What’s ahead for us in 2011?
Will unemployment drop? Will Congress learn to work together or will there be more partisan bickering and stalemating? What will be the next technological breakthrough? Will our military pull out of Afghanistan? Will there be another terrorist attack on America?
Will Jesus return?
I know that last question seems out of place.
For one thing, not everyone believes in Jesus as a messiah figure or that he was raised from the dead. However, about 33 percent of the world’s population claims to be Christian. Seventy-nine percent of U.S. Christians say they believe Christ will return one day, according to a 2006 survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. Additionally, 20 percent of Christians in the United States believe it will happen in their lifetime.
Even the Apostle Paul believed Jesus was going to return in his lifetime. Though falling short of a prediction, his tone to the church of Thessalonica is clearly one of expectation. When many within that church started dying and Christ had not returned, a bit of panic occurred about the fate of these people and Paul had to address this in one of his letters to the church.
While there is wide debate over how the second return of Christ will affect the world, Christians generally agree that Jesus will one day return and gather the saints in what is sometimes referred to as the rapture.
However, one thing has mostly remained constant among Christians: few have proclaimed to know when Jesus would return and with good reason.
Jesus said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only” (Matthew 24:36).
So it’s a bit shocking to be driving down the interstate in Atlanta and see a billboard that reads: “He is coming again, May 21.”
These billboards are referring to the physical return of Christ. These billboards have also been placed in Nashville, Detroit and Omaha.
Allison Warden, organizer of the “We Can Know” billboard campaign, begs to differ. Her organization believes the Bible teaches exactly when Jesus will return.
“We want to encourage people to go to Scripture and investigate for
themselves,” she told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “All information in the Bible points to this date. God is going to be saving people right up until the last moment.”
Strange, isn’t it, that “all information points to this date” and we are just now hearing about it from this obscure organization?
Most of those who have predicted the date of the second coming in the past have either been fixated with numbers or with some natural phenomenon, which they interpreted as a sign from God.
For example, 500 CE, the first year with a nice round number, set in such a panic that Hippolytus and an earlier Christian academic, Sextus Julius Africanus, predicted Armageddon.
In 968 CE, an eclipse was interpreted as a prelude to the end of the world by the army of the German emperor, Otto III.
In 1005-1006, a terrible famine throughout Europe was seen as a sign of the nearness of the end.
Some believed that 1033, the 1,000th anniversary of the death and resurrection of Jesus, would be the year of his second coming.
Pope Innocent III thought 1284 CE would be the day of Jesus’ return, which he computed by adding 666 years onto the date Islam was founded.
In 1736, British theologian and mathematician William Whitson predicted a great flood similar to Noah’s for Oct. 13.
Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet, said, “I prophesy in the name of the Lord God, and let it be written, the Son of Man will not come in the clouds of heaven till I am eighty-five years old.” Of course, Smith never reached the age of 85.
The billboard says, “We Can Know.” Warden’s website says the Bible teaches we can know.
Not true. Warden has fallen into the trap of placing her faith in a system of numbers rather than in embracing the mystery of God. Jesus may return any day but it’s not our place to know when, only our place to live with our hearts in order and our spiritual bags packed.
Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.”
There’s quite enough plainly revealed in Scripture to live by without having to create a secret code and claim to be the one to have figured it out.
But if Warden and her organization is 100 percent sure they are right, then on the eve of May 21 they ought to throw a big party. They ought to have a Jesus countdown, sort of like the one America celebrates in Times Square. They could throw a Jesus party and invite all the poor, the homeless and the unemployed, and give away all their organization’s money (personal money too) since they will not need any of it after May 21.
That way, even if Jesus disappoints them by not coming, they will at least have shared the love of Jesus with a lot of people. After May 21 either the end will have come or their organization will have no credibility anyway.
This I know for sure: Christians will not gain credibility by trying to predict the date of Christ’s second coming, but by sharing his love to a lost world.
Michael Helms is pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson, Georgia.