Prophecy Preoccupation

The speculation surrounding end time prophecy has -- for many people -- gone to far. In it's extreme form, many over the years have tried to set dates as to the return of Jesus, but over and over they have been proven wrong. Still, I don't think any Christian will deny that Jesus IS coming back again...

"... This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back... " (Acts 1:11)

The widely differing (and often divisive) views concerning the order of end times events (pretribulation, posttribulation, prewrath, premillennialism, postmillennialism, amillennialism, etc.) are well known. Much has been written about these different eschatological perspectives - and for the purpose of this article I have no need to delve into that arena. But again, for the record, we know that Jesus Christ is coming back! The Christian church, as a whole, has speculated concerning His return for centuries; with (as I have already said) a bad record, as He still hasn't returned. Does this mean we should ignore prophecy and the references concerning it in the scriptures? Of course not - that would be totally wrong.

Unfortunately, some have gone to the other extreme of dwelling on prophecy and ultimately basing their theology (and sometimes actions) on their view of end times events. Among the numerous Christian publications I receive, I have noticed that some of them have a preoccupation with trying to fit every event of news into a prophetical significance. For example, every news article concerning Russia or the European Community is followed by a verse concerning end times prophecy. Or how about articles on universal product codes (UPC), debit cards, implanted microchips, and Y2K? Of course, they are tied to the mark of the beast and the impending end of the world. And virtually every unrelated evil event is tied to 2 Timothy 3:13, or like passages. Okay, some of these events could actually be end times events shaping up, and yes, evil acts are on the increase as the Bible prophesied would occur. But, can anyone say with absolute certainty, like one article did after listing some horrific events and quoting 2 Timothy 3:1-7, "Perilous times are indeed here, and these are certainly the last days."? No. Like old testament prophecies - the proof was seen in the fulfillment. It's hard to imagine, but if the Lord doesn't come back in this generation - things will keep getting worse and more events will continue to display themselves as precursors to His return. And all the "prophecy interpreted" books & videos will be rewritten, or updated, or discontinued -- as has happened since the major onslaught of interpretive books gained momentum following the 1960s. (Most of those books have been proven wrong as no one foresaw things like the collapse of the Soviet Union and communist satellites). Even books published during the Gulf War with Iraq were trying to squeeze that latest headline into an end time significance. Many of those books have since been scrapped as events changed, showing their interpretation to be wrong. The bottom line is that there is only one true interpretation of end times prophecy and that is God's. God's fulfillment of prophecy has always been 100% correct, accurate to the detail, and clearly seen by many witnessing the fulfillment. I'm absolutely positive that will be the case again.

Some would ask, "What's wrong with this speculation among Christians?" In fact, there are a number of things...

(1) Promotion of Fear - God is not the author of fear. "For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." (2 Tim 1:7, also Romans 8:15) I know Christians that literal fear the future because of these speculative interpretations. In the sixties, afraid to have a social insurance number. In the seventies, sure that nuclear holocaust was coming. In the eighties, panicked by UPC codes and credit cards. In the nineties, generally confused by rapidly changing events and technology. And with the year 2000 at hand, fearing the Y2K bug with it's alleged ties to end times, for a climate of near panic in some Christian sectors.

(2) Encouraging ridicule of the church by unbelievers. - The Bible does say in 2 Peter 3:3 "that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say where is this 'coming' he (Jesus) promised?..." It's one thing to be watching for the Lord's return, it's another to make speculatory statements that tend to date set (albeit, for the most part, not specific dates). This generalized date setting just fuels the comments of the unsaved, "where is this coming he promised" - as the world assumes the church speaks this speculations on God's behalf.

(3) More emphasis is put on Christ's return than on today. With millions dying daily without the Lord, we need to be concerned about -- and working towards -- reaching the unsaved TODAY. Even if the Lord doesn't come back tomorrow, or next week, people still need salvation - before the other certainty - of death. A popular recent Christian film, entitled Future Tense makes this exact mistake. It dwells on one Christian's concern for his family, his desire to see them saved before the rapture happens. The whole movie plays on your emotions, both as a Christian or non-Christian. For the Christian the motivation was supposed to be the desire to see them saved before the rapture, for the unsaved it was supposed to be the fear of missing out. Unfortunately (for the unsaved), it left out the reason for the need of salvation (sin, judgment, Jesus' atoning sacrifice, hell) and (for the Christian) it overlooked the number one reason for urgency to reach the lost - the terminal condition of all mankind - impending death. (An "accept Jesus for an urgent ticket to heaven" gospel).

(4) A defeatist attitude - Far to many believers have this attitude -- that since all this prophecy says that the end is just around the corner, there is no sense in trying to work to change the world. "Things are going to get worse anyway, so why bother?" We are commanded to be salt and light to a world around us (Matt 5:13-14) - working to change things while working to reach the lost.

How should end times prophecy by handled? I don't pretend to have all the answers, but a few guidelines might be in order...

(1) Revelation 19:10 tells us that "... testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." With Jesus as the author and finisher of all prophecy, we should remember to keep Jesus as the focus of prophecy. Rather than dwelling on the negative aspects like evil, rebellion, sin and fear, we should emphasis that God is still in control and that we have nothing to fear in Him, come what may.

(2) Stay away from interpreting events to fit into your view of end times prophecy, especially in a manner that in effect sets dates for Christ's return. "No one knows about that day or hour... only the Father." (Matthew 24:36) It's not wrong to point out that some events, like the decadence of this generation, more than ever fits the prophesied description of the end times - but it is wrong to say that things have gotten as bad as they can get, that "this is the generation", when only God truly knows.

(3) Remember that prophecy of Christ's return was given primarily to the Church. It was given to us as a message of hope...

"Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope." (1 Thessalonians 4:13)

Paul continues on in this great passage, regarding the end times, to speak of the resurrection and Jesus' return, and then ends again by saying, "Therefore encourage each other with these words." When Jesus spoke about end times events in Matthew chapter 24, he was obviously speaking to the church (verse 23-25). In verse 42 he says, "... watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come." and in verse 44, "... you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at the hour when you do not expect him ." We're not supposed to figure out (if it was possible) when the Lord is returning. The best way to be prepared for Christ's return is not to waste time trying to calculate dates, or speculating about current events matching prophecy, but to live every day expecting the Lord's return TODAY. If you knew the Lord was coming back today, how urgent you find the need to reach your co-workers, friends, etc. with the gospel? What sin do you have in your life that you haven't got right with the Lord? How important would the normal rat-race of our society seem? BUT, brothers and sisters, this is not our motivation for serving our Lord (nor should it be), love is. Jesus told us plainly, in John 14:23-24, that we will obey Him if we love Him! Living for the Lord out of love for Him, day by day, is truly "watching" for his return. "Now, brothers, about the times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, 'Peace and safety,' destruction will come on them suddenly" (1 Thess 5:1-3)

Tuesday, September 14, 1993, the front page of the newspaper screaming "shalom, salaam - peace" regarding the historic events in the middle east. A few pages further in the same paper the headline announces, "Society without currency possible." Prophetic fulfillment? Jesus' return around the corner? It doesn't really matter. Today, tomorrow and the next day -- Lord willing, I serve Him or go to be with Him. Just another day in the kingdom of God. (Matthew 6:34).

"... Amen. Come, Lord Jesus." (Revelation 22:20)