5 Tips for Preaching and Teaching on the End Times
I suppose there’s always the chance that the apocalypse could happen later today, but unless there’s a dramatic turn of events, it looks like the Mayans got it wrong. Or more accurately, someone interpreting the Mayan calendar got it wrong. Either way, if you’re teaching or preaching this weekend, I hope you didn’t blow off preparing just because you thought today was going to be the end of the last act.
As Christians, we shouldn’t really be using “end of the world” language anyway, because we don’t believe there’s an end to this story. Our eschatology is built around the return of Jesus Christ, a new heaven, and a new earth. No doubt there will be times of trial as those events draw closer, but this weekend probably isn’t going to be the time.
Unless I’m wrong.
The end times will always fascinate people, Christian and nonchristian alike, and widespread interest will continue to see a natural ebb and flow. A sermon series on the last days, for example, may not create much buzz next week, but once people’s fatigue from the Mayan apocalypse-that-wasn’t wears off, some event or group of events will spark people’s imaginations all over again. So eschatology isn’t something you should avoid. Besides, it’s fun to speculate about the end times.
If you do get bold and decide to do a message series or teaching unit on the end times, here are a few things you should keep in mind:
Keep your teaching balanced. Use a variety of material from different thinkers. Rapture, no-rapture, pre-trib, post-trib. (It’s especially fun doing this because some self-appointed watchdog is almost guaranteed to get a little bent out of shape when you suggest the possibility that the other viewpoint might be valid.)
Don’t promote fear when teaching about the end times. Teaching people a healthy fear of God is fine, but teaching them to live in fear of the future isn’t what Christianity is about. Teachers and preachers should aim to encourage believers—not scare them—even when dealing with difficult topics. Don’t hold back hard truths, but do attempt to deliver your message in a way that builds up and offers hope to others.
Stay positive and keep it fun. Eschatology is serious business, but don’t take it (or yourself) too seriously. People enjoy discussing Bible prophecy and the last days for the same reason they enjoy talking about life in outer space, conspiracy theories, time travel, and the nature of the afterlife. It’s serious stuff, but it’s fun. Don’t let all the seriousness take away all the fun.
Don’t set dates. Jesus was pretty clear on this, but in case you didn’t get the Messiah’s memo, “Nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the heavenly angels and not the Son. Only the Father knows” (Matthew 24:36 CEB). I suppose it’s okay to speculate, but the more you do it, the dumber you’re going to look when things don’t happen the way you said they would.
Use extrabiblical material. Relax, I’m not suggesting that you give equal weight to the Bible and a Hollywood disaster movie. But there’s nothing wrong with bringing in contemporary film and literature, or even other ancient texts as a jumping off point or to enhance a Bible-based discussion or presentation. The end of the world has often captured imaginations outside the Judeo-Christian tradition, and exploring those ideas can offer valuable perspective when studying the Bible.
If it’s done well, a good end times message series or Bible study at your church can really mix things up—in a good way. It’s interesting, relevant, and has the potential for controversy—almost always a winning combination for congregations that are willing to take risks.