Overview: Future Events

We have seen how the Gospel of the Kingdom is one continuous message throughout the Bible. The Old Testament built the foundation, and the whole unfolding plan of God is moving toward the final chapter, when the last confrontation between God's rule and that of His enemies will take place.

Foundations of Prophecy
The first article in this section looks at the foundations that must be understood in order to avoid misunderstanding about End Times issues. This includes having a knowledge of the Hebrew Prophets.
Finding references in the New Testament to things prophesied in the Old helps to put together the puzzle. And of course, starting with an understanding of the Kingdom of God is crucial.

The book of Daniel has a number of important contributions to our understanding of end-time events. The visions of the four beasts and the dividing of the third empire give us a general outline of the worldly kingdoms that would follow one another. But the seventy weeks spoken of by Gabriel are presented in such a way as to allow for non-successive fulfillment. The events of the seventieth week have not been fulfilled yet, even though some similar events have taken place.

Several prophecies all fit together to give us the picture of the coming world ruler, referred to as the Little Horn, the Son of Perdition, the Beast, and the Antichrist. He will set up the abomination of desolation, kicking off the three-and-a-half year period of Great Tribulation. He and his armies will assemble against Jerusalem, but he will be defeated and come to his ultimate, decreed end when Christ returns. At that time there will be a resurrection, signs in the heavens, and the Kingdom of God will be inaugurated.

Three Schools of Thought
There are basically three schools of thought regarding the interpretation of prophecies and especially how they relate to the words of Jesus in his Olivet Discourse. They are examined in the second article in this section. Jesus described a succession of signs that would increase toward the end, like birth pangs. He then referred to the Abomination of Desolation and the Great Tribulation, and stated that immediately after those days the Son of Man would return and set up the Kingdom.

One of the schools of thought is called Preterism. It holds that all, or nearly all, of the prophecies have been completed and fulfilled. Preterism believes that Jesus' prediction of the destruction of the Temple was fulfilled in 70 AD. The emperor Titus in that year oversaw the destruction of the Temple and the driving out of the Jews from Jerusalem.

Another school of thought is called Historicism. This view holds that the prophesied events have been taking place throughout history since the first century. There are a number of different versions of this view. Virtually all of them hold that the Roman Catholic Church in general, and/or the Pope in particular, is the Beast and the Antichrist referred to in prophecy. The Historicist view is based in part on the "day-year" theory, where a day represents a year in prophecy. But this is nowhere stated as being a general principle to be applied to all prophecies.

The problem with both Preterism and Historicism is that at no time in history did the necessary events take place as prophesied. None of the candidates for the Antichrist met their end at the time, and while there have been times of tribulation, none was followed by signs in the heavens, a mass resurrection, or the ushering in of a new age of peace and no war. These events must be still in the future, as held by the Futurist school of thought.

In his Olivet Discourse, Jesus specifically stated that the Great Tribulation would be precipitated by the Abomination of Desolation spoken of by Daniel, and that immediately after those days there would be signs in the heavens and the Son of Man would be seen coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. These events are inextricably linked and no interpretation of prophecy fits with Scripture without this succession.

This Generation
The third article in this section deals with one of the more difficult puzzles which any viewpoint about the End Times must handle. It is regarding Jesus' statement that "This Generation shall not pass away until all these things are fulfilled." It is sometimes taken to mean that Jesus thought he would return during their lifetime, but that would contradict his direct statement that he did not know when he would return.

When you look at how the word "generation" is used, especially in Matthew, it is seen to be referring not to a space of time but to the character of the people, as in "a crooked and perverse generation." Also, when Jesus said there were some standing there that would not see death until they had seen the Kingdom, the very next verses describe the vision of the Transfiguration. Peter in his epistle said they were eyewitnesses of his majesty, regarding his power and coming.

