When will Christians learn? It’s no surprise that less than 25 percent of Christians have a biblical worldview. On Bible prophecy, it’s around five percent. That’s my estimation.
A new study has determined by a new LifeWay Research survey that a “majority of pastors say specific current events are a sign of the End Times and Jesus’ return.”
Of the poll of 1,000 evangelical pastors, 50 percent “believe Jesus will return in their lifetime.”
Pastors were asked if they “consider any of the following types of current events to be the ‘birth pains’ that Jesus was referring to when he was asked by his disciples when he would return,” a reference to Jesus’ prophecy found in Matthew 24 and the parallel accounts in Matthew 13 and Luke 21.
Just so you know, the Olivet Discourse is not describing events that will take place to some future generation. Jesus was describing what was going to happen to the generation to whom Jesus was speaking. It was their generation that would not pass away until all the things He described took place.
Let’s state the obvious. There is nothing new about Christians believing they are living in what Hal Lindsey said was the “terminal generation,” the generation that was supposed to pass away before 1988 because of the same signs that are being touted today as proof that we are living in the final generation before one of the five rapture views takes place. When was Lindsey’s book published? In 1977, more than 40 years ago, seven years after The Late Great Planet Earth.
Here’s the breakdown of the signs and the percent of pastors who believe they are signs of Jesus’ near return:
- 83 percent, the “rise of false prophets and false teachings.”
There have always been false prophets and false teachings. John said so:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world (1 John 4:1–4).
There were false prophets in John’s day. There were antichrist’s in John’s day, evidence that it was the “last hour” (1 John 2:18).
There was false teaching during the time leading up to the destruction of the temple in AD 70. Peter wrote the following:
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned;and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep” (2 Peter 2:2–3).
Pastors need to read the Bible rather than the latest headlines, Facebook posts, and podcasts. A little exegesis goes a long way.
- 81 percent, the “love of many believers growing cold” (Matt. 24:12).
Again, such a description is not unique to our day. Jesus is answering a question about when the temple would be destroyed (Matt. 24:1–3), an event that took place before their generation passed away (24:34). The word “believers” is not in the text, only the word “many.” Lawlessness (a word found in the passage) and love growing cold are related: There were problems with homosexuality (Rom. 1:26–31), incest (1 Cor. 5:1), prostitution (1 Cor. 6:15–16), and fornication (1 Cor. 5:1, 11; Rev. 2:20), and general unrighteousness (1 Cor. 6:9–11; 1 Tim. 1:8–11). Paul had warned the Ephesian elders that wolves would enter the church (Acts 20:29). He described to Timothy what was taking place in his day, the “last days” (Heb. 1:1–2) of the Old Covenant (2 Tim. 3:1–7) that was near to passing away (Heb. 8:13).
- 79 percent, “traditional morals becoming less accepted.”
As mentioned in No. 2, lawlessness was a first-century problem. For example, homosexuality was an issue (Rom. 1:26–31). Paul describes the rejection of biblical morality that was prevalent:
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who submit to or perform homosexual acts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor verbal abusers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor. 6:9–11).
You can find something similar in 1 Timothy 1:6–11. Paul was not describing some end-time decline in morality. He was illustrating what was taking place in his day.
- 78 percent, “wars and national conflicts.”
There have always been wars. Actually, there are fewer wars today than there were in the 20th century. “In Rome itself, four emperors came to a violent death in the short space of eighteen months. Were one to give account of all the disturbances that actually occurred within the Empire after Jesus’ death, he would be constrained to write a separate book.”
Darrell L. Bock writes, “Matthew 24:6 appears to suggest that these calamities are in the near future by noting that the disciples ‘are about’ μελλήσετε (mellēsete) to hear of wars and rumors of wars.” ((Darrell L. Bock, Luke: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996), 2:1666.) “Are about to hear” is not an indicator of events in the distant future.))
The Annals of Tacitus, covering the historical period from AD 14 to the death of Nero in AD 68, describes the time with phrases such as “disturbances in Germany,” “commotions in Africa,” “commotions in Thrace,” “insurrections in Gaul,” “intrigues among the Parthians,” “the war in Britain,” and “the war in Armenia.” Wars were fought from one end of the Roman Empire to the other in the days of the apostles.
- 76 percent, “earthquakes and other natural disasters.”
There have always been earthquakes and natural disasters. There were earthquakes in Jesus’ day and the days of the early church. A great earthquake occurred at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion (Matt. 27:54) and another one at His resurrection (28:2). The Bible records “a great earthquake” that shook “the foundations of the prison house” that resulted in the release of Paul and Silas and the other prisoners (Acts 16:26). According to historical accounts, earthquakes were common for that time period, as they are for our time and all time. There were earthquakes in Crete, Smyrna, Miletus, Chios, Samos, Laodicea, Hierapolis, Colossae, Campania, Rome, and Judea. The cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were almost destroyed by an earthquake in AD 62, seventeen years before the cities were wiped off the face of the earth by a volcanic eruption from Mount Vesuvius.
- 75 percent, the “number of people abandoning their Christian faith.”
John writes, “Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:18–19). Paul notes that “all” had deserted him (2 Tim. 4:16).
Consider how bankrupt Christianity was in the 16th century and earlier. It was transformed by the Reformation.
- 70 percent, famines.
There have always been famines, like there have always been wars, earthquakes, false teachers, false prophets, tribulation, and lawlessness. Jesus is describing events leading up to His judgment coming against Jerusalem that would take place before their generation passed away. This included famines: “Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. ((The Greek word is oikoumenē and refers to the political boundaries of the Roman Empire at that time. See Matthew 24:14, Luke 2:1, and Acts 17:6 where the same word is used.)) And this took place in the reign of Claudius” (Acts 11:27–28).
Christians have been applying the same prophetic passages to current events for nearly 2000 years with the same results. Instead of being preoccupied and seduced with claims of some near apocalyptic event, Christians should be about kingdom work. It’s what Paul was doing in the last years of his life:
And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered (Acts 20:30–31).
Go and do likewise.