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The famous televangelist Pat Robertson came out of retirement this week to warn that the end times are upon us. According to Robertson, Vladimir Putin’s real intention in going into Ukraine is to secure a base of operation for a forthcoming offensive against Israel. “He went into Ukraine,” said Robertson, “but that wasn’t his goal. His goal was to move against Israel…”
In Robertson’s reading of prophecy, various Middle Eastern nations will align with Russia prior to a final showdown with Israel – the biblical Armageddon. Robertson exhorted viewers of The 700 Club to “read your Bible” because “it’s coming to pass.”
When Robertson has taken the prophet’s mantle on himself in the past, his record has not been spotless. In 1976, he predicted the world would end in 1982. In 2020, he stated, “I want to say without question, Trump is going to win the election.” He then went on to predict “five years or more of extraordinary peace,” followed by an asteroid collision that might end life on earth.
Pat Robertson may claim that he was right, and that Mr. Trump really won the election, but where are the five or more years of extraordinary peace? And how is it that this prediction of peace was so swiftly replaced by a prediction of war?
When I moved to Michigan in 1988, people were excited about a recently published booklet titled, “88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988.” The book, written by a former NASA engineer, sold over 4 million copies, and was sent free to 300,000 pastors. The author claimed that Christ would arrive on earth between September 11-13. Since I arrived in early August, it appeared that my tenure here would be brief.
That was nearly 33 years ago. September 13th came and went. The author recalculated and declared an October date for Christ’s return. When that didn’t happen, a new book hit the market: “The Final Shout: Rapture Report 1989,” which offered 89 reasons why the rapture would occur in 1989. “The Final Shout” was final; there were no sequels.
The examples above are representative of scores of failed predictions. After many spectacular misreadings of the signs of the times, some Christians have quietly abandoned prophecy altogether. There have been too many Robertson-like prophecies that have come and gone. They would rather make a difference in the world than make conjectures about its end.
The trouble with such an approach is that the Bible does contain prophecies about the end times. Whether these are something we understand or not, they are hardly something that Christians can ignore. The biblical story, unlike the stories of other ancient faiths, is telic in nature – it is moving to a prescribed end. Without this movement toward fulfillment, there is no biblical faith.
People who follow Jesus and affirm the teaching of the apostles are in an awkward position. They must hold the predictions of self-proclaimed prophecy experts at arms-length, even when they have 89 proofs that they are right. At the same time, they must not let themselves become jaded and give up the hope of Christ’s return. They know that with the advent of each new war, the prophecy experts will come out of the woodwork. But they also know that when the day chosen by God arrives, Christ will come out of heaven.
When it comes to prophecy, there are two approaches that lead to differing results. One approach is embodied by those who “love Christ’s appearing” (to borrow St. Paul’s words), the other by those who hunger to know its timing. The latter are motivated by a need to control, the former by a faith that cedes control to Christ.
The date-fixing compulsion is fear-driven. Its goal is to protect oneself, one’s family, and one’s friends by preparing for trouble. Such an approach does not demonstrate faith but indicates a lack thereof.
Those who “love Christ’s appearing” do not announce, “Jesus is coming on this date,” but they do pray, “Even so, Lord Jesus, come!” They do not trust their ability to get the date right, but they do trust Jesus to put everything right.
(First published by Gannett.)