Updated: May 15, 2019
Just Google “End times / Last Days / Prophecy” and see what you get. Over 29 million sites, the majority being Christian orientated. No way could you ever get through all of that; most of us would probably give up after reading a few articles, by which time we’d be completely baffled. Anyway most people tend to search out sites that confirm what they already believe to be true. It’s called confirmation bias.
I really do pity some new believer wanting to know what “the Church” teaches about the Last Days and discovering such a bewildering array of opinions. So I’m definitely not going to add to the confusion (I hope), but I would like to set out some guidelines to help us get a better focus for understanding the seeming perplexity of prophetic scriptures.
First of all I’d like to say that there really shouldn’t be this kind of confusion. Is God actually hiding things from us, making it all so hard to grasp, and causing us to squirm with fear in case we miss something? We do know for example in former times He told Daniel to “seal” up the words until “the end”. But having said that, Daniel still went ahead and wrote down the visions he received anyway! Now even on that level there seems to be a little confusion. Yahweh says through the angel, “seal up the words” but Daniel goes ahead and writes them down telling us all about his visions. What’s going on here and what exactly was Daniel told to “shut up and seal”?
There are two main views about this text. One is that the prophecy was not to be actually ‘shut up’ or ‘sealed’ as if being locked away, but only to preserve the writings for later.
The other holds that in Daniel’s time the book would indeed have been sealed (hidden away from prying eyes), but understanding about it’s meaning would only become clearer to those believers who secretly diligently studied the book much later – the events ultimately being fully understood when the actual end days arrived.
The point being that obviously the message contained in Daniel’s book was NOT kept secret because it’s been in the Scriptures for two and a half thousand years. Even Jesus told us to understand its meaning (Matthew 24:15).
So this can’t mean that it was to be locked away as such, but rather it means that Daniel was to protect and securely preserve its message. Of course part of that may have been for him and others who followed, to keep the parchments secure somewhere, but clearly not to lock it way until the actual end days arrived – because the book has been in the Jewish Scriptures for millennia.
Interestingly it was never included in the “Prophets” (Nevi'im) section of the Jewish Bible (Tanakh) but only in the “Writings” (Ketuvim) section. Yet Jesus did recognize him as a prophet: “Jesus said…Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place; let the reader understand. (Matthew 24:15).
Like so many prophecies they can usually only be properly understood when the prophesied event gets very close. I remember reading many years ago that about 80% of the Messianic prophecies about Jesus only happened in the last 48 hours of His life. Don’t quote me on the precise percentage, but I hope you get the picture. Most prophecies only make sense as they’re actually happening, or of course in hind-sight.
Now in this text there’s an interesting observation when the angel says, “knowledge shall increase, many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand” (Dan 12:10).
The WISE ones shall understand. I’ve often said that an important End Time characteristic will be Wisdom (and its accompanying gift, Discernment).
So we have the angel tell Daniel that “the wise shall understand”; Jesus saying “Let the reader understand”; topped off in Revelation with this, “and he said to me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand.” (Rev 22:10).
Then Rev 22:11 continues on: “He that is unjust let him be unjust still, and he which is filthy let him be filthy still, and he that is righteous let him be righteous still, and he that is holy let him be holy still.”
If you look closely at that saying you’ll note the similarity in Daniel 12:10. “Many will be purged, purified and refined but the wicked will act wickedly; and none of the wicked will understand, but those who have insight will understand.”
The wise and righteous ones WILL understand, but the wicked ones won’t have a clue what’s going on. Daniel is actually told that special insight (discernment) will be given to us for understanding. So it’s not just having good Bible knowledge or being able to unravel the prophetic complexities that’s important, we will need (and receive) special “insight” from the Holy Spirit to discern what’s taking place.
Forget all the movies about the end of the world, alien invasion, secret codes, etc. What we need and will receive will be illumination by God’s Spirit to comprehend the Biblical prophetic texts.
Even in Daniel’s time any attempt to try and understand it would’ve been in vain. However in the End Days when the Old and New Testament prophecies become especially relevant, understanding will be released. What then is the difference between Daniel’s visions and those given to John in Revelation? One thing – TIMING. The things of Daniel’s day were not imminent, but according to Revelation now they are. John completes the the revelation which was originally given to Daniel.
So there we have it; Daniel is told to SEAL and John is told to UNSEAL.
To pick up on my opening comments; God isn’t playing games with us and deliberately making us get confused about End Times events. On the contrary He’s been astonishingly gracious in revealing things about it all, preserving the truth of it, and now releasing understanding to those who are righteous and wise!
