Of The Last Days - Introduction
As a child I attended a small town church where I was introduced to stories of the Old Testament and the life of Christ. When I left home to attend college I left the church, attending only during the holidays. However, while I was in college my Dad was born again, and both he and my Mom began to pray that I would come to know Christ.
Eight years later while I was visiting my parents one weekend, I was reading the international news and giving my Mom a prognosis of where the world was headed. She looked up from what she was doing and said, “That’s interesting, many Christians believe that is what is predicted to happen in the Bible’s book of Revelation.” Out of curiosity I dug out my Bible. As I read through Revelation I became intrigued by what was written, but many of the things described seemed impossible to understand. So, I purchased a couple of books written about the prophecies of Revelation. While the authors used different approaches they both indicated that the keys to understanding the book of Revelation were contained in the rest of the Bible.
Over the next four months, I read through the entire Bible. Somewhere in the epistles of the New Testament I realized that by God’s perfect standard I was in serious trouble with the way I was living my life. But, fortunately, I also realized there was a solution and I needed what only Christ could offer. I accepted Him for who He claimed to be and asked Him into my life as my Lord and my God. He promised to help me turn from my ways and follow Him. For over twenty years the Lord has been leading and teaching me about Himself and His plans. At times in our relationship He has had my undivided attention while at other times I wandered aimlessly, distracted with the cares of life. However, He has never allowed me to get very far from Him before He gives a gentle tug or a stronger form of encouragement, calling me to listen and obey.
Several years ago He lead me to Central America with Habitat for Humanity International. While there, for about six years, He taught me some of the most amazing things about Himself. I had the chance to see Him in ways that would not have been possible had I been in my own culture. One lesson that He began to teach me and which I am still learning today is captured in Proverbs.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:5, 6).
During these last several years, now back in the United States, God has revealed to me that many churches in the United States are suffering what can only be called a Famine for the Word of God. This condition was prophesied for the coming days in both the Old and New Testaments.
The days are coming, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I will send a famine through the land-- not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD. Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the LORD, but they will not find it (Amos 8:11, 12).
For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear (2 Timothy 4:3).
The Famine for the Word of God is contributing to many problems in churches and communities. It is not that the Word of God is not available. We have more Bibles and biblical resources today than at any time in history. The problem comes because the Word of God is being distorted and people are not studying their Bibles. Since people are not reading the Word of God they are unfamiliar with the commandments of Christ, which are needed to guide their lives. Without knowledge of the Word the only things they have are the rules of this world and that is how they conduct themselves. Because of this condition, many who attend church have no saltiness or light. But the true followers of Jesus Christ are always “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.”
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden (Matthew 5:13, 14).
For many years, as I have studied the Bible, I have encountered differences between what is written in Scripture and what is being taught in churches and written in Christian books. These differences vary from individual to individual and denomination to denomination, but on no doctrinal position is the difference greater than on the return of Christ.
As I have searched the Word of Truth over the years, the Holy Spirit has provided many insights into the last days. The more familiar with Scripture I became the more I could see the connections between prophecies. As I examined Scripture a comprehensive picture developed of what God has foretold about the future. The basic elements of the end times are clear and easy to understand. The revelation provided is more than sufficient to show us how to recognize the signs of the times. The last days are not hard to find in the Scripture with about an eighth of the Bible written on the topic. It is clearly God’s desire that we read and understand His Word about what is ahead. As a matter of fact, of the hundreds of books I have read on the topic of the last days, there is none easier to understand than the Bible itself. However, as a dear brother once told me, “It’s all right there in the Word, you just have to read it a few hundred times.” What he said is true. While the Bible contains the truth, we are the ones that have to do the work of faithfully seeking it out. God instructs us to seek and He assures us we will find.
So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you (Luke 11:9).
However, today most people are pursuing an eschatology that has been developed by man and is not found in the Word of God. In my early years of Bible study I thought that the differences that I saw were due to my lack of knowledge. I listened intently to what was being taught and it all sounded reasonable to my untrained ears. Teachers made convincing cases for their position quoting liberally from Scripture. I was naively comfortable, feeling that I was receiving sound biblical teaching. However, the more I studied and compared what was being taught with what was written in the Word, the more I became convinced that there were significant and serious differences.
As I discussed these differences with other Christians I encountered a variety of reactions. Some were confused and others frustrated. However, the great majority were ambivalent and did not seem to think that the topic was important. Most would brush off attempted discussions with humor, saying things like, “I’m a Pan-Tribulationist or I’m a Pan-Millennialist, I believe it will all pan out in the end,” or they would say, “As long as you know Jesus it’s not important.”
As I questioned pastors and teachers about these differences they would almost always indicate that they were teaching what they were taught. When I asked them to show me how they arrived at their conclusions, they would refer me to some book on the topic, but not the Bible. I have yet to have a pastor or teacher take me through Scripture to support his doctrinal position on the return of Christ. One of the most common responses I have heard goes something like this, “Smarter men than I have studied these things and they cannot agree, so what chance do I have?” While this sounds like a legitimate excuse, it is not.
