The Sky Is Falling
Three Signposts And A Watch In The Night
Chicken Little was in the woods one day when an acorn fell on her head. It scared her so much she trembled all over. She shook so hard, half her feathers fell out.
“Help! Help!” cried Chicken Little, “The sky is falling! I have to go tell the king!”
So she ran in great fright to tell the king. Along the way she met Henny Penny.
“Where are you going, Chicken Little?” she asked.
“Oh, help!” cried Chicken Little, “The sky is falling!”
“How do you know?” asked Henny Penny.
“I saw it with my own eyes, and heard it with my own ears, and part of it fell on my head!” she said.
“This is terrible, just terrible!” said Henny Penny, “We’d better hurry up.”
So they both ran away as fast as they could.[i]
While driving through Oakland last month, I passed a huge billboard proclaiming, “Judgment Day May 21, 2011.” You have probably seen them posted along major freeways. The message is not limited to billboards. It’s also scrolled on bus benches, posters, and tracts. In fact, it has gone viral in recent days. This doomsday warning came to me via word-of-mouth. Several people inside and outside of church asked my honest opinion regarding this bold religious forecast.
This nationwide advertising blitz has captured the fearful attention of everyone. Chicken Little comes in the form of Harold Camping, the founder of Family Radio ministry based in Oakland, California.[ii] The rapture, according to Camping and company, will occur on the 21st of May 2011. The rapture is described as a snatching away of true believers from this wicked world to be with Jesus, and after an interval of ungodliness, returning to reign with Christ forever.[iii] So in 153 days after this epic event, God will destroy the earth on the 21st of October.
That being said, we need to note that an “apocalyptic acorn” fell on Camping’s head one day. It shook him so hard that his understanding of the end times ruffled his eschatological feathers.[iv] In so doing, he had wrongfully predicted that the end of the world would occur on September 6, 1994. After his calculation misfired, he conveniently tweaks his doomsday calendar based on some missing prophetic pieces of the Bible and does not hesitate to commit his latest discovery to another fateful date. Unfazed by his previous prediction, Camping persists in staking his eschatology[v] and biblical credibility this year with no back-up plan whatsoever. He stand fully convinced that the world is coming to an end. He warns that the church age ended in 1994 and every church in the world is apostate—an institution that has abandoned a religious faith or principle.
Camping’s predictions follow hard on the heels of a long line of doomsday charlatans that play the dating game. False prophets have been predicting the end of the world since 1260. William Miller, founder of the Millerite movement, predicted that Jesus would come on March 21, 1843. A very large number of Christians believed his prophecy. When Jesus did not return, Miller predicted a new date on October 22, 1844. In an event which is now called “The Great Disappointment,” many Christians sold their property and possessions, quit their jobs and prepared themselves for the second coming of Christ. Nothing happened. The day had come and gone and Christ was a “no show.”
There are two things that we will tackle when it comes to taking issue with the predictions and warnings of Harold Camping and company: (1) Pointing toward the future just ahead; and (2) watching out for Christ who is the Head.
POINTING TOWARD THE FUTURE JUST AHEAD
First, pointing toward the future just ahead. While driving toward a specific destination, we are dependent upon signposts along the way. Signposts are highlighted signage marking the way to a particular place. They are roadside guides that give us directions. Signposts prevent us from losing our way as they point us toward the truth about what’s up ahead beyond the mysterious mist.
In Matthew 24:29-44 Jesus was in the habit of leaving his followers specific signposts that point toward future events that will take place in their time. He planted three signposts: the Son of Man, the fig tree, and the days of Noah.
The first signpost is Jesus himself, “the Son of Man.”
Immediately after the suffering of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven” with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
A metaphor is the concept of understanding one thing in terms of another. When we want to express our deepest heartfelt sentiment for our loved one in a song we sing, “You light up my life.” When we describe a heavy downpour that swamps the land we say, “It was raining cats and dogs.”[vi] A metaphor is a figure of speech that constructs a comparison between two things or ideas. The comparison is conveyed by the use of a metaphorical word in place of some other word. Metaphors compare things without using “like” or “as.”
