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Are we Really Living in the Last Days?
March 16, 1980

St. Paul's United Methodist Church


Are we really living in the last days? There are many today who say so. Bookstores increasingly display books about the end, Armageddon, knowing the future, etc. Perhaps the most popular is Hal Lindsey's book, The Late Great Planet Earth. He has since written sequels in which he feels the signs point to the 1980s as the end times. The schemes of the various authors differ, but they basically agree that the times in which we are living show signs that Jesus will soon come again and take Christians out of this earth. This event is called the "rapture" and in it Christians will vanish in the twinkling of an eye. Terrible tribulations then fall on the earth. The various authors then disagree on the timetable but somewhere there is a 1000 year period of peace called the millennium and a final battle between God and Satan called Armageddon. Some see that battle taking shape. The organization of Israel as a nation and the current middle east crisis help to convince these believers that we are living in the last days. 

Such beliefs are not new. When I was a teenager, I was an interested student of Revelation and Daniel. I was captivated by the idea that we were living in the last days. Israel was going home at that time. Hitler or Stalin were called the Anti-Christs. And, you know what? Nothing happened! Unless the rapture happened then and we were all left behind! Wouldn't Hal Lindsey and company be surprised to learn they didn't get to go! 

Over one hundred years ago, William Miller and a group of his followers sold all they owned, went up a mountain to wait for Jesus to come as they were convinced they were living in the last days. They came down and organized the Seventh Day Adventist Church. 

All through the ages, people have interpreted passages and verses in the Bible to believe they were living in the last days. Even in the time of Jesus, there were many who believed the time was close for the messianic age to dawn when God would destroy their enemies. Jesus was continually asked by people for signs, signs of the corning Kingdom of God. They expected and wanted calendar dates and events. Many in that day were predicting that Daniel's prophecies were coming true, just as many in our day are also insisting. What was Jesus' reply? Over and over throughout the gospels, what did Jesus say? "No one knows, however, when that day or hour will come--neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son; only the Father knows." (Mark 13:32) 

Seeing patterns and signs in our own day based on biblical prophecies is not a new  phenomenon on the earth. 

Last week's sermon on how the Bible is the Word of God contained some steps to use in Bible study. In order to preserve the integrity of the Scriptures, with a minimum of errors, follow these steps. Let's apply these steps to the mysterious book of Revelation, which is the book that supplies much of the basis for today's speculations. 

1. Let the Bible use you. Be humble. Don't come to the book of Revelation with preconceived notions and try to find support in the scriptures. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide. Have an open mind that you may be inspired. 

2. Respect the integrity and unity of the author. John is the author of Revelation. Don't pull verses from here and there to make up notions that violate John's integrity. 

3. Determine, as much as possible, the situation addressed. When was Revelation written? To whom was it written? What was going on at that time? Why was the book written? How was the book written? 

a) Who wrote the book of Revelation? John. We know very little about him. On the basis of the material in Revelation, about all we know is that he was in a Roman penal colony on the island of Patmos. (1:9) Probably he was a political prisoner, jailed for his Christian beliefs and witness. 

b) To whom was Revelation written? To seven churches in Asia (1:4, 11), which was a Roman province, located across the Aegean Sea from Athens. Ephesus was the principal city. Asia was probably the home base for John as he was evidently familiar with these seven churches. Note that the book is written to these seven churches, not to churches in the twentieth century. Revelation was written to specific people at a specific time in history. Therefore, it is crucial to understand what the book meant to those people in that day.

c) When was Revelation written? It was written in the latter part of the first century during a time of great persecution, probably under Emperors Nero and Domitian. 

d) Why was Revelation written? To encourage the Christians during the time of persecution to remain faithful, and to even suffer martyrdom if that is demanded. (2:7, 10, 26-28, etc.) 

The literalists of our day who want to take Revelation very literally convenient overlook the face that John was reporting his visions, his dreams. He wrote, "In my vision, I saw . . . I heard." (Read the first verses of chapters 4 and following chapters). The literalists fail to take “vision" literally, for a vision is a dream, and how many dreams are to be taken literally? Visions use figurative language. They usually need to be interpreted for dreams and visions are expressed in symbolic language. 

e) How was Revelation written? John related his visions. Deciphering Revelation (and Daniel) is a task which fascinates people. Witness the influx of books attempting to do that these days. But, decoding these books gives us quite an insight. For many feel that much of the material has already been fulfilled. The situations addressed are, by and large, of that time! The popular writers of today are poor historians! If you don't know your history, you apply too much to contemporary times. Never read a passage as if it is written to you and our day. Understand the historical situation. 

When the historical situation is taken seriously, there is much evidence to believe that Anti-Christ, for example, was the emperors. The mysterious symbol “666” (13:18) could have referred to by using an ancient numbering system to decode the mysterious numbers. The whore and Babylon (17:5) probably refer to the Roman Empire who was doing the persecuting at that time. The seven hills (17:9) indirectly refer to the city of Rome which is built on seven hills. John uses symbolic language to communicate subversive and unpatriotic ideas 

about the government of his day.
Daniel was also written during a time of intense persecution. Many of Jesus' warning about the destruction of the temple and devastation of Judea were fulfilled in 70 A.. D. when the Roman army, tired of periodic insurrections, marched on Judea and destroyed the sacred temple, causing the people to fell to the hills. Many references to the return of the Jews to Jerusalem were fulfilled when Cyrus, King of Persia, allowed the captives held by Babylon to go back home. 

It is crucial, when attempting to understand a biblical passage, to determine what the words originally meant in that situation and what kind of symbolic language is being used. 

4. After getting an appreciation of the situation addressed (who, when, why) , the next question to ask of the passage or book is: What was the Word of God in that situation? What was the Word of God that transcends time, space and historical situations? What is the Word that is as relevant, as inspired, for us today as it was then? When we ask these questions, Revelation becomes a gold mine. John encouraged the persecuted Christians to stand fast because God will ultimately triumph over evil. Christ is the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. (21:6) God will ultimately triumph. The evil of this world will eventually be conquered. The new Jerusa­lem will come like a bride for her husband. There shall be no crying. There will be no dark, no night, no evil, for God will be the light. (21:1-4, 23) The 144,000, which is a code number for all God's people, will rejoice around the throne, rejoicing in God's love and salvation. (14:1-3) What a day! What a victory! God will not fail. Therefore, trust. Be confident. That Word is relevant to us today. Because John was inspired by God's faith and triumph, we too can be inspired. 

Are we really living in the last days? We have returned to the question of the sermon. Are we? My answer is: YES! We always are living in the last days. Jesus said, "No one knows . . . Be ready . . . Watch! " This age will end as other ages have. This earth will eventually pass away, but God's Word will never pass away. There is always a sense of urgency about preaching the gospel and getting in relationship with God. There is always urgency about working for justice, righteousness, goodness, and peace. This is the time! Today is the day! Now is the hour! 

Live each day as if it were the last. If you knew that today was the last day of your life on this planet, what would you do differently? What would you say to Jesus Christ? What would you say or do with your family? Then, do it! Now! Get ready! So, if someone frightens you with signs that these are the last days, what of it! Every day may be the last. Trust in Christ to take care of you. Trust in Christ to take care of the end times. Why get so concerned? We don't know the day or the hour. Be ready!

Do what Christ told you to do: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, love your neighbor. Tell others about your salvation in Christ. Tell others that they too may be ready for the end. Arid, rejoice in the knowledge that God will ultimately prevail. Sing of the wonder. The message of Revelation is to sing, worship around the throne. There is hope. There is a future, and it is in God's hands! 

© 1980 Douglas I. Norris