Written in June 2011
Many people have tried to work out the date of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Most recently we have had a good example of why you should not do this in the failed prophecy of Harold Camping that the world would end on 21st May 2011. Camping claimed to have discovered a secret code within the Bible that allowed him to predict the precise day that Christ would appear and judgment would begin. He told the press that he was certain that the end of the world was ‘absolutely going to happen without any question at all.’
In anticipation of May 21, Camping and his followers purchased thousands of billboard advertisements and sent the message across America. Some of his followers left jobs, emptied their bank accounts and gave away their possessions, expecting no longer to need them. When May 21 came and went, and the end of the world clearly did not happen, Camping did not apologise or even concede the fact that his prophecy was false. Instead, he said that the May 21 date was actually a ‘spiritual’ judgment day, and that the actual day, signalled by cataclysmic earthquakes, would come on October 21.
All of this gave the atheists and comedians a field day to mock claims about the Second Coming. They organized ‘end of the world’ parties on May 22nd and one atheist group offered to take care of the pets of those who were raptured (for a fee!). People setting the date of the Second Coming have done great harm to this teaching, making it the subject of ridicule when the supposed date comes and goes with nothing happening.
Mr Camping is a classic example of a false teacher and a false prophet. Apart from the Second Coming issue he has also called for Christians to leave their churches, claiming to have found in the Bible the announcement that the age of the church has passed. He has said that Christians should stop practising Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which the Lord commanded to be kept until He comes.
The Bible warns us that an increase in false prophets will be a sign of the last days before Jesus returns: ‘But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.’ (2 Peter 2:1)
Mr Camping did not really need a secret code or complicated charts to work out the date of the Second Coming (or rather to know that he could not do this). Jesus said concerning this event, ‘Of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only’ (Matthew 24.36). In the next chapter He says, ‘Watch therefore for you know neither the day not the hour in which the Son of Man is coming’ (Matthew 25.13).
Nor did Mr Camping’s followers need to give up jobs and give away possessions on the basis of his prophecy. It is interesting that close to the two passages on the second coming in 1 Thessalonians 4-5 and 2 Thessalonians 2, Paul says we should carry on living as normally and ‘work with your own hands’ so that ‘you may lack nothing.’ (1 Thessalonians 4.11-12). As far as they are able to do, Christians should provide for themselves and their dependents through earning their own living.
In 2 Thessalonians 2.10-11 he wrote: ‘For even when we were with you we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all but are busybodies. Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread.’ In the modern world there are many who are unable to work for valid reasons – age, infirmity or lack of jobs available. But for someone capable of earning their own living to give up work or to abandon possessions on the basis of prophecy about the Second Coming is folly and disobedience to the Lord.
In 1 Thessalonians 4.16-5.3 Paul tells us more about the timing of the Lord’s coming: ‘For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labour pains upon a pregnant woman’
The thief in the night
The coming of the Lord is compared to the coming of a ‘thief in the night.’ The thief does not ring us up to say, ‘I’m coming round to rob your house at midnight tomorrow.’ Because we know there is always a possibility that a thief could come to rob us, we take precautions all the time to keep our property secure as far as we are able.
If we could work out the date, then one of the main points of this teaching would be lost. Suppose we knew that Jesus is coming back on 21st December 2012 (another favoured date for the end of the world). Many people would think, ‘Well I can carry on living the way I am until 20th December 2012 and then I’ll get ready to meet him.’ Because we don’t know the date we are to be ready all the time, as John wrote in his letter, ‘Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure’ (1 John 3.3).
The expectation of the imminent second coming should be a spur to us to be sanctified by the Holy Spirit so that we are ready for His coming. Peter wrote about this: ‘Therefore beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot or blemish.’ (2 Peter 3.14). We will want to be found in a good place doing what pleases the Lord when He comes, not in a dirty place, doing something shameful. Since we do not know when He is coming we should make it our aim to stay continually in a good place doing what is pleasing to God.
When the Lord comes as a ‘thief in the night’ those who are still alive will be ‘caught up’ to meet Him in the air. These are all people who believe that Jesus died for their sins and rose again from the dead who will take part in the event known as the rapture of the church. They will join those who died before this event takes place who will be resurrected from the dead.
This event will take place at an unknown time, unexpectedly, and cause millions of people who believe in Jesus to be removed from the earth and meet the returning Lord Jesus in the air. Believing Christians who are right now perplexed at the moral chaos coming over the world and those who are suffering persecution for their faith will suddenly disappear and leave behind bewilderment and confusion in a world heading for disaster.
There will then follow the great tribulation period in which the Antichrist will arise, promising peace and safety, but actually bringing the world to the final catastrophe (Revelation 6-19). Jesus compared this event to the days of Noah. In those days people were going about their business unaware of the coming flood that would destroy their world. Noah believed God and provided for himself and his family a place of safety. Today the place of safety is to be found in repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus (Luke 17.26-36).
