Are we living in the last days?

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Are we living at the end of history?

November 15, 2023 -

An hourglass that's almost out of time stands in front of an open Bible on a desk. By JavierArtPhotography/

An hourglass that's almost out of time stands in front of an open Bible on a desk. By JavierArtPhotography/

An hourglass that's almost out of time stands in front of an open Bible on a desk. By JavierArtPhotography/

Nearly three hundred thousand people rallied in Washington, DC, yesterday to support Israel in its war with Hamas, constituting the largest pro-Israel event in US history. Later in the day, the House passed a short-term funding bill to avert a government shutdown.

That’s the good news. But, as always, bad news is not hard to find.

“Wars and rumors of wars”

Thousands of residents in Iceland have been urged to evacuate as authorities anticipate the imminent eruption of a volcano on its southwestern peninsula. Roads have already been damaged as a result of around nine hundred earthquakes in the area; toxic fumes are a threat as well.

Meanwhile, the United Nations now estimates that the global drug problem affects approximately 275 million people. Here’s one frightening dimension: the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning of a rapidly growing practice it calls “polysubstance use.” Over the last three years, studies of people addicted to opioids have consistently shown that 70 to 80 percent also take other illicit substances. “It’s no longer an opioid epidemic,” according to one health expert. “This is an addiction crisis.”

Then there’s Ukraine, whose counteroffensive against Russia is going so poorly that authorities are considering dismissing three commanders of the armed forces. And China: Xi Jinping is meeting with President Biden today amidst rising tensions between the world’s two superpowers over Iran, Israel, Taiwan, export controls, and economic challenges.

A recent study concluded that the number, intensity, and length of conflicts worldwide is at its highest level since before the end of the Cold War. Remembering Jesus’ reference to “wars and rumors of wars” (Matthew 24:6), it’s not hard to wonder how much longer the world can continue like this.

One of the most frequent questions our ministry has received since Hamas invaded Israel on October 7 is whether this is the beginning of the “end times,” i.e, are we living in the last days? We have published articles and podcasts on this question; I have written a book on Revelation and discussed the larger subject in numerous articles as well.

Today, I’d like to consider the question from a perspective I’ve never considered before.

“God does not want us to understand”

When I have grappled theologically with unanswered questions, I have known that the problem was not that our Father is being unkind or arbitrary, since “God is love” (1 John 4:8) and can want only what is best for us. Rather, I have identified these logical options:

  • He has answered our question, but we have not been willing to hear his voice or submit to his Spirit (cf. Jeremiah 6:10).
  • He cannot answer our question because unconfessed sin is blocking our ability to pray effectively (Psalm 66:18).
  • He cannot answer our question because our finite minds cannot comprehend his infinite purposes (cf. Isaiah 55:9).
  • He has not yet answered our question, but he might in the future (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12).

This week, I found a different approach, one that relates directly to our topic today.

Jonathan Sacks was a philosopher, theologian, and author who served as the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth in the UK for many years. I followed his career with great appreciation. When I complimented his book on morality in one of my articles, he tweeted me with a personal note of gratitude.

I was working this week with some articles by Rabbi Sacks for a book I am writing on the Israel–Hamas war and found an anecdote I had not seen. Just a few weeks before his death from cancer, the rabbi was asked the age-old question, “Why does God let bad things happen to good people?” He responded:

God does not want us to understand. Because if we ever understood, we would be forced to accept that bad things happen to good people, and God does not want us to accept those bad things. He wants us not to understand, so that we will fight against the bad and the injustices of this world, and that is why there is no answer to that question. God has arranged that we shall never have an answer to it.

Praying the Bible’s last prayer

Regarding the timing of his return, Jesus was blunt: “Concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36). He added that he would come “at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:44).

Let’s apply Rabbi Sacks’ thinking to our Lord’s assertions. If we knew when Jesus would come back, wouldn’t that knowledge impact every dimension of our lives? If his return is not in our lifetime, would we presume on a future that is actually guaranteed to none of us? (Even if Jesus doesn’t come back for a thousand years, you and I could die tomorrow.) Alternately, if it is imminent, would we fall into idleness while awaiting his return, which was apparently a problem for some in the early church (2 Thessalonians 3:6–12)?

As with explanations for suffering, God does not want us to know when Christ will return so we will prepare every day for his coming. Why? Because the best way to live every day is to live as if it were that day.

If you knew Jesus would return tomorrow, whom would you forgive today? Whose forgiveness would you seek? What would you stop doing? What would you start doing?

Doing these things is the best way to live even if you were guaranteed several more decades of life on this earth. When we live in this way, we’ll stop asking when Jesus is coming because we are ready to meet him whenever that moment comes. And we’ll be able to pray the Bible’s last prayer: “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).

Can you say these words to your Lord today?

If not, why not?

NOTE: I shouldn’t ask this prior to Thanksgiving, but are you ready for Christmas? But even more pressing than being ready with gifts or decorations or preparations, is your heart ready? It’s so easy to let the busyness of the season preoccupy our souls to the detriment of our spiritual focus. Renew your heart this Christmas with The Gift of Immanuel, a 25-day Advent devotional by Janet Denison. Request your copy today.

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