Did Jesus foretell cruel endings for his youth?
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Why is this question important?
Many people who study the Bible believe that the return of Jesus is imminent because the signs of the end times can be clearly seen in our epoch. On this occasion we want to take a closer look at some Bible passages that we consider crucial in this context on the following pages. We want to show why it is not Christian thinking to ponder the time of Jesus' second coming. Jesus calls us to follow him, to serve him faithfully with humility and obedience. We know He's coming - when, that doesn't matter to Christians.
1 Can we roughly know when Jesus is coming?
After the Lord's resurrection, when the disciples looked with hope again at the beginning of the kingdom of God, they asked him:
Lord, are you restoring the kingdom for Israel at this time? He said to them, It is not for you to know times or dates which the Father has appointed in his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1: 6-8)
With his answer, Jesus shows them on the one hand the mission that they should fulfill. On the other hand, he says clearly that any preoccupation with the time of his return is not their business. Times and points in time (Greek "chronos" and "kairos") encompass both periods and specific points in time. So whoever speculates about the time or even the time of the Second Coming must ultimately consider himself greater than the apostles, otherwise, just like them, he would keep to Jesus' word.
Jesus had previously told his disciples about the Second Coming:
But no one knows about that day and that hour, not even the angels in heaven, not even the Son, but the Father alone. (Matthew 24:36)
Even the son doesn't know! How haughty must someone be who thinks they know or foresee the time of the Second Coming? Some of these interpreters refer to Jesus' words and say that although the day and hour are not known, the approximate time can be known. However, Jesus did not mean that he or the angels did not know exactly (something like this: no one knows the hour and day, but the week or year does), but not at all. He also makes this clear through the word about the thief in the night:
So watch! Because you do not know what day your Lord is coming. But this recognizes: If the householder had known in which watch the thief was coming, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you are ready too! For in the hour when you don't mean it, the Son of Man comes. (Matthew 24: 42-44)
Peter (2 Peter 3:10) and Paul also use the parable of the thief in the night to show that it is impossible to foresee the time of Jesus' coming:
But as for the times and points in time, brothers, you do not need to be written to. For you yourself know very well that the day of the Lord comes like a thief in the night. When they say: Peace and security! Then sudden ruin comes over them, like labor pains over the pregnant woman; and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness, that the day should seize you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day; we do not belong to the night or to the darkness. (1 Thessalonians 5: 1-5)
This passage proves that “day and hour” means nothing else than “times and points in time”. We don't know when the Lord is coming, and neither can we! The Sons of Light do not care about the time of coming, but they can look forward to the day of the Lord with joy, for they live every day for his good pleasure.
2 Why does the Lord still speak of recognizable signs?
Much of what Jesus said to his contemporaries is also of unbroken topicality for all subsequent generations. His announcement of the destruction of Jerusalem was primarily aimed at his audience, the apostles. These and the Christians of Judea should recognize the signs that preceded the disaster and act accordingly. It is important to avoid jumping to conclusions when you first consider what the direct addressees should understand. This is especially true for the so-called end-time speeches in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21.
But as he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, his disciples came to him alone and said, Tell us, when will it be, and what is the sign of your coming and of the completion of the age? (Matthew 24.3)
Did the disciples really want to know when their Lord was coming? Wouldn't assume they were at this point1 understood and accepted that Jesus would be rejected, mistreated and executed and then resurrected, go to the Father and only then return? The Greek word “parousia”, which is reproduced here with “arrival”, can also mean “second coming”, but the Gospels clearly show that the disciples did not even understand the direct announcements of suffering (Luke 18: 31-34). Consequently, even here, when they asked Jesus about the signs of his coming, they did not think of a possible second coming. With his arrival, however, they connected the visible beginning of his power as Messiah, as the undisputed King of Israel. So the question of the completion of the age is not connected with the end of the world, but rather: When the promised king takes over his rule, it marks the beginning of the new, the messianic age.
In his answer, Jesus first addresses the signs of the coming destruction of Jerusalem, by which the Christians of Judea should know when his day would come, so they must leave the city on time. He describes this judgment as his coming, namely as a judge over the disobedient people. Starting from this event, he then draws an arc to his return, in which he also comes as a judge, but for which there will be no signs of anything. We will go into this in more detail in Appendix 1, Matthew 24.
At first it may be incomprehensible why Jesus referred to the destruction of the city as his coming or his day, but in the Old Testament the prophets also sometimes announced the judgment on the disobedient people in this way:
Woe to the day! For the day of the Lord is at hand, and it will come like desolation from the Almighty. (Joel 1.15)
Thus says the LORD: Disaster upon disaster, behold, it is coming! An end is coming; the end is coming, it is awakening against you, inhabitants of the land. The time comes, the day is near: dismay and not cheering on the mountains! (Ezekiel 7: 5-7)
The end that Ezekiel announced is that of the city and the temple. His words were fulfilled after just a few years: Jerusalem was founded in 586 BC. Destroyed by the Babylonians.
