How Soon Was Jesus Supposed to Come Back?

Although I haven’t taken an official poll, it seems most professors, skeptics, media, and those who comment on the Bible would say the disciples of Jesus expected him to come back within their lifetimes. This is often used as another reason not to take the message of Jesus all that seriously, but that is a sweeping judgment that lacks perspective. In fact, when it comes to the return of Jesus according to the Bible, Christians and skeptics alike may be guilty of missing key details.

For instance, many pastors and evangelical Christians today, (of which I qualify as both) maintain that Jesus can come back at any moment. We commonly speak and write in ways that give the distinct impression Jesus could return any moment in our lifetimes. In that respect, we aren’t much different than those early Christians.

It makes one wonder what people might conclude if, in the distant future, someone were to find the writings of Christians from today. Would they pick up a worn copy of “Left Behind” and conclude we believed Jesus would return in the next few years and that Kirk Cameron was our prophet? Couldn’t they also use that as evidence that since Christ did not return, he must not be real? Of course, ask almost any of those Christians or pastors of today and their views are not so simplistic. I have often said Jesus is coming soon, but I am not so certain he is coming in my lifetime.

Perhaps, we Christians should speak and write more carefully using more perspective in the first place? Probably, but that’s not going to happen. There’s never going to be a shortage of writers or speakers making exciting claims, no matter whether they are Christians, secularists, or global warming/climate change alarmist/deniers.

Besides, it’s more fun to talk about Jesus coming in the next few minutes. Come on.

Anyway, as it turns out and despite the fact this is often ignored for the sake of arguing, the writers of the New Testament DID write with perspective. Shockingly, they never Continue reading

Signs in the Heavens?

meteoriteThe meteorite that hit Russia on February 15, entered the atmosphere less than 24 hours before the asteroid 2012 DA14 was to make the closest recorded pass of an asteroid to the Earth — inside the orbit of some satellites. The asteroid is described as “skimming the atmosphere” by some.  With two events such as these happening so close together, it would seem they were related, but astronomers say it’s just a crazy coincidence.

The European Space Agency tweeted its experts had determined there was no connection between the two big rocks that came flying at the earth.  Not only did they come from two different directions, but arriving 12 hours apart means they were also half a million kilometers apart.  The Daily Mail Online reported the meteorite that hit Russia “doesn’t seem to be at all relevant to tonight’s close asteroid flyby.”

They are right.  It’s a bit early to use the word “relevant”, but it’s at least “eerie”.

These are two EXTREMELY rare events happening less than a day apart, with evidently no connection to each other.  Soooooo…. hey God, how’s things uh…going?

Review of “The Harbinger” by Jonathan Cahn

harbingerRabbi and Pastor Jonathan Cahn’s book “The Harbinger” rocketed onto the New York Times Best Seller list last year, and garnered Cahn some national attention and several appearances on television and radio.  The book, which is written in the form of a conversation between a writer and publisher, AND the same writer and a mysterious prophet, suggests that an ancient prophecy in the book of Isaiah is repeating itself in the United States beginning with the attacks of 9/11.  It suggests there are nine harbingers of God’s judgment on the United States and all nine have already happened through events during and since those attacks.  In the book, Cahn warns that unless the United States returns to God and repents, that a much larger judgment is inevitable.

Speaking along the same lines at the Presidential Inaugural Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC last January, Cahn brought up many of the same points he made in his book, portraying America as a nation that had fallen away from God and was in danger of judgment.  It should be noted that President Obama was not a part of the prayer breakfast, and judging by the reaction of those in attendance, the audience was largely of the same mind as Rabbi/Pastor Cahn.  Early in the sermon he said, “A thousand apostate ministers swearing on a thousand Bibles will not change one jot or tittle of the word of God,” and the audience erupted with approval. Once again, the words that Cahn spoke received media attention again, and the video of the sermon landed on Youtube.

So what of the book and the claims that were made in it?  For many Christians who study the Bible and Bible prophecy in particular, there is nothing new or radical in the Harbinger’s conclusions.  The idea that the nation is falling away from God as it pursues agendas such as same-sex marriage, abortion on demand, and forces faith-based organizations to comply with these values- is a conclusion shared by many.  The problems of materialism, carnality, and immorality are also seen by most Christians as rampant and getting worse, mirroring the prophecy of II Timothy 3:1-4.  The idea that God may be threatening the nation with judgment, is a common opinion and worry.

Therein lies my view of what reading the Harbinger is like.  It’s the claims, the information, and the conclusions that grab your attention.  They will cause discussions at church or at work, and occasionally make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.  No matter how skeptical you go into it, there are several points he brings up and several instances of events that have occurred since the tragedy of 9/11 that are at least somewhat eerie.  And once you get to those parts of the book it becomes hard to put down.

