I write on diverse religious issues, often analysing perspectives from the Abrahamic faiths (Jewish, Christian, Islamic, and Bahá’í).
If you are a fervent believer in the traditional church interpretation of end-time prophecy, this article might not be to your liking. The reason is simple: It will challenge everything you love and hold dear about your beliefs. On the other hand, if you are disillusioned by the current state of affairs, if you are disappointed by the long delay in the fulfilment of the popularly held expectations of the end times, don’t lose hope. There is a better explanation as to why things have not unfolded the way you were told to expect.
The reality of the end-time biblical prophecies is that they are a mishmash of information rather than an ordered, coherent package. The presaged signs of the end times are scattered throughout the Holy Bible—spelt out sometimes in plain language (for example, about impending events) but broached at other times in subtle hints, omens, and warnings, or in the form of allegories, similes, and parables. The Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, is the only work dedicated exclusively to the Parousia (Second Coming). Yet the cryptic nature of its language should remind everyone that the end-time prophecies were never meant to be understood straightforwardly.
There seems to be a belief among many students of the Bible that much of the key elements of the Parousia will perforce be fulfilled instantly and concurrently—perhaps in a matter of a day or so. To sustain such a belief, they skillfully sidestep seemingly contradictory biblical verses by stressing one set of prophecies at the expense of another. What results is a vision of the Parousia that looks more like a fairy tale than an authentic scenario of the divine Kingdom.
The Phases of the End Times
Let’s begin by stating that the end times do not refer to a period of time lasting a mere couple of decades but to a relatively long interval stretching perhaps into centuries. The period can be divided into three distinct phases to take account of the seemingly divergent elements of the biblical prophecies. Each phase represents a particular stage in the long road towards a universal recognition of the end-time Christ, when “every eye” will be enabled to “see the Son of man coming”. (Cf. Revelation 1:7; Matthew 24:30)
(Note: All biblical quotations in this article are from the King James Bible.)
The First Phase
In the first phase of the end times, the Christ appears physically on earth, but worshippers are for the most part unaware of this phenomenal development. And this is because he comes in a less dramatic fashion than what is generally anticipated. He, in fact, comes through the normal process of birth.
(For more on how the Christ is born in fulfilment of biblical prophecy, check out “Popular End-Time Christian Expectations That Will Not Happen” through the link at: [https://hubpages.com/@kobby95])
From this most sublime of earthly occurrences, the birth of a World Redeemer, there follows a chain of events that leads gradually and inevitably to his universal recognition, as outlined in the Bible. As to the events in question, we look at some of the salient signs given to the disciples by Jesus:
1. Major World Calamities
The signs of the Parousia begin with a range of calamitous events:
And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. (Matthew 24:6-7)
It is useful to note that the fulfilment of this prophecy is dependent, not so much on the events themselves as on the ability of the world (and more particularly the Christian world) to be aware of them no matter in which part of the planet they occur. It was not until the 19th century that this became possible as a result of two critical developments:
The first involved inventions in the field of communication and transportation (such as the telegraph, telephone, and automobile) that made possible the dissemination of news around the world. The second was the migration of westerners (of mostly Christian background) to all parts of the globe, in some cases as colonial overlords but in other cases as explorers, missionaries, and so on.
By the second half of the 19th century, on the strength of these two developments, it was possible for news of any major happening in any part of the world to be quickly disseminated across the globe. At that time, the tangible fulfilment of the above prophecies began to assume the character of a regular occurrence.
Today, we can be informed of all significant worldwide developments in real-time (whether in newspapers, on radio, television, the internet, or social media, etc., and in text, photo, audio, or video formats).
2. False Prophets
And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.
For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets…. (Matthew 24:11, 24)
So, who are the false prophets? It is apparent who the false Christs are. They are all those who falsely claim to be the end-time Christ. But as to the false prophets, many operate within the religious establishments as self-styled prophets and seers, acclaimed theologians, published clerics, motivational preachers, etc. They take on the character of false prophets to the extent that they defy the clear injunction of the holy book not to interpret end-time prophecy in any authoritative capacity.
