Are current events lining up with what Jesus said would happen just before his second coming? That’s what the majority of pastors now say in a new poll from LifeWay Research. Over half believe Christ will return during their lifetimes.
On Tuesday, the Southern Baptist polling research firm released results from a phone survey, conducted between Jan. 24 and Feb. 11, of 1,000 senior pastors, ministers or priests who were randomly called.
“While Christians prepare to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, many pastors believe they see signs His return may be close,” LifeWay Executive Director Scott McConnell said in a statement. “These sentiments were expressed in January before the prospect of a global pandemic became known.”
According to LifeWay, nearly nine out of 10 pastors see at least some current events “matching those Jesus said would occur shortly before He returns to Earth.”
According to the data, 56 percent of evangelical and black pastors either strongly or somewhat agreed with the statement: “I expect Jesus to return in my lifetime.” Twenty-four percent said they were “not sure,” while 20 percent either strongly or somewhat disagreed.
In total, 97 percent of pastors said they believe Christ will return to Earth again.
The respondent pastors were asked to identify from a list whether they see certain “types of current events” as the “birth pains” that Jesus referred to when He was asked by His disciples when he would return.
As many conservative pastors have spoken out about society’s embrace of practices such as same-sex marriage and abortion, 79 percent of pastors surveyed agreed that one birth pain of Christ’s return is “traditional morals becoming less accepted.”
As the decline in church attendance across the U.S. in recent decades has coincided with the rise of the religious “nones,” 75 percent of pastors said that “the number of people abandoning their Christian faith” is a birth pain that Jesus said to expect. Also, 81 percent agreed that “the love of many believers growing cold” is also a birth pain of Christ’s return.
With much violence occurring throughout the world today due to wars in various countries, 78 percent of pastors said “wars and national conflicts” are also a birth pain of Christ’s return.
Seventy-six percent also agreed that “earthquakes and other natural disasters” are also indicators of the second coming.
While there is fear that the historic locust infestation taking place in East Africa right now could cause severe hunger and potential famine due to the destruction of crops, 70 percent of pastors surveyed said that “famines” are another birth pain of Christ’s return.
As advocates have spoken out in recent years about the rise of antisemitism in the United States, 63 percent of pastors surveyed said that “anti-Semitism toward Jewish people worldwide” is another indicator that Christ’s return might be near.
Eighty-three percent of pastors surveyed agreed that the “rise of false prophets and false teachings” is a birth pain of Christ’s return.
The data also show that about 69 percent of pastors surveyed at least somewhat agreed that the “modern rebirth of the State of Israel and the re-gathering of millions of Jewish people show Christ’s return is closer.”
About 39 percent of pastors surveyed said they either strongly or somewhat agree with the notion that the establishment of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem that opened in 2018 is a sign of the End Times. A majority, 51 percent, indicated they either strongly or somewhat disagreed.
Only about 11 percent of pastors surveyed said they don’t consider any of the signs listed in the survey to be birth pains to which Jesus was referring.
“Numerous biblical texts speak of disturbances in the creation that disorient and trouble people,” Darrell Bock, New Testament studies professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, said in a statement. “These disturbances have quite a range with earthquakes and wars being the most common. However, Jesus mentions plagues or pestilence explicitly in Luke 21.”
According to Bock, the Bible has many lists of potential signs of Jesus’ return such as the Olivet Discourse passages of Matthew 24 and 25, Mark 13 and Luke 21. Some of those signs include concepts of global sicknesses, he added.
The survey did not ask about the eschatological significance of COVID-19, which has infected at least 1.4 million people worldwide so far.
Mitch Glaser, the president of Chosen People Ministries, a Messianic Jewish nonprofit, said in a statement that Ultra-Orthodox Jews also believe that current events are indicators of the Messiah’s coming.
“The term used in rabbinic literature, ‘birth pangs of Mashiach,’ is similar to the Olivet Discourse,” Glaser explained. “The pandemic is viewed in this way by many religious Jewish people who share a heightened Messianic expectation with evangelicals.”
Eighty-six percent of pastors surveyed said they attended Bible college or seminary.
Seventy percent of respondents who said they attended Bible college or seminary also said they took at least one course on eschatology. Fifty-nine percent of respondents said their view on eschatology has not changed since they left seminary or Bible college.
About 60 percent of pastors surveyed said they believe the ideas of “premillennialism” best describe their views on the millennium described in Revelation 20, where it is said that Christ shall reign “a thousand years.”
Premillennialism is the belief that “the millennium will be a future literal 1,000-year period during which Jesus reigns on earth following Christ’s second coming.”
Twenty-one percent said that they believe more in the idea of “amillennialism” — the view that the “millennium is a symbolic way of describing the period between Christ’s ascension and second coming where Christ is reigning spiritually.”
Nine percent suggested their beliefs align more with the theory of “postmillennialism,” which is the belief that the “the millennium is not a literal 1,000 years, but an era in which the world will gradually grow more Christian and just ending with Christ’s second coming.”
Seventy-three percent believe “Christ will return and reign in Jerusalem in fulfillment of God’s prophecies to King David.”
Sixty percent of pastors surveyed said they believe that teaching on Revelation and Old Testament prophecies is “important.” Meanwhile, 89 percent said that communicating the “urgency of Christ’s return” is also important.
“For too long many pastors have shied away from teaching on birth pains and events leading up to the second coming,” bestselling evangelical author Joel Rosenberg said in a statement. “But the current pandemic demonstrates the need for solid, non-sensational preaching done in a biblical manner.”
The LifeWay survey was sponsored by Chosen People Ministries, Alliance for the Peace of Jerusalem, Rich and Judy Hastings and the Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary. The research has a margin of error of 3.2 percentage points.
–CPOnline and Lifeway Research