Based on his announcement of the destruction of the temple, Jesus also speaks to his disciples of the end, and by this means that of the city:
But when you hear of wars and revolts, do not be frightened; because this has to happen beforehand, but the end is not there immediately. (Luke 21,9)
But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, know that its desolation is near. Then Judea should flee to the mountains, and those in its midst should escape from them, and those in the land should not come in there. For these are the days of vengeance so that all that is written may be fulfilled. (Luke 21: 20-22)
Elsewhere he calls the same event the Day of the Son of Man, because here too he urges people to flee:
It will be the same on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. On that day - whoever is on the roof and has his device in the house, don't go down to get it; and whoever is in the field does not turn back either. (Luke 17,30f)
In their great rebellion against the commandments, the Israelites often lost God's protection. But when was Israel's resistance to God greater than when he sent his only beloved son to them? And who could therefore foresee the coming judgment better than the Son of Man himself?
And when he approached and saw the city, he wept over it and said, If you, too, had known that day what serves to bring about peace! But now it's hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will pour a wall around you and surround you and narrow you on all sides; and they will throw you and your children to the ground in you and will not leave one stone unturned in you for not knowing the time of your visitation. (Luke 19: 41-44)
Jesus referred to this event on other occasions as well. So he says to his disciples:
But if they persecute you in this city, flee to the other! For verily, I say to you, you will not be finished with the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes. (Matthew 10:23)
In the preceding verses 16–22, Jesus announces dire persecution, especially by their fellow countrymen. He comforts them with the fact that until his coming, namely when God will judge the people for rejecting the Messiah, they will always find a refuge. If he had meant his return during the lifetime of his disciples, we would have to discard him and ultimately his entire message, because then he would have been wrong.2 But it is not a mistake, but with this word Jesus emphasizes the meaning of the destruction of the temple, which some of the disciples will still experience. This coming as a judge over Israel is also the harbinger of the final judgment, which will ultimately break in on all who despise God and who believe in sham. The spiritual connection between these two “days of judgment” is z. B. clearly in the following statement:
27 For the Son of Man will come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and then he will repay everyone according to what he has done. 28 Truly I say to you, there are some of those who stand here who will by no means die taste until they have seen the Son of Man coming into his kingdom. (Matthew 16,27f)
Without a doubt, in verse 27, Jesus speaks of the judgment upon his return. It is therefore obvious that verse 28 also deals with a judgment of Jesus, which some of the disciples will even experience. Jerusalem was destroyed about 40 years after this word of Jesus. At that time some of the disciples were no longer alive, but some had not yet tasted death.
3 Fulfillment of time, end of days, last days, last hour - what is it about?
Right at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus speaks of the fulfillment of time and exhorts his listeners to repent:
And after John was narrated, Jesus came to Galilee and preached the gospel of God, saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and Believe in the Gospel! (Mark 1: 14-15)
The time was fulfilled, not because the end of the world was near, but because God's grace in person was before them. It was high time for the Jews to have misconceptions about the Messiah3 and about their special position before God4 to give up. Rather, they should learn to contact the Lord by faith; H. with deep confidence to serve.
The New Testament shows us that the last days began with the appearance of Jesus.
After God once spoke to the fathers in many ways and in many ways in the prophets, at the end of these days he spoke to us in the Son, whom he made the heir of all things, through whom he also made the worlds. (Hebrews 1,1f)
With these words begins the letter to the Hebrews5. We can see from this that not only the people of the 20th or 21st century, but the first Christians lived in the end times. Jesus' life in perfect obedience shows us the way to the Father, even more so than the prophets did before. Furthermore, as a son, he is the image of the nature of God. It is the strongest and therefore the last revelation of God in history. The next salvation-historical event will be his second coming. The expression “at the end of these days” also says nothing about the duration of this period.
Paul writes to Timothy about the last days:
1 Know this, however, that difficult times will come in the last days; 2 because people will be selfish, money-loving, boastful, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 loveless, unforgiving, slanderer, indistinguishable, cruel, not loving the good, 4 traitors, careless, pompous, more pleasure loving as God, 5 who have a form of godliness but deny its power. And turn away from these! (2 Timothy 3: 1-5)
Unfortunately, most people were selfish, money-loving, boastful through all ages, as the history of the Flood already teaches. Paul does not mean here that people were generally better earlier than they were of late. Nor is he talking about an era that would begin much later. There would be no point in telling Timothy about the depravity of the people of the twenty-first century. As verse 5 shows, both are already living in the last days, because Timothy is supposed to stay away from such contemporaries. In the time after Jesus there will be many people who feel close to God and "... who have a form of godliness, but deny its power." Based on the development in his own time, Paul already foresees pseudo-Christianity, the roots of which actually extend into the first century. This is also evident from chapters 4, 1–5. He warns that many believers or those interested in the faith will turn away from the truth and turn to fables, and therefore urges Timothy to persevere in the right doctrine. That this situation does not come about later, but was already a rudimentary reality in Paul's time, is also clear from 1 Timothy 4: 1-11, 6.20f, Acts 20.29f.
