Summary: In our passage this morning Paul writes to the Thessalonians and says that about times and dates he did not need to write to them, for they knew very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. Time and dates. The real centerpiece
Stop the Madness, Part II
Cascades Fellowship CRC, JX MI
July 13th, 2003
Last week, I mentioned that “End Times Fever” was nothing new to the Christian church. Listen to this list which gives expression to that very point – (read article on list of end times misfires).
Pretty frightening stuff, if you ask me. Possibly the most frightening are the ones that become self-fulfilling prophecies, like the Branch Davidians. Another disturbing trend that comes with an end times obsession is reactionary behavior. As the year 2000 approached, numerous articles began appearing about the preparations some Christians were making in reaction to all the doomsday prophecies that surfaced during that time. Unfortunately, they made compelling reading – the public loves an earnest fool – and were just general enough for all of Christianity to be implicated. Here are some excerpts from such an article – (read article excerpts).
Now, lest you think that we in the Reformed faith – who certainly know better – are immune to such nonsense, listen to this article.
As demonstrated in the three articles I just read, end times fanaticism is a powerful influence in the life of many. Those captivated by its titillation often act in bizarre and nonsensical ways. I heard of people in the year 2000 that emptied their bank accounts of tens of thousands of dollars and hid their cash stash somewhere in the house. And then spent the rest of their savings on large stores of canned goods, gas-powered generators and 55 gallon drums of fuel. Others sold all they had, believing that on January 2 they would have no need for material riches. As I noted last week, such preoccupation with end times prophecies often leads to a scandalous waste of resources and time.
In our passage this morning Paul writes to the Thessalonians and says that about times and dates he did not need to write to them, for they knew very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. Time and dates. The real centerpiece of the end times furor. Trying to nail down times and dates is the passionate core of much research and biblical study on the end times or the field of theological study known as eschatology.
The word eschatology literally means “the study of last things.” In other words, studying the Scriptures to discern or glean how things end up. And Paul, true to the form he demonstrated in the previous passage refuses to speculate on what the Scriptures themselves are silent about – times and dates.
Can I offer you the final and definitive word on this matter? Turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew 24:36. “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Folks, this is Jesus speaking here. Note that there are no qualifiers, no exceptions, no caveats. Jesus says “No one knows….” He doesn’t say that as the time draws near he will give some special visions, insights or words of prophecy to help narrow down the date. He doesn’t say that you will be able to read the current events like a time map and therefore guestimate when he is returning. It is significant that Jesus makes this statement about no one knowing immediately after he talks about the signs leading up to the end times. When he says no one, he means no one. Can we please just accept Jesus at his word and drop the whole discussion on times and dates? Can we please stop watching every political and cultural shift in the nation of Israel and start paying attention to our own culture so that we can discern how best to present the Gospel to the people in our own community. If those who spend so much energy and time on noting so called “signs” and how they fit into the overall end-times scenario spent that time and energy on studying their own community and how the Gospel communicates in their immediate culture we could see a veritable great awakening. All efforts to forecast a time frame, a date, a period, a window of opportunity, whatever you want call it is utter foolishness in the face of Jesus’ own words. That’s what Paul means when he says he doesn’t need to write about dates and times. To do so would engage in idle speculation – a practice that way too often leads to error.
So why does Paul carry on the conversation and why do we have a sermon this morning called “Stop the Madness, Part II?” Because there are two sides to the hope that Paul wants to convey to the Thessalonians. In the previous passage, Paul comforted the Thessalonians concerning those who had died before the return of Christ. In this passage he explains what it means to live in the times before Christ’s return.