Why would Martin Luther and Jonathan Edwards make fools of themselves over the return of Christ?

“Don’t make a fool of yourself predicting the return of Christ,” teachers have told me over the years. While being raised in the church (Baptist and Presbyterian) and educated in theology (at an evangelical seminary), few cautions were drilled into me deeper. Such prophesying may bolster the simple faith of desperate folk, they said, but for those dining on the prime rib of faith, only a mature eschatology will do. And it is simply not biblical, they argued, to predict the return of Christ.

Lately, however, I have begun to suspect that maybe it is not considered biblical because it is, well, foolish. And I also wonder if the time has come, once again, for just that sort of foolishness.

The Last Day Near At Hand?

Consider this statement: “I [will not] permit anyone to deny me the right to believe that the last day is near at hand. These words and signs of Christ [in Luke 21:25–36] compel me to believe that such is the case. For the history of the centuries that have passed since the birth of Christ nowhere reveals conditions like those present.”

These are not the words of a best-selling prophecy profiteer, but they were penned by one of Europe’s leading professors, a lecturer in moral theology at one of the most prestigious European universities of his day. His thought and life bombarded the church like neutrons beamed at the uranium atom, and the church was split; powerful historical forces billowed forth in every direction. Since his death 400 years ago, Martin Luther has been the subject of more books than any other figure in history, except Jesus of Nazareth.

However, this brilliant sixteenth-century theologian said some pretty ...

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