End Times prophecies, and how I got it so wrong.

I quickly tired of all the books and writings on the ‘end times’ and that was long before the inception of the internet and all the added claptrap that brought! Eschatology is the proper term for this study of the prophecies concerning the end times of the Earth and our Lord’s return. I was a Christian only four years when I took my first job after leaving school in 1983. That was in the Faith Mission Bookshop in Belfast (purportedly the biggest Christian bookshop in Europe). Our bestselling books changed from month to month, but the most consistent seller that year (even across the Christian world) was one entitled ‘Christ Returns by 1984!’

Now there is the first and most important point to make: our Lord Jesus Christ said himself that even he did not know the time of his return:

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Matt.24:36)

So if anyone, anyone, tries to attempt to find a date or timescale for his return, stop listening to them! They think they know more than Jesus!! This is a fruitless pursuit. Jesus even gave clear warnings about such people:

Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, “I am he,” and, “The time is near.” Do not follow them. (Luke 21:8)

In 1986, I entered Belfast Bible College for a 3-year full-time course. Part of our lectures was a systematic study through each of the 66 books of the Bible with the students of all the years together to give it a full three years’ attention. When we got to Revelation, many in the college were excited; “oh, we’re going to study about the tribulation, the millennium, the antichrist…. I can’t wait!” and stuff like that. My reaction was sort of ‘ho hum’ if I’m honest. Our lecturer went through the chapters over about a dozen classes, and repeated the theme of Christ’s glorification, the angels crying ‘Holy is the Lamb’, how every knee will bow and confess that he is Lord, how his name is above all names… yes, that is the message of the book, from chapter 1 to chapter 22! At the end of the last class, he handed out an A4 sheet, only half-filled, with 4 paragraphs laying out pre-tribulationist premillenialism, post-tribulationist premillenialism, postmillenialism, and amillenialism. A couple of people were almost apoplectic; “THAT’S IT! THAT’S ALL WE’RE GOING TO GET ON IT!?” but I could not help but laugh. It was brilliant, as far as I was concerned.

I already knew that there were as many interpretations of eschatology as there are chapters in our Bible! You may attempt to decipher it all, but you have no certainty about your interpretation over anyone else’s. You have your opinion, but that’s all it is at the end of the day. Yes, there are different interpretations of many Bible passages, but they can be argued over fairly simply in comparison to the riddles and conundrums of the end times passages, and we know the most important passages about our salvation and Christ’s divinity are much clearer; it’s not all an enigma!

However, we are told by Jesus to watch for the signs: “be always on the watch” (Luke 21:36). In fact, it is because we do not know the day he will come, that he tells us to watch:

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. (Matt. 24:42)

So, as I have always said, we can only discern two definite things about the second coming;

1. Nobody knows when it will happen.
2. We must always be ready for it.

But if we cannot trust our own interpretations, how are we to watch? The most recent revelation I believe I have had is this: we are told to watch but we are never told to predict anything! What’s the difference? Even I got this wrong; in Revelation 8, we have an account of seven angels with seven trumpets, each heralding an event to happen. The third one caught my eye since I have long had an amateur interest in astronomy (not astrology!). About half of one of my shelves would be books on the universe and astrophysics.

The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water – the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter. (Rev. 8:10-11)

Knowing what I know, I thought this could not be a star, since even the smallest star would be many times bigger than the Earth. Could it be a ‘piece’ of a star? When stars explode into novae, what is left is gas and dust, since they are just glowing balls of nuclear plasma; there would be no ‘pieces’ to consider. To the ancients, planets were stars (planet means ‘wandering star’) and of course, also shooting stars, which look like stars, but are actually meteors; now they are pieces of rock from asteroids or planets, some only specks that cause brilliant steaks as they enter the atmosphere at immense speeds. When they land they are called meteorites. This was what John must be describing, and such a meteorite may contain toxic, even radioactive elements that would be pulverised on impact and could contaminate water. Yes, I thought, Wormwood must be a meteorite.

Some years after the disaster in Chernobyl, I heard that it was the Russian/Ukrainian word for ‘wormwood’. I think I laughed, and reasoned some ‘end times nutter’ was trying to fit Chernobyl into Revelation somewhere, somehow. Of course, I looked up the word myself, for a debunk. However…it does mean the herb wormwood, which is a bitter herb used to flavour absinthe. The word translates as ‘black grass’ or ‘black stalks’ but it does refer to that herb. I had to do a rethink, since this was no meteorite. Then I realised that a star is a natural nuclear reactor (yes, we could argue that stars use nuclear fusion, which we have yet to harness artificially, and our reactors use nuclear fission, but is that not just splitting hairs?). The resulting radiation leak, 200 times greater than the fallout from Hiroshima, did contaminate many rivers across Europe, and many people did die from its effects. Stunned, I was.

Once events like this happen, and we see them with wisdom and decipher them, we can be assured of the signs, but before it happens, our predictions may just come up with a dead-end alley. So why bother? Let us wait to see things happen first, then rejoice at their fulfilment. When I was a young Christian, I was told by many that the EU (well, it was the EEC then) was about to expand from its 9 members. Once it became 10!… Daniel describes his vision of a beast with 10 horns, and it appears again twice in Revelation. Many people link that beast to Rome, and so predicted a 10-member-EU to herald the end. And it happened! But… then it became 11, then 12… now, it’s what? 28? I even came across an old website from 2007 that tried to refer back to a 10-member alliance that sort of replaced NATO in Europe and how it all fitted into prophecies. The author of that site died in 2007 but he predicted things like sacrifices on the Temple Mount again and peace in Jerusalem by 2010! What were those warnings we read about?

Personally, I look for signs in the sun, moon and stars. I always wondered at how the moon would show signs, since it never changes at all. At least it hadn’t been changed, until 1969, when it was altered by footprints! (If you’re one of those that believes the conspiracy theory that all 6 missions were faked, as well as the failed Apollo 13 mission, just get a powerful telescope and look. You’ll see the landers and the lunar rovers with their tracks in the dust).

And, oh yes, Hagee’s ‘Blood Moons’? Load of old codswallop!

Stop listening to the predictors!

Grace be with you.

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