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~ Prophetic Visions ~

A reputable preacher’s sermon was recently aired on a Christian radio station. His topic was the Second Coming of Christ and his main point was it did not matter when this is to happen, despite the efforts of many throughout the centuries to make predictions of the time window. This was a valid point, but compromised by his explanation that went something like this: “I’m going to die and be with the Lord sooner or later. But if Christ returns in my life time, it will be sooner and that’s great.” The congregation concurred with a chorus of “Amen!”

Though I cannot be sure, I sensed this preacher did not suffer that much throughout his ministry. One can tell whether a minister of the Gospel suffered, and whether he or she contributed to “what is lacking in the suffering of Christ” as St. Paul put it.

This preacher obviously enjoyed a good life of comfort and success. He was not anxious to die and “be with Christ” as St. Paul was. Que sera, sera. His comfortable worldview did not include the many millions of people on this earth who wish for death, who wish they would never wake up after their nightly sleep. Christ isn’t coming soon enough for them. They wish for death on a daily basis. They do not enjoy the perspective of the US preachers who are happy to remain alive and in the ministry and perhaps secretly hope that Christ doesn’t return just yet because they are having a pretty good and rewarding time. 

The reality is many of our brothers and sisters on this earth want to die now. Their suffering is so great that it precludes the luxury of choice whether to die now or to hang on until the Second Coming, should they live that long in their suffering. The preaching of North American/Western ministers may not touch the hearts of our devastated brothers and sisters elsewhere in the world, unless they hear suffering in their voices, the passion of the Christ. Jesus promised His ministers would suffer great persecution. How many of His ministers pray, “Bring that persecution on, Lord! You promised it!”?

That may seem like a strange prayer request to our modern ears, but throughout history many saints prayed exactly that, and prayed they would be worthy of torture and martyrdom in Christ’s name.

Many preachers’ words don’t seem to rise out of a heart that is congruent with that of Christ’s passion. A week before His ultimate and redemptive sacrifice, Jesus sat gazing at Jerusalem from a hilltop and wept: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Matthew 23:37). Jesus knew the destruction of the temple was to soon come, Nero orchestrating it 40 years later. Ten brutal waves of persecution of His disciples followed for three hundred years.

Many cried prayerfully for the Second Coming and an end to all this madness of human depravity. I don’t blame them, as I don’t blame the many today who wish they were dead rather than continue into a future with no more promise than their experiences of the past.

These cries arise from a passionate longing, not one of “If Christ returns now, fine. If He delays ten more years, fine. I’m doing OK either way.”

How many pulpits and altars are sprinkled with the mixed tears of rejoicing at the Second Coming and sorrow for loved ones and strangers who are yet to undergo that redemptive conversion? We are told that God delays out of love, wishing no one “would perish.”

In the prophetic biblical literature are markers of “the final days.” Throughout the centuries many human predictions based on these markers embarrassingly never came to pass. Overlooked is a carefully chosen metaphor of Christ: Birth pangs. Suffering precedes new birth. Such suffering is not steady or gradual. It is unique in that there are the pangs or painful jolts of contractions, followed by periods of rest and relative comfort. The pangs occur more frequently and more intensely with time.

This world always had “wars and rumors of war” as Christ put it. Given that, Jesus said, “The end is not yet near.” Natural calamities such as hurricanes, volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, and even meteorite hits occurred since creation. These are not signs of the end either, nor, as some have declared, divine retribution for our sins. Jesus did urge us to watch for the increase of the frequency and intensity of natural and human-induced disasters. Interestingly, Jesus stated, “Yet this is not the end.” 

Those who teach a “Second and a Half Coming” of Christ (a stealth, quiet coming termed the “rapture” before the “actual” Second Coming) often quote 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17: “For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

This declaration obviously needed more explanation, as it induced confusion in the Christians at Thessalonica. St. Paul’s response, interestingly, is not often quoted with regard to the “rapture”: “Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4).

This is so clear to me. Is it not to you? What frightens me is the gullibility of so many to the master of deception and lies, Satan’s antichrist. So many of us believe in this Second and a Half Coming of Christ that when this very benevolent and peace-making antichrist establishes peace on earth many Christians will hail him as a God-send. After all, he can’t be the antichrist because we are not raptured! And thus many Christians will happily line up to receive his mark of his blessings and security. What satanic mastermind! I know this is an extremely controversial issue. We invite other perspectives and ask you to post your comments on our web site’s message board for all to read, respond and learn.

Gandhi stated, “It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.” I leave it up to you to consider whether or not the financially lucrative and sensational fiction series (at least nine books as of this writing) “Left Behind” has more heart than words. It seems to me, the less heart, the more words. (Especially if the words are bringing in tons of money!) Consider the heart of hell-fire screaming sermons and their gleeful sounding condemnation of prostitutes, homosexuals, and murderers (but often overlook the gluttons, slanderers, false witnesses and gossips.) Consider also the heart of the film, The Passion of the Christ. That film had few words.

St. Francis had something to say about that. “Preach the gospel, and, if necessary, use words.” Francis had a prophetic vision. That is the true meaning of “prophet.” A prophet stands in the truth and declares not his own message or belief system, but the Word of God, and that Word is Jesus the Christ.

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.

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