With so many perplexing current events in the nation and around the world in the last few years, some could think the end times is near. In a 2020 study by Lifeway Research, a majority of pastors agreed that certain current events were signs of Jesus’s return.
Around 8 in 10 pointed to a rise of false prophets and teachings (83%), many believers growing cold (81%), traditional morals becoming less accepted (79%), and wars and national conflicts (78%). Majorities of pastors also point to earthquakes and other natural disasters (76%), people abandoning their Christian faith (75%), famines (70%), and anti-Semitism toward Jewish people worldwide (63%) as signs of the end times.
So, are we living in the end times? Yes and no.
Yes, because we have always been living in the end times since Jesus’s ascension, waiting for Christ’s return, with signs of false prophets and famine in every age of history. And no, in the sense that this age is no different than any other age. The signs that Jesus mentions occurring in the end times has occurred in every epoch, revealing to us that we should always be ready and always be alert. This age is not any more the end times than the previous age.
The study also showed 56% of pastors expecting Jesus to return in their lifetime. Some may expect Jesus to return in their lifetime because they know they should always be ready for Him to return. And some may expect Jesus to return in their lifetime because they believe the signs of current events point to their specific lifetime. My hope is that more pastors are the former, not the latter, as no one knows the day or hour.
With differing beliefs on the specific time and day and the interpretation of biblical passages and imagery, there is one thing on which we can all agree: we should have an urgency to be ready and alert for when that day comes. But what does that mean or look like? If we could know that Jesus was coming back tomorrow, what kind of church should we be? Think about these four ways of living.
Be Less Anxious
We are an anxious society and the church is no different. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., with 40 million adults affected. Our anxiety arises because of true and fake news, social media feeds, criticism from those around us, self-deprecating thoughts and beliefs, our own expectations of what life and ministry is supposed to be, our own fear of the end times, or simply us trying to hold on to this life as tightly as possible. Our desire for control leaves us disturbed, worried, and perplexed when we realize there are things simply out of our control.
But the opposite should be true of us as believers waiting on the Lord’s return. As we know He will come to complete His kingdom on earth and in heaven, what are we to be anxious about? When we realize and remember that Christ is on His throne in this life and the next, why are we worrying? We should be the least anxious people on the planet. A. W. Tozer said, “God never hurries. There are no deadlines against which He must work. Only to know this is to quiet our spirits and relax our nerves.” Though we wait, it is with anticipation, not with anxiousness. Being ready and alert means we shed ourselves of the worries that easily entangle us.
Be Less Divided
As a guest at a wedding, I eagerly anticipate the time when the bride comes through the doors. The whole assembly rises up in unison and all eyes are on her. Everyone’s anticipation of the arrival of the bride causes us to know when to all stand and keep our focus on her. Understanding we are in the end times, awaiting the arrival of Christ should cause us to be in unison as the church in the same way. God desires unified focus from His people as we work and we wait — together.
It’s not a competition. It’s not about us versus them, whoever that ‘them’ might be. We don’t go to a wedding and compare our outfits or the weight of our wallets. We don’t fight and quibble and slander each other. We’re too busy waiting for the bride and groom, anticipating the celebration, anticipating the feast. Living in the end times means we understand the importance of unity, of teamwork, of focus on God’s mission, not our own. If Jesus was to come back tomorrow, He will be waiting for us to all stand together, keeping our eyes on Him.
Be More Joyous
In Matthew 25, the parable of the ten virgins or bridesmaids describes the groom as being delayed, so five foolish ones fall asleep and are unprepared for his arrival. Imagine being a groomsman or bridesmaid and falling asleep at the ceremony as you wait for the bride and groom. How is that possible? Given a specific role to play, who dozes off in anticipation? The opposite is normally true. The bridal party is usually doing various tasks, preparing for the grand event, working hard. They’re usually excited and exuberant, filled with happiness and joy for their friend or family member getting married.
How do we see our roles as part of Christ’s bridal party? Are we doing everything needed for His arrival? Are we excited, anticipatory, and elated at what’s to come? Does ministry, vocational or not, seem like drudgery or delight? Does working and waiting seem purposeless or have its intended focus of serving the bride or groom? Like those at a wedding, we wait with joy for Jesus’s return, even in the darkness of night, even not knowing the time or hour. Because we know it to be a momentous and joyous event, we can’t help but be ready and alert with rejoicing.
Be More Evangelistic
Continuing the wedding metaphor, a proposal and wedding are times when people increase their social media usage to spread the news. Six in 10 brides reported using social media to announce their engagement within the first 24 hours and a total of 86% shared their news within the first week.
Can you imagine what would happen if 86% of believers share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ on social media and elsewhere? Good news is meant to be shared; yet when it comes to the gospel, we really don’t feel like doing it. In a 2019 Lifeway Research study, less than half of churchgoers say they have shared with someone in the past six months how to become a Christian (45%). Only around 1 in 10 churchgoers average at least one evangelistic conversation a month. If we truly believe Jesus could come back tomorrow, why the lack of urgency? Why the hesitation on evangelism?
Though many may say they believe Jesus’s return is imminent, many may not be living with that urgency in mind. We need a fresh reminder of eschatology, not so we can theorize on a time or date, but to prepare our minds to be ready and alert, sharing to all the joy that comes with following Christ.