Thursday, December 27, 2012

End Times Predictions

My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about End Times Predictions:

Q:  With all the different predictions and scenarios circulating these days, how can a person know what is true about how and when the “end of the world” will occur?

Let’s start with a piece of good news:  Since the first newspaper edition this article is intended to be in will be dated December 27, the fact that you are reading this means that the Mayan Calendar hysteria turned out to be false. 

Beginning with Charles Wesley in 1796, continuing with repeated Adventist and Jehovah’s Witness predictions throughout the 19th and early 20th Centuries, followed by a variety of Y2K-induced predictions between 1996 and 2006, and carried on most recently by the predictions of Harold Camping, English-speaking students of the Bible have had a fascination with predicting the date of Jesus return. 

However, Jesus Himself says on one occasion, “No one knows the day or the hour of the coming of the Son of Man,” (Matthew 24:36) and on another, “the Son of Man is coming at a time when no one expects Him.” (Luke 12:40)  Based on these verses, Christians can be confident that the world cannot end until Jesus returns, and anyone setting dates, or even years, for the return of Jesus is most certainly not speaking the truth.  Jokingly, I even give a “no-Second-Coming Guarantee,” based on Jesus’ words above, on any date that a major media-publicized end times event has been predicted. 

For about the last 150 years, another trend has been for certain preachers to lay out elaborate timelines of events surrounding the Second Coming.  The sequence and duration of these events varies, but they have the common characteristic of dividing the end times in to a multi-stage event with segments lasting from seven to a thousand years. 

Prior to that time, it had been the common understanding among Christians that the “Last Day” (a more preferred term among Christians than “end of the world”) would come instantly and unexpectedly.  At the moment of Jesus’ return, it would be universally known that it was occurring, and the following events would occur without delay and without the possibility of being prevented.  This agrees completely with the warnings of Jesus in Matthew 24-25. 

Any scenario that proposes particular dates or warning-shot events (such as the disappearance of large numbers of people or the formation of a nation) are the beginning of a count-down before the end of which Jesus will return, is extremely problematic from a Biblical perspective, because it necessitates either that people will know in advance when Jesus is coming again or that Jesus return will somehow be separated from His judgment of the living and the dead.  Either of these possibilities (usually based on the books of Daniel or Revelation, which have particular literary challenges for modern readers who must rely only on English translations) eventually run contrary to the clearer statements of Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. 

Christians can take confidence in this:  The return of Jesus will be nothing but blessing for those who trust in Him, so they need not fear its arrival.  Additionally, our preparedness does not rest on our own ability and foresight, but in His provision by the Holy Spirit through the Word, so we can go about the business of serving in our vocations in eager anticipation, rather than fearful anxiety about the end—whenever it comes.

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