Do we realize what an extraordinary time we are living in? The newspaper, the radio, the television — maybe even the talk around the office or school — all these center on one little part of the world: Israel and its neighbors. War! In Afghanistan. In Iraq. And now in Lebanon, and Gaza, and Israel itself! Rockets fly overhead. Bombs rain from the sky. And wherever we live, CNN and NBC and CBS, and a whole “Babel” of reporters bombard us daily with the latest developments.
I am going to resist the temptation (and believe me, it IS a temptation!) to answer the question “What’s next?”
There are two reasons for this: (1) The Tidings is a monthly magazine, and there are other newsletters, and other means yet, for a more immediate, up-to-date analysis of these rapidly-unfolding events. But also… (2) We might want, individually and collectively, to refrain from playing the “political commentator” role for just a bit…
Why? For several reasons:
We are (at least, some of us are) so eager for Christ’s return that we may grasp at straws blowing in the wind as though each one is the next “big thing”, and must point in the right direction.
At the same time we may fail to integrate everything else the Bible says on end-times matters because the latest “big thing” — like a nearby mountain — obscures our vision of other things (perhaps as big or bigger) situated just beyond it.
The Bible reminds us, more than once, that “no one (not even the Son — in his mortal life) knows the day or hour” (Matt. 24:36), and thus it is certainly “not for [us] to know the times and dates the Father has set by his own authority” (Acts 1:7).
Old Testament prophets, who yearned with all their being to understand the future, were often told by God: “In days to come you will understand more clearly” (Jer. 23:20), because “the words are closed up and sealed until the time of the end” (Dan. 12:9).
Jesus warns his disciples, pointedly: “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do NOT expect him” (Luke 12:40; cp. Matt. 24:44).
And finally, Jesus tells his disciples there will come a time when — after being separated from them — he will see them again, and “in that day you will no longer ask me anything” (John 16:22,23).
All this suggests to us that Last Days prophecy is not so much about predicting the future exactly, but much more about discerning broad and general trends. The news out of the Middle East these days is indeed exciting, and stirring. It should invigorate us — every day — to live our lives in a state of awareness, and increasing readiness for our Lord’s return, and to help one another along the way.
But if new developments in the Middle East lead us into a sad and negative cycle of debating, and nitpicking about differences of opinion — as to HOW and WHEN and WHERE this or that or the other prophecy will be fulfilled — then we may well miss the opportunity that God is so graciously giving us in these last days. Instead of fighting, or demonstrating our own intellectual prowess, or simply playing a “guessing game”, we should see exciting events in the Middle East as an opportunity to “shape up”, to put our houses in order, before it is too late!
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus follows up on his Olivet prophecy by talking about the “faithful and wise servant”, as contrasted with the “wicked servant” (Matt. 24:45-51). The faithful, wise servant feeds his fellow servants with nourishing food, and works steadily at simple, productive tasks. But the wicked servant “begins to beat his fellow servants”, as though he doesn’t believe that his master is returning at all.
It would be a singular tragedy if true believers “beat up” one another over as-yet-unfulfilled details of Last Days prophecies, and at the same time neglected to prepare one another — kindly and lovingly but firmly — to be ready, all together, for our Lord’s return.
THAT is the one absolute certainty about Last Days prophecy: that CHRIST WILL RETURN! We may not know (almost certainly we WON’T know!) exactly when he will return. We may not know (almost certainly we WON’T know) exactly what happens first, second, or thirty-fifth on the divine agenda, along the way to that return.
But we DO know that Christ WILL return.
So… tune in to CNN. Open the newspaper and read about war in Israel… Israel! Open a magazine and trace the maps that show troop movements, and attacks and counter-attacks, back and forth through the lands with the wonderfully evocative Bible names. Today’s headlines… and a book, thousands of years old… stand before us side by side — ready to be compared!
Marvel at the miracle of a people raised up from the “dead” of the Holocaust.
Marvel at a nation brought back into existence after almost two thousand years of extinction.
Marvel at the armies preparing to encircle God’s Holy City.
Marvel at the way Jerusalem has, once again, become “a cup of trembling unto all the people round about” (Zech. 12:2), and “an immovable rock for all the nations” (v. 3).
Marvel that, in the midst of a dark storm, with men’s hearts failing them for fear, we have a sure and certain hope.
The great apostle said to the Thessalonian brethren by way of commendation, “Ye turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven” (1 Thes. 1:9,10). Evidently, these new brethren had quite an imperfect knowledge of prophecy, since they were perplexed about the “simple” matter of resurrection in the divine timetable (1 Thes. 4:13). Yet at the same time, they were in perfect possession of the greatest hope of the ecclesia — the return of God’s Son!
Let us by all means study prophecy, and even disagree if we must; but let us not lose sight of our objective. Let us emphasize the sure and certain hope of the true believer, the coming of the Bridegroom.
Let us at the same time encourage those who may be “put off” by the spectacle of brethren disagreeing about details, so much so that they are afraid to look at prophecy or talk about it at all. Let us encourage them by repeating, constantly, the simple truths to which we all agree: Christ is returning soon to save Israel, and to set up God’s glorious eternal kingdom. This simple desire, that even the newest and youngest disciple grasps, is the spirit and essence of Bible prophecy. Prophecy is not really about names and dates and numbers — it’s about our Lord!
Brother Robert Roberts succinctly expressed this thought: “The signs of the times — the events and movements among the nations that indicate the near approach of the Lord… are very interesting and challenge research while we are waiting; but let him appear, and that instant we shall cease all care about the drying up of the Euphrates, the increasing aggrandisement of Russia, and so forth” (My Days and My Ways).
At some point in the near future, all our personal appraisals of current events will become suddenly meaningless. We will stand before Christ awaiting his direction — to the right hand or to the left. If our present study of God’s word — whether prophecy or otherwise — has not prepared us, and helped us to prepare others, for that awesome day, then it will have been time wasted. Prophecy is devalued in its fulfillment, but faith and hope and love abide forever. If our lives have manifested these qualities, then we may have been wrong in some of our political predictions, but it will hardly matter. We may have known only in part, but then by the Father’s grace we shall know even as also we are known.