What The Bible Has To Say About The Future: Part 4 in a Series of 9 – “The Days of Noah”
If the Lord Jesus is coming back to this earth as He promised and as the prophets foretold, the most natural next question is: When is Jesus coming? This is not just a question for time-conscious, twenty-first century man, as though he more than others has a special concern for the timing or for the end of human history. It flows naturally from belief in Christ’s second coming itself and is, therefore, a question which has been asked by Christians ever since Christ first spoke of His return, elaborating on the Old Testament prophecies.
The question was in the minds of Christ’s disciples. Toward the end of Jesus’ three-year ministry, shortly before His crucifixion, the disciples asked Him, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3). Part of Christ’s answer was that no one, not even Christ Himself, could know the precise moment at which the prophesied events would unfold. He said, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36). Later, after His resurrection, He gave a similar answer to an almost identical question. The disciples had asked, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority” (Acts 1:6,7).
The disciples could not know. We cannot know. Still, this is not the whole story. For we can hardly fail to notice that when Jesus told the disciples that they could not know the time of His return, He nevertheless went on at some length to describe the conditions that would prevail in the world before He came again. These signs occupy at least two of the twenty-eight chapters of Matthew (24-25), one of the sixteen chapters of Mark (13), and one chapter of Luke (21). Moreover, in the last of these chapters a listing of some of the signs is followed by the challenge: “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).
Perhaps I can illustrate what Christ was saying by this illustration, borrowed from one of the unpublished writings of Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse. Suppose a Shakespearean scholar enters a theater one evening not knowing what masterpiece of Shakespeare is to be presented. Before the curtain goes up, he is taken behind the scenes. On stage is a castle with ramparts looking out over a wooded countryside. At once he knows that he will not see Othello, which is set in Venice, not Julius Caesar, which begins with a street scene in Rome. He knows that he not see Macbeth; for although there is a castle scene in Macbeth, the play opens not with the castle but with the witches gathered around their caldron. Finally, our drama critic notices two soldiers with shields bearing the arms of the king of Denmark. He sees two other actors dressed up as a king and queen. There is an actor who is supposed to be a ghost. Now no one has to tell the critic what he will see, for he knows it will be Hamlet.
In the same way today, you and I who are Christians sit in the theater of world events awaiting the opening of God’s apocalyptic drama. We don not know when the play is to start, but, like the drama critic, we know more about it than many. Many stare at the future as at a curtain. For them the future is veiled because they do not have the knowledge of the plan of God. Nor can they go behind curtain where the scene is being set. The Christian is not left in such ignorance. We see behind the scenes. Thus, while it is true that we do not know the precise moment at which the play will begin, we do know the play itself and can begin to sense it beginning as we see the actors starting to take their proper places on the great world stage.
We will understand Christ’s remarks in this light when we realize that they were intended to be indefinite enough to keep anyone from self-satisfaction or complacency but precise enough to encourage Christians to examine history, asking whether the conditions of the Lord’s return may not be entering into their final stages through the developments of their lifetime.
The Days of Noah
But how are we to do this? Where should we begin? One answer to these questions is in Matthew 24, in the verses immediately following Jesus’s statement that no one knows the precise day or hour of His return. These verses contain a reference to the days of Noah, and the point is that the terrible moral conditions that prevailed on the earth just before the flood in Noah’s day will be repeated prior to Christ’s return and the ensuing judgment upon men and nations.
[Note: It might be argued that the emphasis of Matthew 24 is on the sudden and unexpected nature of Christ’s return rather than on the conditions that will prevail at that time. This is partly correct. Certainly Jesus did stress the suddenness of His return: “For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (v.27); “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (v. 42). But that is not the sole message of these verses. And it does not negate the position taken here. Another prominent theme in this chapter is unbelief both in Noah’s day and in the day of Christ’s second coming, and unbelief in itself would lead to the conditions recorded. It may also be noted that the view that conditions of Noah’s day will be repeated before Christ’s return is reinforced by other New Testament passages which speak in similar terms of those days (e.g., 1 Tim. 4:1-4; 2 Tim. 3:1-7; 2 Pet. 2:4-9). Jesus stated elsewhere that conditions before His return would be similar to “the days of Lot” in Sodom, which was noted for its sexual perversions and excesses (Luke 17:28-30).
“For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:37-39).
