The End Is Near! Or Is It?
As my wife and I were busying ourselves about the kitchen one day, she asked me to check the time. Looking up at the read-out display on our microwave that serves as our kitchen clock when it is not in use, I responded, “It’s the end time.” Apparently, someone had failed to hit the “clear” button after the last use of the microwave and it was stuck with the message, “END.” Is my microwave accurate? Is it really the end time?
When I was growing up, every time we had a cool snap in the middle of the summer or an unseasonably warm day in the middle of the winter my grandmother would say, “It’s a sign that the Lord is coming back soon because the Bible says that in the last days you won’t be able to tell summer from winter.” No matter how many times we tried to tell her that this particular omen wasn’t included in the list of signs of the end, we were never able to convince her. Likewise, every time we hear about natural catastrophes such as earthquakes, cyclones, hurricanes, and tsunamis, there are prognosticators who surface to predict that the end is near. Of course, all it takes is a report of the widespread decline in morality, the onslaught of the global AIDS epidemic, or the increase in the crime rate for church people to start panicking over the impending doomsday. Global warming and the failing economy, not to even mention politics (including elections in the US and despots in power around the world) are also great fodder for apocalyptic forecasts. The Doomsday Clock, a symbolic clock face maintained since 1947 by the board of directors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists at the University of Chicago, predicts that the human race is only minutes away from midnight – its catastrophic destruction. Originally, the analogy represented the threat of global nuclear war but now includes climate-change and new developments in the life sciences and nanotechnology that could inflict irrevocable harm. Recently, the clock’s hands were set at only five minutes before the “witching hour” due to the build up of nuclear weapons, terrorism, and climate change. The scientific world seems to have literally taken over the job of Chicken Little, running around telling us that the sky is falling by predicting that we are on a collision course with asteroids that will destroy our present civilization the same way that they claim the dinosaurs were eradicated some sixty-five billion years ago. If it isn’t a scientist or politician threatening us with global warming, it is an evangelist warning us of the last days – but we are getting the same message from every side: we are headed for TETWAWKI, the end of the world as we know it.
Forty percent of all Americans and forty-five percent of Christians believe that there will be a final battle between Jesus Christ and the Antichrist at Armageddon. A recent poll shown that seventy-one percent of evangelical Protestants, twenty-eight percent of non-evangelicals, and eighteen percent of Catholics believe that the scenario will take place. About half of those who share the belief say that they think that the Antichrist is living today, and forty-five percent say Jesus Christ will return before they die. Most who believe in the Second Coming of Christ say that the world is experiencing the “end times.” Many believe that current events signify that the end is near: eighty-three percent cited natural disasters, sixty-six percent noted diseases such as AIDS and the Ebola virus, and sixty-two percent said outbreaks of violence are signs of the end.
Of course, we can look back through history and see that we are not unique in our doomsday beliefs. I remember so well back in 1988 when Jim Willis’ Armageddon Now: the End of the World A to Z swept so many in the Christian community into apocalyptic frenzy with eight-eight reasons why Jesus was to return that year. You can’t imagine my embarrassment as the associate pastor every time I would see a certain car parked in our church parking lot – it was painted from bumper to bumper with prophecies of the imminent end of the world! I’ve often wondered what the gentleman did with his car on January 1, 1989. Many Christians felt that AD 1000 was the end of the Millennium and tried to force non-believers into conversion before “the end” came. William Miller, the father of the modern Adventist movement, predicted the end between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844. He later recalculated the date to be October 22, 1844, which became known as “the Great Disappointment” because many of his followers sold all they had in order to be ready for the end – which simply didn’t happen. The 1910 appearance of Halley’s Comet prompted many apocalyptic fears, including the publication of a post card in Germany which read, “End of the World on May 18.” Albert Porta, a well-respected meteorologist, predicted the end of the world on December 17, 1919, due to the conjunction of six planets that he said would cause a magnetic current that would pierce the sun causing great explosions of flaming gases that would engulf the earth. In 1936, Edgar Cayce predicted that the world would end through a major reconfiguration of the continents, the reappearance of the lost continent of Atlantis near the Bahamas, the disappearance of California and Japan, and violent volcanic eruptions worldwide. When his prediction failed, he recalculated the date for 1998, apparently giving himself the benefit of not having to face another missed calculation – that is assuming that he would not live past 120 years old! In 1967, aliens in UFOs told George Van Tassel that the southeastern portion of the US would be destroyed by a nuclear attack. Essentially the entire world approached Y2K with a sense of dread as they feared that massive computer failures would send the world into a virtual TETWAWKI with planes hurling helter-skelter through the skies as the air traffic controls blacked out, patients dying agonizing deaths as their life-support systems shut down, criminals escaping even maximum-security penitentiaries as the surveillance systems melted down, and the skylines of cities worldwide disappearing as the electric grids collapsed. The fortieth anniversary of the Six Day War (2007) was highlighted by many evangelical leaders including Pat Robertson. The Mayan calendar of the Central American Indians abruptly ended on the winter solstice of December 21, 2012 (their year 5,126) when the sun was aligned with the center of the Milky Way for the first time in 26,000 years, paralleling the Hopi Indian belief that a blue star would appear in 2012 signaling the return of Saquasohuh who was to usher in a new age. Jean Dixon, the psychic who predicted the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, gave us eight more years by predicting that Armageddon will happen in 2020. St. Malachy, who was born in 1094, predicted that there would be one hundred twelve more popes from his time. Since the present pope happens to be number one hundred twelve, we can see that his prediction also puts us at the brink of TETWAWKI.
