End Times prophecies, and how I got it so wrong.

I quickly tired of all the books and writings on the ‘end times’ and that was long before the inception of the internet and all the added claptrap that brought! Eschatology is the proper term for this study of the prophecies concerning the end times of the Earth and our Lord’s return. I was a Christian only four years when I took my first job after leaving school in 1983. That was in the Faith Mission Bookshop in Belfast (purportedly the biggest Christian bookshop in Europe). Our bestselling books changed from month to month, but the most consistent seller that year (even across the Christian world) was one entitled ‘Christ Returns by 1984!’

Now there is the first and most important point to make: our Lord Jesus Christ said himself that even he did not know the time of his return:

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Matt.24:36)

So if anyone, anyone, tries to attempt to find a date or timescale for his return, stop listening to them! They think they know more than Jesus!! This is a fruitless pursuit. Jesus even gave clear warnings about such people:

Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, “I am he,” and, “The time is near.” Do not follow them. (Luke 21:8)

In 1986, I entered Belfast Bible College for a 3-year full-time course. Part of our lectures was a systematic study through each of the 66 books of the Bible with the students of all the years together to give it a full three years’ attention. When we got to Revelation, many in the college were excited; “oh, we’re going to study about the tribulation, the millennium, the antichrist…. I can’t wait!” and stuff like that. My reaction was sort of ‘ho hum’ if I’m honest. Our lecturer went through the chapters over about a dozen classes, and repeated the theme of Christ’s glorification, the angels crying ‘Holy is the Lamb’, how every knee will bow and confess that he is Lord, how his name is above all names… yes, that is the message of the book, from chapter 1 to chapter 22! At the end of the last class, he handed out an A4 sheet, only half-filled, with 4 paragraphs laying out pre-tribulationist premillenialism, post-tribulationist premillenialism, postmillenialism, and amillenialism. A couple of people were almost apoplectic; “THAT’S IT! THAT’S ALL WE’RE GOING TO GET ON IT!?” but I could not help but laugh. It was brilliant, as far as I was concerned.

I already knew that there were as many interpretations of eschatology as there are chapters in our Bible! You may attempt to decipher it all, but you have no certainty about your interpretation over anyone else’s. You have your opinion, but that’s all it is at the end of the day. Yes, there are different interpretations of many Bible passages, but they can be argued over fairly simply in comparison to the riddles and conundrums of the end times passages, and we know the most important passages about our salvation and Christ’s divinity are much clearer; it’s not all an enigma!

However, we are told by Jesus to watch for the signs: “be always on the watch” (Luke 21:36). In fact, it is because we do not know the day he will come, that he tells us to watch:

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. (Matt. 24:42)

So, as I have always said, we can only discern two definite things about the second coming;

1. Nobody knows when it will happen.
2. We must always be ready for it.

But if we cannot trust our own interpretations, how are we to watch? The most recent revelation I believe I have had is this: we are told to watch but we are never told to predict anything! What’s the difference? Even I got this wrong; in Revelation 8, we have an account of seven angels with seven trumpets, each heralding an event to happen. The third one caught my eye since I have long had an amateur interest in astronomy (not astrology!). About half of one of my shelves would be books on the universe and astrophysics.

The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water – the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter. (Rev. 8:10-11)

Knowing what I know, I thought this could not be a star, since even the smallest star would be many times bigger than the Earth. Could it be a ‘piece’ of a star? When stars explode into novae, what is left is gas and dust, since they are just glowing balls of nuclear plasma; there would be no ‘pieces’ to consider. To the ancients, planets were stars (planet means ‘wandering star’) and of course, also shooting stars, which look like stars, but are actually meteors; now they are pieces of rock from asteroids or planets, some only specks that cause brilliant steaks as they enter the atmosphere at immense speeds. When they land they are called meteorites. This was what John must be describing, and such a meteorite may contain toxic, even radioactive elements that would be pulverised on impact and could contaminate water. Yes, I thought, Wormwood must be a meteorite.