(1) Since the days of Noah are described in Genesis 6, we may turn to that chapter and see precisely what Jesus was referring to. One characteristic of the days of Noah was a rapid increase in population: “And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth…” (v. 1). Naturally, an increase in population is in itself without moral overtones. It is neither good nor bad. And yet, men being what they are, it is also natural that an increase in population was then and may again be accompanied by moral decadence.
There is a parallel here with developments of our own age. The world’s population is now approximately three billion people [in 1972 – Now in 2013 it’s more in the ballpark of 6-7 billion!]. That figure is double what it was in 1900m and it is expected to double again by the year 2000 or earlier [It has doubled again since 1972]. With the rapid increase in the world’s population there has been an accompanying increase in suffering, particularly in the area of hunger and malnutrition and related diseases. Some experts predict worldwide famine by the year 1985 [there have been and continue to be famines around the globe – malnutrition and starvation is the number one cause of death in the world today]. Another indication of this same general trend is that the movements of world history today seem to be less under the control of individual political leaders than of the mass movements of nationalism, ethnic consciousness, labor, and consumer activity.
We do not want to make the mistake of imagining that, because we have had a sharp increase in the world’s population in recent years, this is proof in itself that the Lord’s return is imminent. We are to look for trends in the history of our times that may be leading up to His return not for events that foretell it precisely. This is only one trend. Nevertheless, we can hardly overlook the fact that the rapid increase of the world’s population in our day has assumed a scale never before duplicated in known history and has caused even secular observers of the world scene to speak in apocalyptic terms when describing it.
(2) The days of Noah were also characterized by an unprecedented accumulation of knowledge. Genesis 4 speaks of the construction of cities, of developments in metallurgy, the arts, and other sciences. If we are to judge by the size of the ark itself — about 450 feet long with a beam of 75 feet, the size of many modern ocean liners — there was also considerable engineering knowledge and skill coupled with an ability to construct the objects designed. This knowledge contributed to a great indulgence in luxury, as it has for many in our day. It was not to the moral advantage of the age.
(3) In addition to the increases in population, knowledge, and luxury, there was also a rapid acceleration of vice and lawlessness. The account of Genesis says “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually…Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth” (Genesis 6:5, 11-12). Such wickedness was the cause of the great judgment that befell the earth in Noah’s time and was a primary basis for Christ’s warning that the conditions of Noah’s day would be repeated.
One picture that emerges from this description of wickedness in the early chapters of Genesis is of a world characterized by crime. We too are experiencing this. During the 1960’s, crime in the United States rose 148 percent, while arrests of persons under eighteen nearly doubled. In 1969, the number of reported crimes was 4,989,700, which made the crime rate 2,471 per 100,000 persons’ this compares to 2,234 one year earlier . An average of 9 major crimes per minute were committed during the same period [I shudder to think what the statistics are now in 2013!].
In New York City in 1971, the FBI reported an increase in crime of 11 percent, while homicides in the city increased 30 percent. In 1971 New York City, with a population of only 8 million persons, recorded more crimes than England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Switzerland, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands, Norway, and Denmark combined. In that city there are over 300,000 alcoholics, affecting the lives of 1,500,000 people and costing more than 1 billion dollars annually. The loss approaches 2 billion dollars for the upward of 100,000 hard-core heroin addicts, who must continually steal to support their habit.
In Los Angeles crime has increased 60 percent in 6 years, or 7 times faster than the population of the city.
More alarming even than these figures are the growing permissiveness and disrespect for law that have characterized the last decade. These trends have affected even the police, as various “crime probes” have indicated. Courts are affected. Among the forerunners in open defiance of laws that they consider unjust have been clergymen; there is no lack of others to follow or excel their example.
Another example of vice and lawlessness given in the opening chapters of Genesis is an increase in sexual perversions and crimes. This too is reflected in our society. In one recent year, for instance, forcible rape rose 17 percent. Divorce and remarriage are rampant. Many, including clergymen, speak in favor of “term” rather than lifetime marriages. Venereal disease is reaching epidemic proportions. In an ultimate gesture of moral degeneracy and defiance of all former norms, homosexuality and lesbianism have burst from the darkness of the back alleys onto the front pages of newspapers and to televised talk shows. Recently, a new religious order was founded by members of a so-called homosexual church named the “Church of the Beloved Disciple.” The order is called the Oblate Companions of St. John, who in turn is honored as “the disciple whom Jesus loved (John 21:20), thus implying a homosexual relationship between John and the Lord. Similar churches now exist in more than a dozen U.S. cities. Recently, national papers and magazines carried stories of the decision of delegates from nineteen United Churches of Christ in the San Francisco area to ordain a confessed homosexual to the gospel ministry [The increase of the homosexual population and influence in culture, politics, and the church is absolutely staggering from the time of Boice’s writing this in 1972].
