2016-06-30
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Excerpted from Charisma Magazine, July 1999

Are you ready for the end of the world? If not, beware!

Countless persons of diverse spiritual viewpoints are announcing Earth's imminent destruction.

Native American John "Running Deer" Eleazer, for example, says his spirit guides told him that the final years of this century will bring increased earthquake activity, intense hurricanes and a tidal wave that will engulf New York.

Roman Catholic Jerrie Castro claims the Virgin Mary is warning that humanity will soon be destroyed unless we repent. Psychic Gordon-Michael Scallion foresees a total restructuring of our globe's surface via end-on-end natural disasters that will culminate in 2001 with a catastrophic shifting of the planet's poles.

Christian prophecy pundits not only are riding this doomsday bandwagon, but also are driving it into the new millennium.

Consider a recent prediction by Jack Van Impe: "The Bible teaches that an antichrist comes to power [see Rev. 13:1], a world dictator...This world dictator could appear anywhere from now to 2003...It means Jesus is about to return, folks!"

J.R. Church, another end-time zealot, has announced, "Around the year A.D. 2000 should also mark the introduction of the seventh millennium [that is, the seventh 1,000-year period since creation], entering the predicted messianic times [Christ's earthly reign]!"

Intensifying these alerts are dire notices concerning the Y2K computer bug . . . .A significant number of those sounding the doomsday warning bell are Christians. Author Gary North says: "[Y2K] is a very big problem, worldwide in scope and without historical precedent, unless we count the Tower of Babel . . . ."

Historically, such statements have always left Christ's followers painfully disillusioned, while providing secularists with prime examples of religious extremism and Christian gullibility. Sadly, the church has again become the subject of ridicule, thanks to countless doomsday-obsessed believers who have exchanged the true drama of Christian life for little more than a cartoon sketch starring prophecy peddlers who are promising Christ's return.

Those of us who know better than to propose timetables for Jesus' second advent will eventually be forced to repair the damage done by these doomsday prophecies . . . .

Our Timeless Obsession

Discerning God's date for the apocalypse has been a Christian obsession since the first century when Ignatius (who died about A.D. 110), bishop of Antioch, remarked, "The last times are upon us." . . . .

Equally numerous have been predictions concerning the Antichrist, a figure [some] Christians believe will appear just before Jesus' return. Martin of Tours (who lived about A.D. 316-397), bishop of Gaul, wrote: "There is no doubt that the Antichrist has already been born. Firmly established, already in his early years, he will, after reaching maturity, achieve supreme power." . . . .

As the year 1000 approached, society's fascination with the "last days" mushroomed into widespread panic. In 964, Carlulaire de Saint-Jouin-de-Marnes, wrote, "As the century passes, the end of the world approaches."

Confirmation of this paranoia came in three unmistakable signs: an eclipse in 968, the end of the Carolingian Dynasty around A.D. 987 and Halley's comet in 989. By the 990s, apocalyptic sermons targeting 1000 were resounding from pulpits all across Europe.

Then, after 1000, a new date was embraced: 1033. This deadline was calculated by measuring a millennium from Jesus' crucifixion . . . . The uneventfulness of 1033 did nothing to decrease the Western world's preoccupation with Jesus' return.

Medieval and Renaissance doomsayers, like today's prophets, based their beliefs on various "signs" of the times. Omens ranged from papal coronations to famines to invading Muslims.

Astrological portents were especially powerful. When in 1179, John of Toledo said devastation would coincide with an 1186 planet alignment, Germans responded by digging shelters, and Persians built special cellars. Even the Byzantine emperor boarded up his palace's windows for safety.

The most potent sign, however, was the Black Plague of the 1300s. It killed a third of Europe's population -- 20 million to 30 million people. Survivors saw this pestilence as a perfect harbinger of the antichrist, Armageddon and the apocalypse. They were wrong.

Miller's Madness

By the 17th century, end-time obsession had traveled to America with the Puritans. In 1662, cleric Michael Wigglesworth penned a popular 224-stanza poem titled "The Day of Doom." The most famous proclamations about Jesus' return came from renowned Puritan preacher Cotton Mather. He thought Christ would return in 1697, but later changed his prediction to 1716. After that date, Mather pointed to 1736.

These prognostications paved the way for "The Great Disappointment," one of the most discussed date-setting fiascos recorded. It began in 1833 when Baptist minister William Miller started teaching that Jesus would return "around 1843," which was later refined to between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844. His following of 50,000 to 100,000 Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and Congregationalists - a group dubbed "Millerites" -- were extremely divisive and antagonistic, going so far as to stamp the "Babylon" label on any churches rejecting their message.

