What are the end times?
In asking this question, you are bringing up a very broad subject of
theology. This area of theology is known as eschatology. Eschatology is
the study of end times–such concepts as the nature of a future Kingdom of
God, of Judgment Day, of heaven and hell.
In the Bible, the end times could be used to refer to a number of possible
periods of time. By the way, the phrase “end times” does not appear in the
NIV translation of the Bible, but the concept of end times certainly does.
You should be aware that the imagery of judgment and end times is a common
motif throughout the Bible–especially in the Old Testament, but that when
God describes judgment and the end, it is not always a reference to the
literal end of the ages (as opposed to Revelation 21, which does describe
the final end, for example). As an example of a judgment day, one finds in
Daniel 11:35 the statement “Some of the wise will stumble, so that they
may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for
it will still come at the appointed time.” This prophecy is almost
certainly referring to the time of the persecution of the Jews under
Antiochus Epiphanes in about 167-164 BC, and to God’s judgment on those
Greek persecutors who attacked the faithful Jews, rather than to some sort
of final end of days. For more on this, you may want to read my book on
Daniel titled Daniel, Prophet to the Nations (click here).
A number of Judgment Days are found described throughout the Old
Testament, occasionally referred to as “The Day of the Lord.” (ex: Joel
1:15, Amos 5:18-27, Obadiah 15, Zephaniah 1:14-18, etc.). An example in
the New Testament is in Luke 21:7-24 (and the parallel accounts in Matthew
24 and Daniel 9) which describes the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70
under Roman general Titus as an end time. In this case, it is describing
judgment on those Jews who rejected the coming of their Messiah.
Another phrase which is used to describe an “end days” is the biblical
description “last days.” The phrase “last days” is found in Isaiah 2:2,
Hebrews 1:2, Joel 2:28-32, Acts 2:17 and other places. In each case
mentioned here, the last days is referring to the last days of the Mosaic
covenant and the time of the coming of the kingdom of God on earth: the
Church of Christ. There is some controversy over whether the term “last
days” mentioned above is only referring to the forty years or so between
the establishment of the church and the destruction of Jerusalem (30-70AD)
or whether it refers to the entire time between the resurrection of Jesus
and his final coming in judgment at the end of time. Either way, the
concept of end times is referring to a time of judgment of God on
unrighteousness and the ushering in of a new dispensation of God’s grace.
This brings us to what you are probably actually asking. I would assume
that when you ask about the end times, you are really asking about the
final end–Judgment Day. Of course the phrase end times could be used for
the coming of the new heaven and the new earth, as described in Revelation
21. Other descriptions of the final end are found in Daniel 12 (although
some of this chapter may also refer to the judgment on the Greek
persecutor Antiochus Epiphanes) and Matthew 24:30-51 and so forth. A
misuse of some of these end times prophecies, especially in Daniel and
Revelation has lead to the erroneous idea that Jesus will come back to
rule a physical kingdom here on earth, ruling from the city of Jerusalem.
This is not a correct biblical teaching.
So what you asked as a fairly simple question turns out to be a rather
complicated story. The Bible uses imagery of an end times in many places,
referring to a number of different events. The time of the destruction of
Jerusalem in 586 BC, the time of the persecution of the Jews in 167-164 BC
and God’s judgment on the Greek persecutors, the time of the coming of the
Kingdom of God and of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 all are
referred to in the Bible as basically end times. In general, when God
comes in judgment on some sort of great unrighteousness and brings in a
new time of his grace and peace, the Bible uses end time imagery to
prophetically describe the event. Of course, God uses the end time imagery
to describe the final end of days for this earth in Revelation and
elsewhere as well. The general message of all these passages is that the
man of God must remain prepared at any time for the coming of God in
judgment. God is telling us to be faithful to him at all times so that we
can escape the judgment of God and enter into his final kingdom of
righteousness. My favorite passage on this subject is found in Daniel
12:13; “As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at
the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance.”
We would do well to follow this advice.
John Oakes, PhD