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Fall 2014: On the Threshold of the Third Millennium
Publish date: Mar 31, 2015
Summary: The following excerpt comes from "Christ and Antichrist in Prophecy and History" by Edwin de Kock.
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I - Calculating His Return Date
More than a thousand years ago, all Europe was gripped by a heart-chilling fear. Soon, too soon, it would be midnight, 31 December 999. Then, when the new millennium began-as was generally supposed-on the first day of January 1000, the world would end; for Christ and his angels would flash into the sky, to trumpet the judgment day with all its dreadful events.
Well, afterwards people were most relieved to find it had all been a mistake, and so they settled back into their medieval rut. And now another ten centuries have passed, and the world has once again gone through a year like that. Many thought that perhaps, just perhaps, in the course of anno Domini 2000, it would happen this time. But, as we know, it did not.
What was the basis for expecting the Second Coming in 2000? It is an old idea according to which the present world will last for seven millennia, or seven thousand-year periods, from creation as described in the Bible. Human history will supposedly fill up six of theses. Then Christ will come and set up his kingdom on earth for the final millennium. The whole period of seven thousand years is thought to be typologically related to the six days of creation, plus the seventh or Sabbath day, when the Creator rested from his work (Gen. 1; 2:1-3). The final millennium accordingly constitutes a thousand-year Sabbath for the planet.
In some ways, this is a beautiful conception, and we do not wish to dismiss it altogether. But it has slim support in the Scriptures, apart from 2 Pet. 3:8, according to which “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years.” Unfortunately it ignores the rest of that text, which goes on to say: “…and a thousand years as one day,” which refers to a similar thought in Ps. 90:4. Another problem is that Biblical prophecy normally equates a day not with a thousand years but with a year.
Setting dates for the Second Coming is most unwise, since Jesus made it clear that nobody should do so (Matt. 24:36). In any case, thinking of the year 2000 as a possible terminus for the world’s affairs was based on an arithmetical error. When members of the early church began to interest themselves in the time of Jesus’ birth, a few centuries had already passed, and so they miscalculated the year. He had actually been born somewhat earlier than they thought, anything from 7 to 4 B.C. The most commonly accepted date is 4 B.C., the death year of Herod, who sent soldiers to Bethlehem to have the little boy killed (Matt. 2:16).
Our Lord is already more than two thousand years old, and believers everywhere should have celebrated this momentous birthday in 1996. But there was no such party for him which brings to mind the night when he was born, neglected and unrecognized by almost everyone, except for a few simple shepherds and - a little later - travelers from afar.
But why, in any case, should human history end precisely twenty centuries after the Lord’s birth? Would His crucifixion and ascension not provide a more logical point of departure for such reckoning? But the Bible also does not say that these events are important for calculating the date when the Lord will return, for every such attempt - no matter what its basis - will lead to disappointment.
II - Time Setting
A spectacular example of time setting from the early 1970s was Hal Lindsey’s prediction of the world’s end, which, however, failed to materialize at the specified date. In The Late Great Planet Earth, this Dispensationalist foretold that Christ would come within a generation, about forty years after the founding of the Israeli state on 14 May 1948. Well, this did not happen, nor did all the other interesting things he wrote, for instance about the former Soviet Union. In The 1980’s: Countdown to Armageddon, Lindsey said that country would conquer the Middle East and Iran; but later China or even the USA, together with their allies, would destroy the Soviet army.
That, of course, is now impossible. The Soviet Union has broken up and disappeared.
When those two books by Lindsey came off the press, millions of people devoured them avidly. The Late Great Planet Earth was an international best seller, with more than thirty million copies sold in thirty-one foreign languages. A striking movie was also based on it.
This success has now been repeated by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins in their Left Behind series, consisting of a dozen narratives or more about events surrounding the Rapture and the Tribulation. A dust-cover advertisement hailed them as “the fastest-selling fiction series ever.” Much was expected of blockbuster movie versions, the first of which appeared on 2 February 2001.
