A Mayan calendar ends its record of time on December 21st, 2012. People start to wonder if this means the world is coming to an end. Just like a few years ago, when Y2K madness hit the world by storm. No one is old enough to remember Y1K madness. The historian tells us…
- The year 1000 was marked by widespread fear and anxiety throughout almost every part of the Christian world. It was extensively believed that the period of the Church was to last just one thousand years, and that, … this period was just about to come to a close. The end would be announced by fearful calamities, and then the last and terrifying judgment would begin. In point of fact, nothing very much happened…1
Sound familiar? Although much of the Y2K madness centered on possible economic problems, there was an increase in eschatological interest among people the world over. Generally, that is a good thing. There is always a need for good biblical preaching on the 2nd coming of Christ, and now is as good a time as any to blow the dust off our prophetic charts, and hit the camp meeting trail.
But before we quit our day jobs, perhaps we should pay another visit to William Miller, and learn some very important lessons. Miller’s zeal was unsurpassed. He had something we all need to cultivate – call it eschatological courage. He had the courage to voice his convictions about the future because he knew that the God who gave us prophecies would see to it that they were fulfilled. Miller was not a David Koresh – wildly misapplying entire books of the bible to himself. He was enthusiastic, he was zealous, but he was not a raving heretic.
Miller made a mistake when he proclaimed that Christ would come back in the 1840s. Many like him were saying that Christ will come back in the 1990s. These were not all lunatics. They were just convinced by the evidence they saw that the time is at hand. Like Miller, they were proven wrong. It seems that every year someone proclaims “This is it!” and gets a following. Sooner or later, one of these is going to be right – probably by accident. Eschatological courage is a good thing, but it needs to be balanced with a healthy restraint. Otherwise, we will face a series of disappointments which can only damage our witness for Christ.
I affirm without hesitation the doctrine of the Imminence of Christ’s Return.
Christ could come at any moment. His coming is due. This is what theologians mean by the doctrine of the imminence of Christ’s return. My affirmation goes a bit further. I believe Christ could come back personally, visibly, and loudly at any second. I base this expectation on 1 Thess 4:16-17. Here is a list of my expectations based on that passage.
- The Lord Himself will come down.
- He will come down from heaven.
- He will come with a loud command.
- He will come with a shout from the Archangel.
- He will come with a Trumpet Call of God.
- He will raise those who have fallen asleep in Him.
- He will rapture the rest of believers.
The Lord Himself will come down. He will not send a delegation. He will not call me up to Him. He will come to me. The Father has set a day on which this will happen. I don’t know what that day is, but I believe it will be soon!
He will come down from heaven. He is alive in heaven today. He is my king today, and I am in his kingdom today, but he has not yet begun his reign on earth. His present reign is in heaven. But in order to fulfill the prophecies written about him in scripture, he must come to earth.
He will come with a loud command. He will come with a shout from the Archangel. He will come with a Trumpet Call of God. What follows is a list of three rhetorical questions.
- How can a loud command be secret?
- How can a shout be secret?
- How can a trumpet blast be secret?
If Christ’s coming for his saints is secret, it will be the worst kept secret in the history of communication. This is the coming described by Paul in which he says the saints will be “caught up” (vs. 17). If your prophetic system does not allow for a visible, personal, and loud coming of Christ – perhaps you need to reevaluate your prophetic system.
He will raise those who have fallen asleep in Him. The issue Paul was addressing was that of dead believers (vs.13). He affirms that the dead in Christ will be raised at the second advent.
He will rapture the rest of believers. The rapture will not be secret, but there will be a rapture. The dead in Christ will be raised and the alive in Christ will be caught up, so that all believers of all times will be with the Lord from that time on – never to be separated again.
