One of my treasured childhood memories is of trips taken to the farm home of my grandparents in upper Michigan. Old barns smelling of leather harnesses and farm animals are a great source of fascination to small boys with big imaginations. Those were pre-television days, so evenings were spent on the porch or in the living room listening to adults talk to one another.
I remember that there was always a considerable amount of conversation about crops and whether they would be good or would fail. Farmers seem to hang by economic threads; thus, there was always a fear of impending disaster come September. Great expectations born of balmy days in spring might be quite another matter in the chill mornings of the inevitable September.
It seems to me that there may be a parallel to this among the people who dare to set dates for the Lord’s coming. A plethora of possible dates has been offered in recent years, I suppose due to the fact that the year 2000 is not far off. The pattern seems to be the same. There is a ripple of excitement among adherents of a teacher or preacher who discovers a surefire formula for knowing the date of the Rapture or Second Coming. Most, of course, do not believe what their revered teacher espouses and raise dire warnings about the consequences of being wrong. Early on, such comments are met with some degree of scorn, and the nonbelievers are chided for not being in on the truth. As the days wear on, however, enthusiasm wanes somewhat, and some of the faithful begin to waver a bit. This is evidenced when one begins to see question marks drawn by magic markers on bumper stickers bearing the date. Then, as with our aforementioned farmers, comes the inevitable September, which initiates a desperate scramble for a Plan B formula to take the red out of embarrassed faces.
These episodes will bring the sting of ridicule to those who dare do what our Lord specifically warned us not to do. The worst fallout is with those who are unbelievers and see such failure as an occasion to ridicule the faith. More lasting damage is done, however, to those who are decent, sincere Christians and revere a leader who falls to the grievous error of date setting. He, it goes without saying, can move to another church or organization. He may even retire to some secluded place to check his mathematics or await further illumination. The stigma remains with those who have to deal with the reality of a lesson hard learned.
How should those not taken in by such teaching react? Paul put it best: “forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13–14).
Assisting and encouraging shaken saints are obligations incumbent on other brothers and sisters in the faith. Things hard learned are lessons learned nonetheless. If you have been victimized by a misguided teacher, get up, dust yourself off, and get on with living for Christ.
And remember, the blessed hope is that His return is imminent—He may come today. That is what our Lord and His infallible Word emphatically tell us—He will determine the day. We are to “wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, who delivered us from the wrath to come” (1 Th. 1:10). Such moment-by-moment hope should be good enough for all of us.
A common mistake made by those who attempt to date the Lord’s return is assigning to the church prophetic details given to Israel. There are no signs associated with the Rapture of the church, an event that precedes by some seven years the return of Christ to the earth. In fact, the Rapture is not associated with a date in any way. It is related to a number—the number of believers being gathered into the church through the preaching of the gospel. When that number, which is unknown to anyone but God Himself, is complete, we will be taken home. So forget setting dates in favor of seeking the lost.
Here’s a good rule of thumb to live by: Whenever a preacher or teacher begins to stray from proclaiming the imminent return of Christ and begins dabbling in date-setting, you had better beware—there may be a chilly September ahead.