I wrote this for Facebook, but thought I’d leave it here for posterity.
Young children don’t often remember sermons, but just yesterday I was reminded of a sermon on Matthew 24 that Dr. Henry Budd, then president of Briercrest Bible College, preached in the mid-to-late 1980s. I’m sure I wasn’t more than 9 or 10 years old, but that sermon has stuck with me all these years.
I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian household and community. In that context, there was lots of talk about the “end times” and the rapture and all the terrible things that would happen then, and it was much debated whether or not Christians would be snatched away from earth before or after all those terrible things happened.
As a young boy I was terrified of the “end times” and everything associated with it. Any time references were made to signs of the times or Jesus’ imminent return, fear would well up in me. Later I even had nightmares about it.
What has stuck with me from that sermon over all these years is that, after reading the signs of the end times in Matthew 24 (“wars and rumours of wars”, nations rising against nations, “famines and earthquakes in various places”), Dr. Budd emphasized verse 8: “All these are the beginnings of birth pains.” And in verse 8 he emphasized that it was *the beginnings* of birth pains, meaning that the famines and wars were not a sign of the imminent end of all things, but simply an indication that history was moving along towards the return of Christ.
I don’t remember if this was his point or not, but the idea that stuck with me was this: chill out about the end times in relation to world events. And a huge weight of terror was lifted off of me.
Since then my theology has shifted away from fundamentalism and related end times theories, but I’ve carried his words with me. I’ve since then also learned some history and came to know that famines and wars and earthquakes and pandemics have occurred regularly and repeatedly since Jesus spoke these words nearly 2,000 years ago. I’ve come to know that many Christians throughout history have believed that the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in AD70 is when Jesus’ words in Matthew 24 were fulfilled. I’ve since discovered that the Bible is actually kind of sketchy on the specifics of “the end times” and that the point is not to make predictions based on world events, but perhaps—*at best*—that we should use world events as a reminder that Jesus did promise to return and that he would then make all things right and new, bringing healing, restoration, justice, and that in the meantime we’re invited to live as if that time of healing and justice has already come.
All this to say, in an echo of my memory of Dr. Budd’s point more than 30 years ago: let’s chill out about the end times predictions in relation to the pandemic and other world events. Christians await the return of Christ, yes. But haven’t enough wrong predictions been made throughout history based on some world event or catastrophe for us to learn our lesson about this? It’s not enough to say, “Maybe this time we’ll be right.” People will stop listening to what we have to say, if they haven’t already. It’s much more important for us to announce, “He is risen! Jesus is Lord!” in word and deed than it is for us to “Oooo!” and “Aaaah!” at every significant world event as if *this* time we actually know.
Maybe I’m wrong. But I wouldn’t know that until after the fact anyway.