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Are We In The End Time?

Are we in the End Time?  One of the signs that is often cited that we are—from Jesus’ own words in Mark 13:7—is “wars and rumors of wars.”  Especially wars and rumors of wars involving the Land of Israel and the Middle East.  With the wars raging in Israel and Ukraine, and with rumors of both conflicts growing and potentially involving other nations, thereby sparking more wars, is this the sign that we are in the End Time?  

I don’t know.  We might be.  But we might not be.  I have no clue.  I would love to know.  Knowing would provide profound comfort.  Especially now, as the World seems to be on fire, coming apart at the seams.  Especially now, after coming through the Pandemic only to be cast into so much division and unrest, so much violent upheaval, so much conflict and uncertainty.  Especially now, when it is so easy to feel overwhelmed by it all, so easy to be filled with dread over what the future holds. 

I completely understand why so many long to know what the future holds, long for the certainty, the assurance, the sense of control that would give us.  I completely understand why so many believers search the Scriptures trying to figure out—or even claiming to have figured out—the timetable of End-Time events.  Seeing prophesy from several millennia ago being fulfilled in our midst would provide profound comfort.  It would reassure us that God is working all thing out for the ultimate good.

With the World spinning out of control, we are all desperate for some kind of assurance that God is still in control.  That He is working even now.  That He will ultimately set everything right in the End.  Especially now, being able to point to signs of the End that fulfill Biblical prophecies uttered millennia ago would provide the kind of certainty and comfort our quivering hearts ache for. 

Unfortunately, this kind of assurance is not to be had.  See, the fact is, as much as we yearn to be able to interpret the signs of the times and predict the End, no one knows.  No one can know.  How do I know?  How can I be so sure that no one can know?  Because Jesus said so.  Because the Bible says so.  Unequivocally so!

Just look at the passage people often cite in reference to the End, where Jesus talks about “wars and rumors of wars.”  This reference is found in Jesus’ so-called “apocalyptic discourse”, which takes up the entire Thirteenth chapter of Mark’s Gospel.  In it, Jesus talks at length about the events leading up to His return. 

When I first read this chapter, I was mystified.  I had no idea what Jesus was talking about.  In fact, when I first encountered Christians who were all fired up about End-Time speculation, I had no idea what to make of the passages they were citing from the Bible, including this one.  But I figured the best place to look would be to see what Jesus said about it.  And this chapter in Mark, along with its parallels in Matthew and Luke, is the place where Jesus addressed this question most thoroughly and clearly. 

Around the time I was wrestling with the question of what the Bible says about the End, I took a class in Divinity School on Mark’s Gospel.  The commentary we used, by one of the most distinguished Marcan Scripture Scholars, was Morna Hooker’s The Gospel According to St. Mark, Black’s New Testament Commentary.  Her interpretation made what Jesus said about the End abundantly clear.  What follows aren’t my own insights, but what I gleaned from her highly respected scholarship.  If you want more detail, I highly recommend you read her commentary. 

As she points out, the discourse is broken up into three long sections.  If you look closely at what Jesus actually says, you can plainly see that, in each section, He describes events that might be interpreted as signs of the End—but aren’t! (5-8, 9-13, 21-3) 

Jesus prophesies that “these things”, including wars and rumors of wars, will happen.  But, in each of the three sections of the discourse where He talks about these things, He issues a stern warning to His disciples not to mistake them as the signs of the End.  Hence, the reason He immediately admonishes them to “be alert”, to “keep awake”. (5, 9, 23). 

When Jesus does turn to the actual signs of the End (14, 24, 28), He describes them occurring so close to the event itself—almost concurrently—that they don’t provide any real warning at all!  For example, one of the true signs of the End He points is that the Sun will be darkened and the Moon no longer give light, that the Stars will fall from the sky and the powers in heaven will be shaken.  But, He goes on to say, when we see all this happening, the Son of Man will already be standing at the gates!  Like the old air raid sirens that were supposed to sound in the event of a nuclear attack by Russia, by the time we see the true signs of the End, it will be too late.  The End will already be upon us.     

