SAN DIEGO, May 19, 2011 —At the time of this writing, the world has still not ended and Christ has not returned, although admittedly, Harold Camping, the “prophet” and president of Family Radio, did not claim that it would happen immediately at the beginning of the day.
Most Evangelical Christians did not take Camping seriously. Lawns are still being mowed today. Cars are also being washed. Graduations are even proceeding. But does ignoring Camping mean the Bible doesn’t speak of a real second coming? And if such prophecy can be found in scripture, what reason is there to believe it will really come to pass?”
We’ll begin with the Reader’s Digest answer: Yes, there will be a second coming of Jesus, and that is a tremendous hope. How wonderful to know that the day is coming when there will be no more war, crime, bloodshed, racism etc.
How exciting to know that God is going to restore this fallen world to the paradise it once was. And for those who choose now to turn from their sin, God will allow them to live in this kingdom forever! Those who have already died are with Christ right now, but the day is coming when God’s reign will not only be recognized in that other dimension called heaven, but right here on earth as well!
What is the kingdom of Christ like? Imagine the warmest love you ever experienced and the most beautiful sunset, seashore, or forest you ever saw. Then multiply such wonder in your mind over a thousand times and you will have only a microscopic taste of what Christ’s kingdom will be.
This probably sounds too good to be true, and it leads us to another part of the question above. Were the prophets of the Bible to be trusted? If so, how do we know they can be trusted? Well, for starters, the Bible itself acknowledges the need to test prophecy. It also warns us to beware of false prophets and tells us how to distinguish a true prophet from a false one. A false prophet will be hit and miss. Some of his/her prophecies may come to pass and others may not (Deut 13, 18). In such a case, we are to assume that the spokesperson was not, in fact, sent from the one true God, and is instead a deceiver sent from another spiritual entity, Satan, (1 Kings 22, More about Satan in a future article).
Of course, God did not always want a person to have to wait until a prophet’s life was over before people came to a verdict. Prophets talked more about the immediate situation than the far future, and God expected people to benefit from the words of the prophet, rather than being indefinitely bogged down trying to figure out his/her authenticity.
Consequently, there were ways to make a decision early on. Often times, along with the prophecy, some miracle was performed. Unless false teaching accompanied the miracle (false teaching being defined as words that contradicted previous prophets of Israel whose credentials had already been established, Deut 13, Matt 24:24), miracles could serve as a quick and dynamic verification. Jesus himself, while speaking of the future, ultimate resurrection of human beings, gave a sneak preview to His followers by raising His friend Lazarus from the dead, right at his own funeral!
This was not Lazarus’ ultimate resurrection in a new immortal body, but such a resurrection is promised to all who repent of their sins and seek God’s forgiveness. When people saw Lazarus rise from the dead (even in a continuing mortal state), it served as a kind of down payment, a foreshadowing of a future, eagerly awaited, event.
There were other immediate signs as well: Frequently a prophet would give a long-range prophecy, followed by a short-range prophecy. Samuel, the prophet, told a young man, Saul, that God had chosen him to become the first King of Israel. Saul had never met Samuel personally and ran into him while he was out searching for some of his father’s missing donkeys. To verify that his prophecy about being king would come to pass, Samuel also prophesied about the donkeys.
“Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on Saul’s head and kissed him, saying, ‘Has not the LORD anointed you leader over his inheritance?’ When you leave me today, you will meet two men near Rachel’s tomb, at Zelzah on the border of Benjamin. They will say to you, `The donkeys you set out to look for have been found. And now your father has stopped thinking about them, and is worried about you. He is asking, “What shall I do about my son?’” (1 Sam 10:1-2 NIV)
On his way home, those events happened to Saul exactly as Samuel predicted. This gave Saul assurance that the prophecy about his becoming a king would also come to pass.
So, did the prophets of the Bible predict that the Messiah (Christ) would some day rescue this world from catastrophe and rule in a paradise kingdom of love? Absolutely! Zech 14 is a clear example of God sending His servant to deliver Israel.
Why are we to believe what the prophets say about this future event?
Because they also predicted an event that has already happened, an event that can be historically verified. This event also concerned the Messiah: Before he delivered the world from evil, the Messiah would first die for the sins of the world. His death is described with detail in Isaiah 53, written some 700 years before the first coming of Jesus! Isaiah talks about the Messiah dying for sins, rising from the dead, and eventually ruling. Take a look at some sample quotations below and note the highlighted sentences:
“Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa 53:4-6).
