Six Wrong Ways to Face the End Times (& One Right)
Bible prophecy says that bad things are coming. Conspiracy theories found on the Web only seem to confirm this. In light of this warning, what should we do to prepare? Shall we leave the city or even the country? Move to Israel? Stock up on food and water...or even guns and ammo or at least gold & silver? Find out the reassuring answer from the Bible on where to put our time and effort to be ready and saved when the end times events come upon us.
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The pursuit of Bible prophecy understanding is definitely not for the fainthearted. Understanding comes slowly and incompletely at first which unfortunately can leave you in the lurch at times with embarrassing or uncomfortable misunderstandings.
One particular area of progressive and incomplete understanding is what we are supposed to do to prepare for the end times. Once someone comprehends the dire events we are going to have to through, answering what to do about it becomes urgent to them, yet progress is very slow.
I remember early in my own studies how in the dark I was as well. With my limited understanding I was convinced to take some radical measures to prepare for end times (that I'll be sharing below). Soon after I did, I realized that my thinking leading up to those actions had been mistaken. By correcting that thinking, I later came to at last find in the Bible what God really expects us to do in the end times to prepare.
Yet I continue to get emails and phone calls from people who are now where I used to be, adopting the same costly strategies that will not save them from the end times. In their defense, I will say that today the world seems even more dangerous and unstable than it did in 1999 when I was in my greatest point of uncertainty. The multitude of perceived threats puts more pressure than ever to do something, anything.
In this article I'd like to address the approaches people are commonly driven to try to prepare for the end times. From over a dozen years worth of interactions with other Bible prophecy fans, I have come to recognize several repeating patterns of thought on facing the end times. I've believed most of these ideas myself, in phases, on the way to the truth. Because of that I know them very well. I can share what I learned that was good from each phase and what I finally saw that forced me to abandon the strategy and move on.
1. Pretrib Rapture / Keep Witnessing
We'll start with the default view for most Christians of thinking that they are all set for the end times simply by their belief in Jesus. Typically they expect that a “pretrib rapture” is coming to whisk them away before anything bad happens. Or if they don't really have an eschatology, they may think that just being saved through accepting Jesus is enough to keep them safe wherever they are, no matter what God allows to happen in the future. Some of them even joke that they are “pan-rapture,” that is, they don't know anything for sure except that “it will all pan out in the end.”
Their apathy is understandable given how hard the Bible is to understand and how confusing and divided the teachings based on it are. Due to this apathy, they don't bother studying or even reading Bible prophecy. They even chide those who do as wasting time that would be better spent studying the Gospels and bringing people to Jesus.
Probably the most often-cited argument for believing we'll never have to face the Great Tribulation is that God would never “put his bride through such a thing.” Admittedly, the concept of being here for terrible end times events is not pleasant; it's gut-wrenching. Therefore it's quite understandable why most Christians wish to deny it or remain ignorant. Ignorance is bliss.
The obvious solution to this paradigm is to not let such obstacles stop you from studying the whole Bible, including the prophetic books.
Even before you get to the prophetic books, you'll see that virtually all the heroes of the Bible went through suffering, tests, trials and tribulation. There is a definite pattern of that. And it's not just them, OT saints. NT disciples were told to expect the same:
Acts 14:22 (HCSB) strengthening the disciples by encouraging them to continue in the faith and by telling them, “It is necessary to pass through many troubles on our way into the kingdom of God.”
Now there's a verse you don't hear quoted too often in church!
What should our response be to this? In the face of these tribulations, do we find the saints just ignoring them and hoping for the best? No, the pattern is God's people taking action in the face of tribulation. Noah had to build the ark, not just preach about God. Lot had to leave Sodom, not stand in faith through the brimstone shower. Joseph realized that the special revelation from God about seven years of bounty was given so that they would be able to take action on it (of storing up the bounty) to survive the famine.
Likewise, Revelation is not just about “showing his servants what must soon come to pass” (Rev 1:1) for their intellectual curiosity. It includes instructions for what to do about them. It even promises a blessing for taking action:
Revelation 1:3 (HCSB) -- The one who reads this is blessed, and those who hear the words of this prophecy and keep what is written in it are blessed, because the time is near!
If you read further in the Book of Revelation, some of these instructions are easy to identify. We'll be commanded to “come out of Babylon” (Rev 18:4), “fear God and give him glory” (Rev 14:7) “don't take the mark of the beast” (Rev 14:9). Including these instructions and a blessing for doing them makes no sense if we're all out of here with a pretrib rapture around Chapter 4 before any of these instructions matter.
