Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Living in the End Times

We had a guest speaker at church this week who taught about the end times. I hadn't really thought about the end times in a while, so it got me thinking again. I used to love reading about end times stuff - I even read the entire Left Behind series. Sure, there was stuff in there that I disagree with, but I was interested in what they had to say.

One thing I have noticed about people that study or write about the end times - they all seem to think that no one else cares that much about their favorite topic. I think the sales numbers of the Left Behind stuff would speak otherwise.

Another thing I have noticed about this issue is how certain people act are totally correct on every aspect of the issue. I like what my pastor said about that this weekend: he said he has been reading about this issue for a few years, but still doesn't know that much. I think that is all that any of us can say. But so many people look in to the end times for a couple of years and then go around like they are the top expert on the subject. Not our guest speaker this weekend (she was pretty cool), but it's just something I have noticed around the Church in general.

You see, I know what I believe on controversial issues - like evolution, or predestination, or the rapture. But I know that I could end up being wrong on some of the details. So I try not to be so dogmatic about it. I strongly believe that some people are going to get to heaven and be disappointed to find the truth about what they were so dogmatic about. And find out how wrong they were.

I don't believe in the rapture, but I won't be shocked if it does happen. I believe in a literal 7 day creation, but won't be shocked to get to heaven and find out that the 7 days of creation were actually 7 epochs. I believe in once saved, always saved - but won't be upset if I get to heaven and find out I was wrong.

So, here's my deal about the end times. It's all based on prophecy. We have to be careful with prophecy. I think that Christians tend to get a little arrogant with interpreting apocalyptic prophecy because we got it right with Messianic prophecy. What some people forget is that even the disciples got it wrong until the book of Acts. Until Jesus ascends to heaven, we don't see a single apostle explaining to anyone how Jesus fulfilled Messianic prophecy. Jesus explained it a lot, but no one else really got it. It wasn't until Jesus died, rose again, and then ascended to heaven that the apostles finally had a light bulb go off in their heads. Then they started telling people how Jesus fulfilled the prophecies.

If Jerry Jenkins had lived in, say, 100 B.C., and decided to write a 12 book series that fictionalized the upcoming arrival of the Messiah, it would have ended up being totally different than what the Gospels ended up saying. It would have been about this conquering king that comes in and stomps out the Romans. That was how people interpreted the prophecies in Jesus day. And they were wrong.

They were basing those interpretations on their current mindset. You even see their misconceptions recorded in the Bible. "Nazareth? The Messiah doesn't come from Nazareth! He is to be born in Bethlehem!" is what they all said. In Jesus' time, people didn't move around that much. So, if you were to say "I'm Bob of Nazareth," they would assume you are from Nazareth. They never thought to consider that maybe Jesus was born somewhere else. And due to the slaughter of the infants that happened due to events in Bethlehem around the time of Jesus' birth, I am sure His parents didn't exactly advertise that He was born there.

So, we need to realize that Biblical prophecy will be fulfilled, but the track record shows that it will be fulfilled in a way that is totally off of everyone's radar. If the Bible says 70 years, it will be 70 years. But some of the details may not work out the way we say they will. So, I think some people need to take a less dogmatic approach to the whole thing, or they may miss it.

Another thing I want to speak out about is this whole living in the end times thing. Many people say that we are living in the end times, and that Israel becoming a nation again is a sign of that. I have to slightly disagree with this to a degree. I believe that God is setting the stage for the end times, but we aren't quite there yet.

Here is why: the Bible doesn't say that "Israel shall become a nation, and then the end shall come." Israel does play a part in end times prophecy, so it does have to exist for the end times to happen. So that is why I believe God is setting the stage. Jesus said "this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come" (Matthew 24:14).

The one thing that I am more into than end times stuff is world missions. And the sad fact is that missions are declining. Less people are going, less is being given, and even those agencies that are seeing increases in people going are not sending a large number of people to the unreached. Many people believe, as I do, that God will reverse these trends, bring down the bamboo wall, lift the veil of Islam, etc. But even these people realize that we still have a couple of centuries to go (at best estimates, 150-200 years) before "all nations" (usually understood as 'people groups' by those that know Greek) have heard the Gospel.

I pray that I am wrong. I pray that the great commission will be fulfilled within the next generation. But I can't let the end times be my primary motivation to live rightly here and now. I need to let the present needs of today be my motivation. "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matthew 6:34).

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