(By the way, if you haven’t figured it out already, the language Jesus uses to describe His return is highly metaphorical in nature.  Apocalyptic language, the language the Bible uses to describe End-Time events, often is.  It has to be.  It’s describing realities that transcend space and time, that describe eternity breaking into our world—realities so exceedingly beyond our ordinary, finite ways of conceiving things, they are utterly indescribable.) 

Finally, Jesus describes “that day” when He, the Son of Man, will return, coming on the clouds of Heaven to judge the World.  This is the climax of His apocalyptic discourse, the End of the World.  But right after describing His central role in the climactic event of history, Jesus then makes an astonishing declaration: “No one knows the day or the hour.  Neither the Angels, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (32)  He admits that He Himself doesn’t know the timing of “that day.”  Then, one last time, He emphatically warns: “Beware, keep alert, for you do not know when that time will come.” (33) 

Jesus punctuates what He has now repeated three different times—clearly His main point in giving this discourse—with a parable, the Parable of Master’s Return.  Not to give away the ending, but it’s about a master who returns suddenly.  Without any warning.  Without any “sign”.  This, Jesus says, is how His return will be.  Without warning.  Without any real sign. 

But how could Jesus be ignorant of the End?  Many claim He wasn’t.  That He was just ignorant of the exact day or hour.  That’s how they read this verse.  Not referring to the general period of the End, but the specific moment, that day and hour. 

I like this explanation.  I don’t like thinking that Jesus didn’t know, generally at least, in what period of history the End would come, when He would return.  So what if He didn’t know the specific moment, as long as He knew the general time frame. 

And, as a number of commentators have pointed out, if this is the case, if this is the right way to interpret the verse, then Jesus wouldn’t be denying that the general timing of the End might be contained in Biblical prophesy.  He wouldn’t be saying that we can’t read the signs of the times to predict the End. 

Like I said above, I wish this were so.  If we could figure out the timing from the Bible, it would provide profound comfort.  However, what I’ve discovered about this verse is that the larger context of the apocalyptic discourse makes Jesus’ meaning lucidly clear. 

The events that Jesus predicts must precede the End—but which He specifically warns should not be misinterpreted as signs of the End—require, under normal conditions, long spans of time to occur.  Ordinarily, the litany of events Jesus says must precede the end—wars and rumors of wars, nation rising against nation, earthquakes and famines in many places, false messiahs coming in His Name—take generations to play out.  This litany implies a long, open-ended time frame, within which “that day or hour” could come at any moment, in other words, any general period. 

But if a common sense reading of the length this litany of events would take to play out isn’t enough to know this is what Jesus was implying, just look at what Jesus says about the Good News: It needs to be proclaimed to all nations before He will return.  We know, two millennia and countless generations later, that only now, in our period of history, is the fulfillment of this prophesy is finally in sight. 

Thus, in His apocalyptic discourse, the context makes clear that Jesus envisioned the possibility of it taking generations before His return.  This means that the “day or hour” refers not only to the specific moment but the general epoch of history in which the End will occur.  And this means that, as embarrassing as it might be for Christians to admit, Jesus did profess ignorance about the timing of His Return.  And this means that He was emphatically declaring that no knows, that no one can know when the End Time will occur, either.  And this means that the Bible doesn’t contain some kind of hidden timetable, where the signs of the End can be decoded to figure out when Jesus will return.

All it does—and this is more than enough—is assure us that He will we return.  We can be certain of this.  And certain that when He does return, He will set everything right.

In fact, that’s why He told us these things, why He said all “these things” must happen first.  He wasn’t giving us signs to look for—the only actual signs He gives don’t provide any real warning.  No, He wanted us to know that these things will happen, but it doesn’t mean it’s the End. 