The distortion of Christian teaching is also the background when the apostle John speaks of the coming of the Antichrist:
Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, many Antichrists have appeared now too; hence we know that it is the last hour. (1 John 2:18)
John did not want to get the readers of his letter in the mood for the imminent return of Jesus6. There is not the slightest evidence of this in the rest of the letter. But in the appearance of the first false teachers in the New Testament churches the truth of the word of Jesus shows itself:
But he said to his disciples, It is impossible that seductions do not come. But woe to him through whom they come! It would be more useful to him to have a millstone around his neck and toss him into the sea than to cause one of those little ones to sin! (Luke 17,1f)
So seductions will come. The early churches were built primarily through the work of the Judaists7 and the influence of gnosis8 threatened. Self-conceived teachings existed even before Jesus, but the clarity of his words and his absolute claim to truth have also made the seductions much finer. Satan, the father of lies, wants to divert attention from the truth with statements that appear to be scriptural. The apostle shows us in his letter that, in addition to the differences in the content of the teaching, the lack of brotherly love in particular is sure testimony to the false teachers' mendacity. This also applies today, so that it is possible for an open person, despite many false teachings, to judge whether a community faithfully follows the commandments of Jesus or not.
4 What is Jesus talking about when he speaks of his return?
Jesus repeatedly emphasizes the importance of sincerity and vigilance. All the words we find in the Gospels regarding the Second Coming are never about recognizable signs, but about a life of faithfulness and truthfulness:
Your loins are girded and the lamps are on; and you are like men who wait for your Lord, when he may leave the wedding, so that when he comes and knocks, they will open for him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the master will find watching when he comes! Truly I say to you: he will gird himself and let her sit down at the table and will come and serve her. And if he comes on the second watch and comes on the third watch and finds them like that - blessed are those! (Luke 12: 35-38)
Only sincere love for the Lord can keep us from sanctimonious attitudes. Jesus confirms this with the following parable of the thief in the night9 and the faithful and unfaithful servant:
Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find doing such a thing! In truth, I tell you that he will put it over all his possessions. But if that servant says in his heart: My master takes his time to come and begins to beat the servants and maidservants and to eat and drink and to get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect it, and in an hour that he does not know and will cut him in two and set him his part with the unbelievers. (Luke 12: 43-46)
Jesus teaches almost emphatically that it is always important to serve him obediently and with an undivided heart and not to be busy with other things or even to follow one's own desires. The fact that nobody knows when he is coming should also make us aware that there is no other way to God.
In addition, we must keep in mind that the vast majority of people will experience the Second Coming when they die. The unfaithful servant does not represent the last generation of people. Striving for self-denial and obedience is always necessary, because resistance to God's commandments soon leads to hardening. We should not be "gracious" to ourselves and think that we can always turn back later. We don't have that in our hands! This is why Jesus warns his churches and speaks of his coming without thinking that his return on earth is imminent:
Wake up and strengthen the rest that was about to die! For I have not found your works to be complete before my God. Now think of how you received and heard, and keep it and repent! If you do not watch now, I will come like a thief and you will not know at what hour I will come over you. (Revelation 3,2f)
Jesus uses the image of the thief here to warn the self-confident believers in the church of Sardis so that they do not fall away. It is impossible to persist in disobedience despite warnings and yet to participate in the feast with Jesus.
The absolute urgency of fidelity and obedience, even in severe persecution, is the focus of the Revelation of John. Unfortunately, this book has been the starting point of speculations about the time of the Second Coming for many centuries. It is no coincidence that many previous and current interpreters indicate an exact course of the story in the numerous pictures. To be able to predict the future or even the second coming is very appealing. At the same time, the interpreters mostly belong to religious organizations in which the call of Jesus to deny himself and actually follow him, to love the brothers and to live with them in the unity of the spirit, is practically circumvented by false teachings.
Christ did not give us revelation as a source for speculation, but rather so that we would not be deceived by the world.
Because you have kept the word from waiting for me, I will also keep you from the hour of temptation that will come all over the world to tempt those who dwell on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have so that no one takes your victory wreath! He who overcomes, I will make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he will never go out again; and I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from my God, and my new name. If you have an ear, hear what the Spirit says to the churches! (Revelation 3: 10-13)
Jesus praises the community of Pergamon for their obedience and promises protection in times of temptation. The saying “I am coming soon” is to be understood here, as in Revelation in general, more as an encouragement for the believers to hold fast to obedience under all circumstances, because salvation is at hand.
There are many other passages where Jesus and the apostles call us to keep the doctrine pure and to walk in it. We hope that, despite the brevity and imperfection of the thoughts presented here, we have been able to help the reader gain more clarity about the meaning of the statements about the end times. We are grateful for every letter and look forward to getting in touch with interested readers in order to discuss this and other matters of faith in more detail.
Appendix 1: Matthew 24
In the following section we want to roughly trace the train of thought in this chapter in order to deepen the arguments already listed in the main text. The signs Jesus mentioned could only be for the destruction of Jerusalem. His coming as judge of all people is certain, but when he will come cannot be foreseen.
The disciples marveled at the magnificent buildings of the temple, which seemed to well symbolize the greatness and invincibility of God. She must therefore have been very moved that, instead of joining in the astonishment, Jesus foretold the destruction of this house. Not only did they want to know when this would happen, but they could only imagine such an event in connection with the completion of the age, with the beginning of the messianic time.
