Anxiously Awaiting Jesus’ Return
For nearly two millennia, Christian believers have stood on Jesus’ promise that He will one day return for us.
1“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. 2In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. [John 14:1-3 – NKJV]
Even as Jesus ascended to His Father, two angels appeared…
who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” [Acts 1:11 – NKJV]
As the sinful world descends deeper and deeper into depravity, rejecting the ordinances of God, the Church of Jesus Christ has increasingly drawn in upon itself, circling the wagons against the worldly assault upon all we hold precious, anxiously awaiting the so-called “rapture” of the Church described for us by the apostle Paul.
15For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18Therefore comfort one another with these words. [1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 – NKJV]
For nearly as long as Christians have awaited the rapture, we have been trying to determine exactly when it will occur. This despite Jesus’ own warning against it.
32“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. [Mark 13:32-33 – NKJV]
There was so much confusion within the early Church about Jesus’ own teachings regarding the end times, that God’s Holy Spirit speaking through Paul found it necessary to give the words of encouragement about those believers who had already died in Christ, which we read in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 above. Some in the early Church simply abandoned all earthly activities to await the return of the LORD. After all, in response to His Disciples’ question regarding the end time Jesus Himself said, “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” [Matthew 24:34 – NKJV] Some in the early Church had even begun preaching that the Day of the LORD had already come and gone. The problem became so acute that Paul wrote his second letter to the church in Thessalonica just to deal with these issues. A few decades later, the apostle John in exile on the island of Patmos received the prophetic vision of the end times we find in his apocalyptic book The Revelation of Jesus Christ.
Since that time, untold numbers of predictions have been made concerning the day and hour of the LORD’s return. Indeed, an entire eschatology known as Preterism, arose around the idea that all (or at least most) of the predictions of Jesus’ return we find in the Word of God have already taken place when Jerusalem fell to the Romans and virtually all of her Jewish inhabitants were cast into exile in 70 AD. This event gave rise to the popular concept of replacement theology, also known as supersessionism which postulates that the Church of Jesus Christ has replaced the nation of Israel in God’s plan of salvation. That idea seemed to make a lot of sense after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, since the nation of Israel had for all intents and purposes ceased to be. It is amusing that this silly idea had apparently already been proposed even before the fall of Jerusalem, since Paul devoted all of Romans chapter 11 to discussing it.
But then with the rise of Zionism in the late 19th century, culminating in the reestablishment of the State of Israel in the Holy Land in 1947, the idea of supersessionism fell out of fashion. But the rebirth of Israel in the 20th century gave rise to a rash of new predictions regarding exactly when the “rapture” might happen. For example, somehow the preposterous idea arose that maybe Jesus meant the generation living in 1947 when Israel once again occupied the Land of Promise when He said “…this generation will by no means pass away…” – the ‘greatest’ generation which fought World War II, and suffered through the Nazi holocaust who are indeed now rapidly passing away day-by-day. Other (in)famous predictions of “the day and the hour” include those of Harold Camping, who proclaimed the end would come on May 21st 2011, and when that day came and went, changed his prediction to October 21st 2011. Commonly, these end times predictions place great significance on astronomical events, such as the famed (and since proven false) Blood Moon Prophecy promoted by author John Hagee.
Of course when such bold (and delusional) prophecies fail to come about, it gives rise to a storm of ridicule from both the atheist and Christian communities alike. Yet such failed predictions don’t seem to deter us from seeking to pin down the time of Jesus’ return which we so anxiously await. Instead of remembering Jesus’ admonition to “…Take heed, watch and pray…” we continue to seek out “prophets” who are more than willing to profit from our desire to know ahead of time when the trumpet will sound.
