Doctrinal Matters: End Times
Is There Any Evidence that Christ's Return is Imminent?
A major advertisement has appeared recently in newspapers around the country. It is titled: “Christ Is Coming ‘Very, Very Soon.’ ” The piece begins: “The evidence for the soon return of Christ is overwhelming.” Several “clues” are then offered whereby one may calculate that Jesus’ return is near. Would you comment on this?
I have the advertisement before me. I will review the so-called “clues” as to the time of Christ’s return.
It is alleged that the nation of Israel was “miraculously reborn on May 14, 1948,” and that this is “God’s time clock” indicating that the end is near. Amazingly, not one passage of scripture is cited to prove this baseless assertion—the reason being, there is none.
It is argued that 2 Timothy 3:1ff.,which describes a “plummeting morality,” reveals that Jesus’ return is imminent. First, there is not a word in this context about the Lord’s second coming. Second, the verb in verse 5, “turn away,” is, in the original language, a present, middle, imperative form. The imperative mood reveals that it is a command to Timothy. The middle voice suggests that Timothy is to personally turn himself away from the evil persons thus described. The present tense “be turning away,” reveals that Paul’s young companion was living in the time of this corruption, the “last days” (vs. 1), at that very moment. The expression does not focus, therefore, on an age 2,000 years in the future.
It is contended that the “signs” of Matthew 24:6-8 (e.g., famines, wars, and earthquakes) indicate that Jesus is coming “very, very soon.” But the “signs” of Matthew 24:6ff. had to do with the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, not this modern era. Christ plainly taught that “this generation” (vs. 34)—i.e., the generation contemporary with Him (Arndt, 1967, p. 153)—would witness these signs. There is historical evidence aplenty to document the presence of such events in the forty-year interval between the time of Christ’s death and the fall of Jerusalem. There were conflicts in the administrations of Caligula, Claudius, and Nero (Josephus, Antiquities, 20.1.6). Josephus penned a work designated, The Wars of the Jews. The title itself is a commentary on these tumultuous times. It is well known that famines were frequent during these four decades (cf. Acts 11:28). Suetonius, a Roman historian, described the administration of Claudius as characterized by “continual scarcity” (Claud., c.18). As for earthquakes, they were devastating during this era. They are recorded by historians Josephus (Wars, 4.4), Tacitus (Annales xii.58; xiv.27; xv.22), and Seneca (Epistle 91). It is thus futile to apply the predictions of Matthew 24 to this current period of history (see Jackson, 1998). Is it not strange that Christ, Who gave these signs, did not know when the “end” would be (Matthew 24:36), but modern “prophets” can read them and provide us with the precise schedule?
It is suggested that Daniel 12:4 prophesies an increase in travel and education at the end of time, and that such is clearly characteristic of our age. This passage is quite ambiguous, and various views are entertained by good scholars—e.g., that “run to and fro” really means to “read thoroughly,” and thus encourages a careful study of this inspired book (Rose and Fuller, 1981, 6:392). At any rate, there is nothing in the passage that can identify a particular age. The fact is, transportation and knowledge have accelerated in every period of human history, and will continue to do so until the end of time. That is the nature of human genius. It is useless to cite Daniel 12:4 as a clue to the end of Earth’s history.
The advertisement under review alleges that the current explosion of “cults and the occult” is detailed in biblical literature; we therefore can know that the end is near on this basis. Two passages are cited as proof-texts—Matthew 24:24 and 1 Timothy 4:1. Again, though, Matthew 24:24—a prediction of false Christs, prophets, etc.—has to do with that period prior to Jerusalem’s demise (cf. 34). Josephus recorded that the administration of Felix, a Roman procurator in Judea (A.D. 52-60), was known for its “impostors (Antiquities 20.8.5). Justin Martyr, an early Christian apologist, said that Simon Magnus went to Rome, where he deceived many with his magic and was honored as deity. He cited an inscription that bore these words: “To Simon the holy God” (Apology, I.26).
The reference in 1 Timothy 4:1ff. is a general allusion to the apostasy that would defect from the apostolic faith throughout the Christian age. The expression “latter times” likely is equivalent to “latter days” (cf. 2 Timothy 3:1), i.e., the final dispensation of time, the Christian era. Though Paul intended to warn regarding the future, he nonetheless saw the apostasy as already in operation (cf. White, 1956, 4:120). In fact, this point is made quite clear in 2 Thessalonians 2:7 where the “mystery of lawlessness” is “already at work.” This context contains no clue as to the end of time.
It is asserted that the Bible predicts the rise of a “new world order” involving a “centralization of world financial and political power” in the end times, and that these conditions are current. Daniel 7 and Revelation 13 are cited vaguely as proofs. The truth is, both of these contexts have to do with developments out of the ancient Roman empire (see Jackson, 1995, pp. 48-71). They do not refer to America!
Finally, it is claimed that just as angels announced Christ’s first coming (Luke 1:26), even so, angels recently have visited a number of folks, reporting that the end is near. This testimony is about as reliable as those who declare that they have been abducted by space aliens. There is no evidence whatever that angels are appearing to, or communicating with, people today.
There is no biblical information regarding the time of the Lord’s return. The end will occur unexpectedly (Matthew 24:36ff.).
Arndt, W.F., and F.W. Gingrich (1967), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago).
Jackson, Wayne (1995), Select Studies in the Book of Revelation (Stockton, CA: Courier Publications).
Jackson, Wayne (1998), At His Coming, ed. David Lipe (Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardeman University), in press.
Rose, H.J., and J.M. Fuller (1981), The Bible Commentary, ed. F.C. Cook (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
White, N.J.D. (1956), The Expositor’s Greek Testament, ed. W. Robertson Nicoll (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).