Dr Jim McClure, noted theologian, brings a new slant to the Great Commission onus in these troubled times … days when not only does the world need to hear and the accept the gospel message but side-tracked Christians need to understand scripture deceptions by so-called ‘teachers’ …
I don’t think anyone would disagree that we are living in very difficult days. I don’t remember in my lifetime a period when the world has been so restless, confused, violent and hopeless.
1. Evidence of worldwide corruption and collapse
a) Islam pursues its fierce worldwide program of terror, mindless destruction, torture, rape and murder.
b) Atheism is growing at an incredible rate and, with the help of the media, it has used its platform to denounce, scorn and attack Christian values and principles with increasing vigour.
c) Homosexuality, which the Bible unambiguously condemns in both the Old and New Testaments, is now not only accepted as normal in contemporary society, but it also has such a high profile and approved status that to speak out against it is to incur the wrath and verbal abuse of many. Furthermore some of the old landmarks, that one would have reasonably assumed could never change, have been denounced and declared to be irrelevant.
d) Gender is now being redefined. Since the creation of mankind there have been only two genders – male and female. Not so today. The social media service, Facebook, offer 51 ways to describe your gender, and if that’s not enough, you can fill in a blank space and make up a gender of your choice. To say that you disagree with the concept of multiple genders immediately earns you the title of bigot!
e) Abortions are taking place today in unbelievable numbers. In Victoria in 2013 the number of live births was 73,959 and the number of abortions that we know about was 14,540, that is, that here in this state, there is at least one abortion for every five births.
Now here’s the crazy thing – there are many species of birds, fish, mammals, reptiles and even snails where their unborn are protected by law – but babies in the womb can be disposed of legally! This is child sacrifice gone wild. And many people think that it is morally acceptable to kill a perfectly healthy unborn baby.
f) Anti-Christian agendas are growing in strength. As atheistic/anti-Christian attitudes gain strength in Western countries, we are daily reading reports of Christians being convicted and imprisoned for staying true to their consciences and standing firm on convictions which had previously been the bedrock principles of those nations. Christian persecution in what has traditionally been called ‘Christian’ countries is on the rise, and increasingly that persecution has the backing of recent laws.
We are living in a strange, confusing, corrupt and insecure world in which being a Christian is increasingly a risky confession to make. Recently Bishop John McAreavey, the chairman of the Council for Justice & Peace of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, reported:
‘An estimated 100,000 Christians are killed each year around the world solely because of their faith. … Daily, 273 die for their Christian faith, which translates into 11 each hour. And those numbers don’t even include those who are tortured, imprisoned, exiled, threatened, excluded, attacked and discriminated against on a widespread scale.’
That is, that roughly every five minutes a Christian is murdered somewhere in the world!
2. The challenge from within
There are indeed many challenges confronting the church today, and not only from those outside the church from those who oppose it. I believe that the greater challenge is coming from within the church itself.
Throughout history the church has been its own worst enemy as it has sought to follow questionable paths of power, wealth and prestige, violated its ethical values, compromised its witness, watered down its doctrinal beliefs, damaged its integrity and sought accommodation with the world.
Today’s church is reflecting many of these same things:
• There is the evidence of significant sexual abuse within the church
• There is widespread apostasy and heresy in the church
• There is an obsession with wealth and materialism among Christians
• There is the propagation of personal opinions masquerading as sermons.
• There is an abandonment of the word of God in favour of man-pleasing motivational talks
• The church has lost its integrity, its credibility and its respect.
That isn’t the whole story, of course. There are still churches and individual Christians throughout the world whose committed Christian discipleship are examples for all to follow. But, on the other hand, there is widespread deceit in Christendom today – a deceit that is propagated and nourished often by some Christian television programs, Christian magazines and best-selling Christian books.
The matter of deceit has been a problem that the church has always had to live with. In 1Timothy 1:7 Paul gives this warning about some preachers in the church in his day, ‘They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.’ Or as the Message translation so neatly renders it, ‘They set themselves up as experts on religious issues, but haven’t the remotest idea of what they’re holding forth with such imposing eloquence.’
3. What has all this got to do with the Last Days?
Is the end nigh? In other words, are we living in the End Times and will the return of Jesus Christ be soon? It is OK to wonder about this. Even the disciples wanted to know the answer to that 2000 years ago. In Matthew 24:3, they asked Jesus, ‘Tell us, when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’
And for the last 2000 years people have tried to find the answer to that question by relating events that have been taking place in the world to what they consider to be signs of Christ’s coming and the end of the age.
4. Does the Bible actually give us any pointers concerning this?
Actually it does. In 2 Timothy 3:1-5 Paul writes, ‘Mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.’
