Show of hands: Who remembers the book 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988?
It seems like every time we turn around, someone’s got a new prediction that the world as we know it is about to come to an end. Last year it was Harold Camping’s prediction that the rapture would occur on May 21, followed by a prediction of the end of the world on October 21, 2011. Less often remembered include predictions about a global ice catastrophe on May 5, 2000, the Millerites who believed the Second Coming was to occur in 1843, and the Prophet Hen of Leeds in 1806, a hoax in which it appeared a hen was laying eggs etched with the phrase “Christ is Coming”.
This year, we’re inundated with reminders about an alleged ancient prediction — the end of the Mayan Long Count calendar on December 21, 2012. Thankfully, it appears that doomsday countdown is doomed to fizzle out as well, as more recent studies indicate there’s been a mistake matching up the Mayan calendar to the modern Gregorian calendar… not to mention the fact that the Mayans weren’t actually predicting an apocalypse in the first place.
Jesus warned us in Mark 13:5-13 to beware of deception when it comes to the end of days. He indicated that many would come in His name, or claim to be Christ himself returned, and that many people would be taken in by the claims. There will be wars, He said, and rumors of wars, earthquakes and famines… and truthfully, these things are just a normal part of the course of history.
Jesus also predicted that His followers would be persecuted — and prosecuted. The New International Version states:
9 “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.
What strikes me in that passage is that right in the middle of talking about being flogged and arrested and put on trial, Jesus states that the gospel must be preached to all nations. Could it be that the persecution of the Church is to be considered just a normal part of the process of spreading the Gospel to all nations?
The passage goes on to talk about facing hatred and division, even division within families. Brothers, children and parents will betray one another and have their own family members put to death. These are pretty extreme circumstances, and even in today’s increasingly anti-religious culture, the vast majority of us reading this blog are not going to face execution because of our faith.
What we modern American Christians face more often than not are distractions. Daily life, family concerns, financial issues, popular culture, and time consuming hobbies conspire to shift our focus from Christ. And strange as it may sound, the end of the world can be just one more distraction. When “the end” is purported to be near, many people shift their focus to their own desires, or withdraw from the world entirely.
Our response, not only to persecution, not only to daily distractions, but to the doomsday predictions and deceptions, is to be simply this: To stand firm. To endure. Not to lose focus, but as Hebrews 12:2 states:
2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
So let it be.