This topic has been on my mind for quite a while. I first delivered this talk at a missions conference in Montreal several years ago. It came to mind again this week after I was asked a question about the Second Coming during a question and answer session at Cannon Beach Conference Center in Oregon. I have been thinking and praying about what we should expect as we consider the call of Christ to take the gospel to the ends of the earth in light of the end of the age. It’s not just a question of missions and it’s not just a question of Bible prophecy. It’s a more focused question. “What should we expect as we do the work of evangelism in light of the Second Coming of Christ?"
There are several ways to get your hands around this question. Here are two preliminary observations:
1) What we believe determines who we are and what we do.
We can never separate theology and practice nor can we divorce doctrine from daily life. Belief matters because ultimately whatever is in the heart comes out in what we say and what we do.
2) Our view of the last days shapes our view of evangelism and world missions.
Perhaps a better way to say it is that our whole view of the future shapes our hopes and prayers for what God may yet do around the world. Obviously there are missionaries scattered in many places who hold a variety of views regarding the end times. It is not necessary (or likely) to suppose that Christians will come to a general consensus regarding the rapture, the tribulation, the millennium, the eternal state, the place of Israel in God’s plan, or the proper way to interpret Revelation. We’ve been discussing those things for a long time, and there is no end in sight. What would seminary students do late at night if they couldn’t argue about the fine points of Bible doctrine?
And I suppose that one’s evaluation of the future depends greatly on where and when you make your judgment. Christians living during a world war are likely to view the future much differently from those who live in a time of peace and prosperity. No one does theology in a vacuum. To Christians in Muslim lands facing severe persecution, the hope of the Second Coming may seem much more real than it does to happy, well-fed Western Christians whose biggest worry is how much they can spend for Christmas this year.
With that background, I would like to focus the question a little bit more. Are there any reasons to believe that we will yet see great spiritual awakenings around the world? I think the answer is yes, for reasons I will set forth in this message.
For many years I’ve read about great revivals in the past. Note the last three words. “In the past.” Sometimes those stories sound so amazing that you wonder if such things could happen in our day.
Could there be another Welsh revival in our day?
Could there be a Third Great Awakening?
Could there beanother Laymen’s Prayer Revival?
Could we see whole nations shakenand changed by the preaching of the gospel?
Instinctively we know the answer is “yes.” Of course those things are possible in our day. God is not limited by the moral decay around us nor is he bound by our unbelief. My sermon hones in on one key point. If these truly are the Last Days before the coming of the Lord, could these things still happen?
In order to answer that question let’s back up and answer another one first. What will the world be like in the Last Days? Here are two lines of biblical evidence to consider.
1) It will be the worst of times
“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days” (2 Timothy 3:1). The word translated “terrible” occurs only here and one other place in the New Testament. In its other occurrence, it refers to the two violent men who were possessed by demons in the region of Gadara (Matthew 8:28). They were wild, uncontrollable men who lived among the tombs. The “last days” will be fierce, violent, dangerous and frightening. Savage times will come as men cast off all moral restraint and society begins to disintegrate.
Two decades ago evangelical philosopher and theologian Carl Henry predicted that as America progressively loses its Judeo-Christian heritage, paganism would grow bolder. What we saw in the last half of the 20th-century was a kind of benign humanism, but he predicted that by the start of the 21st-century, we would face a situation not unlike the first-century when the Christian faith confronted raw paganism–humanism with the pretty face ripped off, revealing the angry monster underneath. His words have come true, and we see the proof with every passing day. So Paul warns Timothy, “After I am gone, things are going to get worse before they get better. Buckle up, Timothy. Terrible times are coming.” That’s why Paul said, “Mark this,” or “Understand this,” or “Pay attention to this.” Don’t be naïve and think that everything is going to be okay. It’s not all going to be okay. But forewarned is forearmed. If we know what is going to happen, we won’t be surprised when it does.
Consider two more verses:
1 Timothy 4:1 “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.”
2 Peter 3:3 "Knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.”
We can summarize this line of biblical evidence by saying that the entire age will be characterized by unbelief and religious apostasy as men continually reject the truth and follow their own desires. There is a sense in which these things have always been true for the last 2000 years, and there have been many periods of extreme spiritual darkness. When Jesus uses the image of “birth pains” in Matthew 24:8, he may be telling us that we should expect these hard times to increase as we near the end of the age. The moral collapse of the end times will be like labor pains before a new world is born where Christ reigns as king.
But that is not the end of the story. There is another line of evidence we need to consider.
2) It Will Be The Best of Times
Let’s look briefly at two lines of evidence:
First, consider these words from Joel 2 that are repeated by Peter on the Day of Pentecost:
But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." (Acts 2:16-21).
This passage is extremely important because of where and when Peter uttered these words. It’s as if Peter is saying, “The Age of the Holy Spirit is now upon us.” It certainly means that God intends to pour out the Holy Spirit across a wide swath of humanity. What Joel predicted and Peter preached not only characterizes this entire age, it will come to a climax in the final days of human history. There will be amazing signs in the heavens and on the earth surrounding the Day of the Lord. And there will be a great movement of evangelism in the last days, starting 2000 years ago on the Day of Pentecost, continuing through the Church Age, and coming to a vast climax just before Jesus returns.
Second, we have the parable of the wheat and the weeds in Matthew 13. Jesus told a story about a farmer who sowed wheat in his field, but during the night his enemy came and sowed weeds (sometimes called tares) among the wheat. The farmer had no idea what had happened until weeks later when he discovered the wheat and the weeds growing together. When his servants volunteered to pull up the weeds, he told them to leave the weeds alone lest they accidentally pull up the wheat at the same time. They were to let the wheat and weeds grow together until the harvest, at which time he would have the reapers gather the weeds for burning, then the wheat would be gathered into the barn (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43). Later his disciples asked him to explain the story.
