Benjamin Franklin said, “The only things certain in life are death and taxes.” I would add a third: The perpetual anticipation of every generation of Christians that theirs will be the one to see the parousia, the “coming of the Lord.”
It’s surely not a bad thing to live as though today may be the day we will see Jesus. Such perspective encourages us toward heaven and away from a corrupted world. Living as though each day may be our last earth-day gives us focus, helps us establish kingdom priorities. If I know that tomorrow I will embark on a long journey, I am motivated today to prepare for travel. But crying “The sky is falling” at every instance of “Breaking (bad) News” on the television screen both dilutes and discredits our Christian message and testimony.
Let me establish at the outset that it is dishonest, fraudulent and erroneous to use Scripture to support baseless anticipations or to misrepresent Scripture in order to fuel the fires of excitement or expectation of the appearance of certain prophetic events. It is a crime to utilize thin exegesis to support personally held beliefs concerning the return of Jesus to rescue His followers from the doom and destruction that will in due course befall all of earth, or to establish that Jesus will never return to save His followers from the perils appearing around us.
In this brief commentary, time and space does not allow discussion of such appropriate and critical topics as biblical hermeneutics (the study of the principles of interpretation concerning scripture), or to survey the history of mistaken or even blatantly false claims about the return of Christ that have damaged great numbers of the Body of Christ from the time of the resurrection of Jesus until now.
Scripture itself instructs us, “no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation.” This verse would also include “any private revelation” as well. I encourage the reader to conduct his own inquiry into famous erroneous, historical claims, hoaxes and false teachings concerning the last days. Also included here are some traditional, denominational eschatological teachings that may or may not be scripturally accurate.
In the next paragraphs I will enumerate only a few of the contemporary mistakes that are leading to “Chicken Little” reactionary and damaging teachings and their corresponding eventualities.
Too many Western writers, preachers and teachers have wrongly focused on the West, and in particular, America as their lens through which to gain a global view of the signs of the times.
Whenever mainstream society bends towards a perceived threat to limit – to persecute the church, would-be eschatologists come out of the woodwork to claim that here is foolproof evidence that the Great Tribulation is about to break out in downtown Poughkeepsie, Peoria and Palm Springs.
This error is doubly grievous since not only is completely wrong, but it also omits in its consideration the Greater Body of Christ that exists across the globe. Let every American believer understand: The American Church is not “The” church. The American Church is a small, but disproportionally significant (in her resource and voice) part of the greater Body of Christ in the earth. Believers around the world should be thankful for the church in America, but the church in America needs to understand her place in a global family of brothers and sisters in Christ.
As an example, estimates of the church in China in 2010 range between 40 million and 130 million believers. In Africa, by the year 2000, ten plus years ago there were an estimated 380 million Christians. Combined, China and Africa potentially represent more than 500 million Christians! According to Christianity Today, there are approximately 648 million Evangelicals or Bible believing Christians worldwide. If we use the low number estimate of Chinese believers, some 420 million of a worldwide 648 million Christians live in two non-Western societies! When we consider these numbers, along with the explosion of the church in Central and South America, the American church with its roughly 70 million respondents reporting that they are “born again,” it is unreasonable that an American-focused eschatology can accurately describe a worldwide church.
More than a few well-known Christian celebrities have rightly warned that persecution is coming to America, but this fact supposedly demonstrates the coming of The Tribulation. As evidence, speakers often refer to threats of government intervention into matters of faith and the practices of the Christian church in America.
The error in this position is that once again, the use of an American lens exposes rank disregard for (or ignorance of) untold numbers of believers who have suffered torture, painful separation from families and merciless persecution for generations in nations around the world. When American preachers focus only on persecution and perhaps martyrdom coming to the church in America, they step over the graves of countless believers in other nations who have willingly given their lives for the cause of Christ in our own lifetimes.
Much prophetic significance has recently been given to the ongoing oil crisis in the American waters of the Gulf of Mexico. More than a few “prophetic words” are currently circulating on the Internet, claiming that the Gulf Oil Crisis is evidence of an angry God unleashing punishment on the people of the Gulf Coast. Others claim that this disaster is a signal of the advent of the calamities written about in the Book of the Revelation.
The devastation along the Gulf Coast of the U.S. ought to motivate Christians everywhere to pray for the effected millions in this region. However, we have also recently experienced a devastating earthquake in Haiti, another in Chile, volcanic eruptions in Iceland, flooding in Portugal and China to mention only a few other non-U.S. tragedies.
Regarding the Crisis in the Gulf, some writers are pointing to this disaster as an indication of the unfolding of Great Tribulation and give scriptural reference to support their claims.
Scripture discloses “ . . . the second angel sounded: And something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. And a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.”
Based upon this scripture, claimants teach that the oil spewing from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico will eventuate in the loss of one third of the sea life, and a third of global shipping will be destroyed.
