Some people have been asking over the past few days whether the conflict we are seeing in Ukraine is an end times battle, one of the events that will signal the end of the world. There are understandable reasons for the question to be asked. First, the conflict involves one of the main nuclear powers and its leader is feared as unstable, it is not too hard to see a scenario where other nuclear powers are drawn in and ballistic missiles launched.
Secondly, it is possible to watch the news and see events unfolding that match in closely with what we read in books of the Bible like Daniel and Revelation which we understand to speak of the last days. For example, the amassing of a huge army on the border of Ukraine which was held back for weeks might be seen to echo the description of a huge, fearsome force amassed at the Euphrates in Revelation 9:13-19.
In addition, Revelation 6 describes four horsemen appearing together representing conquest, war, economic crisis, famine and plague. Here we are at a point in history where we are seeing those things coming together. In a short space of time we’ve seen a serious economic crisis(the credit crunch followed by austerity), a global pandemic, conflict and an environmental crisis bringing with it natural disasters and threats to harvests.
However, I’ve consistently argued that we cannot immediately assume that these events are evidence that we are in the last few weeks or years. Revelation gives us God’s view of the whole of history from the perspective of the end. The way that apocalyptic literature works therefore is that it speaks to every time, we can see ourselves in the story. Wars, rumours of war and natural disasters according to Jesus (Matthew 24), punctuate the time between his first coming and second coming, they point us towards the future hope we have but are not in themselves the sign of the end.
So, when we see a combination of economic crisis, plague/pandemic and war, this should be no surprise to us because these often come together. Plague/famine and economic crisis are usually consequence of war as battles lead to disease and as countries see their supply chains and markets cut off. They are also often the cause of war as countries battle out over scarce resources. Russia for example has seen the opportunity over the past year or so because the world has been busy fighting COVID and because the economic situation with fuel prices sky high benefits Russia and leaves the west wary of stoking and extending a conflict that could push prices higher still.
However, whilst we therefore cannot make big claims about these events ushering in the end of days, we also cannot say that they definitely don’t. When Christ returns, it will be into a world where war, economic crisis and plague will be present. Jesus in Matthew 25 warns that no one knows the day and the hour of his return, it could happen at any time. It is therefore possible for Christ to return at any moment. There is no unfulfilled Biblical prophecy holding back that possibility.
Hence the question I want to ask here.
What if this is the end of days?
What if the conflict in Ukraine overflows into worldwide conflict with nuclear weapons? What if instead of petering our COVID-19 returns with even more fearsome consequences and what if these two events combine to bring a collapse of the economic system? What if out of that a world leader emerges uniting powers and religions, seemingly for good but in fact, in opposition to Christ. All of those things are possible within the framework of Revelation. What then if those things are not just pointing to the end of an age/world but the end of the world and Christ is about to return?
I raise this because whilst some Christians jump on any world event and interpret it as an end of days event, I think the majority of us prefer not to see that possibility. We have grown lukewarm to the possibility of Christ’s imminent return. We would prefer life to go on. Why is that? Here are some reasons.
- Doubt. Like those that Peter describes in his letters, it seems to us that history has just gone on and on with no tangible sign of Jesus coming back. We’ve now passed two millennia since the New Testament was written. Perhaps we should just expect time to go on and on.
- Frustration. There has been a particular reaction against the obsession during the mid 20th century with end time prophecies that led to a distraction from the Gospel and falling out among believers. End time stuff seems divisive and the preserve of obsessives.
- Comfort. The reality is that we’ve got comfortable with life here. We enjoy this world. Christ’s return would break into that and we’d have to sacrifice our dreams and ambitions.
The last point is the most concerning. It suggests that we’ve lost sight of how wonderful the age to come will be and have lost something of our first love and affection for Christ. Our burning hope should be towards the day when we see him face to face.
So, first of all, the possibility that we might be entering those end times should challenge our hearts. It should cause us to ask the Holy Spirit to fan into flame our love for Christ again and to take away our love of this world. It should get us back into Scripture and trusting God’s word.
Secondly, it should push us to urgency in sharing the Gospel. Our desire should be that if Christ were to come today then we would be ready and that our friends, family and neighbours would be ready too.
So, is the possibility of Christ’s imminent return real enough to you and me? Is that possibility affecting how we live. It remains possible today that we could have many years on earth ahead of us and at the same time that King Jesus might step out of the clouds at any moment. Are we ready for either possibility. We should live as though today might be our last day here on earth whilst simultaneously being ready for the long haul ahead.
If you are interested in taking a look at how we should read Revelation then I’ve produce this short guide which might be of interest