Yes, a time is coming where we're going to be expected to do new things and follow new instructions (some of which are not so clear at first...see below). Studying the Bible now will make it easier to adjust to these responsibilities later.
2. Unsure What To Do
Immediately after a Christian realizes that there is no pretrib rapture, they enter this phase. They want to know what God's plan or instructions are in lieu of airlifting us out. Therefore, they seek out understanding of Bible prophecy so they can get some concrete answers.
This is a most uncomfortable phase to be in and I still remember what it felt like: high anxiety. It does not help that many Bible prophecy teachers out there who confirm that there is no pretrib rapture have no good answer for what the real escape plan is instead. So you're mostly on your own digging.
Many never get out of this phase. Study of Bible prophecy is not easy and requires both time and critical thinking skills that many do not have. It also requires a high degree of Bible literacy. The Book of Revelation comes at the end of the entire book for a reason. You need to read and be familiar with everything else that precedes it to have any hope of cracking its veil.
Being in this phase is not so bad or costly as the other phases. The main drawback to it is that if you have no solid understanding of God's end time escape plan, you're likely to be in fear about the things you read in Revelation and elsewhere. Scared people write me all the time because they want to know what the Bible says to be safe (which is why I wrote my book). This fear is needless, and not what God intended us to stay in.
For those who want to graduate successfully from this phase, I can share from personal experience that the answer is to not give up in the face of adversity and keep seeking (Mt 7:7). That means prayer, fasting and study in faith that God will lead you to the right answer if you do not give up. Remember, it is to the glory of God to conceal a matter and the glory of kings to investigate it (Pr 25:2).
Unlike most of the phases on this list, I never succumbed to this one—although I did consider it. Back in the heyday of Y2K in 1999, my understanding of Bible prophecy was at a kindergarten level. I was still in the phase above of knowing bad things were coming but having no idea what to do about it. So I looked into getting “off the grid” and ready for anything including the breakdown of civilization. To become self-sufficient and not depend on civilization to feed yourself was an appealing concept.
At first, survivalism sounds like a very reasonable and responsible approach to the end times. If you don't know if God has a plan to save you or what it is yet, then you “ought” to do what you can to prepare, right? After all, "God helps those who helps themselves" (a saying that is not in the Bible, actually). Also, if the end times do not come in your lifetime, you still have valuable skills to call upon whenever you need them in natural disasters, storms, being stranded, shipwrecked, etc.
I explored this option by going to a survivalist trade show while I still lived in Austin, Texas. They were selling MREs (meals ready to eat), guns, ammo, camping equipment, survival manuals and the like. Mixed in was a lot of sovereignty thinking. For example, one shortwave radio show host priced his book for sale not in dollars but “20 F.R.N.s.” “What's a FRN?,” I asked. The reply came, “Federal Reserve Note.” (Sovereignty teaches that we don't have real money, and we don't even have real dollars anymore. Very intriguing. A Bible teacher I know stopped payment on his house mortgage once he became influenced by this teaching because he believed that what they loaned him was not real money. He lost his house and moved to Israel.)
Needless to say, the survivalism trade show sure made me feel overwhelmed and seriously question the concept. I think all I bought there were a few pocket-sized books on edible plants and other survivalism topics that I never read or used.
Nevertheless the trade show was not a complete bust. It helped me to realize that self-sufficiency and survivalism were not easy and not for me. The problem is most of us are city-slickers or suburbanites who are not cut out for farming or living out in the woods. It does not make sense that God expects all of us to completely change direction as adults and spend all our time now learning how to be farmers and survivalists while maintaining jobs and families at the same time...all without any explicit confirmation of it. Not everyone can do this on their own and if it's how God saves his people, then most quite frankly are going to be doomed.
I do know some who went for it. I met a family who moved to Panama to buy cheap farming land and become self-sufficient. It only took them a few years to arrive at the same conclusion I did. They realized they were making it harder than it had to be. They plan to return to the USA as soon as they can sell their land in Panama.
Later on, when I found God's actual preservation plan for his people in the Bible I realized all the more how stocking up would be a complete waste of money (more on that in part 7).
4. Moving To Safe Places
Many become convinced that the answer to the end times dilemma is to “get out of Dodge” or move to a safer place. A common destination is Israel (especially among Messianic Christians). But the main point for many is to just be anywhere but where they are near the city or heavy population. One particular thinking is that if America is Mystery Babylon and it says “come out of her my people” (Rev 18:4) then as soon as you understand that it would be best to get going.
