The clock has already been set for us. On January 26, 2017, the board members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the “Doomsday Clock” ahead 30 seconds to two and a half minutes to midnight. For these scientists, who’ve kept watch on the probability of humanity’s extinction since the United States unleashed the atomic bomb in 1945, doomsday represents a man-made apocalypse.
The closest the world got to “midnight” was in 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis, when thermonuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union seemed imminent. I was three years old at the time, and my mother was pregnant with my baby brother. She has told us many times that she questioned whether to finish knitting socks for a baby that might never be born. The fate of the planet hung in the balance, and the Doomsday Clock was set at two minutes to midnight.
Since then, the clock has moved several times—even back as much as 15 minutes, but most recently it had held steady at 11:57 . . . until now. Tensions between the United States and Russia, cyber warfare, lack of progress on climate change, a strident rise in nationalism, and deteriorating global security are among the reasons Bulletin scientists gave for readjusting the metaphorical clock.
“The probability of global catastrophe is very high,” warned the Science and Security Board, “and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon.” And the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists said that “in 2017, we find the danger to be even greater, the need for action more urgent. It is two and a half minutes to midnight, the Clock is ticking, global danger looms.”
It begs the question: if it’s two and a half minutes to doomsday scientifically, what time is it prophetically? Indeed, many of the global conditions that spell disaster among the scientific establishment today were predicted two millennia ago by a Carpenter who claimed to be the Messiah. His “bulletin” was given in answer to a question about His second coming and the end.
On climate change He said, “There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven” (Luke 21:11).
On rising nationalism and deteriorating global security He said that “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (verse 10), and, “you will hear of wars and rumors of wars” (Matthew 24:6).
The Teacher went on to say that “because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold” (verse 12). It doesn’t require a scientist or a prophet to see the reality of these words fulfilled as scenes of terrorist attacks, babies burned by chemical weapons, and unrelenting gun violence in our streets parade across our array of screens as “breaking news” every minute of every day.
Social media is oversaturated with posts, tweets, videos, and memes proving the validity of Paul’s prophecy to Timothy that in the last days “people are going to be self-absorbed, money-hungry, self-promoting, stuck-up, profane, contemptuous of parents, crude, coarse, dog-eat-dog, unbending, slanderers, impulsively wild, savage, cynical, treacherous, ruthless, bloated windbags, addicted to lust, and allergic to God. They’ll make a show of religion, but behind the scenes they’re animals” (2 Timothy 3:2–5, The Message).*
Scientifically, politically, socially, biologically, technologically, economically, and spiritually, the clock is ticking . . . but is anyone really listening? And for those who are, what can you do about it? How do you set your personal life clock for the end time?
As I write these words, I’m thinking about my own adult children. They are millennials living in this world that is nearing its end. They believe in God, country, an afterlife, the Second Coming, social engagement, family, fun, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I thought about them and wondered what advice I could share with them on this topic that would be real, practical, and not preachy. I figured if I came across as real and helpful to them, I might come across that way to you too.
If it’s nearly “midnight,” stop living as if it’s only 9:30 P.M.
Simply put, get in sync with the times. On March 12 of this year, most states “sprang forward” into Daylight Saving Time. I hate Daylight Saving Time. I’d much rather let nature take its course and lengthen the days naturally, the way God intended.
However, if, in my disdain for the artificial time tampering, I kept my clocks set to Standard Time, I’d be an hour late to all my appointments. I’d be living out of sync with the reality around me, with dire consequences when it came to weddings, catching trains or planes, or doctors’ appointments.
We do the same thing when it comes to Jesus’ second coming. The Bible is clear that these are the “end times.” It’s nearly midnight. Yet, many, including believers, live in their own version of “standard time” (as if it’s only 9:30). Standard time is preoccupied with standard things—eating, drinking, career, raising a family, entertainment, retirement planning, and so on (see Luke 17:26–30). There’s nothing wrong with any of these activities in themselves. It’s all about the timing. There were a lot of social activities aboard the Titanic too! (The band kept playing as the ship went down!) But when you’ve struck an iceberg, it’s time to get into the lifeboats, not time for another round of shuffleboard (or Candy Crush Saga).
