Just as occurred in Thessalonica, deceivers continue to propagate false information about the imminence of key apocalyptic events.
In the church at Thessalonica, claims that the “Day of the Lord had set in” were disrupting the congregation, and apparently, someone attributed them to Paul (“as if from us”). In response, he warned believers not to be “troubled” by such false expectations, for the “Day of the Lord” will not come before the arrival of the “lawless one” and the “apostasy.”
Sadly, this is an old story. Jesus himself warned that “many deceivers” would come and “deceive many” – emphasis on “many” – and thereby raise false expectations that “trouble” disciples by, among other things, pointing to “wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes” and the like as harbingers of the imminent “end.” Wars, earthquakes, and pestilences certainly have occurred throughout human history, but they are NOT signs by which we can calculate the timing of the “end” – (“for the end is not yet”).
And Christians who have walked with Lord over the last few decades have certainly seen false predictions come and go. And, while world conditions are certainly chaotic at present, it is not like this is the first time that chaos and anxiety have ruled the day.
Our desire to know the future is understandable and our longing for the return of Jesus is foundational to the biblical faith. But these very desires also make us susceptible to the many deceptions about last-day events that have plagued the church.
Just this week, one of today’s leading doomsayers announced that we are now entering the “Valley of Decision” that Joel predicted; already, the nations are being hauled before the Lord for evaluation and judgment.
I must ask whether this gentleman has read the passage in Joel and its context. If he had, he might have noticed that this event is scheduled to occur on the “Day of the Lord,” and it will be accompanied by the darkening of the sun and moon, the “withdrawing of the stars,” and the “trembling of the earth and the heavens.” Perhaps the language is intended to be metaphorical, yet the New Testament applies this image to the judgment of the nations by Jesus AFTER his “arrival on the clouds of heaven.”
But to return to Paul’s ancient warning, when he challenged the claim that the “Day of Lord has set in,” he used the Greek verb enistémi, meaning either that the event was imminent or had commenced already. And his use of the Greek perfect tense most probably means that he intended the latter sense.
Now, looking at the state of many churches today, I could concede the argument that the “apostasy” is already underway, although apostasy has been a problem since the inception of the church. But to my knowledge, we have yet to see the “man of lawlessness” revealed in the church (“who will seat himself in the sanctuary”), or, if you prefer, in the so-far nonexistent “third Temple” in Jerusalem. And according to Paul, BOTH events must occur first, so how can we conclude that the “Day of the Lord” has commenced?
And this most recent claim is not an aberration, it is not the first time when a popular preacher has attempted to move predicted final events forward into the present. Every week I hear another prophet or preacher claim that we are about to experience the “manifestation of the sons of God,” which, apparently, will be a super revival accompanied by mega “signs and wonders” that will awe the world.
I am all for revival and “signs and wonders.” But when Paul predicted the “manifestation of the sons of God,” he was talking about the bodily resurrection of the saints, not a super revival, and an event that will also transform the creation itself. And Paul is quite clear in his writings. The resurrection of the righteous will NOT occur until the “parousia” or “arrival” of Jesus. Moreover, death itself will cease at that time, and as far as I can determine, people are still dying – (Romans 8:20-23, 1 Corinthians 15:20-28).
To be clear, I am NOT saying the coming of Jesus is not imminent, but I do not know whether it is. I certainly hope that it is. And that very fact that NONE of us know the timing of that day, “not even the Son of Man,” means that it is ALWAYS imminent and, therefore, ought to be a lively and constant hope in our daily lives. And all the more reason for us always to be prepared for that day’s sudden arrival.
But what I find most troubling in all this, is the growing tendency to redefine what in scripture are final events, and then to move them forward to a time BEFORE the return of Jesus. Not only does this mislead Christians and raise false expectations, like so many other “doctrines of demons,” it will cause many believers to “depart from the faith.”