I think we should view prophecy a bit like supporting England in a major football tournament. Each time we believe that this time could actually be it. This time I think we actually have a decent squad and a good manager and our build up has been really exciting and positive. When the first whistle starts we genuinely believe that in four weeks’ time we will be lifting the trophy. Devastatingly quickly it becomes obvious that we were wrong, our star players flounder, the youthful hopefuls get overwhelmed by the occasion and it’s clear we still haven’t practised our penalties and we go out. Once again, this time wasn’t it. Do I feel tricked by all the positivity beforehand? No, not at all. I loved all the build-up and even though in the back of my mind there were major doubts, I allowed myself to be caught up in the seeming impossibility of a victory. But one day I know that my belief in the English football team will be rewarded, one day we will win a tournament and I will not regret those previous disappointments at all. In fact, they will make the final victory in a World Cup final all the sweeter.
Just like the English football team, the last major victory for Biblical prophecy was in the 1960’s with the six day war. But that doesn’t mean we should stop believing that the next big victory is around the corner. Just as all the speculation before a big football tournament may well lead to disappointment, it is still exciting to do it. So we should still speculate about the events that may lead to the return of Christ, even though it may lead to disappointment, because I want to be excited and enthused to live a better Christ-like life since he could be here tomorrow.
I believe that a major aspect of God’s plan is for His children to believe that Jesus could be returning at any moment. I think every generation has believed theirs to be the one that will see the return of Christ. The New Testament language strongly suggests that the first century church expected it imminently and then all the way through to the re-establishment of Israel in 1948, which caused lots of excitement. I’m sure major events like AD70, the Black Death, the Crusades and the Great War would have caused similar feelings of ‘is this it?’. I don’t think this is trickery on God’s part, but a divine way of keeping thousands of years of followers excited for and renewed in their commitment to their Christian lives and duties. I am more likely to love my enemy or stand up for what I believe is right if I think that Christ could return this week. “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29 v18).
Scripture is full of clues to help us look at the news and get us excited that prophecies could be being fulfilled. “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping." (Mark 13 v 35-36) Why else should we care about these things? Because it should help us to live better lives.
It’s also a direct command from Jesus. He says it after telling the disciples about the Signs of the End of the Age. It’s also for our benefit so we are assured that God is in control, unlike everyone else who will be freaking out. It will also keep us focused on important things and not get distracted by the world. And lastly because we can use these things to warn and save others and so we are not held accountable for those who choose not to listen.
The talks I have heard on signs of the times tend to stray too much into trying to pinpoint exact timeframes and, whilst they don’t give ‘the time or the hour’, they insist that this is the last days and so 2016, or whatever year you happen to be in, has to be THE year. I think this has the potential to be dangerous as people may set their heart and their faith on Jesus coming back within a short window and then get disillusioned when it doesn’t happen. I think the stance of cautious optimism is the correct one to view the last days. We can still allow ourselves to be excited without getting carried away. Which sounds very British.
Prophecy is a confusing subject and it is one that can either get hijacked by over dogmatic enthusiasts or it can get completely ignored - both of which are the wrong approach, I believe. We should know the prophecies of Daniel 11, Ezekiel 38 & 39, Zechariah 14 and the book of Revelation, not necessarily to try and pin point exactly who is who, but as preparation for when the end times do come upon us so that we won’t be caught by surprise. We can watch the news with these passages in our minds and get excited by the ‘what if’ scenarios.
Whatever happens on the world stage, we should always be watching and living our lives as if Jesus could come at any time. Regardless of world events and our interpretation of prophecy, for those who die before the date of his return, their next conscious moment will be at his return when they meet him face to face! So it could be sooner than we expect.
1 Thess 5: 1-11.
By Simon P