RAPTURE BEFORE 2105
Ever since the Lord Jesus Christ ascended to the Father, theologians, preachers and others have speculated about the time of his return. It would take dozens of lessons to review the hundreds and hundreds of false predictions concerning the Lord's second coming. Apparently some of the early Christians had misunderstood apostolic teaching concerning the end of the age and looked for the Lord to come in a few days or at most a few weeks. Some of the Thessalonians had actually ceased working because they mistakenly thought the Lord would return before they had time to reap the benefits of their efforts. Why plant wheat or oats or any other crop if the Lord will come before the next harvest? Paul commanded the church in Thessalonica to withdraw from the non-working members of that congregation (2 Thess. 3:6). I do not know anyone in our day—although there may be some—who has quit working because he believes the Lord will come next week or next month, but there are many so-called "prophecy teachers" who make ridiculous claims about the end of the age. They claim to know what neither they nor anyone else can know. Their presumptuousness amounts to arrogance and is ultimately destructive of people's faith.
At the beginning of this message today, I must make it as plain as possible that I believe in the Lord's second coming. If that were not true, what would be the ultimate meaning of life? But neither I nor anyone else can determine the time of his coming— not within a million years—although the Bible specifically and explicitly teaches that he is coming. The words of Jesus in John 14 assure us of that inspiring and comforting truth. "Let not your hearts be troubled: you believe in God, believe also in me. In 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. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know" (John 14:1-4). The second coming of Christ is a major theme in almost all of the New Testament writings.
I have many books that hint at the time of the Lord's second coming. For example, what did Hal Lindsey have in mind when he wrote his best-selling book, The Terminal Generation (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1976) twenty-seven years ago? If you have any doubt, please listen to a few brief excerpts from the bock. "We must conclude that it is most definitely the general time of the Rapture" (p. 178). "With world events fitting into the precisely predicted pattern for the return of Jesus Christ, how much more should this terminal generation take to heart the passages of exhortation in the Bible" (pp. 182-183)! In their book, Facing Millennial Midnight: The Y2K Crisis Confronting America and the World (Beverly Hill, CA: Western Front, Ltd., 1997), Hal Lindsey and Cliff Ford predicted widespread confusion and panic over the Y2K crisis. They said the interstates would be so jammed the "automated traffic controls could be inoperable or unreliable" (p. 112). They speculated that many American banks would have to close and would never reopen (p. 144). The title of their book of false prophecies implies that all of the trouble surrounding the Y2K problem would mean that we were facing millennial midnight. It is my considered judgment they missed it.
Jerry Johnston's book, The Last Days of Planet Earth (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1991), discusses dozens of signs that foretell the coming of Jesus Christ. There is some very valuable information in Johnston's book, but he misses the mark when he gives the impression he can read the signs of the times and have some idea of the time of the Lord's second coming. Ed Hindson is an adjunct professor at Liberty University in Virginia—Jerry Falwell's school. Hindson's book has the title, Final Signs: Amazing Prophecies of the End Times (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1996). Like Hal Lindsey and Jerry Johnston, Hindson imagines he can read the signs that predict the coming of the Lord. One brief statement on the back of the book summarizes its content. "Final Signs is the perfect answer for anyone who wants a clear preview of what God has promised He will do in the last days." By the term, "last days," Hindson means the last days of the last days, in other words, the end of the age.
A well-known group of so-called "prophecy teachers" published a book with the title, Earth's Final Days (Green Forest, AR, 1994). The book has chapters by prominent premillennialists, including Dave Breese, Chuck Missler, Lester Sumerall, John Wesley White and J. R. Church. All of these men believe we are nearing the final days of the Christian era. If they did not believe that, they would not have written Earth's Final Days. A few brief excerpts from this book will demonstrate how absolutely foolish it is to make predictions about the end of the age and second coming of our Lord. Lester Sumerall calls this (the twentieth century) "the end-time century" (p. 64). John Wesley White, one of Billy Graham's close associates, affirms: "The coming again of Jesus Christ is imminent. No prophetic event or events await fulfillment prior to His coming for His church" (p. 333). "The coming of Jesus Christ is immediate" (p. 334).
