Thursday, 1 October 2015

When can the Second Coming of Jesus be expected?

A date for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ has again been (wrongly) predicted. The idea of "blood moons" motivated the predictions made by Mark Blitz as well as the proclamation by John Hagee that "something" is about to change. Although this plays into the hands of skeptics, it should at the same time motivate Christians to do their homework better. In this essay I present an outline of future events leading to the Second Coming based on good hermeneutical (interpretive) principles. I engage both the believer and the skeptic in the conversation. I also engage with current events.

It is now nearly 2000 years since the death of Jesus Christ. Christians believe that he was resurrected, returned to the Father in heaven and would one day return to earth. This event is called the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Since the time of the early church, this event has been expected in every generation. In our own time there are again many Christians who expect the return of Jesus in the near future. Was and is their hope futile? Would he really return as he has promised? Should we still take such prophesies serious or should we accept his non-appearance and (as Christians) develop other manners to think about those texts? Or is there a middle road according to which we might expect his return in accordance with the prophecies - using a good hermeneutical approach to construct an outline of expected prophetic events leading to the eventual return of Jesus Christ?

According to an old saying there are always two sides to a story. In fact, there are always more sides to any story. These often include misguided positions, which may become well-established but which are nonetheless ill-conceived. Insofar as we are working with texts, this refers to interpretations that are not grounded in good hermeneutical principles. The problem is to clear all the smoke that such readers produce on-stage and to present good, solid interpretations which would give us save passage through the clashing rocks on both sides of the waterway of life (just like Jason and his Argonauts at the entrance to the Black Sea).

On the one hand we find those who so often announce the imminent return of Jesus; on the other hand there are those from the Biblical Criticism tradition (although not all) who do not think that "prophecies" have any bearing on future events (for a detailed discussion of this view, see [1]) and try to ascribe new meanings to the idea of the Second Coming (maybe that it happens every Sunday during the church service). In this essay I present a view which accepts that Biblical prophecy regarding end time events would be fulfilled - but also that these things would happen in their own time. I give an outline of how I believe that future events will unfold according to Bible prophecy as well as how that relates to current events in the world.

Taking Bible prophecy serious

We have become used to Christians proclaiming the imminent return of Jesus Christ. Although the days of the Seventh-Day-Adventist's wrong predictions and expectations are long gone, there are new voices who have taken their place and proclaim that they have calculated the dates correctly and call upon Christians to prepare themselves. In 1988 there were many who expected Jesus's return since that date was one generation (40 years) since the restoration of Israel in their land. In 1993-5 there were others who did calculations based on the approaching millennium (the thousand years of Jesus's rule on earth) which was expected around the year 2000 and announced the imminent rapture which would take place seven years before that.

A few years later Harold Camping announced that the rapture would take place on 21 May 2011. In 2008 Mark Blitz pronounced that the Second Coming might be in the Fall of 2015, based on his readings of the four consecutive "blood moons" (lunar eclipses during which the moon appears to be red) which occur on Jewish feast days (four over a two year period; although three of these were not be visible from the Holy Land). John Hagee wrote a best-seller on the topic of blood moons. He was more careful and merely said that "something" is about to "change".

The last blood moon in the tetrad was on 28 September 2015. Although nothing happened on this day, we can expect that the vagueness of his prediction would allow Hagee to relate it to any important event that involves Israel in the next few years (It might very well happen that the tension in the Middle East boils over into a conflict that involves Israel, but one might see that without any recourse to "blood moon" readings! [2] Even if this leads to a third world war (see [2]), this does not mean that the end is near). We might expect that there would in future be others who take one generation (70 years?) since 1967, when Israel took control of the city of Jerusalem, as a reason to predict the imminent rapture.

All these predictions regarding the Second Coming of Jesus have one thing in common: They assume that the Second Coming can take place without other important prophetic events that precede it. When Jesus was asked about the time of his coming and the end of the world (Matt. 24:3), he surely mentioned various general signs which would occur with increased intensity just like the "sorrows" preceding birth (false Christs, wars, famines, pestilences, earthquakes, persecution), but he also mentioned some very particular events (see below). Jesus focused merely on those events that involve the Jewish temple since that was the context of the disciples' question to him. We can, however, include more such events when other relevant prophecies are taken into consideration. This would mean that we do not reject Bible prophecy due to all these false predictions; on the contrary, we take it serious enough to apply good interpretative principles to such prophecies. This would mean that all the important prophecies on this theme are taken into account as well as the manner in which they all fit together in the context of the Second Coming.

