Pastors Report - 18 Aug 2017
eclipse

Heavenly Signs ... Of the End?

And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years." (Genesis 1:14)

The Eclipse:

On Monday, 21 August the United States is to witness a most unusual solar eclipse. I say unusual as it will be the first to cross the country from coast to coast in 99 years, and the first-ever total eclipse to be witnessed exclusively within the United States since its founding as a nation. This path of totality – where the moon will completely cover the sun and the sun's faint atmosphere, the corona, can be seen – will stretch from Oregon in the far west to Charleston, South Carolina on the eastern seaboard. Observers north and south of this 70 mile wide path will still see a partial eclipse, where the moon covers part of the sun's disk, but not the totality.

Although a solar eclipse is predictable down to the second, they have for millennia been regarded as profound occurrences in which the hand of God is evident – warning signs from the Almighty. And well they might – as regardless of the disingenuous answer given to the question found within NASA's FAQ: Are total solar eclipses only visible from Earth? – the totality is very much a spectacle ONLY visible from this uniquely positioned planet within our solar system – where mankind, with his enquiring mind, has been placed to witness it. As the astronomer John Gribbin admits in his book "Alone in the Universe: Why our Planet is Unique":

Just now the Moon is about 400 times smaller than the Sun, but the Sun is 400 times farther away than the Moon, so that they look the same size on the sky. At the present moment of cosmic time, during an eclipse, the disc of the Moon almost exactly covers the disc of the Sun. In the past the Moon would have looked much bigger and would have completely obscured the Sun during eclipses; in the future, the Moon will look much smaller from Earth and a ring of sunlight will be visible even during an eclipse. Nobody has been able to think of a reason why intelligent beings capable of noticing this oddity should have evolved on Earth just at the time that the coincidence was there to be noticed. It worries me, but most people seem to accept it as just one of those things. ( https://evolutionnews.org)

Messianic Expectations:

It is little wonder therefore that we find this impending eclipse being heralded by a number of individuals as a specific warning from God and containing messianic expectations. First, David Mead and the eclipse preceding the arrival of planet X – his conclusion only arrived at, "after finding Bible passages":

David Meade, author of 'Planet X – The 2017 Arrival', asserts the planet Nibiru (also known as Planet X) will crash into our own on 23 September 2017. Although scientists deny the planet's existence, Meade is convinced he is right after finding bible passages to support his claims.

Earlier this year Meade asserted that Nibiru would crash into Earth in October, however he has now moved the date forward a few weeks. The Great American Eclipse - the total solar eclipse which will enshroud parts of the US in complete darkness on 21 August - now apparently indicates the planet's arrival. ( http://www.telegraph.co.uk)

Here is what Michael Parker – of the "prophecies of the end times" website – had to say:

My recent study regarding the omens that solar eclipses bring as judgment upon gentile nations has brought me to the conclusion that this solar eclipse will be a warning of impending natural catastrophe, and also will involve the warning of a war that the United States and Israel will be entangled in. ( http://propheciesoftheendtimes.com)

The “Day of the Lord” as described by numerous major and minor old testament prophets, also include this description of the Sun being darkened. We can therefore with confidence, and from a biblical standpoint, know that a Solar Eclipse signifies a warning from God. ( http://propheciesoftheendtimes.com)

And a claim that the rapture of the righteous is about to happen during a time of tribulation on this earth – between the 2017 solar eclipse and another expected in 2024:

The group of self-described 'hardcore Christians' behind the website 'Unsealed' have predicted that the world will end on August 21, 2017 -- when a total solar eclipse is expected to occur across the United States, plunging the entire continent and part of Western Europe into darkness, sparking the end of the world. ( https://www.aol.com)

This specific time period is demarcated by two total solar eclipses forming an 'X' right over the chief Gentile and Evangelical nation on earth - the United States. The point on the map where the two eclipses intersect is a region of Illinois known as "Little Egypt" and often just "Egypt". The world may very well be undergoing a replay of the events of Exodus: an end times pharaoh takes the reigns (the antichrist), as God's judgments are poured out on the earth (the Tribulation), and His people leave (Believers leaving for Heaven and Jews leaving for the wilderness). ( http://www.unsealed.org)

As we read such accounts, I wonder if we realise just how similar the anticipation of Christ's first appearance was to what appears prophesied to take place in the lead-up to His return? I'm not talking about the appearing itself – the way He came as flesh and blood the first time could not be more different from His prophesied spectacular entry when He comes again. What I am talking about is how the messianic expectations that preceded Christ's first coming were very much a type or forerunner of what appears destined to occur in the next few years.

"Judgement Day" Predicted:

I well remember a few years ago reading a prediction for the return of Christ given by a traditional "christian" evangelical group, who were promoting an argument with utter conviction that can best be summed up something like this (from one of their websites – from which the pages of "proof" have now been removed!) ......

