Who hasn’t seen him – usually in a New Yorker cartoon?
He’s standing on the sidewalk, long hair and a beard, wearing a sandwich board with “The End is Near” emblazoned on it. People walk by, paying no attention to either him or his message.
Predictions of doom have often been the subject of scathing humor. The self-styled prophet warning us of the world’s imminent demise gets no respect. No one takes “the end of the world” very seriously. It makes for interesting movies –apocalyptic themes have always done well in Hollywood. Jerry Jenkins and Tim LeHaye gained quite a following a few years ago for their Left Behind book series.
When the Malaysian jet crashed – shot down (probably) by Russian separatists – on the same day Israel went into Gaza, I got one of those temporary “oh boy” sensations. “This might really be the end-game”, I thought.
Perhaps everyone gets those fleeting thoughts and feelings when the world suddenly heaves. I shouldn’t confess it in light of the tragedies but there was some sense of what may be called “apocalyptic anticipation” as I watched these two major events unfolding on the news amidst global uncertainty.
Could this finally be it?
If Jesus was about to split the eastern sky with his lightening and the trumpets were about to blast from heaven to signal our Lord’s return, what Christian wouldn’t get a little excited?
The world wrings its hands in anguished bewilderment when tragedies and wars happen – and certainly we must all mourn death and destruction; hate, violence and injustice.
But the follower of Jesus Christ also believes in a glorious future when God will make all things new. We know, because we trust the Bible as God’s prophetic and authoritative Word, that it truly is darkest just before the dawn.
Without Christ, renewed hostilities just 90 minutes into a 72-hour ceasefire symbolize the futility of a hopeless end. With Christ, world events only draw us nearer to an endless hope.
In view of how these predictions are treated in popular culture, it is a bit surprising to learn that according to a recent Pew Research Poll, 41% of respondents expect Jesus Christ to return to earth by 2050. That was almost as many (46%) as those who said that Christ would probably or definitely not return by that year. It’s interesting that 58% believe that there is going to be another world war during their lifetime. People also believe that epidemics and natural disasters are going to increase in the days ahead.
Despite growing pessimism about the future of the world, most of us think – and live – like the world is never going to end. In fairness, how else can we order our daily lives, practically speaking? We plan, we save, we decide, and we prepare as though the future won’t be all that different from the present – at least not in any apocalyptic way.
Perhaps some of us – subconsciously – are hoping it won’t be. If this is the case, then it’s certainly easier not to contemplate such things.
The repeated “crying wolf” predictions about how near the end is – which have gone on for centuries – have led Christians into a certain passivity in our thinking about prophecy. It isn’t that we don’t believe what the Bible says about the future, it’s just that prophecy doesn’t command much of our serious attention.
In his graphic portrayal of future events, Jesus tells us that the last days will resemble those in Noah’s time: “In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away.”
Then Jesus said this:
“That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes…you must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming…You must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.” [Mathew 24: 37-39; 42, 44, NLT]
“When least expected.”
After more than 2,000 years of waiting and wondering, we live today in an age of little expectancy. What most of us expect is that tomorrow will be pretty much like it was today. We sure aren’t looking for the clouds to be rolled back like a scroll, or Jesus to appear in the sky on a white horse, accompanied by thousands of holy angels. We’re not expecting to hear trumpet blasts, nor are we expecting the elements to melt with a fervent heat.
But didn’t Jesus tell us: “You must be ready all the time”? Isn’t it wrong not to be?
Jesus may not return for another thousand years. Then again, he may come back tomorrow.
The King is coming. Only God knows when. He alone has planned it and only he knows the hour. But unlike the little boy who cried wolf or the hippie in a sandwich board, God and his Son are taking the future seriously.
So should we. And be excited.
May God bless you and your family.