The evidence in the world around us tells us that we are living in the time described in the Bible as the time of the end. Our world is rapidly moving toward a final climax point, and God will soon take the reins in His own hands. If we are alive when these events happen, then it is important to know what the characteristics of this final generation will be, and most importantly, how we can be on God's side when the world as we have known it comes to an end.
What happens before Jesus comes?
"He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still. And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be." Revelation 22:11,12
(A) _____ People will be changing loyalties right up to the second coming
(B) _____ Character is fixed permanently before the second coming.
This text tells us that those who are wicked will stay that way, and those who are righteous will stay that way at a certain point in time. A short time after this point, Jesus will come "quickly." We call this point the close of probation, because that ends the time when human beings can change loyalties from one side to the other. Probationary time--the time for making eternal choices--has ended. We are not told how long it will be from the close of probation to the second coming, except for the word "quickly." It will not be a long period of time, but it will be an important time period.
How did Daniel describe this time?
"And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and 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
(A) _____ When Michael stands up, a time of trouble follows.
(B) _____ When Michael stands up, we will have a millennium of peace.
Chapter 11 of Daniel describes events in world history from the days of Daniel to the very end of earth's history. After these world events play out, then Michael (another name for Christ) stands up to begin a new phase of God's plan for earth and the human race. When He does this, a terrible time of trouble for the human race will begin. Once again, we are not told how long this time of trouble will be, but since God's people will be delivered "at that time," it cannot be a lengthy period of time.
What else happens during this time?
"And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God, and from his power; and no man was able to enter into the temple, till the seven plagues of the seven angels were fulfilled." Revelation 15:8
(A) _____ The seven plagues fell on Egypt in Moses' time.
(B) _____ The seven plagues are yet to fall on the earth.
The time of trouble described by Daniel will be like no other time in earth's history because this earth has never experienced disasters like the plagues described in Revelation 16. Only by God's protecting hand will His people be able to survive what is coming on this earth.
How does this connect with the close of probation?
"And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand. And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake." Revelation 8:3-5
(A) _____ Incense and prayers will continue indefinitely.
(B) _____ Incense and prayers will come to an end at some point.
These verses describe the work of angels in bringing our prayers for forgiveness to the attention of God. Here we learn that at some point, no more prayers and incense will be offered upon the golden altar, because the censer will be cast into the earth, which will cause much trouble on the earth. This period corresponds to the close of probation and the period of the seven plagues. Shortly before Jesus returns, there will be a time when no more prayers for forgiveness will be accepted by God, and there will be no more changing of loyalties from one side to the other. All decisions will be made, and they will be final. Surely this is the most serious time that has ever been known in all of earth's history.
What time period are we in right now?
"And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor or the sea, nor on any tree." Revelation 7:1
(A) _____ The angels are holding back the forces of destruction.
(B) _____ The angels have loosed the winds of destruction.
We are in the period just before the final time of trouble breaks upon the earth. God's angels have been commissioned to hold back the winds of destruction for a specific purpose.
What is that purpose?
"And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. And I heard the number of them which were sealed, and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel." Revelation 7:2-4
(A) _____ The earth will not be hurt until God's people are sealed.
(B) _____ We don't know what God is waiting for.
This may be the most important text of all our lessons. God says that He will not allow the winds of destruction to come upon the earth until He has sealed His people. This means that we now have the answer as to what is holding up the final events of this earth's history. God is not waiting for more evil to accumulate. He is not waiting for a temple to be rebuilt in Israel. He is not waiting for pronouncements by the pope in Rome. He is waiting for a special people, a people whom He can seal as His very own. When He has found and sealed this final generation, then the climactic end of this world's history will rapidly follow. (Incidentally, do not get sidetracked by interesting but non-essential questions, like, Are the 144,000 a literal or symbolic number? or, How can there be 12,000 out of every tribe?)
How does God describe this group?
"And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads." Revelation 14:1
(A) ____ God wants His name written in the Hebrew language.
(B) ____ God wants His name written in people's foreheads.
Now we know what the seal of God is. It is His name, meaning His character, written permanently in the minds of His people. They belong totally to Him and their decision is final. They have decided to be righteous and holy forever. They are all through rebelling. All sin, of every kind, is gone forever from their lives.
What is their spiritual experience?
"And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God." Revelation 14:5
(A) _____ They have overcome most of their sins.
(B) _____ They are faultless before God.
This is an incredible, almost impossible, description of a group of human beings--previously sinners like all of us. If we might have any doubt about what "without fault" means, 1 Peter 1:19 and Hebrews 9:14 use this same phrase to refer to Jesus Christ. There is simply no sin in their lives. They are actually living sinless lives in sinful natures, something that Satan said could not possibly be done. This will not happen because God pushes some magic button in their brains or because He takes away their fallen natures to make it easier to obey, but because they have allowed the Holy Spirit to control their lives so completely that they can live the same quality of life that Christ lived while on earth.
Conclusion: If the Bible really teaches that there is a close of probation, and that God is demonstrating something special after the close of probation, then it seems that we must also believe in full character maturity, which means living without yielding to sinful desires. If the priestly ministry of forgiveness comes to an end at the close of probation, that means that there will be no more forgiveness of sins after that time. If the ministry of forgiving sins will have ceased, then it seems imperative that there be no sinning on the part of those who are sealed to God. If we take seriously the Biblical admonitions to overcome sin, the reality of the close of probation, and the challenge of the 144,000, then we must also take seriously the truth of living without sinning.
This can be an overwhelming thought, with lots of room for pessimism and discouragement. Right here, we need to review the previous lessons we studied. First, we are dependent on God's promises and power, not our own abilities. If He can create the world in six days and raise Lazarus from the dead, then He can perform miracles in our lives too. Second, because forgiveness has ended does not imply the end of the enabling power of Jesus dwelling within His people on earth. In fact, we will need Him more and closer than ever before. Christ abiding within--constantly--will be our only hope of success. Third, living without sin is the goal--the end result. Our focus must remain on justification and sanctification, because this is the method of achieving sinlessness. Jesus forgives us of our sins. He comes into our lives with power and victory. As we focus on justification and sanctification, the end result or goal will naturally follow. It will be the natural result of letting God do His full work in our hearts. As an athlete running in a footrace focuses on the next few yards while remembering the tape that is at the end of the race, so the Christian focuses on his relationship with Christ today while remembering that there is a goal at the end of the race.
If God is really waiting for a special group of people before He initiates the final events of earth's history, shouldn't we be spending all our time and energy learning how to be a part of that special group? This needs to be our number one priority, with all other interesting issues a distant second in our lives. Let us strive with all our hearts to be part of God's 144,000.