Saturday, May 21, 2011

The (not so) end of the world

I've been reading a lot of asinine news lately: Girls Scouts are dissing their own cookies, parking lots are being blamed for flooding on the lower Mississippi, and the federal government thinks that borrowing money excessively is a means of paying its debts. With such insanity you might think the world is coming to an end. In fact, reputable news organizations are giving air time to an old man who says believes just that. If irrationality is a predictor of the end of days, maybe we should stand in our front yards and streamline.

Here are my thoughts:

Regarding the Girl Scouts: Surely two privileged American children know more about how to run national economies in Asia than the respective governments! Perhaps a palm orchard might displace an orangutan. It also might feed a family or a village in Thailand. It might pay for Thai children's education. It might even provide an alternative income to growing opium. Maybe some disillusioned Girl Scout troop will be forced, as a matter of principle, to sell heroin instead of cookies to raise money for their council. Of course, if the Girl Scouts hadn't taken a moral stand against partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, then the orangutan would have never concerned themselves with Girl Scout cookies. By my accounting, the little Girl Scouts' distasteful protest will save me $14 next year and perhaps $300 or more for the rest of my life. I'm done with Girl Scout cookies, but not for the sake of orangutang.

Regarding the cause of the Mississippi flooding: I wonder whether the reporter concerned about driveways and parking lots contributing to the flooding Mississippi ever considered that rain and the Army Corps of Engineers might be the real culprits. After all, the rains in 1927 and 1937 predated most of our parking lots. If the ACE geniuses hadn't tried to confine the river between levies, then perhaps this year's flooding might be minimal though widespread. I wonder if the oh-too-smart reporter compared the acre-feet holding capacity of man-made reservoirs ( not to mention the ACE lock and dam network ) in the Mississippi valley with the annual runoff from parking lots and driveways. I imagine we hold back more water for recreation than we add to the river from pavement drainage. However, this reporter thought this quote was newsworthy, "Every time someone builds a shopping mall in Illinois or Missouri, water drains to the river that would have formerly filtered into the groundwater locally." It's like rivers never existed before we built parking lots. Maybe it just rains a lot in the spring. I wonder if this environmental reporter considered that?

Regarding the federal deficit: Perhaps the US government buys into the "end of days" hoax and figures it might as well spend as much as it can borrow while there's still time! Maybe next week Congress truly humbled by their gullibility will for once seriously consider how to curtail wasteful spending.

Regarding the "end of days": A couple months ago, a good friend asked me for my opinion on the May 21 rapture hoax that Harold Camping is perpetrating once again. I told him that I would weigh in with my opinion by May 22. Considering Camping's age, I doubt that he's long for this world, but unlike the other asinine news, I don't find Camping very funny.

First of all, for disclosure, I haven't purchased nor read any of Camping's publications. I imagine they'll be on the burn table at the local Christian bookstore come Monday.

What isn't funny about Camping is that he makes a mockery of truth by using it as a premise for his lie. No one should take Camping seriously. Deuteronomy 18:22 says, "When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him." Camping's perpetrated his first Rapture hoax in 1994. It didn't come to pass, so Camping speaks, not from God, but presumptuously. We can safely ignore him.

In my opinion, the media gives Camping a voice because they see an opportunity to hold Christians in derision. Some people have obviously been deceived and deceived again by this man--that might be funny in a sad sort of way--but Camping isn't the only one selling a Rapture hoax. Over the years, Peretti and LaHaye have made a decent living by producing fictional accounts of an non-biblical eschatology. Ironically, they use fiction to promulgate their fiction--"Inception" fans might call it a lie within a lie.

Unfortunately, many Evangelicals consider Peretti's eschatology to be settled. They never evaluate what Scripture truly says. Some churches incorporate this non-biblical view into their statement of faith--as if believing in Peretti and LaHaye is the basis of salvation or true spirituality. Many churches teach what they call a pre-tribulation rapture, but in so doing they ignore or distort the words of Jesus.

Jesus will come again, but it won't be on Harold Camping's time schedule. Jesus' disciples asked him in Matthew 24, "What is the sign of your coming, and the end of the age?" And Jesus' answer contradicts Harold Camping's prophecy.
 4 Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.
   9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
   15So when you see standing in the holy place the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. 18 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 19 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 20 Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.
   22 “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. 23 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you ahead of time.
   26 “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.
   29Immediately after the distress of those days
   “‘the sun will be darkened,
   and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
   and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
   30 “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.
   32 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. (Matthew 24:4-33, New International Version)
While much of what Jesus reveals in this prophecy cannot be resolved without speculation, there are some important disagreements with the pre-tribulation rapture crowd. First of all, their is an important event, "So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains." Some Christians believe this indicates a future event. Others believe this prophecy correlates to the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of sacrifice.

