The past year has certainly been a “time of trouble” for many people around the world—an unprecedented one in some ways, due to modern technology that enables us to see events unfold in real time all around the globe, and the mass migration of people that has led to culture clashes in some countries. A number of authors, academics, and journalists have written about the struggles people face with identity issues, as they feel their identity has become less grounded in the communities they grew up in. At the same time, the modern life often leads to many feeling isolated, adrift, or without a clear moral compass in ways that other generations didn’t experience in exactly the same way or to the same extent.
Over the last 18 months, we witnessed the world grappling with a disease that easily circled the globe, in part due to international travel, and in ways and at speeds that would not have been possible before. We have seen struggles related to racism, discrimination, and bias; questions about authority and violence; corruption in high places; and interrogations about the boundaries between personal freedom and civic responsibilities. We certainly are living in troublous times in many ways.
Of course, it is important to remember that every generation has experienced its own unique set of challenges, struggles, and growing pains. If we look through history, we see this constant pattern. This is not surprising to Christians, as we know that we live in a fallen world and that sin is a reality that must be confronted in every generation, as it manifests in the evils of poverty, oppression, war, and inhumanity. In that sense, as it was written in Ecclesiastes, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). We are not surprised by world conditions, as we know the cause: humanity’s broken relationship with God and the effects of that brokenness.
As Christians, however, our ultimate hope isn’t in this world or its political systems, as we know these are temporal and will pass away. We count ourselves amongst those described in Hebrews who “have no lasting city, but seek the city that is to come” and desire “a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 13:14, 11:16.). We eagerly look forward to Jesus’ Second Coming, when all the pain, suffering, evils, and injustice will be made right and “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9 NIV). Nearly 2,000 years have passed since John wrote at the end of the book of Revelation, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” and believers have wholeheartedly echoed this sentiment since then and continue to do so today.
Endtime Timetable: Where Are We at?
In light of the specific world situation of these times in which we are living and how it has affected people worldwide, many Christians have been seeking to understand the relevance of current events as they relate to the timetable for Jesus’ Second Coming. Are current world conditions—including modern technology, globalization, the widespread preaching of the gospel, the move to cashless economies and worldwide digital currencies, and the COVID-19 pandemic signs that we have entered, or are entering, the final seven years of the rise of the Antichrist—the signing of the covenant, the mark of the beast, and the Great Tribulation?
This has given rise to a range of opinions, speculations, and interpretations. How can we know which of these positions might be partly or mostly true? How are we to interpret current events in light of their relevance to the endtime, and what conclusions can we draw?
The answers to such questions are to be drawn first and foremost from Scripture and what the Bible cumulatively teaches us about the period immediately leading up to Jesus’ Second Coming. Of course, the exact details of how these events will play out are not as detailed as we would like, but the Bible does provide a clear standard by which to measure opinions, speculations, prophecies, theories, and interpretations. Let’s review some of these.
Signs of the Times
“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. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.”
The version in Luke also includes pestilences in the list of signs (Luke 21:11).
As we look through history, we can see that these “beginning of birth pains” have been occurring since the time of Jesus, which is the period of the “last days” described in the Bible between Jesus’ first and second coming (1 John 2:18, 2 Timothy 3:1–5).
There have been wars and rumors of wars, though in some periods of history much more so than today, such as during the world wars of the first half of the 20th century. There have been, and continue to be, famines, and pestilences—such as Ebola, SARS, COVID-19, and others. But the bubonic or black plague in the 14th century is estimated to have killed 50 million people out of a much smaller world population, and more recently, the Spanish flu in 1918–1920 is also estimated to have killed at least 50 million people. Jesus referred to all these as being only the beginning of sorrows.
From what Jesus expressed, we must look at the cumulative signs of the times, all these things, and not just one sign in isolation when discerning the signs of the times. These signs are found throughout the New Testament and Bible prophecy, primarily in the books of Daniel and Revelation, as well as Matthew 24, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and others.
However, the Bible describes some clear signs that we will see and thus know that the end is “at the very gates”(Matthew 24:33).
Among other things, the Bible tells us that we will see the following:
- Lawlessness will increase and the love of many will wax cold (Matthew 24:12).
