Making Sense of the Apocalypse?
[OPTIONAL: Play “It’s the End of the World As We Know It” by Great Big Sea]
This is week four in our You Asked for It message series, and the topic I’ve been asked to speak about today is one of the most discussed yet most abused and misunderstood subjects in the entire Bible. We’re going to talk about the End Times, the Apocalypse, basically the stuff you find in the book of Revelation.
The Book of Revelation is the last book in your Bible. It was written by John, traditionally believed to be John the apostle who also wrote the Gospel of John and the three letters of John included in the New Testament. Some people argue that it was another John, perhaps even John the Baptist. Whichever John it was, he claims in the text that he was living in exile at the time on the Island of Patmos out in the Mediterranean.
As for when it was written, some say around AD 69 while most put it closer to the end of the first century around AD 95, shortly before John the Apostle is believed to have died. And basically what it is, is John’s description of a vision or a revelation that God gave him. Even in the text, you can see that John had trouble understanding and communicating what was in the vision. So if you think you had trouble understanding the Book of Revelation, you’re in good company.
Basically, the book is a book of prophecy concerning the end of the world as we know it. And this is really a popular subject these days. I’ve been told that if you really want to engage people’s interest, then you have to preach on three things:
2. The End Times
3. Is there sex in the End Times
Well, one out of three ain’t bad.
There are some people who absolutely love to study this kind of stuff. They devote huge amounts of time to reading about it and formulating theories and promoting their views. I’ve even had people tell me how much they love the book of Revelation. Which, really, is a little disturbing. When people tells me they love the book of Revelation, it really leads me to conclude one of three things:
1. They’ve never read the book of Revelation
2. They’ve never read the rest of the Bible
3. They’re kooks
Because think about it... this book—and we’re going to talk about this more in a minute—but this book talks about plagues and disasters and the unleashing of evil and death on a massive scale, and about millions and millions of people being cast into Hell? That’s you’re idea of a good book? That’s what you love? Seek help. Please.
Now that’s not to say the entire book or all End Time prophecies are depressing. No, in fact, the climatic event that all Christ-followers live in anticipation of will also happen during this time... the Second Coming of Jesus. Evil will be defeated and the Kingdom of God will prevail. There won’t be any more death or illness or despair to deal with. All of that will be behind us with nothing by blue skies in front of everyone who chooses to place their faith and hope in Jesus.
So the Apocalypse is going to include some terrible things, but there will also be some wonderful things happen. Which really makes this a fascinating subject. But it’s also a difficult subject. It’s difficult because there are so many interpretations, so many opinions, and people get convinced that they are right and everyone else is wrong. Some of them might even turn Jesus away if He doesn’t return exactly as they expect. But the truth is, there’s a whole lot we just don’t know.
Now, a lot of prophecies in Revelation as well as in other prophetic sections of Scripture are a bit vague. Why? Well, it seems that God wants us to be aware that there will be an end to all this and that some things are going to happen, but exactly what, when, and how is open for debate.
We are not given a play-by-play of everything that’s going to happen. If you ask my why the book of Revelation is written the way it is, I’d say that God wants us to ready for the future but to live in the present. He wants us to know that certain things are going to happen and we can anticipate them, but He doesn’t want us to become preoccupied with them. Besides, if we knew the End wasn’t for another few centuries, we might on put off living the way we should now and lose the urgency of pointing others toward Him because, well, there’d be no rush. But as far as we know, the End could begin at any moment, so we need to be about the business of serving God and living for Him everyday.
Another problem with some of the over-emphasis on the End Times in recent years is that some of the most popular views about the End Times have only been prevalent for a century or two. That’s a relatively short time and it could indicate a problem when newer theology conflicts with or differs from the beliefs held by the Christian Church for the previous 1800 years.
So you understand, there’s a lot of debate and a lot of opinions surrounding the End Times and everything it’s going to entail. And to be honest, I generally avoid getting into specifics. I look at the people at the time of Jesus’ birth and how they interpreted Old Testament prophecies, and I see how far off they were. And it makes me wonder why I think I could do better. So with prophecy, I like to stick to the obvious and be very careful about adding my own interpretations. Especially considering that Jesus Himself said that some of it is meant to be vague.
Now, with that said, let’s talk about this Apocalypse that’s going to come to a head at some point and about what we do know. Some of it’s pretty clear, and then there’s the rest that people argue and debate about.
So what I want to do is just cover some of the terms related to the End Times and discuss them a little bit. Starting for the technical term for everything we’re talking about this morning...