I have one more book I need to mention before I review an e-mail I recently received. The king of so-called "prophecy teachers" in our day is not Hal Lindsey or Jack Van Impe or Chuck Missler or Dave Breese, although they still have some credibility with some people. John Hagee is by far the most popular of the teachers who claim to be able to read the signs of the times and to make predictions concerning the end of the age. In his book, The Beginning of the End: The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the Coming Antichrist (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996), Hagee says he has felt "divinely inspired to bring Christians and Jews together in a public arena to celebrate the things we have in common, to honor the nation of Israel, and to combat anti-Semitism" (p. 5). How can we argue with a man who feels divinely inspired? According to Hagee, "The shot that killed Yitzhak Rabin launched Bible prophecy onto the fast track" (p. 8). Hagee further argues: "Nuclear bombs and star wars weapons systems—(are) other irrefutable signs that we are in the terminal generation" (p. 91). Hagee agrees with most dispensationalist premillennialists that "the generation which sees the rebirth of Israel is the terminal generation" (p. 93). The rebirth of Israel occurred in 1948. A generation is usually considered to be about forty years. That would have meant that the rapture should have occurred in 1988—eight yeas before Hagee published his book.
Are the men who predict the time of the Lord's return honest in what they preach? I have no idea, but it does not make any difference whether they are honest. Honesty is not a test of truth. Paul was honest when he persecuted God's church, but he was dead wrong. And does not honesty in dealing with scripture demand that we must take all of scripture into consideration before reaching our conclusions? Jesus taught that his second coming would be like a thief in the night. "Watch therefore: for you know not what hour your Lord will come. But know this, that if the good man of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be also ready: for in such a time as you think not, the Son of man comes" (Mt. 24:42-44). Paul warned the Thessalonians: "For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as thief in the night" (1 Thess. 5:2). The apostle Peter stressed the same truth (2 Pet. 3:10).
The e-mail I received a few days ago accuses me of de-edifying "the end time teachings of many scholars." I had never before encountered the word "de-edify," but I have no problem in understanding what the man means. He apparently believes the teaching of the so-called "prophecy teachers." But how can anyone believe Hal Lindsey, Jack Van Impe and similar teachers when they have missed every prediction relating to end times? They do not know and cannot know when the Lord will return to claim his own. Tragically, their speculations have done enormous damage to the cause of Christ. Let me show you why I would make such a statement.
In the early 1800s, William Miller predicted that the second coming would occur between 1843 and 1844. Millions of Americans believed Miller was honest and knew what he was saying. But Jesus did not come in 1843 or 1844. Many people were discouraged to the point of giving up on the scriptures. They apparently believed the Bible was wrong. But the Bible was not wrong; William Miller was wrong. The Bible specifically and emphatically teaches that no man—NO MAN—can know when the Lord will return. Why did not the people who listened to William Miller turn to their Bibles and read: "But of that day and that hour knows no man, no, not the angels who are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father" (Mk. 13:32)? Unless these prophecy teachers claim to have the knowledge that God alone possesses, they have no idea when Christ will come a second time. If they were honest with the Bible and with their own hearts, they would have to admit they do not know, cannot know and do not need to know.
In the e-mail I am reviewing, my correspondent refers to the men who teach the immediate return of Christ as "scholars." Obviously, he has the prerogative of calling them scholars if he so chooses. But just because we refer to certain men and women as scholars does not make them scholars. Scholars must always be honest with the text. And no man is honest with the biblical text when he ignores the simple and plain meaning of the text. There is no way under heaven our Lord could have made it plainer that no man can know the time when he will come again. Children should be able to understand what Jesus said in Matthew's account of the Olivet Discourse. "But of that day and hour no man knows, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only" (Mt. 24:36). Do you have any difficulty understanding the expressions, "no man" and "my Father only?" The expression, "no man," includes Hal Lindsey, Jack Van Impe, John Hagee and all others who use such terms as the "terminal generation," "the final days," "final signs" and "the last days of planet earth." The term, "my Father only," means that none of the so-called "prophecy teachers" has any idea when the end will come. While Jesus Christ was on earth, he did not know when he would return. It is the essence of arrogance for a teacher to claim to know what he cannot know.
The e-mail I received reads: "In the books of Daniel, Revelation, Thessalonians, Hebrews, Ephesians and other parts from other New Testament books, there is a distinct timeline that indicates that the end times, rapture of the church as described in a couple of those places will occur roughly 2000 years after the death/rebirth of Christ (33 A. D.)." For more than sixty years, I have taught these great Bible books—all of them. So far in my study of these books, I have not found one verse—not even one word—that sets a time for the Lord's return. How can thousands and thousands of reputable scholars have read these books for hundreds of years and not been able to discover in them a date for the end of the age?
