In a world filled with tension and warfare, combined with so-called experts predicting the end of the world in 2012 it’s only natural that there are many people wondering if perhaps the end really is near. Add to this the news reports of natural disasters and the fact that there are certain Christians who deem themselves to be the prophetic voices of end times knowledge, armed with their interpretation of what the prophetic scriptures mean, the confusion mounts. We have brewed a stew of confusion and controversy, having added every imaginable ingredient supplied from ‘experts’ across the spectrum of science, politics, religion, and philosophy. And what have we gained besides a population wavering somewhere between fear, indifference, and mass confusion?
For Christians, this is an import time in world history. We have more opportunity now than ever before, at least with respect to our own lifetimes, to discuss how current events play into the scriptures and what it all means. However, if we are to talk about these kinds of things with our peers it is vital that we do so with a sound theology, grounded in scripture, and surrounded in prayer or we too will simply add to the confusion.
Perhaps the most important and oft forgotten aspect of end times theology is the fact that God determined for good reason that no one knows the day or hour of the end. In Matthew 24:36 Jesus said,
“However, no one knows the day or the hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.” (NLT).
This is repeated in Mark’s account in Mark 13:32.
Since the day and hour are unknown to all what do we have to go on when wondering if the end is drawing near? For starters, the prophetic texts from the Old Testament contain many descriptive references regarding the end times. Biblical scholars, and most especially Jewish followers of Jesus (Yeshua) can easily identify numerous passages from the Old Covenant. More clearly understood by the occidental mind and culture are the plain words of Jesus himself when He described what the end would look like: Jesus told them,
“Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world. But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.
“Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers. And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other. And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people. Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come."
Now, it is important to remember that troubling times have afflicted nearly every culture for nearly every generation, and there have been fear mongering apologists more than willing to grasp onto the latest proselytic trend, just as there are today. The world is ‘groaning’ under the weight of the curse of sin. As a result there is difficulty in this life. This is not a sign of the end itself, but rather a sign of the ’end times’, which is a time most Christians understand to be all of the time between Christ’s crucifixion and his eventual return.
This is not to suggest that the end is far in the future. Indeed, it could happen before you even finish reading this sentence. Then again, it may happen another two hundred centuries from now. The point is that not only do we not know the day or hour, we could easily conjure a false notion that it must be about to happen at any moment, if we are careless.
So, why in the world would God want to keep the time of the end to himself? I think there are two reasons for this.
The first reason is that God really doesn’t want us to be last minute shoppers. Throughout the bible we find a common thread that teaches us that righteous living is a life-long endeavor. Does that mean death-bed conversions are false? By no means! What it does underscore however, is that in procrastination we miss the life of purpose intended for us. If God told us when the last day would come, we would loose any sense of urgency regarding our own repentance.
Secondly, God really doesn’t want us to be last minute advertisers, either. There is, or at least should be, an underlying sense of urgency regarding the heart of mankind. We would (and indeed do) quite readily placate ourselves with the silly idea that we always have tomorrow to witness to a friend, or to tell a coworker about Jesus. As it stands, we are all commissioned to go and tell all people the good news of salvation, but many of us are AWOL.
In summary, our goal should never be to scare people into faith, or to stir up a sense of confusion, or to attempt to manipulate people, or to dwell in the temporary sense of celebrity status that comes from suggesting that we have a special knowledge of things. Jesus said to remain watchful, but He also told us that we have this purpose – to live out the Great Commission (to go and teach all people the good news of salvation) in light of the Great Commandment (to love others as ourselves). May His will be done!