From the Renovaré Newsletter Archive

The selection below is from a November 1995 Renovaré newsletter. Download a PDF of the original newsletter.

Dear Friends,

I write to you today out of pas­toral con­cern. As the year 2000 draws near, we are see­ing more and more end-time sce­nar­ios as apoc­a­lyp­tic zeal ris­es to fever pitch. There were ear­ly-bird pre­dic­tions: Edgar C. Whisenan­t’s 88 Rea­sons Why the Rap­ture Will Be In 1988 and a fol­low-up book The Final Shout: Rap­ture Report 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993 … sold sev­er­al mil­lion copies; South Kore­an Lee Jang Rim con­vinced fol­low­ers around the globe that Christ would return in Octo­ber, 1992; and on the air and in his book, 1994, the pop­u­lar Amer­i­can radio Bible teacher Harold Camp­ing tar­get­ed Sep­tem­ber 6 as the date for the final trump.

But the year 2000* is right now favored by most proph­esy preach­ers — though it isn’t clear whose cal­en­dar we are sup­posed to fol­low or why God favors round num­bers! (Two heavy hit­ters on the apoc­a­lyp­tic scene have recent­ly weighed in with their con­tri­bu­tions to the sub­ject: Hal Lind­sey with Plan­et Earth — 2000 A.D. and Pat Robert­son with The End of the Age, a nov­el which is con­ve­nient­ly set in the year 2000.

All of this is big busi­ness today in Chris­t­ian book stores and at the Chris­t­ian Book­sellers Con­ven­tion. And in the gen­er­al pub­lic, a recent prime-time series on ancient prophe­cies warned that futur­ists from Nos­tradamus to Edgar Cayce have tar­get­ed the year 2000 for the end of the world.

We are today awash in a sea of apoc­a­lyp­tic tabloid books. Not since the Mil­lerite move­ment a cen­tu­ry and a half ago has there been such a feed­ing fren­zy over the end of the world. We can only expect it to increase.

We could let all this pass with­out com­ment except for two impor­tant factors:

One, apoc­a­lyp­tic spec­u­la­tion demeans the ever­last­ing gospel of Jesus Christ. The church is con­stant­ly doing dam­age con­trol as the pre­dic­tions of these self-appoint­ed prophets fall into pub­lic ridicule.

Two, it is con­fus­ing to many sin­cere peo­ple who want to be faith­ful dis­ci­ples of Christ. Good peo­ple become side­tracked from the sub­stan­tive issue of con­tin­u­ing to grow in grace into fool­ish con­jec­tures about when the Rap­ture will occur, where the Antichrist will be born, and the like.

GAIN­ING PERSPECTIVE

End-times spec­u­la­tions are noth­ing new. A lit­tle his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive may be help­ful. Con­sid­er the fol­low­ing sampling:

  • In the sec­ond and third cen­turies Chil­iasm (a name based on the Greek word in Rev. 20:3 which denotes the num­ber 1000) pre­dict­ed an ear­ly return of Christ and a mil­len­ni­al reign in Jerusalem. One leader in Pon­tius declared that the last judge­ment would come in two years, and his fol­low­ers ceased to cul­ti­vate their fields and got rid of hous­es and goods. Anoth­er leader in Syr­ia led his flock out into the wilder­ness to meet Christ.
  • Sec­ond-cen­tu­ry Mon­tanists proph­e­sied that there would be an ear­ly end to the world, that the New Jerusalem would come down out of heav­en from God,” and that Jesus’ Sec­ond Com­ing would occur at Pepuza, a vil­lage in the Phry­gian region of Asia Minor.
  • Dooms­day hys­te­ria erupt­ed around the year 1000 as wan­der­ing her­mit mes­si­ahs fanned into flame the hopes of mar­gin­al­ized peo­ples. When Jesus did not return, the peo­ple’s expec­ta­tions were dashed, and they were left in even greater mis­ery and despair.
  • Ger­ard of Poehlde was con­vinced that the 1000-year reign of Christ had begun with the ascent of Con­stan­tine to pow­er, and so in 1147 he pre­dict­ed that Satan would be released soon from bondage and would con­quer the Church.
  • The rad­i­cal reformer Hans Hut pre­dict­ed the return of Christ at Pen­te­cost, 1528, and set about gath­er­ing 144,000 elect saints to pre­pare for this event. Anoth­er self-styled prophet, Mel­chior Hoff­mann, set 1534 as the date and Stas­bourg as the place for Christ’s return. Both of these men died in prison with their prophe­cies unful­filled and their dis­ci­ples disillusioned.
  • Apoc­a­lyp­tic pas­sion fueled the Cru­sades, leav­ing a lega­cy of hate and sus­pi­cion that has last­ed well into the twen­ti­eth century.
  • In 1661 The Fifth Monar­chy Men” tried to has­ten Jesus’ Sec­ond Com­ing by attack­ing the restored Stu­art monar­chy. This they felt would prove to God that there was faith on the earth” and so Christ would return and estab­lish his mil­len­ni­al reign in Lon­don. The sor­ry affair failed, and with the per­pe­tra­tors jailed or behead­ed, the move­ment fizzled.
  • Post­mil­len­ni­al schemes were advanced by eigh­teenth-cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can colo­nial lead­ers like Jonathan Edwards and Tim­o­thy Dwight. In the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry Charles Finney was con­vinced that if peo­ple were unit­ed all over the world, the mil­len­ni­um might be brought about in three months.”
  • William Miller, founder of the Sev­enth-Day Adven­tists, fol­low­ing a painstak­ing study of Bible prophe­cies, declared that Christ would return in 1843. When that date passed with­out the expect­ed Sec­ond Advent, he recal­cu­lat­ed his data and set the date in 1844. Fol­low­ers sold goods and prop­er­ties and sat on a hill, wait­ing for an event that nev­er occurred. You can imag­ine the result­ing disillusionment.