Understanding End Times Terminology:
Eschatology – The Study of the End Times (based on prophetic passages in both the Old Testament and the New Testament)
Eschatology is the study of the End Times and everything that involves. (Don’t worry; I’m not going to test you on this later.) But it’s a term you may hear and that you may want to be familiar with. While there’s a lot of debate in the field of eschatology, the three things that almost everyone agrees on is that there will be a period of great tribulation, that after this tribulation Jesus is going to return to establish His Kingdom on earth, and that there will a rapture for all believers when we are transformed into immortality. How’s that going to happen, when’s that going to happen, in what order is that going to happen? That’s where people differ.
The Rapture – When Jesus instantaneously takes His Church to be with Him into eternity
This is when Jesus takes His Church… all the people on earth who believe in Him, love Him, and live for Him… and He takes them in an instant to be with Him. When’s it going to happen? Good question. The answer? We don’t know. But this is how the Bible describes the event.
Luke 17:34-35 (NLT)
“That night two people will be asleep in one bed; one will be taken, the other left. Two women will be grinding flour together at the mill; one will be taken, the other left.”
So the thing people really want to know is how the Rapture fits with the Tribulation. Will believers be Raptured beforehand, or will we go through the Tribulation along with everyone else? There are even a couple variations on a Rapture occurring halfway through the Tribulation. Most people today seem to think the Rapture will happen first—a belief that we call “pre-tribulation” or “pre-trib”—and it’s the view promoted in the Left Behind book series. But throughout most of Church history, the dominant view was that we’d be here through the Tribulation. I don’t know. All I can really say is, hope for the best but be prepared for the worst. Speaking of the Tribulation…
The Tribulation – A seven-year period of great suffering and distress (the second half is called the Great Tribulation)
This is going to be a seven-year period of great suffering and distress and it’s what most people are referring to when they talk about the End Times or the Apocalypse.
Remember all the hype surrounding Y2K? It’s been over a decade now, but do you remember all the hysteria surrounding that? People were predicting the collapse of our economy, a world-wide food shortage, a lack of pure drinking water, and anything and everything that operated by use of computer chips would cease to function, which basically includes everything in our society.
Thankfully, we didn’t run into those kinds of problems when the clock struck 2000, but there will come a time when it will seem like the whole world is falling apart. There will come a time when the whole earth goes through a Great Tribulation.
Matthew 24:21-22 (NLT)
“For there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began. And it will never be so great again. In fact, unless that time of calamity is shortened, not a single person will survive. But it will be shortened for the sake of God’s chosen ones.”
What are some of the signs this is all going to occur? The Bible does talk about some signs, such as earthquakes and famines. It says these things will increase before the Tribulation. And that certainly does seem to be happening, doesn’t it? We had a rare earthquake this week all along the east coast of North America. Plus, there’s been a surge in hurricanes and in tsunamis and floods and all kinds of disasters in recent years. The Bible says we can expect these things to happen as a sign, but it also says that those signs do not necessarily indicate that it’s all going to happen immediately. They’re signs that the End may be near, but not that it’s upon us already.
Here’s another sign... this one is actually listed earlier in the same chapter… Jesus said…
Matthew 24:14 (NLT)
“And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come.”
So before the End comes, the news about Jesus will be spread throughout the world. And that’s becoming a reality as we speak, with Christian missionaries spreading to every part of the globe. We’re closer today to every people-group being exposed to the Good News about Jesus than ever before.
Now, in talking about the Tribulation, we also need to talk about the next terms...
Seven Seals/Seven Trumpets/Seven Bowls – Refers to a series of disastrous events during the Tribulation
These terms in the Book of Revelation refer to a series of apocalyptic events that are to take place during the Tribulation, each adding to the former and getting progressively worse. Again, there’s a lot of figurative and symbolic imagery involved, but here’s my best understanding of what these are. We don’t have time to discuss each one, but at least you can see what kinds of things are expected to happen.
The Seals refer to seals on a scroll, and as each one is broken something is supposed to happen. The first four Seals are also known as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. In the vision that John is having here, he sees the first seal broken and a horseman arrives, signaling the arrival of the Antichrist.
Seal 1: The arrival of the Antichrist (the First Horseman of the Apocalypse)
Seal 2: Great warfare (The Second Horseman bearing a sword)
Seal 3: Great famine (The Third Horseman carrying a set of scales to measure food)
Seal 4: Great plagues (The Fourth Horseman colored a pale green and known as Death)
- kills up to a quarter of the population using the diseases caused by the wars and famines.
Seal 5: Martyrdom of Christians
Seal 6: A devastating earthquake
Seal 7: Released the Seven Trumpets
Trumpet 1: Hail and fire destroys much of the plant-life
Trumpet 2: Perhaps a meteor strike (?) that destroys much of the sea-life
Trumpet 3: Another meteor (?) that poisons rivers and lakes
Trumpet 4: The darkening of the Sun, Moon, and stars (Dust cloud from meteors?)
