The Close of this Age and the Coming of the Lord
Biblical Research Monthly, July 1950 — by Dr. David L. Cooper
Throughout the entire Christian Dispensation men have, from time to time, declared that the age was closing, that the rapture of the church would occur shortly, and that the glorious return of our Lord Jesus was at hand. History bears out this statement.
Various methods have been adopted to prove the correctness of this position. Fanciful theories have been invented and the scriptural facts viewed through such hypothetical glasses. Of course, when studied through such colored lenses, abundant evidence was discovered that proved the close of the age and the imminent coming of the Lord. We should well remember that the object at which we gaze is always colored by the lenses through which we view it.
Let us also bear in mind very firmly that the Lord does not run His universe according to man-made schedules or timetables. He has a plan of the ages. In making out this schedule He took into consideration man's exercise of that priceless endowment with which he was blessed, namely the freedom of choice. At the same time He knew that He would work all things together and make them contribute to the carrying out of His high and holy purposes throughout both time and eternity. Our interpreting the Scriptures to mean a certain thing and shouting vociferously from the housetops that a certain event will occur at a definite time will not make the event come to pass, neither will it change nor alter the divine plan. We are too prone to set dates and make out human timetables and expect the Lord to follow them.
Throughout the centuries biblical students have realized that this age, like all others prior to it, will end in disaster. For instance, the ante-deluvian world was brought to a cataclysmic conclusion by a universal Flood which destroyed all humanity except Noah and his family, who were preserved in the ark which God commanded that that preacher of righteousness should make.
The Mosaic Age, as far as Israel was concerned, ended with a catastrophe, the tragedy of the ages, the execution of the Lord Jesus Christ by those who, in ignorance, crucified Him; but in doing so, they were simply carrying out that which had been decreed in the council chambers of eternity should be done. But that tragedy brought about the complete overthrow of the Jewish nation, the destruction of Jerusalem, and Israel's being scattered among the nations, as she has been for nineteen hundred years. The present Age of Grace, according to the prophets and the Apostles, will likewise end in apostasy and in a practically complete total spiritual black-out. The world at that time will have gotten on the toboggan and will be going with lightning rapidity — dashing on to the abyss of universal destruction, which comes upon it in the great Tribulation.
For the last thirty or forty years ministers and Bible students have been telling us that the age is upon the verge of closing, civilization is ready to collapse, and the Lord is about to come. Many persons have become excited. Fear, terror, panic, and consternation have gripped many credulous people. When the Lord did not come at the time set by these date-setters and civilization did not crumble, many who espoused with enthusiasm such wild and fantastic theories became discouraged, disheartened and arrived at the conclusion that those preaching the second coming were like the boy who cried, “Wolf! wolf!” By mutual agreement, according to the story, men working in the fields adjoining the pasture where the boy was tending his sheep, decided that, if the boy should cry, “Wolf, wolf!” they would immediately come to his rescue. The lad mischievously did this on several occasions, the men quit their work and rushed to his rescue, but there was no wolf. Finally, when the wolf did come and the boy shouted earnestly with all his might, “Wolf! wolf!” the men, who had been deceived so often, paid no heed. And so the wolf, which had actually come, destroyed some of the sheep. I fear that many good sincere men have hastily — without due consideration, study, and prayer — seized upon an idea with reference to our Lord's return, proclaimed it from the housetops, and have stirred people, making them believe that the Lord's coming was imminent. These who have been misguided by the shout of “Wolf! wolf!” are taking little or no interest in the call of those who have prayed over the matter, who are studying, and who are bringing forth the teaching of the Scripture in these most important matters. Apparently, the number of those who are especially interested in the prophetic word is becoming less and less. The wild speculations, guessings, and date-settings have proved, in many instances, to be a narcotic to many Christians, especially the nominal ones. They have been drugged, so that they are not interested, not in the least, in what the Lord says concerning the closing of this age and His return.
If they will not listen to the teaching of God's Word, certainly they should be aroused out of their stupor by what the scientists are telling us and the conditions which exist in the world today. There are two books which all Christians should read. One is by my good friend Dr. Wilbur Smith of the Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, entitled: This Atomic Age and the Word of God. The other is by Dr. Bradley and is entitled No Place to Hide. These books quote from scientists, those who know the deadly weapons of war that have been brought info existence. Not only the scientists, but the greatest educators and the statesmen of the world, are singing the same tune. They declare that they give the world at the utmost ten or fifteen years to make its choice: to perfect a world organization that will absolutely preclude the possibility of the recurrence of another world war; or to suffer the consequences by allowing another global conflict to burst forth which, as they declare, will destroy completely our civilization and practically result in race suicide. These are the conclusions to which men of science, logic, and education have come. These foremost thinkers say that there are two choices only, and that the world must decide in a very short time which it will choose. With the data which they have, they are thinking logically and clearly; but there is something which they have overlooked: there is another factor, a mighty and overwhelming factor which they have either overlooked or ignored. What I am referring to is divine interposition, that is, God's stepping into the picture in a miraculous manner and preventing such a catastrophe. We know that man cannot perfect any organization or devise any other means that will stop wars. They will continue until our blessed Lord, Jesus the Messiah, returns in glory and power, destroys all the weapons of war, and prevents the creation and mobilization of any war machine. We also know that God will not allow the human family to destroy itself. There cannot be any such thing as race suicide. My reason for this assertion is that God has shown that He will punish the race in the Tribulation for its sins and reduce the population to the minimum. The future, then, will develop exactly as God has foretold. The scientists, however, are right in saying that another world war would result in race suicide. Of the truthfulness of their statements I have no doubt. But God will step into the picture and will prevent such a world catastrophe. This He has told us in Ezekiel, chapters 38 and 39.