Do any of these prophecies of the end of the world as we know it have real significance? Of all the dates suggested above, only four of them have any real relationship to biblical chronology: AD 1000, 1988, 2000, and 2007. The AD 1000 date was based on the idea that the Millennium, the thousand year rule of Christ predicted in Revelation 20:6, had begun with Jesus’ birth. The fault with this calculation is that the Millennium is to begin after TETWAWKI, not at its initiation.
The 2000 date that just coincidentally paralleled the scientific Y2K calculation was based on the concept that God created the universe in six days and then rested on the seventh. Those who saw the year 2000 as the date for TETWAWKI paralleled His creative work with His redemptive work and said that if He created the world in six days, He would also complete His redemptive work in six days. Since II Peter 3:8 equates one day as a thousand years, they then calculated that it would take six thousand years of human history to do so. By counting the genealogies of the Bible, they calculated that the creation of Adam occurred about 4000 BC, naming AD 2000 the six thousandth year. Since God rested on the seventh day and the thousand years following human history on earth was to be the Millennium, another period of divine rest, the analogy seemed quite proper in many people’s minds.
The other two of the more modern dates are both calculations based on Luke chapter twenty-one verses twenty-four and thirty-two, And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled… Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled. In this prophetic discourse, Jesus gave a couple predictions that can be linked together as a historical starting point and a duration for the countdown. The first starting date is based on the declaration of the independent state of Israel on May 15, 1948. Since Israel had been under gentile domination since the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70, the re-establishment of the Jewish state was seen as the fulfillment of Jesus’ prediction that the Holy City would come out from under the foot of foreigners. However, there was one major flaw in this calculation. The United Nations’ decision that established the nation of Israel actually carved the Holy Land and the city of Jerusalem into somewhat of a jigsaw puzzle, giving parts to Israel and parts to the Palestinians. Since the actual ancient city of Jerusalem was under Jordanian jurisdiction, it would be impossible to see this as the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy. One thing I’ve noticed about Jesus is that He tends to say what He means and mean what He says; therefore, if He said that the Holy City would no longer be trodden under the feet of the gentiles, I’m sure that He would not settle for some territory in the general vicinity! The second start date was based on the capture of the ancient city of Jerusalem during the Six Day War of 1967. On June 10, 1967, the Israeli army concluded their blitz against their Arab neighbors and walked away in possession of the city of Jerusalem, the actual soil that Jesus had mentioned in His prophecy! For the first time since the Roman conquest of the city, Jews could freely and safely walk the streets of their holy city and call it their own! However, the Temple Mount is still under control of Muslims; therefore, at least one part of the Holy City is still trodden by gentile feet. So maybe 1967 is not our actual start date either.
Verse thirty-two gives us the duration of the countdown period from the starting point to the culmination as one generation. According to many biblical and prophecy scholars, a generation can be considered a forty-year period. However, a generation may not necessarily be forty years; perhaps it could be a full lifespan of seventy or eighty years. (Psalm 90:10) Perhaps the reference could even suggest that a person who is born on the start date would see the fulfillment on the last day of his life, making a generation as long as a hundred years. Obviously, the world did not end either in 1988 or 2007, so one or all of the factors mentioned above must have been in play. Let’s see if there are further clues that we can watch for.
When they look at Jesus’ predictions of TETWAWKI, most preachers and teachers reference Matthew chapter twenty-four and its parallels in Mark chapter thirteen and Luke chapter twenty-one, wanting to focus in on some of the sensational indicators that Jesus mentioned: the advent of false christs, wars, rumors of wars, nations rising against nations, kingdoms rising against kingdoms, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes. However, Jesus plainly told us that these are only the beginnings of sorrows (Matthew 24:8) and that they are not the final indicators of the end (Matthew 24:6). He then went on to give us some specific pointers to watch for: Christians will be delivered up to be afflicted and killed in every nation (Matthew 24:9), many will be offended and will betray and hate one another (Matthew 24:10), false prophets will arise (Matthew 24:11), the love of many shall wax cold (Matthew 24:12), and the gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world (Matthew 24:14). It is at this point that He declared that the end would come. Jesus also said that the condition among the inhabitants of the planet at the time of his return would be identical to those at the times of Noah and Lot. (Luke 17:26-30) The Apostle Paul added a few indicators when he analyzed the conditions that would exist in the last days: men will be lovers of themselves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God, followers of a form of religion that denies His power. (II Timothy 3:2-5) The Apostle Peter added that the end time would be characterized by scoffers walking after their own lusts. (II Peter 3:3)
The world has certainly seen an increase of what we might consider apocalyptic events and trends. In the fifteenth century there were twenty-nine wars. The number more than doubled to fifty-nine in the sixteenth century. The seventeenth century saw an increase to seventy-five wars, and the eighteenth century experienced a slight decline to only sixty-nine. However, the numbers dramatically increased to two hundred ninety-four and two hundred seventy-eight in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries respectively. The first decade of the twenty-first century has already witnessed 55 wars, putting humanity on course for five hundred fifty wars over this one-hundred-year period. We have also seen a similar pattern with famines: six in the fifteenth century, ten in the sixteenth century, twenty-four in the seventeenth century, twenty-eight in the eighteenth century, thirty in the nineteenth century, and forty-four in the twentieth century. The first decade of our present century already brought us twelve famines, putting humanity on course for one hundred twenty famines before 2100. It has been estimated that the famines of the past century took more lives than the entire population of the Roman Empire at the time of Jesus. Earthquakes of a magnitude of seven or greater also demonstrate the same tragic proliferation with two in the fifteenth century, three in the sixteenth century, seven in the seventeenth century, thirteen in the eighteenth century, twenty-nine in the nineteenth century, and one hundred twenty-three in the last century. However, the first decade of the twenty-first century had already brought us one hundred forty-four earthquakes of magnitude seven or greater! At this rate, planet earth could experience one thousand four hundred forty such earthquakes this century! In the spiritual dimension, we have also seen a full parade of false messiahs, including: Lord Matitreya, Sun Myung Moon, Mother Ann Lee, Bahaullah, Mitsuo Matayoshi, Yahweh ben Yahweh, Father Divine, Theudas, Judas of Galilee, Simon of Peraea, Athronges the Shepherd, Shimon Ben-Kosiba, Moses of Crete, David Alroy, Sabbatai Zevi, Jacob Frank, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, and many more.
