I have read some comments in online forums by Christians who seem to say that we should not try to learn about the End Times. They seem to say that it's none of our business and that it doesn't matter. Some go so far as to say that looking for signs of the return of Jesus encourages Christians to not care about our current world or the people in it. Is this really true? How should the study of the end times properly motivate a Christian? Let's find out.
Should Christians study the End Times?
First, let's address the question of if Christians should study the End Times. I believe Christians should be very interested in what God has revealed to us about what the end of the age will be like. If God has revealed it to us, it has a purpose, and we should study it to know what that purpose is. If God did not want us to know about the End Times, he would not have given John (who wrote the book of Revelation), or Daniel, or Ezekiel, or Isaiah, or any of the other prophets their visions of what the future would hold. Jesus did not criticize his disciples when they asked what the signs of Jesus' second coming would be (Matthew 24:3). Instead, Jesus gave them a detailed description and warnings which take up several chapters in the Bible (Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, Luke 21). So if Jesus thought it was important enough for his disciples to know and record in the Bible, then I believe he wants us to also study it. Timothy said "Everything in the scriptures is God's Word. All of it is useful for teaching and helping people and for correcting them and showing them how to live."(2 Timothy 3:16). That includes the prophecies about the End Times, no matter how much some Christians may want to ignore them.
Jesus also told his disciples to make sure to watch for these signs: "Watch out and keep praying that you can escape all that is going to happen and that the Son of Man will be pleased with you"(Luke 21:36). Also, Paul instructs the Thessalonians "You surely know that the Lord's return will be as a thief coming at night...My dear friends, you don't live in darkness, and so that day won't surprise you like a thief. You belong to the light and live in the day. We don't live in the night or belong to the dark. Others may sleep, but we should stay awake and be alert."(1 Thessalonians 5:2-6). So even though many Christians say that we can never know the "day or the hour"(Mark 13:32), we should watch so we may know the approximate "season" when it may happen. People who say "Jesus is coming back on Dec. 21. 2012" will be wrong. But, by comparing current events and the state of the world with what Jesus and others in the Bible said it would be like before and during the End Times, we can get a pretty good idea of how soon Jesus may return. Then we will not be shocked like the rest of the world when we are Raptured before the Tribulation judgements begin.
How should knowledge about the End Times affect our behaviour?
So even if we do study the End Times, is it just out of a morbid fascination? Are we like people who watch to a movie and say "I hope the bad guy gets what's coming to him?" and anxiously wait to see the results? No! The knowledge of the End Times is meant as an encouragement, as well as a proactive motivator. Christians who truly believe the End Times are near will not slack off. They will not say "Oh, what's the point, the world is all going to hell in a hand-basket anyways". That's not a true Christian attitude.
It encourages us to live right
A proper understanding of the End Times will encourage Christians to live righteously. Since the teachings of the Rapture say that Jesus could return at any time, we have to make sure we are ready to meet him. Christians who believe in the Rapture will always want to be right with Jesus and to not sin. I believe this behavior is what leads to those who look for Jesus' return receiving the "Crown of Righteousness" in heaven (2 Timothy 4:8). Paul told this to the Romans: "You know what sort of times we live in, and so you should live properly. It is time to wake up. You know that the day when we will be saved is nearer now than when we first put our faith in the Lord." (Romans 13:11). Christians who study the End Times know this applies just as much, if not more to us, than it did to the Romans 2000 years ago.
It encourages us to work for God now
Additionally, Christians who believe the end is near will have an increased desire and fervor to minister and convert others. Some Christians decide to put off their work for God until "later". One day, there will no longer be any "later" and they will have missed the chance to do good, preach to their neighbours or family, or get involved with Christian ministry. Christians who know we could go home anytime will get involved and not put things off until later. Christians who study the End Times know full well how terrible it will be during the Tribulation, and do not want anyone to have to go through it. By increasing our efforts now, perhaps we can save a few more people from having to endure that time. Although overall the world and people will become more and more evil (2 Timothy 3:1-5), Christians are supposed to keep helping others and preaching right up until the Rapture. Jesus says that when he comes, the ones who are doing his work will be rewarded, but the ones who are not or who are purposely sinning and hurting others will be punished (Matthew 24:45-51). This should be motivation to not slack off - we want Jesus to be happy with us when he returns.