Let us approach our subject from the standpoint of the Scriptures. They are the only infallible rule for guidance in all matters. In what is called “The Olivet Discourse,” which is recorded in Matthew, chapters 24 and 25, Mark, chapter 13, and Luke, chapter 21, we shall find some very definite and positive information. In these chapters we learn that our Lord foretold the destruction of Jerusalem, which prophecy was fulfilled in the overthrow of the Jewish nation and the burning of the city in A.D. 70. Four of the Apostles came to Jesus and, according to Matthew 24 asked two questions. These are: “When shall these things be?” and, “What shall be the sign of thy coming and of the end of the world?” Or, more accurately rendered, “the consummation of the age.” Jesus answered both questions, but Matthew recorded only His reply to the second one. Luke, and Luke alone, gives us His answer to the first one. An effort to see in Matthew 24 His answer to this first question has resulted in untold misunderstanding and difficulty. With this in mind let us look at the text of our Lord's answer to the question: “What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the age?” In foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem and of the Temple, He caused the Apostles to ask the question concerning His second coming and the end of the age. Obviously, in their minds, these three events were closely associated, namely, the destruction of Jerusalem, the second coming of Christ, and the end of this age. Were they correct in associating these three ideas? Most emphatically. Why should they thus think? The answer is: The Old Testament prophets associated these events together. Where? In Zechariah, chapter 14, for instance. At the beginning of his prophecy Zechariah foretold the siege and practical fall of Jerusalem in the day of Jehovah, when all the armies of the world will be gathered together against it. In the critical moment before its complete overthrow, Jehovah appears on the scene and His feet stand in that day on the Mount of Olives. When He thus appears, He will, according to this prophecy, bring this age to a close and usher in the great Kingdom Era.
The Apostles knew of this passage and like ones and believed them with all their hearts. Our Lord's mentioning the destruction of the Temple (and with it is implied the city of Jerusalem) caused the Apostles to think immediately of the type of prophecy of which Zechariah, chapter 14, is a sample. They were interested in his return and in His establishing the new age. They naturally therefore asked this double question: “What shall be the sign of thy coming and of the consummation of the age?” That Matthew's record is dealing with the second question becomes immediately apparent when we notice in the first place that the Lord in reply warns them against following false Christs that would appear, claiming to be the Messiah. This warning therefore is connected with the question of His return. Then He warned them against drawing hasty and unwarranted conclusions on the outbreak of a war, or a rumor of a war. Since they were thinking in terms of the final and last war of all wars, when Jerusalem will be besieged by the armies of the world, Jesus warned them not to be hasty in deciding that the age is coming to a close whenever a war might break forth. Of course there was implied in their thinking a war that would affect Jerusalem and the Jewish people. He knew that a false claimant to messianic honors would arise, for instance, at the time of the Jewish insurrection against the Roman authorities in A.D. 132-135, which rebellion would involve a war. Our Lord Jesus knew that there would be many sieges of Jerusalem and different false messiahs appearing, and offering deliverance. He therefore indicated wars and rumors of wars, regardless of the people or tribes involved. Such conflicts between certain nations have no prophetic significance and indicate nothing as to the nearness of His coming and the end of the age. To enforce this thought, He said, “Ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that ye be not troubled: for these must needs come to pass; but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall he famines and earthquakes in divers places. But all these things are the beginning of travail.” When, therefore, a war or an insurrection should break out, the disciples were not to attach any prophetic significance to it until this type of war should break forth upon an unsuspecting world: “nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be famines and great earthquakes in divers places. But all of these things are the beginning of travail.”
What kind of war is indicated by the phrases, “nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom”? This idiom is found in the Old Testament Scriptures. Wherever it occurs, it indicates a war that begins by one nation's rising up against another. Then another nation comes in, and a third joins the conflict, and so on until all, or practically all of the territory within the prophet's vision, would be affected by such a conflict. On this occasion our Lord had a world outlook and used this peculiar idiom. In this connection therefore it can have one, and only one, significance; namely, a world war that starts with one nation's rising up against another one. Then another one comes into the picture. Later, others join. Still later, others come in. Thus the conflict grows and increases until it involves all of the nations of the world, developing into what we call a global war.
