The End Times
*This is not meant to be an in depth review of eschatology, just some thoughts as I pray for God to move on college campuses and across the nations.
“So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking Him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere – in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:6-8)
So, when’s it all gonna end? When is Jesus coming back? Are we entering the “end times tribulation?”
There’s been an eschatological fervor lately unlike anything I’ve seen since I was a small child, watching Thief in the Night movies that scared me and all my young friends or listening to hushed conversations among our parents about the book, “88 Reasons why Jesus will come back in 1988.”
I don’t know why, but I remember sitting in the back row of a church gathering, listening to sermons on the rapture thinking, “Man, I hope Jesus doesn’t come back too soon. It sure seems like there are a lot of people in the world who still need to know about Him.” I’ve had about 25 years since that day to do something about this desire to lead people into following Him. Only God knows how faithful I’ve been.
I’m not an expert on the book of Revelation. I’m not a prophet any more than the next average Christian person. God may be speaking things to the prophets about cataclysmic world events happening. But I do think the whole eschatological fervor is in desperate need of some balance, perspective, and refocus. I watched and experienced firsthand a generation of young people (I was born in 1975) receive the seeds of bad eschatology that never matured into lasting spiritual fruit. I want young people today to have their eyes focused more on what God is doing in the world today than on speculations about the end times.
Jesus suggests in Acts 1, there are some things that are “not for you to know. And I’ve got something else I want you focused on, and here it is: You’ll receive power and start witnessing about me everywhere, here and as you go to other nations.” In the verses quoted above, in Acts 1, the disciples are asking Jesus about the future. Were they referring exactly to “the end times”? I don’t know. But they were asking about the future and how all these crazy prophetic events Jesus had spoken about to them over the previous three years of his time with them were going to play out. Jesus’ response is important. If you’ll give me a bit of liberty, here’s how I paraphrase His words to apply today: “Don’t worry about future events like that – God the Father knows those dates. If you get too focused on when, what, and how the Father is going to do things in the end times, you’ll get off focus. Here’s what you need to remember: I’m going to give you power from the Holy Spirit. When I do, it’s going to empower you to focus on what I am doing in the world: making disciples of every nation on earth, teaching them to observe everything I’ve commanded you.”
When Jesus says, “You’ll receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,” he points out that the purpose of that power is to tell people about him all over the planet.
Sometimes today, I get the subtle impression that a lot of young people in charismatic streams (of which I am a part) think the purpose of the Holy Spirit is to give secret knowledge about the end times. “
Throughout history, great men and women of God in great revivals, reformations, and spiritual awakenings have totally missed it when trying to predict the end times. Martin Luther thought the pope was the antichrist and Jesus was going to return in his lifetime.
The great evangelist and leader Charles Spurgeon, in response to end-times predictions wisely remarked one day, “I am not sure I am called to spend my time in such researches. I am rather called to minister the gospel than to open prophecy.”
The world economic system may collapse. It is extremely likely, I would say inevitable, that America as we know it may change significantly. But it is ethnocentric and arrogant to start making end-times predictions because our extremely wealthy nation may be starting to experience the fruit of greed, materialism, and unwise decisions.
Can you imagine living in Germany or Poland or another Eastern European state in 1940, as the Nazi Party was starting to take over Europe and preach a message of global domination? How would you have interpreted “end-times” predictions then? How would we have predicted the “end times” if we lived in Spain at the height of the Inquisition in the Dark Ages, as preaching the gospel outside of Catholic churches was outlawed, and martyrs were persecuted and burned at the stake for standing up for their Christian beliefs? If you were a group of Christian believers in Northern Africa after the 8th century as Islam was rising fast and forcing conversions and martyrdoms, how would you view “end-times?” If you were a family of Christians about to face the lions of the Coliseum in the 2nd Century Rome, how would you have viewed the “end times”?
It’s easy to start viewing the scriptures through the lens of our culture and current events, rather than through the lens of scripture, history, and understanding the perspective of other cultures outside America – the “disneyland of the universe” as John Piper has called it.
I’m not saying things are “la te da” easy and no trouble is ahead. What I am saying is that it’s unwise and shortsighted to focus on end times at the expense of losing sight of our main objective – preach the gospel (to non-Christians) and make disciples of all ethnic groups, here in America and around the planet. Despite what changes may come, we have a kingdom that cannot be shaken, a promise of eternal life ahead of us, and a mission on this planet that is worth living and dying for.