We’re All Still Here: The Fallacy of Predicting the End of Time

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Like a thief in the night…

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There are four reasons–four very distinct reasons–why people like Mr. Camping are always wrong about predicting the end of time by scouring the Book of Revelation for secret clues.  By the way, the proper biblical term for “The End of Time” is the Eschaton, not the culturally popular “apocalypse,” which means “to pull back the veil.”  This error is based on confusing the Greek word “apocalypsis” used for the Book of Revelation, with the word that means the “end”: eschatos.  In some editions of the Christian Bible, Revelation (please note the word is singular not the plural “revelations” as many call it) is titled “Apocalypse of John.”  Unfortunately, the genre of literature in which the Book of Revelation is classified is called “apocalyptic literature” and not “eschatological literature,” a fact that adds to the confusion.  Here is the list:

  1. The knowledge of the End of Time is exclusively reserved for the Mind of God.   In the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 24, which contains Jesus’ teachings on the “end of the age,” Jesus explicitly states that “No one knows the about that day or hour,  not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mt 24:36, NIV*).  Point One: Christ did not know the time of the End.
  2. Since the First Century, Christians have yearned for the return of Christ.  Even St. Paul, early in his ministry. believed that Jesus would return in his generation.  This belief figures prominently in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, and his instructions to them strongly suggests they were actively debating the return of Jesus in their time.  Some had even quit their jobs.  And though Paul, himself, believed Jesus would return in his lifetime ( later in his life he realized that this likely would not be the case), nevertheless, he cautioned the Thessalonians not to let it cause division among themselves and also not to behave as if there were no tomorrow.  Literally.  To emphasize his point, he writes, “About times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (I Thess 5:1, NIV)  Point Two: Paul the Apostle, nor any of the other apostles, knew the time of the End.
  3. Nowhere in the Book of Revelation is there a definable, historical, sequence of events tied to the narrative that points to a specific knowable day in the future.  It just isn’t there.  The reason is so simple it’s almost ridiculous: That day was not revealed to John.  Revelation is written in the first person as a series of visions given to John.  Not once does Christ nor the angel that guided him through those visions reveal the date of the End. In chapter 16:15, Christ is once again quoted: “Behold I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him…” (NIV) In fact, knowing the date is irrelevant to the whole message of Revelation.  The true message of Revelation to Christians of all generations is: Endure, Overcome, and Endure Patiently. That however, has not stopped Christians in every single generation since Jesus walked on this earth from trying to “unlock” the mysteries of Revelation and predict the exact day the End of Time will begin.  Mr. Camping joins a very large, and very frustrated legacy of people who have discovered that what Jesus said in Matthew, chapter 24, indeed was the truth.  In 2008 I wrote an outline of Revelation for a program curriculum at my church.  You can access it by clicking here: The Revelation to St. John. Point Three: The Book of Revelation is not about predicting the End of Time, it is about how Christians are to live until The Day of the Lord.
  4. In light of the first three points, the final reason is: You can’t outwit God.  What Mr. Camping failed to understand, and in a deeper sense, discern, as one of the most important theological truths in Christianity, is that we cannot know when the Day of the Lord will be.  Notice I am not using the term “Day of Judgment.”  The Day of the Lord will take place in God’s timing.  The date of that day is not secreted away in the text of the Bible.  Jesus, himself, said he did not know the day, as did St. Paul and St John.  The reason for teaching us about the Day of the Lord is to help us live according to the gospel of Christ, not to stop living trying to anticipate that which cannot be known.  Point Four: You can’t outwit God. The Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
*NIV: New International Version.

Light of the World–Easter Sunday 2010

He is risen!

He is risen, indeed!

