Some months into year 2000, different “prophets” rushed to the media to declare: “Jesus’ return is near, the world is going to end in Y2K!” Bill Gates of Microsoft – the richest man at the time – was fingered as the antichrist. The Internet was linked with the Greek word for “image” of the Beast. Then we had The Omega Code movies distorting the Bible to fit into the political scene.
Prophecy pundits jumped on the band wagon, linking almost every modern technology with end time prophecies. Digital images, satellite transmissions, implanted computer chips and credit cards were labelled as the “tools of the beast.” The Y2K came and passed and the hype waned. What many of those promoting the end-of-the-world doomsday messages didn’t realize was that, due to an old calendar error, we had actually entered Y2K few years before it.
Fast forward eleven years. Harold Camping came on the scene for the second time, to predict Jesus’ return on May 21, 2011. Many Christians believed it and the hysteria was re-ignited. A year later, Obamacare and the microchip issue erupted again in the media. Some Nigerian “Christian” tabloids began to sell altered pictures of Obama wearing horns of a beast, with Christians swallowing both the sense and nonsense on its pages. In 2015, we heard the same old scream: “The blood moon is a sign of Jesus’ coming”.
Why do many Christians keep getting caught up in these wild-eyed, last days prophetic speculations? The reason is: there is a kind of “excitement” that comes with it. There is a heady feeling that an “expert” has when the masses look up to him/her to hear the “latest, end-time mysteries” – which they believe no one else is yet to figure out. From there, he starts to see himself as the only one who has access to God’s secrets and his followers feel the need to isolate themselves from all other Christians in order to renew the zeal and faith which other Christians lack. This is how spiritual deception grows.
History shows us that date-setting and end-time speculations were the foundations of most cults. William Miller and the Adventists predicted the return of Christ in 1843 (later changed to 1844). Charles Russell, the founder of the Jehovah’s Witness predicted the return of Christ to establish His kingdom in 1914.
Herbert Armstrong of the Worldwide Church of God predicted Christ’s return in 1972. Elizabeth Clare Prophet, a New Age leader, predicted the Battle of Armageddon in 1990. Mary Relfe, a self-proclaimed prophet, indicated Jesus’ return before 1990. Lee Jang Rim of South Korean’s Dami Missionary Church also predicted the rapture would take place on October 28, 1992. In 1997, the 39 members of the Heaven’s Gate cult committed mass suicide because their leader (Marshall Applewhite) told them this would qualify them for rapture via a comet.
Cults draw their strengths from end-of-the-world panic. Through it, they gain blind obedience and foster isolation. Even within the Christian church, excessive prophetic speculations about the last days can discourage a genuine study of Bible prophecy. For instance, different personalities have been fingered as the future antichrist at different times – Kaiser, Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Kennedy, Reagan, Prince Charles, Obama and the pope. Yet, as any serious Bible student agrees, the identity of the antichrist cannot be revealed until after the rapture, when the church is removed and its restraining influence is gone (2Thess. 2:7-12).
A Christian’s obsession with the identity of the antichrist or the mark of the beast not only generates panic, but also alters the Christian’s focus, such that rather than spreading the Gospel of Christ and contending for the faith, he gets caught up with tabloid sensationalism, conspiracy theories and “bible codes.” Some folks get so much wrapped up that they hardly read their Bibles outside the book of Daniel and Revelation, and they develop a cult-like disposition to reality.
There was a man who used to teach on a Christian programme several years ago that all those who have a Yahoo account have received the mark of the beast because Yahoo means beast. So they will burn in hell. Little wonder that programme went down the drain after a while. Suggesting or setting dates for Jesus’ return is contrary to Scripture (Matt 24:36). It is this ploy that leads some Christians to stop believing in Bible prophecy altogether.
Everything Jesus listed in Matthew 24- wars, famine and earthquakes – are to be expected throughout the Church Age until He returns. They do not necessarily prove the end has come. When preachers say things like “In 7 years time, it will be over,” they are speculating, and not preaching. No one knows how long we have until Jesus comes. All the speculations people have made up about dates for Jesus’ return are bound to fade into the sands of time like the others.
