It is clear from Scripture in both Old and New Testaments that the return of the Lord Jesus Christ will be both preceded and accompanied by tremendous times of trouble for the world. Before his advent these troubles will serve as signs to encourage his followers and serve as warnings to be prepared for that great day. After his advent further calamities will come upon the world which will serve to punish the wicked and subdue the nations to cause them to submit to Christ’s rule.
The world has always seen war, pestilence and natural disasters, but those of the latter days will be of such a magnitude and wide reaching effect that they will bear the unmistakable sign of the hand of God being involved. Daniel spoke of the era which will see the standing up of the “great prince” and the resurrection of the dead in these terms.

Jesus in the Olivet prophecy speaks of “distress of nations with perplexity”. The Greek word used here for “perplexity” means “no way”; that is no means of extricating one’s self from the situation (Luke 21:25). In these words the Lord shows the difference between previous disasters and crises the earth has endured and the events leading up to and surrounding his advent. In verse 26 Jesus says that it will be a time of “men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth”. Man has shown himself to be extremely adept at solving problems and resilient at times of crisis, but this time it will be different. Man’s ingenuity will not be enough to forestall or overcome in the face of the forces unleashed by Almighty God. They will totally overthrow man’s rule and change the very topography of the earth itself in order to establish His kingdom of righteousness and peace.

If we consider some of the events of the last twelve months, we have had just a glimpse of what could lie ahead and how flimsy the veneer is which covers the world’s complacency.

We saw the terrific destruction caused by the Asian tsunami of last December. The world learned nothing from that. It felt that it ‘got lucky’. Victims were mainly poor Asian fishermen and peasant farmers. No major cities such as Singapore were involved. Effect on the Asian economy? Not much at all. More recently the hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Again, massive damage to the Mexican Gulf coastal settled areas and of course serious damage to New Orleans, a modern day Sodom. But again the world ‘got lucky’. Hurricane number three degenerated into a tropical storm and after early fears, oil production was not as badly affected as expected, and indeed oil prices have been falling since and settling in the $US55 a barrel range for the time being. Then again a massive earthquake on the Pakistan/Kashmir border left 80 000 dead, but in a mainly remote mountain peasant population; so a little bit ‘out of sight out of mind’.

In the meantime terrorist attacks, warnings and alerts over the last twelve months and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue.

All of these issues contribute to the fears and anxieties that are part of the modern world. Massive resources are drained in dealing with these issues, but the economies keep booming along. Perhaps we can also be affected by the pattern of recurring crises, fear, recovery and then relief when the crisis passes and life goes on. This seems to be the world’s reaction to these events.

The apostle Paul spoke specifically of the signs of the times, the advent of the Lord and the recurring, birth-pang like sequence of events which would precede the Lord’s coming.

“But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober” (1Thess 5:1–6).

If we compare all of the Scriptures concerning Christ’s coming, there is an unmistakable warning. It is sudden, unexpected by the ignorant, the complacent and the indulgent as demonstrated in the above quotation from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. It is not unexpected to the “children of light”, if they are in fact walking in the light.

Some expressions used to emphasize this suddenness of his appearing include:

as a thief (1 Thess 5:2, Rev 16:15)
suddenly, “quickly” (Rev 22:12)
unawares (Luke 21:34), translated “sudden” in 1 Thess 5:3 (the only other occurrence of this word in the Greek nt)
as a snare (Luke 21:35)
in an hour when “ye are not thinking” (roth Matt 24:44)
they knew not until the day (Matt 24:39).
Many others could be added to this list. They all indicate that to watch the signs from the prophetic word and correctly interpret them is one thing, but personal preparedness is another. Look at the Lord’s parables for instance.

The foolish virgins are agitatedly rushing around in a last minute effort to stock up oil (the Word of God) for their failing lamps.

The wicked servant is eating and drinking with the drunken and smiting his fellow servant, because in his heart he does not believe his master is coming (Matt 25:8 Matt 24:49).

Many lessons can be extracted from these two parables but essentially they can be condensed down to three issues which the ecclesias need to recognize as signs of trouble in the last days:

  • a lack of powerful and constant Bible study both in ourselves as individuals and as ecclesias in our Bible classes and exhortations; in other words, lack of oil
  • the intrusion of worldly standards and behaviour into ecclesial life or worse, indulgence out in the world itself; that is, eating and drinking with the drunken
  • ecclesial strife and disputes; that is, smiting our fellow-servants. This is becoming more common and worse, it is often about fundamentals we all understood at the time of our baptism!

