Summary: Sunday of the Fulfillment: What is the healthy attitude toward ’end-times’ Bible prophecy. This message looks at two common errors and what The Lord teaches about the end-time.
This is the last Sunday in the church year. Today, throughout the whole Christian Church on earth, believers are contemplating the return of Jesus Christ. Today, the Church looks toward the future – to the consummation of the age. On this Sunday, the Christian Church talks about preparation – about being ready for the return of Jesus.
God’s Word talks much about being ready for the return of Christ. Jesus took the time to prepare his followers. The Lord provided them with details about what conditions would be like when He returned. He talked to them about the signs of the end of the age. And Jesus warned them about the challenges that believers would face as the end of the age approached.
There are few topics for which there exists as much confusing and contradicting information as end-times matters. The popular "Left Behind" book series engages in a great deal of speculation concerning this topic. What will happen, these type of writings suggest, to airplanes piloted by believers who are ‘raptured’ out of the cockpit. Or what will happen on the expressways to cars that suddenly find themselves without drivers because the Lord has raptured them out of the earth?
And perhaps one of the scariest thoughts that can come to us as believers is, “When Christ returns, will he find me faithful?” For example, if Christ returns just at the split second when I am having a knock-down, drag-out, knuckle-busting argument with my husband or wife, will Jesus still take me with him or will he judge me as an unbeliever? There is and has been rampant speculation about these sorts of things for centuries.
Today we will examine a couple of the common errors regarding end-times matters. This is, however, such a broad topic that we will be painting with broad brush strokes. We will use as our basis the text from our Gospel reading. Let’s read it together. [Read Mark 13.32-37 here]
The first big error we need to talk about is that desire to set a date for Christ’s return. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus warned his followers, “No one knows when that day or hour will come. Even the angels in heaven and the Son don’t know. Only the Father knows.” The Scriptures are abundantly clear that only God knows when that is to be. Not even Jesus, in his humanity, claimed to have that knowledge. And yet many have attempted to set a date and to lead others into believing and accepting their view.
Let me tell you about one such person. During the first half of the 19th century, William Miller became intrigued with end-times prophecy. After 14 years of studying the Bible, He was quite certain that Christ would return in 1843. Because of his enthusiasm and self-assuredness, Miller had a large following of people. And so 50,000 - 100,000 of them also became convinced that Christ would return in 1843.
When Miller announced that the day would be April 3, some of his followers went to mountaintops, hoping for a head start to heaven. Others were in graveyards, planning to ascend in reunion with their departed loved ones. In Philadelphia, society ladies clustered together outside town to avoid entering God’s kingdom with the common folk. But when April 4 dawned as usual, the Millerites were disillusioned. But soon they took heart, because their leader had predicted a range of dates for Christ’s return. But when the second date came and passed, again the devout were disappointed. (Today in the Word, MBI, December 20, 1991. Adapted from an illustration found on ChristianGlobe.com)
Now listen, it is correct Biblical Doctrine to say that Christ will return. It is correct to say that Christ will raise people from the grave. It is correct to say that all believers will be reunited with Jesus as He takes us up to meet with Him in the air. But these solid Biblical Doctrines are compromised as we cleave them to an unbiblical – date setting theology. It causes doubts in the minds of believers about the whole of Biblical truth when bad doctrine is mingled with truth.
And this isn’t just a 19th century phenomena. In The "Late, Great Planet Earth," a very popular book that was first published in 1970, a modern day date-setter predicted that Jesus would return by 1988. And so the story continues today of people that claim to have a special revelation about when the end of the world will come.
But did Jesus encourage date-setting? The clear answer is absolutely not! Jesus encouraged readiness. In today’s reading Jesus tells a story of the owner of a house going on a trip and leaving the servants in charge. Jesus says that the servants need to be ready for the return of Christ because we do not know the day or hour when He will come back. And so the Lord encouraged being watchful. He encouraged us to tend to our faith so that we could look forward to Jesus’ coming with joy and anticipation rather than with dread. The last sentence of our reading says, “I’m telling everyone what I’m telling you: ‘Be alert!’ ”