was to be his residence no longer: in disgust at what his people were doing, God was withdrawing his presence. John receives a similar vision, but the throne is in heaven, not on earth, and he sees a new element: twenty-four elders round the throne. They worship the one seated on the throne, the Lord God who brought all things into existence. In his hand is a scroll, but no one has the authority to break its seals. Then John sees, in the centre of the throne, another new element: a Lamb, the ‘Lion of Judah’. The elders understand that he is worthy to receive power, honour, glory, blessing.

In the Apocalypse John has a vision of the King of Heaven, God of hosts. In his right hand is a scroll, which no one is able to open except the Lamb. The seals are opened one by one. Each sets in train events that together comprise Jesus’ answer to the question, “What will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” The first four set in motion the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, bringing wars, famine and disease that can be identified with the calamities of the last century. We now live around the time of the fifth seal, when increasing numbers of Christians will be martyred. The sixth seal marks the end of their witness and the beginning of God’s wrath. The opportunity to repent has gone.

In the last days 144,000 servants of God from among the 12 tribes of Israel will receive his seal so that they are protected from the forces that will cause great damage to earth, sea and vegetation. They are protected for a purpose: to proclaim the gospel and interpret the events associated with the first four trumpets as signs of God’s impending wrath. A multitude too numerous to be counted respond to their message. But how can it make sense today to speak of the 12 tribes of Israel when they are lost to history as distinct entities? Even Jews cannot identify which tribe they descend from.

‘We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet,’ Paul writes. Somehow he knew about a series of trumpet blasts at the end of the age, decades before John was told about them. Whether the angels’ trumpets will be audible to the inhabitants of the earth we cannot say, but the sound of a trumpet was certainly audible through the smoke and thunder at Mount Sinai, as it was to the inhabitants of Jericho before their city fell. The period of the seven trumpets will be similarly terrifying. Who has the courage to face up to what John is prophesying? A third of the planet’s vegetation will be destroyed, together with a third of its marine life and a third of its freshwater life. Demons will be released from the abyss to torment those who go on refusing to repent. Finally, with the sixth trumpet, a third of mankind will be killed – all this before the wrath with which the Creator’s indignation is finally spent.

An exposition of Revelation 10:8-11:14. At the end of the age, Jerusalem will once again be occupied by Gentile powers. At that time two prophets similar to Moses and Elijah will appear and explain to the Jewish people how the Law and the Prophets witness to their Messiah, who is about to come to them. The plagues that visit the earth when the angels blow their trumpets come at their command, for as Moses and Aaron confronted Pharaoh, so now these two confront the modern world. The beast that now rules the Holy Land must let God’s people go, and the world must repent of its idolatry, murders, thieving and sexual immorality. The witnesses prophesy for 42 months, the same length of time that John the Baptist and Jesus Christ prophesied. Then they are killed, as are many Christians in other parts of the world. The world rejoices, but after three and a half days they rise again.

An exposition of Revelation chapter 12. From first to last the book refers back to the first chapters of Genesis, this chapter not least. If we do not understand that God created the heaven and the earth, its prophecies will remain closed to us. The vision of the woman, her male child and the dragon covers the last 2000 years of history, and some of it – notably the return of the Jews to the land of Israel (prophesied also in chapter 11) – has been fulfilled in the past 100 years.

Abu Bakr al BaghdadiAn exposition of Revelation chapter 13. The imagery of beasts representing kings or empires goes back to the Book of Daniel, which is needed to interpret the composite beast here. The last empire to conquer the land of Israel before the coming of Christ will be a Muslim confederation of ten kingdoms, encompassing territory similar to that ruled by the Seleucid king Antiochus IV. The beast is also the individual at the head of the confederation, and he will be served by two spiritual leaders who control the economy and require everyone to bow down before an image made for the beast, just as in Nebuchadrezzar’s day.

The gospel in a nutshell is twofold: “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth.” If God does not exist, then neither does his Son, and if the Church herself does not believe that God is manifest in creation, she has only half a gospel. She asks the world to believe in a man who manifests a God who is otherwise not manifest. If she does not understand that judgement follows mercy, she has no gospel at all, for there is nothing from which man needs to be saved. Relentless efforts to discredit the idea of Creation and final judgement show that the world understands this.

There are two harvests: a wheat harvest, when those who have believed in Christ are raised to eternal life; and a subsequent grape harvest, when those who have rejected mercy are thrown into the ‘great winepress of the wrath of God’. The 144,000 are martyred for their witness and are raised as first-fruits before the main wheat harvest.

Jerusalem is no ordinary city. Besieged, invaded, destroyed and resettled many times, it is now occupied and governed by the people who forfeited it almost 2000 years ago. Its return to Jewish control in 1967 is a fulfilment of ancient prophecy still in our own lifetime. Nonetheless, 37% of its population is Arab, more Jews live outside Israel than in it, the West Bank part of Israel’s former land is mostly Arab, and further conflict is prophesied for the years ahead. Jerusalem is ‘the city of the Great King’; it belongs to him. One day that king will rule from there over all the nations.

click for printable pdfHades is the Greek name for the underworld, the place of the dead. It came into existence after the cataclysm at the end of the first geological period, called by an apt coincidence the Hadean, and lies beneath the terrestrial crust. It also exists in a spiritual dimension, since its occupants have no bodies. It will cease to exist when it is thrown into what the Apocalypse calls ‘the lake of fire’. Tartarus, the ‘abyss’ where demons dwell, also came into existence in the Hadean cataclysm. Geologically it is known as the aesthenosphere, the uppermost mantle beneath the present crust. The lake of fire has not yet come into existence. Its physical location is Gehenna, the Valley of Hinnom outside the walls of Jerusalem. It will connect with Hades and molten rock in the Earth’s crust and be a place of destruction. Eventually, it too will cease to exist.