In verse 29, Matthew’s intention is to help his first century readers understand that the coming of the Son of Man will usher in a time wherein the whole world will undergo a great upheaval. He utilizes metaphorical language that lends itself well in decoding the coming cataclysmic events. Matthew illustrates his point by saying, “the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall from heaven” and “the powers of heaven will be shaken.” In our century we would say, “All hell will break loose” to describe the coming chaos and confusion. The destabilization of these celestial bodies—the sun, moon, and stars—communicate a universal turmoil wherein heaven and earth are affected by the imminent appearance of the Son of God.
Verse 30 refers to the prophecy in Daniel 7:13. The prophet reveals his night visions as seeing “one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven.” So when we read the phrase, “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven,” it’s important to note the direction this one like a human being was taking. The movement was up toward the presence of God rather than down toward the planet earth. Daniel indicates this by saying in 7:14, “And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him.” Jesus, the Son of Man, comes from earth as he ascends towards heaven. It does not speak about the rapture with the Son of Man returning to earth, but his resurrection and ascension into heaven. Furthermore, Jesus being “given dominion and glory and kingship” in that he did not suffer and die in vain, vindicated both the Father and the Son.[vii]
Three things will happen when the Son of Man appears in heaven with power and glory: all the tribes of the earth will mourn, the angels will be sent out with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather the elect from the four winds. Jesus’ great victory over sin and death will trigger the worldwide destruction of earthly powers, deploy the angelic host into the world, and reap a harvest of chosen souls “from one end of heaven to the other.”
The second signpost along the road is the lesson of “the fig tree.”
From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
Camping, along with other would-be interpreters of the Bible, carelessly quotes Matthew 24 like end time prophetic candy proving his conclusions. The tendency is to squeeze what Jesus was saying to fit the signs of our century. What we need to be mindful of is reading this passage in light of Matthew’s first audience. Jesus spoke to his disciples so that they will know when the cataclysmic events are going to happen. They are to watch for the signs in the form of the leaves on a fig tree. In so doing they can tell when summer is near. If they pay close attention to the fig tree’s growth, they’ll remain attuned to the great event that will come upon their land—the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. The completion of Jesus’ vindication is just around the corner as he reassures his disciples that this horrific event will occur within a generation. We could miss an entire forest of interpretation on account of the fig tree lesson.
The third signpost along the road is “the days of Noah.”
But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.
When my daughter was to give birth to our first grandchild, no one could determine the day and hour. Neither the hospital staff nor her personal physician could predict the exact time of the baby’s arrival. The ultrasound clued us in as to whether it was a boy or girl, but it could not count the days till her birth. All we had to go by was a sketchy nine-month calendar schedule, give or take a few weeks. That’s all the data we were privy to. What was certain was that a baby girl would come out of this waiting period. And when the nine months were upon us, we just had to eagerly wait and brace ourselves as to the exact day and hour of the event. When our first granddaughter finally entered our world, we looked back in wonder. We prepared for her arrival as though she would be delivered “any day now” and anticipated what would happen in the process, yet we never imagined how the surprising outcome would find us.
Likewise, life as people knew it during Noah’s time was normal right up to the last minute. In those days, the people were carefree celebrants of life. They were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. They looked to a bright and prosperous future. They hadn’t a clue that their world was coming to a disastrous end. Jesus paralleled this period with Jerusalem during his disciples' day. Nothing usual would happen among the people of their generation until the ferocious tide of the Roman army under General Titus would sweep upon the city—like an unmerciful and unrelenting flood—in AD 70. The invading forces would plow into the populated fields and homes taking the lives of some while leaving others to survive the onslaught—as in one life taken, one life spared.
WATCHING OUT FOR CHRIST WHO IS THE HEAD
Second, watching out for Christ who is the Head. Jesus gives us a “holy heads up” at the end of this section. This revelation allows the disciples ample time to get their act together knowing the end from the beginning. The world as they knew it was coming to a decisive and final conclusion. Nothing on earth will ever be the same again. Jesus said in Matthew 24:42-44:
Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
In Isaiah 21:11 a question is asked, “Night watchman! How long till daybreak? How long will this night last?”[viii] The Apostle Paul answers that question in Romans 13:11-12, “Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.”[ix]
The night symbolizes distress and difficult times. It is a crucial period wherein Jesus urges us to keep awake, to stay alert, to be ready, or to keep watch. According to Bible time, “the night is far gone, the day is near.”