As expected, these wrong predictions provide critics with "manna from heaven" (I have seen some comments in this regard [3]). Throughout the ages there had been interpreters who developed interpretations which may be regarded as reactions against such misguided approaches regarding future events. Some of these scholars from the Biblical Criticism tradition believe that "prophecies" should only be considered in the historical context of the prophets. They do not think that we should expect any future fulfillment of such prophecies since those ancient people could, in their scholarly opinion, obviously not have known what would happen in future. In the context of the modernist roots of this discipline [4], the early scholars of this discipline believed that they had some "objective" view on those ancient times which allowed them to reject any possibility of divinely-inspired prophecy.

Although critical scholars might have such a view regarding prophecy, this is not the manner in which ancient Israel understood prophecy. I wrote previously in this regard: "The problem is, however, that the people of that time did believe that the oracles were God-given and this influenced their whole perspective on life. Once this aspect is removed, we do not arrive at some “objective” point of view – we arrive at a reductive view with no correspondence to the historical situation. The fact is that they held those beliefs. The prophet, as well as those who listened to him, believed that these oracles came from God. This was part of their worldview; it determined their whole concept of life and the place of major (especially catastrophic) events therein. This is the historical situation! [1]" As such they also believed that prophecies may have their fulfillment long after the life-time of the prophets (for a detailed discussion, see [1]). Although scholars might not believe in divine-inspiration, that does not exclude the possibility that the ancients were in fact right in this regard! 

In my view any scholar should be open-minded regarding metaphysical matters. We should not immediately reject interpretations which take the futuristic aspect of prophecy serious - the ancient Israelites and the early church held that view and such interpretations would at least be in agreement with their expectations. If we take the texts seriously (and not merely impose our own readings on it without regard for their views as the great philosophers Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur taught us), then such interpretations would be more in tune with the long Israelite tradition of interpreting prophecy than our own modern perspectives in this regard. Once we allow that such prophecies might be God-given and therefore refer to future events, we can study the texts in that manner. Then "futuristic" is not a swear-word; it merely refers to the fact that the Second Coming of Jesus may be taken seriously as something that would really happen and that would in turn imply that there may be various other related prophecies that would also have a future fulfillment in the period leading up to that event.

Discerning important prophecies about end time events

Although there are many prophecies that may be taken as referring to end time events, there are certain prophecies among these that are of special importance for the simple reason that they give a broad perspective on such events; they provide us with a general outline according to which end time events may be structured. In my view the most important prophecy in this regard is the one that we find in Daniel 7. I discussed this prophecy in detail elsewhere [5] and would not go into such detail here. Once we have such an outline we can relate all the other prophecies about end time events to that.

What is important about this prophecy is that it tells about the various great Middle Eastern empires which would rule over Israel until the time when "one like the Son of man comes with the clouds of heaven", who would receive dominion, glory and everlasting kingship over all the earth (Dan. 7:13-14). He would appear at the time when an Ancient of Days, who sits on a flaming throne, would render judgment (Dan. 7:9, 10, 13). If we take the divine-inspiration of prophecy serious and accept that Jesus refers to this prophecy in the context of his Second Coming when he spoke of himself as "the Son of man [who would] come in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Matt. 24:30), then we might view this prophecy as including events throughout history to the Second Coming (which has obviously not yet arrived; it would not happen in secret but with "great power and glory"). As such this prophecy might provide a framework in which we can allocate other relevant end time prophecies in which the same or similar symbols are used.

What is further remarkable about this prophecy, is that it has a twin: there is another prophecy in the Book of Daniel which agrees on each point with this one, even though other symbols are used (in Daniel 2). When prophecies are repeated in this manner, it accentuates that their outcome is sure (Gen. 41:32) as is also asserted in Daniel 2:45. In the vision of the prophet described in chapter 7, various beasts rose from the sea; in Nebuchadnezzar's dream in chapter 2 a metal statue is depicted - the four beasts (lion, bear, leopard and a dreadful and terrible beast that was exceedingly strong with great iron teeth) correspond with the four metals from which the statue was made (gold, silver, brass, iron). In both cases the last one is depicted as stronger than all the others, as a beast/metal which "brake in pieces" (Dan. 7:7; 2:40) and devour/subdue. The great beast had ten horns whereas the statue had ten toes. The "Son of Man" who came with the clouds of heaven at the time of the great judgment agrees with the rock which broke the statue in pieces and filled the earth. Both prophecies mention the "everlasting kingdom" that would follow.