These things will happen.  Wars and rumors of wars.  Nation rising against nation, Kingdom against kingdom.  Earthquakes and famines in many places.

These things will happen.  But they aren’t the signs the End is upon us.  They are the necessary prelude to the end, the preliminary stages, the beginning of the birth pangs, that will inevitably take place during the time before His return.  

These things will happen.  There will be times when the World feels like it is spinning out of control, when it looks like its unraveling before our eyes.  But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the End. 

These things will happen.  So, don’t be distracted by them—lest we are caught of guard when He does return! 

These things will happen.  But when they do, don’t panic.  Jesus predicted they would.  He knew all along they would.  That’s why He told us about them.  So we wouldn’t be shaken by them when they do happen.  So we would know that, no matter how out of control things seem, He’s still in control. 

These things will happen.  But we have the profoundest assurance of all: that Jesus knew beforehand they would.  And that they can’t keep Him from fulfilling His promise to make all things right in the End.  No matter how out of control things seem, ultimately, He has all things under control.    

When it comes to the End Times, there is one thing Jesus couldn’t have been any clearer about: We cannot know the time of His return.  If, while He walked among us as a human being, while in His full humanity, the eternal Son of God Himself was ignorant of “that day and hour”, then no mere mortal can know it.  As the Bible teaches, all we can do—all we must do—is “Stay awake”, “Keep Alert.”   

I vividly recall the run-up to the Gulf War in the early 1990’s.  During the height—and the fright—of the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, a number of prominent Christians were teaching that this was clearly the sign that the End was near; that, in the light of Biblical prophesy, it was clear that the Gulf War was the sign that the great Armageddon was upon us and that the End would soon follow. 

They were mistaken—obviously!  But their preoccupation with this supposed sign of the End Time wasn’t an anomaly—throughout history, similar predictions have been made and found wanting.  And their’s wasn’t just a colossal waste of time.  It was a dangerous distraction—for them and the many who listened to them.  Their preoccupation distracted them from “being alert”, from focusing on the one thing above all else Jesus commanded us to focus all our heart, mind, soul, and strength on: Love of God and love of neighbor.  Moreover, it undermined the credibility of the Gospel.  For many unbelievers observing this spectacle, it only made them more wary of Christians and their gullibility.

In fact, the fact that so much End-Time speculation has proven so embarrassingly wrong is powerful vindication of Jesus’ words.  Just think about it for a second: With all the people over the centuries who’ve mined the prophesies contained in God’s Word for signs of the End, shouldn’t we expect a clear timetable to have emerged, to have been discovered and been decoded—if the Bible does indeed contain one? 

I do believe the Bible is inspired, that it is the Word of God.  That’s why I’ve also come to believe that there is no timetable contained in it—if there was, it would be evident; God would make it evident to any and all who searched the scriptures carefully and sincerely.  If God wanted us to know, we’d know. 

That and the fact Jesus, in scripture, told us so: You cannot know the time of the End.  No one can.    

The only thing Jesus told us to do regarding the End is “Be alert”, “keep awake.”  Since no one knows when the World will end—it could End at any moment; we may very well be in the End Time—since our own World may end at any moment—in death—it would behoove all of us to heed the wisdom of Jesus found in His Word. 

And Jesus clearly told us how to do this, how to be prepared, whether the End of the World happens in our lifetime, or the end of our personal world happens in death: Love Him, God, above all else, and love others as He has loved us.  If, day by day, hour by hour, we entrust our lives to Him, if we trust in His grace to enable us to love as He has commanded, then we have nothing to fear, nothing to worry about.  We will be prepared for His return; we will be prepared for anything.  Because whenever and however the End takes place; whatever things we have to suffer and endure in the meantime, He promises that when He returns, it is His love that will Reign.  Over all.  For all eternity.    

