How can we know that Christ’s return is near? (Part 1)
It seems that Christians always believed that Christ would return during their lifetime. The early New Testament apostles believed this, until it became clear to them that His return would not occur that quickly. The Worldwide Church of God under its late human leader, Herbert W. Armstrong, believed for a while that Christ might return in the 1970s or even earlier. They understood numerous prophecies that seemed to indicate convincingly that the Day was near—but they then had to realize that some end-time prophecies did not find their fulfillment then.
Based on the upheaval at his time, Martin Luther believed that Christ would return soon… and so did those who were plagued by the devastating Black Death. Strong earthquakes, heavenly occurrences, devastating natural disasters, famine, pestilences and great wars prompted many to believe that they would experience the soon-coming return of Christ. They all looked at certain signs and predictions, which were startling and frightening, but they did not look at the entire picture.
Why do we feel that it is any different today? What are the world developments leading us to believe that Christ’s return is indeed near, and why are we confident that we are right this time? What are the events which we need to consider—and what are false and misleading signs, which have no biblical bearing?
Christ’s disciples asked Him once about the destruction of the second temple (which would occur in 70 A.D.), the sign of His coming and the end of the world (compare Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21 and the description of the first four seals in Revelation 6—the four horsemen of the Apocalypse). Christ proceeded by pointing at religious deception (the first seal), wars and rumors of wars (the second seal),) famines due to severe shortage of food (the third seal), and pestilences communicated oftentimes by sick animals carrying deadly viruses (the fourth seal). The reference to wild beasts in Revelation 6:8 would be one of the consequences of war, famine, and pestilence. Lands would be depopulated, and wild beasts would be multiplied.
Christ also spoke of commotions (Luke 21:9) and great or “big” earthquakes in various places (Luke 21:11; compare also Isaiah 24:19 and the culmination in Revelation 16:18). The Bible lists other natural catastrophes as well, which would include huge Tsunamis (“the sea and the waves roaring,” Luke 21:25), volcanic eruptions and increasing destructive wildfires. In Isaiah 1:7, we read: “Your country is desolate, Your cities are burned with fire…” Ezekiel 20:47-48 says: “Behold, I will kindle a fire in you, and it shall devour every green tree and every dry tree in you; the blazing flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from the south to the north shall be scorched by it. All flesh shall see that I, the LORD, have kindled it; it shall not be quenched.”
Christ also made clear that these events, all by themselves, were not indicating that the end had come, but that they were the beginning of sorrows (Matthew 24:6, 8). These events must take place, and they will increase in strength and frequency, but they alone are not the sign of Christ’s second coming. On the other hand, if they were not to occur, His Coming would not be near.
We can also expect more and more demonically inspired violent acts committed by deranged people as well as governmental suppression in many nations. The reason is that Satan has great wrath, as he knows that his time is short. We read in Revelation 12:12: “Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.”
Christ continued to speak about a time of great distress (the Great Tribulation) and devastating heavenly signs. Other Scriptures in the book of Revelation and elsewhere describe terrible events on the Day of the Lord, which follow the heavenly signs, culminating in Christ’s return. We will discuss these later.
We should note however, that the disciples asked for one particular SIGN of Christ’s coming (Matthew 24:3; Mark 13:4). Christ made very clear what that sign would be. He pointed out that the preaching of the gospel of the Kingdom of God as a witness in all the world and to all nations must precede His coming and the end of the age. He said in Matthew 24:14: “And this gospel of the kingdom WILL BE preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” He is quoted as saying in Mark 13:10 (Authorized Version): “And the gospel must first be published among all nations.”
That the preaching of the gospel of the Kingdom of God in all the world was given as the SIGN for Christ’s return shows that this gospel had NOT been preached to the world for a long time. Rather, a false gospel had been preached, which fact is alluded to in Galatians 1:6-7. Of course, “a” gospel was preached – the gospel “about” Christ (but it was many times a false Christ or a counterfeit; compare 2 Corinthians 11:3-4 and the reference to the first horseman of the Apocalypse). However, the gospel OF Christ—of the Kingdom of God—would be preached at the time of Christ’s coming. It was the gospel that Christ preached—the gospel which originated with the Kingdom of God which is the Family of God, consisting of God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son. This true gospel includes the message that God’s government will be restored on this earth when Christ returns, as well as the fact that true Christians will then be changed or resurrected to eternal life IN God’s Kingdom. They will become immortal sons and daughters of God the Father and brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, ruling on and over this earth under Christ for a thousand years. They will become born-again members of the God Family—God BEINGS in the KINGDOM of God.
It is an undeniable fact that the true gospel of the Kingdom of God was being preached to the world during the lifetime of Herbert W. Armstrong. It is likewise an undeniable fact that Mr. Armstrong died in 1986, and that Christ has not yet returned. This means, then, that God’s Church has the continued obligation to preach the gospel in all the world as a witness in order to fulfill THE Sign of Christ’s Coming.