The question of when it will happen and what signs are there for it is answered by Jesus in verses 4–28 and 32–34. The seducers in verse 5 who are under his name10 come are the false Christs mentioned in verse 24 as well. In fact, in the war with the Romans, some rebel leaders claimed the title of Messiah for themselves.
In verses 6-13 that follow, Jesus explains the worsening situation and also foretells persecution and deception. It is essential to hold on to the historical significance of these prophetic words of Jesus! Jesus later made it clear that there was no sign of his return at all. Unfortunately, there are many interpreters who interpret the words in Matthew 24: 3–2811 mentioned signs refer to wars and earthquakes shortly before Jesus' return. They see the end times as heralded by such events in their own time. As a result, Jesus would come soon. Unfortunately, at all times, many have been seduced by such spectacular interpretations. The falseness of earlier such predictions has become evident, on the one hand, through the course of history. But on the other hand you have to ask yourself very fundamentally: Has there ever been a time in this world without wars and earthquakes? A limited territory can be spared natural disasters for many decades and also experience longer times of peace. For the people of such an area, a threat of war will be the first sign of a clear deterioration in the situation. But viewed globally, there have unfortunately never been longer periods of peace, which is why rumors of war would be completely unsuitable as a sign of the final judgment, if any at all. In addition, the technical progress made weapons much more effective, so that the number of deaths in armed conflicts has increased immensely since the 19th century. In addition, the world population has grown many times over in comparison to the time of Jesus, which is why many more victims are often lost in wars and natural disasters than in earlier times. Most importantly, with the development of mass media, we are exposed to a flood of bad news on a daily basis, so that it may seem that the frequency of such events has increased rapidly. But Jesus did not want to encourage his disciples or us to collect statistics on the number of current wars and natural disasters, from which we could then derive a spiritually important insight. His words are addressed to his disciples who should draw the right conclusion from the signs in their time.
Verse 14 is also understandable in the historical context of the generation of the first Christians. In the first century many Jews did not live in Judea and Galilee, but were scattered all over the world12, d. H. in the Roman Empire and beyond. Nonetheless, most of them were strongly connected to the country of their fathers, not least because of the important festivals in Jerusalem, to which they often made pilgrimages13. Although these Diaspora Jews were influenced by Greek culture and therefore felt a little less committed to the law than those in Palestine, they too were filled with hope in the Messiah. It is very likely that many of them sympathized with their brothers who were fighting against the Romans at the time of the Jewish War (66-70). The end of which Jesus speaks, this terrible end of the temple, the city and all the fighters for - the misunderstood - kingdom of God would inevitably have been a cause for complete despair for all those people, if they had not already received the message of the gospel of Jesus through the missionary work of the apostles. And it was also good for all other inhabitants of the world to have the opportunity to understand the deeper meaning of this defeat.
Verses 15-28 now deal directly with the tribulation to come. Again, this is not an exact description of events, but Jesus emphasizes by remembering an earlier time of distress that the saints must absolutely flee. Back then, at the time of the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes, who desecrated the temple along with many other wickednesses, the law-abiding Jews had to flee to the mountains. The abomination of desolation must still have been a symbol for every Jew for a time of the most severe tribulation. Christians of Judea should pray that the flight would not take place in winter or on a Sabbath. In addition, nobody should be seduced by the seemingly wonderful successes of the rebels in the fight against the Romans. All hopes of a rebel victory are unrealistic. The eagles (symbol of the Roman legions) come and will devour the carrion, namely the doomed fighters trapped in the city. This is the unmistakable judgment and judgment of God over his people who rejected his son and his message of peace14.
In verses 29–31, Jesus draws an arc from the tribulation of the Jewish war to his visible return15. The ancient people of God are losing their position (29) while the Lord's Church is the sign for the Redeemer, whereby the Israelites still mourn, i.e. H. will find repentance (30). Finally, all Christians are gathered to the Lord (31).
In verses 34–36, Jesus emphasizes that his prophecy is certain to be fulfilled, for his words are God's words. In verse 34, he gives a clear time frame for the coming of the judgment on the Jews: this will happen in the generation of his listeners. In contrast to this, it is impossible to know when that day, namely the final judgment already indicated in verse 31, will come, so that Jesus even includes himself - as a man - in this ignorance.
All the following statements on verse 36 have this in common: There is no sign at all for this day! Christians will not concern themselves with the "signs" because they know through the words of Jesus that such do not exist. The example of Noah shows that people's lives went on as usual, so that the court caught them completely unprepared16. The parable of the thief in the night is also used by Peter (2 Peter 3:10) and Paul (1 Thessalonians 5: 2) to encourage the believers to prudently and zealous walk in the commandments of the Lord and any speculation of to withdraw the ground in advance. Only constant, selfless love and humble service according to the word of Jesus will make this day a joyful day for us, no matter what time it comes. Whoever does not persevere to follow Jesus and always be anxious to please the Lord and to do good, cannot attend the feast forever. It is irrelevant whether he was not expected so soon (see the parable of the unfaithful servant 24: 45–51), or whether you counted on him much earlier (parable of the ten virgins 25: 1–13), or in his own Laxity even wanted to methodically secure a place (parable of the entrusted talents 25: 14-30).