That was almost my exact thinking in 1999 when I was in this phase. I've told the story before of how the combination of my small but growing understanding of Bible prophecy and the doomsday rumors of Y2K convinced me that it was a good time to move. I found a prospective employer in Costa Rica over the Internet. The language barrier did not phase me thanks to my years of Spanish in grade school. Thus, I figured it was an open door to relocate there or at least better being safe than sorry. I figured that if the Year 2000 computer bug crashed computers everywhere, people in a developing agrarian tropical country would fare better than a highly developed technologically dependent country like the USA would. So we moved there around June 1st, 1999, sight unseen.
I kept studying the Bible in Costa Rica and by November I realized Y2K could not fulfill end time prophecy. We didn't have to move over it. (Yet we decided to stay in Costa Rica all these years because God blessed us greatly there and who doesn't enjoy mild weather year round?)
I still run into people to this day with the same thinking as I had back then. They ask me about moving to Costa Rica or other places and whether they should do it or not. What do I say to them?
I share the realization I made in Costa Rica soon after moving there. I say this all the time: “God is not saving only the paranoid, radical prophecy watchers who do extreme things 'just-in-case'.” There are millions of believers who are too level-headed and busy making a living to pay attention to and act on the latest internet doomsday scenario or other trend. Thus, if God really was warning people through Y2K, 2012 or other doomsday dates spread on the Internet, most people would never believe it or know what to do if they did believe it.
The fundamental problem with moving anywhere is that, without God's revelation, we don't know the exact place to move to. Nobody knows for sure where it will be safe from the many things coming. And even if you do, the cost of a big move is not something every servant of God can handle.
By the way, the place the Bible reveals as the location God will gather his people, is one of the last places people would think was good.
5. Stocking Up / Gold & Silver
More common than the relocation strategy is the strategy of staying put and “stocking up.” This means investing in survival food, water, guns and ammo and/or in gold and silver coins.
Of all the approaches to end time readiness covered so far, this is the most reasonable-sounding one. Does not the Bible teach that the prudent see trouble coming and prepare? Did not Joseph “stock up” in his time? Are we not as believers supposed to be wise and a light? And if we are prepared when others are not, can we not then powerfully witness the Gospel to unbelievers in their moment of need? The potential of stocking up is much-trumpeted for such reasons.
Regarding gold and silver some say that if we are living in the end times, investing in metals is simply a prudent thing to do. They view it as similar to buying an insurance policy, as precious metals are likely going to keep rising in price. To be sure, it seems more like a sure bet than ever today in the bad economy and with gold and silver breaking records.
However, there are serious problems with the strategy of stocking up, problems that are not advertised by those selling goods or often considered by those buying them. If you think the strategy through carefully for yourself, it's not hard to find reasons to reject it.
First, consider the record of how past crises have played out. Remember New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina? The roving gangs of looters? Police were overwhelmed and so shopkeepers were left to defend their own stores from looters. Even police officers were looting!
Keep in mind that this was just one city that was receiving plenty of outside help from areas untouched by devastation. If our civilization collapses everywhere due to the global end times catastrophes spoken of in Revelation, the situation will be much worse than New Orleans. Nobody will be completely safe. There will be no escaping trouble and no amount of preparation will insure anyone's survival. In desperation most will join looting gangs and attack and steal from those who horded or simply have what they need. If a global disaster hits, you probably will not be able to keep your supplies for long, unless you have a personal army and are willing to kill those come against you.
But what about how gold and silver are breaking records now? Yes that investment is turning out good...for now. Again, it did not work out good for people after Y2K when the speculation-propelled gold price dropped. Gold is driven by speculation again today and many think it is a bubble due to burst just like the housing and internet bubbles did. Precious metals are notorious for their volatility and investors do not normally allocate much of their portfolio to them for this reason. And again, the challenge will be keeping your gold and silver if you are among the few who has the foresight to acquire some.
Another big problem with stocking up is that it prohibitively expensive for most. It would take significant sacrifices in the most family's budgets to find the money to pull off even an partial amount of stores or coins. Most people are already living paycheck to paycheck and may just have to eat their stores at the end of one month long before the end comes. For example, one person who knew I was writing this article shared:
I would love to read that article Tim. I know that the LORD told me a couple of years ago to start saving food aside for the coming famine in America, but things have gotten so bad this last couple of months that we have had to eat all of our storage supply. I hope I can get it caught back up.
This sounds good until you factor in that survival foods are not as economical as regular foods at the supermarket. The person would have been better off saving the money instead of saving food. This highlights yet another disadvantage this strategy: if the end of the world does not come as planned, a negative return is to be expected on your investment. After Y2K, many people who bought food stores did the same thing, they simply ate them. That does not sound so bad, “no harm no foul”, except that they were harmed financially from the unnecessary investments in Y2K prep.
