First, just to clear the air: any Christian who has read the Bible knows exactly why the world did not end on this, nor will it on any, date that has been or will be prophesied.
The answer, of course, was recorded by Jesus’ disciple Matthew in his inspired biography about Jesus, 24:26 and also by his friend Mark in his counterpart, 13:32, when they quoted Jesus’ own words: “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, only the Father.”
Reality check: If, the Second Person of the Trinity, while incarnated in human flesh, did not know the date of the end, how on earth could any other human being know more than did God-Among-Us? Further, when Jesus’ disciples questioned him at his ascension about their nation’s future, he replied gently but firmly, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”
That’s the reason I could assure Christianity Today readers in their July 17, 1995 issue (and subsequently The Christian Reader and Live readers as well)[i] not to take the Year 2000 prophecy seriously – a message I found myself giving my own parishioners later on when one of Harold Camping’s billboards went up in our church’s city. So, for that reason, as well, of course, as the fact that Dionysius Exiguus in A.D. 532 miscalculated the date of Jesus’ birth (and, therefore, the calendar we use), so that the year 2000 fell in 1996. If you are following on your score card, our so-called year 2000 was actually somewhere around 2004, which would make this past year 2012, approximately 2016. I say “approximately,” because, if one is trying to date from Jesus’ birth, we should mention that nobody is really sure what year or month that took place. We attempt to estimate back from his death, as is the case for so many ancient figures.
So, how, then did the year 2012 hoopla blind-side so many Christians as well as others? Maybe because this time it was a new calendar, the Mayan’s, and a new prophecy, Nostradamus’, publicized by such motion pictures as 2008’s 2012: Doomsday, and the next year, 2009’s, blockbuster 2012, with its alarming slogan “WE WERE WARNED.” This second movie, on a $200 million budget, grossed estimates of $770 million worldwide. Together, that’s a lot of hype.
But, again – zip. The world didn’t end in 2012, as it didn’t “between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844,”[ii] the dates calculated by William Miller, or in “early A.D. 1932,” when “His Porter” assured the faithful “the approximate time for that greatest of all coming events” was at hand,[iii] or any of the other dates instigated by heightened speculations after the wide-eyed read Sidney Watson’s 1921 In the Twinkling of an Eye, or Hal Lindsey’s The Late, Great Planet Earth, that so enthralled us during the Jesus Movement of the early 1970s, or the Left Behind novels and films, along with so many other doomsday predictions (some of these lethal, as that which caused the “largest mass suicide in American History” of Heaven’s Gate followers on March 26, 1997, due to the predictions of Do and Ti on the Hale-Bopp Comet).[iv]
My recommendation: before the next date is set for the sure-fire end of the world, how about we take a moment and examine what it is about ourselves that makes so many of us prey to such bogus predictions, since they fly in the face of clear biblical teaching that the times and the seasons and the dates that God has set are not our business? Here are a few starter thoughts:
It’s all about our fear of dying. The writer of the book of Hebrews tells us, it is appointed to people to die and after that: judgment. Enoch may have walked off with God and Elijah have ridden away in a flaming chariot, but everybody else we know about – including our Lord Jesus – died. Better plan on that. Sure, we would all like to be translated in a rapture – but nobody has experienced that yet. Better to focus in on the resurrection of Jesus. The point of all the Lord’s teaching about the end times is to encourage us to work for the night is coming. Best to take that to heart.
It’s all about the money. How many viewers does it take to raise $770 million at the box office? How many sold copies of a doomsday book does it take to top the bestsellers’ list? How many donations flood into a ministry that sets a date and enlists the faithful to support this wonderful ministry with their cards and letters? Clue in. Jesus didn’t go around proclaiming the end of the world and cleaning up the spare cash from any report that we see. In fact, when you attended a Jesus happening, you got a free lunch and there were bushels of food left over. The funds went in the other direction.