Moses knew a thing or two about how God went about revealing things to His people. After a lifetime of walking with the Father he told Israel, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the revealed things belong to us and to our children forever, to observe all the words of this law.”[x] There are some things that are hidden to all but God. Jesus said it’s not for us “to know the times and periods that the Father has set.”[xi] But rest assured, when the King of kings and Lord of lords makes His long awaited comeback,[xii] His timing will be perfect.
Will Jesus return on May 21? He just might. Today is a possibility as well—or perhaps tomorrow. Jesus asks the real question, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”[xiii] Will he find us faithful? Paul reminds us, “Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”[xiv]
Harold Camping’s predictions have prompted other groups to rally behind the May 21 date. People across the country have quit their jobs and left their families to get the message out.
“Knowing the date of the end of the world changes all your future plans,” says 27-year-old Adrienne Martinez.
She thought she’d go to medical school, until she began tuning in to Family Radio. She and her husband, Joel, lived and worked in New York City. But a year ago, they decided they wanted to spend their remaining time on Earth with their infant daughter.
“My mentality was, ‘Why are we going to work for more money?’ It just seemed kind of greedy to me. And unnecessary,” she says.
“And so,” her husband adds, “God just made it possible—He opened doors. He allowed us to quit our jobs, and we just moved, and here we are.”
Now they are in Orlando, in a rented house, passing out tracts and reading the Bible. Their daughter is two years old, and their second child is due in June. Joel says they’re spending the last of their savings. They don’t see a need for one more dollar.
“You know, you think about retirement and stuff like that,” he says. “What’s the point of having some money just sitting there?”
“We budgeted everything so that, on May 21, we won’t have anything left,” Adrienne adds.[xv]
Harold Camping is another name that we need to add to our long list of date setting charlatans. If there is a sign that is being fulfilled, it is the one about many false prophets that will come saying, “‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or ‘There he is!’—do not believe it.”[xvi] Just remain faithful and watchful. Amen.
[i] Eva L. Easton, The Story of Chicken Little, 1997 – 2010.Chicken Little is a fable in the form of a snowballing tale about a chicken who believes that the world is coming to an end. The prominent phrase “The sky is falling” indicates a hysterical or mistaken belief that disaster is imminent.
[ii] As Camping asserts his explanation for May 21, 2011 being the specific Judgment Day, the theory becomes even more farfetched. According to Camping, since God warned Noah of global Judgment Day seven days before it happened, this also correlates to the next Judgment Day seven “days” (specifically millennia) later. More, Camping says the flood can be dated back to exactly 7,000 years ago from May 21.
[iii] 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.
[iv] David J. Stewart, Harold Camping’s Heresies Exposed. Harold Camping proclaimed the Lord’s return would be in 1994, he now proclaims the Lord’s return will be on May 21, 2011, he teaches that the world will end in a fiery destruction on October 21, 2011, he has aired Mormon advertisements, he has taught that no one was saved between 1988 through 1994, he teaches that the church age ended in 1994, he teaches that the Holy Spirit is no longer working in the church, and he teaches that every church in the world is apostate.
[v] Eschatology refers to the body of religious doctrines concerning the human soul in its relation to death, judgment, heaven, and hell—end times events.
[vi] S. E. Smith, WiseGeek, What are the origins of the phrase, “It’s raining cats and dogs”? The real story behind “it’s raining cats and dogs” lies in an unpleasant fact of 16th century life. During this era, garbage, including dead animals, was often discarded along roads and streets, as there was no organized garbage collection. As a result, heavy rains would wash garbage into the streets of many towns, filling the streets with an unspeakable collection of feces, dead animals, rotting fruit, and an assortment of other unpleasant materials. A casual observer might have been under the impression that it was raining cats and dogs if he or she had glanced outside after a period of heavy rain, when the streets would have been filled with mud, filth, garbage, and discarded animal carcasses.
[vii] Daniel 7:14. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.
[viii] MSG Translation.
[ix] Romans 13:11-12a.
[x] Deuteronomy 29:29.
[xi] Acts 1:6-8.
[xii] Revelations 19:16.
[xiii] Luke 18:8.
[xiv] Romans 12b-14.
[xv] Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR, “Is The End Nigh? We’ll Know Soon Enough,” May 15, 2011.
[xvi] Matthew 24:23.