Much of the prophetic teaching of today’s church centers around explanations of ten toes, four horses, seventy years, seven vials, two witnesses, one hundred forty-four thousand evangelists, the mark of the six hundred sixty-six, and the thousand-year reign. Yet we have often overlooked the one thing in prophecy that so personally affects us – the two who have become one, our homes. Jesus Christ prophesied divorce and remarriage, pornography, and homosexuality (Matthew 24:37-38, Luke 17:28). Paul of Tarsus prophesied run-away kids, rebellious children, teen pregnancies, abortion, euthanasia, child abuse, homosexuality, divorce, and unwed couples (II Timothy 3:2-3, I Timothy 4:3). The Old Testament prophet Zephaniah (Zephaniah 1:18) and the New Testament apostle James (James 5:3) predicted economic collapse in the end times. Daniel prophesied a dramatic increase in travel and education. (Daniel 12:4) Both the Old and New Testaments (Joel 2:28-29, Acts 2:17-18) add one other indicator of the last days, a universal outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
We could spend pages on the moral condition of the human race as predicted by Jesus and Paul. But regardless of all that could be said concerning immorality and corruption in the world today, it would be difficult to use those statistics to pinpoint our present generation as the terminal generation for life as we presently know it on Planet Earth. However, these conditions are too subjective to use as a definite sign of end. Writers of almost every generation have described their generation in apocalyptic terms. In fact, I have read some publications from previous centuries that were powerfully convincing that the human condition fit the biblical description of the end time; however, the world did not end then – and we can’t be sure that the lifestyles of today are the final fulfillment of prophecy. Therefore, let’s focus our attention on a couple issues that might be a bit more quantifiable. But first, I’d like to draw your attention to the context of the whole discussion that the disciples had with Jesus when He told them about TETWAWKI.
The Fig Tree Parable
With the sound of the exuberant crowd still echoing in His ears, Jesus ducked away from the throngs to look around the temple. It would almost seem out-of-place for the Palm Sunday triumphant entry to be so anticlimactically punctuated – that is unless we read and understand the passages that follow Mark 11:11. Immediately after this glorious entry into Jerusalem where He was being boisterously proclaimed as the promised Son of David and the Messiah, Jesus left the celebrant followers behind and took time to investigate the temple and the activities going on inside it. By doing so, He set the pattern for His activities and teachings of the next few days.
On that very next morning, He stopped on the top of the Mount of Olives to check out a fig tree and found that it was bearing many leaves but no fruit. His response was that the tree was to be cursed and that no man would ever eat fruit of it again. After this seemingly vindictive interlude, Jesus continued His journey into Jerusalem. There, He purged the temple of the moneychangers and sacrifice sellers. It was also there that the scribes and chief priests plotted together to kill the carpenter-prophet-messiah. The following morning, Jesus and His followers passed by the fig tree again and Peter discovered that now – only twenty-four hours after Jesus’ command – the tree was dead and withered from its roots. Jesus responded that not only would fig trees wither but that a whole mountain would be cast into the sea. Those who stood with Jesus as the early morning sunrays beamed across the peak of the Mount of Olives and turned the white stones of Jerusalem and the gleaming marble of the temple to the effervescent hues that gave it the name “Jerusalem of Gold,” could think of only one mountain when the Teacher’s words “this mountain” touched their ears. To them, standing in the spot that is even today the most popular vantage point and the most photographed view of Jerusalem, the only mountain on their minds was the stunning Temple Mount that lay in all its panoramic splendor before them. They may not have taken immediate notice of it, but it wouldn’t be too long until they understood that their beloved Jerusalem and Israel would face the same destiny as that withered fig tree.
That evening, as Jesus and His little band of followers returned to the brow of the Mount of Olives, they paused for a moment to look back at the city of Jerusalem. At that moment, the disciples possibly had no recollection of the fact that earlier that same day Jesus had told them that the mountain of Judaism would face the same demise as the withered fig tree. On top of the mount, they paused to point out the beauty of the scene before them. Jesus jolted them back to the reality of the day by saying that the city was ripe for such utter destruction that not one stone would be left on top of another one. He went on to prophesy the Roman invasion of AD 70 and the subsequent scattering of the Jews among all the nations of the world. The mountain of Judaism was to be cast into the sea of the nations (a prophetic symbol explained in Revelation 17:15).