There are many other details in the prophecies; these articles are meant to be just a brief overview. For anyone interested in studying the subject in detail, I recommend the following resources:

  • Anthony Buzzard's articles on prophecy, found on his web site
  • Articles about prophecy on Biblical Truth Seekers
  • Ray Faircloth's article, "The 70 'Sevens' and Antichrist's End in Daniel" in the February, 2008 issue of Focus on the Kingdom.
  • Anthony Buzzard's article, "The Great Tribulation and the Future Coming of Jesus" in the March, 2008 issue of Focus on the Kingdom.
  • Alex Hall's talks about prophecy and the end times, on The Byte Show (especially This Generation Shall Not Pass and End Time Events).
  • Jim Mattison's book, The End-Time Time Line, available from Restoration Fellowship.

A Secret Rapture?
A common erroneous belief concerning the end times is the notion of a "secret rapture" which supposedly takes place before the Great Tribulation. The fourth article in this section demonstrates that the Bible does not reveal such a thing, however. The "rapture" is described in the Bible as happening when Christ is revealed to the whole world and every eye sees him.

We are told that it happens at "the last trumpet" which is referred to in several other passages, and which Jesus specifically says will be after the Great Tribulation. It is also identified with the Day of the Lord, which is referred to many times in the Bible, and is always an earth-shaking, cataclysmic event which ushers in the new age.

When the dead in Christ are raised and those which are alive are caught up with them to be with the Lord, we are not told that we will stay in the clouds. The word for "meet" is only used three other times and always refers to a group of people going out to meet and welcome someone who was arriving, and escorting them back to where they came from. We are told that after we are gathered together, we shall ever be with the Lord. Where will the Lord be? He will be reigning on earth, and we will be with him.

Destruction of the Wicked
Another erroneous doctrine concerns the fate of those who refuse to believe. The fifth article in this section shows that the Bible speaks repeatedly of the destruction of the wicked and not of an endless, conscious torture. How could a loving, merciful God assign someone to endless torture with no hope of reprieve? What kind of sin would deserve such a punishment?

Some say that it is not actually endless torture, but endless separation from God. But if God is everywhere present, the only way to be separated from Him is to not exist. And that is exactly what the Bible says is the destiny of the wicked. They are destroyed and the result of that destruction is everlasting.

Part of the confusion is because more than one word is translated as "hell" in the King James Bible. But there is a big difference between sheol/hades, the state of the dead to which everyone goes when they die, and ge'enna, the lake of fire in which the wicked are destroyed, which is called the "second death."

The word for "forever" is the word aionios which we have looked at before. It means lasting the duration of an age, but not necessarily "without end." The "eternal flames" of Sodom and Gomorrah are not still burning. And when Jesus referred to the unquenchable fire and the worm that doesn't die, he was referring to the fact that they will not be stopped until all the dead are consumed. He wasn't talking about "immortal worms." In order for anyone to live in an unending state of torture, God would have to grant them eternal life, which goes against everything the Bible says about eternal life.

The last enemy to be destroyed is death. No enemy will exist beyond the destruction of death. When all enemies have been destroyed in the lake of fire, the new heaven and earth in all their perfection will be ready to be inhabited for all eternity.

The Age To Come
The sixth article in this section wraps it all up. After the Kingdom is inaugurated and Satan is bound at the return of Christ, the saints shall live and reign with him for a thousand years. They will rule over those who are left of the nations after the great battle. The world will be changed back to its original paradise state during the Millennial reign.

At the end of the thousand years, Satan is loosed for a season and he deceives the nations again. He is finally destroyed and the Great White Throne judgment takes place. The New Jerusalem comes down from heaven and all is complete. When all is said and done, in the Age To Come God will finally have what He has wanted from the beginning - an earth full of people who love Him and worship Him. The world will have been restored to its original perfect state, and all evil will have been done away with. This is the ultimate goal of all God has done, and the destiny of the earth which God has planned.

Mark Clarke
E-mail: mclarke@godskingdomfirst.org