Appendices & Indexes
1: A Summary of Basic Bible Doctrines | 2: Our Attitude to Learning Bible Truth | 3: The Nearness of Christ's Return | 4: The Justice of God

Appendix 3: The Nearness Of Christ's Return

Christ's words in Mt.24:36 make it plain that we will never know the exact time of his second coming: "Of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only" (cp. Acts 1:7). However, when the disciples asked Jesus, "What shall be the sign of thy coming?" (Mt.24:3), he did not tell them that their question was impossible to answer. He did indeed give them signs that would be seen in the world just prior to his return. Jesus would not have given these unless he intended the generation living just before his coming to be able to broadly recognize that they were indeed living in the "last days". There is good reason to hope and believe that we are in those very last days.

The Signs Of Christ's Coming

In Matthew 24 and Luke 21, Jesus spoke of a time when

  1. There would be false prophets claiming to be Christ
  2. War and violence would fill the earth
  3. "And there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes"
  4. There would be apostasy from the truth
  5. Men's hearts would fail them for fear because of the desperate state of affairs upon planet earth; "apprehensive of what is coming on the world" (Lk.21:26 N.I.V.).

It is true that the world has always been beset by an ever-increasing level of problems of this kind. Jesus was obviously aware of this fact; it is therefore fair to assume that he was speaking of a time when these problems would be so great that they would threaten to destroy the planet. There can be no doubt, to every thoughtful world observer, that this is indeed the present situation. The incredible optimism of human nature and its reluctance to realistically face up to our position, makes it difficult for us to appreciate the reality of this.

The following is just a fraction of the evidence available which demonstrates how Christ's words are now receiving a fulfilment:

  1. In almost every continent there is a steady stream of charlatans and charismatics who lead men after them.
  2. The following statistics demonstrate how dramatically the problem of war is increasing - despite concerted human efforts as never before to restrain it:
    Century War casualties
    Number of major wars
    17th 3.3 ?
    18th 5.0 ?
    19th 5.5 ?
    1900-1945 40.5 19
    1945-1975 50.7 119

(Source: Institute Of Conflict Studies, University Of London)

The massive problems of famine and plague are well known to us all. A.I.D.S. is by far the largest world-wide epidemic that has been known. It threatens to dramatically reduce world population in the long term. Apart from Christ's words in Mt.24 and Lk.21, there are several other passages which associate earthquakes with the return of Christ: Is.2:19-22; Ez.38:20; Joel 3:16; Hagg.2:7; Zech.14:3,4. The relatively recent feature of earthquakes occurring in unexpected places with unprecedented loss of life as a result, may suggest that we are starting to see the fulfilment of the earthquake sign too. The following statistics concerning earthquakes, produced by the U.S. Government Department of the Interior, are also significant:

Year    Number Of
1948 620
1949 1152
1950 2023
1964 5154
1965 6686
1976 7180

The reducing emphasis on the importance of fundamentally following the Bible in order to obtain true doctrine has resulted in a massive apostasy from Bible truth. The philosophy of human unity at all costs which now pervades society has speeded up this process.

The mushrooming escapism seen in every modern society is proof enough of man's fear for the future. Scientists, economists and ecologists all agree that the world cannot continue as it now is. Exhaustion and corruption of natural resources, pollution of the air, sea and ozone layer, coupled with the threats of epidemics and nuclear destruction all point to the impending destruction of the present world. However, God has promised that this will never occur (see Digression 9). To keep that promise, God must soon send Jesus to dramatically change this planet through the establishment of the Kingdom of God upon it.

The Revival Of Israel

Jesus rounded off his list of signs with the bold statement: "Then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory" (Lk.21:27). The next verse only affords encouragement to those who have been baptized and are living in good conscience before God: "When these things begin to come to pass (i.e. now!), then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh" (Lk.21:28).

Jesus then added a postscript to these prophecies of his second coming, in the form of a parable about the fig tree: "Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; when they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the Kingdom of God (and therefore Christ's second coming) is nigh at hand. Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass away till all be fulfilled" (Lk.21:29-32). Through our observation of the budding plants, we have an intuitive sense in the spring that summer or a change of season is coming; and so when the "fig tree" starts to bud, we should have a similar awareness that our generation will see the second coming. The fig tree is a Biblical symbol for the nation of Israel (Joel 1:7; Hos.9:10; Jer.24:2 cp. Ez.36:8). This special sign of Christ's return therefore refers to the revival ('budding forth') of Israel in some way. The dramatic events associated with the growth of Israel since her re-establishment as a nation in 1948 must surely be significant in this context.

A Future Invasion Of Israel

Many Bible prophecies describe a great invasion of Israel which will occur around the time of Christ's return. Psalm 83 describes the nations surrounding Israel becoming confederate against her, declaring "Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation, that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance...Let us take to ourselves the houses of God in possession" (Ps.83:4,5,12). Notice that this latter-day invasion of Israel is to come when Israel are a nation. Their present revival as a nation is therefore a necessary prelude to this great final invasion of the nation. Bible students had been predicting Israel's revival as a nation many years before it occurred (see, e.g., John Thomas, 'Elpis Israel', first published in 1848. A reprint of this work is available from the publishers). The attitude of Israel's invaders outlined in Psalm 83 is exactly matched by the attitude of Israel's Arab neighbours of today. They constantly declare their implacable hatred of Israel, demanding Jerusalem for themselves as a holy, Islamic city. The Psalm goes on to describe how their aggression will be ended by God's dramatic intervention, with the result that His Kingdom is established world-wide (Ps.83:13-18).

Many other prophecies describe this same sequence of events: Israel's invasion by her Arab, Northern and other enemies, resulting in God's intervention through Christ's return to establish the Kingdom (e.g. Ezekiel chapters 38-40; Dan.11:40-45). An in-depth study of prophecies like these forms an important part of our spiritual growth soon after baptism. Zech.14:2-4 is among the clearest of them: "I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken (cp. Lk.21:24), and the houses rifled, and the women ravished...then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle (i.e. He will miraculously intervene in world affairs as He has done previously). And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east".

This great invasion of Israel could occur at any moment now, given the increasing speed of warfare and political action. It is no good thinking that we will wait until the invasion to respond to the Gospel, bearing in mind Paul's words: "when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them ..." (1 Thess 5:1-3).. We will never be able to precisely pin-point when Christ will return; we only know that it is associated with an invasion of Israel from the north, and that this invasion looks likely to occur soon. It may be that there will be other invasions of Israel before that spoken of in the prophecies which we have considered; yet Bible students will continue to carefully watch Israel's position. We know that eventually God will intervene through Christ's feet standing on the mount of Olives. It was from this very mountain that Christ ascended to Heaven, and to it he will return. "This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into Heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into Heaven", the Angels told the disciples as they stood on that mount, gaping up at their ascending Lord (Acts 1:9-12).

We must be balanced in our appreciation of the nearness of Christ's return. The prophecies concerning world events around his return are given largely to confirm the faith of those who have already committed themselves to Christ through baptism. However, the evident correspondence between them and the present world situation must surely be more than fascinating to those who are yet to take that step, and will also bolster our faith in the reliability of God's inspired word. We must not be motivated in our obedience to God by a sense of fear of the imminence of the second coming. Only those who truly "love his appearing" (2 Tim.4:8) will receive a reward. Yet the urgency of our position, living on the very brink of time and human destiny as we know it, should never cease to press upon us each day that we live.