"Years ago we learned from the Bible that the flood occurred in the year 4990 B.C. More recently we learned that Judgment Day is to occur in the year 2011 A.D...... 2011 A.D. is exactly 7,000 years after 4990 B.C.

"Just before the flood Noah was instructed by God that in seven days the flood would begin (Genesis 7:10-16). Using the language of 2 Peter 3:8 that “a day is as a thousand years,” it is like saying through Noah, who was a preacher (2 Peter 2:5): “mankind has seven days or 7,000 years to escape destruction.” Since 2011 A.D. is precisely 7,000 years after Noah preached, God has given mankind a wonderful proof that Judgment Day will occur in the year 2011...."

The entire thing seemed so horribly familiar. Shamefully we have witnessed far too similar reasoning both in and out of what was once the Church of God. And where does such reasoning above lead? ... To the following statement, which was emblazoned in reflective lettering on the sides of a fleet of RV vans in which the group toured USA cities : "Have you heard the Awesome news? - The End of the World is Almost Here! It begins May 21, 2011 - The Bible Guarantees It" -- and gave a prediction that the return of Christ and associated "secret rapture" was to take place on the 21st May that year, and the end of the world and the entire physical universe on 21st October 2011.

Christ's First Coming:

Leaving aside being about 3,000 years off for the date of the flood ... and that the Bible does not predict a secret rapture ... and that the return of Christ does not involve the destruction of the physical universe ... and that the heavenly signs FOLLOW the tribulation (Matthew 24:29) but come BEFORE the Day of the Lord (Joel 2:31) ... the point I am making is that predictions such as the ones above should still make us sit up and take notice. It does not matter how way-out or wacky the idea, such messianic ramblings themselves are still significant prophetically. I repeat: a similar wave of messianic fervour was taking place around the time Jesus Christ appeared the first time, and such things appear to be part and parcel of the end-time events we are to watch for this time around as well.

Let's look at some from Christ's day....

Shortly after the crucifixion we are given a glimpse into this messianic zeal when we note the comments made by the leader named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law who had "seen it all" and appeared to view the apostles as just one more crackpot messianic group. He said:...

  • Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing.
  • After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.(Acts 5:36-37 NIV)

Also the Roman captain's words to Paul:

  • Aren’t you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the wilderness some time ago?” (Acts 21:38 NIV)
From Prophecy:

Imagine just how many people Simeon might have talked to about his revelation:

  • And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy [Spirit] was upon him.
  • And it was revealed unto him by the Holy [Spirit] , that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. ( Luke 2:25-26)

Even the Scribes and Chief Priests were under no illusions:

  • And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.
  • And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,
  • And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. ( Matt 2:4-6)
  • Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee? ....
  • They answered and said unto him, Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet. ( John 7:40-41,52)

Then we can see how the people around Jesus were expecting the Messiah to appear:

  • The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things. ( John 4:25)
  • When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone. ( John 6:15)
  • Then said some of them ... Do the rulers know indeed that this is the very Christ? ( John 7:25)
  • And many of the people believed on him, and said, When Christ cometh, will he do more miracles than these which this man hath done? ( John 7:31)
  • .... Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord. ( John 12:13)
Josephus:

Josephus also had something to say of various messianic aspirations that Rome had to deal with around that time:

  • Now it came to pass, while Fadus was procurator of Judea, that a certain magician, whose name was Theudas, persuaded a great part of the people to take their effects with them, and follow him to the river Jordan; for he told them he was a prophet, and that he would, by his own command, divide the river, and afford them an easy passage over it; and many were deluded by his words... (Antiquities 20.5.1)

  • In Sepphoris also, a city of Galilee, there was one Judas (the son of that arch-robber Hezekias, who formerly overran the country, and had been subdued by king Herod); this man got no small multitude together, and brake open the place where the royal armor was laid up, and armed those about him, and attacked those that were so earnest to gain the dominion. (War II,4,1)

  • In Perea also, Simon, one of the servants to the king, relying upon the handsome appearance and tallness of his body, put a diadem upon his own head also... (War II,4,2)

  • At this time it was that a certain shepherd ventured to set himself up for a king; he was called Athrongeus. ... He put a troop of armed men under each of these his brethren, .... and at this time he put a diadem about his head, and continued after that to overrun the country for no little time with his brethren, and became their leader in killing both the Romans and those of the king's party (War II,4,3)

  • ... such men as deceived and deluded the people under pretence of Divine inspiration, but were for procuring innovations and changes of the government; and these prevailed with the multitude to act like madmen, and went before them into the wilderness, as pretending that God would there show them the signals of liberty.(War II,13,4)

  • But there was an Egyptian false prophet that did the Jews more mischief than the former; for he was a cheat, and pretended to be a prophet also, and got together thirty thousand men that were deluded by him; these he led round about from the wilderness to the mount which was called the Mount of Olives, and was ready to break into Jerusalem by force (War II,13,5)

  • ... now these impostors and deceivers persuaded the multitude to follow them into the wilderness, and pretended that they would exhibit manifest wonders and signs, that should be performed by the providence of God. And many that were prevailed on by them suffered the punishments of their folly; for Felix brought them back, and then punished them....(Antiquities 20.8.6)

Why Messianic Fervour?

