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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, December 09 2021

An overview of end time prophecy

Human beings want to know what's going to happen, if for no other reason than their personal protection, but the real purpose of prophecy is to help us evaluate our personal conduct in light of God's Word—before the prophesied circumstances come to pass.

An overview of end time prophecy
Prophecy tells of a final revival of a major European geopolitical power that must come to pass.
by Jerold Aust

God is merciful and loving, and His Word is full of warnings to get sinful human beings to turn from sin and avoid its painful and inevitable consequences. God derives no pleasure from the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11).

Many Bible stories validate the purpose of prophecy, but few highlight it better than the story of Judah and Babylon. For many years God warned the kingdom of Judah not to follow the ways of the neighbouring kingdom of Israel. Because of their many sins and refusal to turn from their wicked ways, God had let the ten tribes of Israel be conquered by Assyria and carried away from their homeland in two massive deportations—in 733 and 722 B.C.

Nearly a century later, God allowed the righteous king Josiah to reign over Judah in a last-ditch effort to save the Jewish nation from imminent captivity (2 Chronicles 34:1, 26-28). He also sent the prophets Jeremiah, Zephaniah and Habakkuk to warn them, but after Josiah's untimely death the people of Judah quickly returned to their sinful ways and, like Israel, they too were invaded and taken into captivity.

God has used the same approach in our modern world. Jesus Christ gave an overview of end-time prophecy shortly before His crucifixion to warn those living just before His return to this earth to change their ways and turn from sinful, indulgent ways of life.

These prophecies are recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21, and correspond to the seals of the book of Revelation, which once opened remain in place until Christ's return.

First seal: Revelation 6:2 (corresponding to Matthew 24:4-5) tells of the spread of false Christianity, which began shortly after Jesus' resurrection and the founding of the New Testament Church. This false Christianity is a religious mixture derived partly from the Bible and partly from non-biblical beliefs and traditions originating in ancient pagan religions.

A number of New Testament writers spoke of this counterfeit Christianity (2 Corinthians 13-15; Jude 3-4; 1 John 2:18-19; 4:1), which the apostle Paul labelled "the mystery of lawlessness." It will play a major role in end-time deception leading up to Christ's return.

Second seal: Revelation 6:3-4 and Matthew 24:6-7 tell of "wars and rumors of wars." There have always been wars and rumours of wars and Jesus said they would continue to the end, escalating into a final bloodbath that will take the lives of no less than a third of mankind (Revelation 9:15-16).

Third seal: Revelation 6:5-6 and Matthew 24:7 show the earth will be plagued with major famines, starvation and hunger. While there have always been famines, as time goes on they will grow worse and worse. Famines follow hard on the heels of war, and millions will die from starvation.

Fourth seal: Revelation 6:7-8 and Matthew 24:7 reveal the world will be plagued by deadly diseases and terrible disasters. Famine leads to diseases and both flow from man-made carnage and natural catastrophes. Widespread pandemics will decimate large populations, as the bubonic plague did in the 14th century, when it killed a third of the population of Europe, Russia, China, and cities on associated trade routes. Currently the world is struggling with the COVID19 virus.

Fifth seal: Revelation 6:9-11 and Matthew 24:9-12 tell of great persecution and the martyrdom of God's faithful servants. As Jesus Himself said, "A servant is not greater than his master, if they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you" (John 15:20). Paul similarly wrote, "All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12).

This increased persecution of those who follow the true God and His teachings introduces the time of the Great Tribulation. Other passages reveal that the intensifying persecution will extend to not just Christians, but to the physical descendants of ancient Israel. (See our free booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy).

Sixth seal: Revelation 6:12-17 and Matthew 24:29 describe terrifying signs in the sky—the sun and the moon darkened—and what appears to be a meteor striking the earth. These events introduce the time of God's wrath (Revelation 16:1; 19:15), which Scripture calls "the day of the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 5:2; Malachi 4:5), and leads directly into Jesus Christ's climactic second coming.

Not all prophecies are understandable today, but God has revealed a few other end-time conditions that must be in place before Christ Jesus returns, which have only been met within the last century:

The possibility of human annihilation

Since 1945 and the detonation of the first atomic bombs, followed by even more destructive hydrogen bombs, humanity now has the ability to destroy all human life many times over. Jesus said of the time of the end: "It will be a time of great distress; there has never been such a time from the beginning of the world until now, and will never be again. If that time of troubles were not cut short, no living thing could survive; but for the sake of God's chosen it will be cut short" (Matthew 24:21-22).

A Jewish nation must be in control of Jerusalem for some end-time prophecies to be fulfilled

This has only been possible since 1948, when the modern state of Israel was born. Jesus prophesied as the end time approached, the Jews would once again control Jerusalem and the "holy place." Later Jesus said the holy place would be desecrated with the abomination of desolation, as the prophet Daniel had earlier described (Matthew 24:15-16). The prophesied conditions are now partially in place, but more must change before other prophesied events can proceed.

