The Folly of Date Setting
Why won't this scourge go away?
We are in the midst of an epidemic of date setting concerning the return of Jesus, and it is going to get worse the closer we get to the year 2000.
Satan knows Bible prophecy (Revelation 12:12). He can look at world events and discern from the signs of the times that Jesus is coming soon.
But Satan does not want anyone else to be aware of the Lord's soon return, so he is doing everything possible to discredit God's Prophetic Word. One ingenious technique he loves to use is to motivate very sincere people to set dates for the day Jesus will return.
A Satanic Trick
This approach appears to be paradoxical on the surface. Why would Satan motivate people to set dates for the return of Jesus if he does not want people to know that Jesus is coming soon? The reason is that he knows the dates will prove to be false because the Bible states that God alone knows when Jesus will return (Matthew 24:36).
Date setting diverts people's attention from Jesus to a date. It builds expectations that will be shattered by disappointment. That disappointment will, in turn, produce embarrassment and disillusionment.
The disillusionment is usually manifested in the development of an attitude of contempt for prophecy. The individual who was "burned" by putting his faith in a date, often backs off from prophecy and decides it is nothing but a playground for fanatics.
Another negative effect of date setting is that it promotes ridicule and scoffing by the world. The media love date setters. They focus their cameras and microphones on the date setter and let him hang himself with his date. When the date comes and passes, the media then laugh and scoff and do their best to paint Christians as fools.
The Numbing Effect
The worst effect of date setting is that it cools people's attitudes toward the Second Coming. It's the old wolf story all over again: If you shout "Wolf!" enough times when there is no wolf, people will stop paying attention to the shout.
Likewise, when there is an epidemic of date setting — as there is now — people stop paying attention to the dates and grow apathetic about the Lord's return. Then, when a responsible prophecy teacher comes along and says, "I don't know the date of the Lord's return; all I know is that we are in the general season of His return" — the apathetic and the burned-out respond by thinking, "Oh sure, I've heard that line before." And Satan sits on the sidelines and laughs.
Knowing the Season
What we need to keep in mind is that although we cannot know the date of the Lord's return, we can definitely know the season. By season, I don't mean a three month period of time like Spring or Fall. I'm talking about a general time period.
For example, Noah preached for 120 years that the people of his time were living in the season of the pouring out of God's wrath. People mocked him and ridiculed him.
Can you imagine what they must have been saying after fifty years? "Noah is a one issue obsessionist! All he ever preaches about is the pending wrath of God. Why, he's been preaching the same sermon for fifty years, and nothing's happened yet!" Some continued to laugh and scoff until they could tread water no longer.
A season for the Lord can be a relatively long period of time, particularly if it is leading up to the pouring out of His wrath, for He does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). The prophet Nahum put it this way: "The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, but the Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished" (Nahum 1:3).
Recognizing the Season
As we approach the Second Coming, we are nearing a time when God will pour out His wrath in an unprecedented manner (Isaiah 2:10-19). Jesus is returning to judge and make war against the enemies of God (Revelation 19:11). He is coming to pour out the wrath of God upon those who have rejected the love, grace, and mercy of God (Revelation 19:15).
Since God never pours out His wrath without warning, He is orchestrating the Second Coming patiently, taking the time to alert people to the need for repentance. He is raising up prophetic voices to call their nations to repentance, and He is placing judgments upon the nations to prod them toward repentance. He is also providing many signs of His Son's soon return through the fulfillment of ancient prophecies — like the regathering of the Jewish people and the re-establishment of their nation (Isaiah 11:10-12).
God is not interested in catching anyone by surprise with the return of His Son. That's why He has given us so many signs to watch for. The sad thing is that most people will be caught by surprise, "like a thief in the night" (1 Thessalonians 5:2), because they will refuse to read and believe God's Word.
The signs God is providing are found in both the Old and New Testaments, and there are a great number of them. For example, one out of every twenty-five verses in the New Testament specifically covers the Second Coming. But what is not so well known is the fact that there are over 500 prophecies in the Old Testament which also relate to the Second Coming of Christ.
A great variety of signs are revealed in these scriptures. There are signs of nature, spiritual signs, signs that relate to the nature of society, international political signs, signs of technology, and signs that concern the Jewish people.
An Area of Ignorance
Many if not most Christians have ignored the study of these signs because they believe that since "Jesus is coming like a thief in the night," it is a waste of time to try to interpret the signs to anticipate the time of His coming.
It is true that Jesus said He would come like a thief in the night (Matthew 24:42-43). But Paul later explained that Jesus meant this statement for non-believers, and not for Christians.
Paul makes this point in his first letter to the Thessalonians. In chapter five he says that although Jesus is coming back like a thief in the night, there is no reason for His return to surprise any Christian (I Thessalonians 5:4). Why? Because, as Paul puts it, "You are not in darkness, brethren, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all sons of light and sons of the day" (I Thessalonians 5:4-5).
What does Paul mean by this seemingly enigmatic statement? I think he was referring to the fact the when we accept Christ as our Savior, we are given the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Through the Spirit we receive the power to become spiritually enlightened. John says in I John 2:27 that the Holy Spirit can illuminate our minds to understand the Word of God.
In other words, Paul is saying in I Thessalonians 5 that we can know the season of the Lord's return because we have been given spiritual discernment through the gift of the Holy Spirit. For that reason, Paul says point blank: "You are not in darkness, brethren, for that day [the day of the Lord] to surprise you like a thief" (I Thessalonians 5:4).
