A friend from church recently sent me a link about some signs of the times blog posts circulating the internet right now claiming that in September 2015 a confluence of world-shaking events will happen. The posts mentioned the end of the Jewish Shemitah year in September 13 and Isaac Newton’s prediction about the significant events that would happen in September 23. The posts sounded cryptic and scary. How do we think Biblically in the face of these issues?
Quite honestly, I simply ignore these kinds of stuff on the internet because most of what I read so far missed the point of the nature of Biblical revelation. God gave us the Bible for the purpose of revealing his plan of redemption for mankind through Jesus. All the other themes are secondary to this one big theme. While the Bible has types and symbolisms, it is not a book of mystery where we hunt for cryptic codes and hidden messages to interpret isolated world events.
I have in my email folder a long list of the events that are supposed to happen this month. I applaud the people who made that list for their desire to know what God is doing in the larger story of the world but I still could not figure out how anyone could make a connection between September 13 Shemitah, Isaac Newton’s mathematical formula on Daniel 9:25, a research facility in Switzerland trying to discover back holes, Madonna’s concert in Washington, D.C., the lunar phenomenon from AD70, a creepy sampling of Hollywood movies all referencing September 23, a tricky use of Hebrew numerology and calendar, and the Pope’s visit to the United States (the 266th pope to visit the US on the 266th day of the year creepily tied to the 266 gestation period of babies) and tie them all together to a confluence of eschatological events this September 2015. If that doesn’t make your head spin, good for you.
Few weeks ago, I had a conversation with some Christian friends where this topic was brought up. What I witnessed was very curious. As a friend talked about this, there was a chorus of gasps and a sense of foreboding when the list was read out loud. I was sitting there disbelieving what I saw. When the Bible talks about these kinds of topics, you wouldn’t detect an air of defeat and fear in the text but of triumph coupled with an admonition to live a holy life and a deep sense of expectation for the coming of Christ. 2 Peter 3:1-18 gives us a good example of this. In essence, Peter was saying: “Yes, this world will burn (v.10). Now, what kind of life should you be living (v.11)? Yes, the stars will melt but it’s fine because we expect a new heaven and new earth anyway (v.13).”
What I saw that day was the exact opposite. I saw a defeated mindset, an outlook that is not consistent with the gospel of Christ and the general tone of the Scriptures. In this group of Bible believing Christians, no one broke the thickening fear with a reference to the other parts of the Bible. No one ever said: “So what if the these things are happening? Haven’t we been singing ‘He’s got the whole world in his hands’ since we were kids? Why lose that confidence now?”
What actually baffles me is not that these things are happening. Madonna has been having concerts all over the world before. The Pope always travels and have dialogues with heads of states. (Why are we fascinated with Madonna and the Pope anyway?) The Jewish calendar happens every year. September is just one of the twelve months in the calendar. Scientists have always been trying to discover black holes, Atlantis, and have even tried to make invisibility cloaks. Hollywood movies have always been playing to our fears because fear drives ticket sales.
What baffles me is the sense of fear and panic it creates and the subsequent (albeit unintended) idea that the world is off its hinges and the Lord seems to be out of touch or losing control over the affairs of humanity. It is true that the world has fallen on disarray and is getting worse every day. But it has been getting worse since Adam and Eve ate the fruit in the Garden of Eden. The bigger truth, however, is that God is Sovereign. He hasn’t left this world to its own devices. He has not abandoned us. He is in control. Let the moons bleed and the Septembers go into chaos. Our God is not caught off-guard. He holds the hinges that spin our world into motion. Step back and gulp a big dose of the doctrine of God’s Sovereignty. It will make you feel better, I promise.
But you may ask, what if all these things are true?
I have no doubt that some of those who speak of these things are sincere and devout Christians but it is also obvious that a big part of this borders on fearmongering. I have some dear friends who are loving and compassionate in their Christian walk and they use this topic to talk about the gospel. As pastor and church leader, I affirm the preaching of the gospel part. I appeal, however, to many others who are equally fascinated with this topic to frame their conversations using the grid of the gospel. The study of end times is a valid theological discipline that deserves our attention. We don’t shrink back from talking about these things just because they feel spooky. We discuss because the topic is in the Bible but let us do so with a level-headedness that befits someone whose hope is in the hands of God, not someone who is panicking.
When 2 Peter 3 talked about the end times, Peter laced the whole chapter with the Christian gospel. In verse 9, while discussing the end of the world, he inserted a very potent admonition for evangelism like it is the most normal thing in the world. God doesn’t wish that anyone should perish but that all would come to repentance, he wrote. I like this part because it resonates with the rest of the Bible. It means that even at the prospect that the world is ending, the Christian message that we should trumpet about is still the salvation that is found in Jesus alone. In our personal conversations and in our public declarations, the highlight we are called to impart is the gospel of hope, not the impending doom. This is not to dismiss the conversation of end times but a challenge for everyone to give a greater prominence to the gospel whenever we use our platforms to speak and write publicly. Our feeble interpretation of world events may be wrong (all the September 13 Shemitah brouhaha is now over and nothing significant happened): the gospel is never wrong. That’s one good reason why the gospel is the better topic.
There are other very practical reasons why it should be like that. One, if the world is ending and you are going to die, aren’t you supposed to be looking forward to it because you will finally get to see Jesus face to face? Two, if the world is ending and we are all going to ashes, isn’t now the right time to take a hard look at our spiritual lives and get right with God? Three, if the world is ending and you still have loved ones who do not know Jesus, isn’t now the right time to tell them of the gospel?
In other words, whether the world is ending tomorrow or in three hundred years, we will still be doing the same things we are supposed to do: to live a holy life and to tell others about Jesus. In Victory Christian Fellowship parlance, it’s still about honoring God and making disciples.
I love how Pastor Ferdie Cabiling said it when he dropped by Tacloban few days ago. He mentioned that in Acts 1:6-8, the apostles were asking Jesus if he was going to restore the kingdom to Israel after his resurrection. Having been under the oppressive Roman rule, the Jewish people were longing for political deliverance. Jesus’ answer was both a mild rebuke and an instruction. He told them that it was not for them to know the times and the seasons the Father has fixed by his own authority. Instead, they were to go in the power of the Holy Spirit and preach the gospel to all nations.
Pastor Ferdie insightfully made this point: Sometimes we are too concerned with the times and the seasons that only God could know. We try very hard to read the signs of the times. But Jesus actually wanted us to focus on the task of preaching the gospel. Let God worry about the times and seasons; let us just get on with the task given us. Many people get that backwards.