The Terrors in Our Times: Do They Mean the End is Near?
by S. Douglass Woodward
Growing up in Oklahoma, I’m well acquainted with tornadoes. I’ve seen quite a number with my own eyes and experienced its roar when one flew over my house in the spring of 1970. The twister skipped to and fro throughout our northwest Oklahoma City neighborhood. Some good friends had their house completely destroyed while the houses on either side and across the street completely missed the damage. The capaciousness of that storm is characteristic of many “rope-like” tornadoes. If you are going to be in the midst of such a frightening act of nature, I learned that’s the best type of tornado to experience. There’s a good chance to escape damage and especially death.
Folks in Joplin a couple of weeks ago were no so lucky. While May 21st was a much ballyhooed doomsday that failed to materialize, our friends in that southeastern Missouri town aren’t so sure it wasn’t a day of doom. Saturday May 21st was devastating for most of their community. Viewers of the cable news networks have been stunned again and again observing the unbelievable destruction in the wake of this F5 “wedge-like” tornado packing winds in excess of 200 miles per hour. When you are in the path of a storm like this, that is “rain-wrapped” and a mile-wide, there is no escaping it. You probably can’t see it. The roar is so loud you feel surrounded and lose your sense of direction. You simply can’t avoid the coming storm.
This situation reminded me of the inevitability of the apocalypse I believe is soon to come upon the world. In my new book, Black Sun, Blood Moon: Can We Escape the Cataclysms of the Last Days? I hope to underscore for Christians that the vast fulfillment of prophecy in our day demands we recognize that we have now passed the point of no return. We live in the last days. They won’t go on forever.
I do believe we can escape the most horrendous cataclysms the Bible predicts, but not because humankind is on the verge of revival and is ready to repent and change its ways. Would that this about-face were imminent. To the contrary, our culture in America is heading down a path to destruction and singing a merry tune along the way. Can our fate be avoided?
This conviction of perilous times ahead is why I begin the book asking the question, “Is the Apocalypse Avoidable?” My answer is a stern “NO.” It’s time to recognize that, as Christians, our hope is not in improving our government though we should always strive for its betterment until the day Christ returns. Nor is it in achieving a new level of “higher consciousness” as the mystics of the new age and authors of 2012 books proclaim will soon happen. Nor is it the case that as a nation, if we repent, God will heal our land. We should hope that such a change occurs. But whether or not attitudes and actions adjust such that we see some improvement in morality and the economy, we are now firmly locked onto a course that can’t be altered. Doomsday lies in our near-term future.
The May 21st prediction of Harold Camping was most unfortunate. It blackened the eye of all Christians who believe that Jesus Christ will return one day to this planet in the same manner as His disciples saw him leave. (See Acts, Chapter One). Camping’s rationales for why Jesus should have returned on May 21st were not just unbiblical, they were irrational. His approach was a mixture of numerology, mathematics, and wishful thinking. His method for assembling these factors together was convoluted at best; at worst, it was blatantly random. How awful that so many followed him and so much money was spent to advertise “the end” with nothing to show for it. Over the past few weeks, I’ve done many radio interviews on the subject of “Harold Camping and the Coming of Doomsday on May 21st.” Throughout these interviews, this was a common question: “If he is wrong, can any good come of this?” Beyond causing people to be reminded that Christianity has historically believed its founder would one day return to earth, the failure to rightly predict this outcome, much less make so much of it in the media, is hardly a good way to impress the unbelieving. It’s never good to commit your biggest blunders in front of a national audience. It’s even worse when your audience hopes and expects you to fail.
Sir Isaac Newton sought to decode the date of the apocalypse precisely because he felt it harmed the gospel when its preachers tried to vainly predict exactly when the day of doom would come. He provided a range for doomsday’s culmination – he speculated it would happen sometime between the years 2060 and 2280. What motivated Newton to take up this task at that time? He had just lived through many terrors (like the plague and The Great Fire of London) in the ominous year 1666. Is Newton likely to be right? Probably not; but at least his methods were far more biblical than Camping’s.
In contrast, good Bible scholarship suggests that there is precedent to believe that great dates in salvation history repeat themselves. Just as Jesus was crucified on Passover, the Jewish holiday that pre-figured the crucifixion, so the hidden Rapture of the Church and the physical return of Jesus Christ at the Battle of Armageddon are most likely to occur on specific feast days of the Jewish calendar. Many believe that Rosh Hashanah or Pentecost will be the day of the Rapture. Likewise, Yom Kippur, aka the Day of Atonement may well be Judgment Day, when Christ returns for “All the world to see.” At this time, according to John’s testimony, the Antichrist is thrown into the Lake of Fire and the Devil into the bottomless pit. So begins the millennial reign of Christ.
However, just because we might have strong biblical precedent for why these events will likely happen during the “fall rain” just as the salvation events associated with Jesus Christ’s first coming transpired in the time of the “spring rain,” that doesn’t mean we can assert the exact day in history when these events must come to pass. “No man knows the day or the hour.” Nevertheless, I am thoroughly convinced, as are many evangelical prophecy scholars that sometime in this century, perhaps within the next decade or two, Jesus Christ will physically return to earth. We are very close. Study the fulfillment of many Bible prophecies in our day and you can hardly conclude otherwise. Remember: Jesus scolded the Pharisees and Sadducees for their failure to see the obvious signs of the times. Are the signs of the times any less obvious in our day?
Doomsday is hardly a new topic. For 2,000 years, those in the Christian tradition have learned to live with the tension of knowing that someday Christ will return. However, we’ve never known the exact day or hour when this ultimate event will occur. That’s why Jesus told his followers to “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh” (Matthew 25:13). Jesus even used a weather analogy to talk about the inevitability of doomsday and our need to pay attention to what is going on in our world. “[Jesus] answered and said unto them, “When it is evening, ye say, ‘It will be fair weather: for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today: for the sky is red and lowering.’ O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?” (Matthew 16:2, 3)
There is an old saying, “Red sky at night – sailors delight. Red sky in the morning – sailors take warning! The weatherman says this rule of thumb applies only to the middle latitudes of our planet. The evening sky of red represents an abundance of tiny particles in the atmosphere, typical of a high pressure system. It yields clear skies overhead. On the other hand, a red sky in the morning bears bad tidings because it implies a storm is approaching, particularly if the sky is lowering at the same time. Today, those who fail to heed tornado warnings are beyond foolish – they are reckless.
Jesus’ adage was the equivalent Hebrew aphorism. The point Jesus made was how paradoxical that the religious leaders of the day could tell the weather (not their expertise) while failing to foresee how the religious and political climate would affect their nation – matters about which they were supposed experts. It was a giant case of not seeing the forest for the trees. The Jewish leadership should have recognized that cataclysm was inevitable. All the ingredients were there, like chemicals ready to combust. From the moment that the Jews and the Romans synchronized their efforts to crucify Jesus, there was no rolling back the clock. The fate of the Jewish nation was settled. Their actions sealed their fate. True, their apocalypse was still almost a generation of 40 years away. But Jesus insisted that His prediction about the destruction of Jerusalem’s and its sacred temple were surer than the continuance of the physical universe. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” The apocalypse associated with the Jewish nation – its dissolution and the worldwide diaspora of the Jewish people – was not avoidable.