Jesus said it this way: “Be on your guard. Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping. Otherwise, that Day is going to take you by complete surprise, spring on you suddenly like a trap, for it’s going to come on everyone, everywhere, at once. So, whatever you do, don’t go to sleep at the switch. Pray constantly that you will have the strength and wits to make it through everything that’s coming and end up on your feet before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34–36, The Message).
We have to occupy until Jesus comes, true. But don’t get so preoccupied that you are unprepared for His coming. Be sure you’re in sync with God’s time, and you won’t be late for the “wedding.”
Stock up on “oil”
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recommends that everyone have a 72-hour supply of food and water in the event of an emergency. It may take up to three days for first responders to get to you, so you have to prepare for a delay. “You may have to evacuate at a moment’s notice and take essentials with you. You will probably not have time to search for the supplies you need or shop for them.”
This bit of advice taken from the DHS website could have been inspired by the oil crisis of Matthew 25:1–13. In these verses, Jesus used a story about ten bridesmaids who fall asleep during a wedding delay to teach about being prepared for His coming. The crisis wasn’t about the sleeping. It was about the oil in the bridesmaids’ lamps. Five brought extra oil for their lamps (perhaps a 72-hour supply), while five “did not take any oil with them” (verse 3). These only had an immediate supply—enough to get by on a “standard time” schedule.
When the bridegroom finally arrived and the young maidens trimmed their lamps, the five “enough to get by” girls didn’t have enough oil to get into the wedding. Their lamps were going out. In desperation, they begged the prepared girls for some of their oil.
“No,” the wise girls replied. “There may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves” (verse 9).
But, like the DHS said, there wasn’t time to search or shop for the supplies they needed, and the bridegroom came and took those who were ready into the wedding banquet.
Through this story Jesus compared His coming to an emergency. He predicted a delay and pointed to “oil” as the essential ingredient for admittance to heaven. In the Bible, oil is a symbol for the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is essential for knowing God. Knowing God—having a personal relationship with Him—is what this parable is about, for when the unprepared girls came back to the wedding banquet, the master of the banquet said, “I don’t know you” (verse 12).
So how does one stock up on the Holy Spirit? How do you make spiritual purchases? The following action steps are found in Isaiah 55:1–7:
- “Listen to . . . [God]” (verses 2, 3). God is heard speaking in His Word. Read and study the Bible. Even 15 minutes to read a chapter a day will yield big results.
- “Come to . . . [God]” (verse 3). Jesus promises rest from sin to all who come to Him (Matthew 11:28).
- “Eat what is good” (Isaiah 55:2). The words of Christ “are full of the Spirit and life” (John 6:63). They are to be put into practice daily for spiritual and eternal life.
- “Seek the LORD while he may be found” (Isaiah 55:6). Pursue a relationship with Jesus with urgency—while He may be found. There’s a time for seeking, and it is now, before the crisis hits. Make this your top priority, and God will take care of all the other necessities of life (Matthew 6:33).
- “Call on him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6). Pray. Talk to God the way you would talk to a friend. Don’t “unfriend” Him through non-communication. He is near now. The busier we get, the further away He seems. Develop a prayer life now—while He is near. Midnight will be too late to “phone a friend.”
- Forsake wicked ways and thoughts (verse 7). Live according to God’s preparedness manual—the Bible—and fill your mind with things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (see Philippians 4:8).
- “Turn to the LORD [in repentance]” (Isaiah 55:7). If you’re living on “standard time” in the end times, reset your watch and get in sync with God. Repentance is about changing direction and moving toward God instead of away from Him. “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit [the “oil”]. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off [the unprepared]—for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:38, 39).
relieve suffering; seek justice
Just because the end of all things is at hand doesn’t mean that we can stop caring for the earth and those who live in it. Our young people want to be involved in things that matter. God wants the same for all of us. Godliness calls us to pursue social justice (Isaiah 58:6–12; Matthew 25:35–40).
This is how you set your clock for the end time, and these are the actions needed to reduce the risk of the greatest disaster—not being ready for heaven’s rescue. In 2017, the dangers of distraction are greater, and the need for action is more urgent than ever before.
It is minutes to midnight.
The Clock is ticking.
Reset your life . . . while there’s still time!
* Bible texts taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.