“When I look at two titans of theology like Martin Luther and Jonathan Edwards and I see them making predictions and voicing their expectations of the near return of Jesus and being wrong, that gives me pause.”
We have to be careful not to be guilty of what Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for—what I call the Red Sky Syndrome. If you recall, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees because they had an ability to predict the weather. They could look at the sky, and if it was red at night, they would say, “Sailor’s delight.” And if it was red in the morning, they would say, “Sailors take warning.” But they missed the signs of the times, and they missed the first advent of Christ. They missed the coming of the Messiah right in their midst in spite of the fact that a host of biblical prophecies heralded the appearance of Jesus on the scene—and Jesus rebuked them for it.
When somebody asks me, “Are we in the last days?” I suspect what they mean by that is, “Are we near the last chapter of history prior to the coming of Jesus Christ?” I can’t say yes or no. So I will say, “Yes, and I don’t know.” The sense in which I say yes is this: We have been in the last days since the first advent of Christ. And so the Scriptures tell us that we are to be living in the spirit of diligence and of vigilance from the time that Jesus departed this planet in clouds of glory until he returns. But when people ask me, “Are we living in the last days?” I suspect what they mean by that is, “Are we living in the last minutes of the last hour of the last day?” Do I think that the return of Jesus is close; is it on the horizon?
I hope I have learned something from other people’s mistakes in the past. For example, when Luther went through all of the turbulent upheaval of the Christian church in the sixteenth century, he was convinced that the fragmentation of the church at that time was the harbinger of the return of Jesus. But Luther was wrong. Jonathan Edwards, living in the middle of the eighteenth century, shortly before this nation was formed as a republic, reflected on the way in which religion had declined from 1620 to 1750. He was convinced that the world was going to the dogs and that it was running out of time, that Jesus was going to come any minute. Edwards was wrong. So when I look at two titans of theology like Martin Luther and Jonathan Edwards and I see them making predictions and voicing their expectations of the near return of Jesus and being wrong, that gives me pause.
The only thing I can say, however, is that we’re about 470 years closer to it than Luther was and about 258 years closer to it than Edwards was. There’s much that is going on in the world today—that tells me that these are the times when Christians should be reading the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.
This article previously appeared on Ligonier.org, and is used with permission.