Summary: Many misinterpret second coming prophecy because they do not know its purpose. It is not to inform us about events. It is not to identify the anti-Christ. It is to inspire us to obedience.
The Purpose of Second Coming Prophesy
Thomas Fuller was born in Africa about 1710. He was sold as a slave in Virginia in 1724. There is some disagreement about whether someone taught him to count to 100 or if he taught himself. He never had a day of formal education.
He taught himself to figure in his head how many shingles were needed when roofing a building and how many fence posts were needed to enclose an area. Eventually, he learned to figure the building materials for any construction project in his head quicker than 99 of 100 engineers with paper and pencil. He could observe land surveys and calculate the area. He went on to more complicated mental calculations. His abilities were not just urban legend. Among those who wrote about observing him was Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.
One documented problem for testing him was about a farmer with 6 sow pigs. Each gave birth to 6 sows in a year. They all gave birth to 6 sows the next year. This continued for 8 years. With no education about sums of geometric progressions, exponential rules, or even exponential notation, he correctly calculated, that with no deaths the farmer will have 34,588,806 sows.
The first 6 give birth to 36, total 42. To do it on a calculator, enter 6 then multiply by 7. Multiply by 7 again for the second year, again by 7 for the third, until you calculate 8 years. Thomas Fuller did it in his head.
Near the end of his life, he was asked if he regretted not having a formal education. He said, “No, it be best I got no learning, for some men of great learning be great fools.”
“Some men of great learning be great fools.” This is often apparent in regard to the Bible. Interpreting for deaf college students for decades, I heard biology and anthropology profs mock creation. I heard English profs discuss the Bible as a product of primitive, human inspiration, as remarkable as the inspiration of William Shakespeare or Louis La’mour, but no more. Actually, I don’t remember them saying Louis La’mour was inspired but you know what I mean. Men of great learning can be great fools about the Bible.
Sometimes, preachers and teachers who know the content of the Bible can miss the point. I have noticed this particularly in regard to the second coming. Many people and groups get bogged down trying to interpret the signs or identify the anti-Christ. Many are guilty of the Thessalonian error.
Our passage follows teachings about the end times in chapter 2. Apparently, some thought the second coming would be so soon that they did not have to work. They confused the immanent coming with an immediate coming. Immanent means Jesus could come again at any time. An immediate coming means Jesus is coming again and he is coming now. Those who thought they did not have to work misunderstood the purpose of second coming prophecy.
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 evens.
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 in1914 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.