When a pastor or Bible teacher says they cannot understand the Bible when Scripture says they can, that is actually a form of unbelief. Unbelief poses a serious problem for the church today. You can imagine what this communicates to the household of God under their care. Which is why the Lord warns those who claim to be teachers of the Word.
Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly (James 3:1).
Because pastors and Bible teachers believe that they are unable to understand the truth about the return of Christ, two serious problems have developed in the Body of Christ.
First, many pastors and teachers have avoided teaching and preaching on the return of Christ and the last days. This deprives the church of critically important teachings from the Word of God, leaving the household of God ignorant and uninformed of what is coming on the world. For the Bible reveals with great certainty that at some time in the future the whole world will find itself in the middle of the last days. The question is, when the last days come upon the world, will the household of God be informed and prepared?
Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns (Matthew 24:45, 46).
This brings us to another question. When is the proper time to teach the household of God about the return of Christ and the last days? Of course the Scripture has the answer to this timely question. In the Great Commission to the Church, in Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus gave us clear marching orders. As we go about the process of making disciples, we are to teach them to obey everything that Christ commanded. Since one of Jesus’ major teachings was regarding His return and the coming Kingdom, that must also be part of what is taught in the household of God as we go about making disciples. Therefore, the Church must always be teaching about the return of Christ and the end of the age.
Second, many pastors and teachers have by default taught the teachings of man. Because many feel unable to determine the truth for themselves, they have turned to the teachings of man. This is a serious problem when their teachings are not tested against the Word of God. Unfortunately, most people in the household of God do not study the Word nor do they test what they hear against the Word. This leaves the teachings of man unchecked and the people uninformed and ignorant as to the truth regarding the return of Christ.
These problems have either been orchestrated by Satan or have played nicely into his hands. The absence of correct biblical teaching on the last days and the unchecked teachings of man have ushered into the church division, confusion and deception. The topic has become divisive and controversial to the point where many will not sit down and study the topic together. Shouldn’t someone say, Let’s find unity and truth regarding the Lord’s return before it’s too late? We know from the Bible that God has called us to guard the doctrine of the Gospel and He also deeply desires that we be in unity under His Lordship.
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers (1 Timothy 4:16).
He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it (Titus 1:9).
May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me (John 17:23).
This brings us to the point of this study. For the past several years the Lord has impressed two things upon me. First, all of His Word is critically important. Meaning that all of His Word carries eternal significance which affects the eternal destiny of all people. Second, He wants His Church to know the truth about His return. He wants the Church to be spiritually prepared, waiting, watching and ready for what lies ahead.
In 2001, the Lord led me to teach an end times Bible study in our local community. During that time the Lord woke me early one morning and pressed me to pray about the study. As I was praying He gave me two messages. The first was an answer to a question I had been asking Him for months, how important are the biblical prophesies regarding the return of Christ? He gave me the same answer that He had given Israel’s religious leaders almost 2,000 years ago.
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace--but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you” (Luke 19:41-44).
I received this message a couple months after 9/11/2001, so the impact of such a tremendous loss of life was still fresh on my mind. Jesus said that because the Jewish leaders did not recognize the timing of His first coming, their city would be destroyed and their people slaughtered. His prophecy was literally fulfilled thirty-eight years later, when the armies of the Roman general Titus slaughtered over one million Jews and destroyed Jerusalem. My understanding of His message is this: His prophecies are a matter of life and death for the Church and the eternal destiny of many.
The second message was, “See Dr. Schaefer.” The only Dr. Schaefer I was aware of is a Professor of Chemistry at the University of Georgia. He has won awards for his academic excellence and is known for his leadership in the University’s Christian Faculty Forum. My wife and I had attended a lecture he gave a couple of years earlier called “The Ten Questions Intellectuals Ask About Christianity.”
I attempted to contact Dr. Schaefer later that morning. When I reached his secretary, she asked what the call was about. At first I told her that I was not sure, but then I explained to her how the Lord had prompted me to see Dr. Schaefer. She said she would give him the message. Later that day Dr. Schaefer returned my call and I related to him what had happened. Although he was very busy he said we should meet. During our meeting I explained what the Lord had placed on my heart. He indicated that he had taught through the book of Revelation several times, and he questioned me on the topic. During the course of our conversation he said, “I think you should write a book.” We continued our discussion for about an hour, and, as we were closing, I thanked him for the opportunity to meet and talk. Then I said, “I don’t know why the Lord put us together but I appreciate the time you have given me.” He paused, looked at me and said, “I believe you are supposed to write a book.” I received his message as direction from the Lord to write this book of the last days.
I believe the Lord would have me write this as a study of the Bible revealing what is written in Scripture regarding the last days and the return of Christ. It is my desire to follow carefully the biblical instructions for interpreting the Word of God. In the next chapter I will outline the rules God has given for correctly handling the Word of Truth. It is my intention to allow Scripture to interpret Scripture and to compare related passages so that you can see what God has revealed about the return of Christ.
May the Lord bless and guide this His work and may we not turn to the left or to the right as we attempt to determine the truth about the return of Christ and the end of the age.
Richard H Perry