In other words, people will be self-centred and self-obsessed and materialistic. How evident is all that in our world today!
In Matthew 24:37-39 Jesus said this about his coming, ‘As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.’
Jesus was saying that some of the characteristics in Noah’s day would also be present in the world before he returned, such as, the presence of great evil, the pursuit of pleasure, greed, gross immorality, corruption in society, spiritual ignorance, and rejection of the proclamation of God’s righteousness. That sounds like a description of our world in 2015!
Jesus and Paul warned about the influence of false preachers in the days before Jesus’ return.
• Jesus: ‘At that time if anyone says to you, “Look, here is the Christ!” or, “There he is!” do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect – if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time. So if anyone tells you, “There he is, out in the desert, do not go out; or, “Here he is, in the inner rooms,” do not believe it’ (Matt. 24:23-26).
• Paul: ‘For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths’ (2 Tim. 4:3-4).
And what do we see today? Money-hungry preachers, people-pleasing preachers, people-manipulating preachers, sensational-sermon preachers, superstar preachers, scripture-manipulating preachers. And many Christians hang on to their every word!
Sadly for many Christians today the word of God is not enough; they want it spiced up a bit, they want to be told that there are secrets in the Bible that can now be uncovered, they want to have their imaginations stimulated by what they are told are new revelations or the true interpretations of biblical prophecies.
Jesus said that before his return there would be preachers who would deceive the elect (that is, Christians) ‘if that were possible’. Sadly it is all too possible!
5. The Bible quite unambiguously and repeatedly proclaims that Jesus Christ is coming back
• Jesus: ‘If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am’ (John 14:3).
• Angels: ‘Just after he ascended and disappeared from sight, angels spoke to the disciples who were standing gazing into the sky. They said, “Why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven”’ (Acts 1:11).
• Paul: ‘For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever’ (1Thes. 4:16-17).
Yes, Jesus is coming back. But when? That is the question. Can we simply say that, because things are so bad today, Jesus must be coming back soon? Is the end really nigh?
Yes, many awful things are happening in the world today, but throughout history many dreadful things have happened. For example, in the first few centuries there was horrendous persecution of Christians who were hounded, thrown to lions, slain by gladiators, burned alive at the stake, and so on and so on. In 64 AD the Roman Emperor Nero used Christians as human torches in his garden at night. A historian from that time, Tacitus, recorded the brutality Christians experienced in those days. He wrote,
‘Those who confessed (to being Christians) were the first to be caught, then those who were accused by informers. Those sentenced to death were also mocked: they were torn to pieces by dogs, after being disguised as wild beasts, or they were crucified and set on fire at the end of the day, as torches to illumine the night.’
Furthermore, throughout church history there have been numerous false teachers, many of whom have caused havoc in the church as gullible Christians have been seduced by them.
Church history also has recorded that there have been various times when corruption was rampant in the church, when church leaders – even those in the highest positions of the church – were a disgrace.
And there have been many times when moral standards have been almost non-existent and human life has been cheap and the church has been incapable of doing anything about it. Usually God’s answer to that has been to send revival.
In the early church many Christians were convinced that Christ’s return would happen very soon. One of the main reasons Paul wrote his two letters to the Thessalonians was to deal with a special problem. The Christians there were convinced that Jesus would return during their lifetime. Now Paul wrote those letters around 52 AD, that is, about 20 years after Christ’s ascension, to try to bring some correction to that misunderstanding.
And people are still saying the same thing today. I have known various people who have categorically stated that they would not die before Jesus would return. Apart from one, all those people have died and, as far as I know, Jesus has not returned yet!
Throughout history there have been those who have tried to relate world events with Bible verses and then give predictions when Christ would return – some have even given precise dates. And they have all been wrong! But unfortunately these false predictions have been thoroughly embraced by some susceptible Christians.
I have counted more than 150 predictions concerning the end times. Let me tell you of a few of the more notoriously recent predictions made by some whose name you may recognise:
Herbert W. Armstrong – 1936, 1943, 1972 and 1975.
Chuck Smith – 1981.
Pat Robertson – 1982, 2007 April 29th.
Harold Camping – 1994 Sept. 6th and 29th and October 2nd, 1995 March 31st, 2011 May 21st and October 21st.
Jerry Falwell; Tim La Haye – 2000 January 1st.
Not one got it right! The track record of those who have predicted the end times is not very convincing and therefore doesn’t give much confidence in those who do the same thing today.
But using the Bible in a way to set dates and times is no better than trying to relate present and future world events with the writings of Nostradamus, a French 16th century chemist who published a collection of predictions! It is obviously both a foolish and deceiving thing to do, yet so many Christians are impressed and get drawn into believing the so-called prophecy preachers.