After a fairly lengthy discussion of the horrors of the future, Jesus added, Now learn a parable of the fig tree. Certainly, each and every disciple’s mind flashed to the fig tree that they had seen wither that morning. Jesus did not say “learn a parable from a fig tree”; He specifically said “the fig tree.” Here, just a matter of paces away from the tree that had so dramatically perished only hours before, they couldn’t help but realize that the up-coming parable was going to be based on the fruitless tree that had been cursed. Jesus, undoubtedly, shocked them with His next line, When her branch is yet tender, and she putteth forth leaves. The withered tree – the one dried up from the very roots – would someday have tender branches again and begin to put out new leaves! Even though Jerusalem was facing utter destruction and Israel was facing a worldwide deportation, God promised that she would live again!
For just short of nineteen centuries, the Jewish people were outcasts from the land of Israel. The real estate that had been deeded to Abraham was trampled under the feet of the Romans, Byzantine Empire, the Islamic Arab insurgents, the Catholic crusaders, Saladin and his Muslim successors, the Ottoman Turks, and the British Mandate administrators. The land lay in a virtual state of mourning that its rightful owners were in exile. No ruling power was able to bring back the glory of Israel’s past. The majesty of Solomon’s day was gone forever. The glory of David had faded. The land that once flowed with milk and honey became a waste land and – as the prophet of old would say – a habitation of dragons. (Isaiah 34:13) Under the Turkish rule, a heavy tax was placed on each tree standing on any piece of property. The result was a denuding of the land that led to erosion and even a climatic change to a more arid and hotter environment. We can readily see the withered fig tree image in the description left us by the great American author Mark Twain when he made his 1869 pilgrimage:
Of all the lands there are for dismal scenery, I think Palestine must be the prince. The hills are barren, they are dull of color, they are unpicturesque in shape. The valleys are unsightly deserts fringed with a feeble vegetation that has an expression about it of being sorrowful and despondent. The Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee sleep in the midst of a vast stretch of hill and plain wherein the eye rests upon no pleasant tint, no striking object, no soft picture dreaming in a purple haze or mottled with the shadows of the clouds. Every outline is harsh, every feature is distinct, there is no perspective – distance works no enchantment here. It is a hopeless, dreary, heartbroken land…Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes. Over it broods the spell of a curse that has withered its fields and fettered its energies. Palestine is desolate and unlovely. And why should it be otherwise? Can the curse of the Deity beautify a land?
To fully understand the significance of Jesus’ parable about the fig tree, we should parallel the timetable of the budding of the fig tree that represents the rebirth of the nation of Israel with the budding of all the trees (Luke 21:19) that represent the fulfillment of other prophecies of the end of time. As we have already indicated, two of these prophecies include Jesus’ statement in Matthew 24:14, And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations, and then shall the end come, and the Apostle Peter’s prophecy in Acts 2:17, It shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my spirit upon all flesh. From these two passages, we can see that the end of time is to be characterized by worldwide evangelism and a supernatural visitation of the Holy Spirit. Interestingly enough, each time a new leaf has begun to bud in Israel, a new wave of evangelism and spiritual activity has occurred.
In 1897, Theodor Herzl hosted the first Zionist Congress that led to the desire to re-establish a Jewish homeland. That same time period witnessed a great shift in technology and spiritual movement. Certain new inventions had to be brought into being in order for all the nations of the earth to be reached with the gospel. One necessary invention was the airplane. For the whole world to come into the grasp of evangelists, a remarkably faster form of transportation had to be birthed – and it was on the sandy hills of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, when Orville and Wilbur Wright made their first forty-yard flight in 1903. Another necessary innovation was the mass communication tool of radio. For one message to reach the whole world, a vehicle for spreading the message had to be birthed – and it was when Guglielmo Marconi sent the first radio message in 1895 and R. A. Fessenden sent the first voice broadcast in the year 1900. These two inventions moved the church into a whole new mode of evangelism. It was also at the turn of the century that a whole new wave of the supernatural began to sweep across the globe. This spiritual explosion detonated at the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles in 1906 and soon echoed around the world. Just like the age-old dream for a homeland in the heart of the disposed Jew was now coming to pass and the unthinkable notions of defying gravity and space were suddenly coming into human grasp, the church was suddenly heir to an almost forgotten promise of the floods of the latter rain of the Holy Spirit in the time of harvest.
As we follow the development of the buds on Israel’s fig tree, we can note several important stages. At each point that the fig tree’s leaves unrolled, we can see that there was also an intensification of the movement of the Holy Spirit and a development in world evangelism. On May 15, 1948, Israel was declared an independent nation. In the arena of world evangelism, God was also doing supernatural things. This was the beginning of the great healing revival – the second wave of the Holy Spirit’s outpouring. It was in that year that Oral Roberts incorporated his non-taxable religious corporation. William Branham, T.L. Osborne, and Billy Graham also got their starts in evangelism at this time. In the area of travel and communications, commercial air travel and television were just coming into their own. It was also in 1948 that the transistor was invented, opening the way for radios and televisions to become household items around the world.
