Are We Living in the Last Days?

Written by P. Ryun Chang
Disclaimer: My view expressed here does not necessarily represent the respective views of other AMI pastors.  
The late R.C. Sproul was arguably the most well-renown Reformed theologian over the past few decades. And no one to my knowledge has ever questioned his familiarity with the Bible except Thomas Ice after Sproul said that the rapture was “a silly idea”.
The doctrine of rapture posits that any day now Jesus will descend from heaven and meet the believers in the air, and then they will return to heaven (1 Thess 4:15–17), at which point the seven-year tribulation will commence on earth. After that Jesus will return to earth to establish a millennial kingdom that will be followed by eternity/heaven.
In response, Thomas, who, as executive director of The Pre-Trib Research Center, is a champion of the rapture doctrine, said, “Someone who thinks that the rapture is a silly concept doesn’t know the Bible.” No, Sproul knows the Bible but his interpretation of it differs from Thomas, a dispensationalist, because of their differences in the more fundamental matter about church and Israel.
So, do you think the rapture is a silly idea? If so, then, what is your position on the end times? Don’t have one? Why not? A failure to have a view of future events is neither a sign of high-mindedness (“no one can know for sure”) nor cautiousness (“we shouldn’t be setting dates”). Instead, it could mean that pastors like me are more interested in teaching practical things that are relevant here and now than the fact that Jesus’ Second Coming “will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2).
And the typical way many churches are responding to two recent earth-shattering
developments has sort of confirmed this. On the one hand, the worldwide COVID-19 has killed tens and thousands of people and seriously undermined both global and American economies. On the other hand, we are witnessing the righteous call for “black lives matter” morphing into widespread social unrest, including soaring gun violence in major cities, and duress. And, regardless of who wins in November—"Left-challenging Trump” or “Left-ingratiating Biden”—the current level of unrest will pale in comparison to the chaos caused by the Left’s no-holds-barred approach to get what they want (i.e., socialist justice).  In response, many churches are addressing these matters as judiciously and expediently as they can. And we may not agree with each other. While some pastors, seeing government intrusion in its strict social distancing measures, are exhorting their congregants to show up to church, others are being cautious. While some pastors have gone all-in supporting BLM, others are keeping distance because of its support for matters that are biblically objectionable.
However, amid differences in their response to the current crisis, one common trend has emerged: too many churches are saying little or nothing about its possible eschatological implication. Look, it is with his Second Coming in mind Jesus said, “Learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door” (Mk. 13:28-29). And Jesus exalts us to “interpret this present time” for his coming (Lk. 12:56). Are we just looking at what’s going on the surface or are we also seeing through it?
Currently, I am teaching a five-week study called “Theology of End-Times” (a.k.a., eschatology). Its main purpose isn’t to advocate one eschatological position over others but to familiarize ourselves with several competing views, understand why they differ, and then to adhere to an outlook that makes most the biblical sense to each person.  After the first lecture, someone asked about the purpose of studying eschatology, since future events seem more speculative than certain.
While I spat off a quick response, what I didn’t share was the fact that I myself had distanced from eschatology for many years. In fact, Revelation, once my favorite book during my younger days, became the last book I would read in my yearly Bible reading. Why?  In my early years as a Christian in the 1980s, while I wasn’t one of those setting a firm date for the rapture (e.g., October 28/29, 1992), I was inclined to believe that several events occurring back then were fulfilling biblical prophecies that might lead to the end. Watching "The Late Great Planet Earth" and a slew of low-budget rapture movies certainly influenced me as a young believer. Later, I attended a (dispensational) seminary that took end-time prophecies very seriously.
But somewhere along the way, I lost interest in eschatology, partly because I was thinking like the scoffers in 1 Peter 3 who said, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation” (2 Pet. 3:4). What I forgot for a long time is that Jesus expects us to “interpret this present time” (Lk. 12:56), that is, decipher “these things happening” around us to realize that his coming is nearer than before.
Maybe you, agreeing with Sproul, do not consider the rapture doctrine as biblical and believed that all end-time prophecies (except for the Second Coming, resurrection and final judgment) have already been fulfilled in the past (a.k.a., partial-preterist). You also might doubt whether the disturbing developments in the present have anything to do with “these things happening” that would suggest that his coming is nearer. In fact, since the Last Days officially began on the day of Pentecost 2,000 years ago (Acts 2:17-18), you chide those who insist that the Last Days just kicked in. Fine, but you do believe in the doctrine of imminence, right? That the Second Coming of Christ—not contingent upon any events proceeding it—can happen any moment. So “be on your guards! Be alert”! (Mk. 13:33).
Maybe you, as a pretribulationist, lean toward the rapture and feel that “these things happening” right now (including the escalation of Middle-East conflict as Iran and Israel may be at it again and the possible fall of U.S.) are telling signs that it can happen any moment. Fine, but don’t be an escapist (2 Thess. 3:11-13) or a lax Christian who is utterly unprepared for the tribulation, that is, in case the rapture doctrine turns out to be untrue; instead, continue to serve God faithfully (Mt. 24:45-51).
Or maybe you are a posttribulationist who believes that in lieu of the rapture, the church will go through the tribulation before Christ returns. As a leading rapture exponent Hal Lindsey admitted, “the truth of the matter is that neither a post-, mid-, or pre- tribulationist can point to any single verse that clearly says the rapture will occur before, in the middle of, or after the tribulation.”
Perhaps, what’s going on is a prelude to the awful period of death and destruction graphically described in Revelation 4-19. I, for one, believe that we are going to be tried and tested because much of the world’s impurities have penetrated today’s church (Mt. 13:24-30). Therefore, she needs to be chastised so that when Christ comes, his bride, the church, will be ready to meet and be united with the groom (Rev. 19:7-8).
So, what is your eschatological view? Not having a position is no virtue; diligently study the Bible and attain one. And keep watch; be ready for either the Second Coming, the rapture or the tribulation. And don’t label the views you disagree with as silly and don’t accuse someone of biblical ignorance just because you don’t agree with his or her view. Above all, “make effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).