The wheat and the weeds represent believers and unbelievers in the world. The Lord sows the good seed that produces believers while the devil sows bad seed that produces unbelievers. That’s the world as we see it today. Christians and non-Christians live and work and play side by side. We shop at the same stores, we eat at the same restaurants, we drive on the same roads, and we work in the same companies. Very often we watch the same programs on TV, and we may even send our children to the same schools. The real point of the story is that you can’t always tell by looking who is a Christian and who is an unbeliever.
Superficially we may appear to be much the same. And when we die, we are all buried in the ground. I’ve walked through many cemeteries, and you can’t tell much about the spiritual state of those who rest six feet below the surface. The saved and the lost rest side by side. We are much the same in life and in death. But a day of final separation is coming when the Lord himself will send his angels to separate the righteous from the unrighteous. Since he alone will be the judge, there will be no mistakes.
What does this parable teach us about the Last Days? I think it suggests that there will be parallel harvests of good and evil in the days preceding the coming of the Lord. Evil will be more outrageous than ever before, and the good will easier to spot. Evildoers will become more brazen, and there will be a corresponding harvest of righteousness in the last days. The Lord’s work will prosper in the midst of continuing moral decline. This leads me to believe that the greatest revivals in history are still ahead of us. We’ve all heard it said that the darker the night, the brighter the light shines. When a jeweler wants to convince you of the brilliance of a diamond, he places it against a black background.
If we are indeed living in the last days before the return of Christ, we should expect things to get better and worse at the same time. I think we should believe God for amazing answers to prayer, culture-shaking moves of the Holy Spirit, and unprecedented open doors for evangelism. We should pray for the gospel to spread like wildfire across India and China. If there is going to be a final harvest of righteousness, then we should expect to see hundreds of millions of people coming to Christ in the years to come. And at the same time, the devil will do all he can to ignite an explosion of evil around the world.
As we rush headlong into the final days leading up to the coming of Christ, we should expect hard times and good times, increasing opposition and amazing open doors, trouble ahead and glorious gospel victories. All these things go together just before Jesus returns to the earth.
What Difference Does It Make?
As I travel to various places to speak, I sense worry and uncertainty everywhere I go. Last week during the question and answer session at Cannon Beach in Oregon, I talked about trends that may be leading to the events of the Last Days. At one point a person in the audience raised her hand and said, “If all of this is going to happen, what can we do about it?” Excellent question.
So I shared a short summary of this message and said, “I think these are great days to be alive. Think of it! We may be the generation that sees the return of Jesus Christ.” And that’s truly how I feel. I’m optimistic about what God is doing in the world today.In light of all this, how should we live?
The last days will be a time of confusion and spiritual delusion. Don’t be sucked in by the spirit of the Antichrist that is already in the world. That spirit tries to make us think that sin isn’t really sinful and that there is no such thing as right and wrong. It also seduces us into silence when we ought to be speaking out. Ponder the words of I Peter 5:8 (ESV), “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Don’t let that “someone” be you. A great deception will come to the earth in the last days. Many will be deceived. It’s easy to say, “That would never happen to me.” Don’t be too sure. Many will be deceived who today would laugh at that suggestion.
Don’t be Naive!
This is a time for the people of God to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” Don’t be naive about the true nature of sin in the world. Bad things happen because evil people cause them to happen. They hijack planes and fly them into skyscrapers. They mail anthrax to public officials. The strap bombs on young people who then blow themselves up on crowded buses. They loot and kill and destroy and defraud and break the laws of God and sometimes they go on TV and gloat about it. If we are indeed living near the coming of Christ, then we ought to brace ourselves for further outbreaks of hideous evil. The worst is yet to come. No matter how good the world seems to be in terms of technology, the moral compass is pointing in the wrong direction.
Don’t Be a Pessimist!
Believe God for great things in the last days. Pray big prayers. Ask God to bring in the last-days harvest in your town, your city, your state, and your nation.
This is no time for compromise. In times like these, Christians ought to be bold and open about our faith. Raise the flag of Jesus high above your head and then take your stand under that flag so that those near and far know who you are and whose you are. Open your mouth and say a good word for the Lord. Speak up for the Savior. Let your voice be heard so loudly that no one can doubt whose side you are on.
March in Tight Formation!
This is no time for believers to wander off on their own. Stay tight with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Stay tight with your local church. Stay tight with your Sunday School class or your small group. Stay tight with your Christian friends at work. Stay tight so you can’t be easily picked off by the enemy. When we march in tight formation, we are a formidable force to be reckoned with. When we try to go it alone, we become easy targets for Satan’s attacks.
Live Without Fear!
If we know the Lord, we are joined with the One who is the ultimate Victor in the battle between good and evil. A friend reminded me that one of the old spirituals says, “My Lord, what a morning, when the stars fall from the skies.” The slaves often sang songs that talked about the coming of the Lord because that great hope contrasted so vividly with the bleakness of their bondage.
If we read about “terrible times” to come and then give in to fear, we have missed the great point that Jesus is the Victor in the end. We live in hope because our God is a God of hope, and in Christ we have great hope for the future. The church has always done its best work in bad days and hard times. When the skies are the darkest, it is then that the glory of the gospel shines the brightest.
Charles Dickens began his epic novel A Tale of Two Cities with these words: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." That stands as a good description of what lies ahead of us as we approach the end of this age. Satan will unleash his full arsenal, knowing that his time is short. Therefore, we should not be surprised when hard times come. But this age will also end with an unprecedented spiritual harvest around the world. I can’t imagine a better time to be alive.
We are fighting a battle we cannot lose.
The Lord is looking for somesoldiers who will serve in his army.
Will you answer the call?