Imagine the masses of worshippers who could be thrown off the scent of the True One or sent on a wild-goose chase by one flawed eschatological doctrine of a major religious sect. The Apostle Peter warns:
Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you…. (II Peter 1:20-2:1)
So, Peter links false prophecy and false teachings to the propagating of unauthorised (and obviously misleading) interpretations of end-time prophecy. Rather than spreading or digesting such unauthorised stuff, the faithful are advised to await the infallible interpretation of the Lord himself when he makes his appearance:
Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts…. (I Corinthians 4:5)
3. Thief in the Night
Central to the end-time expectations is the coming of the Lord as a “thief”. There is a good reason for that simile. A thief generally operates by stealth and avoids drawing attention to his presence. Thus are we forewarned in the Book:
And this know, that if the goodman of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and not have suffered his house to be broken through. (Luke 12:39)
If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee. (Revelation 3:3)
For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. (I Thessalonians 5:2)
4. Lightning From the East
Indeed, the earthly presence of the Lord will be so hidden that Christians are asked not to even bother to go looking for him. Here are some of the cautionary verses:
Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. (Matthew 24:26-27)
The reason given for the caution is simple: It is not the appearance of the Christ in “the east” that should concern Christians. What should concern them is the reflection of his light in “the west”.
(It is useful to note that when lightning flashes across the sky, it can normally not be seen any farther than some 300 km (or 200 miles) away, and certainly not by the whole world. The world, after all, is spherical, not flat.)
What Is the East and What Is the West?
In contemporary times, it is easy to figure out what “the east” and “the west” represent. The east refers to the continent of Asia. This, incidentally, is where all the world religions have originated from. Hinduism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and their many offshoots have all had their origins in the east.
But the reference to “the east” in relation to the end-time Christ is specifically to the Middle East. And “the west” is a reference to the Christian world, of which the western world has been the stronghold and heartland until more recent times.
The Middle East
It is in the Holy Land, in the Middle East, that Jews expect to welcome the Mashiach, their Messiah, at the end times.
For Christians too, there are hints that it is to the Middle East they should look for the eschatological events of the end times. Most of the places mentioned in the Book of Revelation—the book that prefigures the events leading to the end times and beyond—are to be found in the Middle East. Examples are: “the seven churches which are in Asia” (Turkey), “the great river Euphrates” (Iraq), and “Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified” (Israel). (Cf. Revelation 1:11; 9:14, 16:12; 11:8)
And in Islam, the expectation is that Nabi Isa (the Arabic title and name for Jesus) will be made manifest in the Islamic Middle East. Muslims, like Christians, believe Jesus will return to earth at the end times.
The Middle East has been predominantly Islamic since the 7th century. It was still very much so in the 19th century (when the end-time prophecies would have begun to see fulfilment). It continues to be so even with the Jews wresting the Holy Land from its Muslim occupants and re-establishing the state of Israel on that sliver of land in 1948. Muslims make up some 85% of the population of today's Middle East.
The Christ Appears Among Muslims
What all these mean is that the Christ is unlikely to appear in the flesh amongst Christians (the overwhelming majority of whom reside outside the Middle East). The most likely scenario is that he appears amongst Muslims, and he does so in a way that makes it all but impossible for Christians to be aware.
In such circumstances, it is understandable why the Christ should be called by a strange “new name” (Revelation 3:12) and obliged to reveal his message to the world in a language and script that are unfamiliar to the west.
The Christ Remains Hidden
And all this could be happening when the predictions about wars, famines, pestilences (pandemics) and earthquakes are also seeing worldwide fulfilment. At this stage, the world is beginning to open up, even though its far-flung segments are still very much isolated one from another.
