Dear Mr. Wilson:
Do you still think the Great Tribulation will begin in 2011? More and more, I feel uneasy about world conditions, and my fear of the future has changed my way of life. My wife also believes the end is near, but she wants to hurry up and do everything that she has always wanted to do before she can’t. Other than dealing with our monthly obligations and focusing on matters that are short-term, how do I look ahead and make plans for the future when I believe the end is imminent?
Thank you for your email. You asked if I still believe the Great Tribulation will begin in 2011. To be accurate, I must restate your question. I do believe the Great Tribulation could begin any time now, including 2011. I do not know when the censer will be cast down. Please consider two facts: First, there is a big difference between time study, and time setting and second, a date of interest does not necessarily mean it will become a date of importance.
The books of Daniel and Revelation produce an interesting dilemma. Together, they contain eighteen prophetic time periods and every student of apocalyptic prophecy is forced to put them somewhere on a time line. Putting each time period in its rightful place constitutes time study.
As you know, many Christians avoid the books of Daniel and Revelation. They say, “Bible prophecy is a mystery and solving the mystery is not essential for salvation. All that matters is having a relationship with Jesus.” Of course, a relationship with Jesus is important, but how can a person have a great relationship with someone he or she does not know?
The book of Revelation is a tell-all book about Jesus. The book of Revelation reveals many things about Jesus that are both shocking and wonderful. When the Great Tribulation begins, the imaginary Jesus (the mental image that worship due to their religious mindset) will disappear and the real Jesus will appear. This abrupt transition will cause millions of Christians to become bitter. The four gospels do not give us a complete picture of Jesus. There is far more to Jesus Christ than His ministry on Earth.
For example, study the words of Jesus to the seven churches (Revelation 2 and 3). If He were on Earth today, He would not fit in very well with any Christian church. Consider the description of the seven trumpets and seven bowls in the book of Revelation. Very few people realize that Jesus destroyed the world in Noah’s day and this same Jesus will soon destroy the whole world again.
If we are going to have a relationship with the real Jesus, we need to understand that Jesus has been given sovereign power, and at this time, He rules on the throne as Almighty God! (Revelation 11:17; 1 Corinthians 15:24–28) Christians desperately need, as the late Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story,” and there is no other place to get the rest of the story about Jesus than in the books of Daniel and Revelation.
Dates of Interest
Through the years, I have openly discussed dates of interest. Am I discouraged because the Great Tribulation has not begun? Not at all. Have I thought the Great Tribulation would begin before now? Yes! Like Peter, John, James, and Paul, I thought Jesus would be here long before now.
Should I be discouraged and angry with God because dates of interest came and went without becoming dates of importance? Not at all. Like Thomas Edison, who conducted more than 10,000 failed experiments to create the light bulb, we cannot give up or give in to discouragement. Faith is the substance of things hoped for. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.” (Hebrews 11:1–2)
I think there are several “signs” indicating the end of the world is near. These signs are not date specific, but they are time related. First, nuclear proliferation and massive military armament by dozens of nations are ticking time bombs. (Pun intended) Second, Earth itself cannot sustain a population load of seven billion people.
Inevitably, war will break out because there are insufficient amounts of food and water. Third, the nations of Earth are bankrupt (both morally and financially). One small nation in financial despair (like Greece) can threaten the whole economy of Europe, and if the European Union fails, the world’s economy will also implode. It is interesting how one insignificant domino can fall and cause a chain reaction of a whole string of larger dominos to follow.
Even though these three matters are very serious, they do not necessarily indicate that the Second Coming is near. However, when 2,600 years of fulfilled apocalyptic prophecy is combined with these ominous signs, students of Daniel and Revelation see harmony rising from the sum of all the parts.
World problems are rapidly expanding, and soon, all of the elasticity will be used up. This old balloon called Earth will burst and at that very moment, the whole world will need a Savior and at just the right moment, the censer will be cast down. Seven trumpets will sound because Jesus is on His way!
The essential difference between time study and time setting is caution. Consider this: Our faith in Jesus and the Word of God is not based on some date for our Lord’s return. Our confidence in Bible prophecy does not hang on a future date. Actually, it’s the other way around.
Our confidence in Bible prophecy is built upon many fulfilled prophecies that have occurred over the past twenty-six centuries. Because we live in the twenty-first century, we have the joy to examine the Bible and observe the steady march of time toward the return of Jesus.