Some years after the disaster in Chernobyl, I heard that it was the Russian/Ukrainian word for ‘wormwood’. I think I laughed, and reasoned some ‘end times nutter’ was trying to fit Chernobyl into Revelation somewhere, somehow. Of course, I looked up the word myself, for a debunk. However…it does mean the herb wormwood, which is a bitter herb used to flavour absinthe. The word translates as ‘black grass’ or ‘black stalks’ but it does refer to that herb. I had to do a rethink, since this was no meteorite. Then I realised that a star is a natural nuclear reactor (yes, we could argue that stars use nuclear fusion, which we have yet to harness artificially, and our reactors use nuclear fission, but is that not just splitting hairs?). The resulting radiation leak, 200 times greater than the fallout from Hiroshima, did contaminate many rivers across Europe, and many people did die from its effects. Stunned, I was.

Once events like this happen, and we see them with wisdom and decipher them, we can be assured of the signs, but before it happens, our predictions may just come up with a dead-end alley. So why bother? Let us wait to see things happen first, then rejoice at their fulfilment. When I was a young Christian, I was told by many that the EU (well, it was the EEC then) was about to expand from its 9 members. Once it became 10!… Daniel describes his vision of a beast with 10 horns, and it appears again twice in Revelation. Many people link that beast to Rome, and so predicted a 10-member-EU to herald the end. And it happened! But… then it became 11, then 12… now, it’s what? 28? I even came across an old website from 2007 that tried to refer back to a 10-member alliance that sort of replaced NATO in Europe and how it all fitted into prophecies. The author of that site died in 2007 but he predicted things like sacrifices on the Temple Mount again and peace in Jerusalem by 2010! What were those warnings we read about?

Personally, I look for signs in the sun, moon and stars. I always wondered at how the moon would show signs, since it never changes at all. At least it hadn’t been changed, until 1969, when it was altered by footprints! (If you’re one of those that believes the conspiracy theory that all 6 missions were faked, as well as the failed Apollo 13 mission, just get a powerful telescope and look. You’ll see the landers and the lunar rovers with their tracks in the dust).

And, oh yes, Hagee’s ‘Blood Moons’? Load of old codswallop!

Stop listening to the predictors!

Grace be with you.

Don’t be the elder brother!

I recall a story I heard many years ago. It was related that it happened, but it may very well be an apocryphal urban myth sprung from a joke:

A man was known to a church to be very inconsistent in his ‘walk’ with Christ, and was often backsliding or falling away, only to come back every now and then and repent all over again. Then he turned up at a gospel rally and heard an altar call to come forward for a fresh ‘filling’ of the Holy Spirit.

He walked forward, hands raised, in tears, saying “Fill me, Lord! Fill me!!”

Then a voice was heard from the back: “Don’t Lord! He leaks!”

While we can laugh at it, a serious message is there.

As far as stories go, the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) is one of the best ever told. It is many layered, and has rich characters and wonderful applications. I can only imagine how our Lord Jesus delivered it to his audience. Stephen King, eat your heart out! One of the characters given fairly little attention is the elder brother. He was the one who stayed on the farm and worked diligently and loyally for his father all those years the younger Prodigal was away. When he came in from the field after a typical hard day’s work, he asked what all the noise was. When told it was a celebration for the return of his brother, he just took a big huff and decided he wouldn’t join in.

You can understand his attitude, it was only human: “all these years I’ve been faithful and hard-working while he’s been off wasting his entire inheritance on a pathetic life and useless no-good friends, and he is the one to get the fatted calf, a robe, a ring, and a huge welcoming party!”

The father (that great and magnificent father who allowed his son to find his own way in the world, but still stood looking at the horizon regularly, praying for his son’s safe return) went out to entreat the elder brother [ask earnestly or anxiously] to come in and rejoice with them. His reply to his elder son was that he still had his inheritance – “all I have is yours”, but that the return of the brother who was once lost, once presumed long dead, was indeed a time for celebration. The elder brother’s problem was self-righteousness; he saw himself as ‘better’ than the younger, more loyal and faithful, and yes, he was! However, in the father’s eyes, they were both his sons. He could not disown or turn his back on the younger one, especially since he had returned in contrition and humility.

Jesus reinforces this principle of the kingdom (as all parables relate to spiritual principles) with the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16). The workers hired at the eleventh hour were paid the same wage as those hired earlier in the day, so those who worked longer grumbled about it. The vineyard owner asked them why they should grumble when they were paid the wage he agreed with them at the start; “Or are you envious because I am generous?” he asks them at the close.

