Tageschatology

Does the Bible Predict When the World Will End?

According to the calculations of a writer named David Meade, several prophetic passages from Scripture point to the impending destruction of the earth by a planet called Planet X (or Nibiru). Technically, Meade says that there will be signs from heaven on September 23, but that the “great tribulation” marking the beginning of the end will likely take place on October 15. You can learn more (and see the other conspiracy theories he holds) by checking out his website.

This is just the latest of a long line of predictions about the end of the world. In 2013, John Hagee published a book called Four Blood Moons, proposing that a series of eclipses marked a significant moment in God’s prophetic plan. In 2011, Harold Camping predicted the judgment would take place on May 21 of that year (he made similar predictions about 1994). Those of us who lived through the Y2K scare remember the spate of books that came out from the usual suspects, people like Jack Van Impe and Hal Lindsey (you can get these books at a highly reduced price now.) One thing all of these ministries have in common is that they truly qualify for non-prophet status – all of their predictions were wrong!

But these con-artists know that many people do not regularly study the Bible, especially the prophetic sections. So they simply capitalize on whatever happens to be on the front page of the newspaper and deceive people into buying their products. On that score, they are certainly not non-profit ministries.

So why do these predictions always fail? It is because the methodology behind them is bogus. The claim that the Bible predicts a specific date for the end of the world is misguided for several reason.

First, these predictions are wrong because they misapply passages that have already been fulfilled. Every one of these end-times prognostications draws heavily on a body of material known as the Olivet Discourse, a lengthy teaching Jesus gave on the Mount of Olives. In this teaching (found in Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21), Jesus discusses certain signs (wars, famines, earthquakes, signs in the sun, persecution) to name a few. But Jesus clearly indicated the time frame for these signs:

“Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matthew 24:24; cf. Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32).

The signs that Jesus gave to the disciples were fulfilled in the time of Jesus’ own generation, his contemporaries. And this is precisely what history shows us. The Roman legions besieged and destroyed the city of Jerusalem in AD 70, just shy of forty years from the time of the death of Jesus. And if you read the opening of the Olivet Discourse, you will see that it was a question by the disciples about the fate of Jerusalem and its magnificent temple that sparked Jesus’ message (see Matthew 24:1-2; Mark 13:1-2; Luke 21:5-9).

This is even the case regarding the “signs in the heavens” that David Meade is fixated on. The language in the Olivet Discourse about the sun being darkened or the stars falling from heaven (Matthew 24:29; Mark 13:24; Luke 21:25) is not a literal description of eclipses or planetary collisions. It is the stock imagery of the Old Testament used to describe earth-shattering historical events involving national/political powers. Seven centuries before Christ, the prophet Isaiah announced this regarding Babylon:

Behold, the day of the Lord comes,
    cruel, with wrath and fierce anger,
to make the land a desolation
    and to destroy its sinners from it.
For the stars of the heavens and their constellations
    will not give their light;
the sun will be dark at its rising,
    and the moon will not shed its light.
I will punish the world for its evil,
    and the wicked for their iniquity;
I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant,
    and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless. (Isaiah 13:9-11)

Isaiah clearly has one nation in mind – Babylon (see Isaiah 13:1). But he describes its downfall in terms reminiscent of what chicken little said: “the sky is falling!” But in neither Isaiah nor the gospels is this language intended to be taken literally. And in both instances, this language describes events that have long since been fulfilled.

Second, these predictions are wrong because they ignore what the Bible says about the unknown timing of the end of the world. The only point in the Olivet Discourse that Jesus discusses the end of the world, he says this:

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. (Matthew 24:35-36; cf. Mark 13:31-32). 

Because the end could occur at any time, Scripture often uses the imagery of the coming of a thief to depict it:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. (2 Peter 3:10; cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2)

The Bible simply does not give us a specific date for the end of the world. That it will happen is certain; when it will happen is not.

Third, these predictions are wrong because they distort the Bible into a source of speculation rather than edification. When Scripture discusses the end, it does so to remind us of the importance of constancy in our commitment to Christ. Notice what Peter goes on to say:

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God (2 Peter 3:11-12a).

The Bible was not intended to be a playground for juvenile speculation. It is intended to build us up in the faith. It does not require mathematical calculations or complex code-breaking skill.  When the Bible discusses the end of the world, the second coming of Christ, and the judgment to come, it does so in language that can be clearly understood and with a very practical purpose – to admonish us to live every moment for Christ.

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:11-14)

Don’t be fooled by those who twist the Scriptures into some kind of end-times fortune cookie. Instead, focus on living every moment for Christ. And if we are living for Christ, then whenever he comes, “whether we are awake or asleep,” we will “live with him” (1 Thessalonians 5:10).

[If you would like to hear a sermon I recently preached about this issue, please click here]

The Millennial Mistake

The Angel Binding Satan, by Philip James de Loutherbourg 1797

In Revelation 20:1-6 John describes a period in which saints live and reign with Christ for a thousand years, the millennium. Given the wide popularity of the theological system known as premillennialism, you would think that the millennium was mentioned time and again in Scripture. Actually, these six verses in Revelation are the only verses in the Bible that speak explicitly of a thousand year period.

However, proponents of premillennialism (the notion that Jesus will return to earth before – pre – the millennium and reign a thousand years on earth) argue that many other passages in Scripture do speak of the millennium. My purpose in this post is to show that the passages often used in support of premillennialism are misapplied. Continue reading