What follows is a compilation of notes I prepared for our adult Sunday School class based on an old work by Rev. Septimus Sears called, Things which must shortly come to pass. It is a simple outline of God’s prophetic timeline for the last days as revealed in Scripture. There are few things more useful than to have a simple overview of the key points of that timeline! I believe that this will help remove a great deal of the confusion that surrounds this vital subject.
Why we need to know!
This is a subject addressed by Scripture. God’s people should pay careful attention to what the Scripture teaches about the future of this world. The word of God does not leave us without instruction on this subject! See Matthew 24:32-33. The Saviour makes it plain that there will be unmistakable signs that His advent is approaching. The signs are revealed in Scripture and are to be attended to.
We are to study what the Scripture reveals on this subject. He Himself teaches in this parable the need to pay careful attention to the progress of the time and the change of the season coming upon the earth. The servants of Christ are not to be caught unawares by the Saviour’s return, 1 Thessalonians 5:4, Luke 21:33-36. The character of the days in which we live, the course and terminus of this age, is clearly revealed in Scripture and we are to know what God has said on this matter. It can only be as we follow the example of the prophets, 1 Peter 1:10-11, that we can come to an understanding of these things. See Daniel 12:4, Matthew 24:15. It is vital that the Bible is its own interpreter in this matter of doctrine and that we do not attempt to force any arbitrary scheme of interpretation upon its words.
It is part of the duty of the minister to teach on these things. Cp Luke 12:42—as the age progresses toward its close it is increasingly a due season for such instruction. Since prophetic teaching on the end time is a basic part of all Scriptural revelation, it is necessary to deal with this subject in order to declare…all the counsel of God, Acts 20:27. See 1 Thessalonians 5:1, 2 Thessalonians 2:5.
There is a special blessing pronounced by Christ Himself on the study of these matters, Revelation 1:3. There is therefore a level of blessing missed by a failure to give attention to this branch of truth! A knowledge of Biblical prophetic truth has a profound practical effect—it is a key constituent in sanctification of our lives, 1 John 3:2.
Divine help is crucial! Daniel was impressed with this truth, Daniel 10:21. See also John 16:13.
Where are we now on the prophetic timeline?
If Scripture reveals a clear timeline of events that will climax in the coming again of Christ to this earth in power and great glory—and it certainly does—then it is of paramount importance that we discover where we are currently on that timeline. We can only properly understand what lies ahead if we know where we are now. It is vital to be able to distinguish Biblically between what is past, present and future. This is where much of the controversy on this subject arises.
Some things to bear in mind when determining whether a particular prophecy relates to the past, present, or future:
- The ancient date of a prophecy does not necessarily mean it has been fulfilled. Just because the New Testament economy has superseded the Old does not mean that everything in the Old Testament has been fulfilled. Some of the most ancient statements have yet to be fulfilled. See Genesis 49:10, Jude 4.
- Many statements in the Bible have at least a dual direct fulfillment. Cp Matt 17:11-12.
- Many of the events prophesied in Scripture had multiple foreshadowings of their final fulfillment. There were many men who preceded Christ who were like Him because they faithfully served Him and were in a sense types of the coming Christ. Many of the prophecies about Christ are in their historical setting applicable to David, Solomon or any other of the prophets who made them. See Psalm 40, 72, Isaiah 8:18. Often when the prophet speaks in the first person it is clear that Christ Himself is speaking. This same principle is seen in reference to the Antichrist, 1 John 2:18. It is crucial to distinguish between a fulfillment and a foreshadowing of this kind.
- No statement made by God can be said to have been fulfilled until it is plain that each jot and tittle has been fulfilled to the letter. God does not embellish or exaggerate. Every detail of what He says must be seen to be fulfilled before a prophetic statement can be consigned to the past. An example: Genesis 13:15 (Deuteronomy 30:20), Acts 7:5.
Biblical descriptions of the present time.
- The last days. This is how the Bible describes the days in which we are living. Cp Hebrews 1:2, Acts 2:17, 1 John 2:18 (here the Greek word ‘hour’ is translated as time).
- The times of the Gentiles. This is the Saviour’s description of this age, Luke 21:24. The period identified in this way runs from Nebuchadnezzar right until the Lord’s return. See Daniel 2:31-45. This is what Paul is also alluding to in Romans 11:25. The times of the Gentiles are seen to have two distinct phases: They began while Israel was still a distinct nation and to some degree maintained a national identity in her own land. The second phase began in AD 70 when following their rejection of the Messiah, and in fulfillment of Daniel 9:26, the Temple was destroyed, the people scattered and the national identity practically lost. The re-emergence of Israel as a nation is a reminder that the times of the Gentiles are coming to an end.
- A time of increasing apostacy. The course of the world is one of increasing wickedness. Cp Matthew 24:34, Luke 18:8, 2 Timothy 3:1-5, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12.
- The day of grace. The Scripture makes it quite plain that these last days are days of gospel opportunity for the world. Cp Mark 16:15, Matthew 24:14, 2 Corinthians 6:2.
A right understanding our where we are now determines our present duty before God. We can only really know how we are to live now, and what the purpose of God is for today, as we understand this matter of where we are now on God’s timeline. Such an understanding enables us to grasp the hope that is clearly set before us in Scripture.
Next: The future and the nation of Israel