The following is a small portion of the final sermon delivered by Edmund Calamy the Elder on the 28th of December, 1662, with the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament as an allusion to Christians and God's timing:
"We must not pry into the ark. This was the sin of the men of Bethshemesh. 'They looked into the ark, and God smote them, and cut off fifty thousand and three-score and ten men' (I Sam. 6:19). Be not too curious in searching where God has not discovered or revealed. For example, there are great thoughts of heart as to when God will deliver his people and set his churches at liberty; and many men talk much of the year 1666. Some say that shall be the year in which antichrist shall be destroyed. And there are strange impressions upon the hearts of many learned men as to that year. Some go to the year 1669, and others pitch upon other times. But truly, if you will have my judgment, and I am glad of the is opportunity to tell you, this is to pry too much into the ark. Remember the text, 'It is not for you to know the times or the seasons which the Father hath put in his own power' (Acts 1:7). And thus to fasten upon any particular time, if you find you are deceived, this is the way to make you atheists, and thus afterwards you will believe nothing. Those ministers do no service, or rather ill service, to the church of God that fix upon the times and seasons."
- "Trembling for the Ark of God," from Sermons of the Great Ejection, The Banner of Truth Trust. New revised and reset edition 2012, p. 25.
I find it fascinating that Calamy notes that fixing upon the date of the Lord's return results in men feeling deceived, and makes them into atheists, believing nothing. This reminds me of the Apostle Peter's prophecy, "...that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, 'Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the father fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.." (II Peter 3: 3-4, ESV). Unfulfilled predictions can lead to scoffing and unbelief.
Likewise, I am fascinated that people predicted the date of the Lord's return in the 17th century just as many do in contemporary times. Instead of focusing on dates, prophecy focuses on God fulfilling His plan. Events are predicted, and some have already occurred (e.g. the first advent of Jesus), but the time of final events is not specified. Indeed, the Apostle John said, "Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour." (I John 2:18, ESV). Notice, an antichrist is predicted to come, but there are already many antichrists in existence. Thus, with prophecy, the end event is preceded by similar events. This has been called "the already and not yet." Therefore, focusing on a date in the future neglects the current situation that resembles the final event. Likewise, confusing current events with the final events results in unfulfilled predictions, which as noted above, can lead to scoffing.
Rather than predicting the date of the Lord's coming, which will happen in His time (Revelations 22:20), we must pay attention to Jesus' words: "Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes" (Matthew 24: 45-46). We are told of Jesus second coming so we will understand that the work He has given us to accomplish while we are alive on this earth has meaning and purpose, not so that we will make predictions which can come close to divination ("There shall not be found among you....anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens...for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD..." Deuteronomy 18: 10 & 12 (ESV); see also Isaiah 8:19 and Daniel 2:27-28). Our work has purpose in God's plan, and according to His plan, this world will pass away and be replaced by the new heaven and new earth one day when Jesus returns (see Revelation 21:1-8). In the meantime, our work does not involve prying into the ark, metaphorically.
[Edmund Calamy the Elder was an English Presbyterian and a member of the Westminster Assembly of Divines in the 17th century who sought to reform the Church of England]