My senior year in college was crazy. I was in my fifth year of college, my third school and my third official major. Up to that point, I survived on scholarships and savings. With that shallow well dried up, the financial burden fell upon a patchwork of student loans and as many as four concurrent part-time jobs. All the while, my recent transformation as a Christian drew me to devote every other waking moment to reading the Bible and prayer. Without a doubt, it was one of the most hectic passages of my life. My cry of “Maranatha!” wasn’t so much the literal “Our Lord come quickly” as it was a stressed young man’s plea of “God get me out of here!” In retrospect, my unbridled enthusiasm and hapless sincerity led me into more than one error.
During those years, my wife and I became involved in a small evangelical church in Marion, Indiana. The Jesus Movement was still sweeping the country; everywhere I looked I saw vibrant spiritual activity. Church pews were swelling with enthusiastic believers and there was excitement in every meeting. The level of fervor was such that one could only assume Christ’s return was imminent. With the return of the Lord apparently at hand, I could barely make myself focus on my studies. In my mind, I quit college at least six times that year.
In fact, many individuals of that generation laid aside family, friends and careers, knowing that the “urgency of the hour” required sole focus on His return. Some believers gave up having children or shirked their child-raising responsibilities. After all, the entire family would be raptured before their little ones had time to grow up. Still others gave up promising careers or higher education, all with the thought that Jesus’ impending return made virtually every other endeavor pointless. There was an unbalanced preoccupation with prophecies of “end times.”
And then it happened; what began as mere enthusiasm was transformed into a line in the sand. Individuals with thoughts of an education or a career were derided. There was pressure to spend less time with family. When enthusiasm waned, more end time teaching was combined with vague predictions of the Lord’s return to fan the flames of excitement and retain the faithful.
Let me be perfectly clear; I have no problem with studying and preaching scriptural prophecy of the end times. The Bible is full of such discussions: major prophets; minor prophets; the Gospels; the Epistles and the Book of Revelation. No, my problem is with those who push a particular date or a narrow season, (e.g. “Blood Moon” 2015). Think about it; though the Bible is absolutely filled with prophecy, specific dates or easily discernible times are entirely absent.
A History of Predictions
Throughout my early Christian walk, I heard predictions regarding “end times” made for 1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1985, 1988, and 1991. I’ve heard many convincing explanations of the Great Tribulation. Each speaker was utterly convinced of his or her perfect understanding of God’s timetable. Scholarly presentations were made based on the Scriptures, the re-establishment of Israel, the forty-year generation of the Jewish people and other compelling arguments. Not all the predictions were specific dates; often, the times were only strongly implied so that a faulty prediction posed no threat of embarrassment to the “prophet.”
Perhaps the most prominent prediction was made for September 11th through the 13th, 1988. A man named, Edgar C. Whisenant predicted the end with his best-selling book: “88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988”. A preacher in my church suggested we should all sell our houses and lands in preparation for the inevitable. I remember sitting in an elders’ meeting and asking tongue in cheek, “Aren’t we selling the church building?” As it turned out, no one sold anything, (including the man who made the suggestion). On Sunday morning following the predicted date we sat together in obvious contradiction to the prediction. Shortly after that, Mr. Whisenant released another book adjusting the timing for 1989. By this time, I’d lost all patience with such foolishness. I didn’t know whether to yawn or go find the guy and punch him for dragging the name of the Lord through his personal book fair.
It’s a very strange feeling to sit in a church service after such a bold prediction has failed. No one questions the core of the faith; nevertheless, it’s obvious a mistake has occurred. When the “prophecy” and “prophet” are proven false, what do we do? It’s simple; the prophet must either “spin” the outcome in the face of contradiction or confess the error with unconditional humility and agree to be quiet in such matters. Unfortunately, human nature is not very keen on humility.
Presuming God’s Timing
Why are predictions of this type wrong? First of all, failed prophecy discredits the legitimate claims of the Gospel in the eyes of unbelievers. Secondly, it’s not only unscriptural, but it’s also anti-scriptural. I can think of no clearer passage to address the issue than Matthew 24. Jesus explains the events that will precede His return. He qualifies all of His instruction with,
“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” (Matthew 24:36 NASB).
With this statement, Jesus is saying two things. Obviously, at the time of His speaking no one in heaven or earth knew the timing except the Father. The underlying message, however, is more subtle. If it were necessary for those on earth to know the date and time of the plan, the Father certainly would have discussed it with the Son. Period. In fact, I’m quite convinced that if some earthly “prophet” accidentally predicted the correct date, God would reschedule His plans so as not to share the glory.
We would be wise to shout down such foolish predictions and allow God to do as He sees fit. “Be prepared” is the message of the parable of the ten virgins. That’s a great admonition for believers contemplating the return of Christ. The message of the scriptures is clear. Time and time again we’re told to be ready at any moment; don’t get caught unaware. Simple. Clear. Sufficient.
The Apostles’ Teaching
Like us, the apostles anticipated the Lord’s return during or shortly following their lifetimes. Nonetheless, their exhortation was to be ready for the Lord’s return at any time. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans,
“Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” (Romans 13:10-12 NASB).
Peter echoes Paul’s teaching
“But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.” (II Peter 3:8-10 NASB).
Peter goes on to describe the creation of a new heaven and a new earth but emphasizes that the believer’s role is to be ready.
“Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you.” (II Peter 3:14-15 NASB).
Biblical prophecy is an essential part of our Christian walk. However, predictions of dates and times are the basic stock and trade of those who would draw attention to themselves and away from Christ. Should a Christian predict the return of Christ? Yes. Should a Christian predict the day or even the exact season of Christ’s return? No. The Father manages His own calendar. Let God be God; let His people be ready.