(This is the 21st installment of a series of blog entries. Be sure to start with Part 1.)
I have been getting newsletters from religious groups about “End Time Prophecy” since 1965, when I was just 18 years old, a freshman in college. In the old days they came in the US mail. Nowadays they come to my email inbox. Because of my extensive research regarding religious groups connected to my Field Guide to the Wild World of Religion website, I also regularly read even more commentary on how the “latest news” is allegedly related to Bible prophecy, on a wide variety of ministry websites.
It shouldn’t be amazing to me, but often is, how little the messages in such newsletters have varied over the past almost half-century. Most such ministries pride themselves on “watching world news” and supposedly correlating it with specific prophetic Bible passages. And in every decade, whatever was going on was declared to be proof positive that we are “in the Last Days” and that the Great Tribulation was almost upon us. A frequent suggestion for almost fifty years has been that it would start “in the next 3 to 5 years.” (Or sometimes “5 to 7.”) Some have been bold enough to set a date, even perhaps one within just the next year from the date of the newsletter. A few such foolishly bold men still continue to bombastically set such dates—currently 2013 has the gullible followers of several prophet wannabees all in a panic.
But as more of those bold predictions have miserably failed over the years, most prophecy prognosticators and prophecy-focused groups have become much more inclined to hedge their bets. They seem to realize that proposing a date of ten years or more away will not lead to the kind of panicky paranoia that will gather supporters—and donors. But much closer than three years doesn’t give them the “wiggle room” they need … to not look like false prophets.
Just the other day I got another such newsletter in my inbox. One of the main articles talked about “world chaos” and asked if it indicated we are “approaching the End.” The implication was that we were indeed making such an approach. The writer noted that “never in our history have we felt so uneasy” and so “fearful and concerned about world conditions.”
I do not doubt the sincerity of the author. But I have to totally disagree with the sentiment. “Never in our history”?? I’m sorry, but this is absolutely silly. Yes, no doubt many Americans are worried about the economy of the US, and the possibility of a war in Iran. But to think this “unease” is somehow greater than that felt by almost the whole US in late 1962 is ridiculous.
This 1962 newspaper map from the Cuban Missile Crisis shows the distances from Cuba of various cities on the North American Continent.
Onlookers gather on George Smathers Beach in Key West, Florida to see the Army’s Hawk anti-aircraft missiles positioned there during Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962. (Read more at world.time.com )
Miami was less than 250 miles from Cuba. Key West MUCH closer than that!
I can still remember being a 15 year old that year, sitting transfixed in front of our little black and white TV and listening to President Kennedy intone these words in a message to the whole American nation in his “Cuban Missile Crisis” address:
Kennedy intoned …
It shall be the policy of this Nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.
I call upon Chairman Khrushchev to halt and eliminate this clandestine, reckless and provocative threat to world peace and to stable relations between our two nations. I call upon him further to abandon this course of world domination, and to join in an historic effort to end the perilous arms race and to transform the history of man. He has an opportunity now to move the world back from the abyss of destruction—by returning to his government’s own words that it had no need to station missiles outside its own territory, and withdrawing these weapons from Cuba—by refraining from any action which will widen or deepen the present crisis–and then by participating in a search for peaceful and permanent solutions. (President John Kennedy, Television Address to the Nation regarding the “Cuban Missile Crisis,” Monday, October 22, 1962)
“Never have we felt so uneasy”? How do you get more uneasy than when the president of the US … a secular leader … insists that not just the US but the whole world is at the edge of the “Abyss of Destruction”? That is utterly apocalyptic language. And it was backed by a grim reality—and missiles on the sunny beach in Florida!—not just vague possibilities. Between the US and the Russians, the military leaders of the world indeed had Mutually Assured Destruction at their fingertips and seemed poised to unleash it on the world.
Going back even farther than that … “Never have we felt so uneasy”? Never more fearful and concerned about world conditions? I cannot fathom that my family members were not much more fearful about world conditions during the Great Depression.
Nor can I believe that my family members were less anxious during World War 2 than anyone is now about the various possible scenarios of future military conflict.
Yet for the past almost 50 years, religious commentators have endlessly taken whatever the current crisis was … the Viet Nam war, American race riots in the ‘60s, the rise of Chinese power in the world … and insisted that it was cause for “more anxiety than ever in our history.” And reason to believe that the Return of Christ was imminent.
Yes, there are indeed many things that can go wrong in the coming years … and likely will. Maybe we will face conditions in the US as difficult as those of the Dust Bowl years and the depths of the Depression. Maybe we will be embroiled in military actions as horrifying as those faced by our military in Europe and the South Pacific in WW2. But when I look in the faces of the people shopping in the local Walmart right now, I do not see terror or uncontrolled anxiety. I don’t see them particularly fearful as they cart out to their car the box with the big screen hi-def TV, and fill their carts with goodies for the next tail-gate party.