Earth’s seas comprise more than 2/3 of the planet’s mass (to be precise, 71.11% of the planet is covered by water). The Gulf of Mexico covers some 600,000 miles of earth’s surface. The Pacific Ocean itself covers 1/3 of earth’s surface or about 65 million square miles. The Atlantic Ocean, at 41 million, 100 thousand square miles is our second largest ocean. Add the Arctic, (5,427,000 sq mi), the Indian (28,400,000) and Southern Ocean, (7.8 million square miles) which together comprise more than 147 million square miles, and compare this with the Gulf’s 600,000 square miles and it would take a miracle of biblical proportion for a contaminated Gulf to poison one third of the world’s fish, one third of its waters and to destroy a third of global shipping.
These examples are merely two of a greater number that could be examined here. The reader, no doubt “gets it” from just these two illustrations.
Romanticized Versions of End Times Verities
In 1972, I was one of a few hundred people who attended the premier showing of the now-famous “Rapture” film, “A Thief in the Night.” The emotional impact and electric thrill of this forerunner of a generation of Christian movies was palpable that night. The filming had been done in and around my home city, and I recognized places where I had hunted and fished and played baseball as a young boy. The plot was simple and simplistic, but to my (then) 22 year-old heart, it was astonishing. I left the theatre that night expecting Jesus to appear within a week! Now, thirty-eight years later, we’re still waiting for “The Thief in the Night” to appear.
Sensationalist End Time writers have created a whole new section in Christian bookstores following the same general theme – World conditions; economics, morality, war, natural disasters, and so on grow worse and worse until “men’s hearts” are “failing them from fearof those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken.” Just before life becomes truly difficult for believers, and as tribulation looms on the horizon, Jesus suddenly and without warning – as a Thief in the Night – appears in the clouds of the air, translates all Christians from earth to heaven “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.” Simultaneous with the translation, or rapture of God’s people, Hell, literally takes center stage on planet earth, bringing tribulation for a seven year period to earth’s hapless inhabitants who have rejected (or who have never heard of) Jesus Christ. and the expectation
A study of both eschatological scriptures and of the character and nature of God will eradicate the romanticism from our considerations of end times events. We must, if we are to be consistent and true to scripture, base all our understandings of the times in which we live upon God’s words and not the words of teachers and prophets, no matter how prominent or celebrated these may be. Scripture encourages the believer to apply himself, to study for himself, to be convinced in his own mind and heart of the things of God.
We should not become reactionaries, responding emotionally but not necessarily spiritually when it comes to the subject of end-times prophecies. We need to examine world events in light of revealed scripture, keeping a steady mind and spirit as we follow the example of those early Berean saints who “received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.”
I have here listed only three errors of the contemporary date-setting, future-predicting and event-explaining crowd; there are more. My purpose here is not to provide a complete compendium of mistaken or false teachings, but rather it is to caution the reader against buying into questionable teachings and to encourage us toward a biblical understanding of the times in which we live.
A Biblical Approach: Be Sobered by Reality; not Drunk with Assumption
Be Not Drunk with Assumption, but be Filled with Anticipation of a new Kingdom, made manifest in the eternal purposes and agenda of God, our Father.
“Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober.”
In October 1961, the world was captivated by what became known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. For eight days the world teetered on the brink of nuclear war. During that time my father worked for the federal government, and our family was assigned a place in a bomb shelter. Men brought masks and a Geiger counter and a special radio to our home. I was told that I could not take my dog when we were evacuated. My brothers and sisters and I were terrified. Dad was gone, working with the government somewhere, and we turned to our mother for understanding. I well remember her gathering the five of us at our dinner table. Calmly, she opened the scriptures to Matthew 24 and read, in part, “you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.”
With that, mom closed the Bible and told us all to go out and play. By her example, we were delivered from the hysteria that captured many others. I went outside on that beautiful autumn afternoon, called my dog and went rabbit hunting.
Assumption produces beliefs and actions that may be far from reality and typically eventuate in embarrassment.
Examine any assumption about the End of the Days in the light of scripture, and without emotion; when evidence emerges, accept it and live accordingly. If the result of your inquiry produces only imagination, discard the assumption and cling to the truth, especially if you have become convinced in your research that God has given you a revelation He has not imparted to anyone else.
Certainly, increasing woes are being visited upon planet earth. Earthquakes annually destroy countless lives and property, floods and hurricanes, tornadoes and volcanoes tear at our planet’s heart: “the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.” “For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God . . . because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
There is an eternal and increasingly manifest struggle for the Title Deed of the creation of God. Nature and mankind join in this conflict. On the one side is the cry, the groan, the travail for the revealing of the sons of God and the fruition of the everlasting plan of God. On the other side are the forces of darkness, desiring only chaos and destruction and turmoil.
Our responsibility is to understand the times in which we live, to give ourselves to understanding God’s word and to live honestly and to “walk circumspectly, not as fools, but wise” in this world.
Whether the reader personally embraces and identifies with the teachings of Preterism, Futurism, Dispensationalist, traditional Pre-Mid or Post-tribulation teachings, Pre-Post or A-millennialism, or any other understanding of end times events, let us all, as followers of Jesus Christ and as citizens of the kingdom of God, maintain an intellectually honest and spiritually sincere faith, and walk and talk accordingly.