Posts tagged ‘Second Coming’

Predictions Come and Predictions Go

Schnorr_von_Carolsfeld,_Ludwig_Ferdinand_-_Apocalypse

Ludwig Ferdinand Schnorr von Carolsfeld, Apocalypse, 1831

Well, things are still here.

There was some doubt as to whether or not they would be, at least in the mind of one man named David Meade.  Mr. Meade is a self-styled “Christian numerologist” who believed this past Saturday would bring a super-sign that would mark the beginning of the end of the world.  He based his prediction on the number 33:

“Jesus lived for 33 years. The name Elohim, which is the name of God to the Jews, was mentioned 33 times [in the Bible],” Meade told The Washington Post. “It’s a very biblically significant, numerologically significant number. I’m talking astronomy. I’m talking the Bible…and merging the two.”

And September 23 is 33 days since the August 21 total solar eclipse, which Meade believes is an omen.

Mr. Meade also pointed to a mythical planet named Nibiru, which he said would pass by the earth, causing all sorts of calamities.

The difficulties with Mr. Meade’s odd eschatologizing are legion.  For starters, by one count, the Hebrew word for “God,” Elohim, doesn’t appear in the Bible 33 times, but in the Old Testament 2,570 times!  Mr. Meade’s count isn’t even close.  And the planet Nibiru, which was supposed to be central to his apocalyptic super sign, according to NASA scientists, doesn’t even exist.

Of course, whenever anyone – even if they are someone as obscure as Mr. Meade – makes this kind of sensationalistic prediction, reporters rush to interview Christian leaders to ask for their take on the prediction.  In this instance, thankfully, the leaders who they interviewed responded, to paraphrase, “Give me a break.”

Unfortunately, implausible apocalyptic predictions have become something of a matter of course for some who love to traffic in the dramatic.  In 2011, it was Harold Camping who predicted that the rapture would occur on May 21.  But predictions like these go back much further than that.  One of the earliest ballyhooed apocalyptic predictions dates all the way back to the end of the fourth century, when the church father Martin of Tours announced that the Antichrist had already been born and that the world would end by 400.  1,617 years later, we’re still waiting.

One problem with predictions like these is that they have the effect of discrediting the Christian message because those who trumpet them attach them to the Christian message.  And when these predictions inevitably fail, other parts of Christianity begin to look suspect.

Another problem with predictions like these is how they tend to portray the end times.  These predictions tend to focus so much on the destruction of earth that they forget about the return of Christ.  Mr. Meade, in his prediction, highlighted things like “volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and earthquakes,” but he seemed to overlook the thrilling trumpet call, the breathtaking new Jerusalem, and the joyous resurrection to everlasting life.

The return of Christ, for those who trust in Him, is not meant to terrifying, but encouraging.  In one way, then, we should feel a twinge of disappointment that Mr. Meade wasn’t right.  For when Christ returns, all the depravity, devastation, despair, and death will be set right, which, for all the charms of this world, makes what comes next something I am looking forward to and praying for.

So, although I would never be so bold as to try to chronologize the end times, I do pray that Jesus will come.  Mr. Meade’s prediction doesn’t have to be right for that prayer to be good.

Maranatha!

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September 25, 2017 at 5:15 am 1 comment

ABC Extra – “Rejoice…Always!”

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4)!  This verse has always frustrated me.  Not because I think it is somehow incorrect.  Quite the contrary, I believe the command to rejoice is a divine and a good command.  No, this verse has always frustrated me because I’m no good at it.  The command is clear:  I am to rejoice in the Lord always.  I, however, seem to manage to rejoice in the Lord only sometimes.  There are plenty of moments when I either find my joy in something other than the Lord or I lose my sense of joy altogether.  I fail miserably at following this command.

It’s far too easy, when reading a verse like this, to chalk up Paul’s language here to a bit of hyperbole – a bit of overstatement just to make his point.  “Surely Paul wasn’t being rigidly literal!” we might whisper to ourselves.  “As long as I rejoice in the Lord sometimes, or even most of the time, I’m sure the Lord will be content with my best efforts.”  But when our God gives commands, He does not hand out “A’s” for effort.  He actually expects us to follow His mandates.  And this mandate is clear:  We are to rejoice in the Lord always.

