I have been emailed about it. I have been phoned. I have been Facebooked and Tweeted. Websites by cracked-brain fanatics have misused articles I’ve written as “evidence” for the veracity of their lunacy. However, despite their creative (read: fanciful), detailed (read: speculative) interpretations (read: “astrallegory”), these self-proclaimed “Watchers” (Revelation 12 sign proponents) will not get me to budge a millimeter on my insistence that Jesus, Paul, and Peter were right and they are wrong.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, consider yourself blessed. If you’re at all curious about the latest outbreak of acute Date-Setting Syndrome, just start and end your inquiry here. (Yes, I just recommended a Wikipedia article.) The gist is that the sun, moon, and stars alignment with the woman in Revelation 12 will be literally fulfilled on September 23, 2017, and that this will be the sign heralding the rapture of the church (or, I suppose, some other significant eschatological event pointed to when the rapture doesn’t appear as ordered).
Yes, in both scholarly and popular contexts (as well as in my teaching), I have argued that the catching up of the male son in Revelation 12:5 is best interpreted as a vision of the future resurrection/rapture of the church described in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 (see Chapter 9 in this book for a popular-level treatment). However, the sun, moon, and stars symbols in Revelation 12 refer back to the vision of Joseph in Genesis 37:9 and are included to give us an interpretational clue as to whom the woman refers: Israel as a corporate body. There is absolutely nothing in the text that suggests that these symbols are to be linked to the literal sun, moon, and stars in some kind of alignment…or that the woman and other figures are astronomical patterns. In case I am being misunderstood, I reject and repudiate any and all identifications of this passage with astronomical phenomena, which is really astrology, or as I prefer to call it, “astrallegory.”
September 23 will come and go, just like every other half-baked attempt at setting a day for eschatological events in direct contradiction to the words of Jesus, Paul, and Peter. It is a grievous sin to set dates and I have, in print and on the air, numerous times, rejected this.
How can I be so sure that these new Revelation 12 sign-seekers and date-setters are so pathetically wrong? And how do I justify my strong denouncement of their folly?
Because, besides looking foolish, sign-seekers and date-setters can also do damage to people’s faith and to the cause of Christ. How so? When these dates come and go and the “fulfillments” don’t pan out, weak believers, unbelievers, skeptics, critics, and scoffers might conclude one of two things: 1) Christianity and the Bible are utterly untrustworthy, legitimately leading to the question, “What else does the Bible teach that isn’t really true?” Or, more likely, 2) The Bible is hopelessly ambiguous, because if careful interpreters can wrongly read so many different current events into it, then Scripture can apparently be interpreted to say anything people want it to say. In either case, nothing good comes from repeatedly failed date-setting and sign-seeking. Rather, those who engage in this dangerous sport make authentic, Bible-believing Christians look bad, as scoffers lump us all together and regard us as misguided, brainless zealots.
Jesus, Paul, Peter, and the entire early church believed that nobody can calculate or know the hour, day, year, or even season of Christ’s return. Jesus 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). To clarify that not even the disciples could have known, Jesus added, “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming” (Matt. 24:42). And to underscore the fact that even those who would believe in subsequent generations could not know the time of Christ’s return, Jesus said, “Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come. . . . What I say to you I say to all, ‘Be on the alert’” (Mark 13:33, 37).
Later the apostle Paul reiterated this teaching that nobody knows the day or the hour but that all believers of every generation must remain alert and ready for judgment to come at any moment. He wrote, “Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:1–2). Believers, however, will not be overtaken by the suddenness of this coming (5:4), not because they will know the times, epochs, year, and day, but because they will be ready for Christ’s return regardless of when it occurs! Later the apostle Peter himself echoes this same thought: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief” (2 Pet. 3:10, emphasizing the suddenness of the coming of Christ in judgment.
Finally, an early Christian writing called the Didache (A.D. 50–70), used for instruction of new Gentile believers in Christ, included a brief account of Christian expectations of the end times. The author of that text wrote, “Watch over your life: do not let your lamps go out, and do not be unprepared, but be ready, for you do not know the hour when our Lord is coming” (Didache 16.1). Thus, the pattern of teaching in the early orthodox church was the same as that of Jesus and the apostles: we do not know (and cannot know) the time of Christ’s return. It could happen in their lifetime as well as ours. Therefore, we must be ready for it every day and every moment of our lives.
Yet these facts of Christian faith don’t stop those high-risk gamblers playing the “Dating Game.” Instead, they suggest that these warnings are for unbelievers, or that God has chosen to progressively illuminate His church to discover the secret knowledge long hidden in Scripture, or they quote passages like Amos 3:7, concluding that God would never suddenly judge the world without adequate warning.
Bible-believing Christians must all make a conscious decision to resist two perennial errors with regard to end-times expectations. First, we must ban, shun, and reject those who play the “Dating Game.” Setting a date for the return of Christ or some other end-time event(s) is completely unacceptable. It was unacceptable in the first century. It is unacceptable in the twenty-first century. We must exercise a policy of “ZERO TOLERANCE” for this unwise and borderline blasphemous practice.
Second, we must also inoculate ourselves against the much more common disease of “This-is-that-itis,” which is the common practice of interpreting the Bible’s prophecies in light of current events and presumptuously concluding (or at least hypothesizing) that our generation must be the last generation…or this day must be the date of the rapture. This was unacceptable in the first century. It is unacceptable in the twenty-first. We simply cannot know the hour, day, week, month, year, decade, or generation. Christ could come in our lifetime. Or He could come in a thousand years.
The Revelation 12 prophecy proponents are guilty of both Sign-Seeking and Date-Setting.
Their astrallegory must be rejected because only God knows when Christ will return, and He’s not telling.