Christ’s Second Presence No False Alarm
FOR Jehovah’s witnesses to be sounding a warning of the end of the present wicked system of things in a fiery Armageddon seems farfetched and wholly inconceivable to this complacent generation. Mockingly they say to Jehovah’s witnesses, ‘We know all about it. Our grandfathers and our great-grandfathers preached the same thing. But, as you see, the world is very much the same. Things will always be this way.’ But those who have lived in both generations, the present and the past, know that things are not the same, that changes have taken place, and that there is no basis for such fruitless reasoning.
True, many false alarms in the past have been sounded. But does that prove the present alarm sounded by Jehovah’s witnesses to be false too? The Devil would like to have you believe nothing else. It would be folly for a fire department not to respond to an alarm just because the previous forty or fifty warnings were false alarms. This one might not be. Every alarm must be investigated to ensure security. Likewise, it would be folly for people of good will at the present time to ignore the intensified warning of Jehovah’s witnesses, simply because some Bible believers of the past have sounded false alarms.
Jesus definitely did teach that he would return again. On one occasion his disciples asked him: “Tell us, When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence and of the consummation of the system of things?” Jesus did not tell them that he would be visibly present with them. Rather, his presence with them would be noted solely by circumstantial evidence. That is why his disciples asked him for the “sign” of his presence. There would be no need for a sign were they to see him personally in the flesh. Jesus related a number of events that would occur on earth at the time of his enthronement in heaven. These events would spell out for mankind the presence of Christ and at the same time warn of the nearness of the battle of Armageddon. Jesus said that his invisible installation would be marked on earth by nation rising against nation in world war; that there would be pestilences, food shortages and earthquakes in many places; that his followers would be hated by all nations; that they would be persecuted and some even killed; that the faithful would be engaged in the preaching of the good news of his established kingdom as a witness to all the inhabited earth before the coming of Armageddon; that during these happenings there would be “anguish of nations, not knowing the way out because of the roaring of the sea and its agitation, while men become faint out of fear and expectation of the things coming upon the inhabited earth”; that there would be a vain effort to establish peace through a makeshift political government, and that when ALL OF THESE THINGS were seen happening in one generation, that generation should flee for its life because Armageddon would be near at hand.—Matthew 24, 25; Mark 13; Luke 21.
Paul’s letter to Timothy vividly describes the delinquent conditions at the time of Christ’s second presence. (2 Tim. 3:1-13) Peter prophesies that scoffers would arise walking after their own lusts, sneering at the warning, and demanding: “Where is this promised presence of his? Why, from the day our forefathers fell asleep in death, all things are continuing exactly as from creation’s beginning.” (2 Pet. 3:3, 4, NW) James foretold that the ultrarich would horde wealth for the last days. John under inspiration spoke of unprecedented woe climaxing this period with the battle of Armageddon. ALL OF THESE EVENTS, not just one or two, but ALL OF THESE THINGS happening in the same generation would be the sign marking Christ’s second presence. No false alarm this. That generation would see his presence and experience the fiery judgments of Armageddon.—Matt. 24:32-34; James 5; Revelation chapters 12 and 16.
FALSE ALARMS OF THE PAST
Some may sincerely inquire, Why were early Bible scholars misled into thinking Christ was to return in their day, especially so since the Bible is very specific as to the time and manner of his presence? The answer to the question is that those scholars erroneously concluded that Christ’s second presence was to be visible, “or a silent, gradual penetration of all social forces by his spirit, to be either perpetual or continued until the consummation.” And too, those scholars did not take under consideration that all the events prophesied by Jesus had to be fulfilled within the generation of his coming.
For example: The troublesome times of A.D. 66-70 were seized upon by some and interpreted as signs of the approaching end. After the destruction of Jerusalem Christ was sure to make his appearance. But the civil strife between the Jews and the Romans did not constitute the sign of Jesus’ presence, nor did the famines and pestilences that followed. There were no world wars then, no unusual number of earthquakes, nor was the good news of God’s kingdom preached in all the inhabited earth. In fact, it had much to cover yet of the European continent.
The early expectations of Christ’s return during the second, third and fourth centuries turned out to be false alarms. The so-called Epistle of Barnabas, according to the Didaché (a Christian manual of the second century), represents “the last day as at hand, when the present world along with the evil one shall be destroyed by the returning Lord. Almost 6,000 years are thought to have elapsed since creation. . . . The seventh day of 1,000 years is about to begin with the Second Advent.” Irenaeus supports Barnabas, “placing the end of the world and the return of Christ 6,000 years after creation.” Lactantius agrees with them and believes that “at most the present world cannot endure beyond another 200 years, and the end is to be expected daily.” Tertullian predicted the decline of the Roman empire, the rise of the antichrist, and felt himself living in the ‘last time.’ Hippolytus fixed the day for the return of Christ 500 years after Christ’s birth. And there were a host of others, Commodian, Methodius of Olympus in Lycia, Victorinus of Pettau, and the Egyptian bishop Nepos, all of whom made wild predictions of Christ’s return.