Our Lord said that such a world catastrophic event would be attended by famines and great earthquakes in different places and added, as we found from Luke's record, pestilences. Now, said our Lord, be careful in your thinking. Don't jump to hasty conclusions. You are not to place any emphasis upon, or attach any significance to, any local wars. But you wait until you see a world war start and develop. Then note if it Is attended by famines and great earthquakes in different places, and pestilences. Whenever you see such a mighty conflict with those accompanying events, you may know that those four things — namely, a world war, famine, pestilences, and great earthquakes in divers places — are the beginning of travail. More literally rendered, the beginning of birth pains, that is, the first birth pain, which notifies the world that it is time to be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God is close at hand.
One says, “But we have already experienced two such conflicts, two world wars, which are recognized as global catastrophes and are called World War I and World War II.” And I may add in this connection, my listening friends, that I know positively from the Scriptures that there will be three more world wars! But listen, these three world wars which I mention will occur during the Tribulation — after the rapture of the church, after the saints of God have been snatched away miraculously from this earth and have received their immortalized bodies. After that wonderful event and during the Tribulation there will be three more world catastrophes in the form of global wars.
“Ah!” you say to me, “according to your statement there have already been two world wars, and there are three more to occur during the Tribulation. Are there to be only five world wars?” This is my reply: “I do not know! I know that there have been two global conflicts. Everybody knows this. That there will be three more in the Tribulation, the Word of God asserts with no uncertain sound. As to whether or not there may occur another world war between now and the Tribulation, neither I nor anyone else, so far as I know, can tell: It behooves us to speak only as we have facts and figures and Scriptural statements to back our assertions.
“How, then,” you ask me, “can you know to which of the five wars did Jesus refer when He foretold a world war attended by famines, pestilences, and great earthquakes in divers places as the sign, the infallible sign, the unmistakable sign of the end of the age?” That is a very excellent question. I believe that I can answer it for you, my friend. Let us assume that I live on a highway in some rural district. You are coming to visit me. You know that you are on the right road, but you do not know just where I live. You meet a man, stop him, and ask him, “Say, friend, do you know where David L. Cooper lives?” Without hesitation he replies in a firm voice whose cadences carry conviction right to your heart, “Yes! I can tell you exactly where he lives. Listen to my instructions: You see here on the left hand of the highway is a telephone line. You notice that there are only two wires and that they are attached directly to the poles. Keep your eye on this telephone line. Continue going until you come to a telephone post that has a cross arm. When you get to that post,” he continues, “look exactly opposite it on the right hand side. There you will see a gate. That,” says he, “is Dr. Cooper's gate. Drive in and go up to the house.” You thank him for his definite, clear instructions. With confidence in his direction, you drive on for ten or fifteen miles, keeping your eye always on the telephone lines. You pass hundreds of posts with only the two wires attached directly to them. Finally, you make a turn in the road and you notice a telephone post with a cross arm. Then you notice in the distance that the next one also has a cross arm — and the next one and next! My friend, would you have any difficulty in deciding opposite which one of these posts you would find my gate? If you can answer me, dear listening friend, I feel certain that, without a single dissenting voice, each of you would say, “Across from the first one, of course.”
I have put this situation, just as I have explained it to you, to hundreds of audiences, and without a single exception, some one or ones have spoken up instantly and have said, “The first one!”
The language of the Lord Jesus, friends, is just as definite as the illustration which I gave. The Apostles had asked for the sign of two events: the sign of His coming and of the consummation of the age. The Lord warned them against following false messiahs and drawing hasty conclusions with reference to local wars which have no prophetic significance. But, He said, when you see a world war, attended by earthquakes, famines, pestilences, then these things are the sign, the infallible sign, the unmistakable sign of my coming and of the end of the age.
Have we had such a sign as that, my friends? Everyone of you who will consider this carefully before replying will say, “Positively! In the form of World War I, which broke out in 1914 and continued until 1918. That global conflict was attended by many earthquakes, great famines, and pestilences in different places. Yes, my friends we have had the sign of the end of the age. No generation prior to ours had any scriptural right for asserting that the Lord was coming soon. Jesus said, “This is the way that you may know that my coming is close at hand.”
We have had the event that He pointed to as the infallible sign of the end of the age. We can now assert with confidence that the coming of our Lord draws near, and that this age will soon close, to be followed by the age of glory.
The final question which I wish to put to each one of you, my dear friends, is this: Are you ready for that event. If you are, thank God! If you are not, get ready by accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Master and by letting Him have His way in your life. May you make the decision for Christ now is my prayer! Good-day.