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

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New Year’s Eve Post

Blogging through the New Year on Central Standard Time. Another year is going into the books tonight and where are we?  Where are you? Where am I?  Beyond a shadow of a doubt things are changing in our world, our culture, and always, always, always things change for us on a personal level. Here are some thoughts on all three. I’ll be blogging for the rest of the year, so feel free join in below.

World.  Christianity garnered some sympathy because of the increase in real persecution, especially in the Middle East.  From Egypt, to Iraq, to Syria, to Libya, to a mall in Nairobi, Kenya, Christians have been under real attack by Islamic militants.  Shades of Revelation chapter six going on in Middle East?  Well how about those famous four horsemen of the apocalypse? A white horse that represents revolution perhaps? Check. A red horse that represents war? Check. A black horse that seems to represent shortages and high prices of basic goods? Check. A pale horse that represents Death? Check. Move on from the four horsemen to the Fifth Seal which represents persecution? Yep that one too.

Most Bible prophecy teachers believe the Seals of Revelation are world-wide problems, of course, not merely local Middle Eastern events.  Still, it’s a little spooky.

The big change for the West has been the rise of an aggressive populist atheism, and social changes including same-sex marriage and the view among almost all media that the Bible, and those who believe in it, are no longer anywhere close to the mainstream.  From movies, to books, to talk shows, traditional Christian beliefs are increasingly being viewed as morally wrong, or intellectually bankrupt. Ironically, this comes at a time when the arguments in favor of Biblical Christianity are at their strongest.

In recent times, atheism surprised Christianity with a deluge of new and old arguments, and fresh styles of attack. The culture, which today values the style of debate over the substance, is often swayed by fierceness of the attack. Christianity is not argued against as much as ridiculed, scoffed at, and laughed away.  And as we’ve seen in presidential debates that award someone the win based on how well they interrupted or talked over or laughed at their opponent, so the new atheism uses a new attitude as much as any new argument.

Nevertheless, because of evidence of design the arguments for Creation have never been stronger.  Genetics has also presented what I consider insurmountable hurdles for macro-evolution, and even paleontology has challenged, of all things, the age of the dinosaurs.  Despite these and other advances on the evidence side of defending the Bible and the existence of God, the debate is as much about style now.  In fact, I get the distinct feeling it’s a lot like a fashion show, and what is “in style” now currently isn’t the Bible.

Personal.  There are lots of things we can say have changed on a personal level. We may have gone through triumphs or tragedies or both.  Kids grow up, we grow older, new opportunities come, and sometimes we leave things behind. This being a blog about spiritual things, however, let’s talk about where our views have gone, perhaps some things we’ve learned along the way, and definitely where God has led us.

For me, a few things stand out.  A trip to Kenya opened my eyes to the role of the rich in this world. And yeah, it’s we Americans who are rich.  It was in Kenya when God showed me our role was to give it away. Someone has recently said we need to be more ruthless in giving away our material blessings.  I couldn’t agree more, but I didn’t really GET this until Kenya.

While there, we gave away clothes, we gave away our reading glasses, our shoes, our spending money, and whatever else was needed. We didn’t do it at random mind you, but like any accountant at any business, we wanted to know where, why, and if it was a good idea to give in this way or that.  As managers over a trust fund, we invested as wisely as we could, but we made sure we invested.  God opened doors for us to purchase food, Bibles, medical treatments, pay for school fees, and even, before it was over, give a family a new home.  Going back to the Bible, we realized the role of rich believers is simply this: to give it away as good stewards of God’s money.

Not only was that big for me in regards to doctrine, it was a time that opened a door for the Gospel. With the help of two on-fire local pastors, we met with people, sharing with them about Jesus. Many already attended a church but believed they were “saved” because they were a member, or because they followed a particular preacher.  We didn’t try to get them to change churches, we simply wanted to tell them about Jesus, and shared with them the basics of the Gospel.  The Bible says that the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ.  It didn’t say the gift of God was eternal life in Church XYZ, or Preacher So and So.  It said Jesus.  And Romans 10 says if we confess with our mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart God raised him from the dead we will be saved.

There’s just no getting around it, the Bible preaches salvation through Jesus, not religion or anyone else.  And through the ministry that began with our little group, 42 people who already attended a church, accepted Jesus for the first time.  Today, a church is forming, one that preaches Jesus instead of religion. That was just cool.

There’s more to say on the Personal side of things.  A new understanding of what worship is, what living by the Spirit really is all about, will impact the new year.  What about you? Hope you’ve had a good one, too.

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.