Two pastors, who I admired, were speaking in hushed tones; Jesus could come back this month. It was July 1967, and the world had just watched in disbelief as Israel defeated the surrounding Arab nations and unified Jerusalem at the end of the Six-Day War. Surely this meant that the rapture of the church was imminent.
I was young and impressionable, attending a Christian youth camp for three weeks – would I see my parents before the rapture? I felt like God had called me to share his gospel with others – would I ever have the opportunity to serve God? After all, “there were no remaining signs of the times to be fulfilled, the end was now”, so the discussion went.
In Matthew chapter 24, Jesus’s disciples asked him: What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?
To make sense of this question and of the answer that Jesus gave, I must assume that Jesus answered the question he was asked. The disciples didn’t ask for signs [plural] of his coming – they asked for the sign [singular]. Jesus responded by listing a number of events: wars, famines, pestilences, earthquakes, false prophets and lawlessness. He then assured the disciples that “the end is not yet”. Rather believers were to live through these difficulties and “endure to the end”.
Strangely every time there is a major earthquake, famine or epidemic, preachers contradict Jesus by stating that the disaster is a sign that Jesus is coming soon. The very things that Jesus said were not the end, fear mongering preachers used to construct predictions that the end is now. It wouldn’t be so bad, except these doomsday prophets obfuscate Jesus’ actual answer: And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come, [verse 14].
‘Nations’ is the Greek word ethnos, which means a people group, distinguished by language and/or culture.
The disciples question concerned the end of the age [Gr. Aion], not the end of the world. Clearly, the age referred to, is the age during which all the world will hear the good news of God’s kingdom which is righteousness, peace and joy, [Romans 14:17].
While “end time prophets” make wild claims based on calculations from the Jewish calendar, blood moons and a host of other supposed indicators, the fact remains; Jesus will not return until all people groups have heard the gospel.
The hysteria in some Christian fringe groups, who claimed that the beginning of seven years of “Great Tribulation” and the rapture of the church was due to occur in September, 2015, is nothing new.
In A.D. 960, Bernard of Thuringia predicted the imminent end of the world. By A.D. 999, the hysteria had spread throughout Europe, and multitudes journeyed to Jerusalem in expectation of the second coming of Christ by the turn of the first millennium.
19th-century American preacher, William Miller, drew a large following and predicted Jesus’s return in 1843. When that year came and went without Jesus complying with Miller’s prophecy, he set a new date in 1844. This became known as the ‘Great Disappointment’, instead of the Great Tribulation. Miller’s teachings still carry an influence among some evangelical Christians and he is credited with fuelling the birth of the Seventh-day Adventist movement.
In 1856, Ellen G. White, founder of the Seventh-day Adventists, made the claim that some of those alive in the conference in which he spoke that year would remain until the coming of the Lord Jesus.
The Jehovah’s Witness have predicted the return of Christ in 1914, 1915, 1918, 1920, 1925, 1941, 1976 and 1994.
Israel became a nation in 1948, and this began a countdown where many claimed that Jesus now had to return within 40 years [one generation]. In his book Future Survival, Chuck Smith, well known founder of the Calvary Chapel church movement predicted that the Lord would return before the end of 1981.
The booklet, 88 reasons why the rapture will occur in 1988, by Edgar Whisenaut, sold 4 million copies. When the date failed, his sequel was entitled; 89 reasons why the rapture will occur in 1989. His calculations were based on trying to understand times and seasons, much like last month’s Shemitah and Bloodmoon frenzy.
Why is this so damaging? Why not let boys be boys? Shouldn’t we expect wild and unsubstantiated predictions from those who claim to be prophets? Why am I addressing this?
Because the cause of the gospel suffers as people’s attention is directed towards nonsense. Millions and even billions are born, live and die, without hearing the gospel even once, while Christians pour millions of dollars into producing movies, books and teachings albums that seduce Christians away from the task that Jesus gave us.
When will the Lord return? When will the end of this age be?
Answer: When the gospel of God’s kingdom has been preached to all ethnic groups.
According to the Joshua Project, a research organization concerned with the yet unfinished task of presenting Christ to everyone, there are almost 4000 people groups without a gospel witness, constituting 41% of the world’s population.