I have previously shown (I discuss all the views [5]) that this prophecy has to a large extent been remarkably fulfilled if we take the symbols in the following manner (which is by far the most reasonable explanation): the lion/gold refers to the Neo-Babylonian empire (626-539 BC); the bear/silver refers to the Persian empire (550-330 BC); the leopard/brass refers to the Greek empire (of Alexander the Great; 356-323 BC) which was divided into four in the time after his death (323-63 BC etc.) in agreement with the four heads of the leopard; the great and terrible beast or iron which is depicted as stronger than all the others refers to the Roman Empire (27 BC- 476 AD) which was divided into two in agreement with the two legs of iron.

Roman Empire: divided in two

I argued that the two feet (made of iron mixed with clay) which came after the two iron legs but preceded the ten toes (made of the same), refer to two empires that came in the place of the eastern and western parts into which the old Roman empire was divided, namely the Byzantine Empire (306-1460 AD) in the east and the Holy Roman Empire (800-1806 AD; [6]) in the west - which were less powerful than the once mighty Roman Empire. In my view the iron refers to the Latins (Romans) and the clay to the Germanic peoples who lived (for the most part) to the north of the Roman Empire but later settled within its boundaries. Both of these were included in these empires, whose geographical areas changed a lot over the duration of their existence. Below is a map of Europe which shows both the Holy Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire at a time when the last was much reduced from its original size. Observe that these two empires included the core areas of the two parts of the old Roman Empire.

Holy Roman and Byzantine empires
The ten horns/toes would refer to an empire that comes after that but which has not yet appeared. These are "ten kings" who will rise from the (geographical area of the) old Roman Empire (Dan. 7:24) to rule over a single end-time empire (Dan. 2:42). After that an eleventh horn appeared between the ten other horns and grew greater than them; this depicts a great Antichristian figure who would persecute the saints for 3 1/2 years (Dan. 7:25) in the time directly before the coming of the Son of man with the clouds of heaven at the time of the great judgment.

We can now relate this to another important prophecy which uses the same symbols and clearly builds upon this very prophecy. This is the prophecy that we find in the Book of Revelation which also depicts a beast that appears from the sea. This beast is composed of the four beasts depicted in the vision described in Daniel 7 (see above). Again its ten horns are said to depict "ten kings" who have "no kingdom as yet" (i.e. in 96 AD when the prophecy was given), but who would have "one mind" and would give their power and strength to the beast (Rev. 17:12-13). The beast would be a great warrior-king (emperor?) who receives his power from Satan (Rev. 13:1-7). He would blasphemy against God and persecute the saints for 3 1/2 years. In the end he would fight together with the ten kings against the Lamb of God (Jesus Christ) during the last great battle (Rev. 17:14; 19:19). The description of this beast corresponds closely with the eleventh horn of Daniel 7. Both prophecies refer to an end time Antichrist which would appear shortly before the Second Coming (as is clearly said in both prophecies).

The prophecies of the eleventh horn of Daniel 7 and the great beast of Revelation (both of which refer to the final Antichrist) have an interesting detail in common. Both mention that this person will persecute the saints for 3 1/2 years (also called "a time [one year], and times [two years], and half a time [half year]", 42 months or 1260 days). Why this particular period? This period actually also figures in another important prophecy in the Book of Daniel about the final seven years (Dan. 9:22-27). I have also discussed this prophecy in detail and would not go into detail here (I discuss all the views [7]).

According to this prophecy (in Daniel 9) there would eventually rise "a coming prince" from the people who would destroy the city of Jerusalem (which happened when the Romans destroyed it in 70 AD) who would conclude a covenant for seven years with many. This "coming prince" is depicted as the opposite of Messiah, the "prince" [8]. In the middle of this final seven year period, this ruler would stop the sacrifices at the temple and set up an "abomination" in the temple which would leave it "desolate" (Dan. 9:27). This means that the last half of the final seven years - the final 3 1/2 years - would be an especially difficult time for Israel. It seems reasonable to take this as the 3 1/2 years during which the Antichrist would persecute the saints (together with Israel) in accordance with the previously discussed prophecies.