While some commentators and scholars tell us that such prophetic books should be left alone because they’re shrouded in hard-to-decipher symbols, unintelligible mystical language, and even fables, Jesus says, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it.” (Rev 1:3).
Religion says “leave such books alone”; Jesus says “Blessed is he who does read”. Jesus the Word Himself declares such books now O-P-E-N and even understandable. Gracious God indeed!
An important side note: see the three-fold structure in the text (1) read (2) hear (3) heed. Here is an action, something practical to do if you want to understand prophetic texts. These three things are a kind of single unit because there’s spiritual truth in the progression of them. Reading (preferably aloud) leads to proper hearing (by the Spirit) which in turn will give you inner conviction to heed and do.
I’ll leave it to you to delve further – treasure this insight because there’s a revelation here about how to understand prophetic scriptures: Read, Hear, and Heed.
Right, so having laid a foundation let’s outline some guidelines to help decipher and discern what the prophetic scriptures are saying.
Guideline 1: Don’t be apathetic towards End Time prophecy – especially if it seems to contradict what you already believe. As we’ve just seen, understanding has been given to us to understand.
It might seem all very confusing, so a lot of believers just give up and put it aside in the “too hard” basket. But listen again to the words of Jesus: “Blessed is who who (1) reads and who (2) heeds the words” (Rev 1:3).
Maybe we should actually read the prophetic texts to ourselves and each other more regularly. Even aloud to yourself as you sit in the lounge, in the study, under a tree or whatever. Biblically speaking the scriptures are meant to be read corporately among a gathering of the saints, and aloud.
Can you imagine what it might be like if the saints gathered to hear these prophetic texts read aloud on a regular basis? And then perhaps to simply share what the Spirit revealed as the text was presented. I’m not talking about someone jumping in with their favourite End Time doctrine on the Rapture, Antichrist or whatever and then brow-beat the rest of us. But just to be humble enough to put aside any pre-conceived belief and attentively LISTEN to what the Spirit is saying to the assembled saints at that moment! It will take a lot of humility, grace and discipline, but it can be done – we just need to do it in Christian love.
The reader, the hearer, and the heeder would ALL be blessed if only we did what the Word tells us to do. Blessed is the reader, blessed is the hearer, blessed is the heeder.
Boy, then we would really have CHURCH! A gathering of the saints who are willing to actually listen to the Spirit as the prophetic texts are read aloud. There’s something very special about reading the Word aloud, slowly and considerately, with purpose. Not formally or religiously, but with a desire to hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church at that moment.
A few times when I’ve participated in such (usually small) gatherings, what revelation and insight has come! Quite astonishing, and very revolutionary – we should do it much more often.
That word “heed” has the sense of being diligently active with strenuous care, rather than of watching over the teaching to simply preserve it. The latter was more akin to Daniel’s time, the former for our time. We’re not just to preserve the truth of it all, but we are to be active and strenuous in living it out and being prepared for the accompanying events.
In other words, READ these prophetic books, treasure them in your heart so that when the End Time events begin to unfold you’ll have an understanding of how they’ll proceed. Note that I’m not telling you to put aside food supplies, build a bunker, run off and hide to escape the New World Order police, be a “prepper” or any such thing.
That’s not my mission; you’ll need to hear the voice of the Spirit yourself HOW you act when the time gets closer. I’m simply outlining some guidelines. Sorry if you’re looking for more practical details, suggestions and assistance – that’s not what I’m called to do.
Guideline 2: Treat the texts as plainly as you can. I know this sounds dangerous, to treat the Bible as literal. People often say, “Well Jesus said to cut off your hand and pluck out your eye (Matthew 18:9); are we to literally do this every time we sin? If we did then we’d all be armless and blind very quickly!”
Obviously this saying isn’t meant to be literal and only makes sense when you realize that it was (and still is) common practice among rabbis to exaggerate something to make a point. Hearers of Jesus day would’ve understood the difference; often today we don’t.
I don’t want to get sidetracked into debating the “hard sayings of Jesus” because they’re plenty of good internet sites that can do better justice than I could ever do. What I’m suggesting is that when dealing with prophetic End Times texts it would be a wise thing to treat the words according to a plain and natural reading of the text. In other words, if the words are not obviously symbolic or in parable form, take the meaning of them on face value – as plainly as possible.
In Protestant circles (compared to Catholic, Orthodox and Liberal theology) this is called the grammatical-historical hermeneutic approach. Basically is says that the context dictates the meaning. The aim of this method is to discover the meaning of a passage just as the original author would’ve intended and what the original hearers would’ve ordinarily understood as making common sense. Any text is then seen as having only a single meaning or sense. See here for a deeper consideration.
