Friday, May 20, 2011

The End Times

There are many Christians and many Christian subcultures out there that are fanatical with eschatology and end times prophecy/theology. As many of you know, the “beginning of the end” of the world starts tomorrow according to one fanatic, Harold Camping, and his followers. There are parties planned…even parties going on as we speak. Billboards all over the place saying, “Repent, the time is here…May 21, 2011 is Judgment Day.”

Of course, it has been widely publicized that Camping has been wrong before…in 1994, I believe. But more than that, his miss of the clear mandate of Scripture and call of Jesus is disturbing.

The easy Scripture (for most Evangelicals, save full preterists) to point to in why we should not predict the end of the world, sign of the times, Second Coming, rapture, etc. is Matthew 24:36: “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Evangelicals interpret this verse to mean: “Jesus doesn’t even know the time of His second coming, only God does, so therefore we cannot know.” I think that is a good interpretation, but it only leaves us with a minor rebuke about predicting and focusing on end times. It informs us to not try to figure out something, but the verse alone doesn’t give us what to focus our time and energy on instead….

Predicting is one thing…and many are fed up with the “Camping’s” of the world…but there are still many followers of Jesus, that though they are not predicting the end of the world by specific time/date, are still putting a lot of time, energy, and effort into figuring out “signs” and other “end times” issues.

Take some popular theories/suggestions of well-meaning, eschatological-hungry Christians:
• The “rise” of Radical Islam.
• Determining/figuring out who the anti-Christ(s) could be (i.e. is it Obama, the pope, or Hitler to name a few popular current and historic suggestions).
• The Euro as sure early sign of “one worldwide currency”.
• A perceived increase in natural disasters of the earth (save global warming).
• And of course predictions of false teachers like Rob Bell (but clearly not CS Lewis). name a few hot button topics and issues of those trying to figure out the “signs of the times”.

Maybe it is fun and exhilarating to think about these things for some, but Jesus in Acts 1 tries to redirect our thinking about the end of the world and the ushering in of His Kingdom. His disciples ask Him quite urgently and plainly in verse 6: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” In other words: Is this it? The end of the world? The beginning of God’s reign? Jesus immediately rebukes them, saying: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Jesus clearly says..forget about that stuff!...instead…go be my witnesses here and now! Jesus refocuses our natural inclination to know when He would realize His Kingdom to the real priority and emphasis of our lives and theology should be: the Mission mandate in taking the Good News to our neighbors, nation, and the world.

Even the passage of Matthew 24, in which Jesus himself is talking about signs, etc. are instructions on the here and now implications of the signs. Jesus says to: not be deceived, stand firm, you will be killed and persecuted, and to keep watch. This information is not meant to give us an “instruction guide” on determining or abstractly figuring out the Second Coming or to have us keep focused on this event, but to help us understand that we need to stay committed and strong at that time and in fact, all times. These things Jesus says in this passage are things that are said all throughout Scripture at various times. They are eternal truths for us that stand outside of circumstance….they are true whether or not the world is coming to end, or whether or not Jesus is coming back tomorrow.

I leave you with this applicable conversation I had at the gym yesterday:

John: Nice tattoo, what does that verse say? (referring to my Matthew 16:24 tattoo)
Grant: It is Jesus saying, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me.” It’s my life verse.
John: Oh sweet! And “agape” (referring to the rest of my tattoo) means “love”, right?
Grant: Yes it does! Are you a follower of Jesus?
John: Oh yes! Definitely!
Grant: Awesome, man!
John: Yeah, though, have you been hearing about this end of the world stuff?
Grant: Yeah, I have.
John: I did some research on it…it sounds pretty good and accurate to me…
Grant (probably a shocked look on my face): REALLY? You know this guy predicted the same thing several years ago and was wrong…and that Jesus says no one knows the time…and even in Acts 1, we are told to not focus on this stuff, but to….
John: yeah, to share the gospel with others. I know that.
Grant: Well, great. See, to me Jesus is pretty straightforward: we don’t know the time, and don’t worry too much about it because we have a job here right now.
John: Yeah, true…but I dunno…

The conversation eventually ended. So here we had a confessed follower of Jesus, who clearly knew Scripture, that was still sucked in…still trapped…perhaps missing the point…

Are you so preoccupied with eschatology that you are missing the clear mandate from Jesus?
Are you using the “end of the world” as a crutch to not do anything about, or care about, this world now?

May we be people who focus on the things Jesus wants us to focus on: the here and now.
May we long for His Kingdom to “come on earth as it is in heaven”.
And may we be the prophetic voice that lives out the clear mandate to take the Good News to the world, for indeed, no one knows the day or the hour.

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