Updated: Oct 11, 2021
Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:6-8 (Emphasis mine)
If you’re anything like me, attending a church that pretends bible prophecy doesn’t exist, can be a weekly exercise in frustration. However, I’ve come to think about it as my mission field where my job is not only to proselytize to the lost but also to wake up the sleeping-saved. Unfortunately, with the way the world is going these days, my job is finally starting to get a little easier.
It has become rather apparent that 21st century Western Christendom has largely regressed into a theological dumpster fire. With an ever-evolving world of technology and rapidly decaying cultural norms, congregations and denominations across the nation who are not grounded in God’s word, are wandering off the theological reservation at an alarming rate. Either they are busying themselves by tilting at social justice windmills (as popularized by Don Quixote and mainstream propaganda), or they are no longer content remaining within the boundaries of traditional Christianity. Therefore, the irony is not lost on me that at a time when the greatest prophetic signs are coming to pass, a majority of Christians are either too sleepy or too disinterested to bother.
While the sum total of all the varying shades of heresy and apostasy we could talk about exceeds the scope of this particular brief, there are five primary categories of Christians I would like to address. For all their differences, all of these groups all share a common thread with regards to how they view and understand Christianity- and that is in how they handle the topic of eschatology (or the study of last things).
Group 1: Pre-Wrath- Post Tribulation believers. Many of the more rural and/or isolated churches have come to embrace a bunker-mentality believing they can somehow ride out the coming hell-on-earth with their canned beans and shotguns. They are witnessing the rapid decay of our world and have been falsely led to believe they will have to ‘endure to the end’ (or halfway) in order to receive their rapture.
Group 2: Kingdom Now believers. Many within the more heterodox-charismatic circles (i.e., health and wealth, new apostolic reformation, and prosperity gospel groups) believe America is on the brink of revival. They believe it is their job to set the conditions for Christ to return. While these groups vary on a lot of things, they all seem to be drinking the same purple, post-millennial Kool-Aid.
Group 3: Amillennial/Preterist believers. The majority of modern denominations have begun the lemming-like, suicidal march over the cliff of theological orthodoxy in their transition away from traditional Christianity. These denominations generally tend to lean left (politically), and would never utter the words prophecy or eschatology within the confines of their dwindling congregations unless it was to slander it. They generally tend to abhor Bible prophecy (and those who believe it).
Group 4: Luke-Warm believers. These tend to be generously intermingled with Group 3. These are the believers who, for the most part, ride the middle-ground of the Christian life. They like going to church, and even better, being seen going to church, but don’t want people thinking they are “too religious.” They know just enough of the Bible to be dangerous, but not enough to contend for the faith when it matters. If there were an eschatological group we could put them in, it would be the “it will all work out in the end” camp.
And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation. Hebrews 9:27-28
Just thinking about the glaring divergence within Christianity today got me thinking about how polar opposite it was to the first-century church. There are many prominent Christian teachers and leaders today who routinely teach that we should not study prophecy at all. For them, it is a waste of time and energy. Instead, they say, we need to spend more time trying to be inclusive and diverse and having conversations about ways the Church can accommodate the shifting values in our culture. They earnestly think we need to turn our focus away from heaven and back to the earth, so we can learn how to be better people. Unfortunately, this has led many denominations down the rabbit holes of critical race theory, LGBTQ+ normalization, open borders, socialism, and many other distractions.
But as history has borne out, we know the early church was very fruitful (obviously right, since we are still here some two thousand years later). But what made the early church so successful? What was it about them that caused Christianity to spread like a wildfire throughout the largely pagan Mediterranean? I think the answer to this was their unified belief in apocalypticism. It was the very fervent belief that Christ would soon return, and given that knowledge, decided to live with that idea at the very center of everything they did…and it showed.
Apocalypticism is the belief that this world will end, usually in dramatic fashion as foretold in some prophecy. As a description of end-times beliefs, widely varied types of apocalypticism are found in different religious traditions. Even within a specific sect, there can be significant differences of opinion over details of the coming apocalypse and when it will occur. Got Questions
The early church was not as divided over how they believed the end would come as we are today. In fact, we don't really see the paradigm shift away from premillennialism (or chiliasm) until after the Edict of Milan in 313AD. The reason for this was the early church still had the apostles alive who routinely helped guide and steer them back into the truth. When the apostles were gone, they had the disciples of the apostles. By then, much of what would become the New Testament had been distributed vis a vis multiplicity throughout Christendom. [Author's Note: please read this fantastic article Theology Adrift: The Early Church Fathers and Their Views of Eschatology for an in-depth discussion on the topic]
When we read through the account of Acts, beginning in chapter 1, we see there was some initial confusion on the disciple’s part who thought the resurrection would trigger the arrival of the Kingdom as promised throughout the Old Testament. However, Christ gently corrected their understanding regarding the subject of the kingdom and did so without rebuking them for asking the question, as "America's Pastor" erroneously taught.
An even greater testimony of this first-century apocalyptic harmony was in the fact they largely didn't have a New Testament (at least for the first twenty years or so). All they had to go on was the Old Testament prophets, Christ's teachings, the apostles, and the Holy Spirit. In fact, Jesus' parting words (knowing the last days would still be a great deal later) told them to get busy sharing the Good News with an increasingly outward focus- first Jerusalem, then Judea, then Samaria, and then to the ends of the earth.