But how can this happen?  On the one hand, we must confess that it doesn’t happen – at least on this side of heaven.  As I admitted above, I certainly fall short in the joy department.  But I can rejoice that God forgives me through Christ for my lack of rejoicing.  As with every other command of God, this is a command which we do not – and, because of our sinful natures, cannot – follow.  On the other hand, it is important to note that Paul does not give this command to rejoice without offering us a roadmap to joy when he writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).  In verse 4, when Paul exhorts us to rejoice in the Lord always, the Greek word for always is pas.  In verse 6, when Paul tells us address everything with prayer and petition, the Greek word for “everything” is pas.  Here, then, is how we are to rejoice in the Lord during everything – we are to encounter everything with Him through prayer and petition.  That trial that we face – we are to face it with the Lord.  That triumph that we enjoy – we are to enjoy it with the Lord.  That question that we have – we are to ask it to the Lord.  We are to live our lives with a keen awareness that we live with the Lord.  For as long as we are with the Lord, we always have reason to rejoice.  This is why Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always!”

Rejoicing, then, begins not with an effort to conjure up joy, but with an awareness of God’s continual presence.  It begins with an awareness that, as Paul states, “The Lord is near” (Philippians 4:5).  He is near in time – for His second coming is imminent.  And He is near in space – for He promises to always be with us.  And when you are aware of God’s presence and closeness, which is an indication of His care, concern, and compassion for us, it’s hard to anything but rejoice…always. 

Want to learn more? Go to www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s message or Pastor Krueger’s ABC!

November 28, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Seven Tips for Reading Revelation Realistically

In light of recent predictions that the rapture would take place on May 21 at 6 pm eastern time, Pastor Tucker and I thought it would be helpful to address what the Bible truly teaches about the last days and Christ’s Second Coming in worship and ABC yesterday.  After all, there are clearly many unbiblical views of this age’s last days floating around, the May 21 rapture date being one of them.  Pastor Tucker and I had a great time addressing head on the lies of this world with the truth of the Bible.  In an effort to further cut through some of the confusion, I wanted republish an article I wrote a couple of years back for our church body concerning the Bible’s preeminent apocalyptic book:  the book of Revelation.

Revelation is truly one of the most difficult books in Scripture to read and understand.  If you’ve ever tried to read Revelation, you’ve encountered everything from dragons to beasts to horsemen, oh my!  Saint John, who wrote revelation, has imagery that is overwhelming.  He has metaphors which are befuddling.  And his numerology is harder to crack than your college calculus course.  So how in the world could we ever read, much less understand, such a confusing book?

Yesterday in ABC, I offered two tips to help you wade through Revelation’s mysteries.  I figured that if two tips for reading Revelation are good, then seven tips must be even better.  What follows, then, is what I like to call, “Zach’s Seven Tips for Reading Revelation Realistically.”  I arrived at these tips after writing a series of daily blogs on the book of Revelation.

It is important to note that these tips are not meant to offer a full-fledged interpretation of Revelation as a commentary might do; rather, they are meant to offer a hermeneutic – that is, a method of interpretation – to assist you as you read Revelation for yourself.  They are, in some sense, meant to “teach a man how to fish” so that he can properly read John’s mysterious opus.  So, with this in mind, remember these tips when you engage in eschatological inquiry with Saint John.

Tip #1:  If it didn’t mean that in John’s day, it doesn’t mean that in our day.

Many interpretations of Revelation get real weird real quick. The Christian theologian and humorist G.K. Chesterton once quipped, “Though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators.”[1] The reason so many people find so many wild things in Revelation is because rather than asking, “What was John actually thinking about when he wrote Revelation?” they instead try to arbitrarily connect John’s visions to all sorts of current events. Whenever we read Scripture, however, we should first try to understand the author’s own intended meaning rather than making up our own meanings.  Old Testament professor Tremper Longman III explains cogently:  “If literature is an act of communication, then meaning resides in the intention of the author.  The author encoded a message for the readers.  Interpretation then has as its goal the recovery of the author’s purpose in writing.”[2] When we read Revelation, we should first try to decipher John’s purposes in his imagery rather than our own.  Sadly, many people fail to do this.  For instance, some people actually think the infamous Mark of the Beast, 666 (13:18), is a code contained on computer chips which will one day be implanted by our government in our foreheads in a conspiracy to make us all lobotomized Satanists. The problem is, there were no computer chips in John’s day. Thus, John is probably not talking about computer chips here.  And to say that he was is to claim that we understand John’s revelation better than John himself.  This constitutes the height of arrogance and ought to be avoided.

