As New Testament believers, we are called to hope in God, knowing that He will surely bring about Christ’s return and the eschatological coming of His kingdom. That hope is founded on the certainty of God’s prophetic word. To the born again, struggling to endure the trials of this world, there may be no more precious comfort than that given by Christ to the disciples on His last evening with them: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3).
Through every heartache and disappointment, through every loss of a loved one, through every temptation and failure, and every physical infirmity, there is in the hearts of the saved the immovable conviction that this is not all there is. There awaits us a future glory where we will spend eternity glorifying God and exalting Christ. There will be no pain, no sickness, no evil, no temptation, no night, and no sin. Only joy.
It’s understandable that people would want to know when this is going to happen. I believe that if we truly grasped the wonder of what the eschaton holds for us, we would hardly be able to contain our eagerness for it. When my children find out they have a special treat waiting for them, the line of questioning I can expect to hear repeatedly is, “When? When can we have it? When will it be here?” How much more should we anticipate eternal glory with our God?
But even though it is natural to want to know when the end is coming, God has made it clear that He isn’t telling. In Acts 1:6-7, just prior to Christ’s ascension, the disciples wanted to know, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” Think about who Jesus is talking to here – the eleven remaining disciples, men He had handpicked to follow Him and learn from Him and carry His message to the ends of the earth.
These were men with inside access. In Matthew 13, after Jesus started teaching the Jews in parables, His disciples came to Him and asked Him why. He answered, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (v11). Jesus then gave only His disciples the interpretations of the parables. He gave them information that He did not give to others. Jesus also gave them power that He did not give to others, power to cast out demons and to cure diseases (Luke 9:1-2).
And yet, even the disciples were not told when the Kingdom would come. Jesus told them explicitly, “The Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect,” and “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matt 24:44, 25:13).
In fact, a startling statement by Jesus in Matt 24:36 indicates just how privileged this information is: “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” Not only are the disciples in the dark on this issue, but Jesus doesn’t even know when the end is coming!
So what should we think when someone like Harold Camping proclaims that God has shown him in the Bible the precise day and hour of Christ’s return? Simple. He is a false prophet. He is blatantly contradicting the Word of God and claiming a knowledge not even held by the disciples, nor the angels, nor Christ.
Over the last couple of weeks, media outlets have reported the certainty with which Camping’s followers believed him. They quit their jobs, quit school, and squandered their life savings. What a grim lesson in the importance of knowing the Word. People who know the Bible are not susceptible to such outrageous claims. It is a sad thing that so many have been deceived when God’s Word clearly and repeatedly declares that only the Father knows the time of the end.
Why might it be that God does not want us to know when the Son is coming? The testimony of Scripture is that He wants us to live our entire lives as if it could be any minute. The parable of the ten virgins (Matt 25:1-13) and the parable of the talents (Matt 25:14-30) indicate that we are to live wisely, not squandering our days and gifts. If we knew when the Lord was coming, we might be tempted to live for ourselves for a time and repent at the last minute to save ourselves. The uncertainty of when He is coming produces a sense of urgency to get right with God and live for Him now.
It is right to look forward to Christ’s return. It is right to long to see Him face to face and to be free from the darkness of this world. And God has told how to spend the time He has given us until He comes. We are not to spend one second trying to figure out when the time will be – to do so is to disbelieve His word. Rather we should live faithfully everyday, seeking to further His kingdom.