End Times Theology: Why Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Matters | Magazine Features
Eschatology is a minefield!
Christian history is littered with erroneous end-time predictions. As someone who has preached, written and spoken extensively on the subject, I am all too aware of the dangers. Nevertheless, the Bible speaks about 320 times of Christ’s return, so it is not a topic that should be ignored.
Whatever theories, patterns, plans and predictions that may be offered about the end times, one thing is absolutely certain – if you believe the Bible, you must believe that Jesus will return in the future (second coming) in majesty and glory. One verse sums it up well: “We await the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:13)
I think that’s an under-preached doctrine today. Anecdotally, as I have asked leaders over the years to preach on the second coming in their churches, I always draw a blank. When I was a young Christian, many believers really expected Jesus to return in their lifetime. Today, I almost have the impression that believers do not really expect it.
However, the current war in Ukraine prompts me to attempt a contribution for the urgent need to look into this subject. No one has a perfect eschatology, but there are some things going on right now that make me believe now is not the time to ignore the teaching on the second coming.
There are two outside parameters that I want to share. One is the absolute certainty of Christ’s return and the other is that I absolutely do not claim that I know that the outcome of the war in Ukraine will be the return of Jesus. However, between these two parameters, there is plenty of room for comments. Christ will return at some time in the future. From our point of view, it will be a day on the calendar and an hour on the clock, even though calendars and clocks will then have their last moment! A voice will come from the throne, “It is done!” (Revelation 16:17), history as we know it will be over, Christ will return, and there will be new heavens and a new earth.
Scripture is very clear that we don’t know when this will happen (Mark 13:32). But don’t overlook the verses that tell us to be watchful and aware of the second coming. Note especially 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6. “You know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people say: Peace and security, destruction will come upon them suddenly, like the pains of childbirth upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day surprises you like a thief. You are all children of light and children of the day. We belong neither to night nor to darkness. So let’s not be like the rest, who sleep, but let’s be awake and sober.” (emphasis mine) This means that there are future events that should at least warn us that Christ is truly coming.
I think Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is eschatologically significant
Jesus himself warns us against complacency about the end times. “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be in the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until in the day that Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing of what would happen until the flood came and swept them all away, so it will be at the coming of the Son of man (Matthew 24:37-39) Seems a lot like that to me right now. The escalation of the war in Ukraine could very quickly involve the UK directly and once there is an escalation, the threat of nuclear weapons becomes a very real possibility. But I don’t see people rushing to church and showing signs of worry about their spiritual state or their eternal destiny. Of course, the escalation might not take place from everything and so what I have just written might then seem exaggerated. But the fact is that I don’t know; none of us do and that’s Surely, then, is the time to be vigilant and to remember our blessed hope.
Putin and the Antichrist
There are two basic reasons why I think Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is eschatologically significant. One is the threat of nuclear war which could involve us all. The other is the more complicated question of the antichrist.
Some believe that the Church will be removed before the tribulation, which means that the Church will have been removed from the earth before the reign of the antichrist. This view, while popular in some quarters, is in my opinion without biblical or historical credibility (see my book for more details). The classic view has always been that the Church will go through tribulation (as it is now, including in Ukraine) and that the intensity of this tribulation will increase towards the end.
Think right now of the ever-increasing persecution of Christians around the world and even in democratic “Christian” countries the heightened hostility to Christian ethical views, parts of the church itself also yielding to values clearly non-Christian.
Most evangelicals agree that there is still an antichrist spirit at work in the world (1 John), but there is also an end-time antichrist. Exegetically, I think the antichrist would appear to be an identifiable person. I’m in good company thinking about that. “We can, I think, be certain that the antichrist will eventually be concentrated in one person, who will have terrible power, and will be able to work miracles and do such wonders as to almost deceive the elect themselves. ” (Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Great Doctrines of the Bible)
We live in a very dangerous time in history
However, because there is an antichrist spirit at work, identifying just one person might be overstated. What can be identified are the marks of an antichrist system or structure from Revelation 13. These include great power and authority (v2) and therefore the ability to control entire populations. There is a mortal wound that is healed (v3). Cult of the Antichrist (v4). A forced peace probably created by oppression and terror (v11). A huge propaganda machine (v11-14) Economic controls and restrictions (v16). Much of this is already visible in authoritarian states like China, North Korea, Belarus, Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, etc. But other states are moving in the same direction, even though they are technically democratic, like Turkey. India is of particular concern, where state control is intensifying and Hinduism is being imposed in various ways. Now Russia has shown its hand. Elections are rigged, the state controls and oppresses, protest and opposition are not allowed, all free media are shut down, and the “truth” is what the Kremlin allows to be said and broadcast. Ukraine is invaded to place it under the same controls. Add it all together and a majority of the world’s population is headed for control by antichrist systems and structures.
There’s always a religious element mixed into it. In Turkey and Afghanistan, it is Islam. In North Korea, the leader is revered as a god. In Russia, the Orthodox Church blesses Putin’s invasion and he seems to see himself as something of a savior for the Russian Orthodox Church. I’ve seen interviewees who describe Putin as a god, and I watched an interview with Putin where he said that if a retaliatory nuclear strike was launched on Russia, Russians would wake up as heroes in paradise – that’s is all religious fanaticism.
I’m particularly fascinated by the reference to the Beast receiving a mortal yet living wound. This seems to be the case with all sorts of antichrist types and systems in history, but let me stick to just two for now. We know that assassination attempts have been made against Putin. At least four, and some claim 20. If people try to kill you but you live on, what does that do to your ego? It would be easy to believe that you have some kind of super or divine power. In Afghanistan, the Taliban received a “mortal wound” at the hands of the Americans, but now they are coming back and living again to rule, control and terrorize the nation once more. What kind of gods do these rulers think they are?
There is no doubt that the war in Ukraine will increase the tribulations on earth. Every day I read reports of the growing hunger and starvation this war is bringing to the world. Lack of food, exorbitant prices, oil and fuel prices, etc. We feel these things even in the wealthy West.
For good measure, add climate change, increasing unrest and violence around the world, the growing persecution of Christians, China and Taiwan, and the deepening moral vacuum in Western society. We live in a very dangerous time in history. In the UK, hardly anyone has any memory of war or real disaster. We had a few near misses; the Cuban Missile Crisis and 9/11 and it becomes easy to think that we got by before and we’ll get through it again…those things pass. And maybe this crisis will indeed pass. I am not prophesying that we are at the end of history. But I see the warning that Jesus gave: As it was in the days of Noah…
It’s not a day for wild predictions; I’m definitely not advocating that we head for the hills. You don’t have to agree with all my analyses. However, we are called to deliver all of God’s counsel. Surely this is a time to remember that, as complex as the teaching of the end times can sometimes be, we believe there will be an end times and we can expect growing problems before the end. . We have a message that Paul says we need to share with one another to encourage one another. (1 Thessalonians 4:18) Jesus will return and it would not be a bad thing in this time of heightened tension in world history to dig into this truth and the hope of Christ’s return.