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The Last Countdown - Introduction

God’s Process of Progressive Revelation

Our world is going through a period of great upheaval. Many centuries ago, Jesus described the scene we are witnessing today:
Picture 1 «[There shall be] on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth.» (Luke 21:25,26).
Yet, since the creation of the world, God has always sought to inform men of His intentions, so that they may better prepare themselves for the events to come:
Picture 2 «Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.» (Amos 3:7).
The last days of this world’s history are no exception. In fact, a large portion of Bible prophecy describes precisely this agitated period. However, God’s revelation regarding the last days was not given to the prophets at once. Instead, God chose to follow a process of progressive revelation, disclosing more and more information as we near the end of this world.
As a comparison, let us imagine that we wish to visit a friend who lives in a city many hundred of miles from where we live. We would need two different maps for the trip:
Picture 3
  • first, a road map, indicating the highways and main roads we must take to arrive at the city where our friend lives;
  • then, a city map, indicating more precisely the avenues and streets, so that we may finally arrive at the house of our friend.
Of course, the city map, with all its details, is of no use to the person who doesn’t have to go there. Likewise, God did not think it useful to reveal to the prophets the exact nature of all the events that would take place many centuries later, but He announced that this revelation would be given to those who would go through the period described by the prophecy, that is, the last days:
Picture 4 «But you, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased. (...) Go your way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end.» (Daniel 12:4,9).
For example, God’s process of progressive revelation was rigorously followed in the days of Noah. The stories of the building of the ark and the Flood show us that this revelation went through three stages.

First Stage:
A Vague Revelation Linked to the Life Span of a Man, Methuselah.
Picture 5 About a thousand years before the Flood, God gave a first indication of His intentions. How? By inspiring Enoch to name his son Methuselah, a name that literally means, «The year he dies, it will be sent».
This revelation was vague for two reasons. First, people did not know the nature of what God would send upon the world. Secondly, no one could know exactly when Methuselah would die.
Picture 6 We can now see that the event announced by the death of Methuselah was indeed the Flood. In fact, Methuselah lived 782 years after the birth of his son Lamech (Genesis 5:26), and the latter begot Noah at the age of 182 years (Genesis 5:28). So Methuselah died when Noah was 600 years old (782 - 182 = 600), and just as foretold, «Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters was on the earth.» (Genesis 7:6).

Second Stage:
A More Precise Revelation, Indicating the Year of the Cataclysm.
A few centuries later, God sent a second, more precise revelation, given this time to Noah:
Picture 7 «“My Spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be a hundred and twenty years. (...) I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repents Me that I have made them.” (...) And God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh is come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.”» (Genesis 6:3,7,13).
In this second stage, God revealed to Noah that He had decided to destroy men; He even told him that the countdown had begun. So Noah knew that he had only 120 years to build the ark, and thus he knew the year of the Flood; however, he still didn’t know the precise date. But at the time, this information would have been of no use to him.