Getting there might be your battle.  Michael Crichton was one of the best at using a fictional story to convey information, and many others including the Harbinger have tried the same idea.  Crichton, however, was a master storyteller who included lots of action and story to go with his information.  His books often became movie blockbusters as a result.  The Harbinger, while borrowing from the idea, doesn’t include much of an actual story with action and drama, but instead reads as a conversation between a writer and a publisher at the publisher’s office.  Even then, the writer named Nouriel is recounting in great detail other conversations he had with a mysterious figure who he calls “the prophet.”

The book, therefore, reads as one giant dialogue between two people, alternating between Nouriel and the publisher, and Nouriel and the prophet.  As a piece of literature, I often found the dialogue to be tedious, and the characters weren’t always believable.  The publisher for instance, seemed too accepting of a Christian worldview which isn’t very common in this culture anymore, especially in the media.  Likewise I thought the main character Nouriel would have had more objections to what he was being told by the prophet since he was not a believer in Jesus.  (He did become one at the end.  Don’t they always?)  Nevertheless, you don’t read this book for the story the way you might a Michael Crichton novel.  You read this book because of the message.  You read it to discover, just like Nouriel did, what exactly those 9 Harbingers are and what they mean.

Without spoiling the book for you, the Harbingers center around a passage from Isaiah 9.  It reads like this in the King James Version:  “The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones: the sycomores are cut down, but we will change them into cedars. -Isaiah 9:10″  The Bible described this as a statement made by Israel “with pride and arrogance of heart,” in verse 9.  Instead of repenting, in other words, the northern nation of Israel was making bold proclamations of rebuilding after an attack.

Cahn applies this to America, correlating the Assyrians who came against Israel with the terrorists who attacked on 9/11, and making several other correlations as well.  The bricks that had fallen down represented the destruction of the Twin Towers, the hewn stones represented the memorial stone that was laid at Ground Zero several years later, the sycomores represented the sycamore tree that was cut down next to Ground Zero by the church where George Washington and others had prayed for our nation in 1789.  The rebuilding with cedars was represented by the large pine that replaced the sycamore at that site.

For most of us, correlations like this are a bit of a stretch because you can almost always manufacture a correlation, at least a vague one, with a poetically written Scripture like Isaiah 9:10.  Isaiah 9:10 was a rather obscure sentence in the midst of the entire Bible, and as some have said, there’s nothing in the Bible to indicate God was talking to anyone there besides Israel.  Cahn however, makes the case that this follows a pattern of how God calls a nation to repentance, and what God does in leading up to judgment.  He goes on to show some hair-raising “signs” that have happened since, such as the stock market crashing 7 years later, on the last day of the 7th Jewish month, and dropping 7 percent, or 777 points in one day.  That particular Jewish Day also happened to be the day of reconciling debts, and naturally it was our debt problem that crashed the stock market after the Congress initially rejected a 700 billion dollar bailout deal.  Yep, there’s that number 7 again.

That IS a little curious, but if there is a pattern this precise every time God judges a nation, one would expect a sycamore tree to be cut down somewhere every single time.  We should expect memorial stones to replace buildings made out of bricks, and cedar trees to replace the sycamores.  It’s hard to believe that God always does it this way, with this much detail, such as the idea that terrorism always comes first, or someone related to the Assyrians always starts things off.  It seems more reasonable to believe that the circumstances of God judging a nation, may change, depending on a host of different conditions and different times.  So a bit of skepticism is in order.  Having said that, there are… well…. eerie things.

Cahn brings up some instances that correlate so well, that you are left with the thought that history may be repeating itself.  Remember, that’s not a good thing.  For instance, while it is true that the Bible was talking to Israel in Isaiah 9:10 and describing what Israel said in the arrogance of their hearts, as it turns out, leaders of the United States said the exact same things after 9/11.  In fact, they didn’t just say similar things, they QUOTED Isaiah 9:10 as if it was a good thing.

On the morning after 9/11, Tom Daschle began a speech by saying “there is a passage in the Bible from Isaiah that I think speaks to all of us at times like this… “the bricks have fallen down, but we will rebuild with dressed stone; the …...” You get the picture. Three years later, vice-presidential candidate John Edwards gave a speech in remembrance of 9/11 and began with the exact same Scripture.  Then he tailored his entire speech around the words of that verse. Generally, if someone wants to apply a verse to themselves or their country in a good way, they don’t use a verse of the Bible that was proclaiming judgment and condemnation.

Yet that’s exactly what happened.  This doesn’t necessarily mean of course that Cahn is right, or that the verse really applies to the United States.  It’s just spooky.  Obviously the verse applied to Israel when it was first spoken, but many other prophecies have come true in more than one time period, in more than one set of circumstances as well.  The virgin birth for instance, or the abomination that causes desolation, or the destruction of Jerusalem, etc… It is certainly possible in other words, for history to repeat itself.  It’s happened before, and the fact that leaders of the United States quoted the words of Israel when they were in direct rebellion to God, hmmmm…. poor choice of words.  Those were famous LAST words for the Israelites, we probably shouldn’t repeat them verbatim.  Just saying.