Their prognostications were totally unfounded in the light of the Scriptures; therefore, all without exception proved false. The physical facts were not present in their entirety to fulfill Jesus’ prophecies concerning his second presence, nor were their chronological tables accurate. Some of their dates were off as much as a thousand years. Hippolytus’ 500-year date was not based on the Scriptures, but was a guess that proved wrong.
As was to be expected after these false alarms, and no doubt as the Devil planned it, the teaching of Christ’s return became very unpopular. People viewed with cynicism and skepticism anyone who dared even to mention the doctrine. The book of Revelation was rejected and called the work of the heretic Cerinthus. New theories were introduced and popularized. Origen argued against a literalistic appearing of Christ. He taught that Christ’s return takes place through the power of the gospel; that the world would not be destroyed but that it would be transformed by the preaching of Christianity.
Another theory that remained popular for a time was that set forth by Donatist Ticonius, who explains in his commentary on Revelation that Christ would not come until the Donatist Church established itself in the world, and was sufficiently strong to resist paganism and the false religion of Catholicism. Both of these theories are false for Scriptural reasons, namely: The purpose of Christianity is not to convert this present evil world, nor will gospel-preaching transform it. This evil world has been condemned by God to destruction, and no man or man-made organization will save it. (Dan. 2:44) God has purposed a new-world government for mankind wherein righteousness is to dwell. (2 Pet. 3:13) The gospel is preached for “a witness to all the nations,” that people of good will may flee to the Kingdom before the day of Armageddon. (Matt. 24:14, NW) Ticonius’ theory is also false, because the return of Christ is not dependent upon the achievements of men, nor upon the establishment of a church group or body, but rests solely upon the spirit and power of Almighty God Jehovah.—Ps. 110:1, 2.
Augustine of the Catholic Church dismissed the whole idea that Christ was yet to come by saying the Kingdom was established at Christ’s first coming; that Christ at his first coming bound Satan the Devil and began ruling then and there. Augustine maintained that Christ’s coming occurs continually in his church, “that is, in His members, in which he comes little by little and piece by piece, since the whole Church is His body.” Augustine further believed that the millennial reign of Christ would close about A.D. 1000, and that at that time the final coming of Christ to judge might be expected.
As A.D. 1000 approached, many religious folk began to think that the judgment and fiery end of the world would occur that year. Excitement became widespread throughout western Europe because it was feared that God’s “day of wrath” was at hand. When the world did not burn up that year, the religionists felt it was proof that the thousand years of Revelation 20:2 were not literal but an indefinite period of time, and that the Catholic Church, being the so-called “Mother” church, was already reigning in it. That view obtains among the Roman Catholic Hierarchy to this day.
NO ALARM AS BAD AS FALSE ALARM
Despite Roman Catholic claims, the Scriptures do not support their view either. The apostles John and Paul plainly show that Christ did not reign from the first century onward. John wrote the Revelation toward the close of the first century and spoke of the reign of Christ as yet future, as one of the “things that must shortly take place.” (Rev. 1:1, NW) John outlived Paul. About A.D. 61, while at Rome, Paul wrote his letter to the Hebrews and said: “But with reference to which one of the angels has he ever said: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies a stool for your feet’?” (Heb. 1:13, NW) Paul was quoting the words of David at Psalm 110:1, 2 (AS), wherein David had spoken of Christ as his Lord and said: “Jehovah saith unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool. Jehovah will send forth the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies.” Jesus is here depicted as sitting at his Father’s right hand upon his ascension into heaven and not reigning. Paul agrees with this prophecy, and he went on to say of Christ Jesus: “But this man offered one sacrifice for sins perpetually and sat down at the right hand of God, from then on awaiting until his enemies should be made a stool for his feet.”—Heb. 10:12, 13, NW.
Paul vigorously denied that the Christians were reigning in his day. He said to the Corinthians who did assume to run ahead and reign as kings either politically or in a spiritual manner: “You men already have your fill, do you? You are rich already, are you? You have begun ruling as kings without us, have you? And I wish indeed that you had begun ruling as kings, that we also might rule with you as kings.” (1 Cor. 4:8, NW) The Roman Catholic viewpoint is that Satan was abyssed in the first century. Paul disagrees in his letter to the Romans, saying: “The God who gives peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly.” (Rom. 16:20, NW) The apostle Peter agrees with Paul that Satan was not abyssed in the first century, but was very much on the loose: “Keep your senses, be watchful. Your adversary, the Devil, walks about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour someone.” (1 Pet. 5:8, NW) John projects the abyssing of Satan into the distant future, thus remaining in harmony with the other apostles.—Revelation, chapters one and two.
