The world has always wanted to know when the end will come. Christ promised his return and for almost 2,000 years we’ve been waiting and watching, wondering how and when it will happen. So when is Christ coming? When will the end come? Can we even know?
Perhaps driven by this fascination for the end of the world and the return of the Savior, people have been anxiously anticipating and predicting the Lord return from the moment he left the Earth. Only a few years after the Savior’s ascension, the Apostle Paul censures Hymenaeus and Philetus for their erroneous teaching that the final resurrection of the saints was already past [2 Timothy 2:16-18]. Since this time humanity has not ceased to provide pinpointed dates for the end of all things. Rabbi Jose of Galilee taught that the Messiah would return exactly 60 years after the destruction of Jerusalem, namely, 130 AD. Hippolytus, a leader in the Roman church during the 2nd and 3rd centuries, produced calculations in the year 234 suggesting that the world would see the Christ’s return some time in the 5th century.
Even in more modern times we’ve witnessed similar predictions. The Anabaptists offered 1533 as the year that would mark the end of the age and the beginning of a new millennium. Isaac Newton and William Whiston suggested 1715 as the probably date of the Lord’s return. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have provided at least nine end time predictions, the most recent being for 1984. Author Edgar Whisenaunt published a stirring book entitled “88 Reasons the Rapture is in 1988”. When this year came and went without a glimpse of the Savior “89 Reasons the Rapture is in 1989” was soon on the shelves.
What does the Bible say?
As hard as we try to put a date on the end of the world and the return of the Lord, we’ve had little success. Examining what the Lord says on this subject reveals why we have had such poor luck in the past. Even while the Lord was still walking this Earth, his Apostles shared this same fascination for the end. Speaking of his return, Jesus explained to the Apostles in Matthew 24:36: “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.” Even the Lord Jesus himself said he was uncertain when the Father would send the Son to bring the faithful to heaven. At other points in Christ’s ministry he teaches the same point, that the end cannot be projected or anticipated. He says later in Matthew 24:44: “Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” And again in Matthew 25:13: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” In Revelation 16:15, the Lord rehearses this same message in some of his final words to the church. He says, “Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.” Each time Jesus commands his faithful to wait for his coming, but also explains that predicting when this time would come is impossible. The end, he says, will come as a thief – unexpected, unpredicted, and unwanted for those that are unprepared.
Other authors of the New Testament scriptures were compelled by the Spirit to write similar messages to the churches. Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3: “For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. 3 For when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape.” The Apostles Peter also comments on the unpredictable nature of the end. 2 Peter 3:10: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.”
Although the Lord says to watch and be ready for his coming, he is equally insistent that time of his return is undisclosed and will come at an unexpected time. The message connected to the Bible’s teaching on this subject is not when the Lord is coming, but rather be ready at all times for when he does return to take the faithful home. Peter asks in 2 Peter 3:11-12: “Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness,12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?” And also verse 14: “Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless…” Speaking about the last day, the Apostle Paul says this to the church in 1 Thessalonians 5:6: “Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober.”
This is the overwhelming and urgent message of Jesus and the New Testament: Be Ready! It seems evident from the Scriptures that our concern is to be prepared to meet our God. When this will happen, according to the teaching of the Bible, cannot be known.
What do we know about the End?
Not as much as we’d like. The Lord provides very little information useful in predicting the end; however, he does describe the condition of the world when he does arrive. Possibly speaking of the final generations of the earth, Paul teaches in 2 Timothy 3:1-5: “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good,4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” With a similar tenor, Peter remarks, “knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, 4 and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation’” [2 Peter 3:3-4]. When the Earth is ripe and ready for its end, the faithful will be few and the world will be as godless as ever.
Could this be now? Maybe. The world is certainly as wicked as it has even been, but as the Lord explains, every generation is always worse than the last. 2 Timothy 3:13: “But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.”
Jesus makes another point about what the world would be like in the end. He says in Matthew 24:37-39: “But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 38 For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39 and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” The point is clear: the day on which the Lord returns will be like any other day. Everyone will be about their normal affairs and no one will see it coming. Paul echoes this thought: “For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape” [1 Thessalonians 5:3].
Only God knows when this day will come. Only the saved will be ready. All of the world will be lost. Are you ready to meet your God?
I am a member of the Riverside Road Church of Christ in Ozark, MO, where I share the responsibility of teaching and preaching with several other men. In my secular work, I am a professor at Cox College in Springfield, MO, in the department of radiologic sciences and imaging.