Even though Christians have been watching and waiting for the Second Coming for 2,000 years, there is no doubt in my mind that Jesus will return very soon. When He will return is a question that is worthy of investigation. (See 1 Peter 1:10–12.)
Our investigation into the timing of Christ’s return must involve prophetic truth, as well as prophetic faith. There is an important distinction between prophetic truth and prophetic faith. Prophetic truth is solid. Prophetic truth is proven fact. When an element of prophecy is fulfilled, that element becomes a fact.
On the other hand, prophetic faith is “cautiously solid” if our conclusions are built upon valid rules of interpretation. Since no one can prove something true that has not yet happened, prophetic faith must be built upon self-evident rules of interpretation that consistently explain the past, the present, and the future. Every Christian should stand in awe at the prophetic truths contained in the books of Daniel and Revelation. Looking backward, we see God’s Word validated. Looking forward, there is good reason to anticipate the soon arrival of “the day of the Lord.”
Noah and the Censer
Long ago, the Father set future dates by His own authority. (Acts 1:7) For example, the Father set a date for the commencement of the Great Tribulation, but no one knows this date. Jesus said, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matthew 24:36–37, italics and insertion mine) Many people think this text concerns the date of the Second Coming, but this is not the case. Jesus is talking about “the day of the Lord.”
Look at this verse: “Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.” (1 Thessalonians 5:1–4, italics mine)
The phrase, “the day of the Lord,” does not point to some day of the week such as Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday. This phrase is used nineteen times in the Bible and it refers to a span of time that concludes with the physical appearing of Jesus. This span of time has several different names.
For example, it is called “a time of wrath, distress, anguish, trouble, ruin, darkness, gloom, clouds, and blackness.” (Daniel 8:19, Zephaniah 1:15; Ezekiel 30:3) It is also called “the appointed time of the end” (Daniel 8:19; 11:35) and we are told it will come unexpectedly like a thief. (2 Peter 3:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; Luke 12:39; Matthew 24:43) A time is coming when the awesome authority of Jesus Christ will be clearly seen and everyone will feel His anger with man’s decadent and degenerate behavior.
In Matthew 24 and 25, Jesus drew a parallel between the commencement of “the day of the Lord” in Noah’s day and in our day. Why the parallel? In both cases God’s wrath suddenly begins. Clouds gathered and the rain fell in Noah’s day. The rain caught the distracted antediluvians by complete surprise! In our day, the censer being cast down will catch even the ten virgins by complete surprise! (Matthew 25:1–12) Remember this, the day of the Lord will come as a surprise—even for those who anticipate His return!
The Second Coming Will Not Surprise Anyone
While the day of the Lord will come as a surprise, the Second Coming will NOT come as a surprise to anyone—even the wicked! Here is why:
When the censer is cast down (Revelation 8:5), the righteous will count down the days until the Second Coming because Daniel indicates the Lord will appear on the 1,335th day! (Daniel 12:11–12) Gabriel even told Daniel that he would be resurrected at the end of the 1,335 days! “As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the [1,335] days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance.” (Daniel 12:13, insertion mine)
The date of the Second Coming will not catch the wicked by surprise because the devil will tell his followers the date of Christ’s appearing. About twenty days before the 1,335th day, the sixth bowl will be poured out. (Revelation 16:12) Demons will be sent throughout Earth to rally all the kings along with their armies to make war on the soon appearing Jesus.
John wrote, “Then I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon [the devil*], out of the mouth of the beast [the devil] and out of the mouth of the false prophet [the devil]. They are spirits of demons performing miraculous signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty. . . . Then I saw the beast [the devil] and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army.” (Revelation 16:13–14; 19:19) The wicked will be armed and ready to make war against Jesus! There is no surprise for anyone, and certainly no ambush.
*(Note: The great red dragon (Revelation 12:9), the lamb-like beast (Revelation 13:11) and the false prophet (Revelation 19:20, Revelation 13:14) are the same entity. John refers to Lucifer as three distinct entities because the devil is given three different caricatures in the book of Revelation. The devil’s activities are divided into thirds so that mankind might better grasp an enormous picture—the devil’s sophisticated efforts to lead the world astray.)
Two Tomorrows: Earthly and Heavenly
Jeff, you know that Christians have been anticipating the end of the world for 2,000 years. If every Christian had followed Paul’s advice and shut down their dreams and future plans because the coming of Jesus was near, no Christians would be on Earth today. They would have vanished! Notice his words: “What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none.” (1 Corinthians 7:29; See also Exodus 19:10–15.)