Again, we dare not make the error of arguing that because these crimes and perversions are appearing to such alarming degrees in our age and society, therefore, the coming of Jesus Christ must occur immediately. We have no warrant for that. Nevertheless, we must ask: Are the alarming moral and economic conditions of our age not more than adequate fulfillment of the conditions that Jesus taught must prevail before His return? Are not our days equal in their vice to the days of Noah? Are they not equally lawless? If they are, then we dare not imagine that Christ cannot or will not appear. Nor dare we neglect His warning: “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:42).
(4) There is one more characteristic of the times that is especially significant. That is the phenomenon of demonism. Genesis 6 relates that there was a time on earth when some of the angels who had fallen in Satan’s rebellion cohabited with the daughters of men, thereby producing a race of extraordinary beings, half demon and half human. This characteristic of the days of Noah is disclosed in the opening verses of the chapter:
“When men began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose…The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown” (Genesis 6:1-2, 4).
Many who have studied this passage interpret it to mean that the godly descendants of Seth, called “sons of God,” married unbelievers [Note: That is the interpretation given to Genesis 6 by most of the older Protestant commentators–Calvin, Lange, Keil and Delitzch, Scofield and others. More recent interpreters–Simpson, Skinner, Von Rad, Pember, E.W. Bullinger, A.C. Gaebalein, DeHaan–favor the view that the marriages were between human women and demonic beings. Naturally there have been commentators on both sides f the issue at most periods of history]. That would explain the unusual corruption and decadence that existed in the world in Noah’s time and would make good sense of the passage. Nevertheless, there are several reasons why I feel this an inadequate interpretation of these verses.
First, the contrast in the verses is not between the descendants of Seth (both men and women) and the ungodly descendants of Cain. The contrast is between the daughters of men, meaning daughters of the whole human race, and the sons of God, whoever they may be.
Second, in the Old Testament, the phrase “sons of God” is never used of believers. The fact that believers become sons of God or children of God by faith in Jesus Christ is entirely a New Testament concept.
Third, the phrase “sons of God,” when it does occur in the Old Testament, seems to refer not to human beings who believe in God but to angels, that is, to beings not born of others like men but created directly by God. That would be the case with all angels, whether fallen or not. And it would explain the use of the phrase in a new way in New Testament times to refer to those who have experienced a new, direct birth by God through faith in Jesus Christ (Note: The one apparent exception to this usage, an application of the term to Adam in Luke 3:38, actually proves the point being made. For Adam alone, of all the Old Testament characters, was the result of the direct creative activity of God. It should be noted, however, that in the Greek text only phrase “of God” occurs).
The phrase “sons of God” occurs four times in the other parts of the Old Testament — three times in the Book of Job and once in Daniel. In Daniel the phrase was used by King Nebuchadnezzar after he looked into the burning furnace into which he had thrown the Hebrew captives, Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego. He said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods” (Daniel 3:25). Nebuchadnezzar clearly meant that the fourth figure looked like an angel. In Job the phrase “the sons of God” occurs in two contexts. In chapter 38 God asked Job where he was at the beginning of creation “when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:7). This is apparently a reference to the angels who witnessed the creation of the earth. In the first two chapters of Job we are twice told of a day when “the sons of God” appeared with Satan to present themselves before the Lord (Job 1:6; 2:1). It is in this sense that we must interpret the reference to “the sons of God” in Genesis.
The conclusive argument to this interpretation of Genesis 6 is that, historically, this was also the view held by the Jews before the time of Christ and expressed in various Jewish documents and apocalyptic literature. One outstanding example is in the book of Enoch, a pseudepigraphical work compiled during the time of the Maccabees or earlier.
And it came to pass when the children of men had multiplied that in those days were born unto them beautiful and comely daughters. And the angels, the children of heaven, saw and lusted after them, and said to one another: “Come let is choose us wives from among the children of men and beget us children” (1 Enoch 6:1,2).
After a description of how this happened and of the wickedness that resulted, the book then gives an account of the objection by the righteous angels.
