When it comes to the End Times, I honestly have friends that believe just about every theory man has invented. I say, “man has invented” only because the labels we put on theology about the end of days usually don’t occur in Scripture. I personally see some evidences of a variety of eschatological concepts. But, eventually, every person who studies the Bible gets backed into a corner and has to make a decision. I am not a person that believes that the discussion is meaningless, I actually think it does matter. It significantly affects your view on Old Testament prophecies, Israel’s role, Scriptural interpretation, and ALL of Revelation. So to say that an accurate understanding of the Bible is not important is totally wrong. Our goal must always be to understand His Word.
However, apocalyptic literature is purposely cryptic. It was originally intended to be shrouded. In fact, all prophecy seems that way to me. It’s only clear once it’s fulfilled. I think of it like looking through a stained glass window. There are lots of dramatic pictures, a variety of pretty colors, and I get easily distracted in the story they are trying to tell. The issue when interpreting apocalyptic literature is that what’s going on in the foreground is not what’s happening in the background. On the stained glass itself might be lambs and dragons and warrior angels, but just like in real stained glass, you can still see people standing outside the window. You can’t make-out facial features or any other detail, but you could clearly see a person standing there. What happens when we focus too much on interpreting the pictures in the foreground of the stain glass is that we miss the real people and events behind it. But as I said before, you can’t make-out any details. They’re being purposely shrouded. Once we’re on the other side of the stained glass window, then we can see clearly. But that’s not NOW, that’s the always unreachable FUTURE. Once the prophecy is fulfilled, I am confident that we will look back and say, “yep, I knew that all along.” Isaiah 53 is so obviously describing Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion, but it’s only obvious because of Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion. Hindsight is 20/20. I believe that all the yet-to-be-fulfilled prophecies will be the same way.
So here are my 3 “Don’ts” when dealing with the End Times in church or Bible study.
Don’t be 100%
Listen to me carefully. NOT EVEN JESUS KNEW WHEN HE WOULD COME BACK! (Don’t believe me, read Matt. 24:36) We can’t be a 100% on exactly how things are going to go down in the end of days. Even when it comes to the big-picture stuff like, is there going to be a Tribulation? Does Jesus come back and then the Millennial Kingdom starts or is it just that Jesus returns and then “bam” that’s it, onto eternity? We still can’t be absolutely positive on those answers. Now as a Pre-Millenialist, do I think I’m right? Well of course I do. Why would I have a fun little label for myself if I didn’t think I was right? Am I 100% positive, no doubt in my mind, kind of sure? Of course not! I have 3 “Don’ts” and I’m not going to break the first one. Am I pretty sure? Yeah. But, I have A-Millenialist friends that feel the same way (yet my Post-Millenialist friends always seem unsure of themselves : ) Being SO positive honestly comes off as disingenuous. There are plenty of issues in Scripture we can be sure about, the future is just not one of them. Stick to being 95% sure.
Don’t be Mean
Am I the smartest person in the room? Not more than 95% of the time ;) There are really smart people AND really godly people who believe all sorts of things about the End Times. The more persecution Christians face the more we need to find what unites us. The early church essentially just said you needed to affirm Jesus as the One True God and accordingly the Trinity. I kind of want to get back to that. I’m all about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If someone else is too, then that’s a brother or sister I want to study God’s Word with. We use so much rhetoric like, “I take on the whole council of God’s Word” or “at least I don’t conveniently pick and choose what I like and don’t like.” We shouldn’t even think mean thoughts about someone who believes that Jesus is going to literally return in a different way from what we believe. To me, it’s about as stupid as getting in an argument on whether or not Star Trek or Star Wars is better. If you are not from the “nerd-world” I grew-up in, I’ll tell you what, the debate can get quite heated. (There are some Klingon and Sith curse words that I won’t repeat on here.) I personally grew-up liking Star Trek more, but the cool kids making fun of me made me hide my secret obsession with the time space continuum. Now that Sci-Fi and comic books are cool now, the discussion can be brought back into the open. I never really thought Star Wars had much depth. But, as I began to talk with people who loved Star Wars, I started to gain respect for those space cowboys. (But don’t kid yourselves, Episodes 1-3 are just terrible.) Do I think the End Times debate is just preference like which fake science fiction saga is better? No. Clearly someone is more right than others, and once again, we are dealing with God’s Word. It’s worthy of debate. Start talking with people who believe different than you. They will stop being ignorant monsters, and you might actually drop down to 94%.
Don’t be Stubborn
One of the worst things we do when interpreting God’s Word is when we tell it what it needs to say. If you have a theological position on the End Times, you cannot make a Scriptural passage line-up with what you believe. On the contrary, Scripture must change your theological position. Usually it’s not major changes, you must simply broaden the possibilities. Now, this is not to say that I don’t want people to take up a position on the End Times. It’s actually impossible not to. Even if you say something silly like “I don’t take a position, I’m a Biblicist,” all you need to do is tell me some basic things about what you believe and I can stick a label on you. I actually think that churches and Christian schools should take a position on their statement of faith. I think they should declare how they will approach the issue. I’m actually more annoyed with people who are too wishy-washy. Take a position. Just don’t be 100% on it, and don’t be mean about it. Just tell people where you’re coming from and let them make the call whether or not they want to fellowship with you. It’s a deal-breaker for some people, and that’s fine. They’re just a little bit more stubborn than we are. ;)
P.s. I think people who like Episodes 1-3 more than 4-6 are the Preterists of the Star Wars universe.