And if the world ends on May 21?

“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?

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • Lee

    Focusing on the end times is like obsessing with dying in a terrorist attack, or a nuclear meltdown. It’s a romantic fatalism, a way of ignoring the reality: you’re far more likely to meet Jesus in the grill of a SUV than in the Rapture.

  • http://www.timthurmansblog.blogspot.com Tim Thurman

    May 21st? Amen! Maranatha, Lord, come quickly! Yet, I have a sneaking suspicion that it will NOT be May 21st, just because people are predicting it. When it does happen, it will be, “like a thief in the night.”
    So how should the promise of Christ’s return affect us? Well, if nothing else it should encourage us to endure. “Its the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.” Someday, we will not have to deal with the evil, sickness, disease, wars, or natural disasters. That should encourage us now as we do have to deal with those things.

  • http://www.timthurmansblog.blogspot.com Tim Thurman

    May 21st? Amen! Maranatha, Lord, come quickly! Yet, I have a sneaking suspicion that it will NOT be May 21st, just because people are predicting it. When it does happen, it will be, “like a thief in the night.”
    So how should the promise of Christ’s return affect us? Well, if nothing else it should encourage us to endure. “Its the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.” Someday, we will not have to deal with the evil, sickness, disease, wars, or natural disasters. That should encourage us now as we do have to deal with those things.

  • http://middletree.blogspot.com James Williams

    Matthew 24:44 “For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.”

    Not sure how the May 21 folks get around that. It seems to tell me that May 21 is the one day we can be sure He won’t return.

  • http://middletree.blogspot.com James Williams

    Actually, I missed the more important verse: Matthew 24:6 says “See that you are not frightened”
    That one is most relevant to what you say here, Richard. There are lots of ways to interpret lots of verses, but there is only one way to determine His command to not be afraid, and that is to not be afraid. And the fact that it comes just 2 sentences into the discourse where Jesus specifically addresses the End Times, I should think it’s a command we best not ignore.

  • http://middletree.blogspot.com James Williams

    Actually, I missed the more important verse: Matthew 24:6 says “See that you are not frightened”
    That one is most relevant to what you say here, Richard. There are lots of ways to interpret lots of verses, but there is only one way to determine His command to not be afraid, and that is to not be afraid. And the fact that it comes just 2 sentences into the discourse where Jesus specifically addresses the End Times, I should think it’s a command we best not ignore.

  • GM

    Thanks, Richard. Micah 6:8 comes to mind here as what should be our pre-occupation in the now-but-not-yet kingdom, with the can’t-know uncertainty of the end time timing (remember, Jesus said, “not even the Son, but only the Father knows”) … do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God.

  • Paul M

    I don’t normally post, but I’m going to risk it and step out of my comfort zone…

    Thank you Richard for this post.  I’ve been hearing about this, struggling, and really wondering how in the world Christians can get so side tracked on something that is truly meaningless.  If we live today, as if it’s our last day, and as if it’s the only day given to us, and we love our neighbors, love God, show His kindness and mercy and work unto Him for this day, then does it really matter what day He shows up?  

    What does knowing the date do for us if we are already preparing for Him like a “thief in the night”.   Momentary fame? A sense of belonging to something that has the false appearance of being great? 

    What if the May 21, 2011 “We Can Know (and you can’t) group focused their money, time and energy on ministering to people and their needs today, just this day, every day, instead of self promoting something they have no ability to create on their own, nor control in any way, simply for some brief fleeting moment in the limelight.  

    Oh, how the draw of humbly, anonymously and quietly meeting the needs of those who most need God and us, falls so quickly to the short lived and shallow self gratification of something so fleeting as “knowing the date”.     

    That said, may God continue to graciously have mercy on all of us all,  saved and unsaved alike, as He has clearly written in his Word, and draw us closer to Him until the day He does come, whatever day that may be.   Maybe that day will be a Tuesday. :)


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