I love the promise of the Lord’s coming, and I look forward with joyful anticipation to that great day, but Jesus was crystal clear – “No one knows the day or the hour” (Matthew 24:36). Did you catch that? No one! I once shared this verse with a man who was really into end times and desperately trying to figure out when Jesus would return, but he said, “But Jesus didn’t say that we couldn’t know the month.” I reminded him that Jesus said to his disciples before he ascended, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority” (Acts 1:7). Forget the month, we’re not even going to know the season! Yet, this has not stopped numerous false teachers from preying off of people’s fears and lack of discernment in selling millions of books making predictions of the times and seasons of Christ’s return. And I hesitate to write this, because I never want to seem like I’m “policing” what people read or sounding like an angry theological drug sniffer who just snoops around looking for error, but I believe this problem goes deeper than predictions. This may sound like, ‘much ado about nothing’, but this has everything to do with how you view and approach the bible.
The Bible is Not a Code to Crack.
A few years ago I was interviewed about Harold Camping’s prediction that Jesus was coming back on May 21, 2011. You remember that? Apparently, he cracked some secret code in the bible that enabled him to know the exact date. The sad thing is that he got so many people to buy into it. Yet, what happened? The day came and went. Christians need to realize that the bible is not a code to crack. God has not hidden secret “fortune cookie” messages in the bible for only the spiritually elite to discover.
Modern Gnosticism: This type of stuff is just a modern example of ancient Gnosticism – “Claiming that you have a special and secret knowledge that you must pass on to those who have faith enough to believe it.” The way this works is that you can’t disagree with the person’s secret knowledge, because if you do, then they will just tell you that you don’t have enough faith. Christians who are less discerning have been duped by this for years. The Apostle Paul dealt with this in his letter to the Colossians and explained that Christ is sufficient, and the word of God is all that we need.
Insights vs. Mysteries: Here’s where it may help to make a few distinctions. There’s a difference between an insight and a mystery. There’s a difference between seeing a helpful theological connection in the bible and receiving a secret message from God. There’s a difference between reading a commentary or other resource that helps you to understand and apply the bible versus books that claim to have secret messages that mean something for us that could never have been applied to the original audience. What I mean is that although there will be many insights discovered or applications made from the bible for our every-day lives, there are not going to be new mysteries or secret messages given to special people. A mystery was an authoritative divine revelation given to special leaders of the church (Apostles & Prophets) to be recorded for the people of God. Jude writes to “contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Therefore, there are no more special deliveries. Peter told us that we’ve been given “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). The overall principle is that the books of the Bible cannot mean something to us that they could never have meant to the original recipients. And so we should be guarded against people claiming to hear new divine messages or unlocking secret meanings for America or the church never before discovered. Unfortunately Harold Camping wasn’t the first and is clearly not the last to claim such things.
The Harbinger and Four Blood Moons
Two recent books, The Harbinger by Jonathan Chan and Four Blood Moons by John Hagee, fall into this category. Now, this is not meant to be offensive to people who have read these books and enjoyed them, but rather informative. Just consider The Harbinger’s subtitle: “The ancient mystery that holds the secret to America’s future.” Did you notice the three words: mystery, secret, and future? Books like this are misleading Christians in how to view and apply Scripture. Hagee’s subtitle is no different: “Something big is about to happen.” Did you pick up on what’s going on there? The subtle message in the subtitle is that unless you buy this book, then you won’t know what you should about your future. These writers prey off of people’s fear that they may be missing out on a secret code and message from God about the future that they can’t figure out by reading the bible on their own. Both The Harbinger and Four Blood Moons get several critical things wrong about different bible passages, more than can be described here. If you want to see what I mean, Tim Challies has written a very good review on The Harbinger here, and you can read more about the falsehood of Hagee’s blood moon approach here.
Just because someone claims to be a Christian, is on Christian television, or has a large following doesn’t mean that we should listen to every word that they say about the end times. You’ve got to test it according to the bible, and when we do, we can confidently disregard all these date setters and even these date teasers who claim to have “cracked the code” or received some secret message that you might miss if you don’t read their books. Please, don’t buy the books. Don’t see the movies. Don’t waste your money or your time. There are no secret codes that need to be broken for you to live the Christian life and face the future with confidence. There are no secret messages that you can’t afford to miss. The best approach is to study the Scriptures and trust your unknown future to a known God.