Devastating earthquakes. Tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. Political turmoil across the Middle East and northern Africa. A worldwide economic crisis. No wonder many Christians are asking themselves whether we are entering what Jesus called “the end of the age.”
Our church had a history of preoccupation with predicting and watching for the end time, until we came to our senses about 20 years ago. It would be understandable if some of us who have been around that long might begin to lapse back into some of the old ways of thinking, fearing that the “great tribulation” has finally caught up with us. So let’s take stock of the situation calmly, in the light of what the Bible really says.
There are three key factors that we need to keep in mind.
First is that Jesus and Paul said no one, including the church, would know when Christ would return (Matthew 24:36). We are told instead to be always ready, for the express reason that we would not know (v. 44).
Second, the events Jesus described to the disciples in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21 were not about our time, but about their time—“this generation shall not pass until all these things be fulfilled,” he said (Matthew 24:34). And those things, preserved in highly symbolic apocalyptic writing, did take place in their generation when the Romans sacked Jerusalem and leveled the temple.
Third, we must remember that the Bible, including the book of Revelation, is not there for us to use or interpret in just any way we please. Second Timothy 3:15 tells us that the Scriptures are “able to make us wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.” Verse 16 says that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”
According to the Bible’s own witness, that is what it is for. And that is how we should use it. Its purpose is to teach us about Jesus Christ—who his Father is, who he is, and who we are in him—and the implications of that. It is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, not for predicting the end of the age or for condemning people who don’t yet know Christ.
Despite the fact that the Bible tells us what it is and what it should be used for, it is still probably the most misused book in the world. Some seem to think they can find the answer to any question imaginable somewhere within its pages. They regard it as the final authority on matters of diet, what to wear, what entertainment is allowable, what hobbies to have, and so on. And of course, some claim they can use it to calculate exactly when the “end time” will be.
Such predictions are always wrong, of course, but that does not deter determined wannabe prophets. They simply plunge back in, searching the Scriptures carefully until they come up with yet another creative interpretation. Such obsession is born of many things, but among them is a craving to be special, to know secret things that others don’t know. It is also born of fear. We seem to believe that if we can figure out when a calamity will happen, we can be less terrified about it.
The Bible is for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, not for predicting the end of the age.
But why should believers ever get nervous at the idea of Christ returning? They get that way for one reason: they have wrong ideas about God. They have been led to think that God is some kind of outraged Judge who is on the prowl to wreak terrible vengeance on every sinner. In the back of their minds is the angry, hateful God of the so-called “Great Awakening” preached by such influential personalities as Jonathan Edwards.
But God is not like that. He is exactly who the Bible says he is: Father, Son and Holy Spirit—the Father who loves the world so much that he sent the Son into the world not to condemn it, but to save it (John 3:16-17); the Son who became one of us by the Father’s will so that we, being made pure and sinless in him, could share in his eternal relationship of love with the Father; and the Holy Spirit, whom the Father and the Son send to us to lead us into all truth and to transform us into the image of Christ from the inside out.
Earthquakes are not God’s punishment on sinners. The God revealed in Jesus Christ sends his grace to undeserving sinners, not plagues.
Earthquakes are earthquakes. They’re a fact of nature. They are not the result of God unleashing his fury upon unbelievers. They are the result of natural shifts in the earth’s crust. We prepare for them by learning how to avoid being struck or trapped by falling debris and keeping an “earthquake kit” that contains emergency supplies to last for a few days. We don’t prepare for them by manufacturing unbiblical notions about the end of the age and whom God loves and hates.
God loves the whole world, which is why he sent his Son to save it. And Jesus commanded us to love even our enemies, just as he loves his enemies (which we all once were) and gave himself for them (Romans 5:8, 10).
The apostle Paul wrote that we should always be ready for the end of the age, not by feeding our prediction addiction, but by “putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet,” knowing that “God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:8-9).
We have no need to panic. Rather, as the beloved children of the Father, we can bring God’s love to bear on the suffering of others until that great day of his appearing, when at last every eye will see and every knee will bow before Jesus, who loves the whole world and gave himself to save it.
Photo: US Navy
Author: Joseph Tkach