Will the WHOLE World Be Surprised at the Coming of Jesus, or Will it Be Possible To Know His Coming Is Soon? #101 #eschatology #LastDays #SecondComing
Happy Wednesday, friends! Today marks THREE weeks of sheltering in place for those of us in central California, and it is for me, a personal record for sheltering in place/staying home and social distancing, beating my previous record of 5 days when I had the flu in 5th grade and two weeks when my mom’s car was hit by a moving van when I was 8 or so.
Are you going crazy yet? I sort of see some signs that my family is, therefore I am planning on building a temporary shelter/respite place in the laundry room for me and the boy, because he still seems mostly sane.
Today’s Bible readings include Leviticus 11 and 12, Psalms 13 and 14, Proverbs 26 and 1 Thessalonians 5. Yeah, Robert Murray M’Cheyne kind of went crazy on us today! Today’s big Bible question: Will College Football Happen this year?! I go live to my special guest, Ryen Russillo for his take. Oh, wait, that’s actually a topic for a different show – our actual question is: Will it be possible for Christians to know that that the coming of Jesus is soon? Well…what do you think? Don’t guess yet – let’s read 1 Thessalonians 5, then come back and discuss it, and then we will read our other 50 Bible chapters for the day.
Here’s the pertinent part of 1 Thessalonians to help us answer the question:
About the times and the seasons: Brothers and sisters, you do not need anything to be written to you. 2 For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. 3 When they say, “Peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, like labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in the dark, for this day to surprise you like a thief.1 Thessalonians 5:1-4
The picture for today’s episode of the show is a copy of the book 1994?, with my desktop and microphone in the back. Yes, that is a CVS prescription bottle that is acting as a space on my microphone boom arm. More importantly, is the book 1994? one of my great theological treasures! You can’t tell from the picture, but the book is a 551 (!) page, well researched book by author and radio host Harold Camping that was written in 1992 and makes the very bold claim that Jesus will return in 1994. In fact, the back of the book contains this stunningly wrong prediction:
“Whether we like it or not, the end of history is almost upon us. Abundant biblical information focuses on 1994 as the likely end of the world. This information should be declared to the world because it severely and eternally impacts each and every individual of the more than 5.5 billion people of the earth.”1994? 1992, by Harold Camping
I’ll be honest with you. I haven’t read this book, and I’ve barely opened it. I bought it for 25 cents at a Trussville library sale as an illustration of the fact that people have been trying to predict the exact date of the second coming for hundreds of years, and have struck out every time. Tonight, for the first time, I read a few paragraphs of this book, and I’ve got to tell you that my mind is blown. Some how, some way, Brother Camping calculates that the date the world began was on 11,013 B.C. I am afraid that I have no idea whatsoever how Camping arrived at that date, as I turned to page 442, and just started reading. I do not have time to read a whole 550 page book of nonsense, even if I wasn’t doing a daily Bible podcast. So, the world apparently began on 11,013 B.C., and here is how, according to Camping, we get to 1994:
Especially interesting is Jacob’s age when he came under the care and protection of Joseph. When asked of Pharaoh his age, he answered in Genesis 47:9 “And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, ‘The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years. Few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage. From this verse, Camping makes the following conclusion, “We can’t help but see the parallel between this account and the pilgrimage of believers in this world. When do we escape the evil days of this earth? In one sense we escape them when we become saved, but the final escape is the end of the world. We see again how 13000 years, or the year 1988 stands out as the end of the world.
This is the sort of reasoning you get in books of this ilk – books that attempt to pin down the exact date of the return of Jesus. Many, many attempts have been made to this in the past. The Jehovah’s Witnesses predicted the second coming, and other important Bible prophecy events, would happen in 1878, 1881, 1914, 1918, 1925 and more, but all of these events were busts, and had to be retconned. Camping himself recalculated his dates, and came up with a “beyond a shadow of a doubt” return of Jesus that would happen on May 21, 2011. When that failed, he moved the date to October 21, 2011. When that failed – he very wisely, and humbly repented of his silliness, shared the Matthew 24:36 truth that ‘no man knows the day or the hour of the return of Jesus,” and then began to study the Bible to learn about about what it taught and about Jesus, than to try and figure out dates and such. Good job, Mr. Camping. You messed up, but you got there eventually in the grace of God.