The media viewed the movement as one big circus. Millerite tent meetings, for instance, were often punctuated by wild behavior such as frenzied dance, fainting and screaming. Many Millerites threw away their possessions and fled cities.

Although many people abandoned the movement after Miller's deadline, thousands continued to anticipate the world's end. A new date was embraced when Millerite Samuel Snow discerned the "correct" day --Oct. 22, 1844 -- by rechecking Miller's calculations.

After Miller accepted Snow's computations, tremendous waves of excitement reinvigorated the movement. But on Oct. 22, 1844, joy abruptly turned to grief. "Our fondest hopes and expectations were blasted," wrote Millerite Hiram Edson. "We wept, and wept, till the day dawn." Miller left active ministry and died in obscurity in 1849.

Here We Go Again

With modern technology, the senseless ramblings of prophecy thumpers can now be spread faster and farther. Christians seem to care little that today's most prosperous end-time preachers have been repeatedly wrong . . . .

In 1988, Edgar Whisenant wrote 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988. His complex system of interlocking date-number calculations supposedly "proved" that between Sept. 11, 1988, and Sept. 13, 1988, the Jewish New Year, Jesus would rapture His church.

Christians nationwide flocked to bookstores for his end-time tome, which by September 1988 had sold more than 4.5 million copies. When nothing cataclysmic happened on Rosh Hashana 1988, Whisenant revised his prediction to Sept. 15. Then he changed the date to Oct. 3. Even when that date passed, he remained resolute: "The evidence is all over the place that it is going to be in a few weeks anyway," he told Christianity Today.

After his "few weeks" had expired, Whisenant claimed to have found a slight miscalculation of one year in his timetable. Consequently, Jesus would return during Rosh Hashana 1989! He published his discovery in The Final Shout Rapture Report 1989. This publication has been retitled yearly.

By 1992, [Harold Camping] was pinpointing doomsday. The founder of Family Radio, Camping wrote a 562-page book, titled 1994? Camping's work became a huge success, rising immediately to No. 4 on the Christian Booksellers Association's list of best-selling prophecy books.

On Sept. 7, the day after Jesus should have come, Camping acknowledged an ever-so-slight miscalculation and modified his deadline to the middle of the month. A few weeks later, he zeroed in on Sept. 29. He then named Oct. 2. This day was eventually adjusted to March 31, 1995, which Camping claimed still counted as 1994 per the Jewish calendar. Finally, Camping ran out of dates and went back to running his Family Radio Network.

"I Predict..." Camping and Whisenant stand in [the] company of modern date-setters who see our era as history's final century. At the forefront of this prophetic parade is Hal Lindsey.

His 1970 mega-best seller The Late Great Planet EarthThe Late Great Planet Earth. Its "updated" version, along with his recent books,  . . .  now says the former southern republics of the U.S.S.R., which are predominantly Muslim, will unite with Middle Eastern nations to attack Israel.

Not only has Lindsey had to backpedal from previous statements, he also has had to completely revise his timetables. In Planet Earth: 2000, he substituted 1967, the year Israel recaptured Jerusalem via the Six-Day War, for 1948. This alteration gave him another 19 years to sell his "biblical generation" theory.

During a 1992 radio interview, he was asked: "At what point would you say you are wrong?" Lindsey replied, "One hundred years leeway from 1948." Put another way, Lindsey will have to make an embarrassing admission only if he lives to be approximately 120 years old!

Another popular prophecy pusher is Jack Van Impe. He has been churning out nonstop rapture deadlines ever since publishing an April 1, 1975, newsletter, asking: "Messiah 1975? The Tribulation 1976?"

Van Impe even warned that the Soviet flag would probably "fly over Independence Hall in Philadelphia by 1976." He then implied that 1988 would bring the rapture; a subsequent prediction pointed to 1992.

This kind of number-crunching has harmed many people. For example, Van Impe's calculations about 1992 were embraced by members of the Korea-based Hyoo-go movement, causing thousands of Korean youth to quit college and high school. Several Korean women actually had abortions so they would not be too heavy to be lifted to heaven, and four Hyoo-go followers committed suicide . . . .

In the End There is nothing wrong with Christians looking forward to Jesus' return. We should pray for the apocalypse because doing so can bring comfort as well as hope.

But no one has ever benefited from the disappointment and embarrassment inseparably linked to failed predictions about "the end." We will never know when, or even about when, the apocalypse will occur . . . .Nowhere does the Bible instruct Christians to try to discover the timing of the apocalypse.