When the disciples asked Jesus about his coming and the end of the world, he also refers to this final period. Jesus said that the most important sign that the end is at hand, would be when we see the "abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet" standing in the temple (Matt. 24:15, see [9]). This clearly refers to the just mentioned prophecy in Daniel 9 according to which such an abomination would be set up in the temple. Jesus says that this would lead to very difficult times in Israel (and for the Jewish Christians living there). In fact, this would be the time of the "great tribulation" (Matt. 24:21). Then, immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun would go dark, and the moon, and the powers of heaven would be shaken, after which would appear the Son of man on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory (Matt. 24:29-31). This is when "the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood (!!!), before the great and terrible day of the Lord come" (Joel 2:31).

A summery of end time events

In my view we can from the short discussion above discern the following events in the period before the Second Coming [10]:

1) A re-established "Roman" Empire. According to the prophecy of Daniel 7 the "ten kings" (and also their leader, the final Antichrist) would appear from the old Roman Empire. Although this might merely mean that they would rise in the geographical area of the old Roman Empire, it seems quite possible that that empire itself will also rise again in some form and that the ten "kings" would rule in that context. One might expect that at least some politico-economic structure would be established in the geographical area of the empire before the ten "kings" appear - although the empire itself may only become established once a new emperor is appointed.

We have seen that the empires which were depicted by the two feet of the statue of Daniel 2 came to and end in 1806 AD (when Napoleon dismantled the Holy Roman Empire). As such the current EU project might be the first stage in the fulfillment of the next part of the prophecy (i.e. the ten toes; for a detailed discussion of the rising EU in this context, see [11]) and could lead to the formation of a re-established Roman Empire. EU is in fact rising in the geographical area of the old Roman Empire and includes countries from both the western and eastern parts of that empire. In my view such a future empire would, at least in its first stage, be a re-established Holy Roman Empire.

When the future development of the EU into a new Holy Roman Empire is considered, one should mention that Charlemagne (Charles the Great), the original founder of the Holy Roman Empire in 800 AD, was not only recognized as "emperor of the Romans" after the original Roman emperors; he was also considered as successor to the first Christian emperor and as such he was called the "new Constantine" (although the Holy Roman Empire was geographically restricted to the western part of the old Roman empire, the emperors of this empire were viewed not merely as successors to the Western Roman emperors, but to Constantine himself).

As the one who was the first to unify post-Roman Europe, Charlemagne is generally recognized today as the "Father of Europe". In his reign the name Europe (originally a girl of Greek mythology who rode on the white bull Zeus) became generally applied to the continent that now bears her name. After World War II Charlemagne became a symbol for the unification between France and Germany in the context of the developing EU, since both the French and German monarchies descended from him. Charlemagne is one of the most important personifications of the EU, together with the symbol of Europa riding the bull.

2) The rule of the ten "kings". This would be a very important signal that the end may be approaching. These "kings" would rule over an empire which would appear in the geographical area of the old Roman Empire; both parts of that empire (depicted by the two legs) would be included in the empire of the ten "kings" (the ten toes came out of the two feet which came out of the two iron legs). This means that at least the core areas of these parts would be included in the framework of the area ruled by the ten "kings".

Since Greece represents the core area of the eastern part of the old Roman Empire, I argued previously (in the context of the first Greek financial crisis in 2011, so far correctly [12]) that Greece would not be ejected from the Eurozone if the ten "kings" are to arise eventually from this structure (this might be regarded as preliminary confirmation of the validity of my eschatological model). According to the prophecy the ten toes were furthermore made of iron and clay - which I take as referring to the mix of the Romans (iron) and Germanic nations (clay) which came about after the old Roman Empire. This is why the eventual Antichristian empire may also include (just like the current EU) many European countries to the north of the border of the old Roman empire (countries like the Netherlands, Germany etc.).

The question is: In what manner could the ten "kings" rise in the context of the EU? The EU is developing a complex politico-economic structure which includes various levels of integration - very similar to the depiction of the "tower of Babylon" by Pieter Breugel (1563) which was included on official EU posters (see below). The levels of the current EU include a free trade zone at the lowest level, then the border-free Schengen area and then the Eurozone (countries who use the Euro). One might expect that an even smaller group of (ten?) powerful Eurozone countries would at some point proceed towards political integration within the framework of the EU and that the rule of the ten "kings" might in time appear in this context. The formation of such a political union would take time and one can think that eventually a "Council of Ten" (the "ten kings" of Biblical prophecy) could be formed in the framework of the European Council (this council includes the heads of EU states and the presidents of the European Council and the European Commission).