“Are we in the End Times?” Jesus promised that one day He would return to judge the earth and establish His kingdom. Prior to His return, there would be warning signs that the day of His judgement was near. In His final year of ministry upon the earth, His disciples asked Him, “…what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Standing on the Mount of Olives Jesus stated in Luke 21:10-11,
Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.
In His Olivet Discourse, Jesus specifically states that one of the signs of His imminent coming will be pestilences. In Revelation 6 we have the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The first is the white rider who is the future ruler to come. The second horse is the red horse who takes peace from the earth. The third horse is the black horse representing famine. The fourth horse is the pale horse representing death. Authority is given to these riders to judge the earth as stated in Revelation 6:8, “And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.” These two passages and others state that pestilence will kill a massive population of the earth in the end times. This leads many to ask at this time, “Are we in the end times?”
There are four primary theological positions when it comes to eschatology (Theology of the End Times): Preterism, Idealism, Historicism and Futurism. (For a detailed description see my article “Four Views of Revelation” at evidenceandanswers.org) Those who interpret Revelation literally and understand the events of Revelation and the Olivet Discourse as future are futurists, or also known as premillennial theology.
Futurists or premillennialists believe that there will be a future seven-year tribulation period of unprecedented catastrophes as God’s final judgements are unleashed upon mankind. The result will be that over half of the world’s population will be decimated by wars, plague, famine, demonic armies, and cosmic disturbances.
Events That Begin the Tribulation
The seven-year tribulation comes from Daniel 9:27,
And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.
According to this passage, Israel’s future timetable was divided into 70 groups of 7 years for a total of 490 years. The prophecy was to be fulfilled in two phases, the 69 weeks (7+62 in Daniel 9:25) followed by a time gap and then the 70th week. The first phase, the 69 weeks equaling 483 years began with the order to rebuild Jerusalem by Artaxerxes in 444 BCE (Nehemiah 2:1-8) and was fulfilled with the death of Christ and the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. (The Jewish calendar year must be adjusted to our Gregorian calendar) Daniel 9:25-6 states there will be seven weeks “And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary.” “Cut off” indicates that the anointed one will be killed. This amazing prophecy predicts the time when the Messiah will suffer a sudden death. Jesus fulfilled this prophecy. Thus, the first 69 weeks are fulfilled. There is a gap of time between the 69th and 70th week. The final week describes the final and great period of tribulation.
Daniel 9:27 describes two critical events of the 70th week that mark the beginning and the middle of the tribulation. The tribulation begins with the Antichrist signing a peace covenant with the nation of Israel. In the middle of the tribulation, the Antichrist will break the peace treaty, put an end to the sacrifice at the Temple and set up the abomination in the Holy of Holies of the Temple. Jesus stated in Matthew 24:15, “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel standing in the holy place, let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” Antiochus Epiphanes set up an image to his god Jupiter in the holy of holies of the Jerusalem Temple in 167 BCE. Jesus states that this will happen again in the Jerusalem Temple.
What begins the seven-year tribulation is the signing of the peace covenant between the Antichrist and Israel. In order for us to be in the tribulation, there must be a world leader who brings the world under his dominion. This world leader signs a peace treaty bringing a temporary and false peace to Israel.
At this time, there has not arisen a world leader who has brought the world under his authority and signed a peace treaty with Israel. The closest candidate would be President Donald Trump but I do not believe he meets the qualifications of the Antichrist.
Most who are declaring that we are in the tribulation period hold to the post tribulation view of the rapture. This view teaches that the rapture, when the church is suddenly taken out of the world, will occur at the end of the Tribulation period.
I hold to the pre-tribulation rapture position, which states that the rapture will occur before the tribulation. From my position, this is another argument against being in the tribulation at this time. There are several reasons I believe the rapture occurs before the tribulation. I cannot give an extensive treatment, so I will only present a few reasons.
First, 1 Thessalonians 5:2 states that this day will come “like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security.’” The Lord will come suddenly like a thief when the world is not expecting it. Biblical passages indicate that we will know when the tribulation begins, the signing of the covenant between the Antichrist and Israel. Most certainly we will know when we are in the middle of the tribulation when the Antichrist sets up the abomination in the Temple. So, if the rapture is at the end of the tribulation, we will know the time of his coming. Also, when God’s judgments are unleashed upon the earth, people will not be saying, “there is peace and security.” Instead, Revelation 6:15-17 states,
Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?
