The Thessalonian error was misunderstanding the purpose of end-time prophecy. The purpose is not to identify the anti-Christ or to inform us of events.
Others have misunderstood the purpose of second-coming prophecy. Many people have been identified as the anti-Christ. Early Christians suspected some of the Roman emperors who persecuted them. Victims of the inquisition suspected some leaders of the Catholic Church. Some of you may have heard sermons comparing Hitler, Mussolini, or Hirohito to the anti-Christ. In my lifetime, I have heard or read speculation about Henry Kissinger, Prince Charles, and, more recently, Barack Obama.
Do any of you remember a booklet, "88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988"? Matthew 24:36 says no one knows the day or hour. The writer ignored that by pointing to a 3 day period, the feast of trumpets, in October, 1988. He said we can’t know the day, but we can know the 3 day period. He was wrong.
The most famous group for setting second coming dates may be the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Charles Russell believed Jesus would return in 1874. In 1877, he taught Jesus returned invisibly, contrary to scripture that says “every eye shall see him.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses later predicted that in 1914 Armageddon would end. It had not even begun.
They said 1925 was a date firmly established in scripture, that they had more reason to believe the kingdom would be established in 1925 than Noah had to believe there would be a flood. Jesus did not return in 1925.
Jehovah’s Witnesses again expected Jesus to return in 1929. Before his return, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would be resurrected to announce his coming. A house called Beth-Sarim was built for them to live in when they came. Judge Rutherford, then President of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, graciously offered to live in the mansion and supervise its maintenance until they arrived. They did not rise and Jesus did not return in 1929.
I have heard testimonies of ex-JWs who believed the prophecies of Jesus returning in 1975. They talked about going door to door in affluent areas, picking the houses they wanted to live in when Jesus came again. Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught only 144,000 will make it to heaven. Other faithful Witnesses will be resurrected to live forever in paradise on earth. Many thought nice houses left behind by people who were not Witnesses would be free for the taking.
Sometimes, men of great learning be great fools, and sometimes they suffer for it. Listen to this.
"In view of the short time left, a decision to pursue a career in this system of things is not only unwise but extremely dangerous... Many young brothers and sisters were offered scholarships or employment that promised fine pay. However, they turned them down & put spiritual interests first," (Kingdom Ministry, July 1969, p 3).
Some Jehovah’s Witnesses, graduating high school, turned down scholarships. Some graduating college turned down promising jobs. Why? Because their leaders told them Jesus was coming in 1975. When their leaders were proven wrong, again, those scholarships and jobs had been given to others.
"Reports are heard of brothers selling their homes and property and planning to finish out the rest of their days in this old system in the pioneer service. Certainly this is a fine way to spend the short time remaining before the wicked world’s end.” (Kingdom Ministry, May 1974, p 3).
Some Witnesses sold their homes and quit their jobs. They lived off the money from selling their homes while going door to door teaching a false gospel. In 1976, when their leaders were proven wrong, again, they had nothing left.
Many people and groups have committed the Thessalonian error. They misunderstood the purpose of end-time prophecies. Sometimes, they suffered for it.
(From a sermon by Mark Stepherson, The Purpose of Second Coming Prophecy, 5/29/2012)
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