Appendix 2: Will there be a rapture of believers before the final judgment?
Jesus and the New Testament only talk about a single return of Jesus on the last day. On this day the wicked will be judged and the believers will be raised, as Jesus explains to his disciples, for example using the parable of the weeds of the field:
Then he dismissed the crowd and came into the house; and his disciples came to him and said, Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field. But he answered and said, He who sows the good seed is the Son of man, but the field is the world; but the good seed are the sons of the kingdom, and the tares are the sons of the evil one; but the enemy who sowed it is the devil; but the harvest is the completion of the age, but the reapers are angels. As the tares are gathered together and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will gather all the offenses from his kingdom and those who do wickedness, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father's kingdom. If you have ears, listen! (Matthew 13: 36-43)
He also speaks of the resurrection of believers in the following passage:
But this is the will of him who sent me that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6: 39-40)
In the opinion of many free churches, however, before the beginning of an allegedly imminent millennial earthly kingdom of peace, i.e. also before Judgment Day, the Christians living at this point in time, together with all those who have already died, will be raptured into heaven. However, only Revelation 20 speaks of Christ's rule for a thousand years. Since the message of this book, in contrast to all other New Testament writings, is almost entirely encoded by images and symbols, and numbers are usually not to be understood literally, it is dangerous to derive concrete lessons about future events from it. Therefore, the advocates of this doctrine endeavor to find references in other scriptures. Some see such a thing in Matthew 24:40:
Then there will be two in the field, one taken and one left; two women will be grinding the millstone, one will be taken and one left. (Matthew 24.40-41)
In connection with this verse, Jesus urges loyalty and vigilance because of the unforeseeable coming judgment. This is also shown by a comparison with the Flood (verses 38–39). It cannot therefore be a description of a rapture that is supposed to take place in court. Some proponents of this doctrine also admit this.
From the Gospels, John 14: 2f is related to the rapture:
There are many apartments in my father's house. If it were not so, I would have said to you: I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to me, so that you too can be where I am. (John 14: 2-3)
Jesus speaks here of his return to take the disciples with him, but there is no reason to assume that this will not happen on the day of judgment, but before. Rather, one can see from the entirety of Jesus' words regarding the Second Coming that everyone will then be rewarded for what they have done (e.g. Matthew 7: 21ff, 16:27, 24.45-25.46, 26.64, John 5.28f) . The above-mentioned parable of the weeds of the field and that of the fishing net (Matthew 13: 24–43 and 13: 47–50) also show that there is a day of judgment and retribution: the loyal followers of the Lord and all righteous go one to eternal life, while the evildoers, all haughty and ruthless, cannot partake in it for eternity. We must therefore state that there is no reference whatsoever in the Gospels for a sudden removal of Christians from everyday life.
A passage in 1st Letter to the Thessalonians is therefore cited as the main argument:
But we do not want to leave you in ignorance of those who have fallen asleep, brethren, so that you may not be grieved like the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, God will also bring those who have fallen asleep with him through Jesus. For this we tell you in a word of the Lord that we, the living who remain until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven at the call of command, at the voice of an archangel, and at the sound of God's trumpet, and the dead in Christ will rise first; afterwards we, the living who remain, will be caught up at the same time with them in clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. So encourage one another with these words! (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
Proponents of the rapture doctrine argue that after these words, Christians will be raptured to the Lord in clouds, which means that Christ does not come to earth here. The believers would meet the Lord in the upper layers of the air.Therefore, we can only speak of the rapture and not of the judgment on the last day. Although they believe that this is the best way of doing justice to the wording of the text, we consider it very questionable to draw such a conclusion from this detail. As we shall see, both the text itself and the following chapter of the letter speak against this interpretation.
We can only guess what the exact background to the sadness of some of the very young Christians in this city was. It is important that Paul refers to a word of the Lord in his declaration that both living and dead Christians go to the Lord at the same time. As we saw before, the doctrine of the rapture cannot be derived from any word of Jesus, which is why its proponents refer to 1 Corinthians 15:51, where Paul obviously speaks of the same event, but describes it as a mystery:
Behold, I tell you a secret: we will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed in an instant, in an instant, at the last trumpet; for it will trumpet, and the dead will be raised, immortal, and we will be changed. For this impermanent must attract immortality and this mortal must attract immortality. (1 Corinthians 15: 51-53)
From the use of the word “mystery” one thinks to be able to deduce that Jesus did not speak about the rapture in his time of activity, but that he did reveal it through the apostle's word. However, Paul does not speak of a rapture in the course of history, but of the transformation of the dead and the living - namely at the last trumpet, i.e. the last day. That he only has the resurrection and transformation of the believers in mind is not an argument against it. Beginning with the example of Jesus, Paul teaches here fundamental things about the goal of life, the resurrection, because some of the Corinthians held an opinion that ran counter to Christian teaching. It is a sad reality that many people now succumb to eternal judgment because of their decisions against God. However, Paul did not want to describe the eternal existence of these people in spiritual death as immortality.
