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A Swift End
This world is a horrible place. The planet on which we live along with more than seven billion other human beings is an evil, scary, terrible place. The facts are clear and obvious.
People legally murder more than a million pre-born babies each year—and that is just in the United States. This does not include the many millions that they kill in Canada, Europe, Russia, China, India, and elsewhere! Tens of millions of lives are snuffed out each year just for the sexual freedom and convenience of selfish, unthinking hedonists. Now ethicists are discussing "after-birth abortion," which used to be called what it is—infanticide.
Hundreds of thousands of murders of adults take place each year. Billions of dollars are lost in theft, fraud, waste, graft, and corruption. People tell an uncountable number of lies, and an equally unknown number of other deceptions, distortions, and falsehoods are purposely perpetrated for unlawful gain of one sort or another. Fornication and adultery take place on a scale that is dizzying to consider. Homosexual rights and demands have reached a fever pitch.
We should not forget the evils of war. The news is constantly informing us about terrorism, ethnic cleansing, riots, gangs, drug wars, psychopaths, and serial killers. We hear far too much about pornography, the sex trade, and human slavery. The world is full of debt, bankruptcy, and corporate malfeasance and espionage. We have to deal with religious extremism, persecution, Wicca and New Age religions, atheism, and anti-Christian secularism.
The evils of this world can really get us down. We are constantly surrounded by wickedness, and people are forgetting God as if He has never existed. It can truly be difficult to bear.
Jesus gives good news and a muted warning in Matthew 24:32-33: "Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors!"
His overall point is, when the signs of His coming begin to appear, the prophesied events will begin to happen quickly. The fulfillment of the signs means that Christ stands at the very doors. How long does it take to open a door and step inside? Opening, stepping through, and closing a door takes mere seconds, even if done slowly. This hint about time indicates brevity. In other words, the events at the close of the age will wind up swiftly, even from God's perspective, who has a perspective of time unlike our own. In short, we need to realize this truth.
Such warnings of the end's swiftness appear throughout the Bible. Consider how fast things happened in the days of Noah, when the rain finally began to fall. After Noah's family spent just seven days on the ark, God caused it to rain for forty days and nights. In a few weeks, not one person who was not in that boat remained alive on the face of the earth.
In Zephaniah 1:14, the prophet writes: "The great day of the LORD is near; it is near and hastens quickly." Not only does it hasten, it does so quickly. Time will move swiftly, and events will transpire with the rapidity of a machine gun on full automatic. There will be little time to react. A similar warning appears in Malachi 3:5-6:
With these two verses juxtaposed, we can see that God is saying that, if He reacted in judgment any more slowly, Israel's sins would mount to such a point that He would have to wipe them from the earth. We can be glad that God does not change, that He acts in mercy to rectify matters before we erase ourselves out of existence, an idea echoed by Jesus in Matthew 24:22: "And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved."
Revelation, an end-time book, is full of warnings of a sudden conclusion to this present, evil age (Galatians 1:4). Three of these warnings about His swift return are said directly to the churches in Revelation 2:5 (to Ephesus); 2:16 (to Pergamos); and 3:11 (to Philadelphia). As in the Olivet Prophecy, He warns the Laodiceans, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock" (Revelation 3:20). His return will be unexpected, as a thief in the night. His concern is whether we will be ready.
In Revelation 22, God closes His Book, and He gives these closing exhortations:
In effect, He is saying, "Look! My return will be swift! Once you realize what is happening, there is a rapidly closing window of time! Do not lose the opportunity that comes with it!" The warning is clear. Once things reach a certain tipping point, God will move speedily and decisively, and things will wrap up so fast, as Herbert W. Armstrong used to say, that it will make our heads spin! God will not tarry once that point is reached. The Father will say, "Son, go!" and He will.
This fact has serious ramifications for us. There will be little time for us to prepare ourselves. Spiritual growth and fruit cannot be produced quickly. The Bible-wide image for spiritual growth is a harvest, and plants must grow, flower, mature, and ripen their fruit over an entire season before it is ready to be reaped. The apostle James illustrates this in James 5:7-8.
But when the end-time signs begin to be fulfilled, the time for long-term spiritual growth will just not be there. So Jesus commands us, "Therefore you also be ready" (Matthew 24:44). In the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, they had to be ready for the brief moment in which the Bridegroom would appear, a time that they did not know for certain.
Jesus knew the type of world we would be up against. He knew how tough it would be for us to stay above it and not be pulled into the maelstrom of sin spinning wildly about us. He knew that we would have to be working with Him at Christian living for a good while to be able to face the turmoil of the end. For this reason, He exhorts us to get ready now, while there is yet time, so we will not be caught short of Christian character just when we need it most.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh