Dear Brothers and Sisters,
You have likely heard a lot over the last couple of weeks about “Brexit.” In a surprising move to many around the world, citizens of Great Britain voted to leave the European Union (EU). Though no one knows what the full impact of Brexit will eventually be, the vote to leave the EU certainly has people in the UK up in arms. GCI-USA Regional Pastor Rick Shallenberger was in the UK the week of the vote and sent me this report:
It was an interesting time to be in Great Britain. Everywhere I went people were talking about Brexit, sharing their personal views of the pros and the cons of “Remain” or “Leave”—the two options on the memorandum ballot. Interestingly, almost all of the opinions I heard were shared respectfully—even among people on different sides of the decision. It made me wonder why we can’t seem to have similar discussions in the US as we share our opinions about political candidates. Every UK paper I saw had the topic of Brexit on its cover—several of the daily papers making it clear which way they stood on the issue. The press and media attempted to influence people on both sides of the referendum with fear and manipulation. As I read one paper I would find myself being swayed on one side of the argument, but then after reading another paper, I found myself being swayed the opposite direction. There was a lot of frustration about what the decision would really mean. There will be for some time.
The vote was held on Thursday, June 23. Early exit polls indicated Britain would remain in the EU, and some of the papers erroneously headlined the wrong decision the following morning. By 5 am Friday morning, it was clear Brexit was a reality. As I walked around that morning, it struck me how normal everything was. At breakfast and in the coffee house later, all the discussion I heard was about Brexit and what the future held. No one had any absolutes, most speculated with some of the speculations being on the side of conspiracy-thinking. Not much different than what one might hear in a coffee shop in the US. What was interesting to me was how in one respect everything had changed for the future of Britain, and in another way nothing had changed for the average citizen—at least for the time being. A major decision had been voted for and the average citizen had no clue what the ramifications would be.
Several in the media pondered whether or not the average citizen even realized what the vote was about. This was fueled later in the day on Friday when a news story claimed the number one Google search in the UK that day was, “What is the EU?” There is a lot of confusion about what the future holds. When Prime Minister David Cameron announced his resignation, speculation increased all the more. Britain is going through a similar transition that we are facing in the US. It will be interesting to see what the future holds.
What bothers me the most, Joe, is to hear Christians speculate that this decision fulfills prophecy, some indicating that it aligns with British-Israelism. I even heard some say this decision makes way for the rise of the Holy Roman Empire. It saddens me when people read more into an event than is there. The British people need our prayers as they transition into a new reality for the country. Whether or not this was a good decision, it happened and so we pray for the people involved. We also continue to pray that God provides the means for the gospel to be shared in Great Britain.
Rick’s words remind me that as we study Scripture, rather than trying to align individual world events (like Brexit) with Bible prophecy, we should understand those prophecies in accordance with their over-arching purpose, which is to point us to Jesus—to who he is, and what he has, is, and will yet do for the salvation of the world. The purpose of prophecy is definitely not to provide us with a detailed time-line of end-time events.
It saddens me that some Christians think that by figuring out a few things in prophecy, they can determine the date of Jesus’ return. Have they forgotten our Lord’s statement that no one knows the timing of that great event? (Matthew 24:36). What prophecy does show us is that God has a plan to bring about his purposes on earth, but his plan is not dependent upon us figuring out the details, including the exact time-line. We need not worry about such details in order to “be ready” for Jesus’ return. God’s plan, in and through Jesus and by the Spirit, includes atonement for all. Looking to and trusting in our triune God is what we need to be concerned with, not speculations about prophecy.
Years ago, Herbert Armstrong (our denomination’s founder) did say that Britain would eventually leave the European Union. But he did not get that idea from Scripture—he got it from others who taught what is known as Anglo- or British-Israelism (click here for details). It’s all too easy to grab hold of a few prophetic statements someone makes, thinking they are right and thus should be followed. But we must look at the larger picture. Herbert Armstrong (along with others) made multiple prophetic statements eventually proven wrong. Mr. Armstrong twice wrongly predicted detailed time-frames for end-time events, including Jesus’ return. Major erroneous predictions like those far outweigh the few, relatively minor predictions that actually came to pass.
The early Christians did not have Bibles to study like we do. They grew in grace and knowledge by hearing about Jesus—about how he fulfilled prophecy, how he came to reveal the Father, how he came to redeem us, how he came to be our atonement, how he came to offer salvation to all. That’s the message the early church shared, and it’s the message we are called to share. It’s a message that includes prophecies about Jesus being Lord over all history, including every power and authority. In Revelation 1:17 (ESV) Jesus gives this reassuring prophetic declaration: “Fear not, I am the first and the last.” The word “last” here translates the Greek word eschatos. Jesus is declaring that he is the “Last One”—our Eschatos (our eschatology). He is the Last Word and will have the last word about everything. Because of this and similar promises (Revelation 22:13; Isaiah 44:6; 48:12), we know that our hope is in Jesus, the incarnate eternal Word of God. The true hope he gives to us overcomes our fears, with no need for us to fall into the seductive, deadly trap of speculating about prophecy.
Rather than being told that Brexit is the beginning of some end of the world prophetic scenario, what the citizens of Great Britain need is to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. They do not need to hear that Brexit is somehow indicative of British-Israelism, or the beginning of the rise of the Holy Roman Empire, or any other such foolishness. What the people of Britain need to know is that they have a Savior who loves them and who will help guide them through whatever changes may come. They also need to know that they have brothers and sisters around the world praying for them, and a heavenly Father who was not surprised or caught off-guard by Brexit, but who is, always has been, and always will be faithful to them as his beloved children.
Trusting in Jesus, not in prophetic speculations,