Trumpet 5: More darkness (volcanic ash cloud?) accompanied by a plague of stinging locusts
Trumpet 6: Some kind of a demonic army that kills a third of humanity/Plagues
Trumpet 7: Earthquake and hailstones/Beckons for the Seven Bowls
Bowl 1: Painful sores
Bowl 2: Death to sea life
Bowl 3: Rivers turn to blood (poisoned?)
Bowl 4: Sun’s heat is intensified
Bowl 5: More darkness and sores
Bowl 6: The Battle of Armageddon
Bowl 7: Global earthquake and huge hailstones (up to 75 pounds)
The Antichrist – Someone who will rise to a position of authority and influence then bring chaos
We mentioned the Antichrist earlier; who is it? Actually, there were antichrists already around while the New Testament was being written. The term literally means someone who opposes Christ, and there were lots who opposed Him then just as there are now. But the Bible also talks about one Antichrist in particular who’s going to rise to a position of power near or during the End Times and this person is going to lead many people away from the true God.
You might imagine the Antichrist to be someone who’s obviously evil, but he (or she) is actually going to be a very charismatic figure. He’s going to appear to be doing a lot of good things at first, even signing peace treaties and uniting the world. But then he’s going to send the world into chaos. If you’re a fan of Stephen King’s Dead Zone, think of Greg Stillman. The Antichrist will be kind of like that.
[2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; 1 John 2:18-22; Revelation 13:11-18]
So who is this Antichrist? Well, a lot of people have been accused of being the Antichrist. Most of the Roman Emperors, Napoleon, Stalin, Hitler, the Pope, every U.S. president in the past hundred years... even David Hasselhoff has been accused of being the Antichrist. What’s strange is that most people try to label someone they consider to be evil as the Antichrist, but the Antichrist is not going to appear to be a villain. In fact, a lot of people will even worship him.
Then there are some who don’t believe the Antichrist will be a person at all. They say the Antichrist could also be a world power. So again, there are things we simply don’t know right now and are subject to interpretation, making it dangerous to base our faith on assumptions.
I even heard one expert who predicted that the Antichrist will be some kind of a trans-dimensional being, or a spiritual being like one of the fallen angel seen in Genesis 6, or maybe even an alien, and that all the science fiction and space exploration of the past fifty years has been preparing us for his arrival and making us more likely to accept him. And you know what? As wild as that sounds, there’s nothing in the Bible that negates that possibility. It seems to be as valid as any other theory, except that a person might rule it out by their own prejudices about the existence of alien life or a spiritual realm.
So what’s my theory? Some of you already know it. My theory is that the Antichrist is already among us, and he looks like this.
[PowerPoint - Image of Barney the Dinosaur]
Let me show you… What is Barney? Barney’s a CUTE PURPLE DINOSAUR.
Now, the Romans were in charge of much of the world while the New Testament was being written, and the Romans didn’t have U’s in their alphabet so we have to change all the U’s to V’s. So now we have this:
CVTE PVRPLE DINOSAVR
Then if you extract all the Roman Numerals you have C V V L D I V.
Convert them into real numbers you have 100 5 5 50 500 1 5
Add them together, you get: 666
And we know from Revelation 13 that 666 is the number of the Beast. We don’t know exactly what that means, but we know it’s connected to the Antichrist. I always knew there was something about Barney...
The False Prophet – Someone who will convince people to worship the Antichrist. Both are empowered by Satan, and the three of them comprise an “unholy trinity”
This term that comes from Revelation 13 and is also referenced elsewhere. This False Prophet is going to be some kind of a smooth talker who is able to convince the masses to follow the Antichrist and eventually to worship him as a god. The Antichrist and this False Prophet are going to work hand in hand and be empowered by Satan, so the three of them together are often referred to as the unholy trinity. You’ve heard the term; now you know where it comes from.
The Abomination of Desolation – A sacrilegious object that will desecrate the Temple in Jerusalem
That’s an old King James reference. The NLT calls this the Sacrilegious Object that Causes Desecration. We don’t know what this will be, so we’ll have to wait and see. It will apparently be something set up by the Antichrist in the Temple in Jerusalem, but we don’t really know what it’s going to be.
Matthew 24:15 (NLT)
“The day is coming when you will see what Daniel the prophet spoke about—the sacrilegious object that causes desecration standing in the Holy Place.” (Reader, pay attention!)
So some sacrilegious object will be erected in the Holy Place. But we don’t know what this object will be or even what the nature of the Holy Place will be. The Holy Place was a reference to a part of the Jewish Temple, but that was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. Is the Temple going to be rebuilt? Is this verse talking about something else that’s going to be built on that location? Actually, the Dome of the Rock is already located on that site and is considered a sacred location by Muslims. So is that it or does it mean something else entirely? I guess we’ll find out someday.
Okay, so that covers the Tribulation. Just a few more terms...