For 2,000 years, Christians have been dealing with two tomorrows in different ways. This diversity is caused by our two natures (spiritual and carnal) and the influence of different personalities. Have you heard the old saying, “Don’t be so heavenly-minded that you are of no earthly good?” There is wisdom in this axiom because, like it or not, a productive and happy life requires the fulfillment of a number of earthly obligations.
How can anything of substance be accomplished without planning, commitment, and execution? Hospitals, schools, universities, business corporations, and churches are valuable parts of society. Such institutions can take many years to establish. Doing good requires plans, commitment, and labor. There is nothing wrong with looking forward and planning accordingly. We have to live on Earth until Jesus comes, so let us make the best of this assignment! On the other hand, we must be careful. It is one thing to occupy until the Lord comes, it is another to become totally preoccupied.
Jesus told a parable one day. Speaking of Himself, He said to His disciples, “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’ “ (Luke 19:12–13) When the king returned, he richly rewarded the nine servants who had put the king’s money to work. The parable ends when the king confronts the servant who had received one mina. (A mina represents three months wages.)
“Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’ His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’
Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’ ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘he already has ten!’ He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has [been faithful with what was given them], more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing [to show for the money I gave him], even what he has will be taken away. But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them – bring them here and kill them in front of me.’ “ (Luke 19:20–27, insertions mine)
When properly understood, this parable speaks volumes. Jesus has gone away to Heaven to be crowned King of kings. He has given His followers some assets. Some followers have been given much and some have been given little. The servant given one mina became angry with the king when he saw that the others had much and he had little.
So, the servant did not want to serve the king. The servant wrapped the mina in a piece of cloth and went about his own business. When the king confronted the servant about his actions, the man justified himself by saying the king was unfair. The king had only given him one mina. The king then killed the servant because he was unwilling to serve the king. The moral of the parable is elegant: If you have received much or little, you have to be wise and faithful stewards until the Lord returns.
Watch for the Providence
Providence should be one of the cornerstones of our relationship with Jesus. The Lord invites us to bring our thoughts and plans, our perplexities and goals to Him. (Hebrews 4:26) If we walk with the Lord, obeying His commands, He will hear our prayers and respond accordingly. Of course, the Lord will not respond to our prayers if we are rebellious. (Isaiah 1:15) We cannot see beyond today, because we do not know the higher plans Jesus has in mind for us. It is always a privilege to seek the Lord and learn His plans.
The Lord will hear our prayers if we are humble and willing to listen. The Lord answers the prayers of every sincere person who seeks Him with all of his or her heart. (Jeremiah 29:13) Therefore, after presenting your concerns to the Lord, leave them with Him. My prayers go something like this: “Lord, you know my concerns.
I’m not sure that I am aware of everything that I should be concerned about! Therefore, I am asking you to show me the direction that I should go. If I do not see a providential opening before the deadline, I will take this to mean that I must use my best judgment. If I respond incorrectly, please make your will very clear so I cannot miss your instruction! Whether I succeed or fail, may your holy name be glorified. Amen.” Each of us needs to be on our knees each day, requesting the Lord’s guidance in our lives and listening for His response.
The Book of James
There is one book in the Bible that was written for people facing two tomorrows. It was written by a man who thought Jesus was soon to return. James wrote, “Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.” (James 5:7–8)
James lived at a time in Earth’s history when the two tomorrows presented a tremendous problem. All of the disciples, including James, thought they were living in the last days. Severe persecution caused many of the early believers to be destitute, so the early Christians came together and sold their goods and possessions to share the proceeds with other believers. (Acts 4:32–5:11) As time passed, James began to analyze some of the problems of living with two tomorrows and the Holy Spirit led him to write five short chapters. Read the book of James in one sitting. It can be done in less than thirty minutes. It’s full of wisdom!
If James were writing this article today, I am sure he would close with the following admonition: “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ “ (James 4:13–15) As long as we live here, we have to be responsible and take care of Earthly matters in a way that is pleasing to God. (1 Corinthians 10:31) Do not forget the parable in Luke 19. We are here to serve a king who will surely return and He will require a return on the money and time He has given us. Watch for God’s providence.
Submit all your plans to the Lord and see what He has to say. (This is an essential cornerstone in having a relationship with Jesus.) Our ultimate purpose on this Earth is to please God. God’s timing is perfect and He will fulfill His perfect plans. When He does, everyone will be rewarded according to what they have done.
“Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.” (Matthew 25:21) While you are going about the King’s business, just remember the words of Jesus: “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will [begin to] come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Matthew 24:44)