Apocalyptic Fever

After repeated end-times embarrassments, how can the church rightly read the signs of the times?

On the eve of the third millennium of the Christian era, the church is again beset by apocalyptic speculators. In one of the more bizarre episodes, thousands of Korean Christians sold their property and left their families to await Jesus’ return on October 28. Reportedly, several expectant mothers in this group had abortions so as to be more easily raptured!

Closer to home, American evangelicals seem to have an insatiable appetite for end-time best sellers, such as Harold Camping’s 1994? which has gone through three printings since its September 8 release. Camping’s analysis of the Bible leads him to believe the world as we know it will end in 1994.

What are we to make of all this? As a convinced premillennialist who takes biblical prophecy seriously, I am wary of any attempt to overexplain the details of the end. Church history is littered with the tombstones of disappointed sky-watchers: second-century Montanists who predicted the New Jerusalem would descend upon the town of Pepuza; Saxon bishop Wulfstan who interpreted the Danish invasion of England (ca. 1010) as a sure sign the end was near; Thomas Mtintzer who led German peasants to revolt in 1525 because he saw the angels “sharpening their sickles” for a great harvest.

There is a mystery about the Second Coming that we must respect if we are to honor the One we eagerly await: “No one knows about the day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard. Be alert!” (Mark 13:32–33).

Still, for all the hysteria they have wrought, the prophecy-mongers of our time have at least kept faith with the fundamental promise of the visible ...

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