Saturday, April 30, 2011

Should Christians Attempt to Predict the Rapture's or Tribulation's Arrival?

Can the Day of the Lord be predicted ahead of time?

Summary: The way I've always understood it is that no one will be able to guess the date of the end of the world ('the Day of the Lord'), but that there will be abundant signs and fulfilled prophecies to indicate to discerning believers that the time is approaching. One ought to be able to get a sense of how close we are to the end of the world, and we ought to be able to tell when parts of Scripture are fulfilled, but we will never be able to pin the date of the Day of the Lord considerably far ahead of time. The Bible is clear that Jesus will come when no one expects Him, so if someone is expecting him, logically, He won't be coming then. Now, let's explore some Scripture to this effect.

Verses indicating that it's impossible to predict the date of the Day of the Lord:

(Note: My preferred version to quote from is the NKJV, not because I have any weird ideas about certain translations being 'holier' than others; just a language preference)

Matthew 24: "36 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, [nor the Son] but My Father only. 37 But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 38 For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39 and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 40 Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. 42 Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour [or day] your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. 44 Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect." (brackets include phrases found in many/reliable texts, but not all of them--or alternate translations of words)

 Jesus is referring to the verses from 1-35, which are His prophecies about the End of Days, predominantly the Great Tribulation. Mark 13 echoes Matthew 24. On the other hand, the verses just previous (32-35) use the imagery of a fig tree growing leaves as a sign that summer is near to make an analogy with the endtimes--that just like trees coming into bloom during spring tells you that winter is over and summer is near, so the events that He describes in the preceding verses will let us know that His Return is near. I'll look into this below.
Moving on...

[After His Resurrection, before Pentecost] Acts 1: "6 Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority."

 Acts 1: "9 Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, 11 who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”"

Deuteronomy 29:29 "The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law."

This plainly says that anything not revealed in Scripture is secret. So if we cannot know something without Scripture and the mental faculties we've been given, then it is a secret which only God knows. Can one know the date of the Lord's return by scientific study of nature? It seems the answer is likewise no. So anything not told in Scripture that has to do with God's plans for the future cannot be known. Only things that are not secret, like how to make a combustion engine, which has nothing to do with Divine knowledge, only earthly knowledge, can be known. To summarize: God didn't set a date in Scripture, and it cannot be calculated by analyzing the world, so therefore it can't be known to us.

Before I continue, I want to point out a handy web page: It includes a nifty calendar of date-setting failures to show how foolish it is to try to predict the Lord's coming.

Here's my thesis: Regarding the Time of the End, many signs and prophecies must be fulfilled before a) the Rapture, b) the Tribulation, and c) Jesus' Second Coming, the three occasions people are most wont to attempt to predict the dates and times of. THUS, if the signs have not been fulfilled, then the prophecy CANNOT be completed.  
I will now look at a few clear examples of things that must happen before the end.

Please note that while there are various views of the Rapture, if it be Pre-Tribulation (the most logical time), then there will be few evidences of its arrival save for the 'beginnings of the birth pangs,' as foretold by Jesus. The Rapture, like Jesus' Second Coming, will come when people are largely not expecting it. Therefore, it seems unlikely that anyone will have been able to predict it's imminence, whereas it's likely that a lot of true believers will be expecting it to come soon, having been watchful of the signs of the end. They'll be taken when they don't expect it, but they won't be 'surprised,' if you know what I mean. It's like a guy who knows his friends are going to do something for his birthday, but doesn't expect the surprise party two days ahead of time.

According to Matthew 24, these things must come to pass before the Tribulation (refer to the natural barrier between verse 14 and 15):
  • 5 For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.
  • 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars.
  • 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of sorrows [birth-pangs].
Then He goes on to use the word Tribulation (in the English, at least) in verse 9, so I would posit that the things described after that refer to the Tribulation period, though at some point in the text He switches to the Great Tribulation (the second half of Daniel's 70th week, the whole 7 year period is referred to as collectively being the Tribulation).

So, we will see many people claiming to be Jesus Christ. I wouldn't be surprised if this prophecy hasn't already been fulfilled in part, but it seems that though there have been many false religions that have popped up, few have included a literal copycat, though some have a Messiah figure. This might be good homework for the curious reader. :)
Wars and Rumors of wars. Check. This seems rather unsurprising at first.
Famines, pestilences, and earthquakes. One can certainly argue that all these signs have already been fulfilled, because these things have been going on non-stop since Jesus left

And that's my argument. Regarding the use of the word "birth pangs" in some English translations, it seems that, by analogy of childbirth, the pangs start out mild and far between at the beginning, but that as time progresses they become stronger, closer together, and more numerous. Presumably, the wars, false messiahs (or at least false religions), famines, diseases and natural disasters will increase in intensity and frequency every year subsequent to Jesus' prophecy in Matthew 24.