This means it would not have opened up extensively enough for any credible news of a messianic appearance to be widely known and investigated. And so, for the lifetime of the holy personage, his presence and sacred mission would remain largely hidden and unknown to the wider world.
It is for this reason Christians are asked not to bother to look for the Christ anywhere on earth but to rather watch out for the reflection of his light (i.e., for news of his advent) in the west (Christendom).
Nor would it matter that he might have left by the time the Christian west wakes up to the news of his mission. That, indeed, is what is to be expected of a “thief in the night”. One only discovers in the morning that he had broken into the house during the night, carried out his mission, and left.
The Days of the Christ
Christians will be surprised to learn that Jesus did warn in even more explicit terms that they were not to look for the physical presence of the end-time Christ because the privilege of seeing him in person would not be theirs. In other words, the privilege would belong elsewhere. Jesus admonished:
The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it. And they shall say to you, See here; or, see there: go not after them, nor follow them. (Luke 17:22-23)
Christians must not see this turn of events as a spiritual rebuff to their community, however. There is profound wisdom in the ways of God, wisdom which the limited mind of man cannot always comprehend. Let’s reflect on the following verses for now:
For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in his day. But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation. (Luke 17:24-25)
The suffering and rejection of the Son of man in the above verse would come from the generation of worshippers at the time the lightning is shining in their midst. When the context of the above verses is taken into account, it becomes evident that the suffering and rejection are those of the latter-day Christ and not of Jesus of Nazareth.
Why else would Jesus have asked the rhetorical question (in Luke 18:8): “Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” Can there be any better proof of faithlessness at the coming of God’s Mediator than for news of his presence to be ignored, the proofs of his mission to be rejected, or worse, for him and his followers to be actively persecuted?
The positive aspect for Christians in the manner the end times unfold, therefore, is that their community would not have to bear the shame of directly persecuting the latter-day Christ as the Jews did to Jesus of Nazareth. Among the worshippers to whom he appears would emerge heroes and martyrs of the new religious cause but also its persecutors and traitors. And woe to those who persecute God’s Deputies!
In that regard, it is interesting to note that Islamic tradition expects Nabi Isa (the Christ) to appear in the region of the Islamic Middle East and to war against and defeat Dajjal (the Antichrist) in that same region. The term “Antichrist” is a powerful metaphor for obstruction, opposition, betrayal, and persecution.
The Second Phase
So, if Christians will not have the privilege of meeting the latter-day Christ in person, when do they have an encounter with him? The short answer is that they will have a chance of engaging him during the second phase of the end times.
Global Spread of the Gospel
At this stage, the Christian message, the 2,000-year message of Jesus, has already gone around the world (as we can all see today), and Christians have become aware of themselves as a truly global community, albeit one divided into a multiplicity of denominations and sects. In conjunction with their colonial exploits or through independent missionary undertakings, westerners (predominantly Christian) have successfully touched every corner of the globe with the gospel message. They have fulfilled the critical mandate given them by their Lord:
And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. (Matthew 24:14)
Thus, the end has come for the followers of Jesus—the end of their spiritual and religious mission. They have completed their God-given assignment. A new horizon now beckons ahead of them. Will they recognise and embrace it?
But by the time the second stage is reached, Christianity and all other world faiths had become spiritually exhausted from their millennia-long religious exploits. And this exhaustion is reflected in a world that is on a downward spiral, spiritually and morally.
The period sees “the beginning of sorrows” when many become “offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.” “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.”
