People over the years have been fascinated by any topic concerning the end of the world, including Christians. Sadly, Christians far too often concentrate on the wrong things or misinterpret important sections of the Bible having to do with the last days of the earth. Therefore, if we are to understand properly what God says about the End Times, we must see what all of Scripture has to say about death, the Last Day, Jesus’ Second Coming, the resurrection, and eternal life.
In order to understand what death is it is important to know that each human being on this earth is made up of a body and a soul (Note: Sometimes a soul is referred to as a person’s “spirit” in Scripture; for example, Matthew 27:50 and John 19:30). Temporal death, or physical death as it occurs in time here on this earth, is the separation of the soul from the body. When a person physically dies, his or her body returns to the dust of the ground (Ecclesiastes 12:7; see also Genesis 2:7, 3:19) and his or her soul “returns to God” (Ecclesiastes 12:7).
Why is there temporal death? Because the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, brought sin into the world (Genesis 2:16-17, 3:3, 3:19). Sin is the cause of all death (Romans 5:12, 6:23). Yet while sin is the cause of death, God still governs the dates and times of the life and death of all things (Job 14:5; Psalm 90:3; Matthew 10:29). From our human perspective, we can lengthen or shorten our lives by our care or lack of care for our bodies or other people’s bodies, but it is comforting to know that all things—even life and death—are in the hands of our loving and caring God.
Eternal Death and Eternal Life
“I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”
2 Corinthians 6:2
What will happen to a person’s soul after temporal death? Some Christians teach that there is place called purgatory where people go to be “purged” of their sins before they can go to heaven. This is a false teaching; it is not taught in Scripture. In fact, Scripture teaches that Jesus paid for all sin (1 John 2:2; see Forgiveness of Sins for All People), and that when a person physically dies they will be judged (Hebrews 9:27) and their soul will be sent to either heaven or hell (Lk 16:19-31; see also Heaven and Hell). If a person rejects Jesus as their Savior during their life on earth, they will be sent to hell where they will experience eternal death. Eternal death is the absence of the loving presence of God forever. However, if a person believes in Jesus’ work at the time of their death, they will go to heaven and receive eternal life. Eternal life is life in the loving presence of God forever (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10; John 3:16, 11:25-26). This is why our life here on this earth is so important. It is our time of grace, the time God gives us to believe in his Son and receive the forgiveness he has won for us all.
The Last Day
Yet there will come a day when everything as we know it will come to an end. This is called simply The Last Day or The Day in Scripture. It is the day when all people who have ever lived will be raised to life (see The Resurrection). It is also called Judgment Day because on that day all people will be publicly judged before God (Mathew 25:31-46; Revelation 20:11-15). Even the devil and his evil angels will be publicly judged on that day (2 Peter 2:4; 1 Corinthians 6:3). Those who believed in Christ will be raised to life and given eternal life with God because they are covered by Christ’s righteousness and seen as blameless (1 Corinthians 1:8; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; 2 Timothy 4:6-8; Hebrews 9:28; Revelation 21:6-7; see Justified by Grace through Faith). On the other hand, those who rejected Christ will be raised to life and given eternal death in hell (Matthew 25:41-46; 1 Peter 4:5; Revelation 20:14-15, 21:8).
“For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”
When will this day come and how will we know? The Bible tells us it is when Christ returns, called his Second Coming. When Christ returns, all will see him coming with his angels and know it is the Last Day (Matthew 13:41-42, 13:49-50, 16:27, 24:31; 25:31; Mark 8:38). “For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:27; Luke 17:24; Son of Man was a name used to refer to the Messiah and was used often by Jesus to refer to himself. See Daniel 7:13-14 and Matthew 9:4-8, 16:13-20). Although people sometimes try to predict the end of the world, God has told us that no one knows that day or hour (Matthew 24:36). It will come when no one expects it (Matthew 24:36-51; 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3; 2 Peter 3:10).
Signs of the End Times
God has, however, told us there will be signs that the end will be coming soon. There will be signs in society, such as wars and the increase of sinful behavior throughout the world (Matthew 24:10-12; Luke 17:26-30, 21:9-10; 2 Timothy 3:1-7). There will be signs in nature, such as famines and earthquakes (Matthew 24:7,29; Luke 21:25-26). There will even be signs within the church (Matthew 24:9,11,24; Luke 18:8; John 16:2; Acts 20:30; 2 Thessalonians 2:2-12; 1 Timothy 4:1-3; 2 Timothy 4:3-4). God also promises that before the Last Day the gospel will be preached throughout the whole world (Matthew 24:14; Mark 13:10). The reader may notice that all of these signs have already appeared and are presently occurring throughout the world. Therefore, Scripture tells us to be in a state of constant readiness for the end to come (Matthew 24:42-51, 25:13; Mark 13:33-37; Luke 21:36; 2 Peter 3:11-12).