Following Augustine’s time the aggressions of the Saracens, the Crusades, the rise of the monastic orders during the thirteenth century, also the topsy-turvy world of the fourteenth century, all were misinterpreted as “signs” foretelling the imminent return of Christ. Joachin of Floris determined that the 1,260 days mentioned in Revelation 12:6 could turn out to be the year A.D. 1260 when Christ would return. Militz of Kromeriz, a forerunner of John Huss, looked for the coming of Christ between the years 1365 and 1367. Wycliffe pointed to the power of the papacy and emphasized that the time of the return was at hand. John Napier predicted the coming end of evil and the return of Christ between the years 1688 and 1700. William Whiston first selected 1715, then 1734, and later 1866 as the date for the inauguration of the millennium.
In the early part of the nineteenth century Christoph Hoffman hurried from Germany to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple in preparation for Christ’s early return. William Miller predicted that Christ would make his appearance during the year 1843, but later postponed the day to October 22, 1844. When these speculations did not materialize, religious sects became a laughingstock, great divisions took place among them, the doctrine was scoffed at, the people who taught it were jeered, and as a whole the idea was pooh-poohed in religious and nonreligious circles alike. All, without exception, were false alarms.
With the coming of the twentieth century a new flurry of alarms was sounded. “Prepare to Die! Be Ready at All Hours! The End of the World Is at Hand!” read posters during an Adventist convention in Paris, August 20, 1927. The Adventists believed that the return of Christ would mean the consuming of the earth with fire. The righteous would be saved by being taken to heaven. Even before that, when World War I was reaching a climax a manifesto was issued by a number of England’s most noted ministers. This manifesto said, among other things, “that the present crisis points towards the close of the times of the Gentiles. Second. That the revelation of the Lord may be expected at any moment, when he will be manifested as evidently as to His disciples on the evening of His resurrection. Third. That the completed church will be translated to be ‘for ever with the Lord’.” This manifesto was signed by leading Baptist, Congregationalist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian and Methodist ministers.
They inaccurately calculated the times of the Gentiles, because these had had their end in the fall of 1914. True to Jesus’ prophecy, world war did break out. Famines, pestilences and earthquakes followed. Christians were persecuted and murdered. The news of the established kingdom of God began to be preached. Anxiety and fear have gripped the world. Lawlessness and delinquency are on the increase. Nations have banded together, first in the League of Nations and now in the United Nations. And this political makeshift government is being hailed, even as the League of Nations was hailed as the only hope for peace and as the “political expression of the kingdom of God.” All of these events are precisely what Jesus foretold would mark his presence.
Why, then, did he not appear? He did appear, not as a man in the flesh, but by a manifestation of his presence through these events that occurred in the fulfillment of his prophecies. He never did promise that he would make his second appearance in the flesh, visible to the human eye. In fact, he told his disciples that “a little longer and the world will behold me no more.” (John 14:19, NW) If he were to make his second appearance in the flesh, would there be any reason for him to go into great length describing the conditions on earth at the time of his appearance? Of course not. Why give them a composite sign, if they were to see him with their naked eye? Knowing that his return would be observed only through circumstantial evidence, the disciples requested a sign. The sign Jesus gave was a long list of events that would occur on the earth at the time when he would come into his kingdom power in the heavens and would begin his reign.
These events began to occur on earth in the year 1914, and continue to assert themselves to the present day. Not just one or two of these momentous happenings have come upon this generation, but all of them. NO FALSE ALARM THIS!
How have religious clergymen responded to the alarm? They have turned a deaf ear to it. Not being able to see Christ in the flesh they have become perplexed. Radio Times for December, 1950, stated that “many preachers have an uneasy feeling that they ought to speak about the Second Coming of Christ: but they are so perplexed about it that they tend to avoid the issue.” “Rev.” Dr. George Hedley of Mills College reflected the view held by many clergymen today. Said he: “When will the Christ come again? When the spirit of God enters human hearts. How shall we recognize his coming? By realizing the divine life within ourselves. Is the Christ coming again? He is, if we will let him come. He will come to us this morning if we but choose.”
Much to the contrary, the coming of Christ is not dependent upon any individual. He is here, now, ruling as King from heaven in the midst of his enemies! (Ps. 110:1, 2) World events prove it. The alarm being sounded by Jehovah’s witnesses is genuine, true. Do not let the negative, irresponsive and indifferent attitude of the world lull you to sleep. Respond to the alarm. Flee now to the mountains of Jehovah’s system of things. Do not delay. You will find protection there from the fire of Armageddon. Armageddon survivors will testify to the fact that THIS WAS NO FALSE ALARM!