“As I read the news, I can’t help but wonder if we are in the last hours before our Lord Jesus Christ returns to rescue His church and God pours out His wrath on the world for the rejection of His Son,” said Rev. [Franklin] Graham in a post on the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) website (September 4, 2014, CBS News). Mr. Graham went on to say, “I don’t know if we have hours, days, months, or years—but as Christians, God calls us to take the truth of the Gospel to the ends of the earth.”
For more than forty years I have warned the church against reading the newspapers and looking at current events in order to derive one’s eschatology. There are several reasons why it is unwise to wonder, believe, predict, or teach prophetically that the world is in “the last hours before our Lord Jesus Christ returns.”
First, idle wonderings, leading to prophetic speculation, is a manifestation of wickedness and spiritual adultery. Jesus said that “A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And he left them, and departed” (Matt. 16:4). This generation—and Americans in particular—must be among the most wicked and most adulterous generation that has ever lived, for seeking for the signs of the time for the Lord’s second coming is a national passion. Countless prophetic pundits flood the airwaves twenty four hours a day, seven days a week with their doomsday scenarios—and they are all consistently wrong.
Second, prophetic speculation shows an abysmal disregard of human history. President Obama was not wrong when he said that the world has always been messy. While the President is right in that observation, it is also true that in the midst of “messiness” some great civilizations have perished because the leaders partied rather than attended to urgent national concerns. The Biblical story of the fall of the great city of Babylon, recorded in Daniel 5, offers one example of a national calamity occurring while the leaders of government were busy with self-centered and self-serving activities—equivalent to the modern practice of playing golf, or raising money, and banqueting while the world falls apart around them.
Third, prophetic speculation instills unnecessary fear into the hearts of people. God has not given His people a spirit of fear, but power, love, and a sound mind. “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7). One of the signs of a false prophet was that he instilled fear in the hearts of people by predicting events that did not come to pass but that raised alarm. “When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him” (Deut. 18:22).
Fourth, most prophetic wondering and speculation is based on unbiblical expectations and theories. The Bible teaches that all of humanity has been living in the “last days” since the days of the apostles. “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time” (1 John 2:18).
The idea of Christ coming to rescue his church prior to a final pouring out of His wrath on the world is code language for a theological construct known as Dispensationalism. Those who embrace Dispensational teaching believe that the church will be Raptured prior to a period of great suffering on earth. Dispensationalism is a complex teaching that has developed in detail since the 1830’s, but it is not a historical teaching of the church, nor are the main propositions of Dispensationalism rooted in sound Biblical theology. The “System” keeps changing. Today there is something known as “Progressive Dispensationalism.” Truth does not change. The hope of the Rapture does nothing to prepare the church for the experience of tribulation which Jesus, and the apostles, warned about.
Jesus said that His followers would know tribulation. “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The apostle Paul said that he confirmed the church by reminding them of tribulation. “Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
No one has a right to put fear into the hearts of God’s people with idle speculation about the time of the return of Jesus Christ. No one has a right to place the Lord’s return within a definite framework, as foolish people have consistently done throughout the ages. William Miller was convinced that the Lord’s return was imminent based on current events in October, 1844, and he misled multitudes. No one, especially a prominent religious leader, has a right to publically offer false hope of escaping tribulation to Christians, even in coded language. Whatever private concerns a person might have about Armageddon, whatever “hoof beats” of the four riders of the Apocalypse a person might believe they are hearing, let that person take their fears and apprehensions to the Lord in prayer, and then open the Scriptures to receive comfort.
Isaiah 43:2, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.”
2 Corinthians 1:3–5, “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.”
The world has known worldwide calamities before. There is the story of World War I. There is the story of World War II to remember. The conflict between Russia and the Ukraine, the rise of militant Islam, the civil wars in Syria, Iran, Libya, and Egypt should easily remind Christians to remember the words of our Lord in Matthew 24:6.
Matthew 24:6–8, “And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.”
No matter what human history proves to be, Jesus is still the Lord of history, and all shall be well.
“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
It is well with my soul,
it is well, it is well with my soul.”