Recently I read this rather sarcastic comment that I actually thought was quite funny. It said, ‘The end is nigh again … but this time we really mean it!’ This seems to be the message that some people are putting out today.
6. Two of the most recent predictions
Two of the things that are presently stirring up some excitement among some Christians are (i) the significance of the tetrad, or the four blood moons, and (ii) the significance of the Shemitah.
(i) The ‘Significance’ of the Tetrad
Let me explain what a tetrad is. A full lunar eclipse often makes the moon look red or orange. A tetrad is a series of four total lunar eclipses, that is, four red moons eclipses in a row with six full moons in between. The Bible mentions blood-red moons three times – Joel 2:31, Acts 2:20 and Revelation 6:12.
We are in a tetrad of blood moons right now. The first in this series was on April 15, 2014, the second October 8th, 2014, the third April 4th, 2015, and the final one on September 28th, 2015.
Around 2008, Mark Biltz, an American preacher, began to expound his ‘tetrad’ theory based on the biblical references to ‘blood moons’. He claimed that the seven years of the ‘great tribulation’ (Revelation 7:14) would begin in the autumn of 2008 and that this latest pattern of blood moons would coincide with the return of Christ in the northern hemisphere autumn of 2015.
As the final red moon in this series takes place September 28th, we haven’t long to wait!
John Hagee picked up Mark Biltz’s theory and ran with it. Hagee did not assert that Jesus would return in 2015 (as Biltz did), but both claimed that every prior tetrad of the last 500 years coincided with events in Jewish and Israeli history that were originally tragic, yet followed by triumph.
They support their theory by stating three historical facts:
First, they claim that the expulsion of 200,000 Jews from Spain in 1492 occurred at the time of a blood moon tetrad; but their dating is wrong for the expulsion of the Jews took place a year later, in 1493.
Secondly, they claim that a tetrad occurred at the time of the birth of the State of Israel in 1948; but again their ‘fact’ is wrong because the birth of the State of Israel took place between one and two years before the blood moon tetrad.
Thirdly, they refer to the reunification of Jerusalem following the Six-Day War in 1967 and say that it was near to another tetrad. In this they are correct as a tetrad did take place during 1967 – 1968.
It is worth noting that a number of other tetrads have occurred from the first century, all of which have coincided with Jewish festival times, without any significant events happening to the Jews.
We must note …
• Two of the most momentous events in Jewish history – the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 AD with the slaughter of about one million Jews, and also the Holocaust during World War2 which resulted in the death of more than six million Jews – did not coincide with tetrads or blood moons!
• The word tetrad does not appear in the Bible, nor does it suggest that there is any significance associated with four successive blood moons.
• While tetrads are relatively rare, in each decade, there are about four to five total eclipses (blood moons) that can be seen from various locations on earth.
• There is nothing remarkable in the fact that blood moons occur at times of Jewish festivals. Since the Jewish calendar is lunar, one sixth of all moons will occur during Passover or the Feast of Tabernacles. There have been 62 tetrads since the first century AD – only eight have coincided with both the feasts.
Therefore, the current blood moon hype is significantly lacking in historical factuality and sound biblical exegesis. Apart from making a lot of money for those who have written books about it, the theory of the spiritual significance of the blood moon tetrads is just that – a theory – which lacks a sound foundation.
Despite the claim of finding biblical and historical justification for the theory, it is nothing less than astrology. The Bible approves of astronomy (Psalm 8:3-4) that is, the scientific observation and study of the stars and planets, but it condemns astrology, that is, the claim that the movements of the sun, moon and stars influence our future (see Isaiah 47:13).
The practice of trying to tell the future by interpreting the movement of the sun and planets is strictly forbidden in the scriptures.
(ii) The ‘significance’ of the shemitah
I won’t say much about this, but I mention it only because some of you may be aware of it.
The Hebrew word shemitah refers to giving the land a year’s rest after six years of being cultivated to produce crops. Also during the Shemitah year all outstanding debts are waived. The most recent Shemitah has run from September 25th 2014 to September 13th 2015.
The first thing we need to note is that the Shemitah was a requirement given by God specifically and exclusively to the nation of Israel, and there is no biblical indication that God requires any other nation to observe it.
Jonathan Cahn has excited the interest of many Christians with his book, The Mystery of the Shemitah. He has argued that America has experienced the mystery of the Shemitah repeatedly in its history. He also makes a connection between the Shemitah and Blitz’s theory of the blood moon tetrad.
We should always be mistrustful about people who claim to have received new revelation from God and who reveal mysteries or new vital teaching that no biblical scholar in the last 2000 years has been aware of.