So then, what of the future? It could be said that the world’s troubles we see now are but “the beginning of sorrows”. Although Jesus uttered these words concerning the lead up to AD70 we know that they can also describe our days, because they will progressively get worse.

The troubles of the future will not be confined to remote regions of the earth but will affect all nations and all strata of society.

The prophet Isaiah gives a picture of this in chapter 24:

“And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest; as with the servant, so with his master; as with the maid, so with her mistress; as with the buyer, so with the seller; as with the lender, so with the borrower; as with the taker of usury, so with the giver of usury to him” (v2).

“The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage; and the transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it; and it shall fall, and not rise again” (v20).

But God will establish his kingdom to replace the ruins of man’s rule. The prophet goes on… “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall punish the host of the high ones that are on high, and the kings of the earth upon the earth (v21).“Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the LORD of hosts shall reign in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before his ancients gloriously” (24).

This passage deals with Yahweh’s judgments which will result in “the slain of the Lord” being many. Already we see potential for disaster on a global scale even before the Lord’s return. What if a pandemic of Avian-flu does occur? What if terrorists do obtain nuclear material and the means of converting it to use in weapons? What if Asia defaulted on payment of American loans? A catastrophic situation would be the result of any one of these events.

A society driven to various forms of madness and violence by drug usage poses a threat to everyday safety. Unbridled immorality has destroyed ancient empires long before our day. What sort of future for societies who have never had any instruction in Bible principles from their youth and no respect for anything other than self gratification?

Normally one would be in despair at such a prospect, were it not for some comforting words of scripture. In the midst of the Olivet prophecy and after the dire warning of distress of nations, Jesus says, “And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh” (Luke 21:28).

Even more comforting are later words which would indicate that we will be taken away to judgment before the worst of these troubles burst upon the world. “And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man” (Luke 21:34–36).

Isaiah speaks in similar terms, “Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast. For, behold, the Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity: the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain” (Isa 26:20–21).

Whilst this may not exclude some measure of trials in the last days, it would seem that we are to be spared the worst, because we will be gathered to the Lord’s presence. What a great day that will be. It is interesting to note that when one searches every reference in the New Testament concerning the Lord’s coming to his household we will find not a single one about persecution. They are all about being caught in an unprepared state. All the expressions warn of not watching, of eating, drinking, buying, selling, building, planting, marrying, giving in marriage (ie excessively), indulgence, lack of the Word, lack of prayer, pleasures, walking in darkness and not light etc, etc.

We would be foolish not to see the point. Our trials are now. We are in the middle of them but may not realise it!

It might be said that all the warnings concern the challenges of a materialistic environment. Is this only a problem of the Western world? What of our brethren and sisters in third world countries living in poverty and at times under oppression and indeed danger? In his teaching the Lord says that among the things which can choke the Word and hence our faith are “the cares of life” (Luke 21:34) and “the cares of the world” and “the lusts of other things” (Mark 4:19). These encompass any issues which interfere with our service. These things have no national or social boundaries, so that all of Christ’s brethren and sisters have the same challenges ultimately in these troubled days.

As we think of the troubles of the last days, let us always bear in mind that the greatest sign of Christ’s coming is the nation of Israel. They will shortly face their time of trouble. Anti-Semitism is on the rise. Mr Putin is selling weapons to Israel’s enemies, including helicopters and armoured vehicles to the Palestinian Authority.

Jeremiah the prophet says, “For, lo, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will bring again the captivity of my people Israel and Judah, saith the Lord: and I will cause them to return to the land that I gave to their fathers.”

But times of trouble and invasion from the northern confederacy of nations are not far ahead. “Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble; but he shall be saved out of it” (Jer 30:3,7)

The deliverer who shall come to Zion and turn ungodliness from Jacob (Isa 59:20) is our saviour also. The words of comfort to Israel, “he shall be saved out of it”, are the equivalent in a sense to the Lord’s encouragement for us to pray always that we may “escape all these things that shall come to pass” and stand approved before him.

Let us not have anxious thought for the events unfolding before us, but set our eyes firmly on the Lord’s coming and with due care make preparation for it.