What is wrong with date setting for the end times?

"And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains" (Matthew 24:6–8; cf. Mark 13:7–8).

Jesus said these words in response to the disciples' question, "When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" (Matthew 24:3). Questions about the end times are nothing new; Jesus' disciples wanted to know and so do we today. Wars, famine, global pandemics, and even increasing earthquakes across the globe all make headlines. Surely the end is near, for Jesus said these things were a sign, right?

But that's not what Jesus said. He said these are just the beginning, meaning there is more to come before the end times are fully upon us. It seems every generation sees the increasing signs that Jesus spoke about. We know with certainty that Jesus will return (Acts 1:6–11; Revelation 22:20). However, Christians are prone to ask, "Why does He delay so long?" Non-Christians use His patient endurance (Romans 9:22; 1 Timothy 1:16; 1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 3:9) as evidence of the irrationality of the Bible. The Bible speaks to both of these positions, and it does so from the perspective of the end times.

Peter wrote, "Scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, 'Where is the promise of his coming?'" (2 Peter 3:3–4). Indeed, that is precisely what people say now. But Peter goes on to remind us that they deliberately overlook the fact that the heavens existed long before our time and that the earth was both formed from the water and destroyed by water (2 Peter 3:5–6). But now, says Peter, "By the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly" (2 Peter 3:7). Jesus said, "For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man" (Matthew 24:37). He explains that the people in Noah's day were living their lives normally with no expectation of what was coming (Matthew 24:38–39). This, He says, is how it will be when the Son of Man returns.

Peter reminds us that, "The day of the Lord will come like a thief" (2 Peter 3:10). And Jesus tells us, "If the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into" (Luke 12:39). In other words, just as we are unaware of when a thief sneaks into our house, so we are unaware of when the end will actually be. And if this wasn't convincing enough, Jesus said plainly, "But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only" (Matthew 24:36). Just before His ascension, He told His disciples, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority" (Acts 1:7). Attempting to set a date based on something we cannot know is like trying to climb an invisible rope to the roof; you are never going to get anywhere because the knowledge you need to have the answer is like the rope you need to climb to the roof—it's invisible.

Jesus said, "Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming" (Matthew 24:42). If we knew the day of His coming, we would make Him out to be a liar. Since Jesus has made it clear that no one knows when He will return but the Father in Heaven, attempting to set a date for the end times is an attempt to know the unknowable, and prove Jesus wrong. This is rarely the motivation of those who seek to predict the end times, but it is the ultimate outcome. Even if you were to accurately guess the date of a future event, you would do so out of pure chance. Many have tried over the centuries, and every prediction has ultimately failed.

More importantly, however, Jesus told us to be prepared at all times for His return. Expending our efforts on trying to determine the date of His return is not only contrary to this teaching, but fails to uphold the great commission to "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…" (Matthew 28:19). Sharing the gospel message of salvation in Christ alone by grace alone through faith alone (John 3:16–18; Acts 4:12; Romans 1:16; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 1:13), to the glory of God alone, should be our primary focus, not trying to determine the date of the end times.

Jesus taught us to store up treasure in heaven (Matthew 6:20), that is, to live our lives in obedience to Him, patiently awaiting His return. He spoke of abiding in Him and loving others (John 15). We are to live our lives on this earth with an eye to the end and a sense of purpose, knowing we are citizens of another kingdom (Philippians 3:20–21) and are ambassadors here (2 Corinthians 5:18–21). Paul instructed us to run the race to obtain the prize that awaits us (1 Corinthians 9:24–27). If we are focused on end-times date setting, we're likely not spending our time obeying God in the here and now.

Christians are often concerned with the end times, and rightly so. It is the end of suffering (Revelation 7:17; 21:4); it is the start of eternal joy and comfort apart from sin and temptation (Revelation 20:10); it is the installation of a new and perfect world (Revelation 21:1); and it is the point at which God will dwell forever with man and man forever with God (Revelation 21:3). It makes sense that Christians would want to know when this happens, but, again, we are explicitly told we cannot know the day Jesus will return. Rather than concern ourselves with dates, we should be actively obeying God, joyfully serving Him, and loving others. Whether Jesus returns in our lifetimes or we die first, all who have put their faith in Him will be with Him one day. We have been entrusted with this short time on earth and should set our hearts to live how ever many days we have for His glory (Philippians 1:21–26; James 4:14; Romans 12:1–2; 1 Corinthians 3:11–15; 1 Peter 1:3–9).

"But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed" (2 Peter 3:8–10).

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