Take Pakistan as an example, the country where World Impact Ministries (WIM) has been involved for the past 14 months to launch the only 24/7 Christian television channel in the world’s largest Islamic city, Karachi, with 21 million people. Out of Pakistan’s 394 people groups, 384 are unreached. The total number of professing Christians is less than 1% out of 192 million people.
We could study country after country and find equally dismal facts. Billions remain unreached while Christians are busy making foolish predictions.
Are we bent on ignoring Jesus’ end-time instructions?
The disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”, Acts 1:6b.
Jesus answer is unequivocal: “It is not for you to know times or seasons, which the Father has put in his own authority”, [v.7]. He continued: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth, [v.8].
Jesus redirects the attention of his followers to what is really important!
Standing on the Mount of Olives 2000 years ago, Jesus told us that the singular sign that the end of this age has come is that the gospel has been preached to all ethnic groups. It’s time we get on with the task.
Hell rejoices when the church is preoccupied with detailed end time developments, the Antichrist and the false prophet.
Hell laughs at believers, who are side-tracked by interpreting and analyzing so-called signs of the times, while forgetting about a world that has not yet heard the gospel.
Hell rejoices when the myth is perpetuated that the world has already heard the gospel, in spite of the obvious facts.
Hell rejoices in the myth that the church has already given plenty of its money and effort to world missions, when facts show that less than 1% of all money raised for Christian ministry is used to reach the 40% of the population without the gospel.
Before the turn of the millennium, especially in the late 1980s and early 1990s there was a movement afoot to finish the task of giving the gospel to every ethnic group by the year 2000 A.D. Sadly, much of this focus has been forgotten. I submit that there are several reasons:
- A misconception about where the unreached live. Many erroneously conclude that unreached people are “remote”, only “tribal”, or only “illiterate people”, hard to reach. In fact the majority live in major urban areas.
- Confusing people groups with countries. Most countries are made up of many people groups. In one Asian country almost all the Christians live in a tribal area, while in the rest of the nation there is only a fraction of 1% that are Christians, while the majority continues in Buddhism. In another Asian country where there are many dynamic churches, the largest people groups still remain unreached, as Christians focus on those of their own ethnicity.
- The misconception that only especially called “missionaries” are responsible. In Antioch, all the believers were called, though only a handful, led by Paul and Barnabas went on the missions journey, [Acts 13:1-4].
- The rise of neo-Calvinism in the church. John Calvin developed his theology in Geneva, Switzerland during the 16th century. It has done much damage to the cause of Christ. Calvinistic theology includes the grotesque idea that God has already chosen those who are to be saved and those who are to be lost. Naturally with such a belief system, there will be little urgency to give the gospel to everyone.
- The misconception that the church in each country should reach his own people. This discounts the fact that in many nations there is no church, or the church is so small that it is highly likely that without outside help it will ever impact its people.
- Christian dis-interest. There are so many things that vie for our attention that we forget what Jesus specifically told us – give the gospel to every creature, Mark 16:15.
- Fear. This is especially prevalent when we talk about reaching Islamic areas. Many Christians are afraid to present the gospel to Muslims. While terrible and unspeakable atrocities have been committed by radical Islamic terrorists, there are many Islamic countries where the gospel can be presented. The partners of World Impact Ministries have sponsored 26 Gospel Campaigns in Indonesia [88% Islamic] and 14 Gospel Campaigns in Pakistan [99% Islamic], to just mention a couple of nations. In a few weeks we head to Guinea, West Africa, where 88% are Muslims.
In Luke chapter 19, Jesus encountered a group of people, who thought that the kingdom of God would appear immediately. In response, Jesus told this story:
A certain noble man went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return. So he called 10 of his servants, delivered to them 10 minas said to them, do business till I come, Luke 19:12 – 13.
Notice, Jesus directs their attention away from when to what. This group was concerned with a timeline – will the kingdom come soon? Jesus points them towards the task at hand – do business till I come. This redirection is appropriate today.
Peter, the apostle, told us to be, “Looking for and hastening the coming of the Day of God”, 2nd Peter 3:12a. ‘Hastening” indicates that we are involved, not merely looking for end time events to unfold, but in hastening them to come to pass.
How do we hasten the Day of God?
By doing God’s business until Jesus comes. And God’s business is clear- “this gospel must first be preached”, [Mark 13:10].
When the task is completed, Jesus will return and the end of the age will come.