A final revival of a major European geopolitical power

At the end time it is prophesied 10 "kings" or rulers will align themselves in a final world superpower Scripture calls "the beast," led by a powerful dictator also called the Beast (Revelation 17:12-13). Indications are that this development will take place in Europe and its influence will extend to the whole world. The time setting of this prophecy is clear from the fact that these 10 rulers “will make war with the Lamb"—the returning Jesus Christ—"and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings" (verse 14).

For a more detailed guide to the major end-time prophecies, download or request our free booklets The Book of Revelation Unveiled, You Can Understand Bible Prophecy, The Middle East in Bible Prophecy and Are We Living in the Time of the End?

Herod had ruled the province of Judea, which encompassed most of the geographical areas of the former kingdoms of Israel and Judah, for almost 40 years at the time Jesus Christ was born, with secular history and archaeology confirming his reign (Matthew 2:1-3, 7-8).

He was a great builder, initiating construction projects in at least 20 cities or towns in Israel and more than 10 in foreign cities: "Archaeological excavations have uncovered a surprisingly large amount of evidence pertaining to Herod the Great Idumean who, in 41 B.C., was granted provisional rule of Galilee by Mark Antony [the friend of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra´s last lover] .... In 30 B.C. Octavian (Caesar Augustus) affirmed Herod's rule over Judea, Samaria, and Galilee .... Herod remained in power until his death in 4 B.C…." (Archaeology and the New Testament, 1997, p. 91).

But Herod was not just known for his great building, political and military skills, but also for his great cruelty. The Bible records his utter disregard for human life by describing his reaction to the birth of Jesus. When his scheme to identify the newborn Messiah failed (verses 7-8, 12), Herod lashed out with great violence: "Then Herod … sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under [the approximate age of Jesus], according to the time which he had determined from the wise men" (verse 16).

This massacre in Bethlehem was not out of character for Herod, who also had many members of his family put to death: “Herod in his rage over his family rivalries and jealousies put to death the two sons of Mariamne [his wife] (Aristobulus and Alexander), Mariamne herself, and Antipater, another son and once his heir, besides the brother and mother of Mariamne (Aristobulus, Alexandra) and her grandfather John Hyrcanus." (Word Pictures in the New Testament, Bible Explorer Software, 1997).

The New Testament description of Herod the Great is thus confirmed by what historians and archaeologists have found concerning his rulership, building projects, political strength and uncontrollable wrath toward anyone threatening his kingship.

The Census of Caesar Augustus

Luke, a meticulous historian, introduces other famous personages in his account of the birth of Christ. "And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered … So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city" (Luke 2:1-3).

Ancient papyrus census decrees have been found for the years 20, 34, 48, 62 and 104. These show a wide-ranging census normally took place every 14 years, although local counts were, at times, taken more frequently. A papyrus in the British Museum describes a census similar to Luke's account, taken in 104, in which people were ordered to return to their birthplaces: "Gaius Vibius Mazimus, Prefect of Egypt: Seeing that the time has come for the house to house census, it is necessary to compel all those ... to return to their own homes, that they may both carry out the regular order of the census and may also attend diligently to the cultivation of their allotments" (Frederick G. Kenyon, Greek Papyri in the British Museum, 1907, plate 30).

Joseph's Occupation in Nazareth

Joseph was a skilled craftsman who worked not only with wood, but with stone masonry. The usual term translated as "carpenter" in the Bible (Mark 6:3) is from the Greek term ‘tekton’, which has the broader meaning of 'artisan,' referring to a skilled worker who works on hard material such as wood or stone or even horn or ivory. “In Jesus' day construction workers were not as highly specialized as in today's workforce. For example, the tasks performed by carpenters and masons could easily overlap" (Richard A. Batey, Jesus & the Forgotten City: New Light on Sepphoris and the Urban World of Jesus, p. 76).

Although Nazareth was a small village in Galilee of no more than a few hundred inhabitants, Joseph and Jesus likely found steady work in the city of Sepphoris four miles away, where huge construction projects were transforming the city into a large, regional centre.

Recent archaeological excavations in Sepphoris show it to have been a bustling, prosperous city during the years Jesus grew up in nearby Nazareth. Shirley Jackson Case, professor of New Testament at the University of Chicago, remarks “.... It requires no very daring flight of the imagination to picture the youthful Jesus seeking and finding employment in the neighboring city of Sepphoris. But whether or not he actually labored there, his presence in the city on various occasions can scarcely be doubted..." (Batey, pp. 70-71).

These historical records help us better understand the background of Christ's teachings, which included illustrations drawn not just from farming and animal husbandry, but also construction, rulers and nobility, the theater, government, finance and other aspects of city life.