End Times: Scary Sermons or Taboo Territory?

Are these the End Times? Are dangerous happenings in Syria and Iran the warning signs of a prophesied final battle? Are current political figures or religious leaders possible Anti-Christs?

What are churches teaching about this stuff, if anything? Should anybody spend time trying to decipher cryptic biblical prophecies about the end of the world?

It seems Christians have argued over these questions for centuries. Some preachers and entire denominations have distinguished themselves as End Times specialists. Others avoid the whole subject, trying to distance themselves from preachers who infamously set dates for the end of the world.

Journalist Billy Hallowell recently researched pastor sentiments on End Times controversies. He found opinions split between evangelicals and mainliners, between the highly educated and the slightly educated, and between younger and older clergy. Hallowell found about half (48 percent) of the ministers espouse premillenialism–a view that supports a looming 1,000-year period during which Jesus reigns on earth after his second coming. Also, about half (49 percent) endorse the belief that the Anti-Christ is a real figure who will appear on the scene.

In his new book, The Armageddon Code: One Journalist’s Quest for End-Times Answers, Hallowell contrasts the views of Rapture enthusiasts such as Tim LaHaye with Bible experts such as Hank Hanegraff. While LaHaye scolds those who “don’t take prophecy literally,” Hanegraff calls some pastors’ teachings “embarrassing” and “irresponsible” when they try to link current Middle East happenings to Old Testament prophecies.

Listen to the intriguing conversation with Billy Hallowell here on the Holy Soup podcast:

 

So, should our preachers and teachers speculate about and predict modern fulfillment of ancient prophecies? Are all the Last Days sermons, books and films bringing more people into a genuine relationship with Jesus? Or, are they repelling more people than they attract?

Of course, all parts of scripture are worthy to explore and discuss–including the prophetic writings. I don’t think we should avoid certain sections, verses or entire books because they seem too opaque, puzzling or strange. We need to encourage more fearless conversations among God’s people–about all kinds of things. And it’s fair game to wonder why the Bible includes such perplexing passages.

Though it may be alluring to approach the Bible as a cryptogram to solve, I’m not sure that is the intent of prophetic references.

Hallowell concludes that Bible scholar Michael Heiser may have a healthier take on interpreting prophetic writings–to view them as comprehensible only after events unfold. Hallowell writes: “Using the example of Old Testament prophecies about Jesus’s first coming, he (Heiser) said that it is much clearer for us to look back today to see how Christ fulfilled those predictions than it was for people living in Bible times to do so in real time. In a sense, he cautioned that it’s easier to see the narrative after the fact and conclude, ‘Oh, yeah. That makes sense now,’ than it is to cobble pieces together and make definitive conclusions before prophetic events have taken place.”

So, when exploring scripture, enjoy the ride. But spare us the hokey End Times movies.

28 Responses to “End Times: Scary Sermons or Taboo Territory?”

  1. As one pastor put it ‘Jesus is coming! Look busy!
    Another friend states: “Jesus is coming and is He ticked off?

    I was raised in a church with regular Revelation/Daniel conferences. they thought the Suez Crisis was the beginning of the end. Guess they were wrong about that as well as the beast, the antichrist, to devil being let loose and the purple lady.

  2. All of scripture is important to share with each other. To not talk about escatological issues is to shortchange the saints. Because we might disagree on those issues is not a reason to avoid them. If that were the case we wouldn’t talk about a lot that we do talk about on this blog. It is up to the believers today to share these things with others so they to can pass these words on to the next generation.

  3. I greatly appreciated this succinct, balanced look at eschatological views.

    Like Hanegraff, I have felt embarrassed at people’s irresponsibility in trying to read contemporary geopolitics back onto ancient Israel’s prophecies. I found it curious that the well reputed Wayne Grudem even offered such a book: https://blcasey.wordpress.com/2015/12/12/mixed-up/.

  4. I’ve spent most of my time as a teacher with weight on practical, daily Christian living which is what I’ve felt called to emphasize for nearly 40 years. I respect those who are very much into end times studies, realize it has importance, but it has never intrigued me to the point of intense study. I do appreciate those who feel so called. But in regard to whether we are in the end times, isn’t that pretty clear? According to what Peter said in Acts 2, the Day of Pentecost kicked off the “last days” as a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. The question now seems to be how deep we are into the end times period and how to discern truthfully where things are since we’ve been in it for about 2000 years.

