Tragedies aren't the signal
If you and I are caught in the midst of a war, or a hurricane flattens our home, or an ugly recession throws us out of work and the bank forecloses on our house and we are forced onto the street, it indeed can seem like the world is coming to an end.
But those are only the ongoing natural results of a world that has turned its back on God. As painful as they might be, such things happen repeatedly and routinely in our world.
As Jesus specifically explained, tragedies of that sort do not signal the imminent end of the age. We should not let them so severely frighten us that we get involved with false teachers who use fear to create a following for themselves.
But the question remains: If those are not the right signs, then what are the true signs of Christ's imminent return and the end of the age? Do there actually exist prominent, easily identifiable signs on which we can rely?
The lawless one
The apostle Paul addresses this in 2 Thessalonians 2:2-4. Here, once again, we are cautioned against preyers on people's fears:
Do not be "shaken in mind or alarmed," he advises, that "the day of the Lord is already here. Let no one deceive you ... for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed."
The lawless one "exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God."
This description is of a great religious dictator, sometimes referred to as Antichrist, who traditionally is associated with the very end.
In verse 8 he is described as being destroyed by Christ at his return. According to Paul, it is this person's rise to world dominance that is the single most prominent event to which we should look as a sign of the end times.
His claim of divinity
But how can we know for certain when this will happen? Bible interpreters are all over the map on this. Whom should we trust?
Fortunately, the Bible does not leave us guessing. The great end-time religious dictator is mentioned in other passages of prophecy, from Daniel to Revelation. Notice in 2 Thessalonians 2 his most prominent trait, his claim to be divine. He raises himself above all other gods worshiped on the face of the earth (verse 4).
We find this same individual described in another Bible passage, in Daniel 11. Speaking of the final "king of the north," Daniel says that that king "shall exalt himself and consider himself greater than any god ... He shall pay no respect to any other god, for he shall consider himself greater than all" (verses 36-37).
Notice that the two men, as cited in 2 Thessalonians 2 and Daniel 11, make the same claim.
Understand Daniel and Paul
Then consider another description of this same end-time figure in Revelation 17. Here he is referred to as the "beast."
This is the same final Antichrist who fights against Christ whom Christ destroys at the Second Coming (Revelation 17:13-14; 19:19-21).
Notice Christ's destruction of Paul's great end-time religious leader described in 2 Thessalonians 2:8 and John's beast.
We must conclude that Daniel, 2 Thessalonians and Revelation are all talking about the same person.
From all this we understand that the primary sign of the final end times is the appearance of a great religious leader who claims to be a divine being.
This is no obscure event, for he rises to a position of dominance over all religions on earth.
This last trait is based on our understanding of Daniel's and Paul's description of how he positions himself "above" all other gods and objects of worship.
As we draw to the close of this first part of a series based on Spirit of Antichrist, we are just getting started. Once we understand that Daniel, 2 Thessalonians and Revelation are all talking about the same thing, we uncover a treasure of additional clues related to the final end times.
This involves the special significance of John's prophecies in Revelation 17, including the mysterious seven kings and an eighth king who "was and is not" whom John said will be revived to live again.
Is this talking about the supernatural resurrection of an ancient king, as some believe? Or is it a much more practical clue that shows us how to accurately identify who this great end-time religious dictator will be?
Is he a secular king ruling over a revived Roman Empire? Or a purely religious figure? Or both? This and much more we will begin to examine in our next installment of this series.