This envy at God’s generosity is unbecoming of those of us forgiven of our sins and solely dependent on that same generosity of grace from him. If God decides to be gracious and generous (as we well know he is!) to another, who looks to us as if they are deserving of no understanding or allowance, who are we to question that grace poured out? Are we any more deserving of that grace just because we have been more faithful to God like the elder brother, or more religious?

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

You see, I believe that Mohammad was a typical ‘elder brother’ – he heard the gospel of Christ but rejected it. For him, vicarious atonement was just wrong; he didn’t like it. It’s the mainstay of the Christian faith, dependent upon the grace of God to allow Christ’s death on the cross to atone for all who believe in him. Mohammad was a pious and holy man, and he wanted piety and religious observance to be the means of salvation, so he created his complex religion with its five pillars and all the trappings that go with them. You must observe them all faithfully to be in with a chance of God’s favour. This proves that they do not worship the same God that I worship: my God is gracious and generous, and if he deems anyone that I may look down upon, in my pious pride, to be worthy of the same grace he gave me, so be it.

Why I do NOT ‘support Israel’!

I blogged on this before, almost two years ago, simply asking why I should show support for Israel, as so many of my fellow evangelicals claim I should:

https://thealternativeulsterman.com/2012/11/13/support-israel-why/

My reasons

I’ve taken a break from other blogs I’m drafting, and my book, to address this again. I do not ‘support Israel’. Note how I placed that in parenthesis; the reason is simple: I am being asked to show a support for the state of Israel, or rather the government of that nation. I fully support the people, who have a right to enjoy life and freedom without the attacks on their liberty by Hamas or any other terrorist organisation. I also support the rights of the Palestinian people to those very same rights without the attacks on them launched by the Israeli state. Do they support Hamas? Many of them did vote for Hamas, yes (yet many have never voted for Hamas). Does that make them culpable in crimes performed by Hamas? No! Politics are complex, and voting is done for many reasons. Palestinians are subjected to propaganda by Hamas and convinced that their interests are best served by a group that ‘stands up to the aggressors’ (for them, Israel) than by a more moderate group who would just ‘give in’ to the Israelis. Israeli voters are subjected to the very same things, and one of the downsides of democracy is that in conflict situations, the peacemakers (the ‘doves’) often find they lose votes as anger leads people to vote the other way. I live in Northern Ireland and I still see it going on i.e. the peace ‘process’ is perpetuated, not resolved, since this leads to more votes for the extremist parties; I see a DUP-Sinn Fein alliance, not forged in secret meetings, but via a strangely unilateral understanding on both sides that ongoing spats serve them well democratically. Such is the scourge of political analysts and ‘spin doctors’ who run political negotiations in the 21st century. The same exists in the Middle East; if Hamas truly are firing their weapons from, or hiding them in, civilian places like schools and hospitals (which I actually believe is perfectly possible since it serves their purposes), then Israel only need to provide this evidence and show that they cannot fire on these places. Why don’t they do that? Is it not possible that it serves their purposes too? Hamas do not have the interests of their people as their first priority, and I believe the Israeli government do not have the interests of their people top priority either! In terms of actual casualties, Israel have the Palestinians well outgunned. With their wealth from the support of the US, they have constructed their ‘dome of steel’ that is practically impenetrable. I hear about the ’60 missiles a day’ (or is it 90?) fired from Gaza – how many have actually landed? Correct me if I’m wrong but I believe the civilian casualty rate is about one in Israel. What is it in Gaza? Please stop perpetuating the Israeli propaganda that they are suffering; the game has changed radically from the 70s and 80s. Yes, they have a right to defend themselves, of course, but sob stories are very sparse on that side.

Major problem is that if I highlight anything Israel are doing wrong, I get labelled as a ‘Hamas sympathiser’ or a ‘terrorist supporter’ – this is childish!

[Just as I was about to publish this, my BBC news app alerted that the death toll is now over 1,000 – 985 Palestinians, 29 Israelis]

Other people’s reasons

The main thing I hear among evangelicals is that Israelis are somehow our ‘brothers’ (or at least our cousins – I heard this many years ago at an event in Church House in Belfast that turned out to be ecumenical). Somehow we are to stop persecuting the Jews and being anti-Semitic because of this ‘closeness of faith’ reason. You see, we as Europeans are guilty of centuries of pogroms and the holocaust, so we need to repent of this. Fine, a collective purge of conscience is fine. Let’s also do it over the crusades against all the Muslims! “Ah, but that’s different!” Why?