There is ongoing pain, there is widespread decadence, with the world buffeted by “tribulation,” “the sun” figuratively “darkened,” “the moon” unable to “give her light,” “the stars” made to “fall from heaven,” while “all the tribes of the earth mourn”. (Matthew 24:8-30)
Watch and Pray
But Christians are not helpless victims. Before the situation reaches the point of no return, they have the chance of redeeming themselves. The watchword for them at this stage is “watch and pray”:
Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. (Mark 13:33)
But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer. (I Peter 4:7)
The Times of the Gentiles
Before continuing, we share one other sign of this second phase. This relates to the fulfilment of the “times of the Gentiles” when the Jews were able to return to their ancestral homeland from their millennia-long exile abroad. As Jesus had earlier predicted, they were expelled from their homeland around 70 CE and the Holy Land was repopulated by non-Jews (Gentiles). It was only in the second half of the 19th century that Jews were able to trickle back into the territory in reasonable numbers. And since 1948, they have succeeded in exercising sovereignty over the Land of Israel, including Jerusalem, its capital, in accordance with the following forecast of Jesus:
And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. (Luke 21:24; cf. Deuteronomy 30:1-5, Isaiah 11:11-12)
So, the door is now fully open for Christians to join in the spiritual enterprise (in this second phase of the end times), but it requires vigilance, prayer, and effort on their part. It is not smooth sailing at this stage either, and not all worshippers can make it.
For many are called, but few are chosen. (Matthew 22:14)
There is a gradual sifting of mankind into two distinct camps. One camp is populated by the disciples of the end-time Christ (the elect of the new spiritual dispensation) and the other by the unbelievers (or deniers of the new Christ). This separation constitutes the promised Judgement of the last day.
Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. (Matthew 24:40-42)
The last verse shows that people are “taken” (to the camp of the elect) or “left” (with the deniers and unconcerned) depending on whether they “watch” or live a careless existence.
It is a separation that is further dramatised in the Parable of the Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). In the narrative, the virgins (faithful Christians) get to know of the arrival of the bridegroom (the Son of man, the Christ) through an announcement:
And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. (Matthew 25:6)
In practical terms, the news of the Son of man’s arrival could have been communicated by someone in the know—as happens, for instance, when followers of a new religion share their faith with others. In modern times, it could even be an article one encounters on the internet.
But what happens when such a clear announcement is made to worshippers who all seem anxious to meet the Christ? The parable continues:
…the bridegroom came; and they [the virgins] that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. (Matthew 25:10-12)
In brief, in the second phase, some Christians will be caught unprepared and left in a deprived state; others will be favoured with perception and acceptance in the camp of the elect.
The Judgement of the last day is, therefore, a process of separation between those who earn the blessings of reunion in the camp of the elect (heaven) and the rest who founder in the sea of deprivation (hell).
A Looming Catastrophe
The sifting of mankind is also captured in such other narratives as the Parable of the Sheep and Goats (Matthew 25:31-33) and the Parable of the Dragnet (Matthew 13:47-48). While the sifting goes on, the decadence and associated suffering continue to deepen. Nor do the wars, including the war of Armageddon (world wars), famines, pandemics, earthquakes, and other calamitous events abate. A climax is reached at some point. It manifests itself in a catastrophe of such destructiveness as to envelope and overwhelm the entire globe. The Gospel describes it in these terms:
And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all.
Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. (Luke 17:26-29)
The Book of Revelation captures it in terms of the destruction of the Babylon of materialism and irreligion:
Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her. (Revelation 18:8)
It is on this same occasion that “the powers of the heaven shall be shaken”:
…upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. (Luke 21:25-26)
The apocalyptic upheaval ripples across the globe, and the world will never be the same again. Thus the second phase ends.
The Third and Final Phase
Notwithstanding the grammar tenses used in the description of events in the two earlier phases (whether future, present, or past), it is important to reiterate without any equivocation that, from the point of view of this narrative, the first phase of the end times is gone, never to return; the second phase is still ongoing, and the third phase is yet to come. In other words, the world is still in the second phase.
But how will Christians fare in the third phase?
The third and final phase will be favourable to Christians and, indeed, to all of God’s children whatever be their religious affiliations. It will be ushered in by the aforementioned catastrophic event, an event of such biblical proportions as to gravely derange the established world order.
