For the past several decades, some Christians have declared that they know the date and time of Christ's return or the end of the world, predictions sometimes based on numerology. But these contentions should be ignored, leading theologians say, and they rest on a misunderstanding of both the text of Scripture and how time works in the Bible.
The latest instance, according to Fox News Friday, comes from "Christian numerologist" David Meade whose interpretation of Luke 21:25 — taken together with recent events like the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse over the contiguous United States and Hurricane Harvey—has led him to conclude that the world will end this Saturday, Sept. 23.
Floyd Elmore, professor of biblical theology at Southern Evangelical Seminary in Matthews, North Carolina, explained in a Tuesday interview with The Christian Post that these beliefs hail from the fringe wing of Christianity, often by individuals professing to be "prophets," thinking that their utterances will somehow validate their office for the church.
From former NASA engineer Edgar C. Whisenant's infamous "88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988" to the most recent proclamation by numerologist Meade, Elmore has been cataloguing these prognostications about the Lord's return since he began teaching in the 1970s.
In Mark 13, "the Lord gave general signs of the whole age," Elmore said, "and He says 'Don't let anyone lead you astray, they'll hear of wars and rumors of wars, don't be alarmed, this must take place but the end is not yet." He added that the natural disasters that are subsequently mentioned in that specific passage of the Gospel is just the beginning.
The numerologists and would-be prophets "tend to focus on what they perceive as catastrophes and make them mark the end," he said.
"But these are the non-signs of the times. These are the things that are going to be characteristic all the way up until Jesus comes again. He then gives us a real sign that his coming is soon," when he speaks of the "abomination of desolation standing where he ought not," which is the anti-Christ taking his place in the temple as though he is God, Elmore said.
Writing on Twitter Friday, Russell Moore opined that Christians should tune out such date and time end-of-the-world claims.
"Your first sign that this is ignorable hucksterism: Matt. 24:23-28," Moore said, tweeting of the Fox News article about Meade's Sept. 23 predictions.
"Your second sign: the words 'Christian numerologist.'"
Wallace Henley, associate pastor of Second Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, believes that a major confusion that continues to fuel these end of days speculations is a lack of understanding of how time works in Scripture.
In the Bible, "time is not cyclical, as many far Eastern religions say, but neither is it strictly linear as Western reductionism says," Henley told CP. "It is linear-cyclical."
Catastrophic events exist all across history and intensify as we move toward the end of history, he continued, but even as those events intensify it should not be mistaken as the end.
The seemingly endless reappearance and dissemination of these unbiblical predictions is unhelpfully furthered along given that we now live in the age of the Internet.
"We're also in an age of tremendous marketing," Henley added, "when publishers are looking for something that will move the market.
"Now having said that, I do believe that there are some very serious and deeply committed Bible students who do come to those conclusions. I think they are reading the Scriptures wrong when they do that just as I would say that someone who denies the deity of Jesus is reading the Scripture wrong."
Elmore argued that in light of how secular mass media can latch onto stories of this nature, the date setters and numerologists pushing their end of the world views are, perhaps unwittingly, playing into the hand of a world that rejects the Christian faith.
"I don't know how the Lord's going to use all this, but it could very well be, unfortunately, they are hardening the mainstream American to the whole notion that Christ Jesus is in fact going to return one day," he said.