The Bible clearly teaches that the timing of Jesus' second advent is not nearly as important as the events that occurred during His first advent. First century Christians were constantly exhorted to keep their eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of their faith, not to attempt to discern the date for the rapture.

Today's saints might do well to spend fewer hours studying pointless conjectures in prophecy books and more hours studying Scriptures about love, kindness, self-control, patience and evangelism. If we use what time we have doing God's will, we won't need to be concerned about when the world might end--or how.

Not only has Lindsey had to backpedal from previous statements, he also has had to completely revise his timetables. In Planet Earth: 2000, he substituted 1967, the year Israel recaptured Jerusalem via the Six-Day War, for 1948. This alteration gave him another 19 years to sell his "biblical generation" theory.

During a 1992 radio interview, he was asked: "At what point would you say you are wrong?" Lindsey replied, "One hundred years leeway from 1948." Put another way, Lindsey will have to make an embarrassing admission only if he lives to be approximately 120 years old!

Another popular prophecy pusher is Jack Van Impe. He has been churning out nonstop rapture deadlines ever since publishing an April 1, 1975, newsletter, asking: "Messiah 1975? The Tribulation 1976?"

Van Impe even warned that the Soviet flag would probably "fly over Independence Hall in Philadelphia by 1976." He then implied that 1988 would bring the rapture; a subsequent prediction pointed to 1992.

This kind of number-crunching has harmed many people. For example, Van Impe's calculations about 1992 were embraced by members of the Korea-based Hyoo-go movement, causing thousands of Korean youth to quit college and high school. Several Korean women actually had abortions so they would not be too heavy to be lifted to heaven, and four Hyoo-go followers committed suicide . . . .

In the End There is nothing wrong with Christians looking forward to Jesus' return. We should pray for the apocalypse because doing so can bring comfort as well as hope.

But no one has ever benefited from the disappointment and embarrassment inseparably linked to failed predictions about "the end." We will never know when, or even about when, the apocalypse will occur . . . .Nowhere does the Bible instruct Christians to try to discover the timing of the apocalypse.

The Bible clearly teaches that the timing of Jesus' second advent is not nearly as important as the events that occurred during His first advent. First century Christians were constantly exhorted to keep their eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of their faith, not to attempt to discern the date for the rapture.

Today's saints might do well to spend fewer hours studying pointless conjectures in prophecy books and more hours studying Scriptures about love, kindness, self-control, patience and evangelism. If we use what time we have doing God's will, we won't need to be concerned about when the world might end--or how.

Not only has Lindsey had to backpedal from previous statements, he also has had to completely revise his timetables. In Planet Earth: 2000, he substituted 1967, the year Israel recaptured Jerusalem via the Six-Day War, for 1948. This alteration gave him another 19 years to sell his "biblical generation" theory.

During a 1992 radio interview, he was asked: "At what point would you say you are wrong?" Lindsey replied, "One hundred years leeway from 1948." Put another way, Lindsey will have to make an embarrassing admission only if he lives to be approximately 120 years old!

Another popular prophecy pusher is Jack Van Impe. He has been churning out nonstop rapture deadlines ever since publishing an April 1, 1975, newsletter, asking: "Messiah 1975? The Tribulation 1976?"

Van Impe even warned that the Soviet flag would probably "fly over Independence Hall in Philadelphia by 1976." He then implied that 1988 would bring the rapture; a subsequent prediction pointed to 1992.

This kind of number-crunching has harmed many people. For example, Van Impe's calculations about 1992 were embraced by members of the Korea-based Hyoo-go movement, causing thousands of Korean youth to quit college and high school. Several Korean women actually had abortions so they would not be too heavy to be lifted to heaven, and four Hyoo-go followers committed suicide . . . .

In the End There is nothing wrong with Christians looking forward to Jesus' return. We should pray for the apocalypse because doing so can bring comfort as well as hope.

But no one has ever benefited from the disappointment and embarrassment inseparably linked to failed predictions about "the end." We will never know when, or even about when, the apocalypse will occur . . . .Nowhere does the Bible instruct Christians to try to discover the timing of the apocalypse.

The Bible clearly teaches that the timing of Jesus' second advent is not nearly as important as the events that occurred during His first advent. First century Christians were constantly exhorted to keep their eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of their faith, not to attempt to discern the date for the rapture.

Today's saints might do well to spend fewer hours studying pointless conjectures in prophecy books and more hours studying Scriptures about love, kindness, self-control, patience and evangelism. If we use what time we have doing God's will, we won't need to be concerned about when the world might end--or how.

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