“There is no doubt that the Antichrist has already been born. Firmly established already in his early years, he will, after reaching maturity, achieve supreme power.” -Martin of Tours, 4th Century AD
I’ve always had friends who are “into” Biblical prophecy and finding the dates of Christ’s return. In the ’70s, I saw charts and graphs predicting the end of the world would happen in the ’70s. The same thing happened in the ’80s and ’90s. And who among us could forget Y2K and the great apocalyptic threats of that time as people ran for cover, taking their guns and bags of rice with them just in case.
Now there’s a lot of chatter about May 21, the day believers will exit, plucked out of here (raptured) by Christ, so that hell’s fury can be poured on the rest of the planet, which will be destroyed on October 21. You can learn all about it through the link above, complete with charts, though they’re different than the charts of my youth, by 15, 20, 30, years or more.
My response to all this is a simple question: So what?
Don’t get me wrong. I believe in the day of the Lord, and a final judgment. It’s hard to read the Bible and come to the conclusion that history won’t have a terminus. Commerce, wars, nation-states and family life–everything as we know it–will come to end some day, and maybe that day will be soon. Sadly, though, the predicting of dates has had a long, tired, embarrassing history in the church, enough that I’m sure some people view all of us as quacks because we’ve gotten that guessing game wrong so often.
The reason I say “so what?” in response to the latest educated guess has nothing to do with this group’s chart. Anybody can make a cool chart. Anybody can start with certain assumptions and find the final hour of history. It’s the assumptions, though, that need to be challenged because wrong assumption in an argument will always lead to wrong conclusions. But never mind that–even challenging the assumptions misses the main points, and there are, it seems to me, three main points.
1. Prophecy was given in the Bible so that after things happened, people could say, “this is that of which the prophets spoke.” I’m having a terrible time finding clear dates, most likely because what Jesus said here. In spite of this, people love to guess. Fine. Guess if you must. But call it that, please. We’ve been down this tired road too many times.
2. Whether Christ returns tomorrow or 1,000 years from now, our calling is the same. In this parable we come to see that Christ has given us each of us some resources to carry out the work of His kingdom until He returns. We’re called to be salt and light, yeast and mustard seeds, making the presence of God’s good reign known in small ways, “until He comes back.” The tragedy of the guessing games is their diversionary power: we think we’re being really holy, and on the ‘inside’ because we’ve done our homework and have secret knowledge. God cares more about whether we’re loving our enemies, sharing our wealth, and living with contentment. Those things, however, sound like work. Far easier to view the Christian life as a cosmic game of Clue and busy ourselves with trivia.
Here’s what I do know: my call to love God and love my neighbor, my call to embody the hope of Christ in tangible ways, my call to invest the many gifts I’ve been given in God’s kingdom purposes, doesn’t change whether Christ is returning tomorrow or 3521.
3. History will end someday. Life as we know it will end. The kingdoms of this world never last. There are lots of reasons for this, worthy of a different posting. Obsessing over dates is one way of missing the point. Pretending that everything will continue endlessly in the present status quo is equally wrong. The former makes us apocalyptic junkies, addicted to the latest “sky is falling” theory. The latter tempts us to make our home in this world of buying and selling, eating, drinking, and being merry because the promise of His coming is quaint, but not to be taken seriously.
To the contrary, we’re invited to keep our lamps lit, which means to be saturated with the fuel of the Holy Spirit that will enable the light of God to shine through our lives. We’re invited to abound in God’s work right up to the end… whether that means the end of our lives, or the end of history.
The gathering clouds of the Middle East appear darker now than at any point in recent history. Who knows what this means? Maybe May is the end of the world as we know it. But all we know right now is that in a world of shakeable kingdoms, we can have an unshakeable confidence, enabling us to live as people of hope in the midst of it all–come what may!
May 21? It’s a Saturday and I’ll just have returned from science camp (more on that later this week). I’m hoping, on that day, to either be climbing with my son, backcountry skiing with my wife, or going on a long bike ride. And if the world ends? I hope I’ll be found loving God, loving the people in my world, and stewarding the precious days and gifts I’ve been given.
My deepest hope for you? Exactly the same thing!
How does your view of the end times affect your daily living?