But you need to be consistent in your approach and not just mix up your method by throwing in allegorical and symbolic meanings when you find a verse too difficult. That’s quite a common approach, even in scholarly circles, when someone treats the text literally or plainly, but when they come across a section they don’t agree with theologically or find hard to understand, they just allegorize it and push the true meaning aside.
Really, that’s deceiving and unscholarly. You can’t chop and change the text to suit your own view, you need to be consistent. This is where humility often fails. Maybe you’ve heard supposed experts say “the Bible text doesn’t always mean what it says”? That’s just a cop out, a method often used in cults by the way. With that kind of attitude you’ll find yourself playing mental gymnastics all the time as you read; very unhelpful.
So take prophetic texts to mean what they’re saying in a straightforward plain sense – unless it’s clearly symbolic. Easy to say I know, but can be a bit hard to practise. Nevertheless when you get into the swing of it you’ll find the Spirit begins to show you the difference. Of course certainly pray for such insight as you read so you can hear what He’s saying; He won’t let you down if your heart really wants truth. It’s His way!
Guideline 3: See End Times through the lens of the Prophetic Feasts. For over 35 years this has been one of my mainstays in trying to resolve difficulties about the End Times. As I began to slowly learn about the Feasts of the Lord (NOT “feasts of Israel” by the way), I saw things in a clearer light. Each of the three major feasts (7 in all) is symbolic and very rich in meaning.
In Colossians 2:17 Paul says they are a “shadow of things to come”. Passover being the representative of Jesus’ death as the Lamb of God on that day; Pentecost as the giving of the Spirit just as the Torah was given on the same day in Moses’ time; and Tabernacles as the great ingathering of the harvest, a shadow of the End Time ingathering.
These three feasts have much deeper meanings associated with them; with Passover and Tabernacles each having other associated parts to them. Only Pentecost consists of one Feast. See my free eBook The Three Prophetic Feasts.
In relation to the End Times, the Feasts give indicators to the fulfilment of prophecies about the Messiah and the Last Days. Knowing about what each of the 7 total Feasts stand for will give extraordinary insight to how the final Feast, Tabernacles (Booths) will pan out. The clues are there and the times are indeed ripe for spiritual understanding by the Spirit – if we are wise enough to study and learn.
For example, if Jesus died at the Feast of Passover, and if the Spirit came down on the Feast of Pentecost, isn’t it obvious that something will happen on the Feast of Tabernacles at some time in the (near) future?
The pattern has been established, it’s already worked out in the first 2 Feasts, so you can be certain one day on a future Feast of Tabernacles “something” enormous is going to occur. The clues are in the three sections of the general Feast of Tabernacles, (1) the Day of Trumpets, (2) the Day of Atonement, (3) the Feast of Ingathering itself. Prophetically speaking the original Feasts were rehearsals of greater things to come.
Each of the above three sections of the overall Feast of Tabernacles tell us what will occur at the end of the age, in the precise sequence just as the Feast itself has a sequence. A hint – the Day of Trumpets is clearly telling us about the trumpets that will sound in the End Times (see Revelation chapters 8 to 11).
Many believers skip over the Book of Leviticus because it has so many rules and regulations and they think it’s rather boring. It’s Scripture! There’s truth in it, so read chapter 23 and hold onto your seats. In that chapter the initial seven Feasts are outlined, each being prophetic of the Father’s divine calendar. He’s alerted us ahead of time, and while much was “sealed up” it’s now open through the coming of the Messiah and the understanding given through the Holy Spirit.
It’s all there for us to unpack – if we are righteous and wise – and heed the revealed words.
Guideline 4: Avoid taking your cue from the media. Among prophetic circles in relation to the End Times it’s quite a common thing for Bible teachers to point to catastrophes and other tragic events and say “this is a sign we’re in the Last Days”. Whether it’s a hurricane, an increase in earthquakes, economic and financial woes, wars or political intrigue – all these are fuel for the End Times fire, so to speak.
Over the past 30 years I can’t keep count how many times a prophecy buff has pointed to an event in the media and said “this is a sign of what’s happening in God’s agenda”. The election of President Trump was a recent example. Because his name is “Trump” there was an immediate linking of his name to “the last trump” (KJV) of Scripture. Really saints, we need to be more honest with handling the Word.