They have gone to the daughters of men upon the earth, and have slept with the women, and have defiled them -selves, and revealed to them all kinds of sins. And the women have born giants, and the whole earth has thereby been filled with blood and unrighteousness. And now, behold, the souls of those who have died are crying and make their suit to the gates of heaven, and their lamentations have ascended; and cannot cease because of the lawless deeds which are wrought on the earth (1 Enoch 9:8-10).
An account of the punishment of the fallen angels and a brief reference to the flood follows.
This interpretation of Genesis 6 is also found in the writings of Josephus and Philo, in The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, and in the Septuagint, which renders the phrase “sons of God” as “angels of God.”
Moreover, the New Testament seems to support the view also in those few passages which link God’s punishment of certain fallen angels to the time of the flood. Thus Peter writes, “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment” (2 Peter 2:4-5, 9 cf. Jude 6).
What shall we say about the duplication or the possibility of the duplication of such things in our day? At the very least, we see an extraordinary revival of spiritism, witchcraft, magic, and Satanism in this country and around the world. Many cities possess hundreds, if not thousands, of spiritualists and mediums. Stories of news interest, particularly gruesome stories, frequently make the front page of the newspapers. Some years ago Swiss papers carried accounts of the murder of a young girl by a group of older people who beat her to death while attempting to exorcise a demon. In America papers carried exhaustive accounts of the Sharon Tate murders by a self-styled devil named Charles Manson and members of his so-called family. Some of the accounts of these murders, such as that which appeared in Esquire magazine (November, 1971), detailed the most horrible practices, including murder, animal and human sacrifice, ritual sex, and sexual perversions.
These practices often involve young people. In 1971, a twenty-year-old was drowned at his request by two friends (aged seventeen and nineteen) because, as he believed, a worshiper of Satan who dies violently is assured command of forty legions of demons in the life to come. He was part of a Satan cult that reportedly involved as many as seventy high school students in his area. Recently another young person who was apparently associated with this group committed suicide.
Are these merely tragic eccentricities? Or are they evidence of a widespread outbreak of genuine Satan worship and demonism in our time? Unfortunately, the extent of Satan worship suggests the latter. And, if the idea precedes the act and theme of the popular book and movie Rosemary’s Baby, which told the conception of a child by a demon father and a human mother, is any indication, the worst may be yet to come.
On the basis of all such evidence, David H.C. Read, minister of the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City, recently wrote:
This kind of experience is spreading rapidly and has to be taken much more seriously than we have in the past. The time for ignoring it or laughing it off is over. For too long we have lived with a comfortable, rationalized religion, leaving the mystic, the emotional, and what we call the “spooky” to the ecclesiastical underworld or psychiatrists. In the main-line churches there has been little room for the supernatural of any hue, divine or demonic. Both angels and devils have evaporated from our consciousness. They have disappeared into a little box labeled “primitive superstitions.” Now the lid is off, and it is obvious that the sedate, sensible, secularized religion of the recent past is unable to cope with the storm that is bursting upon us.
According to the Bible, all these things — a rapid increase in the world’s population, an unprecedented accumulation of knowledge, the acceleration of vice and lawlessness, and demonism — will exist side by side with a worldwide proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ before His return. Jesus said, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to tall the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14).
One more point is in order here. Many are inclined to take lightly te so-called “spiritualist” phenomena — rappings, Ouija boards, witchcraft, seances, and even demonism — particularly as such things are portrayed in popular writings or on television. But the Christian should not do this, nor should he participate in seances or any other form of attempted communication with the spirit world. We have our knowledge of the life to come through Scripture. God has told us many things in the Bible, certainly everything we need to know. To indulge in spiritualist phenomena is really to dishonor and disobey God.
We must remember at this point that God ordered the people of Israel to avoid the various forms of devil worship practiced by the nations around them:
“There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquirers of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD. And because of these abominations the LORD your God is driving them out before you” (Deuteronomy 18:10–12).
At the same time, we need to be careful not to take the various evidences of demonism too seriously, in the sense that we might be tempted to fear these things and forget the power of our God. It is the demons, not Christians, who should fear.
It is significant that the demonic activity recorded in the Bible is not scattered throughout the years of biblical history but rather is concentrated at the four focal points of history at which God has been or will be particularly active.
(1) We find demonism at the creation of the world and in the generations immediately following creation. The days of Noah belong to this period.
(2) Again we find demonism at the time of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. Ancient Egyptian worship was demon worship; the plagues at the time of the Exodus were directed against the supposed power of these “gods.”