Tip #2:  Know your Bible.

John employs countless biblical allusions in Revelation that we can miss and misinterpret if we don’t know the rest of our Bible. For example, in Revelation 16, John writes, “Then I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon” (16:13). Huh? Frogs coming out of a dragon? Well, a “dragon” is John’s image for Satan (12:9) and “frogs” are classified as unclean animals in Leviticus 11:10. John seems to be saying, then, that Satan will speak unclean, deceiving, and blasphemous things about the Gospel. Now it makes sense! But you have to know the rest of your Bible in order to catch John’s point.

Tip #3:  Know your history.

John wrote Revelation while exiled on the island of Patmos (1:9), a Roman penal settlement in the Aegean Sea. During John’s exile, Domitian was emperor of Rome. According to the ancient Roman historian Suetonius, Domitian demanded that the subjects of the empire worship him and even call him “lord and god.”[3] The German theologian and numismatist Ethelbert Stauffer writes of this emperor: “Domitian loved to hear…the cry of ‘Hail to the Lord!’…Other forms of acclamation…were the following: Hail, Victory, Lord of the earth, Invincible, Power, Glory, Honour, Peace, Security, Holy, Blessed, Great, Unequalled, Thou Alone, Worthy art Thou, Worthy is he to inherit the Kingdom, Come, come, do not delay, Come again.”[4] In Revelation 4:11, Jesus receives this acclamation: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they were created and have their being.” Many scholars believe that John is parodying the praises sung to Domitian in that day, saying that these praises to the emperor really belong to Jesus. But we only know this by knowing history.

Tip #4:  If you feel like you’ve seen this before, it’s because you have.

Revelation tends to be more thematic rather than chronological in its organization.  Indeed, when reading Revelation, you find that the world ends no fewer than four times (6:12-17, 11:15-19, 14:14-20, 16:17-21)!  Following these four apocalypses, John then offers a detailed account of history’s conclusion in chapters 17-19.  It is vital to recognize that all of these “endings” describe the same time period from different perspectives.  It is not unusual, then, the get a case of déjà vu when reading Revelation.  This is important to keep in mind Revelation’s thematic arrangement because if you try to read this book as a strictly chronological document, you can wind up with charts, diagrams, and maps detailing multiple returns and judgments of Christ that are so complicated, even Stephen Hawking can’t understand them.  There is only one second coming of Christ.  There are no third and fourth and fifth returns.

Tip #5:  Don’t balance your checkbook using John’s math.

John’s numerology is meant to be interpreted symbolically, not literally. For example, in Revelation 7, John talks about a group of 144,000, sealed for salvation (7:4). 144,000 is 12x12x1000. The number 12 is associated with the church in Revelation (e.g., 21:14) and the number 1,000 is a Scriptural number for completeness (e.g., Psalm 50:10, 2 Peter 3:8). John’s point, then, is simply this: All who trust in Jesus are sealed for salvation! And just in case we miss his point, John continues by saying, “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (7:9). John’s 144,000 turns out to be innumerable.

Tip #6:  John’s imagery is polyvalent.

Yes, I just used the word “polyvalent.” It’s a word I learned in seminary describing something that has more than one interpretation or meaning. And much of John’s imagery certainly has more than one interpretation or meaning. One example comes with the frogs spewing from the dragon’s mouth in Revelation 16:13, referenced previously under tip number two. In the interpretation proffered above, I mentioned that frogs are unclean animals according to Levitical law. Therefore, John is positing that Satan will speak unclean, deceiving, and blasphemous things about the Gospel. But that’s not all that John is positing. This plague of frogs, along with the other plagues in Revelation 16, parrot the plagues against Egypt in the story of the exodus (cf. Exodus 7:14-11:10). Thus, while the enemies of God are crushed by plagues of frogs (16:13), blood (16:3-4), sun and darkness (16:8-10), and hail (16:21), the people of God remain “blessed” (16:15). Thus, this chapter is also a chapter of comfort for God’s people as they are protected through terrible plagues. One symbol – more than one interpretation. John’s images, then, are not meant to be precise predictions, but general descriptions of both the sad state of wickedness in this world as well as the glorious promise of salvation we have in Christ. One image can have more than one referent. So even if you’ve cracked one code, there may be another lurking behind that same image.