It’s all about the excitement. Let’s face it: what is more thrilling than being in the know on something as cataclysmic as the end of the world? All those losers out there off to the eternal barbeque, but I’ve got the info. I’m so hot, but such motivation is all so wrong.
It’s all about lack of faith. Maybe, for some, it’s about validating the Bible. They actually aren’t sure if it’s true, so this will prove it to them. Or, maybe inside information is a form of self validation. God has told me something you don’t know, so that shows that I really am saved. But, look, God has already told us what God wants from us in Micah 6:8: to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. How do we walk humbly with God? Paul explains in Romans 10:9-10 it’s through giving our loyalty to Christ, confessing our faith in his resurrection, declaring to others he is now the boss of our lives, and, he adds in 13:11-14, living accordingly. To Paul, that’s the point of recognizing the signs of the end: “The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” So, knowing “the night is nearly over” and “the day is almost here” is supposed to inspire us not to calculate just how much of the night actually is over and just exactly when dawn is to break, but instead – in its light – to “put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy, Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.“ Putting such advice into practice will keep us in the center of assurance, so busy pleasing God and reaching others that we should eventually realize, “If we live, we live to the Lord; and, if we die, we die to the Lord, So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living” (14:8-9, TNIV). So, no worries. Either way, we are covered.Actually, it’s all about getting it right. Scholars at Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (NIAH) objected in November, 2011, over a year before the December 21, 2012 date, that “the finding is seen as apocalyptic evidence only because of Western misinterpretations of what the Mayan calendar actually means.” Even a second discovery, “a ‘Comalcalco brick’ with vague inscriptions” that some claimed were apocalyptic failed to convince the scholars. As the University of Austin’s David Stuart, who is an expert in Mayan inscriptions, explained to the Associated Press, “There’s no reason it couldn’t be also a date in ancient times, describing some historical event in the Classic period.” Without a “future tense marking,” Prof Stuart concluded “The Comalcalco date” is “more historical tha[n] prophetic.”[v] This strikes me as reminiscent of the panic-stricken back in 2000, flailing around in terror, because they were ignorant of the error in Dionysius Exiguus’ calculations. We should know by now that before we all toss our cargo overboard and prepare to abandon the S.S. Earth, we need to check and double check to make certain we have the facts right, that we’re actually sinking. Obviously, every prediction up to now was wrong. Chances are 2050 is going to be wrong too.
So what are the facts exactly? Will Jesus - in fact - return? Absolutely. That assurance was given to the disciples right at Jesus’ ascension. The angels confirmed to them: “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). But they also demand to know why the disciples were wasting their time now dwelling on that fact: “Why do you stand here looking into the sky?” Jesus had already given them the great commission (Matt 28:18-20). His parting words to them in Acts 1:8 were all about receiving the power of God to fulfill that commission, so that “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Clearly, the end of time is God’s business; evangelizing the ends of the earth is his disciples’ business. So we have to ask ourselves the same question that the angels asked: “Why do we stand here looking into the sky?” We have work to do.
[i] William David Spencer, “Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is? On calendars and the apocalyptic imagination, Christianity Today, Vol. 39, No. 8 (July 17, 1995), 29; “What Year Is It On God’s Calendar?” Christian Reader, Vol. 36, No. 1 (Jan/Feb, 1998), 13-14; “What Year Is It On God’s Calendar? Live: A Weekly Journal of Practical Christian Living, Vol. 73, No. 2, Part 4 (December 26, 1999), 2-3, 7.
[ii] See Walter R. Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults, 11th ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany Fellowship, 1972), 361.
[iii] “His Porter,” Closing Crisis Years (London: Chas. J. Thynne & Jarvis: n.d.), 8.
[iv] Ted Daniels, A Doomsday Reader (New York: New York University, 1999), 204.
[v] Ray Downs, “2012 End of the World Predictions From Mayans ‘Misinterpreted’ by Christians, Experts Say,” CP N. America, 11/25/2011, p.1, Http://www.christianpost.com/news/2012end-of-the-world-predictions..., accessed 12/28/2012.