The conclusion of the Harbinger as I mentioned, leads us back to the same message that many others have spoken concerning our nation.  It’s a call to repent and turn to Christ.  The apologetics and salvation message in the closing chapter were strained, almost like Cahn’s character, the prophet, was afraid to be too blunt and turn people off.  I wish Cahn would have been as straightforward and blunt in those pages, as he was when speaking at the Inaugural Prayer Breakfast.  The gospel isn’t complicated, it’s Jesus.  He died to pay for the sins of the world, so that we might have forgiveness.  For those who turn to God, Jesus is the reason we are forgiven, and the Lord who we follow from that day forward.  Cahn would have been well-served to have quoted the apostle Paul:

 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” -Acts 17:30-31

Easy for me to say, though.  I didn’t go to all the work to write a book.

The Harbinger.  It’s an interesting read once you get going.

The Rapture: Taking it Literally?

The Christian belief in “The Rapture,” made famous by the Left Behind series and various doomsday predictions, comes from two Scriptures in the Bible which speak about the resurrection of the dead.  In neither place is it specifically called “the Rapture” although you can find the Latin word for “rapture” in there if you use the Latin Vulgate Bible.  In fact, the Latin is where we get the term, and the term simply applies to the event described in I Corinthians 15:51-52 and I Thessalonians 4:15-17.   And since saying “The Rapture” is easier than saying “The-Event-Described-In-1st-Corinthians-15-51-52-and-I-Thessalonians-4-15-17”  or T.E.D.I.1.C.1.15.52.A.I.T.4.15.17 for short…

Most of us just say “the Rapture.”

Anyway, the Rapture is basically a simple concept.  In both places, the Bible (Paul was the writer) is talking about what happens to believers in Jesus who are still alive when the resurrection happens.  Obviously, God’s not going to strike them all dead so He could raise them up at that moment.  Instead of that morbid method, the Bible says we will be “caught up” to Jesus in the air (I Thessalonians 4) and changed “in the blink of an eye” into immortality (I Corinthians 15).  Part of the reason Paul wrote about it in I Thessalonians was to give people hope.  It is a rather exciting thought to consider. And assuming you believe in God and Jesus in the first place, it makes sense.  I mean, if Jesus returned and raised the dead into eternity, it’s only natural to ask what would happen to those who are still alive at the time. The Rapture is the answer for that question.

But we still manage to have huge arguments over it.  Those debates are generally over whether to take it seriously in the first place, or if you believe in a resurrection, the argument is over when exactly the Rapture part of it happens.

THE “WHEN” ARGUMENTS

The “Left Behind” books and movies took a very common position on the WHEN part, Continue reading

Hope in the Midst of Crisis

Some of the “prophetic” words of Jesus sound eerily similar to the daily news coming from around the world these days, which gives many of us a pause. Yet we shouldn’t pause too long because He also had words of encouragement and a message of hope. In a moment, I’ll get to what Jesus said precisely, but for now, I think it’s worth noting that the entire Christian belief system is built on a hope, an assurance from God, that He will provide during the toughest of times.

Some interpret the Bible, or insist philosophically, that God should rescue us from these tough times in the first place. Isn’t that what a loving God would do? And if He doesn’t, He’s either not loving, or not real. It’s the same argument used by one of thieves crucified next to Jesus. In one moment, that guy was hurling insults at Jesus, and in the next, he was demanding Jesus prove Himself by rescuing them all from death. Continue reading

Japan’s Earthquake and The Bible

The 8.9 – 9.1 magnitude earthquake that hit Japan on Friday at 2:46 (their time) and the subsequent tsunami, left such wide-spread destruction that it is natural to question whether such an event is a “sign”. We humans often ask ourselves those type of questions after any major disaster. We might wonder if it’s a sign of global warming, a sign of geological upheaval, a sign of God’s displeasure, or a sign of the end of the world.

From Jesus until now, Christianity has talked about earthquakes as a sign of the end. Revelation speaks of a great earthquake and Jesus mentioned that earthquakes, famines and conflict would be like “birth pains” leading to the end.

For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.
-(Jesus) Matthew 24:7-8 [NASB]
Continue reading

Revelation: Part One

The only book of the Bible that specifically pronounces a blessing for those who listen and take the words to heart, as well as pronouncing a curse upon those who add or take away from the words, is the book of Revelation. For many people it’s a difficult book understand, and for others, it’s difficult to keep from descending into various arguments over how to interpret it. And if that isn’t the biggest understatement of the year… but I digress. Regardless of the brouhaha, for anyone who, without adding or subtracting, simply listens to the words and takes them to heart, there is a blessing from God.

It begins with a statement of purpose: “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants what must soon take place.” – Revelation 1:1, and immediately we know the book is at least speaking of future events for the people of John’s day. John wrote the book around AD 96 according to early church fathers, which means he was in the middle of a persecution against Christians, and it wasn’t the first one.

That’s a fairly significant point actually,especially when it comes to what time the book is pointing us toward, i.e… is it speaking mainly about past history, or the future? Continue reading