The problem with trying to discern the exact date of the return of Jesus is what Jesus Himself claimed about His Second Coming: The angels in Heaven didn’t know the date, Jesus the Son of God didn’t know the date, but ONLY the God the Father knew the date of His return. I think that means that the timing of the return of Jesus is not ENCODED or hidden somehow, someway in the Bible – but, quite literally ONLY the Father knows that date.
Now, that said and believed, we have a curious thing here in 1st Thessalonians: “But you, brothers and sisters, are not in the dark, for this day to surprise you like a thief.” Jesus, as He said, is going to return like a thief in the night – in a way that will surprise the world…but, according to Paul – those believers who aren’t in the dark WON’T be surprised by the return of Jesus. Instead, they will be ready. Is this a contradiction between the teaching of Paul, and the teaching of Jesus? Not at all. In fact, the teaching of Jesus largely emphasized the same thing:
35 “Be ready for service and have your lamps lit. 36 You are to be like people waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet so that when he comes and knocks, they can open the door for him at once. 37 Blessed will be those servants the master finds alert when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will get ready, have them recline at the table, then come and serve them. 38 If he comes in the middle of the night, or even near dawn, and finds them alert, blessed are those servants. 39 But know this: If the homeowner had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also be ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”Luke 12:35-40
So – the Second Coming should NOT hit Bible-believing, blood-bought followers of Jesus by surprise. Why not – because they know the hour? NO! Because, NO MATTER WHAT HOUR IT IS, they are living and acting like the Master (Jesus) could return at ANY MOMENT! Think of it like this: You work at an office, and the boss is away. If everybody is diligently working while the boss is away, then his return won’t shake anybody up in the least, and it certainly won’t surprise anybody, or alarm anybody (least of all, the boss), because all of the workers are diligently and alertly doing what they are supposed to do. Suppose, however, that the workers goof off. They play games on their phones, make personal calls, peruse social media, and get a game of poker going in the break room. When the boss returns then – THEY WILL BE SURPRISED – exactly like a sleeping homeowner of a house that a cat-burglar breaks in. You’re not surprised by such a thing if you are waiting and watching alertly, but it catches you way off guard if you are sleeping or goofing off. The antidote to being surprised is NOT knowing the exact time of the boss’s return, but knowing that he could return at ANY SECOND, and doing exactly what He commanded you to do while He was gone.
I think that is the primary reason why Paul is telling believers that the coming of Jesus should not catch them like a thief in the night – because they are awake and alert. That said, I think there might be a secondary sense here too. Maybe. The fact is that Jesus describes (in Matthew 24, Luke 22, etc) and Paul describes (in this passage and several others) and other Old and New Testament books do indeed give us some hints about how things are going to look around the time of the return of Jesus. This information on the Second Coming is somewhat vague, and I believe purposely so. If it wasn’t, then we believers, being human, would likely procrastinate on the Great Commission and wait until the last minute, and it is clear that though Jesus didn’t know the exact date of His return, He did seem to know the Second Coming would be far in the future (see Matthew 25:19, Matthew 24:48, among other hints), thus He sent the believers out with urgency, and we still have that same urgency. Our mission is to be serving the King and His Kingdom when He returns!
Will we know His arrival is getting near? I think the answer is MAYBE. Some true believers from all centuries have believed they lived in the time of Jesus’ return, and thus far, they have all been wrong. That means the signs of Jesus’ coming could be misinterpreted. That said, I believe that the nearer we get to His return, the clearer the events unfolding on earth will match the events foretold in Scripture. The principle is: The Nearer we get, the clearer. I think it is telling that Jesus, in Luke 12, said the disciples would not know the hour. I take that to mean that we will not know the exact date, but that the Body of Christ on earth at the time will not be surprised like a thief in the night (even though Jesus will indeed come like a thief in the night!) for two reasons: #1 They will be working, alert, awake, watching, and crying out Maranatha – come, Lord Jesus! #2 – The Body of Christ on earth at that time will begin to see a more closely matched set of circumstances and events unfolding that unmistakably matches biblical prophecy. That generation won’t know the day or the hour either, but I suspect that they will have a collective sense that it is going to happen soon.