But the spiritual discernment Paul is talking about is not gained by praying for God to zap us with it. It comes through the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we study God's Word. And because the study of prophecy has been so sorely ignored, many, if not most, Christians are going to be surprised by the return of Christ.
In Matthew 24, Jesus compared the signs of His return to the signs of a pregnancy. Think of it this way. You may not know the date when a pregnant woman is to deliver, but sooner or later, as you watch the development of her pregnancy, you will think to yourself, "That baby is going to be born soon!" Why? You can tell by looking.
Jesus said the sign pointing to His return would be like "birth pangs" (Matthew 24:8). Any woman who has ever given birth knows what Jesus meant by this remark. He was referring to the fact that as the time neared for His return, the signs would increase in frequency and intensity.
This is a crucial point that is usually overlooked. Thus, people often scoff at the signs by saying, "There have always been wars and rumors of wars and earthquakes and famines." Yes, there have always been such calamities, but they are now increasing in frequency and intensity, just as Jesus prophesied.
Peter tells us that one of the signs of the end times will be an outbreak of scoffing at the idea of the return of Jesus (2 Peter 3:3-4). We live in such times. The tragedy is that so much of the scoffing comes from Christians who are ignorant of God's Prophetic Word.
Peter also tells us that "God does not wish that any should perish but that all should be brought to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). That's why God has given us so many signs to watch for. As the prophet Amos put it: "Surely the Lord God does nothing without revealing his secret to His servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7).
Jesus condemned the religious leaders of His time because they refused to heed the signs of the times. On one occasion they came to Him and asked Him to perform a miracle to prove He was the Messiah. Jesus rebuked them severely. "You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky," He said, "but you can not interpret the signs of the times" (Matthew 16:3).
Jesus was trying to point out that although these men could predict the weather by reading the signs of nature, they could not interpret His significance by reading the signs of God's Word. What did Jesus mean by the "signs of the times?" He was referring to the fact that the Hebrew Scriptures contain more than 300 prophecies about His First Coming.
As I have already pointed out, these same scriptures contain many more signs about the Second Coming of Jesus, and those signs point to this day and age as the season of our Lord's return.
Living in the Season
I personally believe we have been in the season of the Lord's return for almost 80 years — ever since the beginning of World War I in 1914. My conclusion is based upon the fact that God worked through that war to begin the implementation of His end time program to regather the Jewish people and re-establish them in their land. World War I resulted in the land of Palestine (as the world called it) being transferred from the Turks to the British. The British immediately proclaimed it to be a homeland for the Jews.
But the Jews did not return in large numbers because they had become acculturated to the nations where they had been dispersed. God worked through the horror of the Holocaust of World War II to provide the motivation for the Jews to return to their land to create their own state.
The Old Testament prophets teach that the Messiah will come in triumph to reign over all the world at a time when the Jews have been re-established in their land and in their city of Jerusalem (Isaiah 11:10-12; Jeremiah 23:5-8; Ezekiel 37; and Zechariah 12).
The state of Israel was proclaimed to the world on May 14, 1948. The Jews reoccupied the city of Jerusalem on June 7.
Two Jewish Signs
Jesus emphasized the significance of these two signs in His teaching. He mentioned both of them in His "Olivet Discourse," delivered to His disciples during the last week of His life.
Regarding the re-establishment of the state of Israel, He told his disciples to watch "the fig tree," because when it blooms again, all the things prophesied about the end times will come to pass (Matthew 24:32-34). The fig tree is one of the symbols of Israel in the Hebrew Scriptures (Hosea 9:10, Jeremiah 24:1-10, and Joel 1:7).
The day before, while walking with His disciples, Jesus had spotted a fig tree with no fruit. He pointed to the tree and put a curse on it. The tree immediately withered (Matthew 21:19). This action was a symbolic prophecy pointing to the fact that the wrath of God would be poured out on Israel because the nation had rejected its Messiah.
The next day Jesus referred back to this fig tree and said to watch for it to rebloom one day. "When it does," He said, "the generation that sees it bloom will not pass away until all the end time events take place" (Matthew 24:34).
The fig tree bloomed on May 14, 1948. We are the terminal generation.
In the same discourse Jesus said for His followers to watch Jerusalem. "The Jews will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all the nations," He prophesied. Then, He added, "Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled."
Forty years after He spoke these words, the first part of His prophecy was fulfilled as the Romans conquered Israel, destroyed Jerusalem, and scattered the Jews worldwide. Jerusalem passed from the Romans to the Byzantines, and from them to the Arabs, the Crusaders, the Mamelukes, the Turks, the British, and — finally — the Jordanians.
For 1,897 years Jerusalem was under Gentile control. The liberation came on June 7, 1967. It is the surest sign that our time is short.
Can We Know?
The answer is, "Yes and No." No, we cannot know the date. Yes, we can know the season. Jesus is coming soon. All the signs point to it. He is at the very gates (Matthew 24: 33), and for all those who have studied God's Prophetic Word, He will return as their "Blessed Hope" (Titus 2:13) and not as a thief in the night.
We are in the season. We are living on borrowed time. Therefore: "Be dressed in readiness and keep your lamps alight. And be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master shall find on the alert when he comes..." (Luke 12:35-37)