Things to know–and not to know–about Bible prophecy

“But of that day and hour, no one knows, not even the angels of Heaven, but My Father only” –Matthew 24:36.

“But of that day and hour, no one knows, not even the angels in Heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”  –Mark 12:32

Make a list of what we do not know concerning the end times.  What we put on the list would tell a great deal about us.

One of the greatest Bible teachers of the past fifty years is (or has been) Dr. Warren Wiersbe.  Once, when he was asked to speak on Bible prophecy, he began with this disclaimer:  “I used to know a lot more about prophecy than I do now.”

I appreciate that.

What Dr. Wiersbe was saying was that in his earlier years, he sounded forth with certainty on matters about which he knew little.  But with maturity came a healthy dose of humility.  In time, he was able to say just as confidently that “I do not know” concerning some of these prophetic subjects.  That’s what maturity and integrity do:  Admit when they do not know something.

I’m personally convinced that no one has all the answers to the mysteries of Revelation.  The only way, of course, to prove that assertion wrong is for the events to proceed to unfold just as someone has predicted.  Until then, every Bible teacher who sounds forth claiming to have the answers does so by faith.

“We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).  Our faith may be in Christ, it may be (also) in Scripture, but it just as easily could be in ourselves, as I suspect is true of some of the most dogmatic interpreters.

Now, let us admit up front that not everyone who heard Dr. Wiersbe appreciated his honest admission that he no longer has all the answers.  Some in his audience wanted their prophecy straight.  No uncertainties, no ambiguities, no “both sides of the issue.”  This yearning for the pastor/teacher to identify the Antichrist, name the beast out of the sea, to point out the powers to be found at the final showdown at Armageddon, to identify the United States in Bible prophecy, to connect “the abomination of desolation” with something going on somewhere at this very moment–on and on, ad infinitum!–is precisely what Paul meant when he said in the last days people would run after the preachers who tickled their ears.  They wanted what they wanted and would not abide anything less.  Or more.

And mark my words, a lot of preachers have figured this out. They have correctly decided that the best way to get an audience (of a certain type, to be sure) is to claim to know all the mysteries, to have all the answers.

Now, I believe there are great preachers and teachers who know a hundred times as much on this subject as I do.  I do not present myself as an authority on prophecy.  And frankly, neither should they.

Experts?

I submit there are no experts on Bible prophecy.

There are hundreds, maybe thousands, who claim that honor.  And if public acclaim is the standard, then some have it.  So, this is my personal bias, if you will.

Let me hear some humility from those who would teach us of final things.

How is Hal Lindsey doing these days? In the 1980s he sold a zillion copies of “The Late Great Planet Earth” in which he saw signs of the end right upon us.  He said, “The 1980s may be the final decade of this planet.”  He saw the establishment of Israel as a nation in 1948 as the sign to end all signs. He had it all figured out.  And because he was so dead-on certain, people flocked to hear him and to buy his books.  (They didn’t buy nearly as many of his subsequent books, for obvious reasons.)

Today as I write, a self-appointed Bible authority sent an email my way with his latest writing on Revelation. The come-on said, “Do you find Revelation confusing?  Let us show you the correct interpretation!”  So, I clicked on and read it, and came away disappointed.  The preacher mentioned in passing the mysteries of that book, then glossed them over as he told how the themes of Revelation are the Lordship of Jesus, the reality of heaven and hell, final judgment, survival of the faithful, and so forth.  Not a word was given on what to make of those mysteries he claimed to clear up.

Don’t claim it if you can’t deliver, preacher/teacher.

When I was pastoring, to those who would speak to my people on prophecy, I insisted they add one disclaimer somewhere in the body of their teaching: Tell the class you could be wrong about your interpretations of the mysteries of Revelation.

That was a deal breaker for at least one teacher.

No expert that I ever heard of freely admits “I don’t know” and “We cannot tell” and “No one knows for certain.”  But an honest teacher of prophecy would have to do that very thing.

Too much is unknown

There are too many unknown factors in the study of Bible prophecy for any of us to be adamant. And, lest someone accuse me of trying to unsettle the minds and hearts of the faithful, this is simply a plea for humility among those who would teach prophecy. It will not surprise regular observers of the church scene that humility is not a quality many people want in their preachers. They want it strong and firm and solid, without room for questions, differences of opinions, or mystery. As one fellow said of his preacher, “He’s not always right, but he’s never in doubt!”

That is precisely the problem.

“We see through a glass darkly,” said the Apostle Paul (I Corinthians 13:12).  Maybe Paul had trouble seeing, but some of these guys have the vision of Superman, apparently.

I’ve heard prophecy preachers say, “If God put it in the Word, He meant for us to understand it!”  We might respond, “Maybe He did…but maybe not.  Perhaps He was trying to humble us with the limitations of our knowledge, to restrain our egotistical imaginations, to rein in our pride.”

I’m tempted to use Deuteronomy 29:29 here.  You know, the verse that says “The secret things belong to the Lord our God.”  However, that scripture goes on to say, “But the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.”  And since the Book of Revelation is called just that–a revelation!–we have it and must deal with it.

To be sure, there are a lot of glorious teachings and revelations in this book.  That is not the issue and no one should think I am dismissing that.  This little article is referring to the mysteries (antichrist, beast, rapture, millennial reign, Armageddon, etc) about which we know so little.

One thing we know:  There are some hard-to-interpret scriptures.

Agree or disagree?

There’s a little line at the end of the Second Epistle of Peter that speaks to that.  The Apostle writes, “…our brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of these Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15-16).

I knew Paul said some things that we find hard to understand, but I rejoice that the Bible itself admits it!

“Untaught and unstable people twist” the hard-to-understand scriptures.

Is that a caution to us or what?

Have you ever wondered why the apostles never preached on the 7 weeks of Daniel?  Why they did not go to seed on our Lord’s end-of-time teaching (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21)? (Okay, I’m arguing from silence here. We do not know all the sermons they preached, obviously.)

Did they have bigger fish to fry?  Did they consider getting the gospel out and getting people saved more important than bringing out their charts with end-of-time teaching?   Some would say that Bible prophecy done well is a huge motivation for the hearers to come to Christ for salvation.  While we would not dispute that for a moment, we don’t see the apostles preaching that way. From the sermons we have in Acts, they preached Jesus–His death and miraculous resurrection, His lordship, and His return to judge the world.

Many years ago–in the 1980s–while I was in revival at a church in the Mississippi Delta–a friend from former years sought me out.  Danny had been a rather notorious atheist during the years I pastored in his town.  I witnessed to him and led his wife to the Lord and baptized her, but he had been resistant.  And now, he was different.  “I read Hal Lindsey’s ‘Late Great Planet Earth’,” he said.  “And it scared the hell out of me,” he said laughing.

I’ve often wondered how he is doing. Since the events which Lindsay was so sure were near turned out not to be, did Danny grow in the Lord and receive a firm foundation in the Word?  Or did he bail out like some people I met in the same decade who had left the Jehovah Witnesses when their f1975 prophecy about the return of the Lord proved false and misleading?

Let us keep our eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ and stay obedient to His Word. And let each of us remember the words of Psalm 131:1.  “My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty.  I do not concern myself with matters too great or things too wonderful for me.”

Amen.

 

 

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