The scariest thing in the Bible?

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When wars occur, difficulties arise, political and social ills threaten to come against society, or there is a perception that they are coming against the church, Pastors always get asked the eschatological question.  Is this it Pastor? Is it time? Is Jesus soon return going to happen now?


George P. Wood in his article in the October 2023 issue of Influence Magazine discusses the reality of where we often find ourselves with End Times theology.

Wood points out that Isaac Watts  wrote Joy to the World.

It in fact did not start out as a Christmas Carol. It actually wasn’t even a song. But Wood notes, “Watts was trying to get people to remember Psalm 98 in English rhyme & meter so they would look forward to the 2nd coming of Christ”…not be worried or afraid of the idea that Jesus is returning for his church. But instead filled with Awe, Wonder and …yes Joy!


In theology we call this the Second Advent or “Parousia.” Although we sing this song celebrating Jesus incarnation it was actually a memory device to encourage us to remember Parousia! The 2nd coming of Christ, through the lens of Psalm 98.


Psalm 98  in full through the New International Version states:

Sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things;
his right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.
The Lord has made his salvation known
and revealed his righteousness to the nations.
He has remembered his love
and his faithfulness to Israel;
all the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,
burst into jubilant song with music;
make music to the Lord with the harp,
with the harp and the sound of singing,
with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—
shout for joy before the Lord, the King.

Let the sea resound, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it.
Let the rivers clap their hands,
let the mountains sing together for joy;
let them sing before the Lord,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples with equity.


Meanwhile many baby boomers (and some Gen Xers) who were children or teen believers in the 1970’s-1990’s are now retired or semi retired adults contemplating the reality of the end times as we watch Middle East war break out yet again.


These believers grew up being fed a steady diet of the songs, symbols and concepts of eschatology, like Larry Norman’s song, “I wish we’d all been ready” which opened up a movie from the 1970’s called “A thief in the night.” The song described the rapture of the church and hauntingly wonders at the “modern day” equivalent of Jesus’ potential returned in the last quarter of the 20th century.


Larry’s lyrics are a stark contrast to Isaac Watt’s “Joy to the World.”


“Life was filled with guns and war,

And everyone got trampled on the floor.

I wish we’d all been ready.”


The chorus evoked an even darker sight.


“There’s no time to change your mind, the Son has come and you’ve been left behind.”


The ending lyrics bring an ominous sense of divine carnage because of ignorance.


“The Father spoke…The demons dined…How could you have been so blind?”


I was exposed to Larry Norman as I attended my denominations annual fall Youth Convention in October of 1992. Larry actually came to Tacoma Washington to perform at a theatre after our main convention. He sang this song along with several others from his numerous albums. A few years after that a popular Christian music Hip Hop band called D.C.Talk did a cover of  “I wish we’d all been ready.”


As a newly saved young man in 1992  the song brought a sense of deep concern for my unsaved friends and still brings strong emotions up.

But even then, similar happenings in our world are happening today. The United States had entered into war in the Middle East then driving out Iraq from Kuwait through Operation Desert Shield, and then going into Iraq to remove “weapons of mass destruction” from Iraq and depose it’s dictator Saddam Hussein through Operation Desert Storm & Operation Iraqi Freedom. All Americans then lived through a 22 year military conflict in the Middle East. All the while believers were talking about the End Times in the beginning of the conflict…It was fascinating and a little spooky…And eventually all the End Times talk began to settle down.


I remember people quoting Jeremiah 50:9 “For I will stir up and bring against Babylon an alliance of great nations from the land of the north. They will take up their positions against her, and from the north she will be captured. Their arrows will be like skilled warriors who do not return empty-handed.” This was apparently a “fulfillment of prophecy” because the Nation of Turkey, which was just North of Iraq (the location of Ancient Babylon) was allowing our war planes to use their airport as a base of operations. The “arrows” were our jets missiles apparently…Nothing seems to make people more excited than knowing a “secret” and then sharing their “knowledge.”


I had no clue where Jeremiah 50:9 was.

Nor weather or not anything anyone was saying around me was accurate…..But all I knew was I was newly saved and glad that I had accepted Christ into my life as people around me seemed very excited that “Jesus is coming back!”


I began to wonder… What would I miss about life on earth if Jesus came back that night? I was told it would happen suddenly as people quoted 1 Thessalonians 5:2 2 “for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”

Would I never marry? Would I ever get to have kids or grandkids? Would I never have to get old? What would happen? Would I never have to get a job or make money?


I also remember many people writing books about the End Times.

Total strangers would call the church that my foster parents pastored. They would ask questions to my foster dad, who they had never met personally. The books they were reading would be entitled things like “89 reasons why Jesus is coming back in 89”, 90…91…92…”


You get the picture, right?


My foster dad’s response as a pastor was almost always the same….”The Bible says according to Matthew 24:36 36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. The important thing is not the date or the hour. But are you ready to meet Jesus when he returns?”

Often times they were irritated wanting a “better answer.”  They were afraid, not filled with joy, but a certain amount of dread and anxiety, and rarely could be reasoned with. Then my foster dad would ask them if they had a home church? They rarely did… He would invite them to church…They rarely ever came.

N.T. Wright, a 21st century theologian has said, “People often get upset when you teach them what is in the Bible, rather than what they presume is in the Bible.”

And now…Here we are again… Almost feels like full circle, with the wars, and the rumors and the conjecture of scripture, but also the genuine seekers, wanting to understand the Bible so they can love and serve their Savior and honor their relationship with Christ.


I have heard Pastor Rob Carlson, Lead Pastor at Bethany Christian Assembly in Everett Washington say, “Pray like Jesus is coming back tomorrow.  But prepare as if he is not.”

What does that even mean?


Do we disbelieve part of the Bible? Do we ignore this pastor’s advice? Many have….to their own detriment.


I have seen people sell off all their worldly possessions and empty out their bank accounts because “Jesus is coming back!” I have seen people never save for retirement because doing so is a “lack of faith in Jesus soon return!” Is that wisdom? Seems scary to me. I think Pastor Rob, whom I have known for over twenty years is making the point of James 4:14-17.

14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.


We should prepare to do good tomorrow, take care of our finances. Keep our jobs.  But do not make plans for things through an anxiety ridden, desperate clutching at pearls, pho posture through an eschatological lens that you do not know for certain. Surely as the book of Matthew alludes to… If Jesus doesn’t know the day of his own return. But only the Father….Why do you think you might know better than Jesus? And isn’t that boasting & arrogant schemes? Now if I have made you mad scroll back up to the N.T. Wright quote again.


Instead of living in fear of this season of the world,  let’s take the position of worship and praise like Isaac Watts did as he marvelously reworked Psalm 98. “Joy to the World! The Lord has come! Let earth Receive her King! Let every heart, prepare him room! And heaven and nature sing!” Let’s look to Jesus and his soon return as the author and FINISHER of our faith with great joy. After all, if the sun rises and sets on another day and our next day comes, are we not then even one day closer to Jesus soon return?