- The gospel will be preached in all the world (Matthew 24:14).
- There shall come a great falling away from God (2 Thessalonians 2:3).
- The rise of the Antichrist and the signing of the covenant (Daniel 9:27; 2 Thessalonians 2:3–4).
- The breaking of the covenant in the “midst of the seven years” and the ceasing of sacrifices in the restored temple in Jerusalem (Daniel 9:27).
- We will “see” the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place (Matthew 24:15).
- The institution of the mark of the beast (Revelation 13:16–18, 14:9–11).
- The great tribulation and persecution of Christians described as lasting for 42 months, three and a half years, or 1,260 days (Matthew 24:21–22).
Discerning the Signs of the Times
When we hear of various interpretations of current events and conditions, such as one currently circulating that the COVID-19 vaccine might contain the mark of the beast, or that certain political events indicate that we are now in the last seven years, such things can raise concerns. When deciding whether to give credence to such interpretations or not, our first step should be to measure these against what Scripture tells us about the period leading up to the Second Coming. We need to look at the specifics concerning a particular sign that we have been given. For example, what does Scripture say about the mark of the beast?
According to the information we have been given in Scripture, the mark of the beast is instituted after the covenant is broken and is tied to acceptance of the Antichrist and his reign, and worship of his person (ultimately Satan). (See Revelation 13.) Have we seen the signs that would precede the mark of the beast, such as the revelation of the “man of sin” who “exalts himself above God” and “takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thessalonians 2:3–4)? Scripture seems clear that we have yet to see the signs and conditions that must occur before the mark of the beast is instituted.
We read in Revelation 14:9–11 (NKJV): “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, … and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” From what we can gather from the Scriptures about receiving the mark of the beast, it is clearly tied to worship of the beast and worship of his image. How would that fit in the case of born-again Christians? Could they be tricked into taking a vaccine, secretly being given the mark of the beast?
How would a vaccine received by people for their health fit into the conditions and circumstances outlined in Scripture in which the mark of the beast is instituted and accepted by those who take it, “so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name” (Revelation 13:17)? Would God send people indiscriminately to hell because they unwittingly took a vaccine during a global pandemic? Could the mark of the beast be administered when the Antichrist has not risen, his reign is not visible, and they are not being faced with a choice other than their health?
The Apostle Peter wrote that God is “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Will the God who “so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” hinge people’s eternal destination on a vaccine that is disconnected from other signs of the times? Does this fit with all we know from Scripture of God’s nature—His righteousness, goodness, and holiness? These are the types of questions we must ask ourselves when weighing different theories and interpretations. We must study and weigh the Scriptures to ensure that we are “accurately handling and skillfully teaching the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 AMP).
When attempting to discern the signs of the times, it is important that we weigh scripture with scripture and not take one scripture in isolation. Prophecies related to the last days and the time of the end must be studied cumulatively and in their proper context if we are to see the “big picture” of the endtime. The signs of the times are a collection of events, not a single event. They are not simply a “handful of pearls” of knowledge, but a “string of pearls” that must be strung in their proper chronological sequence.
How to Be Prepared
There is no question that every day that passes brings the world closer to Jesus’ return, and as Christians, we await this triumphant event with eager anticipation, and we want to be prepared for it. Will we experience His Second Coming in our lifetimes? We can’t know that until we see the fulfillment of the definitive signs Jesus and others gave us in the Bible.
So what is the type of preparation that we should be concerned with as followers of Jesus? In Matthew 24, after describing what His followers will face during those final days, Jesus tells the disciples: “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” And Jesus, as if in answer to their unspoken question of how to live in that state of constant readiness, goes on to say,
“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.”
Jesus refocuses the conversation on faithfulness with this reference to the faithful and wise servant, who has been given a responsibility for the master’s household and performs his job diligently. He doesn’t know when his master is going to return, but that doesn’t matter to him; he is focused on being faithful in his work. When the master returns, the servant will be blessed.
Whether or not we will live to see the final seven years of world history in our lifetime, how we live our lives during the time God gives us on earth is what ultimately counts. We are called to love God, love others, share the gospel, do our best to live the teachings of Jesus, and teach them to others. If we are faithful to do these things, we can trust that we will be prepared for whatever comes.