by David A. Reed COMPLETE BOOK ONLINE
False Alarms, False Prophets and Identifying the Antichrist
Anybody who writes a book on this subject is in danger of being compared to Aesop's fables' proverbial 'boy who cried wolf.' "Wolf! Wolf!" he shouted, to draw attention to himself or to add some excitement to his life. People reacted just as he hoped they would. But then, on a different occasion when a wolf actually did appear on the scene, and he was in real danger, everyone assumed he was just 'crying wolf' again falsely. And no one came to his aid.
Similarly, there have been so many false alarms concerning the imminent return of Christ, that most people laugh or shrug off any suggestion that the prophesied event will soon take place. And, when it comes to the matter of people "crying wolf" about the return of Christ, no one can be more painfully aware of it than I am. I have spent the past twenty years researching and writing about that very thing.
In the Preface of this book I cite discussions of such false alarms in my books "Answering Jehovah's Witnesses Subject by Subject" (1996, Baker Book House) and "Mormonism: Changes, Contradictions and Errors" (by John R. Farkas and David A. Reed, 1995, Baker Book House), but a dozen other books that I authored or co-authored also deal with failed prophecies or false prophets, to one extent or another. During the 1800's and 1900's the world repeatedly heard voices "crying wolf"on the subject of Christ's return and the end of the world.
Do these false alarms and false prophets distract from the words of Jesus Christ and the words of the Hebrew prophets? Many people would probably answer, "Yes, they serve as an excuse that justifies dismissing the Bible and its prophecies." But, for myself, I would answer "No!" It was their false cries that originally caught my attention and led me to begin investigating the Bible and its true prophecies.
"Where there's smoke, there's fire," so goes the saying. Some of the 'smoke' may turn out to be false prophets throwing up dust, but if it causes some people to notice the real smoke that they would otherwise have overlooked, it does, in fact, serve a useful purpose.
My thought that false prophets can inadvertently accomplish good along those lines is not totally foreign to Scripture. The Apostle Paul expressed a similar thought in regard to false 'Christians' who were preaching for bad motives: "It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry...out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice." (Philippians 1:15-18 NIV)
In much the same way, I rejoice that false prophets caught my attention in the late 1960's with their prediction that the year 1975 was the likely time for the battle of Armageddon. At that time I was a zealous young atheist wandering far away from God, and, although such inaccurate preaching failed to make me a footstep follower of Jesus Christ, it did pull me back onto a path that would later intersect with His. (See "About the Author" toward the end of this book.) And, if it could have that effect on me, it could do the same for others as well.
Nor have there always been bad motives behind those sounding false alarms regarding Christ's return. Some were sincere but over-zealous, or sincere but misinformed.
Others may simply have chosen to err on the side of caution. Years ago I worked as a burglar alarm technician. My job was to install burglar alarms, including the type that are motion-activated. When setting up a motion detector, it was a tricky business to find the right setting. An adjustment in the direction of too much sensitivity would result in false alarms, but an error in the other direction could allow a burglar to enter someone's home undetected. Alarm technicians were taught to err on the side of safety. It would be better to be called back to make the alarm a little less sensitive, after a breeze or a pet had set it off, than to be called back after a costly burglary had taken place.
Christians sounding the alarm about the approaching return of Christ can not be blamed for taking a similar approach.
The apostle used a metaphor similar to the burglar alarm installer when he likened Christ's return to a thief in the night. "Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, 'Peace and safety, destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.'" (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3 NIV) Paul could say that his readers 'knew' this 'very well' because Jesus had used the same analogy:
"Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him." (Matthew 24:42-44 NIV)
To the extent that false alarms have caused some people to wake up and to "be ready" for Christ's return, they can be said to have served a good purpose, at least to some extent.
Still, the same Apostle Paul who preached that "the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night," also cautioned against some who were sounding false alarms even back then in the first century. "Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come." (2 Thess. 2:1-2 NIV) This reminds us of the small Adventist group that calculated Christ's return for the year 1874 and, when nothing happened, insisted that Christ had in fact returned, only invisibly. And it reminds us of the Jehovah's Witnesses who originally held to that date and later switched to 1914 as the year when Christ was supposed to have begun an 'invisible presence.'
Paul went on to say, "Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God." (2 Thess. 2:3-4 KJV) That ruled out Paul's day, but what about ours?
Our world certainly has seen a great falling away from biblical Christianity. The old paganism has gained a new respectability in modern society, and the theory of darwinian evolution has made so-called 'science' the religion of many people today.
As for "the man of sin," could this be, as some have suggested, a reference to Islam, the worship of Allah who some researchers claim to have traced to the Middle Eastern moon god named Sin -- a religion that has sat itself down in the temple of God by erecting mosques on the Temple Mount where the ancient Jewish house of worship had stood? Its traditional hostility toward Christianity could certainly earn Islam status as an antichrist. Others have suggested that the Antichrist is the Pope, or the Roman Catholic Church that has enthroned him at the Vatican. But the popular view in evangelical churches today is that the "man of sin" will be an individual ruler, yet to arise, who will exercise widespread power in the world during the final days before Armageddon.
Although I am tempted to speculate in this book on the Antichrist and how the remaining prophecies concerning the last days will be fulfilled, I don't believe that would be productive to do here. Why not? There are a number of reasons.
Bible prophecy can be an intimidating subject. It is an area in which the average Bible reader may feel obliged to defer to the tyranny of authority. That is because, while a some prophetic passages speak very plainly, others that are presented in symbolic language. For example, prophecies in the book of Daniel, chapter seven, portray strange-looking beasts representing world powers and governments.