The Second Coming – When Jesus returns, defeats the unholy trinity, and establishes His Kingdom
Jesus’ first coming was when He became a baby and entered into His own Creation. His Second Coming is when He’ll return in all His glory to bring reward and judgment. When’s it going to happen? We don’t know, but that hasn’t stopped people from trying to guess. Outside of the Bible, the earliest guess I’ve come across was AD 110. And there have been attempts at guessing the date of Jesus’ return ever since. Even people like Martin Luther and Christopher Columbus weighed in with their predictions. So far they’ve all been wrong. What it comes down to is this: We know Jesus is coming back, but we don’t know when. All Jesus tells us is to be ready for when He does. Here’s how John recorded this event...
Revelation 19:11-16 (NLT)
Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress. On his robe at his thigh was written this title: King of all kings and Lord of all lords.
And it goes on to talk about how this rider—Jesus—will defeat the Antichrist and the False Prophet and cast them into the fiery lake of burning sulphur that we call Hell.
The Millennium – An extended period of peace under the rule of Christ
This is described in Revelation 20, and it will be an extended period of peace under the rule of the Kingdom of God. It may be a literal period of 1000 years, or it may be an undefined length of time. In fact, some interpretations say we’re already in the Millennium… the Church Age. But most people would put the Millennium after the Tribulation, the Rapture, and the Second Coming.
The Judgment – All people will be judged by Jesus and their eternal destiny will be determined
The fact that there will be a final judgment of humankind is one area that is generally not debated by Christians. Jesus Himself will be the Judge, and He’s going to judge you—not based on the things you’ve done, but on whether or not your name is found in the Lamb’s Book of Life. What does that mean? If you’ve received the forgiveness of Christ and have chosen to live for Him, your name’s in the book and you’re destined for Heaven. If it’s not in the book, then you won’t be granted entrance. Instead, you will also be cast into the Lake of Fire, or Hell.
Now, I’ve talked this morning about how there are a lot of different theories about how things are going to play out. Here are eight of the most popular theories...
Popular Timelines of the End Times:
[PowerPoint charts for...
Dispensational Premillennialism, Pre-Tribulation
Dispensational Premillennialism, Post-Tribulation
Dispensational Premillennialism, Pre-Wrath
Dispensational Premillennialism, Partial Rapture
Dispensational Premillennialism, Mid-Tribulation
Eight different theories, and maybe one of them is right or maybe none of them are. I myself have held to different ones at different times. But there is one position about the End Times that I do think is Biblical. And I think you’ll understand it without even needing any charts or graphs. It’s called “Pan” theology, and states that it will all “pan out” in the end.
Even Jesus warns us not to focus too much on placing dates on when all this stuff is going to happen. He talked about the End Times in Matthew 24, and then added...
Matthew 24:36 (NLT)
“However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.”
I don’t know, won’t know, and shouldn’t know. I have people ask me every once in a while if I believe we’re near the End Times or maybe in them already. I don’t know, and I’m not going to hazard a guess. Jesus tells me that stuff is going to happen but I won’t know when. That’s good enough for me.
Yes, there are some signs that remind us that the End will come and that we need to be ready. So I see things that might be signs, but maybe they’re not. I can’t be sure, and neither can you.
The Bible also tells us that Jesus is preparing a place for us and that He’s delaying His return as long as possible so as many as possible will choose to place their faith in Him.
2 Peter 3:9 (NLT)
The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.
He’s holding back right now, but someday the wait will be over. And as far as we know, it could even be today. Jesus said...
Luke 12:40 (NLT)
“You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.”
It could be today. It might be next week. It may not happen for another 100 years, it may not happen for another 1000 years. We simply don’t know. So we need to be ready for it whenever it happens. And if you’re ready for it, you don’t have to fear it. Do you understand that? If you’re ready for it, you don’t have to fear it.
We’ve covered a lot of ground this morning. There are a lot of intriguing discussions surrounding the End Times. And there’s a lot more we could have gotten into if we had the time.
The big question is, “are you ready?” Are you ready for whatever comes? Are you ready for the Second Coming? Are you ready to stand before Jesus and be judged? Do you know Him? Is your name recorded in the Book of Life?
If not, now would be a good time to get it in there. I’m not given to scare tactics, but the truth is we don’t know when all this will happen, nor do we know if our own lives will be cut short quickly and unexpectedly. Far too many people through the centuries have put it off and put it off too long.
So my admonition to you is… place your faith in Jesus. Put your hope in Him. Get to know Him and live for Him. Trust Him to handle your future. You know, in all that stuff about the Tribulation, time and time again John records how the believers who are here then will be protected. And how all believers will eventually live for eternity with Jesus in Heaven.
So are you ready? If not, how about today?
Copyright © 2011 Greg Hanson