Many theologians today agree in principle to the doctrine of imminence, but then proceed to add so many restrictions that what they finally describe is a coming which is far from imminent. There were a great many prophecies about the interval between Christ’s first and second coming. Here is a short list:
- Jerusalem’s Unequaled Distress and Desolation (Mt 24:15-22; Lk 21:20-24)
- A Worldwide Great Tribulation, lasting Centuries (Mt 24:4-13; Rev 7:13-17)
- A Great Apostasy in the Church, resulting in the Revealing of Antichrist. (2 Th 2:1-12; Rev 13:11-18)
- The Restoration of Israel to the land (Jer 30; Lk 21:24)
Jesus gave a time limit of one generation (40 years) for the fulfillment of Jerusalem’s Unequaled Distress and Desolation. He gave the prophecy in the year of his death. 40 years later (70 AD) a Roman siege destroyed both Jerusalem and its temple. It has been desolate ever since. In fact, an Islamic mosque stand on the site.
The distress felt during the worldwide Great Tribulation would not be constant, but would appear and disappear many times over many ages. Jesus called these signs birth pains. He warned his listeners not to get excited when wars, famines, and earthquakes happened. These birth pains only showed that the end is coming. They could not foretell when the end would come.
John, in Rev 7 sees a vision of all believers from every nation, tribe, people, and language (vs.9). These are those who went through the Great Tribulation (vs. 14). God’s message to them is “Never again…” (vs. 16). This shows that these people are you and me. Therefore, this prophecy is being fulfilled now.
Paul tells us that before Christ comes, an Apostasy (rebellion) must occur. John calls the leader of this Great Apostasy – Antichrist (1Jn 2:18). He implies that Antichrist will lead the Church astray (2:20). This apostasy occurred around 500 AD, and the Church of Jesus Christ has yet to fully separate from the tremendous cult that emerged. The unclean spirit who has masterminded this rebellion is called The False Prophet, and his place is reserved in the fiery lake of burning sulfur (Rev 9:20). This will happen at the Return of Christ (2 Th 2:8).
And what of The Restoration of Israel? In case you haven’t noticed, there is a tiny spot of land between Africa and Asia which is once again called Israel. Since 1948 the descendants of Jacob have been migrating to that land. Since the 1967 Six Day War the land has included the city of Jerusalem. It appears that the “times of the Gentiles” are fulfilled.
I Deny that Christ Has to Come Back on December 21st in the Year 2012
With all this evidence I have presented for the imminence of Christ’s return, my title for this article seems a bit ridiculous. But there is method to my madness. I sincerely wish to be proven wrong on that title. Nothing would make me happier than to see the body of a Jewish carpenter’s stepson break the clouds with celebration. He is coming back, and I, with all my heart want it to be sooner, rather than later.
But what I want is not at issue here. The fact is that the year 2012 is prophetically insignificant. There is no biblical support whatsoever for dating the coming of Christ. No one knows when Christ will return (Mt 24:36).
In fact, the odds are against Christ returning on such a noteworthy date. What little we do know about that day suggests that it will be an ordinary day. No fireworks will precede it, no fanfare. Christ will come when he is not expected (24:37, 44, 50). The parables Jesus used to illustrate this eschatological discourse are all built around the premise of an unexpected arrival. Five foolish virgins are caught a midnight cry (25:1-13). A wicked, lazy servant is not prepared when his master comes back to settle accounts (25:14-30). Two are working in a field. One is taken, the other left (24:40). Two women are grinding. One is taken, the other left (24:41). The master comes when the stewards are not ready, so they are punished (24:45-51).
There is also that little matter of the gospel going out into all the world (Mt 24:14). However, no one knows whether those ethnic groups listed as unreached now have never been exposed to the gospel. We only assume that those few thousand remote or hostile groups who do not have a viable church have never heard. Only God knows for sure.
And only God knows the day and the hour … and the YEAR of Christ’s return. My plea is that our eschatological zeal be balanced with humility’s restraint. After all, the best way to welcome my Master is not with the date of his arrival marked on my calendar (or anyone’s calendar). The best way to welcome him is with my work accomplished. Then he will say “Well Done!”
1 Neill, Stephen. A History of Christian Missions. 1990 . NY: Penguin Books, 2nd edition reprint. p. 85.
This article is adapted from a previous one by the author which first appeared in The Advent Christian Witness