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"Apostasy and destruction of one kind or another was the ultimate fate of every general dispensation we have ever had down through time. But here’s my theory. My theory is that those great men and women, the leaders in those ages past, were able to keep going, to keep testifying, to keep trying to do their best, not because they knew that they would succeed but because they knew that you would." - Jeffrey R. Holland (From the Church Educational System fireside “Terror, Triumph, and a Wedding Feast,” given on September 12, 2004.)
If the reassurance of a world devastated and overcome by fire and damnation doesn’t pose enough incentive for the human race to call itself to some higher form of spiritual order, Paul also reminds us that there are no second chances after death:
I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 6:2)
In his many letters to the budding body of the Church of Christ, Paul reminded those from myriad backgrounds and scores of tongues and traditions that just as Jesus lived one life to atone for the human race, so shall all of us only get one chance at mortality. He proclaimed,
But now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation (Hebrews 9:26–28)
Just as there will be readers of this work who will speculate, conjecture, and criticize what has been offered as merely one writer’s perspectives on the threads of eschatology, so too have there always been cynics who have chosen to deny the signs of the times. In the time of ancient Israel, even in the presence of great miracles and the appearances of angels, God’s children often doubted the signs of the times:
Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee; pray unto the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us. . . . And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived. (Numbers 21:7, 9)
Time and again, despite examples and warnings, mankind has had a problem believing what we read, hear about, and even see. In the case of the so-called “brazen serpent” on top of Moses’s staff, it, rather than the faith it represented, became an object of worship that Judah’s righteous king Hezekiah destroyed five hundred years later. In 2 Kings we read,
Hezekiah the son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign. . . . And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that David his father did. He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan. (2 Kings 18:1, 3–4)
The Bible offers many examples of ancient times when those chosen to do God’s work were abandoned, abused, persecuted, and put to death despite the signs.
One of the most outspoken prophets of his time, Isaiah foretold of a coming Redeemer who would save the world from itself:
• Heaven will give the sign of a babe being born to a virgin (7:14).
• His heritage will come through the house of David (9:7).
• His way will be prepared before him (by John the Baptist—his cousin) (40:3).
• He will make a blood atonement (53:5).
• He will bear the sins and sorrows of all of us (53:4).
• He will be buried in the tomb of a wealthy man (53:9).
• He will judge the world in righteousness (11:4).
Yet, despite the promptings of a great prophet, as well as the forewarnings of those who followed Isaiah, the children of Israel continued to ignore the signs given them. During his encounter with the Pharisees, Jesus reproached them for not identifying the biblical signs that had foreshadowed the times they were living in, and he chastised them for it: He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather:
for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowring. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times? (Matthew 16:2–3)
While the Pharisees and Sadducees were attempting to trap Jesus in a double jeopardy compromise (like generations before them), Jesus used the analogy of the weather to predict the coming of difficult times. As in Noah’s time, although from God’s viewpoint and that of his faithful followers, the impending storm clouds heralded the coming rains that consumed just about everyone. But the people, like the Pharisees and Sadducees, ignored the warnings. Jesus cautioned his disciples that:
Like the many prophets who were sent by his Father before him, Jesus made extra effort to warn even his enemies of the impending time of their demise. In what has become known throughout the Christian world as the Olivet Prophecy, Jesus foretold of a time when the temple would be destroyed, his followers would be persecuted for his name’s sake, and—like the surety of the temple being rebuilt in the last days—he would be resurrected and eventually return in glory:
And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? There shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. . . . And the gospel must first be published among all nations. . . . For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect. . . . Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. . . . And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. . . . Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate before what ye shall answer: For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist. . . . And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake. . . . But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. (Mark 13:2, 10, 22, 24–26; Matthew 24:4–5, 11–12; Luke 21:14–15, 17; verses not in consecutive order)
Another of his poignant prophecies was that his gospel would be preached throughout the world before he would return. He testified that
This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. (Matthew 24:14)
Among the 195 countries of the world and the seven billion people who live here, the Christian population has quadrupled1 over the past century alone. Currently, more than two billion people claim some form of Christian principle as a core tenet of their religion. While the entire Western Hemisphere is predominantly Christian,2 the spread of the word of Christ throughout southern and central Africa, Eastern Europe, and Northern Asia are seeing steady increases in those who believe in the story of Jesus and his ministry.
The long, dark journey of Christianity from the time of Peter, James, John, Paul, and Jesus up to our day has been ripe with signs of turmoil, tribulation, adversity, nobility, and triumph.
At the conclusion of his counsel to his Apostles from the Mount of Olives, and shortly before he retreated to a nearby garden to atone for the sins of the human race, Jesus offered a warning and loving advice for those who would believe in his mission, and his words are the best way to conclude this section:
Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away. And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man. (Luke 21:34–36)
** The following was taken from 33 Ways God is Preparing the World for the Second Coming. The opinions and views expressed herein belong solely to David J. Ridges and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of Cedar Fort, Inc.