Some of the first books I read as a young believer had to do with the end times. Okay, that’s actually an understatement. I didn’t just read them. I consumed them. And they weren’t just about the end times. Those books made it sound like we were either in the tribulation itself or at the brink of that climactic world crisis that would usher in the end. Those books had red, yellow, or black covers. They usually featured atomic blasts, fire, smoke, dragons, or demons. All of them alleged that we could (and should) read the Bible alongside the newspaper because current events were fulfilling the prophecies of Revelation almost every day.
Some of the more nuanced treatments said things like, “So-and-so could be the Antichrist” or “This or that technology may be used in the Tribulation as the mark of the beast” or “These events in Europe [or the Middle East, or Russia, or China] might be setting the stage for the rise of the Antichrist’s one world government.” In short, these authors, T.V. preachers, pastors, and end-times enthusiasts sought after signs in the news or in the skies that would point to the imminent end of the world. In fact, I was once told not to waste my time at seminary because “There isn’t time.”
I began to grow weary (and distrustful) of this practice of sign-seeking when some of these teachers kept changing their identifications. First the ten-nation confederacy in Revelation 13 was the European Union . . . then it was a Mediterranean alliance that included the Middle East . . . then it was a Middle Eastern and Asian alliance. Or some suggested the Antichrist would be a New Age guru . . . others a European politician . . . others a Muslim dictator from the Middle East. And the mark of the Beast? Social Security numbers? Bar codes? GPS devices? Smart phones?
Besides looking foolish, sign-seekers can also do damage to people’s faith and to the cause of Christ. How so? When these possible “fulfillments” don’t pan out, weak believers, unbelievers, skeptics, critics, and scoffers might conclude one of two things: 1) Christianity and the Bible are utterly untrustworthy, legitimately leading to the question, “What else does the Bible teach that isn’t really true?” Or, more likely, 2) The Bible is hopelessly ambiguous, because if careful interpreters can wrongly read so many different current events into it, then Scripture can apparently be interpreted to say anything people want it to say. In either case, nothing good comes from repeatedly failed sight-seeking. Rather, those who engage in this dangerous sport make authentic, Bible-believing Christians look bad, as they lump us all together and regard us as misguided, brainless zealots.
Since those early days of my end times enthusiasm, I’ve watched countless sign-seekers, date-setters, and victims of this-is-that syndrome come and go. The latest misguided miscreants pointing at red moons in the sky aren’t the first . . . and won’t be the last. But balanced Bible-believing Christians need to be inoculated from this disease with a healthy injection of truth about the end times. We of all people need to correct, rebuke, and reject the end times hacks and quacks pointing at current events to boost their book sales while bamboozling believers.
[Adapted from Exploring Christian Theology, vol. 3, available here.]