So neither here nor in the Letter to the Thessalonians does Paul reveal the mystery of the rapture. The mystery, a reality not so clearly expressed before, lies rather in the fact that some Christians are transformed without having to experience death. If Paul were to refer to a word of Jesus that was only given to him, he would have quoted it. However, the content of what has been said can be derived from the well-known words of Jesus, even if we do not know a precisely fitting quote. Paul would like to end the ignorance of some Christians in Thessalonica with a clear reference to Jesus' teaching. We find such a word about the resurrection in the Gospel of John:
For just as the Father has life in himself, so he also gave the Son to have life in himself; and he gave him authority to judge, because he is the Son of man. Do not be surprised at this, for the hour will come when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and will come out; who did good for the resurrection of life, but who did evil for the resurrection of judgment. (John 5: 26-29)
In that hour all the dead will rise and stand before the judgment seat of the Messiah,, and since Jesus is the judge of all people, this also includes those living on earth at this point in time. As mentioned above, Paul's subsequent thoughts in the letter to the Thessalonians do not allow any other conclusion:
But as for the times and points in time, brothers, you do not need to be written to. For you yourself know very well that the day of the Lord comes like a thief in the night. When they say: Peace and security! Then sudden ruin comes over them, like labor pains over the pregnant woman; and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness, that the day should seize you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day; we do not belong to the night or to the darkness. (1 Thessalonians 5: 1-4)
Here Paul is clearly writing about Judgment Day and there is no reason to assume that he could have meant any other event in chapter 4. This is shown, among other things. that Christians will not be touched by this day because they are sons of light and day. If Paul had believed in a rapture of Christians before the judgment, these words would have no meaning.
Since nowhere in the New Testament except in the Revelation is there any mention of a rapture of Christians, a first resurrection before the judgment, the question arises of what John is talking about there:
And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them; and I saw the souls of those who were beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast and its image, and had not received the mark on their foreheads and hands, and they became alive and ruled with the Christ for a thousand years. The remnant of the dead did not live until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy he who partakes in the first resurrection! The second death has no power over these, but they will be priests of God and Christ and rule with him for the thousand years. (Revelation 20: 4-6)
As mentioned at the outset, the extensive use of symbolic expressions makes the disclosure difficult to interpret. Nevertheless, here too it is advisable to first understand what message this writing contains for its first addressees, the Christians in the second half of the first century. We learn that the apostle John received the contents during his captivity on the island of Patmos. The letters to seven churches in Asia Minor in chapters 2 and 3 give us an insight into their spiritual situation. These messages, which are obviously anchored in the historical framework of this time, have been the object of speculation for many centuries. Allegedly it is about the seven epochs of church history, whereby the respective interpreters think that they are living in the penultimate or last of these epochs. The text does not support these thoughts. The question is also justified whether the “church” history accessible to us is actually the history of the church17.
In addition: What goal could God have pursued with such a preview of history? What would be the point if the reader found themselves in any of these epochs? Should he realize that it will be long or not long before Jesus comes again? No, that's not what God is about. The contained admonitions and encouragements to love, to see through the wrong teachers, to persevere in the persecution apply to the direct addressees. Like all other letters of the NT, the missives are of great value to all Christians because they encourage self-examination, perseverance, and adherence to confidence and correct teaching.
If these chapters are misinterpreted in this way, the danger is even greater with the rest of the book. We think that the content of the book is primarily intended to encourage and comfort the Christians who were persecuted in the first century and therefore also provide retrospectives on what has already happened. But some interpreters exclude references to situations before and during the drafting period. Of course, we also think that this will also encourage all later believers to endure the persecution. But it should never create space for speculation.
This also applies to Revelation 20. Those Christians who have remained steadfast in the persecution, mostly killed, will rule with Christ. Those who literally understand the thousand years fail to recognize the symbolic use of numbers, especially in Revelation. There is no time in any biblical scripture that exceeds a thousand years. Only about God does it say that a thousand years are like one day. That must not lead us to think that then two thousand years are like two days. Rather, this number symbolizes an inconceivable size, as it corresponds to God, who also created time. This not only means his standing over time, but also his great power. Thus the great power of God and those who belong to him is confronted with the impotent rise of Satan for a short time. There is also another reason why it seems obvious not to see successive events in time, but rather the relationships of domination expressed in terms of time. Because if God had already completely eliminated Satan, the question would arise why he should then let go of him again in order to give evil a free hand to seduce. With that God would not only be the one who allows the evil to go on, but the one who gives the evil room to work again.
The idea of the followers of the rapture doctrine that suddenly many people disappear completely undetectable, perhaps provides material for entertainment films; such thoughts have nothing to do with the teaching of the Bible. It would also not correspond to the nature of God to exert pressure through such massive supernatural and unnatural events. He wants us to entrust ourselves to him based on the truth in Jesus, to repent of our old, sinful life and to become followers of his Son out of love for him.
Appendix 3: Arbitrary calculations of the so-called end times from the Book of Daniel
Although the book of Daniel contains prophetic texts, it is very different in its overall form from the prophetic books of the Bible. There is no place here to explain why this is so, however, in our opinion, the literary character of the stories presented is unmistakable. Also, in the canon of the Hebrew Bible, Daniel is not found among the prophets, but among the scriptures18. The reason for this could have been its late completion.