The reason for such chaotic expectations seen around the time of Christ was a MISreading of the biblical prophecies that predicted His arrival as world ruler and the liberator of Israel. Numerous prophecies deal with the Messiah, but at that time they were incorrectly interpreted as a single event because those reading them had no concept of God's overall Plan. They were therefore totally unaware of the 2,000 year gap that had to occur between Him coming first to die for mankind and to establish His Church and then coming the second time to establish Israel as His model nation and restore the Government of God to this entire earth.

In such confusion there was one key prophecy that specifically deals with the timing of the Messiah's appearing. That is the 70 weeks prophecy of Daniel chapter nine:

  • Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.
  • Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times.
  • And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined.(Daniel 9:24-26)

The above prophecy was a key reason for the rise in messianic fervour at the time of Christ. When coupled with the Roman occupation and other events that could be seen around them, it allowed every crackpot with some kind of messianic idea to surface and gain a following.

How Much More Today:

As we approach the end of the age, we should actually expect similar chaos to exist – as people once again misread the prophecies because of a lack of understanding concerning the Plan of God. In fact, two prophesied separate – but related – problems are specifically predicted to arise within this confusion:

First the false prophets themselves – both "deceiving and being deceived" (2Timothy 3:13)

  • For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.
  • See, I have told you beforehand.
  • Therefore if they say to you, 'Look, He is in the desert!' do not go out; or 'Look, He is in the inner rooms!' do not believe it. (Matthew 24:24-26 NKJV)

But secondly; this constant "crying wolf" is prophesied to cause a global cynicism against any and every prediction – including the Truth:

  • Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts,
  • And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. (II Peter 3:3-4)

We can already see this cynicism in the vast majority of news articles that have anything to do with prophecy. An entry in Wikipedia entitled, " List of Dates Predicted for Apocalyptic Events" gives a whole myriad of failed predictions over the centuries – with the following for the last five years alone:

Determining The Time:

So how can we claim that what we believe is any different? Why should what we have to say not fail – just as the above? There is one major reason, and should we ever lose sight of this, we too could so easily find ourselves with unfulfilled dates on our hands! That reason is because God allows His Holy Spirit – a Spirit that reveals what is to come (John 16:13) – to lead those that obey Him (Acts 5:32) . And part of what Christ expects us to be obedient to in understanding the timing of His Second Coming, is that we concentrate on events – not dates.

Jesus Christ specifically tells us, it is NOT for us "to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power" (Acts 1:7) , We therefore should not be trying continually to set dates. He nevertheless very clearly indeed reminds His true followers to: "Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch!! (Mark 13:35-37)

Some try and give the impression that such "watching" is limited merely to us being alert to own spiritual condition. Certainly, that is very much included, and the very PURPOSE of watching is that it should act as a prompt to us to be sure our spiritual lives are in order and that our relationship with the Father is constantly developing, but Christ gives clear instruction to show that, as a catalyst of this process, we do indeed need to be watching for specific events:

  • Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh:
  • So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. (Matthew 24:32-33)

To determine the precise arrival of summer, an event was to be witnessed – when " his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves". In the same way a parallel is drawn with us observing, "these things" being mentioned in Matthew 24. Otherwise why would Christ have detailed these various events, unless we need to be watching for them to unfold?

End Time Deception:

Over and over again in Matthew 24, within the context of Christ's return, one "event" we are instructed to be acutely aware of is deception by man. And the clear implication is that the intensity of such deception is going to markedly increase as the end-time progresses:

  • And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. (Matthew 24:4)
  • For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. (Matthew 24:5)
  • And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. (Matthew 24:11)
  • For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if [it were] possible, they shall deceive the very elect. (Matthew 24:24)

One key aspect of this deception is the timing of His return. The implication is for a multitude of conflicting messianic expectations just as occurred when the True Christ, or Messiah, appeared in the first century. And this is why – even though the dates being proclaimed by such people today are almost certainly going to ultimately be proven wrong – the fact they are proclaiming such dates at all – at this crucial point in history – is still, very, very significant. The irony is, that their wacky ideas, dates and failed messianic predictions are actually one of the prophesied end-time events we are instructed to be watching for – encouraging us to draw ever closer to God and His Way so we can be truly ready to serve in His Glorious Kingdom when it does indeed arrive!

  • "And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring;[ not the coming eclipse...but heavenly signs to occur AFTER the tribulation]
  • men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken.
  • Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
  • Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near."
  • Then He spoke to them a parable: "Look at the fig tree, and all the trees.
  • When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near.
  • So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near.
  • Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place.
  • Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.
  • "But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly.
  • For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth.
  • Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man."(Luke 21:25-36)