During my lifetime there have been about 100 false predictions regarding the Lord’s return, and every one of them was made by someone who sincerely believed they were living in last of the last days. The end times, in other words (although the phrase “end times” is found nowhere in scripture). Every time Halley’s Comet comes around, or the planets align, or there’s a solar flare, or the stock market tanks, or Russia flexes its muscles, or Israel sneezes, these prognosticators come out of the woodwork to make their false and unsettling predictions.
You may say, “I would never fall for such predictions.”
Yet many do. When I was in college a book came out that was entitled 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will be in 1988. Jesus would return in September of that year, said the book’s author. He didn’t yet the book is still available on Amazon, and I believe there was a sequel.
The market for bad predictions knows no bounds.
Where do these bad dates come from? They come from four sources. First, there are the visions or revelations that inspired such people as William Miller (who said the world would end in 1844), John Hinkle (1994), and Nostradamus (1999).
Then there is the Newsweek eschatology of current events. Something big happens involving Israel, Russia, or the UN, and it triggers a fresh wave of rapture hysteria. The stock market falls or a new pope is elected and suddenly it’s time to go. In 1997 it was Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat signing their peace accord on the White House lawn. In 2008 it was the Global Financial Crisis, and in 2016 it was Brexit. According to those with their fingers on the pulse of current events, the world was going to end or experience a great shaking in 1982 (Pat Robertson), 1987 (Hal Lindsey), and 2007 (both Pat Robertson and Hal Lindsey again), and 2015 (Jonathan Cahn).
The third source of end-times fodder is natural phenomena such as meteorite showers, passing comets, and solar flares. An earthquake strikes or a harvest fails and you can just about guarantee that some prophet will declare, “These are the birth pangs of Matthew 24:7. Jesus is coming!” A series of lunar eclipses was interpreted by John Hagee as pointing to a world-shaking event that would occur in 2015.
Finally, you have the prophetic and mystical significance of numbers. Hence some have predicted the Lord would return in 1996 (the 2,000th anniversary of his birth), 1998 (it’s three times 666), 2000 (Y2K and the millennium), 2017 (it’s 50 Jubilee years since Israel retook Jerusalem), or 2018 (Israel’s 70th birthday). It doesn’t even have to be numbers from the western calendar – the Jewish calendar also works (watch out in 2017!), as do Mayan calendars for some reason (beware 2012!). According to numerologists, the world will implode or the Lord will return in 1994 (according to Harold Camping), 1995 (Camping again), 1998 (Marilyn Agee), 2006 (Michael Drosnin), or 2011 (Camping having one more swing at it).
We need to stop getting worked up over useless dates. Every time we share some end-times prediction that involves a date, we open the door to mockery. We’re saying we know more than the Lord himself.
Ever wonder why the New Testament makes no predictions about the date of the Lord’s return? It’s because the apostles believed Jesus when he said, “Nobody knows the day or hour, not even the Son himself.” If we had the same mindset as them, the market for bad predictions would cease to exist.
When are the last days?
Many of us have been raised with the idea that our generation is the last-days generation, but this is not remotely scriptural. The apostles considered themselves privileged to live in the last days; we should feel the same way. Better to live this side of the cross in union with Christ than to hear about him secondhand from Old Testament prophets.
It is a mistake to define the last days in terms of our generation; the last days are defined by Jesus.
Jesus divides history into two parts, the first days and the last days, BC and AD. In the first days of history, people looked forward to the coming of Christ when he would build his house. In these last days, he is building his church, and the nations are streaming in.
The first half of history ended with Christ coming in humility. The second half ends with him returning in glory. The last days are last because they refer to the last half of history. So far, the last days have lasted for 2,000 years. They may last for many more, but ultimately the last days will end on the last day when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead (John 6:39–40, 12:48).
Extracted from chapter 34 of Paul’s new book AD70 and the End of the World.