The End of the World and all that . . .

It’s a beautiful day for Jesus to come!! And one man thinks today is the day. A few years ago, Harold Camping, a man with a radio network that has thousands of listeners made a prediction. The world was going to end in 1994. It didn’t happen. The same man is now saying that the end is going to be today, May 21, 2011 (at 6:00 pm in each timezone). This has stricken fear into the hearts of some, confusion and befuddlement into the minds of many, and caused scoffing and laughter by many others.

Is this the day Jesus will come? Well, I won’t put it past him, but if he does come it won’t be because somebody set a date! Jesus told his disciples that no one knows the day or the hour and God is more trustworthy than man. Does that mean Jesus can’t come tomorrow? Of course not! He can and will come at the time of his choosing regardless of people’s predictions for or against. But that sure hasn’t stopped people from trying! Various dates for the end of the world (some of which included Jesus second coming and some didn’t) have ranged from 400AD to 2240AD.

Now I put no stock in this date-setter, and don’t think today is the day, but it wouldn’t scare me if Jesus did come today – and that’s a huge change! I grew up terrified of the ‘time of trouble’ when all the ‘false Christians’ would come after us Sabbath-keepers and would try to destroy us from without while our own sinful natures would seek to make us commit one confessed sin so we could be destroyed from within. And the reason I was scared had to do with another bunch of date setters, and a particular date: October 22, 1844.

Looking for the Second Coming

I took my first breaths at Loma Linda Hospital, the flagship Hospital of the Seventh-day Adventist church, and was raised to be a good little SDA girl. What does that have to do with date setting? Everything! The Seventh-day Adventist church would not exist if it weren’t for a failed date-setter’s prediction. By all accounts, William Miller was an ordinary Baptist farmer when he came to the startling conclusion that Jesus would return sometime between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844, then recalculated, ‘found his mistake,’ and set the new date at October 22, 1844. After the failure of Jesus to return on October 22, 1844, the final date he had set, William Miller repented, admitted his mistake, and went back to his farm and his Baptist church. Too many of his followers did not.

One group of them coalesced around a small group of people that included James White and Ellen Harmon (who would soon become James’s wife), Joseph Bates, Hiram Edson, and others. Rather than admitting date setting was wrong and repenting of their deception, they decided the date was right. It was just the event that was wrong – Jesus did come, not to earth, but to the ‘second apartment of the Heavenly Sanctuary’. To reach their conclusions, they testified, they studied and prayed and agonized – and then trusted the confirmations given by the young ‘messenger of the Lord’ Ellen White.

From that beginning – reinterpretation instead of repentance – a whole superstructure of doctrines was built. Some ideas the young movement borrowed from many places. They embraced Sabbatarianism, ‘health reform,’ soul sleep/annihilation, the idea that the papacy is the anti-Christ. Other doctrines they cobbled together themselves, especially their interpretation of the three angels of Revelation 14 (they teach that the SDA church is the third angel) and the Sanctuary construct they put together to explain that Jesus did move in 1844, but instead of coming to earth, he changed addresses in the Heavenly Sanctuary in order to start what they termed the Investigative Judgement – to make the final determination of who is saved and who is lost.

I grew up listening to my elders talking about the Great Disappointment (God covered the mistake till afterwards, you know), about ways to survive the coming time of trouble (including learning to recognize wild plants, and make wilderness shelters), and about becoming perfect enough to ‘stand before God without a mediator’ when our ‘time of probation’ was over (if it were possible, even the very elect could be lost). I was so thankful even as a small child that Jesus came to earth to show us how to live, and to make it possible for us to have a second chance to get it right, but I was also very fearful because there were so many rules to follow and even sins of ignorance could get me lost.

Though I gave my heart to Jesus as a child, I spent much of that childhood worried that I was lost – that I’d forgotten a sin, or wondering if the time of trouble had begun. Time was always an issue. The time till sundown Friday when Sabbath began, the time till sundown Saturday when ‘worldly pursuits’ could resume, any time used during the week for things that were not ‘useful’, and the time that I should be using to perfect my character so that I might be part of the last generation of believers – who would be so perfect, Ellen White averred, that “the character of Christ would be perfectly reproduced” and he would be able to claim us as his own, the time that I never seemed to find enough of to verify for myself what my church and my family taught me was the precious, present truth. After all, time was running out. Any time we could be called to stand without Jesus mediating for us . . .

But Is That What Jesus Says?
While he was still on earth, Jesus warned of false prophets and strong delusions to come. No one but the Father knows the day and the time Jesus would return, he said, that is why we are to watch and be ready at all times. But don’t be fooled. He will not return secretly, we will never be left without a mediator, and he will not lose any of those who come to the Father by him. Come unto me, he said, and I will give you rest. Time is an issue, of course, but the time that is important is now! This is our time to time to trust Him, to get to know him, and to live in him. We don’t have to wait for some alarm clock to go off and says ‘eeks, he’s coming today’!! Neither do we need to fear his coming.

What Changed?
What changed for me was learning to take Jesus at his word, and letting teachings that were not coherent with his go by the wayside. And what a relief it is! Jesus didn’t, as I was taught, die to ‘give us a second chance to get it right’ he died to SAVE us to the uttermost who come to him in faith. If he comes sometime today I will be glad to see him! I belong to him and he claims his own. If he doesn’t come for another 100 or 1000 years, what is that to me? My business is to enjoy the life he has given me now (for he is the light of life to all people), to share him with those who are searching, and trust him with my present, as well as my past and my future. Are we at the end of time? Well, yes! But we’re not the ones holding the clock, so what’s the point of worrying about it? He’ll be here when he gets here, so chill!

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