Sunday, May 15, 2011

No One Shall Know

John 10: 1-10

ca. 2800 BC According to Isaac Asimov's Book of Facts (1979), an Assyrian clay tablet dating to approximately 2800 BC was unearthed bearing the words "Our earth is degenerate in these latter days. There are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end. Bribery and corruption are common." This is one of the earliest examples of the perception of moral decay in society being interpreted as a sign of the imminent end.
ca. 70 The Essenes, a sect of Jewish ascetics with apocalyptic beliefs, may have seen the Jewish revolt against the Romans in 66-70 as the final end-time battle.

2nd Century The Montanists believed that Christ would come again within their lifetimes and establish a new Jerusalem at Pepuza, in the land of Phrygia. Montanism was perhaps the first bona fide Christian doomsday cult. It was founded ca. 156 AD by the tongues-speaking prophet Montanus and two followers, Priscilla and Maximilla.

380 The Donatists, a North African Christian sect headed by Tyconius, looked forward to the world ending in 380. (Source: American Atheists)

Late 4th Century St. Martin of Tours (ca. 316-397) 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." (Abanes p.119)

500 • Roman theologian Sextus Julius Africanus (ca. 160-240) claimed that the End would occur 6000 years after the Creation. He assumed that there were 5531 years between the Creation and the Resurrection, and thus expected the Second Coming to take place no later than 500 AD. (Kyle p.37, McIver #21)
• Hippolytus (died ca. 236), believing that Christ would return 6000 years after the Creation, anticipated the Parousia in 500 AD. (Abanes p.283)
• The theologian Irenaeus, influenced by Hippolytus's writings, also saw 500 as the year of the Second Coming. (Abanes p.283, McIver #15)

Mar 25, 970 Lotharingian computists foresaw the End on Friday, March 25, 970, when the Annunciation and Good Friday fell on the same day. They believed that it was on this day that Adam was created, Isaac was sacrificed, the Red Sea was parted, Jesus was conceived, and Jesus was crucified. Therefore, it naturally followed that the End must occur on this day! (Source: Center for Millennial Studies)

1000 There are many stories of apocalyptic paranoia around the year 1000. For example, legend has it that a "panic terror" gripped Europe in the years and months before this date. However, scholars disagree on which stories are genuine, whether millennial expectations at this time were any greater than usual, or whether ordinary people were even aware of what year it was. An excellent article on Y1K apocalyptic expectations can be found at the Center for Millennial Studies. (Gould, Schwartz, Randi)

1033 After Jesus failed to return in 1000, some mystics pushed the date of the End to the thousandth anniversary of the Crucifixion. The writings of the Burgundian monk Radulfus Glaber described a rash of millennial paranoia during the period from 1000-1033. (Kyle p.39, Abanes p.337, McIver #50)

1284 Pope Innocent III expected the Second Coming to take place in 1284, 666 years after the rise of Islam. (Schwartz p.181)

Feb 1, 1524 The End would occur by a flood starting in London on February 1 (Julian), according to calculations some London astrologers made the previous June. Around 20,000 people abandoned their homes, and a clergyman stockpiled food and water in a fortress he built. (Sound familiar? It's just like the doomsday cultists and Y2K nuts of today!) As it happened, it didn't even rain in London on that date. (Randi p.236-237)

Apr 28, 1583 The Second Coming of Christ would take place at noon, according to astrologer Richard Harvey. This was the date of a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, and numerous astrologers in London predicted the world would end then. (Skinner p.27, Weber p.93)

1600 Martin Luther believed that the End would occur no later than 1600. (Weber p.66)

1666 • As this date is 1000 (millennium) + 666 (number of the Beast) and followed a period of war and strife in England, many Londoners feared that 1666 would be the end of the world. The Great Fire of London in 1666 did not help to alleviate these fears. (Schwartz p.87, Kyle p.67-68)
• Sabbatai Zevi recalculated the coming of the Messiah to 1666. Despite his failed prophecies, he had accumulated a great many followers. He was later arrested for stirring up trouble, and given the choice of converting to Islam or execution. Pragmatic man that he was, he wisely elected for the former. (Festinger)

May 19, 1780 On this day in New England the skies mysteriously turned dark for several hours in the afternoon, causing people to believe that a biblical prophecy had come true and Judgement Day had arrived. In reality, the darkness was caused by smoke from large-scale forest fires to the west. (Abanes p.217)

Chronolological outtakes taken from:

And so it goes. There have been significant predictions of the end of the world based on astrology, astronomy, Biblical interpretation, ancient calendars that run out, and clusters of floods and fires. There’s another significant one coming, one that is getting a lot of press, even to such news sources as NPR, because of the significant advertising budget spent by a group called There are warnings on the sides of buses, and guys wearing t-shirts in Times Square. It’s set for this Saturday. And of course there has already been one movie about the one most people think of, the running out of the Mayan Calendar in 2012.

I believe that Christ will come back, and that will be the end of the world as we know it. But that will be a good thing, because what will come instead of blood and fire, the tearing apart of families and communities, is the final victory of love; an increase of every good thing that we have in our lives now-family, friendship, music, health, sunshine and rain, cherry pie. We will not need faith because we will be in God in a way that surpasses reassurance. It will be simple truth. All evil will be eradicated, all those who hunger will be fed, all those who are naked will be clothed, all those who are abused will be healed in body, mind, and spirit, and all disease will disappear.

But I am not so foolish as to start to think I can predict when that will be. All of these predictions are based on interpretations of Scripture that are unique and singular-some person deciding they know better than the rest of the world. These are people who decide that there are hidden meanings to scriptures, prophecies that are only divined by one’s own insight. Even Martin Luther, even our own John and Charles Wesley, separately each predicted an end to the world. And these people, acknowledged giants of our tradition of the faith, got it wrong, too.

If you want scriptural warrant for the end of the world, who better to listen to than Jesus? And what does he say?

Mark 13: 5-8
Mark 13: 21-23
Mark 13: 32-33

We do live in a scary time, it is true. But all times and all places are scary to someone, and we are not exempt. Earthquakes happen everywhere two tectonic plates meet. Tsunamis happen. Floods happen somewhere every year. We want to seek understanding of our times, and be faithful, both of which are reasonable. But let us not lose our heads; Many have come and gone in Jesus name, and we are still here. And Jesus himself tells us than no one shall know the day or hour. So, in other words, like a house break-in, we won’t see it coming.

It seems like a great waste of energy to me, and is a distortion of the way of Christ, when presented to those who do not believe. When Christ says be prepared, this is NOT what he means! He means that we are to be ever striving toward stronger faith, and a daily walk toward a better imitation of Christ in our thoughts, words, actions and lives.

Who would you rather listen to? Harold Camping, this pastor who is predicting the end of the world on Saturday? Hal Lindsey? Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins? Listen to the voice of the shepherd; do not listen to the thieves and bandits. Take comfort in the words of Christ.

Praise band rehearsal is next Saturday night at 6:30. See you all there, and see you all in church next Sunday.

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