The underlying ideas are similar to Lindsey’s, which is evident from Revelation Unveiled by LaHaye, a non-fiction work. A noteworthy improvement is that it avoids the error of time setting.
LaHaye has, however, retained the idea that Russia will seek to conquer Israel. For this, he thinks it is due to suffer destruction at the hand of God. He also maintains that Antichrist’s kingdom will be fundamentally atheist, with socialism as the “basic philosophy” of its government and economic system.
In Lindsey’s time this was still a plausible scenario, for the Soviet Union was both a Marxist and an atheist country. But these ideas are now outdated.
Russia has given up Communist socialism; it has also become a much more Christian country than Western Europe. As the Observer in Britain reports, it has to a remarkable extent returned to its old religion. About 55 percent of the Russians now belong to the Eastern Orthodox Church. Fewer than 5 percent are atheists, who are treated with contempt. Instead of Communism, Orthodoxy is taught in the secondary schools as well as in the army, and it is exerting an increasing influence over the state. Russia’s new national anthem even declares that it is a “holy country,” an expressing harking back to the days of the czars.
Dispensationalism, as taught in the works of Lindsey, Charles C Ryrie, LaHaye, and many others is highly popular among Protestants today. Few people realize, however, that events have already discredited it or that it is a variant of Futurism, a Catholic school of prophetic interpretation. Most effectively formulated by Francisco Ribera (1537-91), a Jesuit scholar of the Contra Reformation, it aimed at sabotaging the Historical School to which Luther, Calvin, Knox, and virtually all the original Protestants belonged - and to which we also adhere. Later chapters of this book will deal more fully with this issue.
III - Interpretations of the Prophecies
Another example of misguided time setting, in the early 1990s, resulted from Larry Wilson’s ingenious calculations, based on Jubilee cycles from the Old Testament. In his Warning! Revelation is About to be Fulfilled, he said the autumn of 1994 or perhaps early 1995 would dramatically unleash the last events, culminating in the Second Coming.
Wilson was originally a Seventh-day Adventist minister who had largely given up the year-day principle central to the Historical School of prophetic interpretation and adopted Futurist ideas. He foretold the granddaddy of all earthquakes, with a force beyond the measuring capacity of the Richter scale. This would, he said, be accompanied by signs in the heavens, with rumblings, peals of thunder, and lightning observable everywhere on the planet. Soon after this, a shower of burning meteors would start unquenchable fires all over the world, causing many people to perish.
Wilson dated this calamitous meteor shower as occurring in late 1994. He also predicted that it would shortly be followed by an even more horrific calamity: the earth’s collision with two asteroids, one to impact on the sea and the other to strike a land mass.
Well, 1994 passed and almost twenty more years since then. None of these dire events occurred, and so Larry Wilson like Hal Lindsey stands revealed as just another failed prophetic interpreter, who did not heed the warning of his Lord but misled some credulous people. It is, we repeat, unwise to give dates for the Second Coming – or even for the events that immediately precede it.
All the same, there has been an increase in lectures, articles, and even television programs about what may be lying ahead; for though Jesus warned against time-setting, the Bible does provide some clues to indicate that he will be returning soon.
The interest is not confined to Christianity. As Benjamin Creme pointed out at a New Age press conference in Los Angeles during 1982: “The Muslims await the Imam Mahdi. At the same time the Buddhists await the coming of another Buddha. The Hindus await the return of Krishna. And the Jews, as always, await the coming of the Messiah.” He himself was also expecting such a teacher to return on what he called the Day of Declaration.
Some New Agers believed that “before the turn of the century the earth will tilt on its axis, causing major catastrophes, killing the majority of people on Earth and destroying civilization as we know it.” According to this view, there would, however, have been a Great Evacuation through alien spaceships, in an event rather similar to the Second Coming. Well, the century has turned, and nothing of the kind has happened.
A prophetic evergreen that seemingly never fails to excite a certain kind of reader is the Centuries, rhymed prophecies of the French-Jewish astrologer Michel de Notredame (1503-66), better known under his Latin name as Nostradamus. He had dire predictions for the last few years just before the year 2000. Since those things have not happened, we can now safely also toss his book onto the trash heap of failed predictions.