But why should we trust Him?  Why should we believe that His promise is true, that He is the Eternal Son of God who will return on the clouds of Heaven?  Especially if you’re skeptical, like me?  There is something about this remarkable verse, Mark 13:32, where Jesus professes ignorance of when the End will occur that tells us why.  That reveals He was indeed the Son.  The Eternal Son of God who will one day return to bring about the final consummation of all things.  In an upcoming blog I will explain how.

But assuming for now that Jesus is the eternal Son who will return, is there a healthy way to focus on the End?  To derive the profound comfort many yearn for and find in doing so? 

Absolutely.  

There is a very healthy way to be preoccupied with the End.  A way that intensifies our being awake and keeping alert.  A way that changes our anticipation from nervous fear of being caught off guard to a confident desire, a passionate longing for the Final Consummation.  A way that will produce a far greater comfort than the kind many seek through End-Time speculation. 

When I was a kid, my dad had to go on a business trip for one week every year.  My mom would drive him to the airport and take me and my sister along for the ride so we could all go to dinner in the terminal and then send him off.  I loved taking my dad to the airport.  The restaurant at the airport had a great view of the runway.  I was transfixed watching all the planes taking off and landing.  At the time, Boeing had just introduced the 747.  It was a huge thrill to see such a large plane up close and then watch it get airborne through the miracle of modern engineering. 

When it came time to take my dad to his gate, we’d stick around and watch from the terminal as his plane would fly off into the sunset.  At that moment every year, my heart would begin to ache.  It would  ache for his return. 

When we returned home, without him, it felt so empty.  I felt so empty.  And lonely.  For a kid, a week feels like an eternity.  That week was always excruciating.  Things just felt so off, so out of sorts without him.   

All week, all I could think about was going back to the airport to pick him up.  I didn’t care about seeing the planes anymore.  I just couldn’t wait to see him again.  And when that day came and he would come  down through the gate, I’d run to him.  And he’d drop his bags, stretch out his arms, and give me the biggest hug ever.  Then he’d throw me up on his strong shoulders and hold me tight. 

As a little kid, your dad is your hero, the strongest man ever.  I always felt so safe and secure when he would pick me up like that.  And after what seemed like a long absence, running into the powerful embrace of his love again was a thrill like no other.  At that moment, everything felt right with the World again.     

For anyone who loves Jesus with all their heart, soul, mind and strength, who has entrusted their lives to Him, this is, in essence, what Jesus’ return will be like.  Oh, it will involve so much more than this.  Infinitely more.  Indescribably better.  It will be unspeakably beautiful.  Exciting.  Glorious.  But, when Jesus comes on the clouds of heaven, the essence of it will be like our beloved returning after a long absence—only a million times more wonderful and thrilling. 

Preoccupying ourselves contemplating this moment will not only provide the profound comfort our hearts ache for in the face of the turmoil that is our World today.  It will also keep us alert, focusing on the one thing He wants us to: loving Him. 

And when we are laser-focused looking forward to the embrace of His love, our hearts will be bursting with love and joy.  Consuming ourselves with His return in this way will propel us to love others even as He has loved us.  And that will prepare us for whatever comes our way: the things He predicted would happen, the end of our personal world in death, or the End, if it happens to happen in our lifetime.    

Jesus didn’t give us a timetable for the End.  He gave us the assurance of His eternal love.

He didn’t give signs to decipher.  He gave us a promise to bank on.

We don’t need to figure out if the End is upon us.  We just need to trust the Son who promised He will return and set all things right.

What do you think about this interpretation of the End Time from Jesus’ words in Mark 13?  I would love to hear your thoughts.  You can go to the Contact “E. J.” page and leave your comments there.  I look forward to hearing from you!

About Me

E.J. Sweeney is a true skeptic. He needs to see to believe. Hard Evidence. Compelling Proof. Solid Logic. This is what he believes in. In college, he encountered questions that the superficial faith he was raised on couldn’t handle. So he began a quest for Truth, a quest for the answers to life’s ultimate questions.

EJ Sweeney

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