The second stage of the return of Jesus will be his physical appearance with the believers who have been caught up to meet him in the air. He will stand on the Mount of Olives to the east of Jerusalem and defeat the armies of the Antichrist in the Battle of Armageddon. Those who have returned with him and those who have turned to him during the great tribulation will join him in the Messianic Kingdom or Millennium when Jesus will rule over the nations and bring peace and justice to the earth (Zechariah 14, Jude verses 14- 15, Revelation 19-20).
In that time the nations really will ‘beat swords into ploughshares and not study war any more’ (Isaiah 2.4). The earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11.9). It will be the most glorious time to be alive on this planet, just as the coming tribulation period will be the most terrible time to be alive.
The woman in labour
In 1 Thessalonians 5.3 there is reference to the woman in labour. This is a picture, which is used in both the Old and New Testaments for the last days of this age. Three observations can be made about the woman in labour.
Firstly when a woman goes into labour a process begins which cannot be reversed until the child is born. She experiences a series of shocks, known as contractions, which become more intense as she gets nearer to the birth of the child. The birth pains of the woman in labour are the sorrows which the world will go through before the Second Coming, which will become more and more intense the nearer we get to the end.
Secondly once a woman goes into labour no one can reverse the process, which will ultimately lead to the birth of the child. Similarly, once the labour pains of the last days have been set in motion (and they have!), no religious or political leader is going to be able to reverse them. Things may happen which cause them to slow down or to speed up, but no one will be able to prevent events moving towards the final conclusion prophesied in the Bible.
Thirdly when the child is born the woman will no longer consider the sorrows of the labour she has been through for joy at the birth and the new life that has come into the world. This picture applies very much to the end times in Bible prophecy. The birth of the child corresponds to the main event, the return of the Lord Jesus Christ in power and glory. Then He will bring an end to the present age of sin and wickedness and establish the Millennial reign of peace and justice on the earth, which will cause people to rejoice in the goodness of the Lord and the greatness of His kingdom and forget the former time of trouble.
Despite the fact that we do not know the exact time of Jesus’ return, there are a number of signs he has given us in the Bible of conditions on the earth at the time of his return. When he told the disciples what these were, he said, ‘When these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near’ (Luke 21.28). It is interesting that he used the word ‘begin’ here, because this indicates that when a certain process has begun, you know that it is leading to the final point, in this case the second coming of Jesus. So although the Lord does not want us to waste time trying to work out the date of his return, he does want us to be aware of the signs of his return.
When you approach a great city you get first to the suburbs, and you know that once you get to them if you continue in the same direction you will reach the centre of the city. When you get near a mountain range you come first to the foothills and know that if you keep going you will reach the high mountains. So when you see certain things beginning to happen, you know that the end result is going to be the second coming of Jesus.
We can identify the major signs given in the Bible for the second coming. They point us in the direction of the main event – the glorious return of the Lord Jesus. These are some of the major ones:
- There will be an increase in wars, famines, plagues and earthquakes leading to a time of great trouble on the earth. Luke 21.10-11.
- The earth will be full of violence ‘as in the days of Noah’ and many people will be afraid of what is going to happen. Luke 17.26-27, Luke 21.25-6, Genesis 6.11.
- There will be great sexual immorality ‘as in the days of Lot’ (Sodom and Gomorrah). Luke 17.28-8, Matthew 24.12, Romans 1.24-27, 2 Timothy 3.1-9.
- There will be widespread pollution of the earth and problems with the environment. Isaiah 24, Revelation 8.6-11.
- There will be a restoration of Israel as a Jewish land. There will be a conflict over Jerusalem which will involve all nations of the world. Ezekiel 36-9, Zechariah 12-14, Luke 21.20-24, Revelation 16.16.
- There will be a globalisation process which will bring nations together. An antichristian world government will arise out of this. Revelation 13.
- There will be an increase in technology and travel. Daniel 12.4.
- There will be false prophets who will lead people astray and cause confusion about God and salvation. Matthew 24.5, 24.23-27, Revelation 17.1-6.
- There will be an attack on the basic truths of the Bible and opposition to those who teach the Gospel. Matthew 24.10-11, 2 Timothy 4.2-5, 2 Peter 2, 1 John 2.18-23.
- The message of the Gospel will reach all nations despite opposition and persecution. Matthew 24.9-14, Matthew 28.18-20.
Now is the day of salvation. Now is the time to accept God’s offer of eternal life and forgiveness through the sacrifice of Jesus at the cross. By making this step of faith you will have a place in the coming kingdom of God and be taken by the Lord to the place of safety at the time of the rapture of the church. If you have never taken this step you can do it now through praying the following prayer and meaning it:
‘Dear Heavenly Father, I admit that I am a sinner and need your forgiveness. I believe that Jesus the Messiah died in my place paying the penalty for my sins. I am willing right now to turn from my sin and accept Jesus the Messiah as my personal Saviour and Lord. I commit my life to you and ask you to send the Holy Spirit into my life, to fill me and to take control and to help me become the kind of person you want me to be. Thank you Father for loving me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.’
We have leaflets available for mass distribution giving these signs of the second coming and our booklet ‘What is the world heading for?’ which gives more details of this coming event. We are able to make this available free of charge or on a donation basis.