Second, the church is not appointed to wrath. 1 Thessalonians 5:9 states that, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 1:10 states, “…and to wait for his Son from heaven whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” Revelation 3:10, God tells the faithful of the Philadelphia church, “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world,…” These passages teach that God will keep the church from the time of His wrath.
Third, the church is not mentioned after chapter 4 of Revelation. Those who come to Christ in the Tribulation are distinct from the church; they are called the tribulation saints (Rev. 6:9, 7:9-14).
Fourth is that scripture teaches that Christ’s coming is imminent. Nothing prophetically needs to be fulfilled, and so we are commanded to wait for his appearing. (1 Corinthians 1:7; 16:22; Philippians 3:20; 4:5; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 9:28; 1 Peter 1:13; Jude 21). The rapture is a sudden event with that will come with no warning. However, the second coming of Christ at the end of the tribulation will be preceded by many events that occur during the seven-year tribulation period (Revelation 4–18). If the rapture occurs at the end of the tribulation, we would be instructed to look for the signs of the tribulation not his appearing because that will come after the stunning events of the tribulation.
After the rapture there will be a brief moment before the seven-year tribulation begins. At this time, there will be an Islamic coalition of nations led by Russia that will invade Israel. This is the war of Gog and Magog described in Ezekiel 38-39. There are several views when this battle occurs but I believe it occurs before the actual start of the tribulation for the following reasons.
First, after God supernaturally delivers Israel from this coalition, it takes months to bury the dead and seven years to clear the debris of the war (Ezek. 39:9, 12). Second, with collapse of the Russian and Muslim empires, this opens the door for the final one world empire of the Antichrist to arise. This makes chronological sense.
So, I do not believe we are in the end times for the reasons I stated:
- No worldwide leader has brought the world under his authority.
- The world leader has not signed a peace treaty with Israel.
- The rapture has not occurred.
- The battle of Gog and Magog has not occurred.
Coming Birth Pains
What are we to make of the times? Jesus stated in Matthew 24 and Luke 21 that there will be signs that indicate His return is near. There will be a rise in false teachers, wars, natural disasters, persecution, famine, and pestilence. 2 Thessalonians 2:3 warns us of a great apostasy that will occur before His return. 2 Timothy 3:2 describes a time of great moral decay in the world.
These events have been happening since the beginning of the church age but they will increase in intensity as we near the return of Christ. It does not take long to realize we are seeing these events rise in greater intensity. Although I believe we are not in the tribulation period, we are seeing the birth pains that Jesus foretold would occur before His coming.
The COVID-19 crisis is a pandemic that I believe illustrates how realistic biblical prophecy is. We see how this virus can spread rapidly and kill thousands within days. Even with all our technological advances, we are helpless against such a threat. The fallout from this epidemic reflects in a small way the future fallout that will occur in the end times.
With the spread of the virus, there is an economic fallout threatening to shut down the world financial markets. A worse pandemic that lasts for a longer period could cause an economic collapse, a devaluing of currency and a need for a one world government-controlled currency (Rev. 13:16-17). The shutting down of ports and trains can easily lead to famine and food shortages, sending the cost of a loaf of bread (and toilet paper) skyrocketing as described in Revelation 6:6. I believe this is indeed what we are seeing, a preview of the tribulation. COVID-19 and other disasters are part of the birth pains that will intensify as we near the return of Christ.
A final precursor to the return of Christ that I will mention is that the Gospel will go to the ends of the earth. Jesus stated in Matthew 24:14, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” According to the Joshua Project, there remain 4,600 unreached people groups that have not heard the gospel. It appears that this may be the generation that brings the gospel to the entire world. This is an exciting thought.
Are we in the end times? I do not believe we are in the end times. The events that begin the tribulation period have not yet occurred. However, this pandemic and other natural disasters remind us that we are nearing the return of Christ. Until then, we should be faithfully living for Christ and looking for His coming. Titus 2:11-13 states:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.
As we await His return, Paul exhorts us to live holy lives and to exercise self-control. We are not to panic from fear but instead remain sober and of sound judgment knowing God is in control and we can trust Him even in uncertain times. The term “waiting” means with hopeful expectation. Although there may be difficult times ahead, we wait with joy and hope because we know Jesus is coming and when He does, it will be a glorious finale to all who have eagerly looked for Him.
© Copyright Evidence and Answers April 23, 2020
- Aaron C. Fenlason, “Hope,” ed. Douglas Mangum et al., Lexham Theological Wordbook, Lexham Bible Reference Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014).