"After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it [was] diverse from all the beasts that [were] before it; and it had ten horns." (Daniel 7:7 KJV)
The angel presenting the vision to Daniel explained to him some of the symbolism, but he left much of it "sealed up" until a future time:
"But you, Daniel, close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end....I heard, but I did not understand. So I asked, 'My lord, what will the outcome of all this be?' He replied, 'Go your way, Daniel, because the words are closed up and sealed until the time of the end. Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand.'" (Daniel 12:4, 8-10 NIV)
The book of Revelation or Apocalypse uses very similar cryptic language: "And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy." (Rev 13:1 KJV) "And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast." (Rev 17:12 KJV)
Sincere students of the Bible often look for clues as to the meaning of such symbolic language. Some passages that are unclear may be puzzled out in the light of similar passages that are plainly spoken. Taking that into consideration, as well as what authorities have written on the subject in the past, many authors have attempted to unravel the mystery of the cryptic end times prophecies. And the entire Christian community has benefited from such honest efforts.
However, some other religious authorities have gone beyond such sincere scholarly study and, instead, have acted as if they, and they alone, were in possession of a secret decoder ring, or as if they had heard directly from God about what the symbolic passages really mean. They have then gone on to use their religious authority to get ordinary folk to accept their interpretations -- interpretations often at variance from what a layman reading the prophetic passage would conclude as to its meaning. This has happened both in cultic fringe groups and in traditional church settings.
Religious teachers and writers also sometimes wrongly feed their audiences what I would call a "Scripture sandwich." They do this by presenting first their own thoughts on a Bible verse in question, then they quote the verse, and then they follow up with their application of the verse. The result is that the reader or the listener receives a very thin slice of Scripture sandwiched in between thick layers of interpretation. The verse is taken out of context and is presented, instead, in the artificial context of the teacher's commentary. This is okay, if the commentary accurately represents the biblical context. But a Scripture sandwich can be misused if the surrounding discussion imparts a different flavor to the verse, such as when luncheon meat is made to taste differently by sandwiching it between thick slices of strong rye bread and smothering it with mustard and onions.
So, it is important for everyone to accompany their reading of Christian literature with even more diligent reading of the Bible itself. "For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12 NKJV)
Personally, I believe that the Bible was written for the average person, not for the theologian. Paul wrote, "Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong." (1 Corinthians 1:26-27 NIV)
I believe that the best way to find the true meaning of a passage in Scripture is usually to hand the Bible to a truck driver or a construction worker or a waitress in a restaurant, and ask him or her to read that passage and say what they think it means. Of course, it will help if they read the verses in context, and if they are familiar with the rest of the Bible as well. But I don't believe that a theologian would necessarily come up with a better explanation of the passage.
That is because God wrote the bible in a very unusual style. He wrote it so that the commercial fisherman has an advantage over the college professor.
Any professional writer knows how to produce a work that only the intellectual elite will understand understand. All that needs to be done is to use esoteric vocabulary and very complex sentence structure, with references to matters that only the highly educated would recognize.
The Bible, on the other hand, is written so that simple people are more likely to understand it than are the intellectuals and the highly educated. Jesus made this very clear: "At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, 'I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.'" (Luke 10:21 NIV)
That is very difficult to do.
Very few professional writers would be able to tell you how to do that -- what techniques to use to make their book understandable to simple people, yet keep its meaning hidden from the intellectual and highly educated reader.
Yet God was able to accomplish this in his inspiration of the Bible by his Holy Spirit.
The result is that you have a sacred book that you can hand to a farmer or to a shepherd, and he is more likely to gain the correct understanding when reading it, than is a professor or a doctor or a lawyer.
Still, there are those very cryptic passages in the Bible, especially in the prophetic works that Daniel wrote down in the book bearing his name, and that the apostle John wrote in his Revelation. Some of these passages were "sealed up until the time of the end." Does that mean that we can understand them now because we are in the time of the end? Perhaps. World events that have transpired since Daniel's time and since John's day may have fulfilled some of the prophecies, or may have made it easier to understand how others could be fulfilled.
But it is important to keep in mind that God's purpose varied in having the various portions of Scripture written down. The prophecies were all written for our benefit, but not all of them were meant to be understood in advance. Consider, for example, the dozens of predictions about the coming Messiah that were fulfilled by Jesus Christ. Some of these passages were not even known in advance to apply to the Messiah, and most of them certainly were not understood correctly, even by sincere Jewish scholars looking forward to fulfillment of the messianic hope.
God may similarly have intended for many of the end times prophecies to be understood only in hindsight.
Those that appear to be "sealed up" may not be placed there for our full understanding in this period of time. They may be in the Bible so we will have confidence that God knows exactly what will happen and exactly how it will happen and exactly when it will happen. These prophecies teach us to put our trust in Him. But, these passages may not be in the Scriptures to give us understanding in advance concerning all the details of what is about to happen.
Yet there are numerous other prophetic passages about the end times that were recorded to give us advance warning as to what to look for and what would happen. These were meant to be grasped and understood before the predicted events would take place. This is true of Jesus' prophecies related in Matthew chapter 24 and Luke chapter 21 and Mark chapter 13. Jesus described certain events and then said, "When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. ...when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near." (Luke 21:28-31 NIV) We owe it to ourselves, and to God, to heed these warnings and to keep on the watch. What are the signs that we should watch for? Another chapter of this book addresses this question.