Alternatively, what was the increasing fallout like toward the end of the first century when Christ hadn’t yet returned? Was Jesus to blame for “leading people on” as if He would return within days, weeks, months, years? Clearly, the Apostle Paul thought He would return in his lifetime. Clearly, the men and women who watched the death, burial, and post-resurrection appearances by Christ, must have thought the end was at hand, hence, the timing-based questions posed to Jesus in both the Olivet Discourse and in Acts 1:6-8.
Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” Acts 1:9-11
Side note: I believe this message by the two angels served as both a directional point of reference (where Jesus would be) and as a proviso in how He would return. Anyone who would later come along claiming to be Christ and didn’t arrive in like manner (i.e., personally descending from the sky) should have their messianic claims immediately disqualified.
To be fair, Jesus never told them the end would come in the first century. In fact, when you go back through certain parables and in the Upper Room Discourse (John 14-16), you start to see a pattern with His language indicating "the master" only returning after a long journey. Furthermore, when Jesus' inner circle of disciples had asked Him when the Temple would be destroyed, what the signs would be, and when the end of the age would come (Matt. 24), Jesus began listing things and events that seemed to imply much time would first have to transpire.
Wars, rumors of wars
Deception in the last days
Tribulation and persecution
Love of many growing cold
Gospel going out to all nations
Even still, what was more pressing to the early church was the promise of the blessed hope, especially in light of the growing persecution from both the Romans and the Sanhedrin. These double-edged attacks must have served as Satan’s attempt to both crush the early church, as well as divide the Jewish people from their Christian heritage. Then the sacking of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Jewish Temple, and the beginning of the Jewish diaspora in 70AD would have clearly added fuel to the apocalyptic fire. Needless to say, the first century was rife with apocalypticism. You and I would have thought the same thing had we been living through those days.
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. Matthew 28:18-20 (emphasis mine)
Now, given all the supernatural and cataclysmic events of the first century, as well as the growing persecution, confusion, and skepticism as time wore on, it only makes sense why God gave mankind the book of Revelation near the end of the first century. He wanted to ensure the early church (and us) knew He had not abandoned them. Furthermore, He wanted them to know and have clear guidance regarding what is to come. This is why He gave the last living apostle, John, the book of Revelation. This is also why the book of Revelation (or the Apocalypse of Jesus Christ) is the only book in the Bible in which God gives special blessings to those who read and understand it.
As cryptic and scary as the book of Revelation is often portrayed to be, the name Revelation itself comes from the Greek word apokalypsis (ἀποκάλυψις). Apocalypse simply means a revealing or a revelation. In this case, God is revealing to mankind His plans for the future. He even divided the book up into three sections for us so we could understand it easier (Rev. 1:19). These sections are: what John saw (chap. 1), what is now (chap. 2-3), and what is to come (chap. 4-22).
Similar to the first century, we are once again, living in prophetically charged times. After nearly 2,000 years, there is even more confusion, skepticism, and outright scoffing about our Lord’s return. Christendom is divided like no other time in history, especially on how and when Christ will return. Not to give the devil his due, but it is a testament to Satan’s cunning strategy in how successful he has been in confusing the Christians in these last days. So successful has he been that only a small handful of believers would even be watching and waiting for Christ's return (reminiscent of Christ's birth).
Similarly, there is also much confusion about how the end comes because scoffing and skepticism have crept into the churches disguised as higher criticism and liberal progressivism. Much false hope has also been dealt by foolish date setting, as well as false claims of revival and restoration as if we can somehow will the kingdom back to the earth in our own power. Although a kingdom is coming, it won’t be anything the church can do to bring it to the earth.
In fact, there are so many doctrines of demons floating around today, it is a testament to the Holy Spirit's power that anyone is watching at all. All of these devilish doctrines are designed specifically to attack the authority of the Bible and dismiss with the utmost extreme, the possibility of Christ’s promised return.
It reminds me of the quote by Phil Johnson in which he said, "The gospel’s most dangerous earthly adversaries are not raving atheists who stand outside the door shouting threats and insults. They are church leaders who cultivate a gentle, friendly, pious demeanor but hack away at the foundations of faith under the guise of keeping in step with a changing world.” Ironically, these wolves in sheep clothing, through their soft-spoken belittling of Bible prophecy, have become guilty of fulfilling the very prophecy Peter gives us in the third chapter of his second epistle.
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.”
As previously mentioned, there are five categories of believers in these last days. The fifth category is the faithful remnant who are eagerly watching and awaiting His return. We may not agree on every specific point, but if we believe Christ has to return for the church before the Tribulation (Daniel's 70th Week) begins, then we are holding to the only, biblical, explanation for how the end begins. While our blessed hope is not rooted in the sensational headlines or in the rapid decline we see dismantling our world, but in the very promise of Jesus, who said, when these things begin to happen, look up, lift up your heads, for your redemption draws near (Luke 21:27).
Christianity is, by its very nature, apocalyptic. Just as there was a definite beginning, there will be a definite end to life as we know it. Furthermore, we expect the end to come because God's word spends nearly 30% of its literary real-estate telling us it will come. Those believers who either deny or pervert this truth will suffer the consequences (Rev. 3:3). We are told not just to watch, but to eagerly watch and wait for His return. We can still do this and occupy until He returns. Let us be the good stewards and servants of our master, and He will reward our faithfulness accordingly.
And you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. And if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. Luke 12:36-38