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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

18 May 2011

Doing the Judgment Day Math

Family Radio End of the WorldAccording to certain people, if you don’t read this column before the weekend, you’ll never have the opportunity. That’s because they’ve been spreading the word that the world will end on Saturday. They do this by tallying certain selected numbers from Scripture and using linguistic leaps of logic to tell us that Jesus clearly said one thing yet actually meant quite another.

Of course, there’s nothing novel about these predictions. Almost as soon as Jesus ascended on the fortieth day of His resurrection, His followers started wondering when He was coming back. There’s nothing wrong with wondering — and truly much commendable about hoping that the day is near — but once we start attempting to pin down a date, we also start leaving behind God’s clear Word in favor of human assumptions.

What could be more authoritative for Christians than Christ’s own words? I can make only one clear interpretation of what He said in the week before His crucifixion: “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. (Matthew 24:36)” Likewise, after His resurrection and immediately before His ascension, He told the disciples, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. (Acts 1:7)”

Throughout the New Testament, the writers warn believers to be ready but never tell them when their anticipation will see fruition. Instead, they keep pointing to the Savior. At times they urge the Church to stand firm and at others to move forth boldly, but always to be “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. (Hebrews 12:2)”

The most specific signs of the end times have been surrounding mankind almost since the fall. Consider, for instance, Matthew 24:6-7. Jesus said, there will be “wars and rumors of wars.... Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.” These are the signs of a decaying, dying world. However, they’re also “but the beginning of the birth pains. (v. 8)”

World in FlamesWhen we concentrate on the Author of Scripture, He turns our eyes away from this world and its signs and toward Himself, the Fulfillment of prophecy and the Keeper of the divine promises. Holy Baptism, attention to the Word, faithfulness in attending a church that proclaims the Gospel truth in love, and receiving Absolution and the Lord’s Supper bring far more blessing than playing guessing games with God.

Not only does He command us to be faithful until the end (instead of saying, “Why bother?”). He also enables us to remain faithful, strengthening us through His Church, His Gospel and His Supper until the Day of the Lord is revealed. Even the Bible’s splendid and most terrifying visions exist only to keep us constantly on guard.

The speculators cause two major problems. First, many well-meaning people are taken in by them. History is filled with examples of false prophecies of the End Times leading numbers of people into giving away all they have and rushing away to a predicted sacred spot to await Jesus’ return. The other negative consequence is probably much more wide-spread and damaging: It leads to disregarding the certainty of our end on earth, whether on Judgment Day or on the day we die.

Every false prophecy in the name of Christ brings that name into disrepute. Already I’m reading humorous invitations to join in the post-rapture looting of the property left behind by those who’ve been taken away. Eager to poke fun at a perceived band of kooks, some are also taking lightly their Creator.

Additionally, the Bible warns not only of that final “great and awesome day of the Lord. (Joel 2:31)” It also reminds us that our personal ends may come at any time and that we shouldn’t be encumbered with the things of this world at the expense of eternal treasure. For example, Jesus told the story of the rich man who thought to add to and hoard his wealth with no regard of final judgment: “God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ (Luke 12:20)”

De Backer: Last JudgmentBottom line: “No one knows.” It might be Saturday. It could also be today or tomorrow. And whether or not you’re reading this on Wednesday or Sunday, perhaps I might not be here to receive your comments. You and I — and all believers — will be much better served by “looking to Jesus” than to internet gurus, Mayan calendar makers, or Bible numbers-crunchers.

“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved. (Acts 16:31)” Believe anything else and your eternal life is in jeopardy, no matter when your end — or that of the world — happens to arrive.

And should you be reading this in the weeks, months, or years ahead, please try dealing gently with those who initiated this false prophecy of the End and with those who succumbed to their lies. For they, too, are lost sheep who definitely need the loving guidance of the Good Shepherd.

For more from this blog, see The End of the World and “Kooks on TV” and earlier posts linked from it.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

Send email to Ask the Pastor.

Walter Snyder is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author of the book What Do Lutherans Believe, and writer of numerous published devotions, prayers, and sermons.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am sending this as a comment because I could not figure out to send it as an email.

Dear Pastor Snyder,

I have been following you since I was a college freshman, twelve years ago. At that that time I was not even Lutheran. I think it's time that I thank you. I have always been prone to great anxieties about my sins, and when I was a kid, I used to listen to Harold Camping on the radio. That was right before his first prediction of the end of the world. He had some sort of test you could do on yourself so you would know if you were saved, and I never felt like I passed that test. His misleading interpretations of the Bible screwed me up for a long time. I was so terrified of not being saved, of the end of the world, etc. It was not until I went to college and began to try to face my demons with some theological research that I discovered Lutheranism (in detail- of course I had heard of it) and your column was one of the first things I read that gave me reassurance. Even today, I am prone to anxiety about Last Things, although I would really have trouble discussing them with my pastor. When I saw Harold Camping's name in the news again, after all these years, I still felt a chill, remembering my terrors as a child. I would feel terribly embarrassed for anyone to know that I gave a second thought to that kook, but for some reason, I do. So once again, I have turned to your column for comfort and some sage, level-headed reasoning and Biblical advice. Thank you!

19 May, 2011 12:31  
Anonymous Maria said...

I have a question, that has really bothered me my whole life, and well I just found this website.

My mother believes in "taking a stand" against people who live in sin, which means in her way to have nothing to do with them, now I can see her logic, I believe, even if we disagree with their lifestyle (for example a couple who are unwed but have children and live together) that we should still live a life of love and therefore show them love, I know Jesus didn't just go to the "holy" people, so shouldn't we go to those who need the love?

20 May, 2011 12:18  
Blogger David C Brown said...

Watch and pray; we need to be ready always, and can't put the Lord's coming of to six months' time!

02 June, 2011 16:31  

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