In July of 1956, Egypt seized the Suez Canal from its British and French owners. This aggression culminated in an Israeli attack through the Sinai Desert. In the church, 1956 was a year of marked attacks against the move of God. In both the US and Britain, the national medical associations took official stances against divine healing, and some healing evangelists were actually taken to court on the grounds of practicing medicine without a license.
In 1967, after several threatening actions by the surrounding Arab states, Israel decided to strike before being struck. On June 5, Israeli planes simultaneously attacked bases in Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. In the ensuing Six Day War, Israel took the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank, the Old City of Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. In the church, an unprecedented charismatic move of God swept into the Catholic Church.
On Yom Kippur in 1973, when the entire Israeli army was in fasting and no national broadcast service was operating, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel, but found Israel to be unsinkable even at her most unprepared moments. Just at this period of history, the Word and Faith movement was beginning to emerge. This was a new breed of men and women of God who dared to believe the promises of God’s Word and act in faith to see them fulfilled. Fearlessly they went after and obtained whatever the Lord offered them. These were men who knew how to believe God for millions of dollars to reach millions of lost souls.
Lester Sumrall, just one example, took hold of the technology of the twentieth century and led the Christian world into mass evangelism by radio and television. By the time of his death in 1996, he operated a local FM radio station, a network of nearly a dozen television stations, twenty-four-hour-a-day satellite broadcasting, and five shortwave stations covering the entire globe with the full gospel evangelical message! He also took hold of the modern transportation system and became the first non-governmental operation to own a military-type C-130 plane for transporting food, medical supplies, gospel literature, and other relief materials to the needy nations of the world.
Concerning the universal outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Vinson Synan, Regent University professor and historian of the Pentecostal movement, estimated that more than one fourth of the world’s Christians are Pentecostal or charismatic. He said that there are almost two billion people who profess the Christian faith, and that more than half a billion of them are charismatic or Pentecostal. He cited South Korea as an example of how the faith had impacted a whole nation. In 1900, the country was considered one of the most resistant mission fields in the world. Today, thirty percent of the population is Christian, making Christianity the largest faith group in the nation. About sixty percent of Korean Christians are Pentecostal.
Concerning Jesus’ promise in Matthew 24:14 that the gospel of the kingdom would be preached to every ethnic group before the Lord’s return, John Elliott, director of World Outreach, said that there is a real possibility that every unreached people group will have the gospel within twenty to thirty years! Even though over six thousand of the world’s approximately sixteen thousand ethnic groups are still considered unreached and over two and a half billion of the world’s almost seven billion citizens are members of these unreached groups, and only twenty-four hundred of the planet’s almost seven thousand currently spoken languages have some or all of the Bible, the advancements in technology and the anointing of the Spirit upon today’s ministries are causing an explosive rate of advancement like never before known. For example, in the early 1990s, missiologists estimated there were fourteen thousand language groups without access to a viable church. Elliott reported that within just a little over a decade that number was reduced to about six thousand.
Although we cannot find any unquestionably specific reference to the United States in biblical prophecy, I’d like to take just a minute to consider the possibility that she may be seen as somehow included among the other trees that are to bud in the last days. April 29, 2007, marked the four hundredth anniversary of the first English-speaking prayer meeting on American soil. Having left their homes in England around Christmas of 1606, the colonists had originally tried to come ashore on the beaches of Virginia as soon as they reached land after their grueling journey across the Atlantic. However, an attack by the Chesapeake Indians left them injured and scurrying back aboard. Upon returning to the ship, the exploration party’s young Anglican chaplain, Robert Hunt, suggested that the company regroup and pray for three days. Only after purifying their hearts and spirits did they make a second attempt as Chaplain Hunt led them ashore on what is now known as Cape Henry. Upon reaching the beachhead, the settlers held a prayer service, planted a cross on the sand dunes, dedicated the new land to God’s purposes, and declared that the Gospel would be carried to the entire world from those shores. And God did answer that prayer in that the United States of America, with only nineteen percent of the world’s Protestants and twenty-one percent of the world’s evangelicals, would eventually rise to the preeminent position of missions leadership by producing seventy percent of the present missions force and eighty percent of missions funding. It seems to me that there might be something prophetic about this four hundredth anniversary of that historic prayer meeting in which it was proclaimed that the gospel would go out to the ends of the earth from the shores of this new land. There were four hundred years of silence from the last word of the terminal prophet in the Old Testament until the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem – four hundred years of incubation anticipating the manifestation of God’s incarnate son. There was also four hundred years between the time when Joseph passed from the scene of action in Egypt and the rise of Moses as the deliverer of the Israelites – four hundred years of slavery awaiting a great deliverance. Is it possible that these most recent four centuries have been only the preparation for the last great missionary thrust that will bring the gospel of the kingdom to every nation under heaven? Is it time for another unprecedented move of the Holy Spirit? Is it time for another bud to burst forth from the withered fig tree?