Third Stage:
An Even More Precise Revelation, Disclosing the Day of the Cataclysm.
120 years later, as the fateful event was drawing near, God gave Noah a third and last revelation, an extremely precise announcement:
Picture 8 «And the Lord said to Noah, “Come you and all your house into the ark. (...) For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain on the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living substance that I have made will I destroy from off the face of the earth.”» (Genesis 7:1,4).
God could simply have ordered Noah to enter the ark, without telling him when the Flood would begin. However, in His great love, God decided instead to give Noah this vital information, in order to make his wait less painful. God even informed Noah of the duration of the rain: 40 days and 40 nights.
Now, what about God’s revelations concerning the last days? Let us note Jesus’ words:
Picture 9 «But of that day and hour knows no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but My Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the Flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and knew not until the Flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.» (Matthew 24:36-39).
So, Jesus states that no one knows the day and hour of His return, but in the same breath He adds, «As the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.» We thus understand that the same process of progressive revelation that God used in Noah’s days will also take place in the last days. This progressive revelation will make us realize, as a first step, that we are living in the time of the end, and then will inform us more precisely of the prophetic calendar God has set up.
The announcement of this progressive revelation was already noticeable in the last speech Jesus delivered to His disciples before ascending to heaven:
Picture 10 «When they therefore were come together, they asked of [Jesus], saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” And He said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father has put in His own power.”» (Acts 1:6,7).
Jesus implies here that, whereas it was not for the disciples to «know the times», it will be quite different for those whose «knowledge shall be increased» (Daniel 12:4) in the time of the end. In the same way, still regarding His return, Jesus gives us the following information:
Picture 11 «Watch therefore: for you know not what hour your Lord does come. But know this, that if the manager of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be you also ready: for in such an hour as you think not the Son of man comes.» (Matthew 24:42-44).
While saying that nobody knows the exact moment (the day and hour) of His return, Jesus compares this event to the coming of a thief. Now, let us carefully read the following passage, taken from one of Jesus’ letters to the seven churches:
Picture 12 «If therefore you shall not watch, I will come on you as a thief, and you shall not know what hour I will come on you.» (Revelation 3:3).
Jesus confirms that He will come as a thief, that is, in a sudden and unexpected way. But let us notice for whom Jesus will come as a thief: «If therefore you shall not watch, I will come on you as a thief.» Even more, He specifies that he who does not watch «shall not know what hour» He will come. So we understand that, conversely, Jesus will not come as a thief for those who are watching. The apostle Paul confirms this conclusion in the following passage:
Picture 13 «The Day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, “Peace and safety;” then sudden destruction comes on them, as travail on a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness, that that Day should overtake you as a thief.» (1 Thessalonians 5:2-4).
The declaration of the apostle Paul reminds us of Jesus’ words, which we just read a moment ago, comparing Noah’ days with the period before His return. Thus, in the time of Noah, there were only two categories of people:
Picture 14
  • those who responded to God’s call, who faithfully followed His instructions concerning the building of the ark, who had the privilege of receiving His revelation not only about the year, but also about the day of the Flood, and who entered into the ark at the time indicated by God;
  • and those who refused to listen to God’s call, and who therefore «knew not until the Flood came, and took them all away» (Matthew 24:39).
Likewise, in the last days, God will apply this process of progressive revelation, that will allow His people to better understand His intentions, and thus better prepare themselves. The experience of Noah, and the statements of Jesus and the apostle Paul clearly indicate that at a certain stage of this progressive revelation, God’s people will know not only the year, but also the day of Jesus Christ’s return.
Picture 15 When this final revelation is made, the faithful believers will certainly need the gift of wisdom bestowed by God to make good use of this vital information.

Source of the Pictures of this Lesson
Picture 1: STEEL, John. In: «God Cares, volume 2» (MAXWELL, C. Mervyn), Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1985, p.12. Picture 2: AYRES, Robert. In: «La Sentinelle» magazine (September 1991), Pacific Press Publishing Association, p.8. Picture 3: KNOX, Harry. In: «Ministry» magazine (June-July 2000), Seventh-day Adventist Ministerial Association, p.19. Picture 4: CONVERSE, James. In: «God Cares, volume 1» (MAXWELL, C.Mervyn), Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1981, p.302. Picture 5: ANDERSON, Harry. In: «Uncle Arthur’s Bible Book» (MAXWELL, Arthur S.), Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1968, p.93. Picture 6: In: «The Illustrated Children’s Bible» (CHRISTIE-MURRAY, David), Grosset & Dunlap, New York, 1978, pp.18,19. Picture 7: RUDEEN, Herbert. In: «The Bible Story, volume 1» (MAXWELL, Arthur S.), Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1953, p.108. Picture 8: BERRAN, Robert. In: «My Bible Friends, volume 4» (DEGERING, Etta B.), Pacific Press Publishing Association & Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1977, p.78. Picture 9: In: «La Tour de Garde» magazine (April 15, 1990), New York, Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, p.10. Picture 10: HEASLIP, William. In: «The Bible Story, volume 7» (MAXWELL, Arthur S.), Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1955, p.135. Picture 11: JUSTINEN, Lars. In: «Questionnaire Adulte de l’Ecole du Sabbat», Pacific Press Publishing Association, Third Quarter 1996, front cover. Picture 12: In: «Prophecy Seminars», Seminars Unlimited, 1989, Daniel lesson #23 («The Day of Deliverance»), p.5. Picture 13: RUDEEN, Herbert. In: «The Bible Story, volume 1» (MAXWELL, Arthur S.), Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1953, p.108. Picture 14: RUDEEN, Herbert. In: «The Bible Story, volume 1» (MAXWELL, Arthur S.), Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1953, p.110. Picture 15: GREENE, Nathan. In: «Signs of the Times» magazine (October 2000), Pacific Press Publishing Association, p.18.
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