I oppose anti-Semitism for a very simple reason: I will support and defend anyone who is persecuted for anything other than an actual crime against others, be it race, class, religion, gender, sexual orientation, mental capacity, mental health…. To do any other is wrong, unchristian and sinful! James exhorts us to action:

If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. (James 4:17)

For this same reason, I am against hatred and condemnation of Muslims (like the Palestinians) for the actions of moronic extremists (like Hamas). Stop being partisan and one-sided! Such hatred is too easily stirred, believe me please (see my last blog!).

The idea that somehow Israel is included in the salvation of God has been perpetuated by unbiblical people like John Hagee (who even stated that Jesus never said he was the Messiah!!!). His dual covenant theology (which he denies in name but preaches in all but name) is pure heresy and utter nonsense. So Israel are our friends? Well, Western evangelicals have been their friends, but is this reciprocated? Here’s an article to read; fairly lengthy, but if you’re a Christian with an interest in Israel, you will find it fascinating:

http://davidduke.com/evangelicals-who-serve-the-anti-christ-2/

Did you read it? All of it? Or was it too unpalatable? Duke really does come across as a Jew-hater, I admit. His whole site is a rabid anti-Semitic rant, but his points deserve investigation and/or debate. I analysed his claims, being the mythbuster that I am. His ‘sources’ turn out to be only about 3 in total, and the Talmud is so complex and so altered over centuries (unlike our scripture!) that it is very difficult to validate these ‘translations’ or versions – any corroborating sources I found were not exactly non-partisan, some were downright “burn the Jews!” There’s a good wiki on ‘Jesus in the Talmud’, but I didn’t read it all (beyond my interest, if I’m honest):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_in_the_Talmud. Plenty there if you want to look into it, but not for me.

I’m interested in the present day, not what some Pharisaical scholars may have believed. On that point, the persecution of Christians in Israel is well corroborated (while not reported by our media; they’re all ‘anti-Israel’ you say? Huh?). The ‘Voice of the Martyrs’ website lists Israel as a ‘hostile nation’ – just try sharing your Christian faith there and you might well face problems. Many will say they have had no problem and felt welcomed when they visited Israel. Firstly, not all Israelis are hostile to you! Yet again, we cannot condemn all the Jews for the actions of a few. A pastor in Israel was sent a letter bomb which injured his son, but he called for no retaliation against Jews for the actions of extremists. Good for him! Secondly, many Christians visit Israel with the same attitude that pervades thinking from the likes of Hagee. He claims he has met with every Israeli Prime Minister in the last 30 years or so, and they all love him. Of course, since he brings plenty of cash with him, and he doesn’t preach to them! He accepts them as ‘brothers’ in the same ‘Judaeo-Christian’ faith (you’ve read about the ludicrousness of that tag in Duke’s article, so I’ll not elaborate). And the experience of residents is never the same as visitors, anywhere.

The theology

Just sit down and read through Paul’s epistles to the Romans and the Galatians (or even all of them), and the epistle to the Hebrews too (author unknown – I don’t believe it’s Pauline). Paul lays out clearly (as a former Pharisee himself, and a zealous one who actually persecuted Christians) how the new covenant is available to all who believe in Christ. He is the fulfilment of the law and the one foretold throughout the history of Israel. The true Israel of God were the ones who saw and heard him, and believed. The ones who crucified him weren’t “the Jews” but those in Israel who were unable to see his status as the Son of David, the Son of God, the Messiah. They were blind to the truth that he satisfies all the requirements of the law, yet the law was never the means of salvation – Abraham, who was before the law, was justified by faith! (Romans 4). Jesus stated that Abraham saw the day of his coming, and rejoiced (John 8:56). We who also believe in Christ achieve that justification. We are all sons of Abraham by adoption, by our faith. Stop believing this utter crap that the Jews have their own way to God! The ‘remnant’ foretold who in the end will turn back to God are in his hands, and they need to turn to Christ just like every other person on Earth. Interpretations of such end times prophecies can just tie you in knots, so don’t sweat it. We only need to remain true to the simple message of the gospel, and not allow any other issues to cloud it, in any way.

I shall unreservedly support any individuals suffering in the world (I am commanded to love even my own enemy!), but I will not unreservedly support their government, or any government, since they are all capable of being corrupted by power and of transgressing natural law and rights.

