Why So Many False Alarms?
The World’s End—How Near?
THE story is told of a boy who watched the sheep of the villagers. To stir up a bit of excitement, one day he cried out, “Wolf! Wolf!” when there was no wolf. The villagers rushed out with clubs to drive off the wolf, only to find that there was none. It was such great fun that later on the boy repeated his cry. Again the villagers rushed out with their clubs, only to discover that it was another false alarm. After that a wolf did come, and the boy sounded the warning, “Wolf! Wolf!” but the villagers dismissed his cry as another false alarm. They had been fooled too often.
So it has become with those who proclaim the end of the world. Down through the centuries since Jesus’ day, so many unfulfilled predictions have been made that many no longer take them seriously.
Gregory I, pope from 590 to 604 C.E., in a letter to a European monarch, said: “We also wish Your Majesty to know, as we have learned from the words of Almighty God in Holy Scriptures, that the end of the present world is already near and that the unending Kingdom of the Saints is approaching.”
In the 16th century, Martin Luther, progenitor of the Lutheran Church, predicted that the end was imminent. According to one authority, he stated: “For my part, I am sure that the day of judgment is just around the corner.”
Concerning one of the first Baptist groups, it is reported: “The Anabaptists of the early Sixteenth Century believed that the Millennium would occur in 1533.”
“Edwin Sandys (1519-1588), Archbishop of York and Primate of England . . . says, . . . ‘Let us be assured that this coming of the Lord is near.’”
William Miller, generally credited with founding the Adventist Church, is quoted as saying: “I am fully convinced that sometime between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844, according to the Jewish mode of computation of time, Christ will come.”
Does the failure of such predictions to come true convict as false prophets those who made them, within the meaning of Deuteronomy 18:20-22? That text reads: “The prophet who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded him to speak or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet must die. And in case you should say in your heart: ‘How shall we know the word that Jehovah has not spoken?’ when the prophet speaks in the name of Jehovah and the word does not occur or come true, that is the word that Jehovah did not speak.”
There are some who make spectacular predictions of the world’s end to grab attention and a following, but others are sincerely convinced that their proclamations are true. They are voicing expectations based on their own interpretation of some scripture text or physical event. They do not claim that their predictions are direct revelations from Jehovah and that in this sense they are prophesying in Jehovah’s name. Hence, in such cases, when their words do not come true, they should not be viewed as false prophets such as those warned against at Deuteronomy 18:20-22. In their human fallibility, they misinterpreted matters.*
Undeterred by previous failures, some seem to have been spurred on by the approach of the year 2000 and have made further predictions of the end of the world. The Wall Street Journal of December 5, 1989, published an article entitled “Millennium Fever: Prophets Proliferate, the End Is Near.” With the year 2000 approaching, various evangelicals are predicting that Jesus is coming and that the 1990’s will be “a time of troubles that has not been seen before.” At the time of this writing, the latest occurrence was in the Republic of Korea, where the Mission for the Coming Days predicted that on October 28, 1992, at midnight, Christ would come and take believers to heaven. Several other doomsday groups made similar predictions.
The flood of false alarms is unfortunate. They are like the wolf-wolf cries of the shepherd boy—people soon dismiss them, and when the true warning comes, it too is ignored.
But why has there been such a tendency through the centuries and down to our day for false alarms to be sounded, as Jesus said they would be? (Matthew 24:23-26) Jesus, after telling his followers about different events that would mark his return, said to them, as we read at Matthew 24:36-42: “Concerning that day and hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father. For just as the days of Noah were, so the presence of the Son of man will be. . . . Keep on the watch, therefore, because you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”
They were told not only to be on the watch and to be prepared but also to watch with eagerness. Romans 8:19 says: “For the eager expectation of the creation is waiting for the revealing of the sons of God.” Human nature is such that when we fervently hope and yearn for something and wait in eager expectation of it, a powerful temptation arises within us to see it at the door even when the evidence is insufficient. In our eagerness false alarms may be sounded.
What, then, will distinguish the true warning from the false ones? For the answer, please see the following article.
Jehovah’s Witnesses, in their eagerness for Jesus’ second coming, have suggested dates that turned out to be incorrect. Because of this, some have called them false prophets. Never in these instances, however, did they presume to originate predictions ‘in the name of Jehovah.’ Never did they say, ‘These are the words of Jehovah.’ The Watchtower, the official journal of Jehovah’s Witnesses, has said: “We have not the gift of prophecy.” (January 1883, page 425) “Nor would we have our writings reverenced or regarded as infallible.” (December 15, 1896, page 306) The Watchtower has also said that the fact that some have Jehovah’s spirit “does not mean those now serving as Jehovah’s witnesses are inspired. It does not mean that the writings in this magazine The Watchtower are inspired and infallible and without mistakes.” (May 15, 1947, page 157) “The Watchtower does not claim to be inspired in its utterances, nor is it dogmatic.” (August 15, 1950, page 263) “The brothers preparing these publications are not infallible. Their writings are not inspired as are those of Paul and the other Bible writers. (2 Tim. 3:16) And so, at times, it has been necessary, as understanding became clearer, to correct views. (Prov. 4:18)”—February 15, 1981, page 19.