False and sometimes eccentric interpretations of the prophecies about the Lord’s return can disgust a thoughtful person, who may be tempted to turn away from the entire topic as a waste of time, and yet we should be careful. Aesop in ancient Greece used to tell the fable of a man who repeatedly alarmed his neighbors by crying “Wolf, Wolf!” Soon they learned to ignore him, but one day the creature really jumped out of a bush and gobbled him up. As its fangs were ripping into him, he screamed and screamed, but no one came out to help him.
The Second Coming is likely to take place when almost everybody has ceased being worried about it, for in more than one place the New Testament warns us that it will be unexpected, sudden, and – on a planetary scale – an overwhelming surprise, like a thief in the night.
How to Study Prophecy
The Book of Daniel
First: Who wrote the book of Daniel and when? Traditional believers have never doubted that its author was the prophet himself, who lived in the sixth century before Christ. But liberal scholars disagree. The question has important implications for our study and therefore needs to be answered.
One evening in 1995, I was conducting a Bible class in Inchon, on the West Coast of South Korea, where I caught for a year as a volunteer missionary. Suddenly a theology student from a Protestant seminary objected to a time-honored explanation of Daniel 2. “This book,” he declared, “does not belong to the prophetic writings of the Old Testament; Daniel was not its author, for it originated less than two hundred years before Christ; and it was not, as you say, written while Babylonians and Persians were ruling the Middle East.”
Since the student was a Christian believer, these objections could, at least for him, be largely cleared up by a single Bible verse: “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)…” (Matt. 24:15).
Here Jesus authenticates the book by saying Daniel was a prophet as well as the author of the Scriptures attributed to him. Therefore, he presumably wrote them within his lifetime, while in succession Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Cyrus sat on the throne at Babylon, between 605 and 530 B.C.
Our Lord not only believed in Daniel, but also formulated much of Christianity in apocalyptic terms. He saw himself as fulfilling the prophecies of that and other books, which foretold his first as well as his Second Advent. Ernst Käseman is thinking of this feature where he writes, “Apocalyptic… was the mother of all Christian theology.” But, of course, there are readers – even theologians – who do not necessarily regard the words of Christ as sufficient authority for accepting the book of Daniel. For them there are also other answers.
It is true, as the Korean student pointed out, that in the original Hebrew Old Testament the book of Daniel is not published together with the prophets, but in the Kethuvin (“Writings”). To this we can add that Jewish tradition goes even further. Daniel 9:24-27 contains a prophecy to show exactly when the Messiah would live and die; it even foretells the destruction of Jerusalem that would follow. All of this found a perfect fulfillment in the life of Jesus Christ, but – according to a rabbi quoted by Alexander Bolotnikov – the Jewish Talmud lays a terrible curse “upon anyone who tries to calculate the 70-week time period.”
Yet the quibble about the placing of the book in the Old Testament, like the Talmudic curse, is irrelevant. Of primary importance is the fact that Daniel obviously does contain predictions. Are they true or false? The answer to this question depends on whether these prophecies were fulfilled or not. To determine this, we must compare them with historical events, which is what we shall be doing...
Some writers have sought to date the book of Daniel in the second century before Christ, rather than four hundred years earlier. Let us mention two of their arguments:
1. Predicting the future is impossible, and therefore certain passages in Daniel must have been written after the events that they pretend to foretell.
This is an idea dictated by unbelief, but – surprisingly enough – it frequently rears its head in theological seminaries. Its proponents begin with a spirit of skepticism and then proceed to build their logic on it. We shall demonstrate, however, that for God it is eminently possible not only to unveil, but also to shape, the future. Indeed, he explicitly claims that this is one of his attributes:
“I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure…” (Isa. 46:9, 10)
Many events foretold in the book of Daniel took place a few hundred years beyond the most recent date when the critics said the book could have been written. For instance, much of what was later the Roman Empire did not yet exist in the second century before Christ, and its Western portion broke up almost half a millennium after his birth.