  5. “Be faithful to the end” (of your life or this present age) seems to be the NT directive — versus “figure out how it will end.” Beyond this, Dr. Sam Waldron’s “The End Times Made Simple” (2 books – Amillennial view) seems to summarize the biblical data better than most I’ve read over the years.

  6. First the caveat: I’m an not-sure-but-hope-I’m-wrong-post-tribulation-rapture Christian and not a Left Behind fan. I also believe that Date Namers, etc. are dangerous. That being said….

    Sometimes you worry me, Thom. Maybe it’s the people you hang out with. Several of your last posts have been on the Phillip Yancy tune of “the church (body of Christ) is always wrong”. No matter what we’re doing, your authors have the high ground.

    And on this one, they might not be merely supercilious, but dangerous.

    Our Lord told us in Luke 21 ” you too, when you see these things happening, know [without any doubt] that the kingdom of God is near.” WHEN these things are happening, not afterwards as in ” ‘Oh, yeah. That makes sense now,”.

    He told us over and over to watch. He said even He didn’t know the day nor the hour, but we’re supposed to watch for the signs of the times.

    How embarrassing for the Believers that some of the shepherds are putting rocks in the feed trough, whether they’re the Tim LaHayes or the Thom Schultzs.

    This was a snotty column.

    • To carlahoag, While I agree with you that Jesus told us to watch, and watch, we must, the only “snotty” thing about this post was your comment.

      I would urge you and all of us as believers to please treat one another with kindness and respect, even when we disagree with one another .

      We are called to LOVE the fellowship of believers, so let’s please not denigrate ourselves to the level of posting insulting comments, one believer to another.

      The rest of the world is watching US.

      • This wasn’t snotty?

        >So, when exploring scripture, enjoy the ride. But spare us the hokey End Times movies.< ?

        But this was?

        I’m not going to further defend myself. You’re entitled to not like what I said.

    • CarlaHoag, sorry I disappointed you. Allow me to clarify a couple of things. As to your speculations about who I “hang out with,” I haven’t seen Phillip Yancey for a long time–though I’d be happy to “hang out” with him.

      You mentioned “your authors.” The book I mentioned in this article did not come from my company. However, you may want to read it–before assuming the author is out to undermine you. I’d also invite you to listen to my podcast with this author.

      The views in that book, in the podcast, and in my blog are intended to stir your thinking. As the published description of this blog always states, my goal is to “challenge the status quo” of today’s church, with an eye toward how we all might find room for improvement in how we know, love and follow Jesus.

      I don’t mean to be snotty. Except, perhaps, toward the current crop of cheesy End Times movies and documentaries.

      • So you did mean to be snotty?

        When I said “your authors”, I didn’t mean your company. I meant people you seem to agree with.

        I’m seeing a trend in your posts that seems elitist. Maybe it isn’t, but it seems that way. And that’s disappointing because this forum has been a good place for thousands of Believers to meet and share. That dialogue is squelched when you begin with snark.

        Maybe you thought the hokey end times movie comment was funny. I thought it was haughty.

        Stirring our thinking can be a very good thing, especially if you believe that the church is deceived.

        However, it reminds me of a small group leader we had several years ago. He’d say something controversial, then sit back and watch people go at each other. It came very close to sowing discord among the brethren.

      • I don’t have a strong position to have undermined. I think his tone is condescending.

      • Carla, for some reason your last two comments do not have the “reply” button available. This is in reply to your comment of 5/12 at 7:28 a.m.

        You may be right that you don’t have a strong position to have undermined (nor do I), but it is important to acknowledge that you have a position (as do I). For instance,there are often background-but-significant correlations between eschatology and views of politics, nationalism, and the military, and in my experience, one who writes about those things likely has an eschatological position.

        I don’t know this, because I don’t know you, but I think it is quite possible that you read a tone in Thom’s article in relation to your own scruples and concerns. Perceptions of tone can be elusive, but fyi, I read his tone as more “playful” and good-natured, while poking at a real problem or two.

  7. Two things have become clear to me about eschatological topics: 1) they are almost annoyingly, directly tied to a great many other topics that many people see as more applicable, and 2) nothing about eschatology is very clear. There’s a lot of haze in this area!

    • Brian Casey, I don’t know what’s going on with the Reply buttons. Your comment didn’t have one, either.

      First, I appreciate your thoughtful response. Rather than running in with a sword, you seem to actually try to understand where I’m coming from.

      Second, I disagree with Hallowell’s premise that Biblical prophesy is for looking back rather than looking forward (my first comment quotes Jesus telling us to watch; the words of Jesus trump anyone, anytime).

