How can we know that Christ’s return is near? (Part 2)
In the first installment, we discussed the SIGN of Christ’s coming—the preaching of the gospel of the Kingdom of God as a witness among all nations. We also saw that Christ referred to several events, which are prophesied to accompany that particular sign.
The event, which we will focus on in this installment, is commonly referred to as the “Great Tribulation.” We already noticed that those coming days would be so devastating that, unless those days were cut short, no one would survive and all would perish (Matthew 24:21-22; Mark 13:19; Daniel 12:1-2). The very physical survival of mankind will be at stake. But it has already been determined that those days will be shortened. Mark 13:20 reads, in the New International Version: “If the Lord had not cut short these days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them.”
Christ will return to end those terrible times. He will come to a world at war to make wars cease on this planet (Psalm 46:9). Misguided and misled human ingenuities, experimentations and inventions have produced weapons of mass destruction capable of eradicating man from this earth many times over. This shows that Christ could not have returned in previous generations, as the possibility that man could cause such mass extinction simply did not exist.
It became reality with the development and use of atom bombs in World War II. Since then, man has been busy in creating and assembling more and more powerful and highly sophisticated nuclear arsenals, advanced conventional war machines and biological and chemical weapons with the obvious intention of using them when the time comes. He has perhaps deceived himself in believing that the build-up of deadly ammunition will prevent the outbreak of war, as a country’s enemies might be too afraid to attack. However, history shows that weapons, which were invented, were also used.
As Satan’s wrath is great and as he is determined to destroy mankind, he will see to it that those terrible weapons of mass destruction will be activated… in the very near future.
The Great Tribulation has been correctly described as Satan’s wrath against God’s people—the physical descendants of Israel and true Christians who are oftentimes referred to as spiritual Jews or Israelites (Romans 2:28-29; Galatians 6:16). Even though Satan’s ultimate goal is to murder every human being on the face of the earth, he will focus in these end times, first and foremost, on physical and spiritual Israel.
God’s Church is to warn the modern descendants of the ancient tribes of the physical house of Israel, as well as the Jewish people, of impending disaster and destruction, as they will be defeated in war and either killed or enslaved at the very beginning of the Great Tribulation. This warning message is being given today, before the Great Tribulation starts, even though it will continue to be proclaimed during that time, especially through the testimony and prophecies of the “two witnesses” (Revelation 11:3-6).
God has revealed to His Church the understanding as to where the modern descendants of the ancient houses of Israel and Judah can be found today, and so it is able to pronounce the identity and fate of these nations who will be the targets of coming military attacks, commencing at the very beginning of the Great Tribulation. Christ leads and inspires His Church, and Christ’s Spirit is a spirit of prophecy (Revelation 19:10; compare Amos 3:7-8; John 16:13; Isaiah 44:26; 1 Corinthians 13:2).
Many Scriptures show us that the modern descendants of the houses of Israel [also known as Jacob] and Judah will suffer unparalleled destruction and gruesome captivity in World War III (Luke 21:20–24; Hosea 13:16; Amos 6:7; 7:17).
Jeremiah 30:4-7 gives us this frightening scenario:
“Now these are the words that the LORD spoke concerning Israel and Judah. For thus says the LORD: ‘We have heard a voice of trembling, Of fear, and not of peace. Ask now, and see, Whether a man is ever in labor with child? So why do I see every man with his hands on his loins Like a woman in labor, And all faces turned pale? Alas! For that day is great, So that none is like it; And it is the time of Jacob’s trouble, But he shall be saved out of it.’”
The modern house of Israel is also oftentimes referred to as Ephraim (mainly Great Britain and countries such as Canada and Australia) and Manasseh (the USA). We are told in Hosea 5:5, in the Authorized Version, that “Israel [here mainly a reference to Manasseh] and Ephraim” will “fall in their iniquity” and that “Judah also shall fall with them.” This is an end-time prophecy that has yet to be fulfilled. In the past, Israel and Judah (the Jews) “fell” at different times, but never together or at the same time. The Tanakh says: “Israel’s pride shall be humbled before his very eyes, As Israel and Ephraim fall because of their sin (And Judah falls with them).”
The signs of the time show us that the Great Tribulation is near. Christ tells us in Luke 21:29-31:
“Then He spoke to them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near…”
Weapons of mass destruction are available, which are capable of eradicating all human life; the warning message to the houses of Israel and Judah is going out, and we observe that especially the United Kingdom and the USA, as well as the state of Israel, are becoming more and more isolated on the world scene, preparing the way for a most devastating war against them. America is hated more than ever before, Great Britain is “divorcing” from the EU; and anti-Semitism is on the rise.
