degrees of hell fire

The world did not come to an end on September 6, 1994. Nor did it collapse in May or October of 2011, though Harold Camping had said in each case that it would. David Meade, a Christian numerologist, claims to use ancient science to predict specific dates. John Hagee said the rapture would begin in April 2014 was signaling the end of times. Yet, that didn't happen either.

Every year, new apocalyptic predictions waft through the dark fringes of the internet and the tabloid media. Sometimes they come from what seem like reliable sources: Christian radio hosts, theologians and preachers, or religious TV stars. They’re ability to persuade the masses and strong charismatic skills can make even the strongest Christian start to question if the predictions are true. Misconceptions about the End Times runs rampant. 

Camping was so good at it, he convinced listeners of his radio show to donate over $100 million to help get the word out. Some believers even max out their credit cards, believing that the rapture would come before payment was due. Writer D.L. Mayfield shared with her followers about how she never made college plans, as she was convinced the rapture would come before she turned 16. These prophets use Bible verses in the Book of Revelation to really drive home the point that their date is the “right” one, and people fall for it.

Like many so-called prophets, Camping moved the target date each time he was wrong about his prediction. However people were still left with an incredible fascination of the End Times. It’s readily seen with the popularity of the “Left Behind” series and songs like Larry Norman’s “I Wish We’d All Been Ready”. Why exactly are Christians so fascinated in the End Times, though, and why do they so easily fall prey to these false prophets’ claims?

Many Americans, Christian or not, are aware of the concept of the rapture. This is a time when, according to some evangelical traditions, Christians will be suddenly and unexpectedly “raptured” up to heaven before the events that presage the end of the world. In most accounts of the rapture, believers go straight to heaven, while nonbelievers are left behind to undergo a period of political chaos and personal torment.

It can be scary to think that such a large event will happen. How will this happen and when are some of the biggest questions asked. There is a real anxiety that many Christians feel in not knowing God's plan, and that can lead them to believe prophecies set by "chosen ones" on earth.

However, Jesus was clear. It’s not ours to know times or dates. Matthew 24:35-36 says: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” This is further echoed in many other scriptures. Matthew 24:44 says "So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him," and Acts 1:7 says "It is not up for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority."

Nevertheless, some continue to predict. Each distracts us from the true purpose of biblical prophecy. When these prophets claim that an End Time prophecy is approaching, they are also claiming that they know even more than the Son of God.

If it’s wrong to set dates based on wars or rumors of wars, it’s also a mistake to be unsettled by them. God’s people shouldn’t be surprised or dismayed by political unrest and natural disasters. Christ told us they would come (Matthew 24:6–8). Terrible and scary things on this earth will happen, but it's not Biblical to jump to the conclusion that it is the sign of the Antichrist and that we should panic. We have to trust in God's plan for us. Better yet, we can hand our anxiety over to Him. Proverbs 3:5-6 reminds us of His promise: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways submit to Him and He will make your paths straight."

Rather than be scared of the End of Times and waste energy trying to predict when it will come, we should feel empowered by the Spirit to go into the world to make disciples (Acts 1:6–8). What could more be more motivating for missions than to meditate on Jesus’s words in Matthew 24:14: “This gospel will be proclaimed throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” We are called to be shepherds of Jesus. We are called to spread His love to anyone who will listen, so that they too can find Jesus before the rapture, whenever that may be.

The next time you hear someone saying that the End Times are near, because of a political change, upcoming war, pandemic or the like, know that their claims have no basis in fact. The Bible says clearly that we will not know when it is to come, and furthermore we shouldn’t try to predict it. Instead, focus your energy on building a better relationship with God and sharing His Gospel with others. This way, if it ever does happen in your lifetime, you’ll already feel confident that you are going to Heaven.

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