Some people of faith who believe in the prophetic teachings of the Bible look around at the obviousness of increased dramatic weather and natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes in recent years, at the increase in warring conflicts and tensions around the world, at the incredible pace of technological advancement and grow concerned.
I for one believe that their concern is not unfounded.
As Jesus Christ wound down his final days on earth that would culminate with his final teachings and his ultimate sacrifice, he stopped to rest on a hill east of the city known to many as the Mount of Olives.
Christ and his followers had come to Jerusalem for the Passover festivities, and during his first visit to the city he had been questioned by the scribes and Pharisees at the temple. When they left, Jesus pointed the temple buildings out to his followers and stated that "there will not be left here a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down."
This got some of the disciples to thinking about Jesus' promise that he would come back to the world at the end of the ages, and one of them asked him directly as to "What sign there will be of your coming?"
For all of the studies that many have undertaken of books such as 'Daniel' and 'Revelation' in the Bible, worthy studies of valid information supplied to mankind by a loving and just God who wants us to be prepared and who hides very little from those who seek knowledge, it is Jesus' own reply to the disciple's question at the Mount of Olives that yields the most direct answer as to when the world as we know it will come to an end.
He begins by stating that we need to be on our guard against false prophets and those who would lead us astray with spiritual abominations: "they will deceive many."
How many times in recent years have we heard news stories of men claiming to be the Messiah, only to lead their followers into personal destruction? Men such as Jim Jones in Guyana and David Koresh in Texas are only among the most public such false prophets.
Jesus then goes on to say that "You will hear of wars and reports of wars" but cautions that these will not yet mark the end. For the past thirty years the world has been moving steadily towards an all-out Holy War involving the Islamofascists, the Christian-leaning western nations led by the U.S., and the Jewish state of Israel.
We all know what happened on 9/11 and in it's aftermath in Afghanistan and Iraq. These are all just battles in an ever-expanding war. Jesus follows up his war prediction by saying that "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom." The twin World Wars of the 20th century were just a prelude to what is surely to come.
"There will be famines and earthquakes from place to place", our Lord and Savior continued. The earthquake in Chile on February 27th was the 7th largest ever recorded, and the earthquake in Hait on January 12th was the 4th deadliest ever.
As we all remember well from December of 2004, Indonesia experienced a 9.3 magnitude earthquake that was the 2nd largest ever recorded and which led to the massive deaths caused by the tsunami in it's immediate aftermath. The four largest magnitude earthquakes of all-time have all occurred in the last half century.
That's just the earthquake half of Christ's signs. Famine is a major problem all around the world from the American hills of Appalachia to the jungles of Africa and everywhere in between. In most of the world, the famine problem is exacerbated by unsettled political disputes and by misguided charitable efforts. The 'USA for Africa' efforts highlighted by the "We Are the World" song and the 'Live Aid' concerts of the mid-1980's being a perfect example. Tons of money raised, no dent in the problem whatsoever.
Christ called the wars, famines, and natural disasters "the beginning of labor pains" for our world as it struggled towards the end times. Perhaps the most frightening time for Christians all over the world is to come in his next prediction.
"Then they will hand you over to persecution, and they will kill you. You will be hated by all nations because of my name." Jesus speaks here of a time when Christians will be directly blamed for many of the world's problems. You can see it happening in some places even now.
The clarity of a religious element in world disputes will become so great and obvious that people are led to hate religion, turn away from it completely, and ban it's influence. A time will come for those alive at the end when they may literally have to lay down their lives for their belief in Jesus Christ.
"And then many will be led into sin; they will betray and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and deceive many; and because of the increase in evildoing, the love of many will grow cold." Christ speaks now of a systematic effort to tear down morals, to eliminate God from our societies, and to encourage brothers to turn against brothers, sons against mothers, fathers against daughters, neighbors against neighbors as mankind degenerates into baseless selfish depravity.