It excites us for the future
It may seem unfortunate, but Christians are also excited about the End Times. However, this is not out of a desire to see people suffer. The reason Christians are excited is because the closer we get to the End Times, the closer we get to seeing Jesus and experiencing heaven and the Millennium. Christians who have loved Jesus their whole lives but have never seen him will finally be able to. It will be like meeting in person a girlfriend or boyfriend that you've only known through email and the phone. We also know how good the world will be during the Millennium (when Jesus rules the world for 1000 years after the Tribulation) and want to see that time come quickly. Christians get excited about technology which may lead to the "Mark of the Beast", or the steps towards globalization, or other signs of the End Times not because we want people to suffer, but because they point to Jesus' return. It's like a kid getting excited when they see the first snow because they know Christmas is right around the corner. It also gives Christians a way to tolerate the suffering and evil in this world knowing that it will one day be dealt with and eradicated.
Does the End Times give Christians permission to exploit the environment?
I have heard other critics say that Christians who believe the End Times are near will not respect the environment. If we know God is going to destroy it anyways, why should we try to protect it? This is another mistake. Real Christians do care about our environment, and are horribly saddened to hear about the extinction of species and the destruction and pollution of the earth. Humanity was instructed to care for the Earth (Genesis 2:15), and that instruction was never taken away. The world now is probably gone too far to be restored fully without God's help, but we can still make small differences. We can pick up litter in our cities, we can support sustainable forest management, sustainable fisheries, and recycling. We can support policies to reduce pollution and to have stricter industrial standards. It will not save the planet, but it may make a difference in our local city and environment. It certainly doesn't give us a free license to do whatever we want with what is left of our resources.
Does belief in the nearness of the End Times discourage planning for the future?
Should Christians who expect the End Times to come give up all planning for the future? If we expect Jesus to rescue us from Earth, why would we bother saving for retirement or continue to work at our jobs? The answer is that even though we may suspect Jesus is coming soon - so also have many generations in the past. The disciples expected Jesus to return in their lifetimes, but that didn't happen. Even though everything seems to finally be coming together for the events described in Revelation, we will never be absolutely sure when Jesus will come back. So in the meantime we must keep our jobs and plan for the future as if we will all grow old in retirement homes. Even though Paul wrote to the Thessalonians about the Rapture, he also encouraged them to "live quietly, mind your own business, and to work hard" (1 Thessalonians 4:11). He did not say "let's all quit our jobs and go wait on a hill for Jesus". That would be irresponsible and would look bad to all the other members of the community if it didn't happen. They would constantly say "What about that time when you thought Jesus would return and he didn't?". This sort of thinking has led to people today discounting the warnings of the End Times because many people have predicted Jesus would come on a certain date and were wrong, and had to go right back to their regular jobs. Christians should be faithful with however much time God gives us and should be responsible and plan for our futures whether Jesus may return tomorrow or not.
The study of the End Times has important implications for how Christians should live today. It inspires us to work for God, since we don't know how much time we have left until Jesus returns. It motivates us to share the Bible with others in the hope that we might save them from having to endure the Tribulation. Christians who expect that Jesus could return at any moment will live a life of good deeds and proper behavior in anticipation of one day seeing him face to face. The signs of the end are coming faster and faster, and indicate that we have less and less time to do our work. While it is true that arguing over the exact identity of the Antichrist is not particularly useful, the signs that point to the rise of the Antichrist and the One World government should certainly inspire Christians to get to it and spread the word about Jesus' return. This is why God has given us the prophetic End Times knowledge in the Bible and has given us the ability to understand and interpret it. If God thinks it's important, so should we.