Strangers and Sojourners in the End Times (1)

Strangers and sojourners has been the theme of the editorials for quite some time. We began with the biblical idea of strangers, sojourners, and closely connected, pilgrims. We defined being strangers and sojourners in terms of a lifelong journey with a beginning, a route, and a destination, all of which are determined by God’s counsel and guided by God’s providence. We observed that their journey is spiritual in nature. Although they live in the same world as do the wicked and have almost everything in common with them, there is an essential difference between them and God’s people, and that difference is grace. We further observed that strangers and sojourners are characterized by hope, individual responsibility, the lonely nature of their journey, traveling with friends, being chastened, being wise, being like our fathers, and more.

There is something timeless in everything written above in the sense that all of this is always true. God’s people in one way or another are strangers and pilgrims in the earth throughout the more than six thousand years of earth’s (and the church’s) existence. Nothing seems to change much. With the deniers of Christ’s coming, perhaps we are tempted to say, “All things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation” (2 Pet. 3:4).

However, we live in a new era called the end times. The journey that all God’s people walk is almost finished in terms of the execution of God’s counsel. We (and especially you, young people) live at the end of the ages. This unique period of history will soon be completed, and time, together with the earthly creation, will be no more. I remember hearing the late Rev. Herman Hoeksema saying many decades ago in a sermon that it was 11 P.M. on God’s clock of history. Since then much time has gone by and a great deal of history has transpired, and we have come much closer to midnight on God’s clock.

Exactly because the clock of history is rapidly ticking to its end, all of us must pay attention to what is happening around us. I single out you, young people, because you will be the ones who experience the signs of the end times. It is certainly true that all of us experience them, but let’s face the facts. The older generations—your parents and grandparents and maybe your great-grandparents—are either aging or are already old. Soon they will go the way of all flesh. You, in contrast, will live on for many decades (according to God’s will) and will experience the signs of the times with increasing intensity.

Having put the general situation into perspective, we must ask and answer some questions. What is happening all around us? What is the meaning of disastrous events in nature, of upheaval in society, and of trouble in the church? How are we to understand the coming of antichrist and the signs that precede it? What will the future hold for me personally and for the church?

The short answer is that Christ will come. He has been coming ever since he ascended into heaven. We need think only of the words of the angel to the disciples as they watched him go up into heaven: “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). He has been coming throughout the New Testament, although the signs of that coming are often difficult to discern. It is especially near the end of time—the age in which we live—that the time grows nearer and the signs are more clearly discernible.

The longer and more complicated answer is that the age in which we live is characterized by the coming of Christ. The answer is further that he will come by means of the signs of the times. In order to understand Christ’s coming, we must know what the Bible teaches about it. While many scripture passages mention the coming of Christ and the signs that precede it, Christ’s instruction to his disciples in Matthew 24 is perhaps the most definitive. In this passage are two key words that we need to understand.

In order to understand them, we must look first at the context in which Jesus used them. After Jesus prophesied the destruction of the temple (vv. 1–2), according to Matthew 24:3, the disciples asked Jesus privately, “Tell us, when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” In reply, Jesus did not give them a straight answer in terms of time. He could not give them a precise date because he was unable: “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only” (v. 36). Instead, he replied by giving the disciples a description of the signs of his second coming.

The expression that the disciples used in their question is both correct and instructive for us. They spoke of “the end of the world,” and connected this with Jesus’ coming. The expression is more accurately “the complete finish of the eon.” An eon or an age is a definite period of time from the viewpoint of its content or nature. It has a unifying factor that defines it. The idea is therefore a period of time that is characterized by the coming of Christ. In the broadest sense this refers to the entire New Testament throughout which Christ comes. More narrowly this refers to the period immediately preceding the final coming, during which the signs of the times can be clearly discerned. When all the signs have taken place and the fullness of time has come, and when the eon is completely finished, then Christ will come.

The other key word is “end,” used in verse 6 and often in scripture, especially in the book of Revelation. We normally use “end” in a temporal way. For example, when a certain number of hours have gone by, we say that the school day has ended. But in scripture the word means end in the sense of goal. An element of time is doubtless included and implied. A certain amount of time must pass before Christ comes. But the emphasis is on the content of the end—what must happen before Christ will come again. This is clear from Jesus’ words, “but the end is not yet.” The signs of the times begin to intensify, but God’s goal—Christ’s final coming—has not been reached and will not be reached until all of the signs of it are complete and finished.

Thus Jesus says that all these things must come to pass. He emphasizes that the signs of the times are necessary and therefore inevitable. For this reason we who live in the last eon must know what these signs are as they are described in scripture. We must also be able to recognize them not just as random events, things that “just happen,” but as the signs that they are.

We must know these things in order to know how we are to live as strangers and sojourners amidst the signs that are taking place all around us.

How are we to live? We are to redeem the time because the days are evil (Eph. 5:16). This means that in the midst of all the trials, troubles, and wickedness of the last days, we are to use our time to live as Christians to the best of our ability and to take every opportunity to do this.

Our attitude must also be one of faith in the face of apparent evil and hopelessness. In the face of all the negative events of the last days—apostasy, many antichrists, wars, famine, earthquakes, pestilence, persecution, and more—Jesus says to his church (v. 6), “see that ye be not troubled.” Why? Because all these things must come to pass before Christ returns.

But return he will. Of that, young people, you can be sure, for this is God’s word to us. Live then as the young strangers and sojourners that you are.