Paul was “on trial for the hope of the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 23:6). He wrote that if Jesus has not risen from the dead, our faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:13-17). Many Christians believe that the resurrection is only about an after-death assurance of eternal life. When a person becomes a Christian, he or she is “born again” (John 3:5). In a way, a born-again person’s resurrection begins at conversion. Paul writes that God “raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6-7).
Think about that for a moment. In some way, Christians have already been raised up. In addition, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Cor. 5:17). The new birth is a “now event” and has present-day ramifications.
Too many Christians are waiting for an end-time event to make the resurrection a reality. This is not the case. Too many Christians are waiting for a future relevance for the resurrection when that relevance is now. There’s too much emphasis on the “next prophetic event” to rescue us from the troubles of this world.
A study of history has taught that trying to predict prophetic events is a dubious and dangerous practice. C. Marvin Pate argues that “correlating current events” with Bible prophecies is “an obsession” that has “undoubtedly caused more harm than good.”1
Pate is not alone in his judgment. Dozens of examples of historians who have studied the subject could be cited. Francis X. Gumerlock, author of the most comprehensive study of two-thousand years of failed predictions, says it best in his book The Day and the Hour:
I originally intended the chronicle to be an article, which I estimated would be about ten pages in length. Twenty-one chapters later, The Day and the Hour illustrates century after century, year after year, the perennial fascination of those in Christendom who predicted a date for the Rapture, the Resurrection, or the Return of Christ; those who calculated the nearness of Armageddon, the Last Judgment, or the Millennium; those who announced a contemporaneous identity for the Two Witnesses, a last-days Elijah, the Antichrist, or some Beast from the Book of Revelation; and those who believed that their sect was the 144,000 or their generation the last.
In the course of this study, I have found that it was not only radicals and cultists who had engaged in this type of End-time date setting; almost no Christian denomination has been immune from it. Even some whom we consider heroes of the faith have mistakenly engaged in these sorts of vain speculations.2
What’s on the Prophetic Horizon for the World?
After Jesus rose from the dead and before His ascension into heaven, He gave a command to go and “make disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:19). Even with the passage of two millennia, evangelism and discipleship efforts have only just begun. The discipleship process has taken a back seat to evangelism-only efforts. Many believe that once the gospel has gone around the globe, Jesus will return. This is a mistaken belief based on a misreading of Matthew 24:14. See my book Wars and Rumors of Wars. The command is discipleship, not simply evangelism.
Leading people to Christ is a required first step. No one is to remain a babe in Christ forever. The time comes when the maturing convert puts aside milk (1 Peter 2:2) and partakes of “solid food” (Heb. 5:13). The goal is to have the “senses trained to discern good and evil” (5:14). The ultimate goal for the Christian is to take “every thought captive to the obedience to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). It was this kind of biblical thinking that changed the world.3 Until whole nations come under the sway of the gospel and are truly discipled, we should not expect the coming of the Lord.
We’re often told that the devil controls the world, that he orchestrates the movements of history. This, too, is an unbiblical idea. The Bible says that Satan is defeated, disarmed, and spoiled (Col. 2:15; Rev. 12:7-17; Mark 3:27), “fallen” (Luke 10:18), and “thrown down” (Rev. 12:9). He was “crushed” under the feet of the early Christians (Rom. 16:20). He has lost “authority” over Christians (Col. 1:13) and has been “judged” (John 16:11). He cannot “touch” a Christian (1 John 5:18). His works have been “destroyed” (1 John 3:8). He has “nothing” (John 14:30). He “flees” when “resisted” (James 4:7) and is “bound” (Mark 3:27; Luke 11:20; Rev. 20:2).
The early Christians understood the place of the devil in God’s sovereignly controlled universe. Our forefathers worked in terms of God as the Ruler of the kings of the earth, not in terms of Satan as the “ruler of this world,” because “the ruler of this world” has been “cast out” (John 12:31). They took the Bible seriously when it said of God’s people, “And Thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth” (Rev. 5:10; compare 1 Peter 2:9-10).
Paul tells us “that the saints will judge the world” (1 Cor. 6:2). And what of the evil in the world? Can it all be attributed to the devil? “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death” (James 1:14-15). Changed hearts and changed minds are in order, and these come only by way of regeneration.
Does this mean that God’s kingdom is some distant mirage? Scripture clearly teaches the nearness of the kingdom in Jesus’ day (Matt 3:2; 4:17; 4:23; Mark 1:14-15; Luke 4:16-30; 4:43; 8:1 10:9; Col. 1:13), a definitive or present manifestation of the kingdom through Jesus’ work (Matt. 11:2-6; Luke 4:21; Luke 11:20; 17:21), the continuing coming of the kingdom (Matt.6:10), the progressive advance of the kingdom (Isa. 9:6-7; Dan. 2:31-34, 44-45; 1 Cor. 15:24; Matt. 13:31-33), and the consummation of the kingdom (Matt. 25; 1 Cor. 15:23-24; Rev. 21).
David Bahnsen captures the significance of the resurrection well with these comments:
As the level of division, anger, hatred, distrust, and general separation within the culture grows to levels I personally have not observed in my nearly 44 years on planet earth, I am blessed beyond words this morning to reflect on the fact that there is no aspect of secularism, humanism, progressivism, whataboutism, moral relativism, hypocrisy, or any other of the plagues from all sides of this distressing divide that can ever remotely dent, damper, or diminish the reality of the resurrection that we of the Christian faith celebrate today. We do not celebrate or mourn polls, elections, or cable news rancor; for what has been bought for us is no less than the victory of all history, marked by the empty tomb that has forever changed the world. Praise the Lord, He is risen.
Anti-Christians don’t mind chocolate bunnies, colored eggs, and marshmallow peeps. They don’t even mind that Christians attend worship services on Easter Sunday. What really frightens them is Christians who act on the significance of the resurrection.
Quoted in Jeffery L. Sherer, “Dark Prophecies,” U.S. News & World Report (December 15, 1977), 69. Also see C. Marvin Pate and Calvin B. Haines, Jr., Doomsday Delusions: What’s Wrong with Predictions About the End of the World (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995). ↩
Francis X. Gumerlock, The Day and the Hour: Christianity’s Perennial Fascination with Predicting the End of the World (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2000), 2. ↩
D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe, What If Jesus Had Never Been Born (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994); What if the Bible Had Never Been Written? (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1998); Alvin J. Schmidt, Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan 2000). ↩