If the event is historical, then we're currently living in what is referred to as the Great Tribulation. If the event is yet to come, then the world has has yet to see the "great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again." Jesus spoke of the days of distress being shortened. If the world has been experiencing the Great Tribulation for nearly 2000 years, then this seems contradictory.

Nevertheless, there is a common problem with both interpretations. Firstly, Daniel prophesied "seventy weeks", or seventy periods of time. Seven weeks (49 years), Daniel prophesied from the command to rebuild the temple to the completion of the wall of Jerusalem. Following the rebuilding of Jerusalem, Daniel prophesied 62 weeks, 432 years, until the "anointing shall be utterly destroyed" or "the Messiah shall be cut off." This time span correlates to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. These account for 69 of Daniel's 70 weeks. Regardless of whether you view the "abomination that causes desolation" to be the destruction of the temple or some future event, there is a delay in Daniel's time line.

Daniel prophesied three periods of time for a total of 70 years for Israel and the "holy city, to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place." (Daniel 9:24, New International Version) While the first two periods were contiguous. Daniel does not specify a starting time for the last seven years. Daniel's prophecy, unlike Camping's 1994 rapture hoax, is still pending. Camping has been proven presumptuous; we can disregard him. However, Jesus affirmed in Matthew 24 that Daniel's last seven years were yet to be seen. The question for us, is whether or not they are still pending.

Those who believe Jesus' and Daniel's prophecy of the abomination that causes desolation to be a future event look to Revelation 11 and 13 where John prophesies 2 periods of 42 months. Many believe that these 84 months comprise Daniel's last seven (84 months is 7 years). Revelation 11 prophesies the rebuilding of the temple, and Revelation 13 prophesies a 42 month war against believers by the anti-Christ. Revelation was inked by John after the destruction of Jerusalem, and both Daniel and John prophesy a re-establishment of the covenant. While it is reasonable to assume that while the destruction of the temple in AD 70 was a foreshadowing of the "abomination that makes desolate", the event is yet to come.

If the "abomination that causes desolation" is yet come, then the subsequent events outlined in Matthew 24 cannot have yet occurred. Paul told the Thessalonians,
 1 Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, 2 not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. 3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 , New International Version)
Paul assured the Thessalonians that believers would not be gathered to Christ until after the "man of lawlessness" is revealed. Furthermore, Paul said that this man would set "himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God." This correlates to the prophesies of Daniel, Jesus, and John. After this abomination that causes desolation there will be many false messiahs performing convincing miracles.

John prophesies 42 months of war against believers. Jesus says his followers will be betrayed and killed and hated by all nations. Daniel prophesies 3 1/2 years of desolation. Jesus says that nine things will happen immediately at the end of this period. We might not understand what they all mean, but they mean something:
  1. The sun will be darkened
  2. The moon will not give off its light
  3. The stars will fall from the sky
  4. The heavenly bodies will be shaken
  5. The sign of the Son of Man will appear in the heavens
  6. All the nations of the earth will mourn
  7. They will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory
  8. He will send his angels with a loud trumpet call
  9. They will gather the elect from the four winds.
We can speculate what Jesus means about the signs in the sky: the sun and moon darkened, the stars falling from the sky, and the heavenly bodies being shaken. We do know that we don't have to apply modern scientific definitions to Jesus words. When he says stars will fall from the sky, we can envision lights of some sort falling from the sky. But Jesus' words might have metaphorical meaning such as Isaiah's discourse on Satan in Isaiah 14. Regardless, we know that there will be an observable phenomenon just prior to Jesus' return.

I believe that Jesus is coming again, but from my reading in Daniel 9, Matthew 24, 2 Thessalonians 2, and Revelation 9 and 13 we're waiting for the restoration of Jewish temple worship followed by the revelation of the "man of lawlessness" or "the beast" or " the anti-Christ." We're looking for 42 months of the re-establishment of temple worship in Jerusalem followed by 42 months of extreme distress unlike anything the world has seen. When we see all this come to pass, then we can know that Jesus' return is imminent.

Some teach that Jesus returns in iterations; that is he comes for believers before he comes to set up his kingdom. Paul says in 2 Thessalonians that our gathering together to Christ is predicated on the events yet to unfold. Nowhere in Scripture does it talk about 2 returns. Camping, et al, believe that Jesus intends to rescue them from any real test of their faith. In contrast Jesus says, "the one who stands firm to the end will be saved." We can look forward to Jesus' return without disparaging the truth with unfounded speculation.

In the mean time, opportunistic teachers will continue to sell promote themselves above the authority of Scripture. We can safely dismiss them as if they're merely stupid news stories.