SOURCE FOR QUESTIONS
Matthew 24:3-14, 2 Timothy 3:1-5
KEY VERSE FOR MEMORIZATION
“Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them.” (Isaiah 42:9)
The Bible is a written record not only of history but also of what is to come. The pages of the Old and New Testaments contain hundreds of prophesies and revelations — some of them very detailed and specific — of events that have not yet occurred. However, we know they will take place. Scripture is full of prophecies that already have taken place precisely as God revealed, and prophecies of events in the last days will transpire just as surely.
People around the globe discuss and debate what the future holds, though many ignore the prophetic signs playing out around them. There has never been a period in history when end-time prophecies aligned more closely with the conditions of the world than they do today. For believers, that is an exciting thought! Clearly, the culmination of God’s dealing with the people of this earth will soon occur.
Fully understanding prophesies concerning coming events can be challenging, so we should approach such passages with humility rather than dogmatic absoluteness. God has given man only limited glimpses of many aspects of the future. On the other hand, Scripture is very explicit about some coming events. As followers of Christ, we should seek to understand Biblical prophecies as clearly as possible, looking to the Holy Spirit for guidance. As we explore these indicators of what the future holds, we discover God’s hand in the chaos around us, and that gives us hope.
SUGGESTED RESPONSES TO QUESTIONS
- In Daniel 2, we read of a prophecy that encompassed a wide swath of world history. This chapter tells of King Nebuchadnezzar’s troubling dream of a great image made of various materials, and Daniel’s interpretation of the dream’s meaning. Bible scholars concur that the various parts of the image represented a succession of world empires through the ages. In verse 34, the stone cut without hands that destroyed the last kingdom represents the Messiah and King of kings, Jesus Christ. Looking back through world history and the rise and fall of great kingdoms and dynasties, what can we conclude from this prophetic revelation about earthly powers? Why is this important to us as believers?
Your group will likely conclude that earthly kingdoms and rulers, no matter how mighty they may have seemed during their era, will all be obliterated. Bible scholars concur that the ten toes of the image in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream represent ten world powers that will stem from the Roman Empire and exist at the time of Christ’s return, so they likely are in existence today. When Jesus Christ returns to this earth, He will destroy Gentile world powers and set up a kingdom that will never cease.
In response to the second question, class discussion should bring out that this prophetic revelation is important to us as believers because it gives us hope. The world around us is full of turmoil and strife, but we can focus on the assurance that a better day is coming — one in which Jesus will reign over this whole earth, and peace will prevail.
- In God’s Word, the nation of Israel often is a prophetic signpost. In Isaiah 11:12 we read a specific prophecy regarding Israel: “And he [God] shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.” That prophecy was fulfilled in 1948 when Israel became a nation for the first time since 597 B.C. Since then, numerous Biblical prophecies regarding Israel have come to pass, including the return of rainfall to the land, the restoration of a pure language, the establishing of the shekel as official currency, and a number of astonishing military victories. We find another prophecy regarding Israel in Zechariah 12:1-3. In what ways has this prophecy been fulfilled in the nation of Israel?
In these verses, the prophet stated that Jerusalem would be a “cup of trembling” to all the people around her. Though Jerusalem is a relatively small city, with no significant natural resources and no port, the conflicts regarding her appear in world news almost daily. In verse 3, Zechariah foretold that Jerusalem would be “a burdensome stone for all people.” Today, the Islamic world wants to destroy Israel, while the rest of the world wants to bring peace to the region by dividing Israel and Jerusalem. What many fail to realize is that no peace agreement involving this region will last until the Messiah, the Prince of Peace, sets up His kingdom and rules from Jerusalem.
If time allows, you could expand your discussion by noting that in Scripture, Israel sometimes is represented by a fig tree. Jesus said, “Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it [the coming of Christ] is near, even at the doors” (Matthew 24:32-33). Additional examples of signs in the nation of Israel can be found in the booklet, “A Glimpse Into the Future,” available on our website at www.apostolicfaith.org. Your group should be aware that Biblical prophecies about Israel are stunningly specific and detailed. While politics in the Middle East can be confusing, one thing is increasingly clear: the eyes of the world are riveted upon Israel, the epicenter of the momentous events that will shape the world’s future. The prophetic fulfillments that have already taken place in Israel have set the stage for end-time events.
