Revelation: The Culmination of Scripture – 14 (“The Last Days”)
Human curiosity can be a good thing. But it can also be a bad thing. One place where human curiosity often extends beyond legitimate bounds is when it comes to the book of Revelation. People are naturally curious about what the future holds. It is only natural that we seek explanations for those things which plague human existence; evil and human suffering, wars and rumours of wars, earthquakes, floods and famines.
Many preachers and Bible teachers tell us that in the Book of Revelation we will find specific explanations for virtually every current event mentioned on the evening news. We are told that the way we should interpret biblical prophecy is by correlating current events with the things God reveals to us here in the Book of Revelation.
Yes, Revelation addresses the future. But it doesn’t do so by predicting every event which transpires in the Middle East or which affects the global economy. The apostle John is not to be confused with Nostradamus or Siener van Rensburg or the Bulgarian mystic and clairvoyant Vangelia Gushterova, better known as “Baba Vanga,” a kind of latter-day Nostradamus. In apocalyptic literature such as Revelation, John does not intend for us to literally understand the things he reveal. Rather, the apostle paints vivid word pictures depicting the course of redemptive history and the on-going struggle between Christ and his already defeated foe, the Devil, who, like a wounded animal, is all the more vicious before his final destruction (cf. Rev.12:12).
Revelation gives us the big picture of future events by reminding us that God is sovereign over all the affairs of men, and that whatever comes to pass, does so because God has decreed it. Throughout this book, Christ’s church is reminded that God is bringing all of human history to a great and glorious goal, the second coming of Jesus Christ to judge the world, raise the dead and make all things new.
We now come to a new aspect of this vision in Rev.6:1-8:5, where John discusses the opening of the scroll and its seven seals which had been sealed until the time of the end. The scroll reveals God’s purposes during the last days – that period of time between Christ’s first advent and his second coming. The unsealing of this scroll begins a pattern in which God will reveal dramatic information about the future course of redemptive history.
From here on, we will find a series of judgments which occur in a cyclical fashion. There are the seven seal judgments in Rev.6:1-8:5, the seven trumpet judgments in Rev.8:6-11:19 and then the seven bowl judgments of Rev.16. We should not read these sections of Revelation as though they were historical narrative (i.e. Narrative history is the practice of writing history in a story-based form) in which the seal judgments occur in time, chronologically prior to the trumpet judgments, with the bowl judgments finally coming at the end. In apocalyptic literature each of these cycles of judgment overlap. Therefore, what is depicted in the seal judgments covers the entire period of time between Christ’s first and second advents. The same is true for the trumpet and bowl judgments – although the bowl judgments intensify towards the end of time.
When reading about the scroll we must keep in mind that the earth is the setting for the first four seals, as well as the sixth seal, whilst heaven is the setting for the 5th seal. The seventh seal introduces the seven trumpet judgments.
2. SCRIPTURE READING:
Matt.24:3-8 ~ “3 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?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
Matt.24:21-24 ~ 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22 And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. 23 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.
Matt.24:29-31 ~ 29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
3. THE LAST DAYS:
We’ve already seen that the Lamb was the only one who was worthy to open the scroll and that the scroll itself involves the rest of Revelation – “history to come.” Revelation has to do with the consummation (Afrikaans: “voltrekking/volvoering”) of the mystery of all things to come, the goal or end of history for both the over comers and the worshippers of the beast.
The Lamb has taken the sealed book; He is about to open the seals and declare war on the godless world – to send God’s judgements upon the earth. With the opening of each seal in heaven, an important event will take place on earth. It is also important that one must compare these seals with what Christ taught in His Olivet Discourse (i.e. “The Prophetic Discourse” – Afrikaans: “Jesus se “Profetiese Rede”) about the end times in Matt.24 and 25 (as well as Mark 13 and Luke 21). In these passages the events of the last days fall into three periods:
o The period of the false Christ, wars, famines, pestilences, earthquakes, and death, called “the beginning of birth pains” (Matt.24:3-8);
o The period of “the great tribulation” (Matt.24:21-24) and
o The period “immediately after the distress of those days,” when the sun, moon, and stars will be affected and Christ will return (Matt.24:29-31).
It is also important to note that the eschatological reckoning of time, in other words, the events immediately preceding the end, can stretch out over the whole age of the church, from John’s time until now, and can still be viewed as the “next” (4:1), in the sense that the “last days” began in the first century and are still continuing ~ “18Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore, we know that it is the last hour” (1 Joh.2:18).
When mentioning Matt.24, it is another point where the Post- and A-Millennial roads part. The Post-Mil’s believe that Matt.24 is a prophecy about the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., while the A-Mil’s believe that Matt.24 is a prophecy of the last days before Christ’s 2nd coming will take place. Off course, the Pre-Mil’s has it all mixed up, when they read the rapture and all sorts of other things into these and other texts.
Before we commence with the opening of the Seals, let us first look at the three periods of “the last days.”
