For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11)
Since time began, people have been craning their necks, trying to get a glimpse of the future. In ancient days kings had diviners, prophets and soothsayers—people who would read the entrails of animals to discern coming events—professionals whose job it was to predict the future.
People are still longing for a good look into their destiny. Many dabble with Ouija boards, glance at their horoscopes in the daily paper, pay by the minute for phone consults with psychic readers, and look into esoteric practices like Kabbalah to learn about future events. Some people play with predictions for fun, but for most, the hunger to know the future is a craving for control over one's own destiny.
What are we to believe about the future? Frightening predictions of political, economic and ecological calamities abound. Some are unfolding before our eyes, like the mammoth BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Many react by storing up food and other survival supplies. Some are even planning to hole up in remote areas to ride out what they see as the coming storm. Others are skeptical of what they feel is fear mongering.
Can we really know?
Can we really know who is right? Is there a balance between overreacting to and underestimating the potential problems ahead?
Time and time again, the Bible has proven to be an accurate record of past events, as well as an amazing predictor of future events. This may seem ironic in light of the fact that the Bible expressly prohibited such activities as soothsaying, fortunetelling and witchcraft—none were to be tolerated according to the Torah. Deuteronomy 18:10–12 is one of many passages prohibiting such things:
Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you.
So it might seem to some that God wants us to stumble around blindfolded, with no idea of what is in front of us.
But God does not want us throwing ourselves at the mercy of those who would profit by the desperation we may feel over future events. God also knows that the dark powers people use to divine the future are deceptive. He wants us to know certain things about tomorrow, but he wants us to know them accurately. That's why he tells us:
"Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. (Isaiah 46:9,10; emphasis supplied)
How does God's way of telling the future differ from that of a psychic or a fortuneteller? God doesn't charge anything for what he reveals, nor does he offer prophecy as a way to change what is to come simply by knowing it. Many people despair over a multitude of scenarios that seem to spell hopelessness for the future. God has provided us with scenarios of what to expect so that, rather than despair, we can prepare for what lies ahead.
Are we in the last days? The Bible outlines three areas that indicate we are. The first area, called "birth pains," is a group of events. The second involves the state of Israel, and the third has to do with Jews who believe in Jesus. Each of these categories points to a period of time the Bible terms "the last days." For some, the end of the world is frightening. But if we understand what the Bible says about these things, hope can replace fear.
The Birth Pains of Messiah
Jesus answered: "Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Messiah' and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains." (Matthew 24:4–8)
Y'shua (the Jewish way to say Jesus) gave the above speech to answer a question someone had asked regarding the end of the world. His graphic image—birth pains—actually describes the times in which we are living. Birth pains (contractions) are the body's way of letting a woman know how close she is to giving birth. They become more and more agonizing and plentiful as the time for giving birth approaches.
So it is as we await the Messiah's return. Y'shua gave us a list of symptoms to watch for. The greater the frequency and intensity of these symptoms, the closer we are to the end: false messiahs, wars and rumors of wars, nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom, famines and earthquakes in various places. All these "contractions" create a climate of anticipation. This expectancy mounts as the things Jesus mentioned become more frequent and more intense.
Individuals claiming to be the Messiah are deceiving many. People blindly follow these false prophets who profess to have divine insight. Jim Jones, David Koresh, Marshall Applewhite (Heaven's Gate), and others have led their followers down a path of destruction.
"Nation will rise up against nation ..." Look at the nations. Currently there are seven conflicts causing at least 1,000 violent deaths per year.1 Some, like the civil wars in Afghanistan and Somalia, have lasted for decades and have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. There are tragic stories to tell on almost every continent—the intensity of war is definitely increasing.
"There will be famines and earthquakes in various places." There have always been natural disasters such as earthquakes, but let's examine the trend. The following is the number of earthquakes that have registered 7.0 or higher in these 38-year periods:
1977-2014: 164 (to March 2011), 190 total predicted.2
Despite all the miracles of modern technology, thousands of people are still starving to death every single day. Seventeen percent of the world population is malnourished or starving. Some famines are due to crop failure; others are the result of war and natural disasters. An estimated eleven million people in the Horn of Africa are on the brink of starvation due to war and extreme drought.3
The Bible speaks of a growing sense of lawlessness as another birth pain:
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. (2 Timothy 3:1–4)
Who can look at news reports without seeing an increase in lawlessness? Seemingly nice students are gunning down their classmates. Fifteen-year-old Charles Andrew Williams killed two fellow students and wounded thirteen others in a shooting spree at Santana High School in Santee, California. Here's what a thirteen-year-old girl said about him after the shooting: "Andy is real nice. He was a sweetheart ... He's very popular. I hung out with him and we talked about normal kid stuff. He wore the same goofy yellow shirt every day. He was just over at my house Saturday night."4
Even the most optimistic among us can't help but see that there is a sickness in our society, and that the prognosis is not good.
In speaking of these painful portents, Y'shua said, "See to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come." He wanted people to be alert and aware, not fearful. God wants people to have hope in him. Despite all the problems and pain we see around us, we can know that there is a way through it all. We can know that God is in control.
More Evidence: A Modern Miracle
They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. (Luke 21:24)
Not so long ago, people tended to interpret the Bible's future predictions as symbolic. It was inconceivable to them that the end times events depicted in Scripture could occur in a literal sense. All of that has changed with three modern-day events. The rise of the Zionist movement in the late nineteenth century, the founding of the modern State of Israel in 1948 and Israel's recapture of Jerusalem in 1967 have cleared the way for the end times events of which the Bible speaks. The fact that the Jewish people are back in the Land and once again in control of Jerusalem clearly signals that these are indeed the end times.