And technically, it's improper to call these preparations investments. Real investments put your money to work for you and have a anticipation of growth. Thus, putting money into stocking up represents an additional opportunity cost compared to a real investment. These "safe" stored consumables lock up money so that they generate no interest. If they had taken the same money they invested in the food, guns, ammo into real investments or simply put it in the bank it for a rainy day, on average they would have done much better for the most likely way the world would go.
While gold and silver do have potential to grow money, they are hit or miss. People who bought in the times of the last recession (early 2000's) or current recession of the late 2000s will tell you how much money they've made. But if you look at a 20 or 36 year history of gold, you'll see the fluctuations. There are many points, such as the '70s or '80s, where if you had bought gold then you had a long wait to sell it and to make money or not lose money. I used to collect gold and silver coins and I remember the depressed prices of the '80s and '90s, well, so I take the current apparent bubble with a caveat.
In other words, it's wiser to save or properly invest your money rather than tying it up in assets that won't work for you or are not sure investments and even save you from the end of the world. (Note: I'm not talking about stocking up for local issues such as living in hurricane alley, tornado alley, the San Andreas Fault, etc. In those cases some small affordable prep can help you greatly!)
6. Conspiracy Watch Daily
Most Christians have pastors who believe in a pretrib rapture. Once they realize that their Bible says something different, Christians lose confidence in the teaching of their pastors. But since Bible prophecy research is one of the hardest areas of Scripture, it can be too confusing, frustrating and discouraging for most Christians to handle. Most get nowhere and eventually give up on trying to make sense of it.
They therefore look to alternative sources for guidance on the end times. Conspiracies theory news sites are common now and full of new ideas they never heard before that get their attention sooner or later. They teach about the Illuminati, Free Masons, etc. ruling the world in secrecy, and other shocking and scary things. It's like a car accident; gruesome, but hard to not look or not keep reading, as the case may be.
The heading name of this section is actually a play off the website called WorldNetDaily.com. WorldNetDaily is one of the favorites for those who think staying current on the latest trends will save them. A good example of the types of stories you'll read there is the recent one on transhumanism. It posits that attempts to upgrade and remove the limits to human capacity is an end time trend that will mature under the Beast of Revelation that makes war against God. If scientists are truly creating hybrid human-animals then this indicates the end must be around the corner and we should probably be pay attention to it, right? Certainly this sounds like one of many things going on the world that we should be aware of, even if they are not exactly shown in the Bible.
The solution to this thinking came naturally to me. After a few years of reading WND and other more radical sites, I noticed something. Much like the repeated prophecy doomsday or rapture dates you've seen, there was always a new trend alert or crisis coming down the pike. They would predict a dirty nuke or suitcase nuke attack, or imminent war in the Middle East, or the Mark of the Beast (in the Real ID or other new legislation or technology).
But guess what? Never once did any of these predictions prove accurate or helpful. Even if they were true, what could any of us do about them anyway? What can you do about hybrids? If God does not provide an escape from the real threats coming, we're all doomed. So in the end, these articles only gave a constant stream of new things to worry about. Regarding that, Jesus asked which of you by worrying can add a cubit to his height? He also said that if you focus on God and his kingdom all these other things be taken care of. (Few take this literally and practice that living. But those who do live that way have amazing testimonies.)
And like the speculative article on transhumanism mentioned above, these reports certainly did not help me to come any closer to a proper understanding of Bible prophecy. Oh they quoted a verse or two, like the transhumanism article does, but after careful scrutiny, the Bible support was loose and forced at best.
Therefore, I stopped wasting time on such rabbit trails and focused again on finding out what the Bible actually predicts, as hard as it is at first..and second...and third. Like the Bible says, we have a “more sure word of prophecy.” If you really want to know what's coming that's where you go.
7. Seek Righteousness, Humility, Faith
As has been shown, the preceding end time readiness approaches all have problems. They are all best guesses on what to do for the end times taken after failing to find what God in the Bible says to do.
To be very fair, it's not clear at all in Scripture what God's plan is. Not nearly as clear as it is what the coming bad events are that we will be going through. Revelation has chapter after chapter describing these terrors. But there are only a few verses on how we're saved, and they are murky or discouraging at best.
For example, the passage many of us latch onto right away is Revelation 7 about the sealing of the 144,000 with protection from the things that follow. We pray and hope we'll be one of them, but we have our doubts. It says they're 12,000 from each of the tribes of the Houses of Israel and Judah. That's disheartening to us Christians because we consider ourselves Gentiles. Nevertheless, I hoped I was descended from one of the “lost sheep of the House of Israel” (Lost Ten Tribes who were scattered and lost their identity), without knowing it or being able to prove it.