...And the Light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overwhelm it! Photo: Courtesy Bing.com Images

Light of the World

On the night of His birth a chorus of angels sang praises to God for this new life

Thirty-three years later He was reviled by angry crowds calling for His death

On the night of His birth He was hailed as the Prince of Peace, the heir to David’s royal throne

Thirty-three years later He was condemned as a false king and an enemy of the state

On the night of His birth shepherds came to visit Him and rejoiced that they had beheld the Lamb of God

Thirty-three years later He became the sacrificial lamb whose blood was poured out for the f0rgiveness of sins

On the night of His birth He was wrapped in swaddling cloths and gently held by His mother

Thirty-three years later He was stripped of his clothing and scourged by Roman soldiers

On the night of His birth He was placed in a wooden manger

Thirty-three years later He was executed on a wooden cross

On the night of His birth He was born in a stable, most likely a cave, open to the cold night air, attended by gentle farm animals

Thirty-three years later He was buried in a tomb, most likely a cave, covered by a massive stone, attended by armed guards

On the night of His birth a new star appeared in the heavens, splitting the darkness, and the heavenly host rejoiced that Emmanuel, “God With Us” had come into the world

Thirty-three years and three days later, He arose, a New Light, and appeared to the world, banishing the darkness of sin and all humanity rejoiced that Jesus, the “Light of the World” is the Risen Lord whose light shines forevermore.

December 22, 2002

This meditation was originally presented at Northwood Christian Church, Springfield, Oregon.

Light of the World–Easter Sunday

He is risen!

He is risen, indeed!

Light of the World

On the night of His birth a chorus of angels sang praises to God for this new life

Thirty-three years later He was reviled by angry crowds calling for His death

On the night of His birth He was hailed as the Prince of Peace, the heir to David’s royal throne

Thirty-three years later He was condemned as a false king and an enemy of the state

On the night of His birth shepherds came to visit Him and rejoiced that they had beheld the Lamb of God

Thirty-three years later He became the sacrificial lamb whose blood was poured out for the forgiveness of sins

On the night of His birth He was wrapped in swaddling cloths and gently held by His mother

Thirty-three years later He was stripped of his clothing and scourged by Roman soldiers

On the night of His birth He was placed in a wooden manger

Thirty-three years later He was executed on a wooden cross

On the night of His birth He was born in a stable, most likely a cave, open to the cold night air, attended by gentle farm animals

Thirty-three years later He was buried in a tomb, most likely a cave, covered by a massive stone, attended by armed guards

On the night of His birth a new star appeared in the heavens, splitting the darkness, and the heavenly host rejoiced that Emmanuel, “God With Us” had come into the world

Thirty-three years and three days later, He arose, a New Light, and appeared to the world, banishing the darkness of sin and all humanity rejoiced that Jesus, the “Light of the World” is the Risen Lord whose light shines forevermore.

December 22, 2002

Table of Forgiveness–Holy Saturday

[Each day of Holy Week, I am going to publish a communion meditation that I wrote and delivered, while serving as an Elder, over the past seven years where I worship at Northwood Christian Church, in Springfield, Oregon.]

Table of Forgiveness–Written for the First Anniversary of 9/11 2001

This week we will commemorate the terrible events of September 11th one year ago.  I would like to offer a perspective on what it means to be a Christian and to come to this table as we remember those who perished, those who were left behind, and those who gave so much to rescue and protect the survivors.

My illustration comes not from Ground Zero in New York, but from a newscast in the Palestinian city of Jenin after the Israeli troops occupying it earlier this summer had left.  The reporter was interviewing a group of Palestinians standing on the rubble of what was once their homes.  What caught my attention, however, was the hand-lettered banner tacked onto a wall, written in English, undoubtedly for the benefit of the American and British TV cameras.

The banner read,

“We will never forget.

We will never forgive.”

The words stunned me.  It is one thing to never forget.  Our brains are designed to remember things, after all (finding the TV remote notwithstanding).  To choose not to forgive, however, is another thing altogether.  To make that choice is a decision that will only lead to vengeance and violence, to accept whatever Evil places before you, to justify any act with any means.  There is no justice, only the burning for revenge.

And that is exactly the opposite-the opposite-of what coming to this table stands for.  We come not because we deserve to be here; we come because, above all, we are the forgiven, invited to join our host, the One who gave His life for our sins.  Each week as we gather to take communion, we gather around this table of forgiveness.

Jesus said, “This, do in remembrance of me.”  That is our banner so we will never forget his sacrifice.  But also, as our Lord forgave those who executed him upon a Roman cross, we are also to always remember His example to forgive those who persecute us.  When we make the decision to forgive, we open our lives to God’s justice, to defend and protect those who are oppressed and downtrodden.  In this, our hearts burn not for revenge but for peace.