Tip #7:  Do not be afraid.

Too many people look at the second coming of Christ with fear instead of faith. They are scared of bloodshed, doom, gloom, and demise. But as John’s vision opens, he hears Jesus speak these words: “Do not be afraid” (1:17). In spite of a world full of trouble, Revelation is meant to offer us hope and comfort because it reminds us that Jesus wins over evil, as an elder in one of John’s visions says: “See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed” (5:5)!  If Jesus wins, we have nothing of which to be afraid.

So there you have it:  Seven simple tips to help navigate the labyrinth of mystery that is our final biblical book.  Are you ready to take it on?  If so, remember Revelation’s promise:  “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near” (1:3).  Reading Revelation results in blessing.  It will bless you. And that, at least for me, is reason enough to read it and, yes, even enjoy it.  I hope you’ll read and enjoy it too.

Want to learn more? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!


[1] G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York:  John Lane Company, 1909) 29.

[2] Tremper Longman III, Literary Approaches to Biblical Interpretation, in Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation, Moises Silva, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 1996) 135.

[3] Suetonius, The Lives of the Caesars, H.M. Byrd, trans. (Wordsworth Editions, 1997) 358.

[4] Ethelbert Stauffer, Christ and the Caesars (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1952) 155.

May 23, 2011 at 5:15 am 1 comment

ABC Extra – Christ’s Hidden Presence

It was my first night at college.  I was sitting in my dorm room with my roommate, the only other person on campus who I knew, when I heard a knock at my door.  Outside stood another student, a sophomore, who asked my roommate and I, “Hey, you wanna come outside and play Capture the Flag?”

Capture the Flag.  As best as I can tell, it’s kind of like Hide-n-Go-Seek for grown-ups.  Your team hides a flag while the other team seeks it.  And along the way, the other team not only seeks your flag, they seek you.  And they try to tag you out.  And so, you not only try to hide your flag, you try to hide yourself.

That night, I almost managed to capture the flag.  In fact, I made it all the way to the other team’s flag and was about to snatch it up and win the game for my Capture the Flag comrades when I felt a tap on my shoulder.  “Tag, you’re out,” the voice gleefully exclaimed.  It was the same guy who, just moments earlier, was standing outside my dorm room inviting me to come and join in the fun.  “What?” I asked in exasperation.  “Where did you come from?  I didn’t see anybody anywhere.”  “I was hiding behind that bush the whole time,” he responded.  “And you didn’t even know it.”

“And you didn’t even know it.”  This phrase has often come to my mind as and appropriate way to describe what Jesus’ return will be like.  In our text from this weekend, Paul describes the return of our Lord thusly:

According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 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. (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17)

Notably, when Paul speaks of “the coming of the Lord” in verse 16, the Greek word for “come” is parousia, meaning, “presence.”  In other words, it’s not just that the Lord will arrive from some distant cloud to the earth on the Last Day, it’s that the Lord will reveal that He’s been present with us the whole time.  And, a lot of times, we didn’t even know it.

In Matthew 25, Jesus explains the hidden nature of His presence to His followers thusly:

“I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited Me in, I needed clothes and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you came to visit Me.” Then the righteous will answer Him, “Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink?  When did we see You a stranger and invite You in, or needing clothes and clothe You? When did we see You sick or in prison and go to visit You?” The King will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.” (Matthew 25:35-40)

Jesus was there the whole time as we were feeding the hungry, carrying water for the thirsty, extending hospitality to the lonely, clothing the naked, and visiting the infirmed…and we didn’t even know it.  But the promise is, on the Last Day, we will know it.  Because we will see Jesus.  As Paul explains it: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12).  With the Last Day, Jesus’ hidden presence will be hidden no longer.

Often, this world looks anything but sacred, holy, and blessed.  It looks sinful, depraved, and broken.  And indeed it is.  But that’s not all it is.  Because Jesus is here with us the whole time – even if we see Him only dimly.  Jesus is here with us the whole time – even if we don’t know it.  And so, as we wait for our Lord’s final revelation, may His presence give us comfort and hope.

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

August 23, 2010 at 4:45 am Leave a comment


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