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Behind every answer, a question

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Kevin Sartin

Theology Columnist

The Iranian nuclear agreement brokered by great American statesman John Kerry will reportedly make the world a better, safer place. Iranians sure seem to be excited about it – and why wouldn’t they be? If the deal is approved, the lifting of international trade sanctions could result in Iran’s economy being infused with as much as $150 billion in revenue, meaning, among other things, that Iranians will have widespread access to all the goods of the Western world that they have long been denied.
What remains doubtful is whether this new arrangement will result in any increase in Iranian affections toward the U.S. and the other world powers involved.
I’m voting for “probably not.”
During a speech marking the end of Ramadan and speaking in front of a crowd that looked to easily number in the tens of thousands, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared that the newly minted agreement with the United States and other world powers would not affect Iran’s policies in relation to “arrogant” America, and that Iran’s relationships with allies such as Syria would remain unchanged.
The jubilant masses, apparently overcome with feelings of good will and kindness that they were unable to contain, gave voice to those emotions by repeatedly chanting things like “death to America,” “death to Israel,” “death to Great Britain,” and “death to hypocrites.”
Of course, the fact that someone wants you dead is no reason not to provide them with the means to carry out their clearly-expressed intentions. That is apparently the sentiment behind the agreement that was finally reached, and probably at least part of the reason why enthusiasm in the Western world regarding the Iran nuclear agreement is markedly less than that currently being displayed in the East.
The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which passed the House and Senate on May 14 of this year and was signed by the President on May 22, supposedly guarantees Congress a 60-day review period on any deal reached with Iran, which means that it may be some time yet before the agreement is finalized, and certainly it will be some time before the effect of either the approval or rejection of the deal is fully realized.
No matter what the long-term effect of the Iran deal-or-no-deal might be, one of the immediate results has been that “Bible scholars,” both acclaimed and self-proclaimed, professional and amateur, have delighted in pointing to the events of the day as a sure sign that we are living in the “end-times” and that the return of Jesus is near.
Though the great majority of Protestants are theologically lazy when it comes to their eschatology (doctrines concerning last things) and prefer to base their beliefs on fictional books and bad Nicolas Cage movies, there are some people out there who are serious about discovering what the Bible teaches about the end of this present age.
The problem is that the difficulty inherent in trying to interpret Biblical prophecy means that behind every answer there lies another question.
Does the Bible teach that there will be a sudden “catching away” (rapture) of believers or not? If there is a rapture, when does it occur in relation to the “tribulation period” – before that period of difficulty begins, in the middle of it, or at the end of it? Speaking of the “tribulation period,” how long will it last? Seven years or only three and a half? Is the thousand-year reign of Jesus on earth that the Bible talks about literal or figurative?
I could go on, but you get the point. Lots and lots of questions, few definitive answers. But regardless of one’s particular flavor of end-times theology, all Bible-believers should be able to agree on two things – a Day of Judgment is coming, and God in His sovereignty will bring about that Day of Judgment according to His plan and by His power.
Paul summed it up quite nicely in Luke’s recorded history of the early church known as the book of Acts: “…He (God) has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
So, God has established a point in time at which He will judge the world, and we are creeping closer and closer to that appointed time with each passing day. Are current events in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world really pointing to the fact that the end of the age is near? Maybe and maybe not. I suppose only God really knows, and that is fine with me.

Kevin Sartin is pastor of First Baptist Church on Main St. in Nashville. Rev. Sartin holds a Master of Divinity Degree from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and has spent the last decade pastoring churches in Louisiana and Arkansas.