The prophet Daniel provides a timeline, but not for the Lord's second coming. When Daniel writes, "In the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom" (Dan. 2:44), he gives us the time frame when the Lord would establish his kingdom—not a premillennial kingdom—but the church of the living God. The kings Daniel had in mind were the kings represented by the image Nebuchadnezzar had seen in his dream. The Roman kings were the last of those kings. So the kingdom of God had to be established in the days of the ancient Roman kings or the prophet Daniel did not speak for God. Time prophecies cannot be postponed. Jesus taught: "Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35). If the prophets missed the date, or the person, or the place or the thing about which they wrote, they were not speaking for God. If they uttered false predictions, they were under a death sentence from God (Dt. 18:20-22). The book of Daniel says nothing—absolutely nothing—about the time of the Lord's second coming.
The book of Revelation does not give us any insight into the time of the end of the age. 1 Thessalonians does provide some insight into the end of the age. It speaks of being "caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall ever be with the Lord" (1 Thess. 4:17). That verse has absolutely nothing to do with the so-called "Rapture"—nothing! In fact, the Bible nowhere teaches the Rapture of the premillennial scheme. Paul taught the Thessalonians that no man can know the time of the Lord's second coming. "For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night" (1 Thess. 5:2). How did the Thessalonians know that truth? Paul or one of his companions had told them what to believe.
The author of the e-mail says that Hebrews, Ephesians and parts of other New Testament books give us "a distinct timeline that indicates the end times." The truth of the matter is we have been living in the end times since the day of Pentecost. Is that not what Peter taught in Acts 2? When some of those present on Pentecost accused the apostles of being drunk, Peter responded: "These men are not drunk, as you suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; and it shall come to pass in the last days" (Acts 2:15-17). If you can think of a plainer way Peter could have taught that truth, I would love to hear it. Peter said as emphatically as anyone could: "This is that." N. B. Hardeman, president of Freed-Hardeman University when I was a student there, loved to say: "Peter did not teach that this is like that or this is similar to that, but this is that." The last days began on Pentecost and will come to an end when our Lord returns to claim his own.
My correspondent says the "Rapture of the church is described in a couple of places" and "will occur roughly 2000 years after the death/rebirth of Christ (33. A. D.)." How grateful I would have been had he furnished the two places in the Bible where the Rapture is described! The Rapture is not mentioned in one place—not even in one place. It is the invention of the fertile imagination of preachers and theologians. And if the Bible provides a timeline for his return of roughly 2000 years after his death/rebirth, why did our Lord and his apostles argue that no one could know the time of his coming? Why do men persist in making predictions that have always been proved to be false and always will be false? Frankly, I am not able to answer that question.
The man writes: "Based on biblical prophecies (which will come to pass), the Rapture cannot occur earlier than 2005 (our calendar), but must occur before 2105 based on the time of prophecies that have come to pass." He then asks, "What is your knowledge on this subject?" I am baffled that anyone has the audacity to mention dates in reference to the Lord's second coming. If my correspondent were correct, Christ could not come before 2012 since the Rapture is supposed to precede the second coming by seven years. When Jesus and his apostles warned that Christ could come at any time, they did not know what they were talking about, according to the date-setters. Do you remember what Paul told the Thessalonians: "For when they say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction comes upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. You are all the children of light, and children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness" (1 Thess. 5:3-5).
And for a lowly human being to say the Lord must come before 2105 is sheer arrogance. But neither the false prophet nor those who listen to him will be living then. So such predictions are foolish. The truth is: If Jesus Christ does not return for 10,000 years or for a million years, not one word of scripture will be shown to be false. If it were possible for anyone to figure out the time of the Lord's return, it would have been done long ago. Some of the greatest Bible scholars in the world have carefully considered every scripture that relates to the Lord's second coming and have humbly admitted they do not know when he is coming.
So what is my knowledge on this subject? You have heard today from the Bible itself that neither my correspondent nor anyone else knows the date of Christ's return. So why do we not agree to leave all of that to the Lord? I conclude today with one verse from the book of Deuteronomy. "The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law" (Dt. 29:29). The time of the Lord's second coming is one of those things that belong to the Lord our God. Why do lowly human beings continue to speculate on these matters? Do they not realize how sinful such speculations are?
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