Bible Open

Scripture scholars, pastors play down end-times speculation

By Berta Delgado
The Dallas Morning News

The photographs and television images were so ghastly and surreal that the thoughts of many since Sept. 11 have turned apocalyptic. And with war looming on the horizon after the terrorist attacks on America, some people can't help but wonder whether these are days described in the Book of Revelation.

A sign of the end times?

Perhaps, say some Christian scholars and leaders, but nobody can know, and those who pretend to know aren't reading the Bible closely enough.

"There's been a tendency, and it's not new to our century, by some Christians - and thankfully, it's a minority - who have tried to make detailed speculation and to calculate the end in spite of the fact that the Bible says that no one knows the day or the hour," said Dr. Vern Sheridan Poythress, a New Testament professor at Westminister Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. "The people I'm talking about know these verses, but it doesn't stop them from doing what the verses say not to do."

Poythress, who has studied the Book of Revelation for 25 years, can recount specific dates in history that people have predicted as the day Jesus would return. He keeps a book on his shelf titled "88 Reasons Why Christ Will Come in 1988" to remind him that the only thing that anyone can know is that God is in control.

"'But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but my Father only,"' he said, quoting Matthew 24:36. Bishop T.D. Jakes, pastor of the Potter's House in Dallas, said that in that verse Jesus was responding to the disciples, who were asking about the end times.

"What he did was avoid an opportunity to respond to their curiosity, and he continued to minister to their needs," Jakes said. "And I want to do what Jesus did, and I think every other minister should as well."

He said that there are passages in Revelation that in "a very unique way" describe occurrences that seem similar to the recent attack. But that shouldn't be the concern now, he said. "My concern is that the nation is in the middle of one of the greatest tragedies that we've ever experienced, and I don't want to see the paramedics of the nation - the church - stuck in the library studying what the accident means while the victims are traumatized on the side of the road," said Jakes.

"I think it's very important that we don't get engrossed in studying eschatology and the values and the components and complexities of which we are all just students and miss the opportunity to respond to the 911 call that we're getting from this country."

Meanwhile, customers at secular and Christian stores are buying books that they hope will help them understand what is happening. Holly Linden, district manager for Borders in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and Oklahoma, said stores have reported a high interest in books by the French astrologer Nostradamus and Christian books on the end times.

A store representative at a Borders in the Dallas area said nonfiction books by Bible teacher Tim LaHaye have sold well recently.

LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins are the authors of the fictional "Left Behind" series, which focuses on a group of people "left behind" after the "Rapture" and who experience the "Tribulation" before Christ's return.

The books have had phenomenal success, selling 32 million copies since 1995, and the Dallas area has been the biggest market for them. The ninth book in the series, "Desecration," will be released Oct. 30.

LaHaye, whose ministry is based in California, does not believe that the events of Sept. 11 were predicted in the Bible. After the attacks he said: "This ruthless act does not have any specific significance in Bible prophecy other than to point out that in the days before Christ returns the Bible warns of perilous times (2 Timothy 3:1).

Hopefully this will cause millions of individuals to receive Christ and make their peace with God while there is still time."

The Rev. J. Don George, pastor of Calvary Temple in Irving, Texas, agreed that these indeed are "perilous times." "It certainly could be a sign of the end times because Scripture declares that in the last days kingdoms will rise against kingdoms and powers against powers," he said.

"But I don't see this as that significantly pointing us to a more imminent end of the age. It's just part of the process. It's an indication that evil forces are at work today, and those evil forces oppose everything that is good and wholesome."

But it is wrong to look at one event as particularly significant without looking at other ingredients, he said, and it is wrong to even believe a date can be predicted.

"To me, it means that the coming of the Lord could be at any time, but for us to stop doing all we're doing in the name of goodness and God with the expectation that Jesus will return tonight or tomorrow would be wrong," he said. "We're to live as if Jesus could return today but work as if we had a thousand years before his return."

Copyright 2001 � 2001, The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services. October 4, 2001