What Cahn has unjustifiably done in his latest book has been to take a biblical requirement for Israel and make it into a mystery for America. And in turn, for the rest of the world.
America is not Israel! However relevant the Shemitah may be for Israel today, it is wholly irrelevant for America or any other nation. Cahn has manufactured a mystery where none existed and he has made a pile of money from his best-selling books on the subject.
The only ‘mystery’ is why Christians have been deceived by Cahn’s book.
Cahn has claimed that the economic cycles of the last 60 odd years correspond with the seven year cycle of the Shemitah – but his facts are entirely wrong. Economists are well aware of the reality of economic cycles, but hard facts show that they don’t neatly fit into a seven year pattern. Recessions do not conveniently occur every seven years.
Cahn has forecast a massive economic collapse this year on the basis of his Shemitah theory. There may or may not be such a collapse. But if it happens, it will have nothing to do with any mystery of the Shemitah.
Unfortunately what Blitz, Hagee and Cahn have this in common: They don’t allow facts to get in the way of a good story. They begin with a theory and then, to validate it, they misinterpret the scriptures and misrepresent historical and scientific facts. They are articulate and make a lot of money from their books, but in the end they are ear ticklers.
Paul has written in 2Timothy 4:3, (Message translation) ‘You’re going to find that there will be times when people will have no stomach for solid teaching, but will fill up on spiritual junk food – catchy opinions that tickle their fancy.’
7. What does the Bible actually say?
Over the centuries, there have been countless predictions of the End Times and the return of Christ and there have been many fanciful interpretations of Revelation which have attempted to predict when or how the End Times would come.
The fact is that absolutely none of those predictions have come to pass.
So what can we say that is absolutely certain?
1. God has not abandoned the world.
Despite many of the terrible things happening in the world today, God is still in control.
2. Jesus Christ will definitely come back again.
We don’t need any fanciful interpretation of the Bible to know that this is true
3. Only God knows the date!
No one else will ever know.
How do we know that only God knows the date?
• Because Jesus clearly said so!
• Matthew 24:36: ‘No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.’
• Luke 12:40: ‘You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.’
Paul also underlined this truth when he wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2, ‘Now, brothers, 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.’
In his letters Paul corrected some of the misunderstandings the church in Thessalonica held concerning Christ’s return; he told them that Christ’s return had not taken place, nor were they to expect that it definitely would happen in their lifetime; and he assured them that no Christian would miss Christ’s return, and, especially, it would happen when they would least expect it. It would be sudden! It would be unexpected. It would take them (and us) unawares.
Peter reinforced it in 2 Peter 3:10, ‘The day of the Lord will come like a thief.’ Peter too was saying that Jesus’ return would come without warning.
God alone knows when that day will be and he has shared that secret with no one. Therefore it is not only senseless to try to pinpoint a date; it is also blasphemous to try speculate and sift through the Bible and manipulate Bible verses to try to discover an event that God has categorically said he would not reveal to anyone.
We should be content to know that God’s promise will be fulfilled one day and it is not our privilege to guess when that will be.
8. Our three particular duties regarding the Second Coming. We are to…
At the conclusion of the parable of the ten bridesmaids Jesus said, ‘Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour’ (Matthew 25:13).
Until that wonderful day arrives when Jesus will rend the clouds and come for us, we are to ‘watch’ that is, we must be ever awake and careful about how we live, for, as Paul says, in Ephesians 5:15-16, ‘Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.’
Because we know that Jesus is coming back one day we should wait with patience and confidence, for when he comes the sight will be glorious and the experience will be more wonderful than anything we could ever imagine.
Jesus commanded: ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’ (Mat 28:19-20).
Whenever ‘the end’ may be, we always have a duty to witness not just abroad but also to our community.
9. God’s purpose should be our passion
Jesus said in Matthew 24:14, ‘This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.’
The church’s commission for world mission is intricately linked to Christ’s return. The knowledge that he could return at any time should motivate us to fulfil God’s purpose of world evangelisation. The promised return of Jesus Christ should be an inspiration to us to complete the mission; however, for many it is more of a distraction than an inspiration as they focus more on when he will return than on our task to work to bring in the harvest.
Is the end nigh?
I really don’t know and I’m not going to speculate. I am content to leave that secret in God’s hands.
And just one final word. We are indeed living in perilous times, and prophetically we know that we are heading for a consummation, a time when God will meet approaching evil head-on – and then will come God’s final triumph.
Until that time, regardless of what happens, God is still in control, and we need to hold on to the words of Jesus when he said, ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom’ (Luke 12:32).
See also Dr Jim’s Biblical Perspectives: Confusion in the Church. Link/enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org