For us as Christians it contains very important prophetic statements. In a speech about his work in connection with the resurrection, Jesus refers to Daniel 12: 2, the clearest passage about this reality. His self-designation “Son of Man” is taken from the messianic prophecy in chapter 7. And even the death of the Messiah and the renewed destruction of the Jerusalem temple are foretold in 9: 24-26.
No other book in the Old Testament deals so intensely with dreams and visions and their interpretations. This also makes it particularly interesting for people who plan to predict the future. Religious groups such as Jehovah's Witnesses and Adventists owe their existence in large measure to certain speculative interpretations of some of the texts in this book. That is why we want to look at such texts to show the arbitrariness and baselessness of these interpretations.
Seven times = 2520 years?
In chapter 4, King Nebuchadnezzar experiences a dream that troubles him. He sees a tree reaching up to the sky, which is cut down and its stump is put in chains for seven times. Only Daniel is able to interpret the dream. It is a warning from God to the king to break with his sins and live in righteousness and mercy. But since the latter does not change, but remains in pride, the evil predicted by Daniel happens after a year. Nebuchadnezzar is removed from the throne and society and vegetates like a wild beast. But at the end of seven years his mind returns, he looks to heaven, praises God and confesses:
Now I praise, Nebuchadnezzar, and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, whose works are all truth and whose ways are right, and who can humble those who walk with pride. (Daniel 4,34)
With this he expresses the most important lesson, the decisive conclusion of this story.
If one stayed with the principle: “Do not go beyond what is written” (1.Cor. 4,6), the danger of reinterpretation and overinterpretation would be averted. But since the book of Daniel speaks of the time of the end in other places, it was seen as justified to extract a hidden, deeper "interpretation" from this story.
Seven times in the text of chapter 4 mean seven years. This short period of time is not at all suitable for predictions that should reach into our modern epoch. In some places in OT it happens that a day symbolically stands for a year.
The prophet Ezekiel is said to lie on one side for 390 days and on the other 40 days to bear the guilt of Israel (of the northern kingdom) and Judas (of the southern kingdom) (Ezekiel 4: 4-7).
In chapter 9 of the book of Daniel, the 70-year prophecy of Jeremiah is reinterpreted by an angel. He speaks of 70 "sevens". In terms of 70 weeks, this would only result in a period of less than 2 years. However, it can be concluded from the text that the time frame should be extended. Therefore, the “sevens” must be understood here as weeks of the year, which results in a time of 70 x 7 years = 490 years.
Encouraged by such examples, the Bible Students believed that they could apply the rule “one day for one year” to Daniel 4 as well. 7 x 360 days result in 2520 days, which should now correspond to 2520 years. However, in order to be able to use this for an end-time statement, the content of the chapter had to be reinterpreted. It was decided to understand the disempowerment of Nebuchadnezzar as the end of Jerusalem and the Davidic kingship. This is a very strange interpretation, especially when you consider that it was just Nebuchadnezzar who destroyed the city. From a word of Jesus it was concluded that the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians marked the beginning of the times of the Gentiles19.
According to all historians, the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 587/6 BC. But the Jehovah's Witnesses claim to this day that this was 607 BC. Happened. However, this date does not originate from historical research, but from a fundamentalist understanding of the Bible that is also paired with idiosyncratic interpretations.
607 BC Chr. + 2520 results in 1914. For this year, C. T. Russell calculated the beginning of Christ's kingdom of peace on earth in the 19th century. He had predicted the invisible return of Jesus in 1874. Russell's successor, J. F. Rutherford, then declared 1914 to be the year of the invisible second coming. In his 1920 book "Millions now living will never die", he predicted the resurrection of the biblical patriarchs in 1925. Because of the misinterpretation of Matthew 24:35, it was claimed that the generation of 1914 would not pass away until the end of the system of things came. In this sense, 1975 was for a long time predicted with great certainty as the year of the end.
Even without going into any further detail, we hope that with these few thoughts we have shown the total lack of stability of the entire approach.
2300 evenings and mornings = 2300 years?
The Seventh-day Adventist community also takes an important date from the book of Daniel. Chapter 8 says that Daniel saw the face of a ram and a billy goat. The kingdom of the Medes and Persians (Aries) is conquered by a great king from Greece (billy goat = Alexander the Great). But its empire is falling apart. In one of the partial kingdoms, a wrongdoer will take control, who will then even forbid the Jews from practicing their religion. He takes away the regular sacrifice from them and desecrates the temple in the worst possible way. While still in the vision, a saint asks how long this situation will last and receives an answer:
And I heard a saint speak. And a saint spoke to someone - namely, the speaker - until when does the vision of the regular sacrifice and the horrific crime apply, that both the sanctuary and the sacrificial service are abandoned for trampling? And he said to me: Up to 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary will be justified again. (Daniel 8,13f)
There is nothing in these words to suggest that the historical framework of the vision will be left. The only question that arises is whether it is about 2,300 or just 1,150 days. The regular sacrifice that the questioner worries about was made every evening and morning. It is therefore obvious that the duration of the temple desecration is given as 1,150 days, which also corresponds almost exactly to the actual event under the Seleucid king Antiochus IV. Epiphanes20.