(3) Third, there was a remarkable outcropping of demonic activity during the lifetime of Jesus Christ. Many writers have expressed the idea that in this period particularly the demonic powers gathered themselves together in a major effort to prevent the destruction of their kingdom.
(4) The fourth period is one in which the Lord Jesus Christ will return.
“Is it possible that rising evidence of demonism in various forms has an eschatological import?” wrote Russell T. Hitt in a recent booklet. “Is it because the Second Coming of Christ is near, that we are witnessing stepped-up Satanic activity? Perhaps we have a clue here to present worldwide unrest in every area of life. (Russell T. Hitt, “Demons Today” [Philadelphia: The Evangelical Foundation, 1969, p. 12).
If that is true — and the other periods of unusual demonic activity would suggest that it is — then the phenomena we are witnessing today are much more an evidence of fear and frenzy on the part of Satan and his followers than they are of confidence by Satan in the outcome. Those who are followers of Jesus Christ and know their Bible are not ignorant of Satan and his devices. In fact, armed with such knowledge and with the Word of the living God, we can stand against him: “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). We cannot do this in our own strength, of course, but we can in the power of the Lord Jesus Christ, who “disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them” (Colossians 2:15).
The Return of Jesus Christ
Well, then, is the Lord coming soon? That is the question with which we began, and again we must repeat our first answer. We do not know. Certainly it could be at any moment. It could be delayed.
We should not close this particular article without mentioning a final condition which must precede the return of Jesus. This condition has nothing to do with the days of Noah, yet it is mentioned several times in the Bible as being of great significance. It is the return of the Jews to their homeland, which began to take place in 1948, and especially the repossession of the old city of Jerusalem, which took place as a result of the Six Day War in 1967.
There are statements in the Bible by Jesus Christ that seem to date the second coming within a generation of these events. Two of the most significant statements are in Luke’s version of the Olivet discourse. After an opening section of the discourse listing events that will take place but which are not signs of His immediate return, Jesus refers to the repossession of Jerusalem by the Jews after a long period of Gentile domination. “Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). The implication is that His return will take place shortly after this time of Gentile domination. Several verses later He adds, “So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place” (Luke 21:31-32). These verses seem to indicate that the Lord Jesus Christ will return within one generation of the repossession of Palestine and the reconquest of Jerusalem by the Jews. If that is so, the biblical length of a generation being about forty years of 1948 (the year of the reestablishment of the state of Israel) or of 1967 (the year in which the old city of Jerusalem once again came into Jewish hands).
All this makes the necessity of belief in the Lord Jesus Christ more urgent. People have always said, “Well, if things get bad enough, I’ll believe in Christ then.” They say that in our time.
It does not work that way. When conditions in the world become more and more like those prophesied for the end times, it is easier to postpone belief rather than harder. It is easy to do what you please when there is no longer a respect for law or popular opinion to restrain you or any regard for sound preaching. Do not think that if these things are true, you will find it easy to arrange a last-minute repentance. The Bible says, “In favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you. Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).
About the Author
James Montgomery Boice, Th.D., (July 7, 1938 – June 15, 2000) was a Reformed theologian, Bible teacher, and pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia from 1968 until his death. He is heard on The Bible Study Hour radio broadcast and was a well-known author and speaker in evangelical and Reformed circles. He also served as Chairman of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy for over ten years and was a founding member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.James Boice was one of my favorite Bible teachers. Thankfully – many of his books and expositions of Scripture are still in print and more are becoming available. He was one of only a handful of reformed theologians that was premillennial in his eschatology (Steven J. Lawson, John MacArthur, Erwin W. Lutzer, S. Lewis Johnson, Rodney Stordtz, John Hannah and John Piper also come to mind). However, what makes him really unique as a Reformed Theologian is that he was not Historic Premillennial – but leaned Dispensational (Held to a pre-tribulation rapture) as well. This article was adapted from Chapter Three in one of the first of James Boice’s plethora of books, and is entitled: The Last and Future World, Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan, 1974 (currently out of print). This book is based on 9 sermons that Dr. Boice preached at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia in 1972. Though this book was written almost 40 years ago – it is just as relevant as when it was first written since many of the prophecies taught in the Scriptures and addressed by Dr. Boice in this book have yet to be fulfilled. Scripture verses are quoted from the more modern English Standard Version – DPC.