I read a very interesting little blurb somewhere on the internet, a WND article I got linked to by Joel Richardson I believe, that pointed out that the frequency of major earthquakes (defined as 7.0 magnitude or higher) have been dramatically increasing even within the time period that we've been able to reliably measure such earthquakes wherever they occur. Here is the follow-up article by Joel with up-to-date data:

So, from an estimate of 1 every 66 years from 1 AD to 1000 AD,  we begin to get higher estimates of one every 7 years from 1000 to 1800, and one every 10 months from 1800 to 1900. Then, when we get more accurate data from seismographs (the modern version invented in 1935), we see that the trend continues.
The occurrence has increased from one every 3 months to one every 15 days (1/6 the time). So we're having 6 times as many earthquakes as we had 100 years ago, which is slightly more than 6 times the earthquakes we had 1000 years ago. Looks just like an exponential increase, which is just what would be necessitated by 'birth pangs.' Also consider the tornadoes in the news recently. And hurricanes. Practically every kind of geological and atmospheric phenomenon appears to be increasing exponentially.

So the dramatic increase appears to confirm that we are entering, if not living in, the last days. Perhaps this will be the Terminal Generation. Considering the dramatic increase in natural disasters, if the earthquakes keep continuing as they are, then in the next 10 years we'll see them become so frequent as to not go a single week without seeing a feature article, if not front-page news, of a new 7.0 magnitued earthquake. As frequent as the tv now runs blips about suicide bombings on the ticker, we'll be seeing headlines about new earthquakes. And the same will happen with tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis (which go together with earthquakes), volcanoes (same), wildfires, blizzards, droughts and floods. My tentative prediction, then, will be that in the next 10 or 20 years, we'll see such a dramatic increase in disasters that it won't seem like we can go a single day without hearing about the destruction and loss of life. Bear in mind that all of this was only THE BEGINNING OF the birth-pangs. Moreover, birth pangs culminate in birth, at which point the pain is extreme. So we're all rushing headlong into a culminating moment when the MOAD will come. Of course, looking at Bible prophecy, that might be during the Tribulation, so many of us will be fortunate to miss it.

I want to point out that Matthew 24:14 says that the Gospel will be preached to the entire world before the end comes. It says 'all nations,' but this likely means "every individual in every nation," considering that Acts 2:5 says that men from every nation were at Pentecost, so since the end didn't come then, the next logical step is that the Gospel will be heard by all people in their native language. I haven't looked deeply enough to know if this means that it might happen after the tribulation, but it seems likely that it will be fulfilled before it. Efforts to translate the Bible into every language in the world are ongoing: we're about halfway there, population-wise.

Here are some more prophecies fulfilled by Israel since its inception in 1948. Just for fun.

As I've been writing this, I've been realizing that there's a lot of stuff that must precede the Tribulation (Israel becomes a sovereign nation again, Israel must make peace with its neighbors, knowledge must be increased (internet and tv are good examples of how the Two Witnesses' deaths will be seen by the whole world, another prophecy), and there will come a Great Apostasy in Christian belief), and a lot of stuff to precede Christ's Second Coming (the AntiChrist revealed, the Great Tribulation, the seals, trumpets, and bowls, the false prophet and the world religious/economical system of the Beast), but there's very little that must necessarily precede the Rapture, only the aforementioned birth pangs to indicate that it's imminent.

Coincidentally, this proves my point, although not in a way I expected. I thought I could point to x, y, and z prophecy and show that since they haven't happened, the Rapture can't come yet. But the Rapture is a nonconditional event. It could come at any time, hence why some preachers preach an 'imminent rapture.' The Rapture will very likely come right before the Tribulation begins, but by virtue of the Tribulation not having begun, there will not be very many things to indicate that the Rapture will occur. At best, we might witness a mobilization of armies against Israel, followed by their subsequent supernatural defeat. But the Church will probably be raptured before the 'man of lawlessness is revealed,' so it will probably take most of us by some degree of surprise. This proves my point because there is no Scriptural warrant for pinpointing the Rapture to occur at any time, because there is no reference point in Scripture--there are no definite signs to point to to say that the Rapture will occur in conjunction with. Thus, anybody who tries to place the date of the Rapture is a fool, since Jesus clearly said that no one will know the dates that the Father has set. It is not for us to know.

When May 21, 2011 comes and Harold Camping's prediction fails to come to pass, many people's faith may be shaken. Show them this and other articles/videos made before that time and help them to see that it is possible to know some things beforehand, but that the knowledge that no one will be able to predict the Day of the Lord or the Rapture is one of them. Encourage them to be like the Bereans, checking Scripture to see whether the things said by their leaders are true.


P.S. I think I might put off figuring out signs that must be fulfilled before the Tribulation/Second Coming for another day. :)

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