Part V: Towards a Model of Prophecy
Nothing New Under the Sun
You’ve probably seen this scene – a bully grabs a smaller child, twists his arm, and starts punching him with his own hand. What does the bully yell out? “Stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself!”
Of course, the smaller child isn’t hitting himself, though he is being struck with his own hand. The bully is forcing him to. It’s an old joke, as old as it is cruel. Maybe Cain did it to Abel – “stop murdering yourself!”
If you saw this happening in front of you, you’d probably break it up, right? Any decent human would pull them apart. But if you pulled the bully and bullied apart, and the bullied child just kept punching themselves in the face, what would you think then?
The bullied punches himself for one year. Four five years. For ten years, thirty years – he’s not a child anymore, but he keeps hitting himself. One hundred years, two thousand years. There’s something wrong with this kid, and not just the fact that he’s apparently immortal.
It’s ridiculous to punch yourself in the face for two seconds, let alone two thousand years. And yet, this is what many Christians do when it comes to New Testament prophecy. No one is forcing us to get prophecy desperately and terribly wrong, harming our testimony in the eyes of the world, and yet we love to do it to ourselves.
I’m sure you already know some examples of this, or at least, I’m sure you can think of some. How many times was the world definitely certainly without a doubt supposed to end within your lifetime? How many “prophecy experts” had definite conclusive biblical proof that the Anti-Christ was living among us?
Unless you’re a newly formed zygote, you can probably think of a few. Within the last decade, we’ve had Ronald Weinland, Jack Van Impe, and Mark Biltz all fail publicly and spectacularly to predict the date of the Second Coming. Go back a few decades and you have books like 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Could Be in 1988 and 1994? (proposed subtitle: No).
And this is far from a recent development in Christendom. The world was supposed to end in 1972, 1935, 1901, 1891, 1861, 1844, 1700, 1673, 1533, 1370, 1260, 1000, 793, and 500. And that’s the short list.
But Christians have been getting the words of Jesus wrong all the back from the beginning, even in the Bible itself. Check out this exchange from the gospel of John:
Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?”
Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.”
Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?”
There were so many people who thought John would live until the Second Coming in the early church that John had to write in a note about how that wasn’t true in the Bible itself. This means that stupid theories about the Second Coming are older than the New Testament. In fact, given the timing of this conversation, it’s entirely possible Christians were formulating bad theories about the Second Coming before they were called “Christians” (see Acts 11:26).
Next: [BTT022] Doing a Better Job