God's time clockAs promised, I begin an occasional series during the Interregnum on apocalyptic prophecy today.
When discussing Apocalyptic prophecies in Scripture, it is extremely important to remember the advice of the very first Bishop of Rome about God's time clock in II Peter 3:8:
But of this one thing be not ignorant, my beloved, that one day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
Peter actually spends much of this portion of his second Epistle warning against scoffers who would deny the Lord's coming in the "Last Days." Why would some people make such a denial? Because the Lord would so delay his coming that it would appear that during some of the worst trials and tribulations, the Lord wouldn't be coming at all. That has certainly proven true throughout the ages. People who had been believers in 70 A.D. came to lose their faith in some cases when Jerusalem was destroyed and the Lord did not return. A lot of Christians lost their faith during the reign of Nero, when so many were martyred and the Church underwent persecutions that have since been unheard of. Still no return of Jesus. Many scoffed at the notion of the Second Coming when the Roman Empire fell in the West in 476, an event that led the West into a period of social and cultural chaos, but the Lord still tarried on without bringing things to the Consummation. When the Black Death raged across Christendom like a fire that no one could control for almost 300 years, many expected Christ to return at any moment. He didn't do so. Many were heartbroken. You might say "but all the signs weren't there yet." They certainly were to those folks. They knew enough ancient Christian prophecy to know, for example, what our Lord said about the last days in Matthew 24. It all certainly looked like it was coming true before their eyes. Peter even throws us a Last Days curveball in I Peter 4:7 when he says:
But the end of all is at hand. Be prudent therefore and watch in prayers.
Sounds like Peter himself believed he was living in the Last Days! Was Peter wrong, or was he indeed living in the "Last Days," as are we?
In II Thessalonians 2:3 Paul warns:
Let no man deceive you by any means: for unless there come a revolt first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition
The KJV renders "revolt" as "falling away."
Many people living in the first 300 years after Christ thought the Arian Heresy was the falling away, some even thought Arius would turn out to be the Antichrist. It is easy to see why they would think this, because denying the Divinity of Christ is certainly a "revolt" or a "falling away." Some Christians in 1054 believed the Great Schism was the "revolt" Paul spoke of. A very valid interpretation indeed, considering that the Church prior to 1054 was a completely united body of believers, and then all of a sudden, the Church becomes split into Eastern and Western factions. Some Catholics thought the Protestant Reformation was the "falling away." Again, it would be very easy to accept such an interpretation if you are living during that time period. Then, in our own day, we see the apostacy taking place on a wide scale within Christendom, and we say that we indeed are living in the age of the Great Falling Away. Were these previous generations of believers less privy to the Holy Spirit than we are?
Some of you are reading this and asking: "Dave, are you saying that we don't need to be concerned with Bible prophecy?" Au contrere, mon frere! We DO need to be concerned with Bible prophecy and we need to be able to take an objective look at it. The fact of the matter is that many prophecies of scripture have more than one meaning, and in some cases, they have multiple meanings. This tendency for believers to always think that the Coming of the Lord is imminent because "the signs point to it" is something Our Lord himself warned about in Acts 1:7:
It is not for you to know the time or seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.
In Matthew 24:38-39 Jesus warns:
For, as in the days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, even till that day in which Noe entered into the ark: And they knew not till the flood came and took them all away: so also shall the coming of the Son of man be.
In verse 44 Jesus says:
Wherefore be you also ready, because at what hour you know not, the Son of man will come.
In other words, Jesus will come when we LEAST expect it, not when we're looking for it. Does that mean we can just ignore prophecies about a falling away, about the Antichrist, and about what it will be like in the time before the Second Coming of Christ? Of course not! Our Lord WILL come again. That is not something we've made up, it is a reality. There WILL be a "cosmic upheaval" as the Catechism calls it, which we might call the Tribulation of the End, and we didn't just make that up. But these prophecies often do carry multiple meanings, and we need to look out for that before we pronounce the End unilaterally upon ourselves.