Is it the End of the World?

A couple of suburbs down the road from my place is a big billboard on a major road. It says “Judgement Day is coming. 21 May 2011.” According to this billboard, the end of the world is coming and it’s only weeks away. There seems to be a lot of people recently who are saying that they have prophesied the end of the world. They point to events such as the floods in Queensland, the earthquake in New Zealand, the tsunami in Japan and say that the end of the world is coming any day now. That these disasters are a sign from God that he’s getting ready for the end game. The people behind this billboard are even prepared to name a date, based on their understanding of the Bible and some creative mathematics.

Should we listen to these so-called prophecies? Are they reliable? Can we really know the date when Jesus returns?

I have my doubts. Let’s just say I plan on getting a photo of myself in front of this billboard on May 22nd.

What is prophecy?

The role of the prophets in the Old Testament was to communicate God’s will to his people. Through his prophets, God would make himself known: who he is and what he expects of his people. While there was some element of telling people the future, this was always in the context of revealing God’s plan to rescue people from sin. For example, when Israel was sent into exile, God used prophets such as Isaiah and Daniel to tell people that these events were punishment for their disobedience but that God would return them to the promised land.

But the nature of prophecy changed when the New Testament kicked into gear. With the arrival of Jesus there was no longer any need for the old school prophets. Their job was to reveal God. And they did a good job. But now, here was someone who could do it so much better. In John 14:6-7, Jesus says “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God. We no longer need the Old Testament prophets to point us to God because Jesus does a superior job. We don’t need new messages from God because we have Jesus.

But there is still prophecy in the New Testament after Jesus goes to be with his Father in heaven. In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul talks about the gift of prophecy in the Corinthian church. There is a debate going on in the church over the use of prophecy compared to speaking in tongues. Prophecy here is used for strengthening, encouragement and comfort (1Cor 14:3), intelligible (1Cor 14:9), and build up the church (1Cor 14:12). And here’s the most important thing about prophecy: But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all,  and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!” (1Cor 14:24-25). Prophecy convinces someone that they are a sinner and that they need to turn back to God.

Sounds to me like prophecy is telling people the gospel. Prophecy is pointing people to Jesus and saying that you need Jesus as your saviour. Prophecy is this day and age is opening up the Bible and pointing to Jesus, the ultimate revelation of God. The Bible is God’s message to us. All Scripture is God-breathed (2Tim 3:16). Which gives us an important tool when dealing with people saying they have new words from God. Because the Bible is God’s word and we know that God is unchanging and has given us all we need to know for salvation and for living, then all prophecy must be consistent with the Bible. If a so-called prophet says they have a message from God and it doesn’t agree with what the Bible says, then they are a false prophet. They’re not speaking words from God but from somewhere else.

So what about the end of the world?

We know from the Bible that the end of the world will come with the return of Jesus. Ever since Jesus first showed up, people have being trying to find out the day and date of the Day of The Lord. But God was very deliberate in not telling us. Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. (1Thes 5:1-2). There will be no warning. There will be no advanced notice. There is no secret code in the Bible that you can use to mathematically calculate the exact day the world will end. Jesus will return like a thief in the night.

Are the natural disasters we are currently experiencing pointing towards the end of the world? Yes and no. Yes, they are signs that this world is not right. That we need a saviour. But we have been receiving these signs for thousands of years. We are closer now to the return of Jesus then ever before. He could return tomorrow or he could return in a thousand years. We just don’t know.

So what do we do? Be alert but not alarmed. Prepare for the return of Jesus. Live your life like he could return tomorrow. Spread the Good News of Jesus and live your life in such a way that pleases God. But don’t panic. Don’t be anxious. Don’t be afraid. There have always been disasters. There will continue to be disasters. But Jesus will return. And when he does, all will be well in the world.

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About Joel A Moroney

Associate Minister at St Luke's Anglican Church, Liverpool (in the Sydney Diocese). A very strange man, but he usually has Pez, so that makes it okay.

5 responses to “Is it the End of the World?”

  1. Erich says :

    I cant take them seriously because they use papyrus font for the bible quote, so lame and clearly not inspired!

  2. Carolyn says :

    And what is familyradio.com.

    I don’t want to look it up as it may be a virus.

  3. jason says :

    If you believe in god then you should not fear the end.Me personally I think it is all BUNK.
    And even if I am wrong there are a whole slew of people that believe they are going to heaven.Most of them I cant stand to be around for 5 minutes much less an eternity.

  4. Martin Shields says :

    Hi Joel,

    I still have a copy of a pamphlet handed out warning that the end was coming at 1AM (Sydney time) on 29th October, 1992 (they did better getting an exact time). It’s always interesting to see how these people work their way around the minor issue that Jesus said no-one could know when the end would be!

    So you’re right — when they disagree with Scripture they’re clearly in the wrong. But I think you might be throwing the prophesy baby out with the bathwater…

    We don’t need new messages from God because we have Jesus.

    Yet there are circumstances in the NT where prophets do reveal new messages from God. Think of Acts, and in particular Agabus: he’s not explaining the gospel to Paul. He’s telling him what’s about to happen to him if he should venture up to Jerusalem. I doubt very much that Paul could have worked that out by studying the OT or the words of Jesus!

    Prophecy convinces someone that they are a sinner and that they need to turn back to God.

    But how does it achieve this? Does “telling people the gospel” equate with laying the secrets of one’s heart bare that they can be judged by all? It sounds far more personal and specific than explaining two ways to live. Think of the Samaritan woman at the well — she realised that Jesus was a prophet when he laid bare the truth about her life with very specific details.

    Sounds to me like prophecy is telling people the gospel. Prophecy is pointing people to Jesus and saying that you need Jesus as your saviour. Prophecy is this day and age is opening up the Bible and pointing to Jesus, the ultimate revelation of God.

    I think that’s too reductionistic. Later in that very chapter Paul equates prophecy with revelation (apokaluptō, 1Cor 14:29–31). The distinctive feature of prophecy elsewhere in the Bible (again, look at Acts) is its direct revelation of new information from God. Remember the woman at the well in John 4:19 who calls Jesus a prophet because he knew things about her he couldn’t have known by normal means. Her understanding of what the word “prophet” meant accords with this notion of new revelation.

    This fits with Grudem’s definition as reported by Carson (cf. also Chris Forbes’ work on the topic):

    prophecy is the reception and subsequent transmission of spontaneous, divinely originating revelation.

    Now this doesn’t mean that NT prophecy needs to carry the same authority as OT prophecy or apostolic teaching, nor does it mean that it must conflict with the Bible simply because it is new. Paul still requires the audience to judge what they hear. The prophets are to be assessed against the higher authority of Scripture.

    The Bible is God’s message to us. All Scripture is God-breathed (2Tim 3:16). Which gives us an important tool when dealing with people saying they have new words from God. Because the Bible is God’s word and we know that God is unchanging and has given us all we need to know for salvation and for living, then all prophecy must be consistent with the Bible. If a so-called prophet says they have a message from God and it doesn’t agree with what the Bible says, then they are a false prophet. They’re not speaking words from God but from somewhere else.

    I agree. That’s what’s wrong with these predictions of the date of judgment day — they contradict the Bible. However, I can see no a-priori reason to dismiss all claims of new revelation that don’t contradict the Bible but nonetheless present information not found in the Bible. For some other comments on this, see here.

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