The “Great Sign”
The newest date being bandied about the Internet as I write this BriRant is September 23rd 2017. Supposedly, on that date the sun, moon, constellation of Virgo, constellation of Leo, and some of the planets will align to form the “great sign” mentioned in Revelation 12: 1 – Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. Those familiar with John’s prophecy will be aware that this “great sign” is found in his narrative immediately before the rise of the dragon (Satan) to usher in the final so-called “Great Tribulation” period spoken of in Daniel, Revelation, and Matthew 24. Of course, reading the full context of Revelation 12 clearly debunks the idea that it is a linear narrative. For example, the fall of Satan from Heaven we find in Revelation 12:7-12 was clearly already a past event at the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry. We know this because Jesus Himself spoke of it – And He said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. [Luke 10:18 – NKJV]
It is not my intent in this BriRant to debunk this latest Great Sign “prophecy.” The astronomical claims themselves are preposterous and false – a common trait among many of these popular predictions. Those interested can find a thorough and concise refutation of the Great Sign claim by Dr. Danny R. Faulkner of Answers in Genesis here. Like most Bible students, I fully expect that September 23rd, 2017 will come and go without the Church of Jesus Christ being taken from the world, or any other noteworthy cataclysmic event. But whether or not something significant happens on that day (or any other predicted “doomsday”) is irrelevant.
End Times Predictions are Harmful to the Gospel and Potentially Fatal to Unbelievers
Just for the sake of argument let’s say that the “Great Sign prophecy” is true – that we will indeed hear a shout, the voice of an archangel, and the trumpet of God on September 23rd, 2017 before we see the LORD coming on the clouds and are gathered up to meet the LORD in the air. God knows, I hope and pray that may be so, and will rejoice if it happens. But what about the time between now and then?
A brief search on the Internet reveals that two people die each and every second of each and every day – some 150,000 people per day! Some of those people are innocent children, like the roughly 6,000 who die of starvation every day. Others are Christian believers whose bodies will die, but whose spirits will be present and alive with the LORD awaiting the eventual resurrection of their bodies in glorified, eternal form just as His. Suppose, though, that even one single person out of the more than a million who will die between now and September 23rd, 2017 is putting off a decision whether to believe the Gospel of the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ so that those who believe in Him may be forgiven their sins and receive from Him the gift of eternal life in Christ. Suppose that person is waiting to see whether the “Great Sign Prophecy” is fulfilled before accepting Jesus into her/his heart. The Bible says that such a person is condemned to eternity in torment in a Lake of Fire, because s/he didn’t believe in Jesus’ Gospel. The very fact that the “Great Sign Prophecy” exists will therefore condemn that person in her/his unbelief, whether or not it turns out to be true!
On the other hand, suppose that the “Great Sign Prophecy” turns out like so many others to be completely bogus. Imagine that same person who was waiting to find out whether the “prophecy” is fulfilled before making a decision for Christ. When the “prophecy” turns out to be false, that person is likely to reject the Gospel despite some other factors which might have caused her/him to believe it. In the end, even if the person lives to see the “prophecy” proved false, s/he too will be condemned to death in Hell for her/his unbelief. The failure of end times predictions can shipwreck people’s faith. The effect is similar to the spiritual destruction wrought by prosperity preachers like Joel Osteen who preach a false Gospel of God’s desire for all His children to have earthly riches and pleasures without ever mentioning the havoc wreaked in the world by mankind’s sin, and the need for a Savior – Jesus – willing to take upon Himself the rightful punishment of death for our sins in order that we might be saved. The prosperity “gospel” sounds sweet, and tickles the ears of many until the promised prosperity fails to materialize (pun intended), and the faith of these gullible seekers is destroyed. Similarly, the false witness of end times prognosticators may cause people to disbelieve the Gospel itself. In much the same way, professing Christians may turn people away from Jesus by not showing the fruits of His Spirit, instead continuing in an obvious and visible life of sin. Paul warned of this in Romans.
21You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? 22You who say, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? 24For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,” as it is written. [Romans 2:21-24 – NKJV]
Make no mistake. As believers in Christ, we have been given an extraordinary gift through Jesus’ sacrifice in our stead on the cross, and by His miraculous resurrection on the third day. Let’s confine our witness to that Gospel alone, and eschew silly predictions. Jesus Himself said, “…For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required;…” [Luke 12:48 – NKJV]. As I said before, I believe it is very unlikely that anything more momentous will happen on September 23rd, 2017 than on any other day. But even if this “prophecy” turns out to be true, might it not have been better for our fellow creatures who are not yet our brothers and sisters in Christ if we had simply kept quiet about this supposed new “revelation?”