Are they just ignorant and don’t know they should be daily living their lives filled with anxiety and fear about the possibilities of future calamities? Perhaps. But I am fully aware of all of those possibilities, and I’m not filled with anxiety and fear. I am continuing to live as productive a life as I can, and appreciating the blessings of each day. Would I be better off if I were spending more of my time reading anxious, panicky, speculative prophecy newsletters?
I am convinced the answer to that is NO.
But won’t I miss getting biblical advice on how I can “escape” the bad times coming? Don’t I need the wisdom of prophetic speculators on how to “prepare for the doom-filled future”?
I am convinced that the answer to those questions is NO also.
Typical “preparation” advice from such folks includes one, some, or all of these concepts:
- Be continually “watching world events”—preferably through the filter of the writings and recordings of the prognosticator
- Continually take in speculation from conservative commentators on what’s going on “behind the scenes” in government and the world of finance
- Study the prophetic passages of the Bible with the guidance of the prognosticator’s recordings and writings so you can pinpoint the Time as closely as possible
- If you don’t believe in the Pre-Tribulation Rapture, purchase survival supplies … sometimes, from the over-priced offerings of the prognosticators themselves
- For the more militant … purchase guns and ammo to hold off the hordes until Jesus gets here
- For the less militant, just “pray, study, and fast” to “get close to God.”
Now mind you, I don’t have anything against some of those suggestions as being generally applicable to one’s life. For instance, I’m not ignorant about national and world news. But after almost 50 years of having people tell me that every hiccup in news headlines is “fulfilling Bible prophecy,” I’ve become very skeptical that the purpose of staying up with the news has a whole lot more value than just being “culturally aware” so that I can intelligently discuss things with others.
As for those ranting commentators who insist that I need to know the latest hidden activities of the Global Elite or whoever … it isn’t clear to me why I need to spend much time with this. If there really is a shadowy Global Elite running things, I can’t vote them out of office—since they weren’t voted into office. I don’t have super-powers, so I can’t infiltrate their secret meetings in Belgium or wherever and thwart their plans. I don’t have enough money to hire hit-men to assassinate all of them to keep them from carrying out their plans. So it seems to me like my best bet is to just … get on with my life.
As for deeply studying prophecy so I can figure out the ETA of Jesus (estimated time of arrival), what for? Folks have been doing this since shortly after Jesus left, and none of them have succeeded in the math yet after almost 2000 years. They’ve just succeeded in wasting years or decades or more of their lives that could have been spent more productively in actively serving Jesus.
As for survival supplies—I’m all for everyone having some. Not to ride out the Tribulation, but to ride out the after-effects of natural disasters such as floods, blizzards, hurricanes, and tornados. We live in an area prone to tornadoes and severe thunderstorms, which can leave us without power several times a year for shorter or longer periods. We have a generator for small purposes such as a little cooking by microwave—and charging up cellphones and computers. We have enough food to last a couple of weeks, and supplies to purify water. I have a friend in Kentucky whose family rode out the extended aftermath of the horrible mid-west ice-storm a while back much more effectively than did their neighbors because they had made survival preparations. In fact, their home became a refuge for many of those neighbors for many days, as their house had heat and food when others didn’t.
But laying in enough supplies to survive what most think “The Great Tribulation” will be like? If you really had seven years’ supply of food, and conditions became as awful as many expect them to, you wouldn’t have it for long…the starving hordes would take it from you. Which of course leads to the idea of being prepared to fight off the starving hordes with an unlimited supply of ammo. I don’t see that as the biblical option, but that’s just me. I prefer sensibly preparing for limited problems such as tornadoes, and then trusting God that He will take care of the rest.
As for praying, studying, and fasting—sure. Christians ought to be doing those things all the time, rain or shine, good times and bad. But I’m not quite clear how doubling up on that is the answer to “preparing” for the unknown future.
And besides … my view of what that “unknown future” may be is far from what almost all the prophetic prognosticators are speculating. Which is what makes this blog different from most others focused on the topic of prophecy.
In this series I have asked “Are you prepared for… the Unthinkable?”
What do most American prophecy prognosticators think is virtually assured, is “thinkable,” for the near future? The same thing their compatriots have thought for decades now… that the US used to be smiled upon by God, blessed with prosperity—look at the abundance of the 1950s!—throughout its history. But now there are factors that are just utterly intolerable to God…immorality, abortion, and more. So they have concluded He just absolutely will bring about the utter destruction of the country in the very near future. And since they cannot envision a world without the US being Number One—as it was during most of their own life— the world itself cannot go on much longer. We must be on the brink of the Great Tribulation, and Jesus will return when that is finished.