Gog and Magog
It happens that we know a bit of pre-written history concerning Israel’s future. Beginning in chapter thirty-six of his prophetic book, Ezekiel prophesied the return of the Jews to their homeland and the rebirth of their nation – the budding of the fig leaves, if you please. In chapter thirty-eight, he described a dramatic conflict in a play-by-play action report. This scenario has to do with the nation of Russia and her attempt against Israel. According to the prophetic word, Gog of the land of Magog – the chief prince of Mesheck and Tubal – will align herself with Persia, Ethiopia, Libya, Gomor, Togarrmah, and many other people to attack a land brought back from the sword. Bible scholars concur that this refers to Russia in alliance with Iran, Iraq, and Muslim Africa. An interesting term is used in verse four where God says, I will put hooks in your jaws. Although I don’t consider myself a great angler, I do know one thing from the few fish I have managed to get on a line: the hook is a means of bringing an unwilling subject to an undesired location! God is declaring here that He will pull Russia against her will into a conflict in Israel. Is there anything happening in the world today that could possibly become a hook that could draw Russia into an aggressive attack against Israel? Perhaps it can be seen in Russia’s connection with Iran. In the past few years, Russia – the world’s leading arms dealer – has increased her military shipments to Iran. In fact, the value of the arms transfer agreements between Iran and Russia ballooned from three hundred million dollars between 1998 and 2001 to almost two billion dollars between 2002 and 2005. It is suspected that many of these weapons eventually wound up in the hands of radical groups such as the Hezbollah and the Hamas. Since 1992, Russia has sold Iran hundreds of major weapons systems, including tanks, air-to-air missiles, and combat aircraft. She has also agreed to sell Iran a surface-to-air missile defense system along with air-defense missile systems to defend its soon-to-be-completed Russian-built nuclear reactor. There are also plans to upgrade Tehran’s military with Russian anti-aircraft missiles that can intercept enemy aircraft from ninety to one hundred eighty miles away. Iran is also building up its naval presence with Russian-made high-speed torpedoes capable of destroying large warships or submarines. These weapons are going to a nation whose leaders believe that it is their divine destiny to usher in the return of the Islamic messiah by destroying Israel (the Small Satan) and the United States (the Great Satan). Their feverish attempts to build, buy, or steal nuclear weapons in their attempt to trigger the End of Days continue to push them deeper and deeper into an alliance with Russia. All the while, Israel is making no secret of her concern over Iran’s development of nuclear weaponry. Many of Israel’s leaders feel that the international community is looking to them – and even expecting them – to launch a strike against Iran to stop their progress toward nuclear armament. Efraim Inbar of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv’s Bar-han University analyzed the present situation, “They will be very happy if we do their dirty work for them. The world is moving into ‘What can we do about it?’ mode. There is a strong instinct here to do it on our own.” To many in Israel, the situation is reminiscent of 1981 when the Jewish state acted on its own in bombing the Osirak reactor in Iraq and 2007 when it launched a unilateral strike on a suspected nuclear site in Syria. Many in Israel see a narrow window in which to act. “Time is running very, very short right now,” said Ephraim Asculai, a longtime veteran of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission. If Israel does act, Russia will no doubt be pulled as if with a hook in her jaw into retaliation.
Ezekiel gave a dramatic description of the decimation of the Russian horde that will result from their attack.
And it shall come to pass at the same time when Gog shall come against the land of Israel, saith the Lord God, that my fury shall come up in my face. For in my jealousy and in the fire of my wrath have I spoken, Surely in that day there shall be a great shaking in the land of Israel; So that the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the heaven, and the beasts of the field, and all creeping things that are upon the face of the earth, shall shake at my presence, and the mountains shall be thrown down, and the steep places shall fall, and every wall shall fall to the ground. And I will call for a sword against him throughout all my mountains, saith the Lord God: every man’s sword shall be against his brother. And I will plead against him with pestilence and with blood; and I will rain upon him, and upon his bands, and upon the many people that are with him, and overflowing rain, and great hailstones, fire, and brimstone. Thus will I magnify myself, and sanctify myself; and I will be known in the eyes of many nations, and they shall know that I am the Lord. Therefore, thou son of man, prophesy against Gog, and say, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against thee, O Gog, the chief prince of Mesheck and Tubal: And I will turn thee back, and leave but the sixth part of thee, and will cause thee to come up from the north parts, and will bring thee upon the mountains of Israel: And I will smite thy bow out of thy left hand, and will cause thine arrows to fall out of thy right hand. Thou shalt fall upon the mountains of Israel, thou, and all thy bands, and the people that is with thee: I will give thee unto the ravenous birds of every sort, and to the beasts of the field to be devoured. Thou shalt fall upon the open field: for I have spoken it, saith the Lord God. And I will send a fire on Magog and among them that dwell carelessly in the isles: and they shall know that I am the Lord. So will I make my holy name known in the midst of my people Israel; and I will not let them pollute my holy name any more: and the heathen shall know that I am the Lord, the Holy One of Israel. Behold, it is come, and it is done, saith the Lord God; this is the day whereof I have spoken. And they that dwell in the cities of Israel shall go forth, and shall set on fire and burn the weapons, both the shields and the bucklers, the bows and the arrows, and the handstaves, and the spears, and they shall burn them with fire seven years: So that they shall take no wood out of the field, neither cut down any out of the forests; for they shall burn the weapons with fire: and they shall spoil those that spoiled them, saith the Lord God. And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will give unto Gog a place there of graves in Israel, the valley of the passengers on the east of the sea: and it shall stop the noses of the passengers: and there shall they bury Gog and all his multitude: and they shall call it The valley of Hamon-gog. And seven months shall the house of Israel be burying of them, that they may cleanse the land. (Ezekiel 38:18-39:12)
Perhaps this destruction of the invasion forces will be the next event – possibly the final one – that will allow Israel to extend her boundaries to the prophesied limits of the Euphrates River and set in motion the prophecies concerning the rise to power of the Antichrist and his eventual move against the covenant land and people.