But just as things appear to be reaching their worst, just as wars rage all around us, as natural disasters pile on top of one another, as religious persecution grows and society decays to the point where all appears hopeless despite the ruinous failed promises of false prophets and self-serving political leaders, all will not be lost.
Here is where Christ promises that "the one who perseveres to the end will be saved." He tells us that "this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the world as a witness to all nations." Here lies the single most key element in our gaining any ability to predict a time when it is even possible for the end times to arrive.
Never before in the history of our planet has the Word of God, the Good News of the gospel of Jesus Christ, been spread to every people in every corner of the globe. From the farthest reaches of the highest mountain peaks in Asia to the deepest jungle depths of South American and Africa, missionaries have now travelled and spread the Word. And the internet has opened up and made regularly available these teachings to billions of people at the click of a button.
So Jesus himself tells us that only then, when all men have had the opportunity to hear his Word and make a reasoned choice as to whether or not to accept him as their personal Savior, only "then the end will come." He goes on to say that the very end times will be marked by overt, outright religious and spiritual deception aimed squarely at the loss of human souls to evil over good.
"When you see the desolating abomination spoken of through Daniel the prophet standing in the holy place" this will mark a time when those who are God-fearing should be prepared for a time "such as has not been seen since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will be." Ouch, for sure, but what is that "abomination" and where is the "holy place" so that we may know it when we see it happening?
Following Christ's clue and going to 'Daniel' and then further on to the writings of Paul we find the answer. The abomination is the presence of the Anti-Christ himself. A man who will set himself up at some point as a Christ-like messianic figure, but who will in fact be the ultimate false prophet in Satan's service. The holy place to which he will come will be a restored and rebuilt Jewish temple in Israel at Jerusalem.
As those with a knowledge of the history of the Jewish temple at Jerusalem know, the temple has been built and destroyed twice. It is the rebuilding of the temple for the third time which will start the actual countdown clock towards the true end times. The world of God has been spread to all corners of the earth. Now the temple need only be rebuilt for all the pieces to be in place.
Of course, that building of the third temple in Israel is no simple task. It must be built on the same site as the previous two temples, and that site is now occupied by the the mosque which Islamists consider their third holiest site on earth.
The struggles that are going on right at this moment in Jerusalem as to the control of the city go right to the heart of this matter. There are already plans being made to rebuild the temple. Should any effort be made to actually make that happen, the religious and military ramifications would be staggering to an area which is already a powder keg.
Christ says that the temple will indeed be rebuilt, and that in those days ever more false prophets will emerge who will perform wondrous miracles and will pass themselves off as messiahs or his direct representatives. These miracles will be so great, the Lord says, "as to deceive, if that were possible, even the elect", our holiest, wisest, and most legitimate religious leaders. He cautions us to not believe our very eyes, to not be fooled by these wonder-makers.
It is after this period, after all have had the opportunity to choose Christ or turn their backs on him, after the Jewish temple has been rebuilt and taken over by the Anti-Christ, after massive amounts of people have been deceived by this Anti-Christ who has passed himself off as a savior from the many wars and natural disasters and famines, it is then that it will all end.
In Christ's own words, the very end comes this way:
"The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming upon the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
And he will send out his angels with a trumpet blast, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other."No more dramatic words have ever been spoken upon the earth by anyone than those spoken by Jesus Christ in describing his return. Christ tells the disciples that "when you see all these things, know that he is near, at the gates."
Christ further teaches that "of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone." He reveals that even he could not give the disciples a day, a year, an age when it would actually happen at that point, that God the Father in Heaven reserved that knowledge.
The point that Christ makes, he makes in closing this particular teaching in answering the disciples initial question on when his return would happen. "Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come...be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come."
While it may indeed be true that none of us knows exactly when Jesus Christ will return to earth to rule over his people in peace, we can pay heed to the clues and the outright answers that he gave his disciples on the Mount of Olives in one of his final lessons if we wish to discern whether or not we ourselves might be moving towards and even living at the very end of the age.