I have a memory from a few years ago of an event that took place in a coffee shop.
For some reason, I was invited to join a group of Christian men who had been meeting together in that same place for years. I had hardly sat down when one man asked if I was a pastor, to which I said I was. Without an introduction, he asked if I ever taught on the subject of the second coming of Jesus. I said that I did.
He then asked whether I was warning my people that our “cashless” society was leading to the coming of the Antichrist. Was I encouraging people only to spend cash? I said I had never warned a single soul about this. He eyed me with suspicion and then said, “I don’t know why, it’s in the Bible!”
Of course, I knew what he was referring to.
Revelation 13:16-17 says, “Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of his name.”
There is so much to say about this remarkable passage of scripture, but whatever it means, it does not say that this buying or selling is “cashless.” In fact, this could happen in American dollars, Indonesian rupiahs, gold bullion or electronic transfers. Whether a society is cashless or not is completely outside the scope of this passage. What’s at stake here is that all commerce is controlled by the beast. All other matters are simply a matter of speculation, and not of plain Bible teaching.
I point this out not to poke fun at what was clearly a dear Christian brother in the coffee shop that day. Rather, I point this out because it is so very easy to confuse what the Bible actually says with the mountains of speculation that have developed because of what the Bible says.
Let me suggest one well known example. In Matthew 24:32-34, Jesus is recorded as saying the following: “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”
Some Bible teachers have argued that the fig tree is a symbol for Israel, and that the generation that witnesses the rebirth of Israel will not pass away, until Jesus comes again. But again, the text doesn’t say that. Indeed, nowhere does the Bible teach that when Israel becomes a nation again, the “prophetic clock starts ticking.” That perspective involves speculation about what this “might” mean. But we must not confuse speculation with what the Bible actually “does” say.
All this is to say that Bible believing Christians need to resist speculation. We must be aware of the constant temptation of substituting conjecture for the plain teaching of Scripture.
And that brings me back to my musings on “Shemitah,” the Four Blood Moons and Harold Camping.
Because we need to live expectantly regarding the Lord’s return, it is so tempting to turn to books that are highly speculative, because they place the second coming of our Lord before us with great urgency.
But I fear whenever we do that, we run the risk of three great dangers.
1) First, we begin to train ourselves using Bible study techniques that allow speculation and assumptions to become more important than the plain teaching of the Bible (sensus plenor). Once this takes root, no Bible doctrine will be safe.
2) Secondly, we also run the risk, after so many failed prophecies, that we lose all interest in the second coming of Jesus, becoming suspicious of even what the Bible teaches.
3) And thirdly, we blunt our witness to the watching world, as one more wild eyed prophecy amounts to nothing, and we are made to look like gullible people who will believe almost anything. When that happens, how do we tell the watching world that Jesus really did rise from the dead and is coming again?