If this bud does begin to unfold, we can also expect a dramatic new wave of world evangelism and a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And, indeed, the time is ripe for both.
History in the Crosshairs
Galatians 4:4 says that God sent forth His son into the world in the fullness of time. If we stop to think about it, we will realize that the time when Jesus came to sojourn among us earthlings was a unique “crosshairs moment” in the history of the human race.
In the succession of empires, the Romans had recently conquered the Greeks and established Pax Romana (the Roman peace) throughout the then-known world. Because of their worldwide domination and the force with which the Romans ruled the subjugated nations, history saw its first universal open-door policy allowing citizens of any area to freely travel to any other region over which the Roman flag fluttered. The ever-present Roman militia guarded the highways and ports, ensuring a previously unknown security for travelers. Not only was travel safer than at any previous point, it was also more convenient and practical than at any point previous. In order to guarantee quick movement of their troops to any corner of their empire, the Romans had engineered a remarkably advanced highway system linking even the most far-flung regions. When two millennia later we use the expression, “All roads lead to Rome,” we are still attesting to the existence of the intricate highway system that marked the days of the Roman Empire. These roadways were nothing less than engineering marvels of their day. In fact, I have personally driven for miles on their ancient road beds and ridden across their bridges that have stood for over two thousand years and today carry the full load of modern automobiles, trucks, and buses. But what does the Roman highway system have to do with the birth of the messiah? Everything – because He came to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord (Luke 4:19) and that message could not travel to the ends of the earth without a good highway system and safe passage for the messengers who were to carry it – a reality under the Roman rule that would have been nothing more than a pipe dream in any previous generation.
Not only did God send His Son into the world when transportation was uniquely possible, He also sent His Son at a remarkably specific moment when the entire world understood one amazingly precise language. When Alexander the Great died in his drunken stupor lamenting that at age thirty-three there were no more worlds for him to conquer, he left behind an empire sweeping around the Mediterranean and sprawling as far as India – an empire that would soon be unified by the Greek language and philosophy. The Hellenizers who would march in behind him had no doubt that the Greek culture was immeasurably superior to any civilization under their domination. With unflagging zeal and devotion, they set about the task of converting each conquered people to their language and philosophy. Before long, one universal language dominated in education, legal matters, and literature. Again we may ask ourselves what this has to do with the coming of Christ. And again we must answer, “Everything” – because Jesus came into the world as the Word of God (John 1:1) and that word needed to be understood accurately and correctly. No other language has ever graced human lips with as precise a vocabulary and syntax with which to convey its message. With more verb forms and more explicit definitions than any other language, Greek was the ideal vehicle to convey the greatest story ever told. Not only was the language extraordinarily precise, it was universal. Until the exact moment in which Christ entered the scene, there had not been another point in history since the Tower of Babel when there was the possibility of presenting the message in one language and expecting that it would be able to be understood no matter how many miles it would cross. Prior to the spread of the Greek language, the message would likely not be understood on the next corner, much less another continent.
Not only was the world politically, linguistically, and physically prepared for God’s miraculous message, it was spiritually pregnant in anticipation of a divine invasion. All of the major world religions of the time were in a state of flux, essentially redefining themselves. Although Hinduism had existed for a thousand years, it was going through its greatest period of crystallization at precisely the point in which Jesus came. Siddhartha Gautama had experienced his enlightenment some five hundred years prior, but Buddhism as a codified religion was just emerging at the time that the Christmas star appeared in the eastern sky. Of course, Judaism is the religion of the Old Testament, or is it? Listen to the rabbis and read the scholarly books of the faith and you will find that the real foundation upon which their beliefs are based is the Talmud, a collection of the sayings of their rabbis – a collection that was only brought together and preserved in writing at the time when the Christian faith was being birthed. Not only were these living faiths in their adolescent stages, reaching their spiritual puberty; but two other major religions were passing from adulthood to old age and were ready to die. The mythology of the Greek and Roman religions had stood as explanations of nature and the meaning of life for centuries; yet just as BC gave way to AD, the masses began to see these stories for what they really were – nothing more than fables and the imagery of old men’s imaginations. Again, we ask what does this have to do with the coming of the Messiah. And again we answer, “Everything” – because Jesus came into the world to save men from their sins (Matthew 1:21), something that men would not accept as long as they felt secure in their own religions.
It was into a world where every major element had come to a focal point when Jesus came in His first advent. And it will be into a world that is just as much in the crosshairs that He will come in His second advent. That world will be one in which men can freely travel from one end of the globe to the other in order to communicate the end-time message of the gospel – a world like the one we live in today. Just two centuries ago when William Carey left the shores of Britain as the first modern Protestant missionary, he faced five months at sea before he would set foot on Indian soil. Today, we can reach any place on the face of the earth, preach the gospel, set up a church, and head back home in less time than Carey had to contend with seasickness. The world to which Jesus will appear in His Second Coming will be a world that will be able to hear the message in one universal media – a world like the one we live in today. When Wycliffe USA, a Bible translating organization, received an anonymous gift of fifty million dollars in late 2008, they announced that the funding would allow them to use cutting-edge translation techniques to accelerate the pace of language development and Bible translation for the world’s remaining language groups. The previous estimate that it would take between a hundred and one hundred fifty years to complete the task was cut overnight to a mere seventeen years! When Jesus returns, He will come back to a world whose religions have failed them – a world like the one in which we live today. According to researcher George Barna, American churchgoers don’t feel that they are communicating with God. Only about seventy-five million of the three hundred million people who live in America attend church every Sunday – and most of them don’t believe that attending church has helped them experience God’s presence. Less than a third of those who go to church feel that they are interacting with God during the service, and an additional third said they have never experienced God’s presence. The world is again in the crosshairs, ready for the appearance of the Messiah.
Until the Number is Complete
There is one other indicator that we must not overlook: Jesus’ statement that Christians were to be hated and killed in all nations – a prophecy that He re-emphasized as part of His last instructions to His disciples.
These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended. They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me…If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me. (John 16:1-3, 18-21)
As I read these words from our Master, I am convinced that Jesus is talking about a universal persecution that will engulf the church worldwide – including the United States and Canada! And the persecution that we should expect is more than simply being excluded from the lunch bunch at work.
The church has always known persecution; remember the Christians versus the lions. I once saw a cartoon depicting a modern-day man watching a television program about the early Christians being fed to the lions in the Roman amphitheater. The caption read, “Christianity didn’t used to be a spectator sport.” A follow-up line added, “It still isn’t.” The truth is that today the Christian faith is experiencing more widespread attacks than at any other time in history. More Christians were slaughtered in the past century than the total casualities in World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War, and the Korean War combined! Yet, most of us have no concept that over two hundred million of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world live under severe conditions of oppression and persecution. Most of us have no realization of what it means that these believers live under a constant threat of imprisonment, torture, slavery, and even death. Most of us are totally foreign to the fact that blood is being spilled every day on behalf of the gospel that we so nonchalantly take as a given in our lives. Human rights researchers estimate that more than a hundred thousand Christians are killed each year for their faith—one every five minutes. Thousands of martyrs are being slaughtered in countries that have Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or other anti-Christian controlled governments. Religious fanaticism is causing problems for Christians in many parts of the world. “Destroy all Christian churches today!” scream typical headlines in prominent Hindu newspapers. Some papers have openly called for a campaign of genocide against non-Hindus who refuse to deny Jesus Christ and convert to Hinduism. Death threats are common both in print and on the field. The Buddhist controlled governments of some Asian countries have been working on exterminating entire tribes of hundreds of thousands of people simply because they are predominantly Christians. Modern helicopter gun ships and armies have been used in some areas to exterminate entire population regions of Christians.
In my ministry around the world, I’ve personally met and worked with precious saints who have endured unspeakable persecution. One friend in Nigeria has been arrested fourteen times and was even shot and left for dead in a mass grave. One church where I preached in Nepal was bombed just a few weeks after my visit, leaving two members dead. In another congregation in Nepal, one lady with a terribly scarred face always graces the front row. When I asked about her disfigurement, I learned that her husband had thrown battery acid on her when he discovered that she was attending a Christian church. A good friend of mine in a Muslim country was kicked out of his home and expected to find his own way in life at age fourteen because he converted to the faith. Other friends have been allowed to remain in their homes but are not allowed to eat because all the food in the home is sacrificed to idols. Many of my friends in Asia have been imprisoned and beaten for their faith and many in Europe have suffered severely under both the Nazi and Communist regimes. One man was kicked repeatedly in the genitals so that he will never have children; yet, he is constantly producing new spiritual children!
Several years ago, a little insert encouraging us to pray for the persecuted church was enclosed in our church bulletin. One startling sentence was emblazoned into my heart as I took the few minutes necessary to read the flier: “By the time you finish reading this page, another brother or sister will have given his or her life for the faith.” One believer is martyred every three and a half minutes. That means that while most churches are making their announcements, one of our brothers has been announced at the Pearly Gates as a new arrival through martyrdom; while we sing one worship song, one of our sisters has performed the ultimate act of worship; in the time it takes most churches to receive the offering, two of our brothers or sisters have made the most acceptable offering possible.
When we realize what suffering our brothers and sisters are enduring, the Holy Spirit will begin to motivate us to pray as He did Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision, “Oh Lord, break my heart with the things that break yours!” Jesus Himself interceded for Peter when He realized that the disciple was headed into a trying ordeal.
And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. (Luke 22:31-32)
As tragic as it is that such atrocities actually occur, it is equally tragic that we find it almost impossible to relate to the fact that they are actually occurring. To all but a few of us, such horrors are always “over there somewhere in another part of the world.” According to Mathew 24:9, there is coming a day when this kind of hatred and persecution will be universal. According to Jesus, it will happen in every nation – and I somehow believe that He was predicting something more severe than the banning of prayer in schools, the dropping of “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, the removal of the Ten Commandments from public buildings, and the forbidding of Nativity scenes on courthouse lawns. If we are really anticipating that these are the end days, we must brace ourselves to live out our faith in the face of every kind of abuse and to be ready to literally walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Revelation chapter six records that the fulfillment of end-time activities must be put on hold until the full quota of martyrs have faced their tragic yet glorious fate.
And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled. (Revelation 6:9-11)