Where Are We Now in Prophecy?
Is this “the end time”?
What should we be doing about it?
World events are heating up!” “The beast of Revelation is about to burst onto the world scene!” Such statements are typical of the buzz phrases Bible prophecy pundits use to get people excited.
The truth is, of course, that world events have always been hot. There is always a nation planning to attack another nation, there have always been despots brutalizing their subjects, and freedom fighters have always harassed armies and terrorized civilians. These have all been going on from the dawn of civilization. The only difference today is that the world is more crowded, with its population of more than six billion, and weapons exist today that can destroy vast numbers of people in a single exchange. But the “heat” of human conflict has always been present.
In other words, the statement “world events are heating up,” is designed to stir emotions, which it does quite well, but it actually conveys nothing new or meaningful about the state of the world.
Likewise, “The beast of Revelation is about to burst onto the world scene” is an emotion-stirring statement. But once again, it is a meaningless one. The person making the statement purports to know something that no one else knows, namely, exactly who or what is the beast of Revelation, and exactly when this who or what will make itself known to the world. The truth is, the person actually knows neither, and is simply making the statement to sound dramatic, get people excited, and palm himself or herself off as speaking for God, which they are not.
What does Jesus say?
Jesus could not have been plainer about people, believers included, knowing when he would return. He said, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
Bible prophecy is not about puzzling through world events to “prove” that “we are living in the last days.”
Some prophecy “experts” say they understand we can’t know the day nor the hour, but we can, they say, know the year, or the month, or the week. Nice try, but such reasoning only points up the human tendency to prefer the titillating over the truth. It reminds me of the kind of loophole-generating excuses my kids used to try on their mother when they were teenagers. But Jesus was not playing word games; he was saying that no one would know in advance of his coming.
What do the apostles say?
Paul was equally clear about no one knowing the timing of Jesus’ return. He wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-9:
“Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.
“So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Since the dawn of civilization there have been warring nations, despots brutalizing their subjects, freedom fighters and terrorized civilians.
Believers won’t be surprised by the day of the Lord, Paul says. But the reason they won’t be surprised, he tells us, is not because they know the time in advance — Jesus says no one will know the time in advance. Paul says that believers won’t be surprised by the day of the Lord because their hearts are in what Jesus told them to have their hearts in.
And Jesus did not say, “By this everyone will know you are my disciples, because you will be predicting the time of my return.” He said that everyone would know who his disciples are by their love for one another.
But it’s so much easier to predict the end time than it is to love others, isn’t it? The charts, the timetables, the maps, the newspaper clippings, the assigning beast heads and horns to rulers and empires — now that is not only easy, it’s fun. (And if you’re really good at it, you can get a lot of gullible people to send you money to “help get the warning message out.”)
But loving your neighbor? Boring.
Focus of prophecy
What many people don’t understand is that “When?” is not the central point of Bible prophecy. The central point of prophecy is “Who?” Peter wrote:
“Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things” (1 Peter 1:10-13).
What did the prophets speak of? The grace that would come to you through the sufferings, resurrection and ascension of Christ, Peter says. And again, what did the prophets speak of? “The gospel,” Peter says.
In the same way, Paul preached that the prophets were pointing toward the gospel, the atoning work of Jesus Christ for human salvation:
“We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father.’ The fact that God raised him from the dead, never to decay, is stated in these words: ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.’
“So it is stated elsewhere: ‘You will not let your Holy One see decay.’ For when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his fathers and his body decayed. But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.
“Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses. Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you: ‘Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you’” (Acts 13:32-42).
How were the words of the prophets fulfilled? By the resurrection of Jesus, Paul says. What did the prophets warn about? Failing to believe the gospel, Paul says. In verse 27, Paul said, “The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath.”
The focal point of Bible prophecy is this: Who is Jesus Christ and what has he done for human salvation? Bible prophecy is not about puzzling through world events to “prove” that “we are living in the last days” and “Jesus will return in our generation.” Certainly, Christians have been doing such puzzling for almost 2,000 years, and they have always, every time, without fail, been wrong.
“But this time we know we’re in the last days,” someone will argue. “Just look at the signs.”
But the Scriptures answer simply: “No you don’t, and the fact that you’re focused on it means that you are missing the point of Christian faith.”
Everyone in the end time
From one perspective, every Christian who has ever lived has been in the “end time.” That’s because the only time any of us know is our own lifetime, and when our lifetime ends, our next moment is with the Lord. When you think about it that way, it doesn’t matter whether Jesus will literally return in your lifetime, because you’re going to meet him the minute you die anyway.
Realizing that, we can be free to devote ourselves to loving others, which includes spreading the gospel, instead of wasting precious time trying to figure out something Jesus plainly told us we would not know.
What to do
What are we supposed to be doing while we wait for Jesus to return? We’re supposed to be loving one another and loving our neighbors. We’re supposed to be living and sharing the gospel. We’re not supposed to be obsessing over whether Jesus will return in this generation.
So if you’re looking for some good, sound biblical advice, here it is: Get on with life, forget about your charts and timetables. They are worthless, and worse than worthless, because they divert your attention from what really matters. And in case you didn’t know it, they make you obnoxious rather than make you a blessing to those around you.
Where are we now in prophecy?
Right where every Christian has always been, or at least should be — about our Father’s business.