- One of the most detailed passages in the Bible concerning end-time events, apart from the Book of Revelation, is found in Matthew chapter 24. When Jesus’ disciples asked Him what signs would precede His coming and the end of the world, He responded with a comprehensive list in a message referred to as His “Olivet Discourse.” In it, Christ telescoped near future events concerning the Jewish people of His day, and distant future events that would not occur until the time of the end. Some of these signs have already occurred, some are occurring today, and some are still to come. In Matthew 24:3-14, which of the signs Christ predicted do you see occurring in the world today?
You may wish to compile a list with your class of the signs that they observe in the world today, based on these verses. A list should include widespread deception regarding Christ, wars and rumors of wars, famines and pestilences, earthquakes, persecution of Christian believers, numerous false prophets, and a lack of love. (Again, supporting facts for these categories can also be found in the booklet, “A Glimpse Into the Future.”)
- In addition to Jesus’ warning in His Olivet Discourse, prophets in the Old Testament and Christ’s disciples in the New Testament spoke of signs that would indicate Christ’s return to this earth is imminent. For example, in the Old Testament, Daniel predicted that in the last days, multitudes would travel to and fro, and knowledge would increase (Daniel 12:4). Zechariah spoke of the use of nuclear weapons (see Zechariah 14:12). In the New Testament, Peter predicted that many false prophets would emerge, bringing in heresies (2 Peter 2:1-2). John the Revelator indicated that the Gospel would be preached as a witness to all nations (Revelation 14:6). Why do you think God provided so many and varied signs related to the condition of the world at the end of time?
Your group should recognize that the multiplicity of signs forewarning the end times are indicative of how important it is to believe that Christ’s return will occur soon. It is vital that people make the proper spiritual preparation.
Point out to your group that there is ample instruction in the Bible about what it takes to be ready. Because God has provided so many indicators of the end of time, there will be no excuse for those who fail to prepare. Some say they believe that the end is near, but speculate that perhaps the Lord will delay His coming a few years longer. We have no guarantee of that.
- In addition to foretelling world conditions just prior to Christ’s return, Biblical prophecies paint a graphic picture of the human condition at that time. In 2 Timothy 3, Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, described to Timothy how the last days would be characterized by sinfulness. He introduced this portion of his epistle with the statement, “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.” In that statement, the Greek word translated perilous means “hard to bear, troublesome, dangerous.” Then Paul proceeded to describe what brought about the peril: the sinfulness of man. What does 2 Timothy 3:1-5 tell us about the condition of humanity in the last days?
Consider having a volunteer read each of these verses aloud so your group can discuss how closely Paul’s descriptive list of behaviors in the last days aligns with behaviors we see in society today. You may wish to note each on a white board or flip chart for ease of reference.
To start the discussion, point out that the prediction that “men shall be lovers of their own selves” is the initial negative characteristic mentioned. Its placement as first on the list is appropriate because the love of self is the foundation for all the depravity that follows in Paul’s description.
You may wish to bring some current news articles that illustrate one or more of the human characteristics identified in these verses as indications of the “last days.”
- The Second Coming of Christ is a future event so important that it is mentioned in almost every New Testament book, and the imminence of His return is a theme woven through the prophetic passages of Scripture concerning this subject. The Second Coming encompasses two separate events: the Rapture of the Church, when Christ comes to claim His waiting Bride; and the Revelation of Christ, when Jesus comes with His saints from Heaven to execute judgment upon the ungodly and to set up His Millennial Kingdom and reign on this earth for a thousand years. According to the prophetic statements Paul made to the saints in Thessalonica and Corinth, what will happen to believers at the time of the Rapture? 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; 1 Corinthians 15:51-53
Your group should relate that believers who have died will arise from their graves to meet Christ in the clouds. Then those who are alive and who have prepared themselves for His coming will be changed in a moment and will be caught up to join Him in the air.
Point out to your class that the word rapture does not appear in Scripture. It is derived from the Latin Vulgate translation of 1 Thessalonians 4:17, where the phrase “caught up” is translated into the Latin word rapturo, which literally means “being carried away in body or spirit.”
To wrap up your discussion of this question, you may wish to read Revelation 19:7-9. These verses relate that the believers who meet with Christ at the Rapture of the Church will take part in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, where rewards will be given for faithful service and Christ himself will serve the saints (see Luke 12:37).