      Third, I almost can’t stand those end-time movies, but I think it’s sin to marginalize a section of Believers for ridicule. Do I ever do that? Yes, I’m afraid I do. it’s not the same group that Shultz and Hallowell skewer; in fact, it’s the high church goers who look down on everyone beneath them.

      What gives any of us the right to ridicule the Lord’s servants? If they’re doing/preaching error, then it should be addressed, but not be mocked.

      Purevintagestyle took real exception to my comment, and cautioned me to treat other with kindness and respect and She is apparently concerned more that I called Schultz’s blogpost snotty, than she was with his pejorative, hokey.

      She closed with the reminder that . It is indeed. That’s why it’s good to discuss these issues without haughtiness.

      It seemed like you were mildly curious where this was coming from, and that’s it.

      Shame on me; shame on them.

      • I’m glad you read my comment as I intended, Carla. I don’t think any shame is warranted here, really. Public discussions are public, and when someone writes a blog or a book (as I have been doing), s/he must take as a given that it is open for criticism. In this discussion, some differences between well-targeted criticism and outright skewering or mocking may be a) whether one can be seen to be interested in truth above winning, and b) whether anyone is trying to consign anyone else to hell over an opinion. Here, I didn’t think anyone had done anything like that, but you read Thom differently.

        I actually detest getting into prophecy. It befuddles me and annoys me. My sense there is a lot to be gained from the perspective that says we would do well to look backward into prophecies that appear to have been fulfilled. It’s not that there is no future aspect to prophecies; there clearly is. It’s that interpreting prophecy is the most daunting kind of interpretation I’ve found. Anyone who claims to have all the answers in the prophetic realm has a poor hermeneutical framework (and possibly other agendas).

  8. Kathy Schillreff Reply May 11, 2016 at 9:00 am

    It seems to me that these conversations are better done in a smaller group setting (like a Bible Study) where people have Bibles and its practical to have them flipping from one passage to another. Also where context can be discussed. I would also refer you to The Rapture Exposed by Barbara R. Rossing, NT professor at Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago.

    The Rev. Kathryn M. Schillreff

    Rector, St. Monica’s Episcopal Church

    • That’s an excellent book! I’m in the process of leading a book discussion on the book right now. It’s very topical. And I agree – a small group setting is actually best for this – you need time and space to give people the opportunity to talk and ask questions. Our conversations have been very good and deep. People have questions. People assumed that the Rapture was what all Christian theology taught because it’s what they heard the most about on radio, TV, etc. Exposing people to books like The Rapture Exposed was a real eye-opener for some. One guy said it was like when you first learn that Santa Claus isn’t real.

  9. Keep your focus on Jesus. Read the revelatory scriptures and pray for discernment. Forget your religious, political and other prejudices and wait for what the Lord will impart.

  10. I’d recommend The Parousia (1878) by James Stuart Russell as a starting point though I don’t agree with every single conclusion therein. However, as one reviewer mentioned—I can never read the New Testament the same again.

  11. This article presupposes that “prophecy” only refers to future events, and that the prophecies in the Bible are predicting events far into the future. Most often, prophets in the Bible were not predicting the future, they were talking about their times or drawing logical conclusions from previous teachings. They were preaching or exhorting, which is the principal meaning of prophesying.

    Is the Anti-Christ a person? Yes, but he is long gone. Taking the Bible seriously and taking it literally can be two different things. I take Revelation seriously, and have learned a lot from it, but most of the events (really up until the Second Advent) are in the past. They were written in a fanstastic style using terms and images the Christians of the time would understand, but the Roman government wouldn’t. Knowing that, what it says is a lot more immediate to contemporary applications than some SciFi reading of the text.

    Also, as an evangelical, I would request that the writer separate evangelicals (which, until recently, would have been amillennials) from fundamentalists, who are typically dispensationalists.

  12. Robert commented on Facebook: “As a former (is there such a thing) pastor, I regard it as clergy malpractice to not preach on this topic. That said, when done Biblically, sermons are a necessary part of the ministry and a fulfillment of the command of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus spoke of it as did the apostles.”

  13. End times talk can be good for ratings, usually no falls asleep in the pew. It also gives the pastor a special place of power among the congregants. For many it will be the only topic that they will ask the pastor questions about after his sermon.

