May 21, 2011 came and went yet much to the disappointment of Harold Camping, Jesus did not return to rapture the saints to glory. The world’s media seemed delighted to carry hour by hour updates of that heralded day, often poking fun at Christians and their belief in Jesus’ return. The most compelling question was not, why did Jesus not return that day, or why did Camping predict that particular day, but why do so many professing Christians continue to be duped by delusional, self-appointed prophets such as Harold Camping?
The fundamental problem is that people, despite attending church most if not all of their lives, are biblically illiterate. Jesus Himself stated, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only” (Matthew 24:36). Further, when Jesus’ followers asked Him of His return, He declared, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority” (Acts 1:7). Instead, Jesus commanded His followers to be witnesses to Him, in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and into the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Jesus instructed His followers to focus on being a witness, not on being the only one on earth smart enough to figure out when He was returning.
Despite all that Scripture says about no one knowing the time of Jesus’ return, there are still many who claim that they have figured out the world’s greatest mystery. Somehow, without any scientific evidence, they calculated the exact dates of Noah’s flood. Then they discovered through various biblical prophecies, the exact time from the flood when Jesus will return. Brilliant! This man must be brilliant to have solved a mystery the greatest Bible scholars in history were unable to decipher.
However, Camping was wrong. Again. Deuteronomy 13:1-5 clearly explains God’s view of false prophets in the Old Testament: they were to be put to death! God despises those who lead His people astray. Anything God hates, we ought to be profoundly wary of ourselves. Yet many continue to arise claiming they have unique knowledge. Generally such people are untrained and self-taught as Camping is. Yet they invariably find a gullible audience.
Jesus did speak about the end times. He claimed that as the end of history approached, certain signs would occur in similar ways as birth pains (Matthew 24:8). Birth pains begin at a slow pace and at mild discomfort. But they increase in both frequency and intensity. So, the wars, famines, pestilences, false prophets, earthquakes, and other signs of the end have occurred since Jesus’ time, but as they increase in frequency and intensity, we know the time of His return is near.
Jesus also claimed that if time were not brought to an end by God, no flesh would survive the violence of that time (Matthew 24:22). Certainly in our day of nuclear firepower, as well as chemical and biological weapons, coupled with fanatical terrorists, it is easy to see that a global holocaust is becoming an increasing possibility. Yet Jesus declared that for the sake of the saints, God would intervene before humanity destroyed itself.
Jesus also predicted that the Gospel would be preached to all the nations, “and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). Clearly we are approaching the day when every nation and people group on earth will have had the Gospel made available to them. Surely the end of time is drawing near!
What did Jesus say His return would be like? He declared, “For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:27). In other words, it will be hard to miss! Further, “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:30-31). Clearly this will be a spectacular, unprecedented, unmistakable moment! There will be no ignoring it. When Christ steps into human history and reveals Himself as the risen Christ, every person on earth will see and know that the Gospel message is true.
There are many verses in Scripture that allude to or describe in apocalyptic terms, the end times. Some are surrounded with mystery and one treads lightly in determining its true meaning. Other passages, such as Matthew 24, speak openly about what will happen. That is why I tend to focus on those passages. For one, Jesus spoke these words to an audience who wanted to know what the end times would involve. Secondly, Jesus spoke clearly, describing events that people could understand. It is to such places in Scripture we can turn as a sure guide to what is coming. While nowhere in Scripture is the exact dates of Jesus’ return presented, we can clearly detect signs when that moment is drawing near.
We live in an age that is like that which Jesus said would occur in the end times. We ought to be prepared for that day. We should live each day with purpose and passion, as if it could be our last. I was preaching in a worship service on May 21. I think that would be a great thing to be doing when Jesus does indeed, return! Are you living your life today in such a manner that, if Jesus returned, you would be prepared to meet Him face to face?