COUN­SELS FOR TODAY

In light of his­to­ry and the con­tem­po­rary apoc­a­lyp­tic fer­vor, I offer these counsels.

  1. Hold high the blessed hope” of Jesus’ return. It is too pre­cious a doc­trine to be co-opt­ed by self­pro­claimed prophets who lack train­ing in his­tor­i­cal the­ol­o­gy and bib­li­cal inter­pre­ta­tion. Christ’s parou­sia has always been and will always be the expec­tant hope of the peo­ple of God. Jesus’ words are clear, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3).
  2. Reject the fal­la­cy of date set­ting and place set­ting. Friends, there sim­ply is no count­down to Armaged­don.” The future is con­tin­gent upon the give-and-take of God’s ini­tia­tive and our response. Faith, not some arti­fi­cial cal­en­dar scheme, is the cat­a­lyst for Divine prov­i­dence. God is patient, not want­i­ng any to per­ish, but all to come to repen­tance” (2 Pet. 3:9). Jesus was clear that before his return the gospel must go forth into every eth­nic group, and we can nev­er know what is ful­ly implied by the com­ple­tion of the Great Com­mis­sion.” Who knows but that God is hold­ing back the parou­sia in order to bring in peo­ples you and I know noth­ing about. Maybe he is wait­ing for you or one you love to come into faith!
  3. Get some sol­id edu­ca­tion in escha­to­log­i­cal lan­guage. For exam­ple, many today use the phrase the last days” as if this peri­od start­ed a week from last Fri­day and will end with­in a few short years. In bib­li­cal usage the term the last days” refers to the peri­od from the com­ing of the Spir­it at Pen­te­cost to the Sec­ond Com­ing of Christ. At Pen­te­cost when Peter quot­ed the prophet Joel, In the last days …”, we see phe­nom­e­na that cov­ers both what hap­pened at Pen­te­cost — I will pour out my Spir­it upon all flesh” — and what will occur at the end of the age — the sun shall be turned to dark­ness and the moon to blood” (Acts 2:17 – 21). It is all the last days.” We have been in the last days for near­ly 2000 years now, and none of us knows whether it will con­tin­ue on for two years or two thou­sand years or two mil­lion years. Some basic edu­ca­tion in apoc­a­lyp­tic lit­er­a­ture will go a long way in help­ing you dis­tin­guish good inter­pre­ta­tion of the text of Scrip­ture from holy baloney.”
  4. Avoid mix­ing nation­al­is­tic myths with the ever­last­ing gospel of the King­dom. Have you noticed how many end-time sce­nar­ios give favored sta­tus to the Unit­ed States? Or demo­nize ene­my nations? With the fall of com­mu­nism the well­worn asso­ci­a­tion of Gog with Rus­sia is no longer viable and so proph­esy preach­ers are scram­bling to find alter­na­tives. Islam­ic coun­tries are favorite tar­gets. Is Sad­dam Hus­sein the Antichrist?” is the sort of pop­u­lar ser­mon title that is used today. Who will it be tomor­row? I plead with you, do not be a part of this mis­guid­ed nation­al­is­tic fervor.
  5. My final coun­sel is espe­cial­ly direct­ed toward Chris­t­ian lead­ers. Please, for God’s sake, refuse to exploit the hopes and fears of your peo­ple with spec­u­la­tive prophe­cy preach­ing. Don’t weak­en the gospel by tick­ling the ears of your peo­ple with the lat­est apoc­a­lyp­tic scheme. Reck­less end-times sce­nar­ios have always been coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. They only lead to dis­il­lu­sion­ment and cyn­i­cism. And they dis­cred­it the gospel of Jesus Christ. Oth­ers may exploit this hot top­ic for their own gain, but don’t you do it. Stay faith­ful to your call­ing. Preach Christ risen and present among his peo­ple. Preach the king­dom of God here, now, and com­ing. Make escha­to­log­i­cal hope a foun­da­tion for faith­ful liv­ing and grow­ing con­for­mi­ty to Christ, not an escape from dis­ci­ple­ship. Stout­ly refuse to demean the gospel by mix­ing hope of the Sec­ond Com­ing with reck­less speculation.

A TRUST­WOR­THY MODEL

In the fourth cen­tu­ry St. Augus­tine opposed the prophet­ic lit­er­al­ism of Chil­iasm. Instead of the immi­nent, mate­r­i­al, mil­len­ni­al king­dom of Chil­iasm, he helped his peo­ple see the City of God.” Out of pas­toral con­cern he taught them that the king­dom of God was already a present real­i­ty among them in the com­mu­ni­ty of faith and that its full con­sum­ma­tion will come in God’s time and in God’s way in the blessed hope” of Christ’s return. Augustine’s wise, sen­si­ble, bib­li­cal vision won the day and influ­enced the Church for cen­turies to come. May some­thing of that same faith-filled sen­si­bil­i­ty arise today.

Peace and joy,

Richard J. Foster

Text First Published November 1995 · Last Featured on Renovare.org May 2022

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