As Russia began its invasion into Ukraine last week, there was much speculation on social media about what this war could mean for the world. Some Christians believe that this specific war could eventually lead to catastrophic events, that would ultimately usher in the Antichrist and then finally the end of the world as we know it. Of course, for Christians, that means that Jesus would likely return very soon. Christians have a strong curiosity for eschatology (the study of end times or the last days), and rightfully so. We ought to have a hunger for all of God's Word. We ought to look forward to the day Jesus returns because we know that as believers, we will finally get to meet Him face to face. We know that in this future life, Satan will be crushed. And we will have no more sin, suffering, pain, or tears. We will be with Jesus forever! Yet sometimes it seems as though we have more questions than we have answers in regards to eschatology. Are you a Premillennialist, Postmillennialist, or Amillennialist? Do you believe in the Pre-Tribulation Rapture or Post-Tribulation Rapture? When will Jesus return? And while these questions might not necessarily be completely unreasonable, they might be the wrong questions for us to focus on.
Bad eschatology hurts people
I remember when the U.S. went to war not long after 911. I was a very young Christian. I remember hearing many of my Christian brothers and sisters saying Jesus is coming back soon (potentially within a few years), based on the fact we were going to war in the Middle East. But He didn't come back then. Fast forward to today, and we now hear the same thing being said about this new war between Russia and Ukraine. Is it possible that Jesus will return in a relatively short period of time? Certainly. Jesus will return to the earth in His perfect timing, but we don't know when that will be. If we're not careful with how we discuss our eschatological views, the world around us might not understand what we mean. For example, what do we mean by the word soon in relation to the return of our King (Revelation 22:12). Perhaps we ought to clarify what that means. The word for soon in that specific Biblical context is suddenly, not necessarily a short period of time (though it could be). The point is, we do not need to worry about when He is going to return. We should be excited about that day, but not worried about it. We ought to be more concerned with living out the Great Commandment and the Great Commission than we are with the timing of the Lord's return.
In a relatively recent sermon at Apologia Church in Mesa, Arizona, Pastor Jeff Durbin said, "bad eschatology hurts people". There are many examples that demonstrate Pastor Durbin's point, but let's discuss Harold Camping, since his is a name you will likely recognize. Camping was the President of Family Radio and was well known for his end times predictions. He predicted that the world would end on May 21, 2011. When that day passed, Camping claimed that it was a day of invisible judgement, and then pushed his prediction out to October 21, 2011. His story is one that should remind us to be careful of how we view and discuss the end times, because poor eschatology can hurt people... Harold Camping and his followers sought to get the word out about the end of the world through Family Radio and Project Caravan, which involved renting space on 20,000 billboards worldwide and organizing a caravan of RVs to travel around North America warning people of impending doom. Many of Camping’s followers emptied their saving accounts, said good-bye to loved ones, and joined the effort, believing time was short.
We do not know when Jesus will return
Harold Camping is not the only person in the history of the world to incorrectly predict the timing of the second coming of Christ. John Wesley, Charles Taze Russell, and Jerry Falwell are just a few among a long list of people to make this error. We might think that as long as we don't predict the exact day, we're not doing any harm. But what happens if we predict the week, the month, the year, the decade, or even the century? Is any of that much different? Do any of us actually have the timing of His return narrowed down to a specific period of time? Does the Book of Daniel, Ezekiel 38 and 39, or the Book of Revelation provide dates or a calculation of dates that we can be sure of? If we study those scriptures hard enough, can we crack the code and unlock a mystery that God has intentionally hidden from us (Matthew 24:36)? Do we spend our time trying to figure out when Jesus will return out of obedience to God? What work could we be doing for God's Kingdom instead? What happens to our testimony when we tell people we have narrowed down the timing of His return, but then He doesn't return within that time frame?
The unbelieving world is watching us. If we truly understand God's Word related to eschatology, predicting the timing of Christ's second coming or over-speculating about it, is untruthful. And as God's servants, we must be all about the truth! There are a lot of people who have trusted the word of certain Christian leaders regarding the second coming of Christ, and that trust was broken when those leaders were proven wrong about their projections. While it's not necessarily wrong to have an opinion about when Jesus will return, we must be more careful with our speculation. Opinions must be clearly stated as opinions only, because the fact is that we do not know when Jesus will return. We must be faithful to the good works God has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10). We must be obedient to God's Commandments in our daily lives, regardless of when Jesus returns. "Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Matthew 24:45-46