Among the things which the Holy Spirit came to do for the entire church of Christ on the day of Pentecost was giving us the correct future expectation. The Lord Jesus said, “When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth… and He will tell you things to come” (John 16:13). The Holy Spirit inspired all biblical prophecies and for this reason the Lord expects us to take notice of them and order our lives accordingly. Paul says, “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies” (1 Thess. 5:19-20).
Peter says, “We also have the prophetic word made more sure, which you do well to heed as to a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:19-21).
Our spiritual lives are directly influenced by events which we expect to happen in the future since we want to be prepared for whatever will happen. Our reaction to the signs of the times determines our present assessment of world events and helps us to avoid false expectations for the immediate or distant future. The following matters are all relevant to our future expectation:
The restoration of Israel
One of the most important prophetic themes in the Bible is the end-time restoration of the people of Israel in the land which God had given them. He said to Israel, “I will gather you from the peoples, assemble you from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel” (Ezek. 11:17). The Holy Spirit wants us to clearly understand this matter as it is one of the future things on which He teaches us.
We should never spiritualise prophecies on Israel with a view to applying them to the church. The promise of return to the land of Israel was only given to the Jews and cannot be transferred to the church. The Christian church is definitely not the spiritual Israel. The spiritual Israel or the Israel of God refers to saved Jews and distinguishes them from the others who are orthodox or secular. Only the saved ones who accepted Jesus as Messiah are the true Israel or true Jews. They are referred to as Messianic Jews. Paul says, “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God” (Rom. 2:28-29).
Those who study biblical prophecies have a love for Israel, recognise their rights upon the land of Israel and the city of Jerusalem and also pray for the nation’s spiritual restoration. They understand the scenario which is busy unfolding in the Middle East and know that it will lead to the tribulation period of seven years during the rule of the Antichrist. They also know that according to John 5:43 those Jews who did not accept Jesus as Messiah will, to their own ruin, conclude a covenant with the Antichrist. The same principle also applies to all Gentiles – they are either followers of the true Christ or they are preparing the way for the coming Antichrist. Jews as well as Gentiles should be informed on this vital choice which they all have to make.
A very significant sign of the end-time is the restoration of Jerusalem. The Lord Jesus said, “Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). Jerusalem is in an advanced stage of restoration. The Lord Jesus promised that He would return to Jerusalem after the tribulation period, during a major siege of the city and its surrounding territories by enemy forces. He will set His feet on the Mount of Olives, destroy His enemies, save the remnant in Israel and make Jerusalem the capital of His reign of peace (Zech. 14:1-17; Acts 15:16-17; Rev. 19:19-21; Jer. 3:17; Isa. 2:2-4).
A deceived and morally depraved world
It is particularly important to also have perspective on spiritual matters. The Holy Spirit warns us through the prophetic word that the world will become very wicked and depraved in the end-time. The most important reason for this will be a spiritual falling away of vast proportions – to the extent that Satanic teachings will be accepted by many Christian churches: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron” (1 Tim. 4:1-2). The Living Bible paraphrases these verses as follows: “The Holy Spirit clearly tells us that in the last times some in the church will turn away from Christ and become eager followers of teachers with devil-inspired ideas. These teachers will tell lies with straight faces and do it so often that their consciences won’t even bother them.”
False doctrines will be proclaimed, accompanied by sensational signs and wonders, which will be very popular among the deceived masses. The false prophets will be highly regarded, they will openly and shamelessly ask for money and become very rich. Paul says the following on the deluded churches of the end-time: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). The Lord Jesus Himself had warned against false prophets who will deceive large audiences by signs and wonders (Matt. 24:11,24).
Peter said that the false teachers of the end-time will not hesitate at all to deny Jesus (2 Pet. 2:1-2). They do that by denying His virgin birth, His deity as well as His bodily resurrection, thus rendering Him an ordinary man. In this way they change Him into another Jesus (2 Cor. 11:3-4), which will result in the Antichrist being accepted in His place as the Christ of all faiths (cf. John 5:43). We have been warned against deception of this nature and must ensure that we completely reject it.
Extensive moral decline is also characteristic of the end-time. Paul says, “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors… having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:1-5). These morally depraved people of the end-time nevertheless have a form of godliness, which means that they are unsaved church people. They have denied the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit as they only pay lip-service to Christianity.
The situation is far worse among heathen people outside the church. The Lord Jesus said that in the end-time it will be like the days of Noah and Lot (Luke 17:26-30). Noah’s time was characterised by a culture of violence which prevailed in all the wicked societies (Gen. 6:5,13). In Lot’s time big cities were dominated by aggressive gay societies. We experience a repetition of these times today.
If one takes notice of these prophecies on the end-time you can more effectively resist the prevailing wickedness and ensure that you are not carried away or discouraged by the rising tide of moral permissiveness and apostasy. Christians who do not stand firm will backslide. The Lord Jesus said, “Because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold” (Matt. 24:12).
