Phil Congdon, New Braunfels Bible Church, August 27, 2015
One ‘constant’ in church history is the appearance of religious leaders who pronounce the imminent end of the world. Some sects, like the Watchtower Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) and Seventh-Day Adventists, boldly predicted the return of Christ, then explained why nothing happened – and survive to this day. Others within mainstream Christianity have predicted Jesus’ return was just around the corner: Ed Whisenant sold 4.5 million copies of his 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988…and who can forget the “Y2K” scare?
Earlier this year, San Antonio television pastor John Hagee published a book and produced a movie declaring that four blood moons signaled an imminent catastrophic change in the world – the hint being that this could be the rapture. Now Johnathan Cahn, a Messianic Rabbi from New Jersey, has become famous for his books The Harbinger, and more recently The Mystery of the Shemitah. Why are so many Christians taken in by this? How should we respond to the seemingly endless line of ‘Christian’ leaders announcing impending doom and the return of Christ?
First, while I wish Christians would be more careful about believing what prophetic preachers say, I’m glad so many are anxiously looking forward to the return of Christ! Almost 2000 years ago, the Apostle Paul wrote that we should be “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (Titus 2.13), and at the end of the Book of Revelation, Jesus announces, “I am coming quickly,” to which John replies, “Even so come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22.20). In Matthew 24, Jesus gives signs that will signal the end of the age, and His return to reign. We should be looking forward to that day!
But we should be careful. If history teaches us anything, it’s that Christians are gullible. Religious hucksters have been marketing their ‘snake oil’ for centuries, and too many of us are buying it! Why? Simply because, as Jesus Himself said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Matt.24.36). It’s a mystery…and we all love unraveling mysteries! But while we can look for signs, our motivation should not be to win an argument, or create a following of people who agree with our prediction, but to be ready – that is, to be living our lives for Christ, using our time, our talents, and our treasure to bring as many people to faith in Christ as possible. So if you enjoy reading prophetic writings, go ahead, but don’t try to start a movement! Instead, tell someone about Jesus, who died for their sin, rose from the dead, and is coming again!
How should we respond to things like the ‘four blood moons’ and ‘Shemita’ theories? With healthy skepticism! Too often, these are a distraction that actually serves the purposes of our enemy, instead of promoting a greater joy and appreciation for the grace of God. Since the ‘mystery of the Shemita’ is the most recent entry into this prophetic arena, here’s my assessment: It’s a mixture of some Old Testament verses with a lot of unfounded speculation about how some Bible prophecy points to something going on today.
When Rabbi Cahn applies Old Testament laws to us today – as if we are going to be judged because we fail to obey them – he ignores that we are no longer under the law. Like so many ‘Messianic Rabbis’ today, he wants to impose some of the law on us, but not all (none of them are calling for us to bring sacrifices!). Worse, when he calls America “the Israel of the new world,” he betrays a lack of faithfulness to God’s original prophetic revelation of God. You cannot replace “Israel” with “America,” and then ‘plug in’ prophecies that fit with the latest world events. God’s prophecies to Israel and for Israel will be fulfilled by Israel, in God’s time.
More than anything, most of this prophetic ‘scare-mongering’ just grieves me…because it distracts us from ‘pursuing holiness’ (Heb 12.14), ‘walking by the Spirit’ (Gal 5.16), ‘looking forward to our our blessed hope’ (Titus 2.13), and being ‘ambassadors for Christ’ (2 Cor 5.20). Instead of viewing ourselves as ‘more than conquerors through Him who loved us’ (Rom. 8.37), we are alarmed by sensational predictions of judgment, socio-political solutions, and personal survival.
Frankly, I don’t need any theories about the Shemita – or blood moons, or Islamic imams, or even the 70 weeks of Daniel – to know our nation is coming under the sovereign wrath of God. God makes it clear in Scripture, both for Israel (2 Chron 7.13-14) and other nations (eg. Nineveh, Jonah 3), that sin leads to an outpouring of God’s wrath (Rom 1.18ff).
The ONLY answer to the problem of sin in our age is the gospel of Jesus Christ; every believer receives the Holy Spirit, and the enablement to live a victorious life in the midst of a world that is under Satan’s power (1 Jn 5.19). Keep telling people about Jesus!