In my mailbag almost every week I receive articles from folks who claim to be able to reveal detailed information about events to unfold in the very near future.
These men are not psychics, astrologers or fortune-tellers. They are preachers, sincere Bible-believing men who confidently proclaim their scheme of things to come - always with a raft of Bible verses to back them up.
A preacher in New Mexico declares that the Rapture is coming by the spring of 2000, without a doubt. A gentlemen in Arkansas has figured out that the Antichrist will probably be a Lebanese man. An erudite Ohioan reveals that the war in Kosovo is a sure sign that the Second Coming of Christ will come very soon. And on and on it goes.
Every war, earthquake and famine is confidently trumpeted as sure evidence that the Second Coming is coming soon, because The Bible Says So. (Actually, however, Matthew 24:6 teaches that these events specifically are not signs of the Second Coming).
Are we really being buried with unmistakable signs of the Second Advent, or only titillated with a blizzard of prognostications that never come true? A bit of historical perspective may help.
The truth is that every generation of Christians has believed that they were the "Terminal Generation," that the Antichrist was already in the world, and that the signs they thought they saw in the apocalyptic books of the Bible were certain evidences that Christ would return in their lifetimes. So far, all these eager expectations of the imminent end of the world have been totally, 100% mistaken.
Let's take a brief historical survey of failed predictions of the Second Coming.
The Blickling Homilies of 971 AD declared that all but the final signs of Doomsday had been fulfilled, and that the final age was almost over.
At about the same time, Adso of Montier-en-Der saw, in the Viking and Magyar invasions, the predicted invasions of Gog and Magog.
Abbo of Saint-Benoit de Fleury reported to the King of France in 994: "As a youth I heard a sermon preached to the people in the Paris church to the effect that as soon as the number of 1000 years was completed, Antichrist would arrive, and not long after, the last judgment would follow."
Tenth Century prophecy experts proclaimed that the fall of the Carolingian dynasty in France in 987 was a sign of the end.
A monk of St. Amand of Lobbes in Lotharingia wrote that in the year 1000 "there was a great earthquake, not as often occurs... but the whole earth shook in every direction with a vast and general tremor, so that it might be clear to everyone what had been promised before by the mouth of truth. For these and other signs were foretold as necessary, having been fulfilled, from here already our hope grows more certain of those things that remain to be completed in order."
Wolfstan declared in 1010 that Antichrist's time was near at hand.
SIGN, SIGN, EVERYWHERE A SIGN. A famine in France from 1030 to 1033 was taken as a sign of the end. Likewise, an abundant harvest in 1033/1034 was taken as a sign of the end, resulting in a massive pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
In 1065, a huge pilgrimage, led by the Bishop of Bamberg, set off for Jerusalem, "deceived by the vulgar belief that that day would bring the Last Judgment."
In the 12th Century, the "Noble Lesson" of the Waldenses proclaimed the impending end of the world: "For we see the world nigh to a conclusion . . . Seeing that the end of the World approacheth. There are already 11O0 years fully accomplished, Since it was written thus, 'For we are in the last time. '.. . We see daily the Signs to be accomplished, And that in the increase of evil, and decrease of good."
Thirteenth Century prophecy experts declared Emperor Frederick II to be the Antichrist, and that the Millennium would begin in 1260.
INTENSIVE SCARE UNIT. The Black Death of 1349, a plague that killed one-third of the population of Europe, was regarded as a sign of the end, as were earthquakes in Italy and Carinthia in 1348.
In 1368 Konrad Schmid of Thuringia announced that the Millennium was to begin in the following year. The 2 witnesses of Revelation 11 were identified as Schmid and his sidekick. The Catholic authorities, evidently not impressed, had both of them burned at the stake.
In 1396 Dominican friar St. Vincent Ferrer had a vision in which he learned the startling news that Antichrist was on the point of beginning his reign.
In 1420 the Taborites of Bohemia proclaimed that the final struggle with Antichrist had begun and that the Millennium was about to begin. After years of civil war, the Taborites were finally defeated in 1452.
In 1525 Thomas Muntzer of Germany proclaimed that the Millennium was about to begin. During the Peasants' Revolt he led thousands of followers into battle with the understanding that they would be rescued in the midst of the battle by Christ's Second Coming. Muntzer and the peasants were slaughtered by the German nobles, with tremendous loss of life.
In 1824 English prophecy expert HatIey Frere taught that all the signs of Daniel and Revelation had been fulfilled, and that the Rapture was to take place in a few short years. One of his disciples, Edward Irving, preached in 1825 that it would be a waste of time to try to send missionaries to the continent of Europe because the Second Coming was so close. One of Irving's church members, Robert Baxter, gave a new revelation that Christ would come on June 27, 1835.
DESPERATELY SEEKING ANTICHRIST. Prophecy experts of the mid-19th Century agreed that Emperor Napoleon III was the Antichrist, and that the Rapture would come by the year 1868. They professed to find, in the Book of Revelation, detailed predictions of every major military and political event then taking place in Europe. In 1870 Napoleon III was defeated and deposed by the Prussians, and the prophecy experts had to go back to the drawing board.
When World War I began, the prophecy gurus were delighted. For years they had been promising the battle of Armageddon, and the Great War in Europe seemed to fit the bill. The Jehovah's Witnesses proclaimed that Christ's coming was near and that "Millions now living will never die." Today they are all dead.
The fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1918 was declared to be the fulfillment of Revelation 16:12, the drying up of the Euphrates so that the Kings of the East could invade Israel. After 80 years, the Kings of the East still have not shown up. Maybe they got lost.
In 1922 when Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Treaty of Rapallo, the prophecy teachers said that this was the sign that Russia would soon invade Israel and that the battle of Armageddon was to take place Real Soon Now.
In 1926 the noted Canadian pastor Oswald Smith wrote that based on the signs of the times, including World War I and the fall of the Russian Czar, it was evident that the Rapture would happen by 1928.
There was general agreement in Bible prophecy circles that Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was definitely the long-awaited Antichrist, without a doubt. A dispensational Bible teacher, Ralph Norton, met with Mussolini and told him that the Bible says that the Roman Empire will rise again. In a botched attempt to reconstruct that empire, Mussolini declared war on Greece, France, Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union, was beaten by all those countries, and finally was lynched by his own enraged people in 1945.
When the European Common Market was formed in 1958, there was a general agreement that this was the long-awaited sign that the Rapture would come soon.
Many prominent preachers proclaimed the coming of Comet Kohoutek in 1973 to be the sign of the Second Coming of Christ. It turned out that Kohoutek could not even be seen without binoculars.
In spite of a dismal track record of totally failed predictions over the centuries, the prophecy enthusiasts are still insisting that almost every event in every edition of the newspaper is a sign of the Second Coming - every flood, every drought, every famine, every earthquake, every school shooting, every war, every peace treaty. And then we whine that the world does not take us fundamentalists seriously.
Some will suspect that I do not believe in the Rapture or Second Coming of Christ. Actually, I definitely believe that Christ will literally return to earth some day and resurrect all His saints.
I don't know anything about the timing of this great event. I don't believe anyone else knows, either.
The timing of the Second Coming is unknowable to man and is not something that we should speculate on, Matthew 24:36, 42, 44, Acts 1:7.
When the Lord comes, He will come as a thief in the night, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2, 2 Peter 3:10, Revelation 3:3, 16:15. Thieves do not give advance notice of their coming. Neither will Christ.
We know that Christ is coming someday and that the dead will rise again to face their
Maker in judgment, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, John 5:28-29. We don't need to waste our time
guessing and speculating as to when this will take place.