As mentioned, the Great Tribulation is not only describing military attacks against the physical Israelites and Jews. It is also prophesied that Satan’s wrath will be directed at the same time against God’s Church—spiritual Israel.
Christ warns that prior to His return, an organized and worldwide martyrdom of true Christians will occur. Matthew 24:9-10 describes this time in vivid terms (compare also Mark 13:11–13; Luke 21:12, 16-17). These events as part of the “Great Tribulation” are also described as the fifth seal in Revelation 6:9-11. The fifth seal, following the first four seals of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, is a vision of slain souls under the altar:
“When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.”
The Nelson Study Bible explains that the souls who were slain for the Word of God are pictured as resting under the altar, as “sacrificial blood was poured beside the base of the altar in the temple (see Ex. 29:12).”
The “souls under the altar” are of course not alive (it is said that they need to “rest” a little bit longer) and they do not really cry to God with a loud voice. Neither did the “dry bones” in Ezekiel’s vision in Ezekiel 37:11 really speak, nor did Abel’s shed blood (Genesis 4:10). All of this is symbolic language. Notice what is said in Revelation 20:4, 6 about the “souls” of those who were killed for Christ:
“… I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshipped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads and on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years… Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection…”
This vision of the souls under the altar makes clear that religious persecution has occurred throughout the history of the true Church, compare Revelation 6:9-10, but that in the end time, a terrible and unparalleled persecution will happen once again (compare verse 11).
The Church of God—spiritual Israel—is viewed by most as a sect or even a cult and as a part of Judaism. As anti-Semitism rises, true Christians will be affected as well, and perhaps even more so, as they will be viewed as “traitors” towards orthodox Christianity. Not willing to submit to false religious concepts and unbiblical human traditions, which have replaced God’s Word, they will be treated as enemies of the state and of the established and mandated state religion. We will later discuss in detail the identity of the “beast” and the “false prophet,” as well as the “fallen woman,” and their role regarding the persecution of the saints.
For now, we will quote several passages, which describe the martyrdom of the saints during the Great Tribulation (which will last 3 ½ years or less).
Daniel 7:21-22, 25 speaks about that time which will culminate in the return of Christ and the establishment of God’s rule on earth:
“I was watching; and the same horn [to be explained later] was making war against the saints, and prevailing against them, until the Ancient of Days came, and a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom… He [the horn] shall speak pompous words against the Most High, Shall persecute the saints of the Most High, And shall intend to change times and law. Then the saints shall be given into his hand For a time and times and half a time [i.e., approximately 3 ½ years].”
Revelation 13:5-6 speaks about the rule of the beast and his persecution of the saints during the time of the Great Tribulation:
“… he [the beast, to be explained later] was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months [approximately 3 ½ years]. Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven. It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them.”
Revelation 16:4-6 describes a future time just prior to Christ’s return, showing again that true Christians will be hated, betrayed, persecuted and killed:
“Then the third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. And I heard the angel of the waters saying: ‘You are righteous, O Lord, The One who is and who was and who is to be, Because You have judged these things. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, And You have given them blood to drink. For it is their just due.’”
Revelation 17 speaks about a harlot or a fallen woman, called “Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth.” The woman sits on a scarlet beast with seven heads and ten horns. We will identify the woman and the beast later, but notice how she is described in these last days, just prior to the return of Christ.
Revelation 17:6; 18:24 states very clearly:
“I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus… And in her was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all who were slain on the earth.”
We are approaching this time very soon. The beast, the false prophet, and Babylon the Great will manifest themselves in the near future, setting in motion events, which will lead to the Great Tribulation. We are seeing the beginnings of these prophesied events, which show us that Christ’s return is near. It is therefore extremely important to heed Christ’s warning for the Church in these last days:
“But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34-36).
God will provide the way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). While many will have to endure persecution and martyrdom, some members of the true Church of God who have been counted worthy to escape such terrible fate will be protected during that time at a physical location or “place of safety” here on earth (Revelation 12:13-16; 3:10). As we see devastating end-time events developing with enormous speed, we should make sure that God will count us worthy of His protection (1 Thessalonians 2:12; 2 Thessalonians 1:5, 11; compare also Luke 20:35).
(To Be Continued)
Lead Writer: Norbert Link