By John Halford
As we go to press, the Middle East is once again engulfed in war. What will the situation be by the time you get to read this?
That is anybody’s guess. But it is not anybody’s prophecy.
Whenever events start heating up in that unhappy and unstable part of the world, prophecy buffs and pundits start quivering. Is this it? “It” being the series of events that some believe will lead directly to the return of Jesus Christ. Well — let’s hope they are right. But don’t get your hopes up. The prophecy buffs have never have been right before.
For the last 2,000 years, self-appointed Christian prophets have been appropriating world events to trumpet their personal interpretations of prophecy. It is a dismal record of pride, false expectations and shattered dreams. You’d think they would have learned from history to be cautious—and that we’d have learned to ignore them.
Yeah — but this time they may be right? And maybe not. Maybe there will be another major war and Christ still will not come. Or maybe things will once again settle down to the uneasy tension that passes for “peace” in this troubled region.
“Careful now,” I can hear some readers saying. “Remember what it says in 2 Peter, chapter 3.”
Yes, I know. It says, “In the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, ‘Where is this “coming” he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation’” (verses 3-4).
That’s why I’m not scoffing. Prophecies are in the Bible, and they do mean something. Many of them seem to have very specific references to events that lead up to Jesus’ return. At least, that is one way of looking at them. But not the only way. One thing is certain: no one can know for sure until God is ready to make the meaning plain.
So let’s not scoff, but let’s not panic, either. Peter’s epistle was written to help us keep our balance, not to send us careening off center with speculation and irresponsible knee-jerk reactions whenever hostilities flare up in the Middle East. If there is one thing that trying to figure out “where we are in prophecy” should have taught us, it is that we don’t — and can’t — know.
Even the most “timely” prophecy does not cancel out the timeless instructions of the Bible. Just before the warning about scoffing, 2 Peter says: “I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles” (verse 2). The epistle reminds us that the return of Jesus will come suddenly, unexpectedly, taking everyone by surprise. For those who are not prepared, it will seem like a catastrophe. And indeed there will be “winners and losers.” But the winners will not be those who have been able to sort out the “coded messages” of prophecy. It will be those who by patient, consistent and diligent discipleship have shown that they truly want the life of the kingdom of God and its righteousness.
In some ways I hope that the “end time” panic merchants are right this time, because I’d like to see the end of the suffering and repeated cycles of war and destruction. I love that vision of Isaiah, who saw Jerusalem not as an epicenter of contention and strife, but a source of peace and happiness (Isaiah 2:2-4). I’m not sure exactly what it means, or when it will happen. But whatever it is and whenever it is, it is something to look forward to.
In the meantime, we’d do well, as the psalmist said, to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6). Because, whether this is “it” or not, people are getting killed and maimed, lives and property are being wrecked and yet another generation is growing up knowing only this seemingly endless, bitter cycle of misery.