One question I get asked a lot from some of my readers is what do I think of those who seem to feel they are called to predict when the rapture of the church will take place? It's no secret that many have tried to predict certain dates for this event, and if you take the time to read some of the scholarship that led to their conclusions it is often very compelling. Yet so far they all have one thing in common and that is they were wrong! An unfortunate result of this is that often people begin to disregard their work as a whole and I believe that is a tragedy for there is nothing wrong with their research. Rather the tragedy is that they went one step too far by trying to set a date, and the result is that all of their work is called into question.
On the other hand, there is no question that we are commanded by God to watch diligently for the signs of Jesus' return. The Bible is full of verses and passages which illustrate what is required of us as believers in regards to the approaching end of the age, so I think the answer to the question about setting dates lies in a close examination of what the Bible has to say about what it means to watch.
"But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. [For the Son of man is] as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.
Mark 13:32-37 KJV
Anyone who decides to seriously study God's word eventually is introduced to someone I fondly call “Uncle Herman”. That is the name I gave to something called “hermeneutics”, which is simply the name given to the science of interpretation, or in other words, the rules we use to interpret scripture. The reason I use “Uncle Herman” is because it reminds me of the character in the old “Munsters” television show. You know, a little slow, simple, dimwitted? That's me. You see, quite often people would like us to believe that understanding the scriptures is a difficult process which is beyond many of us, when the fact is that God wrote the Bible for all of man to read and learn from.
I have heard many different scholars and lectures discussing methods of Biblical interpretation, and after all of that came to the personal conclusion that all I needed were two rules to understanding the Bible, and I call these Uncle Herman's two rules. One, the Bible says what it means, and means what it says. Two, always examine a verse or passage in it's context. (the verses that come before and after) Pretty simple isn't it? Of course, there are those who would argue with me that this is an oversimplification of a complex process, but there will always be someone who disagrees. The best answer I can give to that comes from a respected Bible teacher who once said “we agree to disagree agreeably”.
So looking at the passage from Mark, there are a couple of things I think we can all agree on. First of all is Jesus' statement that no one knows the day or the hour of His return. I have heard and read numerous opinions about this statement, but the truth is, what Jesus said is that no one knows. I personally have difficulty believing Jesus would state this so plainly, yet really mean something else. Secondly, He commands us to watch for His return. He then goes on to emphasize these statements by giving us an illustration of a master leaving on a journey who tells his servants to watch for his return. Why watch? Because, although he does not tell them exactly when he will return, if they watch, they will see him coming. So the illustration supports the statement He already made of the fact no one knows the day or hour of His return.
I think we also need to look closely at the command; take heed, watch and pray. In the Greek, the phrase “take ye heed” means to see and discern, or in other words to use your mind to examine and understand exactly what your eye is seeing. A phrase I learned long ago comes to mind whenever I try to make sense of what I am seeing in the world today in light of biblical prophecy. Translated from the Latin, it simply says “make haste slowly”. All too often there is a tendency for us to jump in with both feet whenever we discover something we feel has implications on the return of Christ for His church. The result in many cases is someone going a little too far and trying to set a date for the rapture, when as we have just seen, Jesus said quite plainly no one knows. Yet how do we reconcile that fact with the command to watch?
Did you notice how many times we are told to watch? Did you also notice the last verse says we ALL are being commanded to watch? I get the idea this is a rather important point Jesus is trying to make. So why is watching such an important responsibility? Consider the following passage from the Old Testament concerning watchmen and what was expected from them.
Son of man, speak to the children of thy people, and say unto them, When I bring the sword upon a land, if the people of the land take a man of their coasts, and set him for their watchman: If when he seeth the sword come upon the land, he blow the trumpet, and warn the people; Then whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning; if the sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet, and took not warning; his blood shall be upon him. But he that taketh warning shall deliver his soul. But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take [any] person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman's hand.
Ezekiel 33:2-6 KJV
It was the last verse in that passage that got my attention. If a person is appointed to be a watchman, and does not fulfill his responsibility to warn of what he sees, he will be held accountable for those who perish because of his failure. Talk about responsibility. I have no doubt that watchmen in the Old Testament took their job very, very seriously. So here is my question to you; since we are commanded to watch, have we as believers been appointed "watchmen" with the same responsibilities as those in the past? Are we required by God to not only watch, but to warn of what we see?
I believe that is exactly what we are being instructed to do, but again I want to make the point that we should fight the urge to go too far. While the watchmen of the Old Testament were instructed to watch and give a warning of what they saw, I don't see anything written that says they should speculate on when they thought the enemy would attack. You see, their responsibility was to warn of the approaching enemy, and that was all. The obvious problem with setting dates is that when you are proven wrong, you lose your credibility. Somehow I think that if a watchman in the Old Testament voiced his opinion on the exact time he thought the attack would take place and was proven wrong, it probably would not take too long for his opinions to be ignored.
I think today we can look at the situation in the Middle East as a perfect illustration of this principal. Everyone seems to agree that from what they see happening, and from what is being said in that part of the world right now, a war is not only inevitable, but imminent. Many thought it was going to start this past January, and from all that I saw I considered that a real possibility, yet as we see now January has come and gone and still no war. Does that mean the war is not going to happen? Certainly not! Not only is there plenty of evidence to support the inevitability, we also have God's word that it is going to happen. We just don't know exactly when.
So let me try and summarize what I am trying to share with you today. I believe that Jesus has told us plainly that we are all commanded to watch for His return. He took the time during His ministry to tell us of many different signs to watch for, as well as the prophecies in the Old Testament which refer to things still yet to come. Yet even as we see these things coming to pass and know the time is near, and as we tell others of what we see, we should never forget we are told no one knows the exact day or hour. Be alert, know what to watch for, pray about what you see, warn others, but fight the urge to go too far.