A part of Christian eschatology is the conviction and belief that evil will intensify in the last days (Cullmann, “Eschatology and Mission in the New Testament,” Theology and the Christian Mission, 46). This began at the Day of Pentecost when the church was born and continues until today. There have been times of relative peace and times of the intense manifestation of evil, but there is little doubt in the minds of many that the situation in the world is not getting better. It seems especially intense at the moment.
The good news of the kingdom preached by Jesus came in the middle of what was called ‘the present age.’ It is to be contrasted to the age to come. Jesus agreed with the apocalyptic thinkers of his time that evil will dominate this age. It will become so intensely evil that at the end complete chaos will reign. The conflict motif which is found in the Olivet Discourse and which characterized both Christ’s mission and the mission of his disciples will not be resolved until the age to come (Ladd, Presence, 327). If the kingdom was not present there would be no conflict; there would only be the total domination of powers of evil. But the kingdom is present and it resists Satan and his kingdom and it will do so until the age to come is ushered in.
There is a mentality in the Western world that things are going to gradually get better and better, and the fact that, in reality, there is more religious persecution today than ever, it is difficult for the Western church to accept the idea that things will gradually get worse, but it will be more evident as the present age draws to an end. There will be false messiahs (Lesslie Newbigin believes this will be in the realm of “messianic politics”) where deluded persons claim to be the messiah and have an agenda that ultimately represents the move away from God and toward evil. This will cause great suffering in the church but it also the occasion for the Spirit’s witness, which is to be given to all nations (Newbigin, The Open Secret, 38-39). The calling of the faithful is to proclaim that the “reign of God had conquered the power of evil.” As they proclaim this, the Holy Spirit will use the occasion of the faithful who endure their rejection as an occasion to witness to the nations (Newbigin, 39). Newbigin summarizes he scenario of the end times as follows: “The scenario leads on into a still more dreadful crisis where evil enthrones itself in the very city of holiness (Mark 13:14-33), and through the dissolution of the natural order itself (13:24-31) will come to the final triumph of God, which will be an act of pure sovereign power and grace. In his own time an in his own way God will fulfill his purpose. Therefore, those to whom the secret has been disclosed must be ready and watchful, faithful to the commission they have received (13:32-37).” (Newbigin, The Open, 39).
G.E. Ladd notes that Jesus in his Olivet Discourse said unmistakably that his disciples would be vulnerable to the “demonic evil that plagues this age.” The conflict would intensify and “would reach a convulsive end in the appearance of the Antichrist at the end of the age” (Th Last Things, 58). So the trials and persecution the church endures today which is the result of increasing conflict between the two kingdoms was recognized as being the normal outcome of such a conflict (65). Society will devolve to the point where the state or government begins to malfunction. It will no long be an instrument of law and order but will become a totalitarian system that “defies God and demands the worship of men.” People will no longer punished for doing evil but will suffer for doing good. “This is the demonic state” (comments on 2 Thessalonians, Last, 68). The deification of the state is an example of the ‘principle of lawlessness’ inherent in and the cause of social disintegration. The state, which was ordained by God to stand as a defense against the powers of chaos, will break down completely, allowing chaos free reign.
This sounds bleak and hopeless, except for the Kingdom of God from which God rules in our hearts grants us grace to live through these evil times and maintain our faith. Tribulation and distress will not separate us from the love and grace of God. Glory to God!
Roy Stults, PhD, is the Online Workshop Coordinator and Educational Services Coordinator for The Voice of the Martyrs. He graduated from Olivet Nazarene University (BA and MA), Nazarene Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Doctor of Missiology), and The University of Manchester (England) with a PhD (theology). A Vietnam veteran, Dr. Stults served as a missionary for 19 years and pastored U.S. churches for eight years. Prior to joining VOM, he was a Professor of Religion at Oklahoma Wesleyan University.