Dr. Daniel Mitchell aptly stated: “Speculating on the date of Christ’s return not only breeds bad theology, but it is the original sin all over again – trying to know as much as God.”
As Christians, how can we avoid falling into this extremism?
1. Interpret current events in light of the Bible prophecy, not Bible prophecy in light of current events. Randall Price wrote: “This ‘common sense’ principle is a necessary corrective to discourage what has been called ‘newspaper exegesis,’ or interpreting the biblical stories based on stories that appear in the media.” (World of the Bible News and Views, 1999, 1)
There is a difference between general prophecies and specific events. General prophetic themes about the last days are: increase in wickedness (Matt. 24:12); rise of false prophets (Matt. 24:4, 24); the return of Israel to their land (Ezk 20:34); the development of a global economy (Rev. 13:16-17); the formation of a world government (Rev. 17:15-18) and a false sense of peace and security (1Thess. 5:2-3).
Specific events, like the Internet, bank codes, credit cards or microchips are not directly related to Biblical prophecies. Time will tell if these things have anything to do with the fulfilment of future events. It may later turn out that the Bible was referring to something else (as the mark of the beast, for instance). As time goes on and world leaders change, some Bible passages that seem to link with a person or event today will turn out to be different. In the meantime, we need to be careful not to make too many assumptions based on our limited perspectives.
2. Most of the end time prophetic passages – the great tribulation (Matt. 24:22), the rise of the antichrist (2Thess 2:3-8), the signing of a peace treaty (Daniel 9:25-27), the invasion of Israel by Gentile forces (Zech. 14:12-13), and the battle of Armageddon (Rev 16:16) – all revolve around the nation and the people of Israel.
The fulfilment of these prophetic events related to Israel will not take place until after the rapture. Some have used the crises in the Middle East to speculate that the end is a few years away, but this in itself doesn’t prove the end is near because Israel has not yet regained its original biblical borders (David’s kingdom included what today exists as Jordan and Syria) and the rebuilding of the temple has not begun. These key events are yet to happen (2Thess. 2:4). So, we can’t set dates based on current political situations.
3. Check your use of Bible texts. Some Christians just grab a Bible verse, tie it with a current event and run off with it to create a hype, when the text doesn’t provide enough data to warrant such a conclusion. In the book, The Islamic Antichrist, the author, riding on the wings of current Islamic resurgence, attempts to prove that the antichrist will be a Muslim. The problem is that the proof texts he offered have to be astutely wrenched from their cultural and historical contexts to arrive at that conclusion. For example, the description of the antichrist in Daniel 11:36 doesn’t fit that of a Muslim.
A similar error is seen in The Four Horsemen by Alberto Rivera. He claimed the pope is the antichrist and the Jesuit general was his “false prophet.” But these suggestions are incorrect for the fact that there is no final one world religion which will be dominated by the false prophet yet. There are still many questions that remain unanswered at this time. Speculations occur when people attempt to view the future with the eyes of the present.
4. Distinguish between the last days of the church and the last days of Israel. There are some prophecies about the last days of the church: its growth (Mt. 16:18); the gospel being proclaimed to the ends of the earth (Mt. 24:14) and the eventual rapture of the church into heaven (1Thess. 4:16-17). The major end time prophecies apply to Israel. We must consider these distinctions in interpreting Bible prophecies. What applies to the last days of Israel does not apply to the last days of the church.
Only the Bible gives a clear understanding of the future and it’s all there for all to read and learn. You don’t need to pluck down some money to buy “secret mysteries of the Last Days” DVD or Bible code books. Why run around with guesswork and suggestions, when the Lord has given us what we need to know in His Word? We are not to get tossed to and fro with the hypes but “stand firm” and hold to the teachings of Scripture (2Thess. 2:17). We are to watch, stay ready and keep serving until He comes.