And, they would suggest, their listeners/readers should DO SOMETHING about this. They should make drastic changes in their lives that they wouldn’t make if the End wasn’t so near.
What would I do in my personal life if I truly believed that was exactly what was going to happen? I would do EXACTLY what I am doing now. Because—absolutely none of us know when our own End is coming. It could be next year. It could be tomorrow. It could be later today. If you are under the illusion that you have the option to “change your ways” … whatever you think that means… once you’ve pinned down an ETA for Jesus, you are fooling yourself. And if you think you’d have the added “oomph” to make those changes if only you could feel the urgency of having a Sure Date for the event, you are also fooling yourself.
The sad fruit of this attitude has wrought havoc in lives ever since the time of Jesus. Every time a false prophet has set a date for The Return and gathered excited disciples to help spread the word, many of those folks have indeed been energized and inspired to “get right with God” in some way they felt they had neglected. That sounds like a wonderful benefit of believing in a Date with all your heart.
But the record of what happened when their Date of choice has passed has shown that almost all the benefits of this delusion every time have been eventually destroyed by the disillusionment of most of those believers. And, sadly, they are seldom just disillusioned with the false prophet. They have often bought a whole “package” of beliefs from the prophet, which may include much biblical truth. But when one part of the package proves to have been a house of cards that comes crashing down, they often toss aside the rest of the package, truth and all, into the trash. And they become not just disillusioned with a man, but with God himself.
What did Jesus answer, just before His ascension, when His disciples asked Him if He was going to set up His Kingdom right away? What did He tell them He expected them to do?
Acts 1:6 So when they had come together, they asked Him, “Lord, are You restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?”
7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by His own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
In other words, He did NOT tell them to waste time trying to figure out “what happens next,” but to get busy doing the work of the ministry. The same thing He told them recorded in Matthew 28: Go and make disciples of all nations.
When Jesus comes back, what will He say He was expecting His servants to be doing? He tells us this in Matthew 25:
31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right,
‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
35 For I was hungry
and you gave Me something to eat;
I was thirsty
and you gave Me something to drink;
I was a stranger and you took Me in;
36 I was naked and you clothed Me;
I was sick and you took care of Me;
I was in prison and you visited Me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or without clothes and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and visit You?’
40 “And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’ 41 Then He will also say to those on the left,
‘Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels!
IF Jesus really is coming back almost immediately, and you want to be ready to have Him say “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” what should you have been doing? Preaching the gospel, making disciples—and ministering to the needs of the poor and afflicted. This isn’t rocket science! He doesn’t ask the sheep “Did you understand the Daniel 9 prophecy passage?” Or complain that the goats didn’t have the proper Key To Understanding the Book of Revelation.
So whether Jesus comes back in five years, ten years, 100 years, or more—you can always be ready if you are doing those things!
But that’s not the complete answer to my original question, Are You Prepared for … the Unthinkable? First of all, what do I mean by “the Unthinkable”? It is my conviction that the ONE possible scenario for what will happen of prophetic significance in the near future that is utterly unthinkable to most prophecy prognosticators is … NOTHING. What if NOTHING of any big prophetic significance comes to pass in the rest of your lifetime?
What if the Tribulation doesn’t come, Jesus doesn’t come, the “identity of the Antichrist” isn’t revealed, the identity of the “King of the South” isn’t revealed… what if this old world just keeps on turning? What if the US economy tanks badly and we suffer a time similar to the Great Depression…but history keeps happening. What if there are numerous wars—and ends to wars—but The Apocalyptic Final Battles don’t materialize? What if the power structure of the world undergoes more juggling… just like it did when Rome took over from Greece, when Great Britain lost its status as Biggest and Baddest Empire, when Hitler failed in his plans? What if indeed the US becomes more of a “second class nation,” falling from its super-power status, but doesn’t collapse completely?
That’s my ultimate question in this series of blog entries. Are YOU prepared, and have you prepared your family, to be the Christian light and salt in such a New World Order? Are YOU prepared, and have you prepared your family, to be able to minister to the needs of others who are bewildered when their own expectations … perhaps of the Rapture, or of the Kingdom … don’t pan out as they expected? Will you be walking in the Spirit in a way that will give you wisdom and insight in how to answer their questions?
Rather than hunkering down in a bunker to ride out bad times, I’m convinced that Christians are called to be out on the front lines, being the spiritual MASH units, the “hands and feet” of Jesus, touching the hurting with His love.
If you’d like some suggestions on just how you might begin making preparations for this unthinkable possibility, then check out the final entries in this series, starting with Part 22; Outer Chaos, Inner Peace.