Summary: 911, Part Eight
DOOMSDAY (MARK 13)
Christians are often besieged with apocalyptic, millennial, and eschatological expectations whenever a disaster occurs. On the morning of 9/11, a relative called from overseas, asked if we were alright, and eventually ended the call with a sigh and an exclamation: “This is the end of the world!” When gas shot over $2.50 in 2005 I asserted the same thing. Nobody has done more to stroke this state of unease than Hal Lindsey, the popular writer of the 70’s bestseller “The Late Great Planet Earth” who predicted that Christ would return in 1988. San Antonio pastor John Hagee said sensationally, “I believe Word War III actually began September 11, 2001.”
On one occasion, Jesus shockingly predicted the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, which occurred in A.D. 70, but yet warned the disciples against sensationalism and speculation before His return. He revealed that widespread and intense persecution signals His return, and that He will return is a great and glorious fashion. Jesus repeated the verb “Watch out” or “Be on guard” four times to drum the thought into them (vv 5, 9, 23, 33). The first thing to guard against is false claims, false Christs and false prophets that will turn the teaching of Jesus’ return to their advantage, make the occasion a media circus, and cause confusion among believers.
It Will be Weirder Like Never Before
“Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ’I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.
The interval before Jesus’ return is first of all a sustained period of sensationalism and speculation. Contrary to doomsayers’ prediction, the advance of science, technology and modernity in the new millennium did not, has not and will not signal the death of religion, but its advance coincided with the resurgence of religion. However, your father’s old religion will be replaced. The new brand of religion will be increasingly more sensational. Its sensational claims will result in a strong debate over theology, doctrine, and orthodoxy. False teachers will be plentiful, their books will be bestsellers, and their adherents, converts, and supporters will be numerous at the end times. Jesus said, “Watch out that no one deceives you.” (v 5) The obvious target of these charismatic, likable, and eloquent false teachers is Christians. Christians are naïve people. They are willing to listen, quick to believe, and easy to fool. They easily fall prey to spiritual jargon, pycho- babble or emotional arguments.
Our small church has seen our fair share of visitors with cultic personalities, practices, and profiles. One claimed the gift of detecting hidden sin, the power to read people’s past, and the necessity to surrender to him who has the exclusive power to heal or deliver them. He visited church members one by one to expose and confront them of their sin. His license credentials, reasonable deductions and emotional care wore down most resistance. Any hint of insubordination to his authority was dealt with mercilessly, any dispute provoked anger in him, and any person who challenged him was labeled unspiritual. Technically, he operated like an unlicensed therapist, a fortune teller, and a snake-oil salesman.
The supporters of this man were also hard to deal with. They ascribed to him unparalleled powers, elevated him to unknown heights, and volunteered unbiblical and unhealthy submission to him. They even brought lunch to his family during church luncheon. Worse, the leader did not object to all the attention and fuss.
Watch out for false Christs and prophets, Jesus said. They are predators, wolves, and cobras who strike people who are lonely, neglected, isolated, needy, or insecure. The worst is the divisiveness that can happen to the church. Not only does it consume your time, people’s feelings could get hurt.
A year later, one early Sunday morning a group of visitors came to church earlier than most Sunday school teachers and students. They passed out flyers in the parking lot. One spoke in Cantonese. She said she was from China’s house church, which immediately aroused my sympathy for her. Next, they started visiting all the classes and distributed CDs and materials. Before classes began they hopped into a van and were gone. Later churches and pastors issued notices that a cult from China known as Eastern Lightning was visiting local churches. The adherents believe that the Messiah has appeared in the East, in China specifically, as a woman.
People just do not learn. Jesus warned, “Watch out that no one deceives you.” The word deceive means feed error (Mt 22:29), mistakes (Mark 12:27) or inaccuracies. The word “he” is not in verse 6 of the Greek text. Consequently, false teachers do not just claim “I am he” (“I am she” nowadays). They claim Jesus’ great “I AM” name. Cult leaders or potential cult leaders are usually control freaks who claim power that is not theirs and draw people to themselves and not God. They do a lot of damage in Jesus’ name and in the guise of Christianity. They are usually unlicensed, unordained, and unchurched. Or they have no, little, poor or unfinished seminary training. Or they have a history of problems attending, serving, or pastoring a church.