I remember just about a year ago getting geared up for a trip to my daughter’s wedding in Tucson, Arizona. Five of us planned on going from Hot Springs, Arkansas. Flying was not an option because ticket prices were too high and I just hate flying. I’m okay with the pat downs and luggage checks, it’s just that flying is a two fisted assault on me, igniting my claustrophobia and motion sickness. We rented a comfortable car and set out on the near 20 hour trek across the Southwestern US towards the heart of the Sonora Desert.
One of the constants on our journey was the ubiquitous road signs. They let us know if we were on the right highway and how far until our next destination. In the big, flat, straight, boring expanse of Texas they also assured us we were not caught in some dimensional wormhole that would keep us perpetually in the midst of oil wells and cattle ranches, that indeed, the New Mexico border was getting closer and closer.
Without the road signs we would have had many doubts on the journey. We were able to coordinate with our map and make sure we were on the right interstate, and even able to identify some landmarks. Road signs became even more important as we passed through larger cities like Dallas and El Paso where the octopus of exits and overpasses offered confusion to the casual traveler. We made it to our destination without getting lost once, and also had a safe return.
I believe the Lord Jesus Christ has provided us road signs concerning his return as well. Have you noticed a lot of talk about them lately? I woke up this morning to a fresh round of them on Facebook. The earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan. The growing crises in the Middle East including Libya, Syria and Yemen. Growing hostility towards Israel. All signs that the end is near and Christ is standing on the threshold waiting to return. At least that’s what people are saying.
Does anybody remember a guy by the name of Hal Lindsey? He wrote a bestseller in 1970 titled, “The Late Great Planet Earth.” Lindsey is a pre-millennial dispensationalist. I know, that’s a mouthful. What does it mean? Basically that a series of dispensations, or events will occur before the end, and that the church will be raptured (or immediately taken) out before a period known as the Tribulation and will return for a 1000 year reign with Christ before the creation of the New Heaven and the New Earth. Go ahead, google it, look it up on wikipedia if you are curious about further details. People of Lindsey’s opinion believe the end can be foretold by watching these events. His book sold millions and was a New York Times bestseller. He was sure he knew when the end would come. He had seen all the signs as foretold in the Bible. He believed it would happen in the 1980s. You guessed it, he was wrong.
The funny thing is Lindsey has revised his book and his calculations. Of course he is not alone. Since the 1st Century people have been trying to figure out when Christ would return. Many preceded good old Hal, and many have succeeded him in seeking to predict the date. Maybe you have heard of Harold Camping who has predicted the rapture of the church will occur May 21 of this very year? He has a complicated mathematical formula that has led him to this precise date. Never mind the fact that previously he had predicted it would happen in the 1990s. He has recalculated now and is sure he has it right.
Can you imagine what it must have been like for that first generation of Christians? Take a moment and pretend you are back in 70 AD as the Roman Army marches into Jerusalem, raising the city and slaughtering thousands of people. When they come to the temple, they totally destroy it, not leaving a single stone unturned. Wait a minute, that sounds familiar doesn’t it?
As Jesus was leaving the Temple grounds, his disciples pointed out to him the various Temple buildings. But he responded, “Do you see all these buildings? I tell you the truth, they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of one another!” (Matthew 24:1-2 NLT)
I’m sure right there on that day many people felt the end had come. But really, it was just beginning. As the old Jerusalem fell down, I’m sure many anticipated the arrival of the Messiah heralding the creation of a New Jerusalem, but again, the end was just beginning.
Over the course of chapter 24 in Matthew, Jesus addresses his disciples’ questions about when he will return to set up his kingdom. It’s easy to see shadows of these events today. We see nation rising against nation. We see widespread famine. We see devastating earthquakes…and this is stuff he mentions in just one verse! Take note of what he says to his disciples in verse 6 though:
“Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately.”
Skip down to verse 8:
“But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.”
In a way Jesus is warning his disciples, “If you think this is bad, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”
The coming calamity that Jesus describes eventually grows to catastrophic levels that have never been witnessed including the sun and moon giving no light and stars falling from the sky. Not only will the earth be shaken, but the heavens will be too.
The funny thing to me is that people are quick to point out all the natural calamities leading up to the end, but Jesus gives other signs. More than any of the natural disasters disturbing me lately it is one of the spiritual disasters that leaving me rattled:
“And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people.” (Matthew 24:11 NLT)
A prophet is one who claims to bear a message from God. Have you noticed the number of people bearing false messages from God lately? You’ll find one on the bestseller list right now, Rob Bell with his book “Love Wins.” His false message is this: God loves everybody so much that he would never send anybody to eternal torment in a flaming pit called Hell. That disturbs me more than earthquakes and famine. Even more disturbing is the number of Christians who are embracing this false message!
Road signs. Yes, they are all over the place. On the trip to Arizona the road signs told us how many miles until we reached our destination. That is one thing the road signs to the end do not tell us. How many more miles? How many more years, or months or days or hours? Jesus answered that question:
“However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.” (Matthew 24:36 NLT)
Not Hal Lindsey. Not Harold Camping. Not your friend on Facebook. Nobody knows. Do not be an alarmist shouting, “The end is here! The end is here!” Do not ignore the signs and live like all is well. Live with a sense of urgency. Look forward to the glorious appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ. Offer comfort and hope in his name to those that are overwhelmed in this crazy world. Don’t try to calculate and decipher exactly when he will return, but be ready right here and right now if he should crack the horizon with the brilliance of his coming glory. Tell other people how they can be ready as well. Share the message of his Gospel, of his love, mercy and grace. Put your faith in Christ, not in somebody who worked up a formula based on their interpretation of Daniel + Ezekiel + Revelation.