While it might be true that there’s an increase in earthquakes and that the climate is changing, these in themselves are not necessarily indicators of a Last Days scenario. We shouldn’t take our cue from the headlines but it’s surprising how many ministries do this. When we allow human imagination to dictate rather than Holy Spirit inspiration we’ll find ourselves all over the place.
Discernment goes out of the window and we’re prone to latch onto anything that seems to support our own personal End Time scenario. It gets worse when a respected and popular pastor uses this technique and his followers accept it without discerning the accuracy of what’s being presented. As a result an awful lot of time and energy goes into chasing a fad that has little true spiritual importance. And we wonder why there’s so little accurate discernment in the Body of Christ today!
Optional Guideline: Understanding the Hebrew nuances of words and phrases. I’m introducing this subject because it might help you get a grip on the more subtle meanings of the language and culture used in Bible times. If you feel it isn’t for you, that’s fine. By the way, I’m not suggesting you become a scholar in regard to this, just a believer who is willing to read a little more about the background of the Hebrew culture and its impact on Scripture.
One of the problems we have in modern Western Christianity is that we tend to read popular books which often don’t require much literary discernment. We can be very prone to take on board something from an author because they’re famous or popular, and not actually THINK about what they’re presenting. In past decades Christians were usually much more willing to debate and think things through. It’s really a sad reflection on today’s Church that we don’t debate, even in our own minds. We actually tend to criticize rather than deliberate.
However my point is to encourage you to read some books that open you up to the culture that lay behind the society of Jesus’ day. They’re not that difficult to read, and it might do some good to read something that makes us think and consider at a deeper level. Some examples are listed at the end of this teaching if you’re interested.
So what’s this got to do with the End Times? Quite a lot really. Take this example from Luke 18:8 where in the parable of the Unjust Judge Jesus concludes His teaching by saying “When the Son of Man comes will He find (literally) THE faith on the earth?”
Most of today’s popular commentators say that this means there won’t be many believers alive when Jesus comes who will have “THE faith” or even “faith in Him”. They point to how many people today don’t actually accept the Christian faith anymore.
However they misunderstand what the Jewish/Hebrew idea of “faith” means in its original context. As Western Christians we generally associate “faith” with a belief or trust in God. But for the hearers of Jesus’ day “faith” didn’t mean that at all. It meant to have tenacity, brazenness and a headstrong perseverance. Today we might call it “raw nerve” or something like that.
So when Jesus said “will the Son of Man find faith on earth” He was really talking about an unyielding type of determination that comes from knowing the true nature of God. He wasn’t saying that when He returns He hopes there’s going to be a lot people around who still believe in Him.
When He returns Jesus wants to see us with a strong tenacity, having a headstrong perseverance and doggedness about us. Not in an arrogant manner, but in standing firm, and not flinching no matter what the Antichrist or False Prophet throw at us. The saints at the end of the age will need to be of a persistent spirit with a kind of unyielding resolve. In Australia we call it being gutsy!
It may not be a polite way of acting, but Biblically speaking the Scriptures give us many examples of this gutsiness. Look at how Abraham argued with Yahweh or how Moses pleaded with Him not to destroy Israel. They just would not let go.
When Jesus often said “your faith has saved you” (e.g. Lk 7:50 / Mk 10:52) He wasn’t necessarily speaking of the person’s belief in Him as Messiah, or their stirred-up faith to believe for a miracle. In the context of His day He was talking about their firm unyielding determination to receive. He was commenting on their bold persistence; they wouldn’t give up and held on.
This is nothing like the claim of many in the “Word and Faith Movement” who say you just need to “have faith” and the miracle will come to you, like magic. Rather the Father loves a strong willed determination in His nature that is evidenced by gutsiness and unyielding determination. For the Jew, faith in God is seen as bold persistence, and the people of Jesus’ day understood it that way.
Here’s another insight for us, about one of the most hotly debated verses in Scripture; “No one knows the day or hour” (Matthew 24:36). For most of us we’ve been taught that this means no-one except the Father knows the timing of the Messiah’s return, not even Jesus Himself. And fair enough that’s what it looks like, especially in an English translation.
It seems to say quite straightforward that we just don’t know, so don’t even try to work it out. It’s a waste of time to spend energy on it because only one person knows the exact moment and that’s the Heavenly Father, and He hasn’t even revealed it to the angels or to His Son!
Ok, fair enough – but what if this saying is about something that the everyday Jew of Jesus’ day DID understand? What if there’s more to this than we generally accept?