“For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.”
“Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light [of life] and be satisfied, by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isa 53:8-12).
Because of the prophecy’s obvious association with Jesus, some (but not all) rabbis tried to re-interpret this prophecy as a kind of allegory about Israel suffering at the hands of the Gentiles. Israel certainly has experienced persecution from Gentiles, and this has been a horrible, unjustified event of human history, but that is not what Isaiah is talking about in Chapter 53 and ancient rabbinical literature (the Talmud, Midrash and Zhor) all interpreted this prophecy to be about the Messiah!
There were many such prophecies fulfilled in the first coming of Jesus, including a special calendar.
Daniel, as a captive in Babylon, predicted to the day, the following events:
1) The Jewish slaves of Babylon would be released to return to their homeland, rebuild the city and restore the temple.
2) After another distinct period of time, the Messiah would come but would be rejected and killed.
All of this happened. After the Persians conquered the Babylonians, the Jewish captives lived under Persian rule. Later on, King Artexerxes decreed that the Jews could return to Jerusalem on Nisan 1 (Persian calendar) or March 5, 444BC (Julian Calendar), and Christ rode into Jerusalem March 30, 33 AD, the day traditionally called Psalm Sunday. Daniel gave the exact amount of years between the decree of Artexerxes and the arrival of Christ long afterward.
Since we know how many days were in a Hebrew year, we have from Daniel, a prophecy accurate to the actual dates! (Daniel 9)
Speaking of the Jews, Isaiah the prophet predicted that there would be at least three different nations of Israel (Isa 11). Israel is the only nation to have ever been conquered and destroyed, only to have its people return to their homeland and rebuild the nation. It would have been incredible to see that happen even once but with Israel, they were restored twice.
The first Israel existed under the reign of the Judges and kings such as David and Solomon. Her northern kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrian commander Sargon. Israel’s southern kingdom (Judah) was conquered by King Nebuchadrezzar of the Babylonians. Seventy years later, the Jews were allowed to return to their homeland as indicated in Daniel’s prophecy.
The second Israel existed for over 400 years, and it was this Israel that Jesus live in. After Christ’s death and resurrection (33 AD), the Romans destroyed Israel again (70 AD) and scattered the Jews all over the world, although a handful always remained in the Holy Land. Then, in the year 1948, following a European holocaust that wiped out some seven million Jews, Israel became a nation again, against incredible odds. So there has been three different Israels! The very fact that this happened at all is a fantastic phenomenon to behold. But when we remember that it was also predicted by ancient prophets, it becomes even more incredible.
That’s why we can trust these same prophets, and this same Jesus, as they speak of the second coming. It is not only in the book of Revelation that the second coming is discussed. Jesus talked about it constantly in the gospels. Likewise, His apostles continued to speak of His return in books such as First Corinthians, First and Second Thessalonians, etc.
Now, does this mean that we know exactly when Jesus will be here? Unfortunately, an exact calendar was not given for the second coming, but we are told of a few events that must precede it, most notably, the re-building of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem and an evil, deceiving man (known as the Anti-Christ or Son of Perdition) who will sit in the temple’s Holy of Holies, set up a throne and call himself God (2 Thess 2). This event will set a whole series of battles into motion which will culminate in Jesus’ return as a warrior/king to rid the world of evil. Of course, there is no temple right now and we simply do not know whether it will be a few years or thousands of years before there is another one, so we cannot say for sure that this is the last generation before the second coming.
Jesus Himself said: “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matt 24:36).
If Jesus Himself said that even He didn’t know when He was returning; we should be very suspicious of anyone else who claims that they know.
This means, ironically, when Camping made his prediction, he did help with a process of elimination. We have known for quite some time now that whatever day Jesus did choose to return, it was not going to be May 21, 2011.
Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE New International Version NIV Copyright © 1973, 1979, 1984 by International Bible Society Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Bob Siegel is a weekend radio talk show host on KCBQ and columnist. Details of his show can be found at www.bobsiegel.net. Comments to posts are discussed by Bob over the air where anyone is free to call in and respond/debate. Call in toll free number: 1-888-344-1170. Read more Forbidden Table Talk in The Washington Times Communities.
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