Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Expecting the Unexpected

When Christ came the first time, few if anyone seemed to get it. Not only did His enemies not understand what was happening, but His own disciples were confused (Matthew 16:21-23; 20:20-28; Mark 9:30-32; John 16:29-33). Nor is this totally surprising, because it was difficult to know how to fit together the Old Testament prophecies regarding the First and Second Advents. Should we expect the Second Coming to be any different?

The fact that Christ is personally, physically, literally coming back is clearly taught in Scripture (Acts 1:9-11; John 14:1-3; 1 John 3:2, 3; Matthew 24:30, 31). But the details of the events surrounding that coming have been much disputed. Most who have endeavored to approach these events have gone to two extremes. There are those who have all the events figured out in great detail. There are others who have taken the specifics so symbolically it is hard to see how anything could be certain. Also, both sides have those so dogmatic about their interpretations they are willing to divide from those who take a different approach. Could the truth lie somewhere in between?

It is clear that a certain amount of prophecy is symbolical. (No one expects an actual animal such as that described in Revelation 13:1, 2 to roam the earth.) On the other hand, there comes a point where one can interpret passages in such an allegorical manner they can be made to say anything. This allows everyone to read in their favorite opinions and prejudices. There also is a tendency on both sides to interpret prophecies in terms of current events. People therefore jump to conclusions that Napoleon or Hitler or the Pope or whatever current figure we happen to dislike is the Antichrist. May it not be better to wait and see how the prophecies are really fulfilled rather than jumping to conclusions prematurely? Is it possible that God puts less value on our being clever enough to figure out all the details before hand (1 Corinthians 3:18-20; 8:1-3) than on trusting Him even when things do not turn out as we expect (2 Corinthians 5:7; Hebrews 11:6)?

Now do not get me wrong. I do not want to forbid the study of the prophecies of the Second Coming. All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for us (2 Timothy 3:16, 17). What I am suggesting is that we hold our interpretations with a light hand and avoid dividing over them. It was the Pharisees and Sadducees who had everything pegged (John 8:45-53; 9:13-34; Matthew 28:11-15; Acts 4:1-3). And they were totally wrong. Extreme dogmatism on things where the Scripture is not dogmatic can be a dangerous strait-jacket. I am not accusing either side of having reached this point. But I do think there are pitfalls, real and potential, that need to be avoided.

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