However, as I learned more about the mission of the 144,000 to preach the three angels messages of Revelation 14 and thereby fulfill the global end time preaching of the Gospel (Mt 24:14), I realized that the 144,000 number was literal and it was not the plan to save the millions of faithful believers in the world. There had to be another plan for the rest of us: crippled, elderly, children, families, etc. who are not fit to wander around in Beast's kingdom preaching as a witness against him during the Great Tribulation.
So I moved on. Next, like some, I read about the Woman in Revelation 12 who instead of having protection wherever she goes like that, is instead brought to a protected place where she is fed for the entire Great Tribulation.
Revelation 12:14-17 — 14 The woman was given two wings of a great eagle, so that she could fly from the serpent’s presence to her place in the wilderness, where she was fed for a time, times, and half a time. 15 From his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river flowing after the woman, to sweep her away in a torrent. 16 But the earth helped the woman. The earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the river that the dragon had spewed from his mouth.
Sounds good, except that the Woman gives birth to the man-child who is taken up to heaven (Rev 12:5) is a clear reference to Jesus and Israel, who he came out of. Thus, it looked like another Israel-only plan. If you're a Gentile you seem to either be out of luck, or simply not mentioned.
Then as I studied further, I noticed a few things. The next verse in the passage alludes to the 144,000. Upon seeing that the Woman is untouchable, Satan decides to try to attack the 144,000 who are not gathered with the Woman:
Rev 12:17 — So the dragon was furious with the woman and left to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and have the testimony about Jesus.
That description of her offspring gives us some hope. Although the original identification of the Woman in the first part of the chapter clearly points to Ancient Israel and later Israel of Jesus' day, this verse expands it to a certain definition of modern righteous believers: those who obey God and continue in the testimony of Jesus. Could it be that the opportunity of protection is open to anyone who is believes and is righteous?
In answer to that, I noticed something in the Gospels. Jesus said he was sent only to the “lost sheep of the House of Israel” a couple times, the same group as the 12 tribes of Israel mentioned in association with the 144,000 and the Woman. For that reason, Jesus told his disciples to not preach in other nations, not even the Samaritans among them (Mt 10:5-6; 15:24). As well, Jesus initially rejected the exorcism request of the (non-Israelite) Syrophoenician woman because although she lived in Israel, she was not descended from Israel. Nevertheless, when she persisted in faith Jesus ultimately granted her request (Mt 15:28)!
From that episode I could see that there must also be physical salvation for Gentiles in the end times, too. Yes, God offers salvation to the Jew first (Rom 2:9-10) and they have advantage “in every way” (Rom 3:2). However, God is not a respecter of persons or prone to favoritism (Ac 10:34). He will include us all in the plan he outlines using Israel if we persist like the Syrophoenician woman.
This is confirmed by other general prophetic passages:
Luke 21:36 — But be alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place and to stand before the Son of Man.
2 Peter 3:11 — Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, ⌊it is clear⌋ what sort of people you should be in holy conduct and godliness
Zephaniah 2:3 — Seek the LORD, all you humble of the earth, who carry out what He commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be concealed on the day of the LORD’s anger.
These again mention the same theme of salvation to ALL who seek God in righteousness, humility and faith.
However, again, righteousness or merely believing in Jesus and planning on that alone is not enough. Noah, Lot, and Joseph were all righteous and yet they all had to take specific actions to save themselves. Likewise, a time is coming where we will be told to move to safety, just like Lot and just like Moses told Israel to move out of Egypt for God's plan for them. At that time, the exact place will be revealed, and the way to get there will be provided, just as it was for Ancient Israel (eagles' wings or divine providence: Ex 19:4 = Rev 12:14).
Until the end times events begin, the plan for us is plain and simple. We don't need to move ahead of time to our best guess of a safe place, just in case. We don't need to waste our money on goods that we can't take with us when God reveals the right place to move to. We don't need to train ourselves in farming and survival skills when we're told we're moving to a place already prepared to feed us. We don't need to waste time researching the latest conspiracy theories which can never reliably predict the future like the revelation of Bible prophecy can. We don't need to sit unproductively and wait in hope for a pretrib rapture.
The Bible instructs us that there is a plan and to be a part of it when the time comes we “stay alert”, in “prayer”, in Bible study and in “obedience” to the will of God in “holy conduct and godliness.” (If you need help with specifics on this holy conduct, see this article about what Jesus taught on how to think and act).
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