This article appears in the July/August edition of the Baptist Bulletin Magazine.
September 23 is quickly approaching! Is anyone in your church panicking about the supposed prophetic event that will take place on that day? You may be surprised to find that there are people in your congregation who are worried, because a great many self-anointed “prophets” have been proclaiming that the end of the world is just a few months away.
Many website and videos are promoting what is being hyped as the biggest prophetic event in 2000 years: the fulfillment of a sign in Revelation 12:1-2. According to some astronomers, on September 23, 2017 the sun will be in the constellation Virgo, (“a woman clothed with the sun.” v. 1). The moon will be at the feet of Virgo, (“with the moon under her feet,” v.1). The nine stars of the zodiac constellation Leo, plus the planets Mercury, Venus, and Mars, will be at the head of Virgo, (“and on her head a crown of 12 stars,” v.1). The planet Jupiter will be in the center of Virgo, and as the weeks pass after September 23, Jupiter will exit Virgo to the east, past her feet, (“being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth.” v.2). Jupiter is the largest of the planets, the “king” so, (she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule the nations with a rod of iron.”
Many so called prophecy experts have concluded that this celestial super sign fits the requirements of Revelation 12 indicating the Rapture of the church will occur on or near September 23, 2017. (See an Answers in Genesis explanation and refutation of the September 23 controversy at bit.ly/AiGSept23). While it’s not surprising that this prediction has thrown Biblically illiterate people into a frenzy, what is shocking is that people from conservative, Bible-believing churches – who should know better – have bought into the hype as well.
For example, several months ago a member of another church called me, saying he was on the verge of quitting his job and selling his house to hunker down and await the fateful event. As I began to research and speak to others about this event specifically, and end times generally, I sensed an alarming amount of fear, anxiety, discouragement, and general unrest regarding the times in which we live, even among Bible-believing Christians. I have also sensed a great uncertainty and fear with pastors approaching this subject. Sadly, the man’s pastor could not answer his question and sent him to me. This exchange highlights how unprepared some shepherds are to teach on the subject, and how serious the consequences can be for the uniformed sheep they are leading.
Why the Lack of Teaching on End Times?
Perhaps no other subject of the Bible has provoked greater fascination or led to more speculation than apocalyptic eschatology. It has profound mysteries, symbolism, predictions, and language that are unparalleled in the rest of Scripture. As a result, many feel it is too confusing, controversial, and generally irrelevant in light of more “important doctrines.” In his best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren openly discouraged readers from studying prophecy. “When the disciples wanted to talk about prophecy, Jesus quickly switched the conversation to evangelism,” Warren wrote, “He said in essence, ‘The details of my return are none of your business. What is your business is the mission I’ve given you. Focus on that!” Adding to this, a growing number of New Age church leaders such as Brian McLaren and Tony Jones are teaching Preterism — that the prophecies and predictions in Matthew 24 and Revelation had already been fulfilled by 70 A.D. So with all these incorrect and contradictory teachings, people are confused, desperate, and hungry for biblical truth.
Why Study and Teach Eschatology?
It is a major theme and emphasis of the Bible.
It is impossible to have a complete view of what Scripture teaches without studying future things. In His infinite wisdom, the Spirit of God has placed great importance on prophecy by devoting more than a quarter of the Bible to this subject. Paul tells his readers in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 “I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren.” Paul was writing to the church to answer its questions about life, death, and the return of Christ. These are fundamental questions that still weigh on hearts and minds today. It is our duty as Christians to have a good understanding of these truths so that we can instruct others.
It exposes false teaching.
The study and teaching of eschatology is significant because it sheds light on false teachers and their heretical beliefs. Peter wrote, “Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying Where is the promise of his coming? for since the father’s fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Pet. 3:3–4).
It prevents confusion and panic
By studying God’s Word, we are able to protect ourselves and others from ignorance in this area. People all over the world are living in bondage and fear regarding their own future, and that of humanity. It seems that things are spinning out of control with war, disaster, and famines, leaving many people in fear and doubt about what the future holds. A study of eschatology is not just an intellectual pursuit by curiosity seekers but one that should lead to a better understanding of the nature of God and His eternal plans. No matter how bad things appear to be, God is working out His sovereign plan
We should not get caught up in sensationalism, dogmatically speculating on every bit of symbolism, and lose sight of the bigger picture. The message of Christ’s soon return needs to be preached with power and boldness to a lost generation. We can rest assured that in the end, God will win! Knowing this basic truth and thinking on it, will replace fear with hope.
In spite of what certain teachers state, instruction in Bible prophecy is not only relevant and necessary, but especially urgent now, given the times we are living in. God uses prophecy to teach us about what the future holds to encourage us and prevent the kind of fear and paralysis that leads to quitting a job, selling a house, and heading for the hills. Believers have no reason to hit the panic button, as Bible prophecy reveals the fact that God is in control of human history; everything that is happening around us is being divinely guided toward its culmination.
It involves Israel
The eschatological future of Israel has become an area of intense debate among Bible-believing Christians. By claiming that the church has replaced the Jews, the preterist & covenant view of eschatology distorts the covenants and promises God gave to His chosen people throughout the Old Testament. This replacement theology has, in many ways, contributed to the rise of anti-Semitism we are seeing throughout the world. We can rest in the knowledge that our God is not through with His chosen people. His promise to Abraham and his descendents was unconditional and not dependent on anyone or anything else. Though Israel is in a state of disobedience, the nation’s future inheritance will be realized in the Kingdom Age. What difference does this make to us? The same God who made these unconditional promises to Israel has made unconditional promises to you and me! Romans 11:29 tell us that “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”
It motivates believers.
Another important role of eschatology is to inspire and energize Christians. The study of prophecy in my personal life has spurred me on to win souls and accomplish tasks of eternal value. The imminent nature of the Rapture is cause for holy living as we anticipate the call of the groom for His bride at any moment. It has a purifying effect on how we live in the here and now (John 9:4).
It promotes worship and evangelism.
Biblical prophecy was written not to satisfy all of our curiosities, but to reveal Jesus Christ! He is the Lion and the Lamb, and Redeemer and righteous Judge.
If studying prophecy hasn’t led to a greater desire to worship God, it is in vain. We need to focus on worshipping the God of Revelation, Whose perfect plan is moving forward with absolute precision. He is still in the business of savings souls and transforming lives; and until He returns our mandate and calling is still the same; “Go and make disciples of all the nations”