When the end does come and Jesus returns to judge the world (Matthew 25:31-32; 2 Timothy 4:1; 1 Peter 4:5), God tells us that he will “make everything new” (Revelation 21:5; Isaiah 65:17-19; Matthew 24:35). He will do away with sin and death forever (Revelation 21:3-4, 22:1-5). We are not told whether this means God will completely destroy the present heavens and earth or renovate them, but we do know that Christians will live with God in this new heavens and earth in perfect happiness with their new, glorious resurrected bodies (1 Corinthians 15; Philippians 3:20-21; Titus 2:13).
Correcting False Ideas about the End Times
It should be noted that many Christians have false teachings concerning the End Times. Many teach that Christ will have a visible 1,000 year reign of total peace on earth (called “the millennium”), that a “rapture” will precede a time of tribulation, that there will be multiple resurrections from the dead, and that there will be a widespread conversion of the Jews (Israelites). These teachings come mostly from a misinterpretation of the book of Revelation. A proper understanding can be seen from the following:
- The 1,000 years mentioned in Revelation 20:1-6 represent the entire New Testament era, the period of time from Christ’s life until the Last Day. The number 10 is a number representing completeness, and the completeness of the New Testament era is emphasized in Revelation by the number 1,000 (10 x 10 x 10). The peace that comes during this time is the peace that comes from the gospel, the message of God’s forgiveness in Jesus (Luke 2:14; John 14:27, 16:33; Ephesians 6:15; Philippians 4:7; Isaiah 9:2-6; see also Jesus’ comments about earthly peace in Luke 12:51-53). Scripture also states that Christ’s kingdom is a spiritual kingdom (Luke 17:20-21; John 18:36-37) and that he is already reigning (Matthew 28:18-20; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28; Hebrews 2:8-9). It is also makes clear that these “last days” are already occurring (Acts 2:16-18; Hebrews 1:1-2).
- The “first resurrection” mentioned in Revelation 20:4-5 is when the Holy Spirit brings a person to faith (John 6:63, 11:25-27; see also Ephesians 2:1-7; Romans 8:10). This means the second resurrection will be the resurrection of all of the dead together on the Last Day, since Scripture only speaks of one general physical resurrection (Daniel 12:1-3; John 5:28-29, 6:40, 11:24; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
- There will be a rapture of sorts (Matthew 13:30,41,47-50; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17), but it will be on the Last Day and will accompany God’s final judgment of all people and the separation of believers from unbelievers (Daniel 12:1-3; Matthew 25:31-46). There will be no other time of grace given by God apart from the time of grace we are all now living in (2 Corinthians 6:1-2).
- The “tribes of Israel” mentioned in Revelation 7 represent the Israel of faith, not the Israel of physical descent. One clue is that the names of the tribes mentioned there do not match the actual Old Testament tribes of Israel (see Numbers 1; Revelation 7:4-8). All believers are considered to be “Israel” in Scripture (Romans 4:11-13, 9:6-8; Galatians 3:7,26-29, 6:16; Ephesians 2:11-20; Philippians 3:3).
Those who properly recognize the book of Revelation as a vision filled with symbolic imagery (see Revelation 9:17) are able to see that it is in perfect harmony with the truths found in the rest of Scripture, particularly the books Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah, and, to a lesser degree, Isaiah (almost all the imagery in John’s visions can be seen in these books). From this symbolic imagery used in connection with the end of the world, Christians are able to appreciate the joy and comfort in Christ’s victory that the book of Revelation is meant to give.
“The time is short.”
1 Corinthians 7:29
All of Scripture shows us that a study of the End Times is certainly fascinating and important. By reading what will happen to unbelievers on the Last Day and realizing that we are in the End Times right now, Christians are able to understand the urgency involved in telling others about what Jesus has done for them. Christians are also able to hear about the security they have in their Savior Jesus and the joys that await them in the age to come. So, concerning this present age, Christians recognize as Paul once did that “the time is short” (1 Corinthians 7:29), while at the same time joining with John in praying, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen” (Revelation 22:20-21).