As I mentioned a few days ago, last week a friend sent me a link to an article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times on June 22, 2006 entitled: "'End Times' Religious Groups Want Apocalypse Soon." It tells of movements and people within Christianity, Islam and Judaism who are looking forward to the end of human history as we know it and consequently are doing what they think is necessary to hasten that great day.
So for instance, some evangelicals are meeting to plan how they can fulfill the Great Commission by planting 5 million new churches in the next 10 years and thereby Jesus back from heaven. Some Muslims, like the radical President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, are hoping to welcome a Muslim messiah known as Mahdi to Tehran within the next two years. And some within Judaism hope to get ready for their messiah by rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem on the site which is now home to one of Islam's holiest shrines. Some have even gone so far as to try are re-create the robes and other objects necessary for the priesthood to be reestablished in Jerusalem and Clyde Lott, a Mississippi cattle rancher and revivalist, is even trying to raise a unique breed of red heifers that will meet the legal requirements of the book of Numbers.
All of this is very interesting given the hype that preceded the year 2000 and the numerous predictions of doom and gloom that were circulated in the weeks leading up to that event. One would think that people would be reluctant to start beating the apocalyptic drum so soon into the new millennium, but obviously that is not the case. However, in the midst of the excitement Christians need to be careful to keep their biblical wits about them and their emotions in check and not bring discredit on the faith by chiming in with those prophets of doom and exaggeration who are clamor for attention from some of the most visible pulpits in the land.
Jesus Christ is coming again to the earth. There is no doubt about that. We have his word as the only Prophet, Priest and King who has ever died and rose again and ascended into heaven. The religious expectations of other groups have no such foundation. All Islamic and Jewish prophets and teachers are dead and remain in the realm of the dead to this day. Jesus is in a completely different category. He ever lives to make intercession for his people and to rule over the world for the sake of his people: the church. But although we know that Jesus will return to this earth we do not know the time of that return. Personally, I believe that there is nothing that has to be fulfilled which could not be fulfilled in our lifetime. But in a sense, this has always been the case during the entire Christian era. So we live in expectation of his coming and yet not in such a way that we are paralyzed or distracted or pre-occupied with anything other than the work he has given us to do. If ever there were an area of theology and Christian living where balance is required, this is it.
As I look around at the world it is very difficult to imagine that it will go on and on much longer. But whether or not it does is not for me or anyone else to say. That is a part of God's secret counsel and I must leave it there. We are required to live faithful lives and to do what we can in our generation to advance the kingdom of grace. And we are to do it knowing that in and through our efforts God will glorify himself in both the salvation of his people and in the judgment of those who refuse to bow before him. The sense of foreboding that people sometimes have is an indicator that they are made in the image of God and that they know down deep inside that things are not what they should be and that someday God will call them to account. In this context we have the privilege of standing as heralds of good news and urging all people everywhere to repent.