Christ made it very clear that the gospel would still be preached at the time of His return. He told His disciples in Matthew 28:19-20 that He would be with them “always, even to the END of the age,” while they were “making disciples of all the nations” (a logical consequence of the Church’s preaching of the gospel in all the world, compare Romans 10:14-15). Christ also said that those who would be doing God’s Work of preaching His gospel would not have finished it, even in the cities of Israel, when He returns (Matthew 10:23).
Considering this fact, it is obvious that Christ could not have come back at the time of Martin Luther, as there was no practical way of fulfilling Christ’s prophecy that His gospel would be preached in all the world and among all nations. The possibility to do so simply did not exist. Even in the last century, that possibility was somewhat limited with the available use of radio, TV [which was only accessible in certain countries] and the printing press. But today, with the invention of the Internet and other technological opportunities, this prophecy can be and is being fulfilled–really for the first time in the history of man. Even though some autocratic and dictatorial countries, including certain radical Muslim counties, would like to limit or prevent their citizens’ access to the Internet, they are unable to do so completely. And so, the gospel of the Kingdom of God is indeed reaching people in all countries…the sign which Christ gave for His return is being fulfilled today.
The preaching of the gospel (the good news of the Kingdom or Family of God) includes the task to warn the world of impending disaster. This aspect is also being fulfilled today.
We read in Zephaniah 1:2-3 (Revised Standard Version): “‘I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth,’ says the LORD. ‘I will sweep away man and beast; I will sweep away the birds of the air and the fish of the sea. I will overthrow the wicked; I will cut off mankind from the face of the earth,’ says the LORD.”
Verse 18 adds (Revised Standard Version): “Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them on the day of the wrath of the LORD. In the fire of his jealous wrath, all the earth shall be consumed; for a full, yea, sudden end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.”
However, Zephaniah 3:12 adds that some will survive: “Those who are left will be the poor and the humble, and they will trust in the name of the Lord” (Living Bible).
When speaking about the time of the Great Tribulation, Christ also confirmed that even though this will be the most devastating time in the annals of human history, some will survive, because Christ will come to shorten those terrible days. He told us in Matthew 24:21-22 (New International Version):
“For then there will be great distress (most translations say: “great tribulation”), unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect these days will be shortened.” The Living Bible writes: “… unless those days are shortened, all mankind will perish.”
Isaiah 24:5-6 tells us something very similar: “The earth is also defiled under its inhabitants, Because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, Broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore the curse has devoured the earth, And those who dwell in it are desolate. Therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, And few men are left.”
The Church of God warns all nations of these impending dangers (Isaiah 34:1-3), especially the lost tribes of the house of Israel (Ezekiel 3:17-21; 33:2-11). This emphasis on the house of Israel is placed as God will deal with them first, but a specific warning must also go out to all nations, because God will deal with them subsequently (Isaiah 24:5-6; 28:22). In addition, a warning message must even go out to members and prospective members of the Church of God (Colossians 1:28; Acts 20:31; 1 Corinthians 4:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:14).
This warning message is part of the proclamation of the gospel, as those who hear it are given the opportunity to repent so that they can be spared. We read in Luke 24:46-47: “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations…”
In order to warn the nations of the house of Israel (and, by extension, the modern house of Judah), it is necessary to know who they are today. And so, the Church of God has identified these nations—the lost tribes of the house of Israel—and it is proclaiming the warning to them as a witness or testimony against them.
Those nations can be found today in the USA (where we find descendants of Manasseh, the first-born son of Joseph and grandson of Jacob or Israel); the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa (all descendants of Ephraim, the second son of Joseph); parts of France (descendants of Reuben, Jacob’s first-born son); Denmark and Ireland (descendants of Dan, one of Jacob’s twelve sons); Norway and Iceland (descendants of Benjamin, another one of Jacob’s twelve sons); The Netherlands (descendants of Zebulon, one of Jacob’s twelve sons); Finland (descendants of Issachar, one of Jacob’s twelve sons); Switzerland (descendants of Gad, one of Jacob’s twelve sons); Belgium and Luxembourg (descendants of Asher, one of Jacob’s twelve sons); and Sweden (descendants of Naphtali, one of Jacob’s twelve sons). In addition, modern descendants of Jacob’s son Levi might be found today in Wales; and descendants of Simeon and Levi might also be found in Scotland. Furthermore, a warning message is going out to the modern descendants of the house of Judah—the Jewish people.
But, as mentioned, the warning message is also reaching non-Israelite peoples, which would include powerful nations such as Germany and Austria (modern Assyria); Italy (in part descendants of the ancient Chaldeans and Babylonians); and countries such as Russia, China, Japan, India, nations in the Middle East, Africa and South America. The gospel of the Kingdom of God with all its different aspects is indeed being proclaimed and published today in all the world as a witness among all nations.
(To Be Continued)
Lead Writer: Norbert Link