- While the Marriage Supper of the Lamb is taking place above, Bible prophecy indicates that a terrible outpouring of God’s wrath will occur on earth because of mankind’s rejection of God’s love and mercy. In the Book of Revelation, chapters 6-19 describe that time of catastrophic trouble and terrible suffering. Daniel, prophesying of it, said, “There shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book” (Daniel 12:1). How did Jesus characterize this time of trouble upon the earth? Matthew 24:21
In Matthew 24:21 Jesus said, “Then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.”
If time allows, briefly review what will happen on earth during the Tribulation, when God’s judgment and righteous fury will be poured out upon the earth in the form of horrendous environmental catastrophes. The tribulation plagues are comprised of three groups of seven: the seven seal judgments, the seven trumpet judgments, and the seven bowl judgments. Jesus is the One who will open the first seal judgment and initiate these cataclysmic events. Depending upon the age and spiritual maturity level of your students, you may wish to ask your group to relate some of the specific events that will occur during the Great Tribulation. The section “Terrible Upheaval on Earth” in the booklet “A Glimpse Into the Future” is a good source for details.
- The most dominant figure of the Tribulation period will be the Antichrist, who will step onto the stage of world power and exert global authority given to him by Satan. Initially, he will expand his empire through subtle “peace” diplomacy, but later, his true nature will be revealed. His ascent to power will be rapid, as he will be a phenomenally persuasive and brilliant man. However, he will also be extremely wicked and diabolical. According to Revelation 13:8, all who dwell upon the earth whose names are not written in the Book of Life will worship him. Though the designation “Antichrist” only appears four times in the Word of God, this evil leader is described in various ways. How is the Antichrist identified in the following passages? Daniel 8:23; 9:26; 11:21; 2 Thessalonians 2:3; Revelation 13:1
These passages identify the Antichrist in the following ways.
Daniel 8:23 – “a king of fierce countenance”
Daniel 9:26 – “the prince that shall come”
Daniel 11:21 – “a vile person”
2 Thessalonians 2:3 – a “man of sin” and “the son of perdition”
Revelation 13:1 – “a beast”
You may want to discuss some of the trends and events in the world today, with a focus on how these might help set the stage for a world leader to take control.
- The Word of God contains numerous prophecies of Christ’s future reign on this earth following the seven-year period of the Great Tribulation. Matthew 2:6 predicts that a governor will come out of Judah and reign over God’s people. In Luke 1:32-33, the angel announced to Mary that Jesus would be given the throne of his father David, and that He would reign over the house of Jacob forever. The prophet Daniel foretold that dominion, glory, and a kingdom would be given to “one like the Son of man,” and that all people, nations, and languages would serve Him (Daniel 7:13-14). Micah prophesied that Jesus would reign over Mount Zion (Micah 4:7). Isaiah vividly described a glorious kingdom given to Jesus from God, where He will rule in a royal manner (Isaiah 22:21-23). What do you think these prophetic indicators reveal about the purpose for the coming Millennial Kingdom?
Discussion should bring out that the purpose of the Millennial Kingdom will be to establish the physical rule of Jesus Christ in the earth in fulfillment of all of the Old and New Testament prophecies. Many of God’s covenants and promises refer to a literal, physical, future kingdom — prophecies that He did not fulfill at His first coming. The Millennial Kingdom is when all of these prophecies will be fulfilled.
You may wish to broaden your discussion of Christ’s Millennial Reign and explore with your class details about this time of peace and blessing on earth as related by Old Testament prophets. The following Scriptures are some that could be mentioned.
Zechariah 14:16 – Everyone will make a yearly visit to Jerusalem to worship the King.
Isaiah 2:4 – There will be peace, with no wars between nations.
Isaiah 11:6-9 – Animal nature will be changed.
Isaiah 35:6 – Sickness and disease will be eliminated.
Isaiah 55:12-13 – Vegetation will be luxuriant.
Isaiah 65:20 – Mankind will enjoy longevity.
Jeremiah 31:31-33 – God will renew His covenant with Israel.
Wrap up your lesson by pointing out what a glorious privilege it will be to have a part in that Millennial Kingdom. We want to do whatever is necessary to be ready for it and for all of eternity.
Jesus rebuked the religious leaders of His day because they did not understand the meaning of their times. We want to consider the indicators that Christ’s return is imminent and be certain that we are ready.