Study biblical prophecies and realise that strong perseverance is needed to remain standing in the end-time: “He who is righteous, let him be righteous still; and he who is holy, let him be holy still” (Rev. 22:11). We are living in a time of a great falling away, and unwavering dedication is needed from us to shine like lights in the midst of a perverse generation.
The Holy Spirit gives us enlightened eyes of the mind to correctly understand the mysteries of God’s counsel for man. It is of the utmost importance that we are able to clearly distinguish between the dispensation of the law (Israel in the Old Testament), the New Testament dispensation of the church, the future dispensation of the Antichrist’s seven-year reign, and the dispensation of Christ’s thousand-year reign of peace after His second coming. Each of these dispensations has their distinguishing features and should in no way be confused with one another.
The purity of the New Testament dispensation of grace, as well as our prophetic expectation of what will happen in the future after the Lord has taken away His bridal congregation, demands an approach in which we refrain from mixing the characteristics of the church dispensation with that of any dispensation before or after it. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit we must rightly divide the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15), which means that that all biblical statements should be understood and applied in their correct dispensational context. Great confusion results when this is not done.
It must be clearly understood that the Old Testament dispensation of the law has passed away and that in the New Testament we are not under law but under grace (Rom. 6:14). “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4). No efforts whatsoever should be taken to subject believers in any way to the law – e.g. to observe the Sabbath on Saturdays – as that would diminish or even nullify Christ’s work of grace on the cross. The Galatians tried to mix the law and grace, but Paul said to them: “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4).
The New Testament time is also referred to as the dispensation of the Holy Spirit as He convicts us of sin, regenerates us, fills us and pours out the love of God into our hearts. A person who truly loves God and his neighbour has fulfilled the principles of the law and lives spiritually on a higher level than believers of the Old Testament. They only had the letter of the law and not the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth.
We should be equally cautious not to confuse the church dispensation with any of the future dispensations. The Antichrist and his wicked rule of seven years which will commence after the rapture should in no way be regarded as part of the church dispensation. There are many people who nevertheless do this by advancing a historical interpretation of prophecies on the Antichrist. They allege that the church dispensation coincides with the dispensation of the Antichrist since, according to them, prophecies on the Antichrist and the tribulation period were fulfilled during the lifetime of various dictators, e.g. Nero, some of the popes, Stalin, Hitler, etc.
However, the Bible is very clear on the fact that the Antichrist will only be revealed after the one who restrains him – the true church of Christ indwelt by the Holy Spirit – has been removed from this wicked world. Then, the Antichrist as a false world messiah and world leader will be revealed for the start of his relatively short rule of seven years. At the end of his reign of terror, at the second coming of Christ, he will be destroyed. It is an undeniable fact that he will be an end-time ruler. Paul says:
“And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of his mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess. 2:6-12).
In Revelation 19:19-20 it is also confirmed that the Antichrist will be a living ruler on earth at the time of the second coming of Christ. The Lord Jesus also refers to this terrible time in His Olivet Discourse: “Then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be… Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:21,29-30).
We have a promise to escape the judgements of the Antichrist’s reign of terror by way of the rapture, just as sure as Noah and Lot also escaped the divine judgements of their time: “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36; cf. 1 Thess. 4:16-17). What a motivation for holiness and a clean, fruitful life to have the sure expectation that we will soon appear before the heavenly Bridegroom!
In the last instance, the church dispensation should also not be equated with the future kingdom dispensation of Christ’s reign of peace after His second coming. This is commonly done nowadays and gives rise to the serious deception of kingdom theology (dominionism). These people do not believe that we are sojourners and pilgrims in a world that lies in the sway of the Wicked One (1 Pet. 2:11; 1 John 5:19), and that we have to engage in spiritual warfare to remain standing against the wiles of the devil. They see themselves as called upon to reveal the kingdom of God on earth now, before the second coming of Christ. This approach gives rise to a theology of signs and wonders by self-proclaimed prophets and apostles who view themselves as small gods. They promote ecumenical unity among all churches, and ultimately among all faiths, as well as transformation rallies, to introduce the kingdom with all its prosperity, peace and unity.
We have not been called to such ideas and actions during this dispensation. We are living in a sinful and agnostic world which his heading for the judgements of God and the revelation of the Antichrist. Evangelical Christians have a hard time because they refuse any compromise with the ecumenical movement. Unsaved people should be plucked like brands from the fire, and realise that they should escape the depravity of the world and the deception of a false faith. We have to suffer with Christ now, and also be prepared to be rejected with Him, if we wish to rule in His future kingdom dispensation with Him (John 15:18-20; Phil. 1:28-29; 2 Tim. 2:12).
People who proclaim kingdom reforms now, and fail to warn people against the coming wrath of God (1 Thess. 1:10), are not guided by the Holy Spirit but by deceiving spirits that promote a human agenda which is in conflict with God’s counsel (2 Cor. 11:4; 1 Tim. 4:1). Trust the Holy Spirit to reveal the future things to you in the Bible and to give you enlightened eyes of the mind to correctly interpret the prophetic word.