· The period of the false Christ: The first period is that of the false Christ, wars, famines, pestilences, earthquakes, and death, called “the beginning of birth pains” ~ “And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.” (Matt.24:4-8). Wars, earthquakes, persecutions, and false prophets are all signs of Jesus’ coming, but they indicate only the certainty of judgment, not its time (vss.6, 8). Such signs characterise the entire period between His resurrection and His coming in judgment. Knowing when Jesus would return would lead His disciples to laziness and laxity in their watchfulness. We must realise that false teachers, natural disasters, persecutions and forsaking of the faith by many, will characterise history. We will always have these things. They are painful, and Jesus likens them to “the beginning of birth pains” (vs.8), but they are not signs that the end of the world is near. These things existed in the disciples’ days, and they have existed in every age of Church history up to and including our own. Indeed, some of them have taken a great deal of time to develop – nation rising against nation and the Gospel been preached throughout the whole world, for instance. But the followers of Christ are not to be deceived on the subject, because according to vs.6, “the end is still to come,” during this period of false Christ’s, it will be increasingly difficult to endure, but Jesus said in Matt.24:13 ~ “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
· The period of the great tribulation: The second period is that of the great tribulation (Matt.24:21-24). We read the following in Matt.24:21-24 ~ “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22 And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. 23 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christ’s and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” Jesus warns us that we will experience great tribulation and care should be exercised. We also see that Rev.7:14 speaks about a “great tribulation.” But the tribulation mentioned in Matt.24 and that of Rev.7 are not the same. The context in Rev.7 indicates, that the word tribulation is used there in a far more general sense – because of our faith, every genuine child of God experience tribulation during his life on earth (see: Joh.16:33; Rom.8:18; 2 Cor.4:17; 2 Tim.3:12). Here in Matt.24:21-24 however, Jesus is speaking about a tribulation that will characterise “those days,” a tribulation such as has never been and never again shall be a very brief period of dire distress that shall occur immediately before His return (Matt24:29-31). It is the period mentioned also in Rev.11:7-9; 20:3b, 7-9a. For the sake of God’s chosen ones, the days of this final tribulation shall be cut short. Herein, too, the love of God is made to manifest.
· The period “immediately after the distress of those days”: We read the following in Matt.24:29-31 ~ “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” The third period is the period “immediately after the distress of those days,” when the sun, moon, and stars will be affected and Christ will return. The “distress of those days” refer to the great tribulation. This third period is a period that follows immediately after the great tribulation, without an extended interval of time. During this third period, there shall appear a variety of cosmic disturbances. Then, immediately following, “the sign of the Son of man will appear,” the sign by which He shows His presence, probably the blinding, dazzling glory which characterises Him alone.
“All that tribes of the earth will mourn” (Matt.24:30). Certainly, all the Jews who have rejected the Messiah, and other peoples as well, will be overwhelmed with grief and despair at the site of the One whom they had despised and rejected. Christ’s return will be physical and visible and will involve an extended exposure to mankind. He will send out His angels to gather the elect from the remotest parts of the earth. Presumably these are only believers living on earth at the time, i.e. Tribulation saints who endured to the end of the Tribulation.
What is in view in these verses is the return of Christ in judgement and has nothing to do with the question of a pretribulation rapture (the Pre-Millennialists / Charismatics / Pentecostals).
4. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:
“The End Times” should never be a threat to or source of anxiety or doubt to any genuine believer. If we genuinely believe in the only living almighty and sovereign God, then we should trust in Him for eventual victory, because we’ve seen today, that God rule sovereign over all the affairs of men and whatever comes to pass, happens because God has decreed it and eventually not only human history, but also our lives – we as over comers and worshippers of Christ Jesus, will be brought to a great and glorious end.
We must however, keep in mind that we are already in the midst of the end-times, of the period of “Great Tribulation” – the period of “the beginning of birth pains” (Matt.24:8) and that we as Christ’s children, will endure hardships and persecution, BUT/AND we also have the wonderful promise of Christ’s inescapable return and that we who love Him do not have to fear His judgement, because ~ “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 Joh.5:11-13).
What must we do in order to survive during these end-times? For one, the book by Terry Malone with the title “Tribulation Period Survival Guide” won’t be of any help!
John Piper writes and quotes Greg Beale (Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary) by saying: “Tell-tale marks of the tribulation, according to Daniel 7-12, include persecution and deception through false teaching. The apostles were mindful of how present these things were in their own day, especially the rise of false teaching. Though it seems to have not yet reached its climax, the tribulation clearly has begun (the whole period between Christ’s two comings), and Christians are called to persevere. As individuals, the best antidote is to understand temptation – and know the Bible.
When it comes to Satan, the saying “nothing is new” is very true. The same old tricks, lies and temptations that he used over the past centuries, he is still using in our day. The same way he deceived Adam and Eve at the beginning of history are reproduced by the Biblical authors to characterise his deception at history’s end.
The problem with Adam and Eve were that they did not know God’s word sufficiently or did not esteem it highly enough. When confronted by Satan (in the form of a snake), Eve either failed to remember God’s word accurately or changed it intentionally for her own purposes. First, she minimised their privileges by saying ~ “We may eat,” whereas God had said ~ “You may eat freely.” Second, Eve minimised the judgment by saying, ~ “Lest you die,” whereas God said ~ “You will surely die.” Third, she maximised the prohibition by affirming ~ “You shall not . . . touch,” whereas God originally said only ~ “You shall not eat.”
If Adam remembered God’s Word, then he did not trust it, since he did not come to Eve’s aid when she failed to recollect the word rightly in the face of the serpent accusations. Adam and Eve did not remember God’s word adequately, and they “fell.” When the defence of God’s Word is taken away, all kinds of satanic lies come to fill the void, the desire to resist temptation breaks down, and sin inevitably occurs.
Unlike Adam and Eve, Jesus Christ, knew the Word and, by obeying it, established himself as God’s true last Adam and true Israel. Jesus succeeded against exactly those temptations in which Adam and Israel failed because he remembered God’s Word and obeyed it.”
The heart of the matter is this: Do you know God’s Word, do you believe it, and do you do it? If not, then the lies of the evil one will slip into your lives and into our churches ever so subtly. When this happens and the process goes unchecked and uncorrected, then the deceptions begin to pour in like an overflowing river ~ “The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood” (Rev.12:15). If not, then the false teaching of those “who have gone astray from the truth” will make inroads into the church (2 Tim.2:18).”
We must study and know and talk and pray the Word of God in order to survive “The Great Tribulation.”