2. There are historical problems involved in assigning Daniel to the seventh or the sixth century before Christ. Some names that occur in it are not mentioned by other ancient writers, and must therefore be dismissed as inaccurate; and the author probably lived in the Maccabean period, less than two hundred years before Christ.
For some specialists in Biblical studies, this is now an antiquated idea, which scholars of the 1800s used to parade to their own, considerable satisfaction. But, in the century since then, archaeologists have unearthed records from the very times portrayed in the book of Daniel, discrediting older conclusions based on Classical writers. These newer, more scientific findings confirm the Biblical account.
The tables have now been turned on those critics of the past. Some items in the book provide information that only a writer living in the Neo-Babylonian age could have possessed, since it had been lost by the time of the Hellenistic period, that is, when Daniel was supposedly fabricated.
Let us briefly illustrate this point by referring to King Belshazzar. Neither the Persian nor the Greek historians who lived after him mention his name. Because of this, the liberal theologians of earlier generations – preferring to put their faith in secular writers rather than in the Bible – were quick to assume that Belshazzar had never existed and the book attributed to Daniel was a fraud. But let us note Raymond Dougherty’s conclusion in his Nabonidus and Belshazzar. After an exhaustive study of many Babylonian cuneiform tablets in comparison with the Bible record, he concludes that “the fifth chapter of Daniel ranks next to cuneiform literature in accuracy so far as outstanding events are concerned. The Scriptural account may be interpreted as excelling because it employs the name Belshazzar, because it attributes royal power to Belshazzar, and because it recognizes that a duel rulership existed in the kingdom.”
Especially interesting is the following example of how accurate Dan. 5 is. Verses 16 and 29 use the expression “third ruler in the kingdom” to describe the reward that Belshazzar was willing to grant the person who could decipher the mysterious handwriting that had suddenly appeared on the wall of his palace, where he and his guests were holding their impious banquet. For many centuries these words puzzled the readers of the Bible. What could they mean?
The answer came through the discovery of cuneiform texts, which established that Belshazzar was not the official king of Babylon, but coruler with his father Nabonidus. The latter did not relish the administration of the empire, preferring other activities, especially his hobby of amateur archaeology – so he set his son on the throne, and then went off to Arabia, where he remained for ten years. Belshazzar was the second ruler in the kingdom; therefore, the highest reward he could offer anybody else was to make him the third ruler in the kingdom!
We can safely ignore the somewhat old-fashioned reasons trotted out by liberal theologians for rejecting the book of Daniel. Archaeology now upholds its antiquity and does not contradict its contents. As The New Bible Dictionary puts it, “The author gives evidence of having a more accurate knowledge of Neo-Babylonian and early Achaemenid Persian history than any known historian since the 6th century B.C.” and “it must be stated that the classic arguments for a 2nd-century B.C. date for the book are untenable.
Dear reader, the book of Daniel is as reliable as it is fascinating.
Comparing Scripture with Scripture
Now let us consider our second question: How dependable is the method of comparing Scripture with Scripture?
This is an old and exciting approach, and also a valid one, provided it is applied sensibly and with a little finesse. But liberal scholars, especially of the historical-critical school, tend to fault it. For this purpose, they also venture into the field of literary criticism – a risky enterprise for theologians, who usually know little about literature.
Comparing Scripture with Scripture is an excellent method precisely because the Hebrew poets and other authors who created the Bible were masters of metaphor, symbolism, typology, and similar structures. Their writings are rich in quotations and allusions that bind the component books of the Old and New Testament together into one harmonious whole. Many of those who regularly read the Bible and fully accept it as God’s Word may have little interest in this topic, which possibly reminds them too much of college English. Some, however, will find it absorbing. We think it is important for a deeper understanding of the Scriptures...
History and Prophecy
How is history related to prophecy? Also, just how much do we need to delve into the past to help us understand the prophecies?