In the following interpretation of the vision, the time of the end is spoken of twice (17 + 19). This end does not have to be the end of the world, but can also refer to the time of the fulfillment of the events just seen. The American Baptist preacher William Miller, who lived in the 19th century, wanted to point the vision towards the supposedly imminent end of the world. At first he overlooked that it's only about 1,150 days. Then he interpreted the now 2,300 days as just as many years. In his opinion, a suitable point in time for the beginning of the 2,300 years was the word of the Persian king Artaxerxes I to rebuild Jerusalem. Allegedly, Esra did this in the 7thYear of the king written down, which according to our calendar then the year 457 BC. Is. On this basis, he proclaimed 1843 as the year of Christ's return. When this did not materialize, he postponed the date several times by a few months and finally even set the exact day - October 22, 1844.
The movement he initiated soon disintegrated, but some stuck to the calculated date, but gave it new content. It is said that Jesus entered the heavenly sanctuary in 1844 and began the sanctification service. This teaching is mainly represented by the Seventh-day Adventists and continues to form the basis for their imminent expectation, without daring to name a date for it.
It would go too far to describe and evaluate all of Miller's and Adventist arguments for 1844. By arbitrarily combining different texts and reinterpreting them, one can read a lot from the Holy Scriptures. All those who use such useless methods and thereby seduce other, gullible people, will have to answer for them on Judgment Day.
Many will say to me in that day: Lord, Lord! Have we not prophesied by your name, and cast out demons by your name, and done many miracles by your name? And then I will confess to them: I never knew you. Get away from me, you evildoers! (Matthew 7,22f)
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- probably in the last year of his work ↩
- This view is common among liberal theologians. However, it contradicts another firmly anchored assumption in modern theology, namely that much of Jesus' words in the Gospels are in fact words of men from the churches of the late first century. It is claimed that the Christians at that time believed that Jesus would come again while they were still alive. Since this did not happen, Jesus' words were reinterpreted or changed to explain the delay. Why none of these bold and creative men eradicated such a drastic error as in Matthew 10:23 remains incomprehensible. ↩
- The Hebrew word Messiah means "Christos" in Greek, "Christ" in Latin, "the anointed" in German - according to Jewish ideas someone who was anointed king. The expectation of a strong political leader, a new David, was great ↩
- see Luke 3: 7–9 ↩
- Written around the year 65 ↩
- If you think of time as the evenly passing years on a timeline, you might think that John thought the end of all time was imminent. In Jewish thought, however, the content of time is more important than its mere duration. It doesn't matter how long it will be before Jesus comes again. In such contexts, temporal concepts should not be taken literally, as if the last hour were the last period of the last days, any more than the last days represent the final stage of the last time. ↩
- Jews who considered Jesus to be the Messiah, but also saw the observance of the Mosaic Law as necessary for salvation for Gentile Christians ↩
- Collective term for teachings originating in Greece that saw material existence as the reason for evil. Gnostics were interested in Christianity and used Christian vocabulary, but filled it with their own content that contradicted the apostolic teaching ↩
- Luke 12: 39-40; see also under 2. ↩
- this does not mean that in distant times people will appear and impersonate Jesus. Such a person would be completely implausible, because the second coming of Jesus ends the history of humanity Mensch
- We are aware that some statements in the text seem at first glance to fit much better with the Second Coming. ↩
- see Luke 2: 1-3. The ancient writers did not think of the globe known to us today, but of the then known inhabited earth or even only of the Roman Empire ↩
- That will include confirmed by the account of Luke in Acts 2: 5–11 ↩
- see also the parable of the wicked winemakers Matthew 21: 33–46 ↩
- The speech of Jesus, who underpins the immense significance of the temple destruction with symbolic language, must not be interpreted as a cosmic and earthly catastrophe through literal interpretation of these symbols. We find something similar in the prophets when strong political or spiritual changes are predicted. Compare the end of Babel in Isaiah 13: 9–22, the end of Egypt in Ezekiel 32: 1–15 or the outpouring of the spirit in Joel 3: 1–5 / Acts. 2.14-21 ↩
- We are aware that the same image in Luke 17:26-27 has a slightly different function and is related to the destruction of Jerusalem. On the one hand, we know from the Gospels that Jesus sometimes used the same or similar images and parables for different purposes. On the other hand, it cannot be ruled out that the writers of the Gospels reproduce statements made by Jesus in different contexts. ↩
- see our article “The Church in the New Testament” ↩
- The Jews divide the books of what Christians call the Old Testament into three groups: law, prophets, scriptures. The book of Daniel is one of the scriptures (such as the Psalms, the chronicles and the book of Ruth) and not of the prophets (such as Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Book of the Twelve Prophets ↩
- see Luke 21:24 - however, Jesus is talking about the destruction of the city by the Romans, which then happened in the year 70 ↩
- This desecrated the temple by in December of the year 167 BC. BC had a statue of Zeus erected on the altar of burnt offerings. A little more than 3 years later, in December of the year 164 BC. Then a new altar for Yahweh was consecrated ↩
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