There’s a view about this based on an understanding of a Hebrew idiom commonly used among Jews of Jesus’ time. It’s in relation to the Day of Trumpets, part of the overall Feast of Tabernacles. The Feast of Trumpets is a unique day among all the other Biblical holy days because it happens on the first day of the Hebrew lunar month.
The problem with the arrival of this Feast is because it can occur after either the 29th day or the 30th day of the preceding month. It depends whether the moon is first seen by two witnesses on the 29th day or not. Because of this it’s referred to as "the feast that no man knows the day or hour of” or sometimes even the phrase “the hidden feast".
The new month couldn’t strictly begin until at least two witnesses had seen the very first sliver of that new moon and reported this to the High Priest. Once others confirmed this to be accurate, the priests would sound the shofar to declare the beginning of the Feast.
Until those two reliable witnesses announced the sighting of the moon, the response to whether the Feast had begun would always be "no one knows the day or the hour" when it starts. So the words of Jesus have a rather significant impact it we take the view of understanding based on a Hebrew idiom common at that time. Was Jesus saying that He would come at Feast of Trumpets (the Ingathering)? They could know the season but not the year. It’s most probable His disciples would’ve understood immediately what He meant.
Increasingly as we become more aware of the Hebrew background to many of the New Testament concepts we realize how much the Scriptures have been separated further and further from their original Hebrew foundations. So could it be that Jesus was indicating a time of His coming without specifying the actual “moment”? I’m not trying to twist Scripture here or play word games, just trying to get to a point of truth.
If I said to someone here in Australia “It’s summer time so come around for a barbecue at my house but you’ll have to guess what day to arrive” and then smiled and said “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie” – most Australians would know I’m referring to January 26th, Australia Day.
So was Jesus inferring the day of His coming (Matt 24:30) would occur at a future Day of Trumpets by using a kind of allusion? If you read the text He actually drops a hint when He says “and He will send forth His angels with a GREAT TRUMPET…” (verse 31).
Now here comes a slight intervention in the text. After verse 31 we find the parable of the Fig Tree (verse 32 to 35). If you read it closely it doesn’t seem to fit the flow of what Jesus is talking about. He’s been speaking about His coming then drops in a small detour about Israel. Then in verse 36 He says those words “But of THAT DAY AND HOUR know one knows.”
Commentators give us a clue. You’ll need your Bibles for this. Try reading verses 29 to 31 and then skip straight down to verse 36, omitting verses 32 to 35 for a moment. Verse 36 seems to fit better when you read it directly on from verse 31 as if it’s a part of that discourse. The portion about the fig tree is interpolated into the passage, a kind of verbal interjection. If you momentarily ignore the parable guess what happens?
It reads like this: “…they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other, but of that day or hour no one knows”. Hint! Feast of Trumpets (possibly)?
Now some might think that if we can accept He’s coming on some future Day of Trumpets, this breaks the context and plain meaning of Scripture. No, all He was saying that we wouldn’t know which of the two days or at what hour (which watch during that night - see Mark 13:35) or even which year that He would come. But He did insist that we should know the times and the season and be alert about this. Perhaps that’s why He gave us so many signs to look for.
I realize this may have its own problems, and by now many of you might be leafing through your Bibles finding contradictory verses that blow this view out of the water. I agree – there are problems with nearly all prophetic passages when we try to marry them together to get an easy overall view.
The point I’m attempting to make is that only when we look at Jesus' words in their original cultural context and even compare other End Times prophecies, can we accurately understand what He meant. Jesus was saying that we cannot know the exact moment of His coming far in advance, but from His own lips (Mtt 24:31) it seems it might be on a future Day of Trumpets. He also told us that as long as we don’t know the precise moment of His return, that in itself should give us great incentive to "stay awake".
My, how we need wisdom and humility in all of this, so let’s be open to the Holy Spirit who has promised to lead us into all truth – and all of us be willing enough to jettison our views if found wanting. On an encouraging note Paul writes to us saying we will NOT be in the dark about End Time events:
“But you, brethren are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober.” 1 Thess 5:4-5
So may it be that these guidelines help a little as we face the days ahead. Grace and blessings in the Messiah.
Books of interest
“Jesus the Jewish Theologian” by Brad H. Young
“Jesus though Middle Eastern eyes” by Kenneth E. Bailey
“Paul though Mediterranean eyes” by Kenneth E. Bailey
“Meet the Rabbis” by Brad H. Young
“Parables: Jewish tradition and Christian interpretation” by Brad H. Young
“Manners and Customs of the Bible” by James M. Freeman
“The Everlasting Tradition” by Galen Peterson