We who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.
–1 Thessalonians 4:17

Exactly what do we mean by the end times? In one sense, the countdown to the apocalypse began when Jesus ascended into heaven. That is when the clock started ticking toward the date of His second coming. So in that sense, we are living in the last days as we await Jesus’s return.

But more specifically, when we talk about the last days, we are talking about the events that begin with the Rapture of the church and conclude with the return of Jesus Christ. Since Christ’s ascension into heaven, we have been living in a period called the church age. During this time the Jews have hardened their hearts toward the gospel, and God has opened up salvation to Gentiles. The event that will mark the end of the church age is the Rapture. The Rapture is when all Christians are caught up to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

Once the Rapture has occurred, then begins the final seven years of earth’s history, called the Tribulation. This is when the Antichrist will rule the earth. It will be a time of intense persecution for those who convert to Christianity. The climax of the Tribulation will be a world confrontation called Armageddon, which will end with Christ coming back to earth to set up His kingdom. So when we talk about the end times, we are talking about the seven years that begin with the Rapture and conclude with Christ’s visible second coming.

As we look at our world today, we must keep two principles in mind. Principle number one: the signs of the end times–international conflict, persecution of believers, apostasy–are present in every generation. That’s why it is a mistake to take any single headline and say, “This means the end is near.” Instead, we need to look in the general direction of the way things are moving to ascertain what is happening. Principle number two: The signs of the times will accelerate in intensity and frequency as we approach the end. Jesus said, “All these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs” (Matthew 24:8). A pregnant woman can look at the calendar and have a general idea of when the baby is coming. As the day approaches, she begins to experience labor pains–a sign that something big is about to happen. Sometimes labor pains start and then subside. But then comes a time when those labor pains increase in frequency and intensity, and she knows the baby is coming. That is the analogy Jesus used for the signs of the end times.

You know, if you were to plot these signs on a graph and start when Christ ascended into heaven, over these last 2,000 years the graph would go up and down. The signs would increase and then decrease. But Jesus said when we get closer to the end, the graph will move up. For 2,000 years we have seen the signs come and go, but we are starting to see that graph go continually up as the end approaches and we see the signs the Bible says will precede the Lord’s return.

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Today’s devotion is excerpted from “Who Do We Forgive?” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2015.

Scripture quotations are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.