This is the table of remembrance and forgiveness.  It has been given to us to remember that first, we are the forgiven.

sept_11_bkgrnd

Photo Credit: Ask.com, 9/11 2006

September 8, 2002

Echoes from the Future–Good Friday

[Each day of Holy Week, I am going to publish a communion meditation that I wrote and delivered, while serving as an Elder, over the past seven years where I worship at Northwood Christian Church, in Springfield, Oregon.]

Echoes from the Future

We all enjoy standing on the edge of a canyon or the balcony of a building and calling out loudly to make our voice echo.  It’s fun to hear the sound bouncing around like we were standing in several spots at once.  And we use the term echo as an analogy for remembering events that have happened in the distant past.

But when God speaks, the echoes can come from the future.  Consider these words of the prophet Isaiah, written over five hundred years before the birth of Jesus:  “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (53:4-6, NIV).

These words are not echoes of the past, not when Isaiah wrote them, and neither for us, for they are the present word from God to all future generations of humankind.  The words tell us what happens and why it has to happen, so at that moment in time, in reality, in history that Jesus sits at the table with his disciples, a new present and a new future is opened.

We come to this communion table each week not merely to remember Jesus’ death on the cross, but to celebrate His presence with us.  The bread representing his body broken for us and the juice representing his blood shed for us binds us to the past, present and future of God’s eternal love and salvation.  Again to quote one of Isaiah’s echoes from the future:

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors.  For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors (53:12, NIV).

And most of all, because He bore my sin.

March 7, 2004

A Room for All Time–Maundy Thursday

[Each day of Holy Week, I am going to publish a communion meditation that I wrote and delivered, while serving as an Elder, over the past seven years where I worship at Northwood Christian Church, in Springfield, Oregon.]

A Room for All Time

Jesus knew what he wanted.  It was time to prepare for the Passover.  Jesus knew it would be his last Passover and his last meal.  And so he wanted a room that would hold all of his closest disciples, the Twelve, and probably those few other men and women whom Jesus loved most.  He sent Peter and John to arrange the room and the meal.  The owner of the house is not named, but undoubtedly he was one of Jesus’ followers.  The room was large and on the second story of the house.  The room was perfect–perfect for the One who would make this a room for all time.

For over a thousand years the Jews had celebrated the Passover in rooms like this one.  But Jesus was standing history on its head, and now this room would witness an act of God’s grace.  For in that room Jesus spoke the words, “This is my body, which is given for you” and “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”  As Jesus spoke those words, God’s presence was no longer hidden away in the Temple in the Holy of Holies.  For the rest of all time, God would be present in any room, or place, in which the words were spoken and the meal partaken.

Yes, Jesus knew what he wanted that night.  The Upper Room was the place where Jesus declared himself to be God’s greatest gift to creation, where through his death on the cross, all humans would find salvation.

As you eat the bread and drink the cup today, let us all give thanks to God for His presence in this room at this very moment.

August 15, 2004

Final Meal of Grace–Day 4 of Passion Week

[Each day of Holy Week, I am going to publish a communion meditation that I wrote and delivered, while serving as an Elder, over the past seven years where I worship at Northwood Christian Church, in Springfield, Oregon.]

Final Meal of Grace

Author Lauren Winner, in her book, Mudhouse Sabbath, writes this sentence, “Humanity’s first sin was disobedience manifested in a choice about eating.”  In the book of Genesis, God tells Adam and Eve they may eat the fruit of every tree except that of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  When they choose to disobey God and eat its fruit, at that meal humanity falls from grace.

When Moses leads the people of Israel out of Egypt, God institutes a new meal of remembrance, the Passover meal.  This food, eaten once a year, was to remind the people of Israel of God’s mercy and their liberation from enslavement.  When they ate this food, they were thanking God for the Law, which gave them their identity as God’s chosen people and set the stage for the Messiah.

How appropriate, how beautiful it is, then, on the night when God’s grace is to be returned to humanity, God gives to us the final meal.  When we choose to eat this food, we are accepting God’s offer to forgive our sins.  It is the Messiah, Jesus, who transforms the Passover meal into not just a remembrance of His sacrifice on the cross, but into an act of God’s covenant of grace, present through the Holy Spirit.

Listen to the words:

And while they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.”  And He took a cup and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is to be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins (Matt 26:26-28, NAS).

January 30, 2005