The Scales Fall From the Eyes
Peter describes the catastrophic upheaval in these terms:
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. (II Peter 3:10)
Many will die in the catastrophe, but there will also be many survivors. Owing to the traumatic nature of the event, this remnant will come out of the experience with greater humility and a heart that is more receptive to spiritual impulses. As such, they will have a greater appetite for truth-seeking and be less inclined to chase phantoms.
Such an attitude makes recognising the latter-day Christ easier. In that way, a growing number of the survivors will “resurrect” from their tombs of error and negligence and gravitate towards the new spiritual reality until, decades or centuries down the line, the whole of mankind comes under the divine order of the end-time Christ.
But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. (I Corinthians 15:23-24)
All groups will be represented in the new religious cause:
…I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb…. (Revelation 7:9)
These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (Revelation 7:14)
All Eyes Will Finally See
It is at this stage that the world will come to appreciate the fulfilment of all other irrevocable segments of the end-time biblical prophecies, such as the following:
…and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (Matthew 24:30)
Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him…. (Revelation 1:7)
To “see,” in the above verses, does not mean with the naked eyes; it means with spiritual eyes and with the power of insight. It implies, in other words, that the world’s people will not only become aware of the call of the God-sent Emissary but will come to recognise and enthusiastically accept him as the long-awaited Christ.
A physical presence of the Christ will not be required, nor is it necessary. And that is simply because no one, not even the Christ, will and can live on this earthly plane forever.
A New Earth Emerges
And so, the old world burns itself out in the catastrophe, thus sounding the death knell of the second phase and paving the way for a new world to emerge. That world emerges in the final phase under the influence of the transformative revelation of the end-time Christ. It is captured in prophecy as follows:
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away…. (Revelation 21:1)
But if a "new earth" is understood to mean a renewed earth, what will a "new heaven" represent? The new heaven is certainly not about the physical firmament. It is a reference to the scriptures or holy book representing the revelation of the end-time Christ. It is this revelation that “will bring to light the hidden things of darkness” and “make manifest the counsels of the hearts” (I Corinthians 4:5).
The Story of Religions
At its inception, most religions pass through a phase of seeming irrelevance. It is ridiculed by the majority population as an insignificant sect followed by none but a relatively small bunch of simple-minded, misguided individuals or even as a cult teetering on the fringes of society. Over time, though, it evolves into an all-embracing religious movement with a huge mass of ardent worshippers.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed captures this evolution reasonably well:
Unto what is the kingdom of God like? and whereunto shall I resemble it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and cast into his garden; and it grew, and waxed a great tree…. (Luke 13:18-19)
Christianity evolved over centuries in precisely this manner—from the tiny, persecuted movement of its early years in Palestine and the wider Roman Empire into the globalised religion it is today. And that is how most other religions have evolved in their own time and place.
Jesus alluded to a repetition, at the end times, of much of the developments witnessed during his own mission (and in the Christian dispensation):
And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. (John 6:39)
But why can’t all the end-time promises be fulfilled overnight with the coming of the Christ? The reason is that spiritually transforming individuals and the global society, which is the goal of the Parousia, can only be achieved over a long series of generations—each generation building on the attainments of the generation before until a divine civilisation emerges in all power and glory.
The coming world divine civilisation is what is alluded to in the Gospel as the “Kingdom of God on earth” (cf. Matthew 6:10, 25:34).
The Final Phase Beckons
Humanity is about to enter the final phase of the end times. While there is still time, during this second phase and before things get out of hand, the faithful will do well to follow these clear biblical injunctions and to do so urgently and diligently:
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)
…To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. For if Jesus had given them [Christians] rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day. (Hebrews 4:7-8)
Recommended for further reading through the links at https://hubpages.com/@kobby95 are:
- “Popular End-Time Christian Expectations That Will Not Happen”
- “The Looming Nuclear Conflagration and What the Scriptures Have to Say”
- “The Second Coming and Five Messianic Claimants”
- Other articles on the theme of the Second Coming and the End Times
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2022 Kobina Amissah-Fynn