“Expectant of That Great Day…”

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Another doomsday prophecy took the social media in a ‘meme’ storm. It was said by some that the rapture will happen this month. Others have furthered the theory of a Planet X—or Nibiru—to collide with Earth on September 23. But, are they really in tune with what the Bible has to say? What should be our attitude with regard to these things?

End-times prophecies such as this theory became very popular and made their way into pop Christian culture. We thrive in conspiracies. Two years ago, at the height of the super-moon lunar eclipse, people feared that the Apocalypse would come. Not long ago, Harold Camping, a popular Christian radio broadcaster, announced that the great rapture will happen on October 21, 2011—he had predicted different dates previously. Last 2012, the crowd also went wild with the alignment of the end of the Mayan calendar to the end of the world.

But, this business of date-setting is not a recent affair. During the mid-19th century, an American Baptist preacher William Miller believed that Christ will return in 1844 after studying the book of Daniel. In the 1900s, Charles Taze Russell—the founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses—predicted that the Lord will come back again in 1874 and the world will end in 1914. Their prophecy failed when the year 1914 came and there’s no return. It was a clever ruse to justify the ‘truth’ of their prophecy when they began telling people that the Lord did come back but invisibly.

This runs counter to the apostle Paul who said that “the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God” (1 Thess. 4:16). It will be a public spectacle as what the angels said to the disciples in Jerusalem: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).  Instead of being a secret event, our Lord Himself said of His second coming: “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:30).

But, before we dismiss these theories as something worthy of memes, many sober-minded Christians from different ages have tried to pinpoint the date. Some church historians list Irenaeus and Hippolytus as ones who believed that the Parousia would happen in the year 500 A. D. Due to the political and religious turmoil during their times, the early Reformers—particularly Martin Luther—and the Puritans saw their day as the age of Christ’s imminent return.

Why do we have this penchant for the end-times? A valid reason is that we all long for the coming of our Lord. In this valley of tears and death, we cry in anticipation with the apostle John, “Maranatha!”

But when will he return? “About that day or hour no one knows” (Matt. 24:36). No one knows the exact date of His second coming. All who have tried to search for the date failed in their quest. It was hidden from the angels in heaven and even from the Son of Man when He was on earth. “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32). Our Lord Himself said that we should not search for it. In Acts 1:7, when the disciples asked him when the kingdom will be returned to Israel, he said “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.”

However, even though these date-settings are bound to fail, this is no reason for us to just chill and hang out. The date was hidden from us so that we may live here on earth anticipating Christ’s return. In his commentary of the Harmony of the Gospel, John Calvin said:

“Christ intended to hold the minds of believers in suspense that they might not, by a false imagination, fix any time for the final redemption. We know how fickle our minds are, and how much we are tickled by a vain curiosity to know more than is proper. Christ likewise perceived that the disciples were pushing forward with excessive haste to enjoy a triumph. He therefore wishes the day of his coming to be the object of such expectation and desire, that none shall dare to inquire when it will happen. In short, he wishes his disciples so to walk in the light of faith, that while they are uncertain as to the time, they may patiently wait for the revelation of him. We ought therefore to be on our guard, lest our anxiety about the time be carried farther than the Lord allows; for the chief part of our wisdom lies in confining ourselves soberly within the limits of God’s word.”1

The day was hidden from us so that we may not be lacking in zeal and slothful in our obedience until that day come:

“Although Christ lately expressed his desire to keep the minds of his followers in suspense, that they might not inquire too anxiously about the last day; yet, lest the indifference arising out of the enjoyments of the world should lull them to sleep, he now exhorts them to solicitude. He wished them to be uncertain as to his coming, but yet to be prepared to expect him every day, or rather every moment. To shake off their sloth, and to excite them more powerfully to be on their guard, he foretells that the end will come [abruptly just like the days of Noah].”

There is only thing that we are sure – He will come back. And as we ponder upon this, “we will be expectant of that great day with a most ardent desire, to the end that we may fully enjoy the promises of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Even so, come, Lord Jesus (Rev. 22:20).”2

Note: If you are interested with the doctrine of the rapture, you may get Daniel R. Hyde’s free e-book on the topic here: http://www.reformedresources.org/meet-the-puritans/caught-up-1-thessalonians-4-and-the-truth-about-the-rapture-pdf/

1Matthew 24:32-26; Mark 13:38-32; Luke 21:29-33. Commentary on the Harmony of the Gospels, Vol. 3. CCEL.org

2Belgic Confession, Article 37: The Last Judgment

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