The period of time that the Bible refers to as "the times of the gentiles" began with the destruction of the Temple and of all Jerusalem. Y'shua predicted this ghastly event, and Titus and the Roman soldiers brought it to its terrible and complete fulfillment in 70 A.D.
Jesus' words have echoed down through the centuries, and Jerusalem has been "trampled on" by the nations (gentiles). Non-Jews have been in control of the city ever since—until now. With the rise of the Zionist movement, the distant hope of the Jewish people's return to the Land of Israel became a matter of pressing concern. Waves of immigrants began making their way back from far away lands.
Finally, in 1948 Israel became a state. Our people were back in the Land God gave us. This had not been the case for 2,000 years! But the ancient city of Jerusalem was still "trampled on by the gentiles." It was under Jordanian rule, not Jewish sovereignty. Then in 1967, as a result of the Six-Day War, Israel recaptured the ancient city of King David. For the first time in 2,000 years the holy city of Jerusalem is under Jewish sovereignty. Most of the end times events the Scriptures describe could never have occurred during the past 2,000 years. Now they can.
And how has all this come about? Many have lauded the superiority of the Israeli fighting force. Others have pointed to their brilliant military strategists. But when you look at the odds that Israel faced, it hardly seems humanly possible that she prevailed against so many enemies. At the beginning of the War of Independence in 1948, Israeli forces were outnumbered twenty to one.5 In the days leading up to the Six-Day War, 250,000 Arab troops, more than 2,000 tanks, and 700 fighter and bomber aircraft surrounded Israel. As Chaim Herzog, who later served as Israel's president, observed, "The world looked on at what was believed by many to be the impending destruction of Israel."6 Indeed, Israel's continued survival amidst her avowed enemies such as Hamas, Hezbollah and Ahmadinejad is a modern miracle and another sign that we are in the last days.
Jews for Jesus—Another Sign of the Times
"For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'" (Matthew 23:39)
Most people know that Jesus is Jewish and that his disciples and all his early followers were Jewish as well. When the Romans destroyed the Temple, even more Jews of that day became believers in Y'shua because they remembered that he had predicted that very event. Some scholars claim that by the end of the first century, as many as one-third of all Jewish people still living in the Land of Israel were believers in Jesus. Then came persecution and scattering. From the fourth century until the nineteenth century, while there was certainly a small remnant of Jewish believers in Y'shua, they were neither noticed nor notable.
In the nineteenth century, just as the Zionist movement was on the rise and our Jewish people began returning to the Land, once again some began coming to faith in Jesus. Since the 1900s, that pace has increased as never before since the first century, particularly in the last five decades. Now, more Jews than ever believe in Y'shua.
Why is this significant? Because of the importance of Y'shua's statement in Matthew 23, "You will not see me again until you say, 'Baruch Haba B'shem Adonai—Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'" Those were the last public words that Y'shua uttered in the Temple at Jerusalem. Earlier in his speech, Jesus had quoted from Psalm 118. This key psalm, included in the Passover Haggadah, predicts the coming of the Messiah: "The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone [or cornerstone]; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes" (vv. 22–23). Jesus used that passage to identify himself as the Messiah who would be rejected and one day recognized by Jewish people as the very cornerstone, the foundation of all that the Temple and Jerusalem represent. Now, two thousand years later, a significant and growing minority of Jewish people are saying to Y'shua, "Baruch Haba B'shem Adonai."
There are those who think that Christians are motivated to tell Jews about Jesus in order to hasten his return. As Jewish journalist Rachel Tabachnick wrote:
It is the ultimate faith-based initiative, intended to advance the hands of the prophetic clock and bring about the Millennium or 1000-year Christian kingdom on earth. The literal demonic forces which must be defeated to bring about this utopia include the demons that ... block non-Christians from converting to this particular brand of Christianity.7
One anti-missionary laughingly quipped that "Jews are supposedly holding up the show" by not believing in Jesus. But I believe that Christians who tell their Jewish friends about Y'shua are not attempting to fulfill prophecy any more than were the Israeli soldiers who took back Jerusalem in 1967. The soldiers were fighting for a Jewish homeland, for freedom and for the Land God had promised our people. The result of their efforts is an indication that we are in the end times. In the same way, Christians who tell their Jewish friends about Jesus do so because they genuinely care about them and truly believe that they will find lasting peace and eternal life—the fulfillment of God's promises—through Y'shua.
Many Jews as well as Gentiles have discovered that those who put their trust in the Messiah Jesus have nothing to fear and everything to hope for. God has plans. He knows what the future holds, and he invites us to know, at least in part, what is to come. As we see the things his prophets predicted coming to pass, we have reason to trust God and to hold on tightly to his promises. That is what future hope is all about.
- “List of Ongoing Conflicts,” Wikipedia.org
- "Earthquakes: What are the Long Term Trends?"
- Ruel Hinaloc, “The Current Status of the World in Hunger”
- Barry Michael Cooper, “Terrorist Without a Cause,” The Huffington Post, April 6, 2009
- “Israel: A Nation Under Siege,” Time, June 9, 1967.
- Chaim Herzog and Shlomo Gazit, The Arab-Israeli Wars: War and Peace in the Middle East from the 1948 War of Independence to the Present (New York: Random House, 2005), 149.
- Rachel Tabachnick, “Loving Israel, Demonizing Jews,” Zeek: A Journal of Jewish Thought and Culture”.