September 23rd came and went, and the world is still here.
To some that might seem like a rather unremarkable achievement, but there was a small segment of the population which had been given over to understand that the date in question was the date of the end, and the prophesied date for the return of Christ. Certain “Biblical Scholars” had said so, basing, so they claimed, their prediction on earthquakes, an eclipse, and their rigorously mathematical analysis of particular Biblical passages.
One would be better off consulting the back of a cereal box for guidance in matters Biblical.
Interestingly, Jesus Himself warned about such charlatans. The context of the conversation was the destruction of Jerusalem, which Jesus predicted to His followers would occur within the life-span of their generation. Jesus was a true prophet and Jerusalem was destroyed, just as He predicted, about 40 years after He made that prediction, in AD 70. (cf. Matthew 24:1-2, 34)
Within the context of this conversation concerning the destruction of the temple and the end of Mosaical Judaism, Jesus told His followers certain signs they could ignore as being irrelevant to the event in question.
Jesus said, “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.” (Matthew 24:4-8; NKJV)
It is perhaps somewhat ironic that this particular passage sees so much abuse and misuse, especially by charlatans that do just as Jesus warned they would: attempt to deceive the followers of Christ. Jesus said, “take heed that no one deceives you,” and we should heed that warning.
One way in which these words are abused is by taking them out of their context. As the first few verses of the chapter clearly show, Jesus was talking about signs involved with the destruction of the Temple, an event which, again, He concludes will befall that very generation.
But there is an irony as well to the abuse of the passage, because read carefully, what Jesus is saying is that these signs are unimportant. Wars and rumors of wars. Famines, pestilences, earthquakes in various places. These are things that must come to pass, and they are the beginning of sorrows, not because they signify anything important, but because they have no bearing on actual signs the apostles needed to be looking for.
Jesus says of these things, “they must be.” Or, to put it another way: that’s just the way the world is. It has been nearly two thousand years since Jesus uttered those words and there have been earthquakes every year, wars every year, famines every year.
Jesus said once, concerning the poor, that we would have them with us always. (cf. Matthew 26:11). He could have easily said the same thing about wars, earthquakes and floods. Anyone trying to use any such thing as some sort of a spiritual sign is either deceiving or being deceived.
The problem with all these false prophets that keep claiming this date or that date is the one to prepare for is twofold. First, they give people a false sense of complacency. If I knew the exact date to be ready, I could do as I wished until the day before. But God wants us to always be ready. Second, when people get their hopes up, and then those hopes are dashed, they stop taking the whole business seriously. But just because it hasn’t come doesn’t mean there won’t be an end, and we should be ready for that eventuality. If for no other reason, one day we will die, and then this world will have ended for us.
Concerning the end of time, the Bible tells us that it will come as “a thief in the night.” (2 Peter 3:10; cf. Matthew 24:43-44) Which is another way of saying there won’t be any signs or warnings.
One of these days our lives will end. One of these days the world will end. One way or another, we need to be ready for that eventuality.
So, let us resolve to stop seeking after signs and just get on with the business of doing what God wants so that we will be ready each and every day.
If you are not sure exactly what you need to do to be ready, but would like to learn, the church of Christ invites you to study and worship with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any questions, please share them with us through our website: chapelhillchurchofchrist.org.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.