Christianity began as a prophetic movement and is intimately linked with apocalyptic eschatology. The Bible foretells the careers of the Messiah and his great rival, Lucifer or Satan, together with the devil’s favorite sidekick, the Antichrist, from the beginning of time to the end of world. As McGinn has explained it, “The revelation given to the apocalyptic seer involves a sense of the totality of world history.”
But that is not all. History is not subsidiary to prophecy, just useful for demonstrating that the Bible’s predictions are true. It is also vitally important in helping us understand the dealings of God with nations and individuals.
For instance, the book of Daniel – like other Old Testament prophecies – reveals that the Lord decides who will rule, not only over individual countries, but over empires. It is God who “removes kings and sets up kings” (Dan. 2:21, RSV). But people are not automatons; they play a vital part in shaping their national as well as their individual destinies. To get the whole picture, we must therefore balance one Scripture against another.
On the one hand, government is in principle a divine institution. For this reason, the apostle Paul admonishes us: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Rom. 13:1, RSV). On the other hand, the Lord himself declares about the ancient state of Israel: “They have set up kings, but not by me: they have made princes, and I knew it not” (Hos. 8:$). What is more, the Wicked One, whom Jesus calls “the prince of this world” (John 12:31;14:30), actively seeks to shape the affairs of humanity. It is therefore unnecessary to think that Nero, Adolf Hitler, Idi Amin, and other human monsters were appointed by God himself.
The Bible teaches that “righteousness exalteth a nation” (Prov. 14:34), while wickedness brings decline and even national destruction. All this can be amply illustrated from the experience of nations mentioned in the Old Testament, including Israel and Judah. It is a law that has worked throughout the ages. According to Herbert Armstrong, Abraham Lincoln clearly understood this fact and applied it to the United States in his 30 April 1863 proclamation that announced a national day of fasting and prayer:
It is the duty of nations, as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God… and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord. …We have been the recipients of the choicest blessings of heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation ever has grown; BUT WE HAVE FORGOTTTEN GOD! We have forgotten the gracious Hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.
A significant discovery of this book is that one particular type of evil, religious persecution, is especially hateful to God and often brings calamity – even national ruin – on nations and empires that practice it. Not all punishment is reserved for the hereafter. Shedding the blood of those who sincerely serve the Lord (though in ways that kings or priests may regard as heretical) often entails the most fearful retribution.
After the persecutors have killed the martyrs, they often have to bury their own: thousands, sometimes millions, of them. We will show that this pattern repeats itself again and again throughout history, no fewer that ten times between the time of Christ and the present. It will do so again before he returns.
Nationally sponsored persecution follows whenever a state supports a particular faith in opposition to other forms of religion. This has been a frequent and fateful temptation for the rulers of Europe. Yielding to it, first the Western and then the Eastern Roman Empire ruined themselves, as the Catholic and Orthodox churches sought to exterminate the so-called heresies of the Ostrogoths and the Paulicians. After Charles V tried to eradicate the Protestant religion, the Holy Roman Empire suffered a similar fate: under the Habsburgers, its power was shattered, and then it withered away. Philip II, who had learned nothing from his father’s miserably experience, embraced the same fanatic ideal and launched events that ultimately reduced unbeatable Spain to a military nonentity. When the primacy in Europe passed to Louis XIV, he insisted on making a similar mistake: not content with the idolatrous cult of being the Sun King or the enjoyment of beautiful Versailles, he just had to lacerate the Huguenots, his most productive subjects. Thereby he drew dire consequences upon himself, his descendants, and his country. Magnificent France in some ways became a second-rate nation, and the monarchy all but expired on the guillotine.
Such and more examples show that mixing statecraft with churchcraft, if vigorously pursued and persisted in, is an infallible recipe for national ruin.
Through his prophets, a merciful Heavenly Father warns the rulers of the world in advance, so that they can avert disaster from their people by turning from folly. He takes no pleasure in punishing wrongdoers but in their salvation. He would greatly prefer the welfare to the decline or destruction of nations; however, they need to avoid the mistakes of the past. Sad to say, America the beautiful, much of whose present greatness resulted from its religious and intellectual freedom, will soon be facing the same temptation as other superpowers that preceded it.
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