Published May 17, 2011

Paul's Epistle...
"He's Coming – When?"
(Part 3 of a series)

In part one of this special series about the Lord's soon return, we looked at reasons why we have no choice, Biblically, but to believe that the Lord Jesus Christ will return someday for His own. In part two, last week, we looked at reasons to believe that the next major thing to happen related to the end-times will be the Rapture of living Christians (probably following the resurrection of the dead in Christ so closely as to be almost co-incident — see 1st Thess. 4:16-17) to meet Christ in the air.

The next (and obvious) question to consider is... when? When will all of this happen? As I pointed out earlier, the disciples were curious about this, too. (See Matthew 24:3.)

You've undoubtedly been hearing a lot lately about one prediction that's been reported in all the major news media. I even happened to hear about it the other night on NPR. Religious broadcaster Harold Camping, in his book, "Time Has An End," says the Rapture will occur just a few days from now on May 21st, at about 6 p.m. in each time zone around the world consecutively. Camping, 89, says he bases this on conclusions drawn from a lifetime of Bible study. He recently told New York Magazine, "It's absolutely going to happen without any question." "Beyond the shadow of a doubt," he told the AP.

Unfortunately, a previous prediction of his that the Lord would return in 1994....well....didn't work out. And Scripture tells us to judge a prophet by whether what he prophesies actually happens or not. (See Deut.18:22.) (I don't know if he claims "prophet" status or not.)  Unfortunately, Camping's much-publicized prediction regarding May 21st has already generated considerable scorn and ridicule directed at Christians and their "wacko" Second Coming ideas. But, if there's anything good about this, people are actually being caused to think – even if dismissively – about the Lord's return. General awareness is growing. And it's causing some "babes in Christ" — new Christians — to ask questions, fostering better understanding for them concerning God's promises and an opportunity for witnessing by more mature Christians.

It's very easy to dismiss the May 21st prediction, especially if you read some of Camping's rather unorthodox interpretations of other things Biblical. But here is something that's crucial to remember: Just as you cannot say of a certainty that a particular date "will be the day," you also, just as surely, cannot say that a particular date "will NOT be the day." It might be! We just simply do not know.

But it is fun to speculate, as long as we don't get dogmatic about it. So let's look at some interesting possibilities – and, please, that's all it is. No predictions here.

J. R. Church, a well-known, diligent and scholarly prophecy writer passed away two months ago (March 22, 2011) after a long illness. But, interestingly, his very last writing before his death speculated on the possibility of a Rapture on Pentecost. He wrote previously about the Jewish custom of young Jewish women getting married on a Wednesday at Pentecost. Recalling Jesus' parable in Matthew 25 about the wise and foolish virgins, Dr. Church likened the Jewish bridal custom to the Bridegroom (namely Christ, see Matt. 9:15) coming for His bride (the church, Rev. 21:2,9; 22:17) at the Rapture. And he was delighted to find out that this year, Pentecost (based on the Jewish calendar, other calendars may differ) falls on a Wednesday — June 8th.

Interesting. The church was born at Pentecost. Wouldn't it be neat for the church to end its sojourn here on its birthday — another Pentecost?   (I have a special reason for liking that idea – June 8th is my birthday, too.)

So, why is there so much talk these days about the Lord's return? Because, quite simply, it's time.

One common speculation involves the long-held belief that all of history involves a 7,000-year span, modeled on the seven-day week of creation. After all, 2nd Peter 3:8 reminds us that "one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." Seven days, seven thousand years. So that would be 4,000 years before Christ, 2,000 years since Christ's life on Earth, and then 1,000 years as the millennium (which would be, in this picture, comparable to the 7th day – the day of rest – the Sabbath). According to this understanding, something's about to happen any day now. It's time.

This concept of a 7,000-year span for all of human history isn't new. Early Christian fathers wrote of this, including Barabas (around AD 100), Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (around AD 150), Lactantius (around AD 325) and Methodius, Bishop of Tyre (around AD 300). And note that none of what they said could be ascribed to "wishful thinking" on a personal level – which is the reason given by some critics today for our belief that the Lord's return might be very near. When they wrote, they were saying the Lord's return was still the better part of two millennia in the future!

And it might surprise you to know that Jewish scholars over the ages also believed that the world as we know it would last only 6,000 years. One Jewish scholar – Tanna debe Eluyyahu – taught, "In the first 2,000 [years] there was desolation (no Torah, from Adam to Abraham), [then] 2,000 years the Torah flourished, and the next 2,000 years is the Messianic era." But he adds, "He [the Messiah] should have come at the beginning of the last 2,000 years; the delay is due to our sins." This Jewish scholar seems blinded to the fact that the Messiah did, indeed, come 2,000 years ago – and He came because of our sins! What the rabbi called the "Messianic era" we would call the "Christian era," or the "church age."

While we're talking about things Jewish, here's something most interesting:

A prime "candidate" for the Lord's return, according to many Bible teachers, is the Jewish new year, the holiday of Rosh HaShanah, which also celebrates what is considered the anniversary of the creation of the world. On the current Jewish calendar, it's the first day of the 7th month. Might it also become the first day of the 7th (and final) millennium? Rosh HaShanah (September 28 in 2011) is the "Feast of the Trumpets." What does the Bible tell us will sound at the Rapture? The "trumpet call of God." (1 Thess. 4:16.) In fact, the Feast of the Trumpets involves a series of more than 90 trumpet blasts, the last one of which has a special name – "Teki'at Shofar" – a long blast signaling victory. Could that quite literally be the "last trump" referred to by Paul in 1st Cor. 15:52 and 1st Thess. 4:16?

And look at this: the Feast of the Trumpets is actually a two-day event because it happens on the new moon, which, by Jewish custom, must be visually observed in Jerusalem to be official. If it's not one day, then it's the next. That's the way it has always been done – since long before modern timekeeping methods existed. And because it's not been traditionally known in advance which day is correct, the Jewish idiom is this: "Of that day or hour, no man knows."

Hmmm... Now, where have we heard that before? In the words of Christ Himself, referring to His return, He said, "of that day and hour no one knows..." (Matt. 24:36 NKJV.) What a coincidence! Or is it? What's more, authors Kevin Howard and Marvin Rosenthal, writing in "The Feasts of the Lord," (p. 114) note that "ancient Jewish tradition held that the resurrection of the dead would occur on Rosh Hashanah [the Feast of Trumpets]. Reflecting this tradition, Jewish gravestones were often engraved with a shofar."

No, we don't know when the Lord will return. Only the Father does (Matt. 24:36). But, in any case, Jewish scholars and Christian leaders of the ages all seem to agree and point to right about now as the time the Messiah will come. The Lord's own words, "I am coming quickly" (Rev. 22:7), have never been more appropriate.

What should be our attitude toward the timing of the Lord's return? We should wake up each morning thinking, "This could be the day!" And,  especially if it's soon, one day you'll be right! But, in any case, this expectant attitude will have a beneficial impact on all you do each day. "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming" (Matt. 25:13).

Next week, Lord willing, we'll continue this series with a look at one indisputable "sign" that the Lord's return is near.

- Paul

Comments on this? paul@thegospelgreats.com

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