  14. Michael wrote, on Facebook: “THE END OF DAYS!!!!
    According to Hebrews One we have been in the ‘last days’ these 1900+ years. We are in the ‘Church Age’, the gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
    We, the Body of Yahshuah, carry a message of a hope and a future. But there has been of recent years, a growing sense of hopelessness, and a foreboding of the future. Programs on TV are replete with messages of apocalyses of all types.
    Jesus foretold of the time when men’s hearts would be failing them for fear of the things coming upon the earth. Friends and Public, we are IN that time – the end of days!
    The end of days is a very specific reference to a very specfic period of time. It is the last 7 years of this age. It is called the Tribulation. And it HAS begun! The ‘Day of the Lord’, that 70th Week of Daniel the Prophet, was initiated by God on 29 Feb. 2016. And if you wish to know how I came to that, go to my Time Line, down several posts to ‘Leap of Faith.’ And I would encourage you to go up from there and read all. And listen! Forget your former teachers OLD SCHOOL – and learn of me NEW SCHOOL.
    As I have stated before, there is a time frame for the end of days in Psalm 119. The last 7 years (119 is built upon the 22 letters of the Hebrew AlephBet) represent the last 7 years, the 70th Week. The number value of the first letter of the 7, Ayin, is 70, as in 70th Week.
    These are the verses just before the 7 begin. And fittingly, they are 119-120. ‘You destroy the wicked of the earth like dross;…my flesh trembles for fear of You, and I am afraid of Your JUDGMENTS.’
    The whole of the 70th is not about ‘wrath’, as some believe. It is about judgment. And this judgment builds from the 7 Seals to the 7 Trumpets to the 7 Bowls, which are the actual wrath of God. And they come because of the mark and image of the Beast.
    Father, we understand the time of Your judgment has come. And we tremble because of the evil coming upon the earth. But we are encouraged none the less, for we know You are our God – our shield – our high tower. So we look to You, and repent of every sin which drags us down. Father, make us indeed both salt and light. And though the deep darkness covers the earth, cause us to be as stars shinning in the heavens, that we might be as a guide to the peoples, pointing them to You and Your mercy in Jesus the Christ.
    PS If you have not signed yet the PETITION FOR A COVENANT OF PEACE do so!”

  15. Curtis commented on Facebook: “Jesus repeatedly said we are not to deal with the end. We are to live in the now.”

  16. What’s Wrong with This Coin?
    By Robert Winkler Burke
    Book #3 of In That Day Teachings
    Copyright 10/3/08 http://www.inthatdayteachings.com

    What’s wrong with this coin?
    This dark copper I have here,
    One side has the face mask of greed,
    The other: face mask of fear.

    Heads is the face mask of Prosperity:
    Give to get anything.
    Tails is the face mask of Rapture:
    Fear missing the King.

    I got this coin from being partners,
    With preachers on TV,
    They sell me one lie or the other,
    I buy fear or greed.

    But this coin buys nothing in heaven,
    It’s not the coin of that realm,
    Instead it’s the coin of lie making,
    Where deception rules helm.

    Fear and greed are two spirits,
    Both not of God.
    Funny, I got them from churches,
    Few think it odd.

    Some love fear but loath greed,
    Hating the prosperity creed,
    Others love greed but loath fear,
    Thinking rapture is bad feed.

    Fear and greed are just two faces,
    Of Satan’s same wretched coin,
    Fear and greed can’t get you to heaven,
    They come from Satan’s loin.

    I’ve never heard a prosperity preacher,
    Who didn’t believe in the rapture,
    I’ve never heard a rapture preacher,
    Who my money didn’t need capture.

    Fear and greed, greed and fear,
    Emotional boom and bust,
    Blessed are the courageous poor in spirit,
    In God of heaven they trust.

    Without worshipping fear and greed doctrines,
    We can worship God in spirit and truth,
    Jesus comes quickly to indwell such clean souls,
    In whom devil lies and spirits do forsooth.

    So if you want to truly miss the King,
    Worship fear or greed,
    Support prosperity and rapture ministries,
    Your money they need.

    They need your hard earned money to broadcast,
    Lies all over the place,
    They are driven to keep Christ from indwelling,
    The whole human race.

    But oh, how preachers and people do much love,
    Doctrines of rapture and prosperity,
    They keep hell busy minting fear and greed coinage,
    For their hell-on-earth lack of verity.

    So what’s wrong with this fear and greed coin,
    With smiling or frowning mask face?
    Nothing, the coin separates truth from lie lovers,
    And who will go to what place.

  17. Here is a new take on the end times. http://www.JesusPAC.org
    Especially check out my Timeline.

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