Grace be with you.

The plank in my eye

‘Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.’

– Matthew 7:3-5

We often like to quote these words of Jesus, as long as it applies to someone else, eh? A very strange thing has happened to me this week. Yesterday, I unfollowed a fellow blogger, telling him he was biased and hateful. I had come across his blog as it was highlighting atrocities committed by ISIS that world media seems to be oblivious to. I had a good debate with him, but in the end I realised he was not going to answer points I made about my faith that I thought he got wrong, nor was he going to post a link I had sent him (that he had asked for from someone else!) because it challenged his own bias. I got a bit of abuse for telling him plainly that I was the fool for believing he was committed to truth and not just one side of a story. He had allowed his righteous hatred of the acts of extremist jihadists to become a foil for condemning Islam and everyone who followed it. I may see it as a false religion, but that doesn’t make almost 2 billion people on Earth all evil!

While I was dealing with this hater, I was facing my own jury, unaware of the links and the similarities. My hatred of political doctrines had seared my conscience to become a hater of persons, one person in particular, whose face I cannot see without feeling anger. I had posted a meme of my own on social media, thinking I was just expressing my opinion, which I was entitled to do. Entitlement comes from many sources, but maybe the worst is when it arises from a sense of superiority or pride. That is something very prevalent among Christians, since they know that they do have the truth. I cannot comment for other religions, I only know what I know. Paul addressed the Ephesian church with an admonition:

‘In your anger do not sin’: do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,

– Ephesians 4:26

Now the Ephesian church is the one in Revelation that was praised for its correct doctrine; they “hated the practices of the Nicolaitans” but our Lord had one thing against them – they had “left their first love.” I can think of many evangelical churches in this country that fit that description. Why was Paul addressing this to them? Did he know how they had become? So full of their own self-righteousness that they had become little more than a people who knew who to hate, and how and why?

It took many… many fellow believers to rebuke me before I saw clearly (my wife was the first, but I tend not to listen to her enough – ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ – true!). My post was offensive and unchristian, and unthinking (which is the very thing I pride myself on). And there it was… my pride, in my ‘superior’ intellect. Our Lord does not address others with his words, he addresses US!

I look back on the past few days and see a self-righteous man, unaware of the huge plank in his own eye, not even thinking for one second that self-righteousness was a trait he had. Yet in this instance, this area, he was! Now that the plank has been removed, I can see it clearly, and should it present itself to enter my eye again, I should be better equipped to recognise it.

The oft-quoted mantra “hate the sin, not the sinner” is something we need to remind ourselves regularly, while not allowing it to become no more than a twee sentiment, or a mask for genuine hatred.

Forgive me, everyone. My imperfection was laid bare and I was the last to see. This does not feel good right now, but it will in the end. I am grateful for those who can and do address things they see as wrong, and all your comments got through in the end. I always welcome dialogue. Keep addressing sin as you see it, but please beware of your own anger, as Paul admonishes us. Don’t go where I have been; I am a more wary believer now (and more aware!).

Grace be with you.

Forgiveness

I have been asked on more than one occasion if I hold a personal grudge against Margaret Thatcher, as if I personally have been hurt or hard done by her policies. Simple answer is no, BUT it would appear that I find it hard to move on from her legacy. (I see it all around in the mess we live in!)

The first time that I tried to strike out in my own business, it coincided with one of the recessions that hit us which have been laid squarely at her ‘boom and bust’ economics policy, but that has largely been forgotten by me if I’m honest. The business just didn’t work!

I worked in the Citizens Advice Bureau for many years, and it was there that I saw the true effects of Thatcherism on so many hard-working good people, who’d been cast aside by an uncaring society. That has affected me deeply, I’ll admit openly.

Add to that the recent revelation that someone who is related to me has forgiven a close relative of theirs who wronged them badly, yet I cannot believe how they can so easily befriend them again. It wasn’t me that was hurt, so why do I find forgiveness in that case to be more of a problem?

I know that I can forgive people who have hurt me badly, personally, deeply. I can stand on that!

So here is my question:
Is it possible that it actually is easier to forgive when you are the one directly affected? I know that I cannot tell victims of terrorist violence to forgive and move on. That’s not my place and I have no right, but I know that I want to!

Grace be with you.