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How to Produce Spiritual Fruit

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. (Galatians 5:16-18)

Galatians 5 has become a treatise on the spiritual life. Paul identifies the Holy Spirit as the source of spiritual life and character. Jesus said in John 3:6, That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. He was teaching that no matter how hard the flesh tries to be spiritual, he will always fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). It then becomes necessary for the believer to develop a living relationship with the Holy Spirit to find the quality of life purchased for each believer by Jesus Christ at Calvary. To walk by the Spirit means to live daily life under His influence. Without His ability, each one is subject to being controlled by the desires of the flesh. The leading of the Holy Spirit takes the believer beyond the ability of the Law of Moses or any religious system.

Spiritual Fruit

In Verses 22-23, Paul lays out the method the Spirit uses to empower believers in His character by introducing the fruit of the Spirit. But the fruit of the Spirit is love. It is a list of nine fruit, but the original Greek uses the singular form of the verb, “to be,” suggesting that the eight other fruit following love are subsets of love, agape, God’s love, a self-sacrificing love. We believe this to be true since God is love (1 John 4:8, 16); everything He does is based on that love.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love [self-sacrificing], joy [gladness], peace [concord, agreement between persons], patience [forbearance, a person who is able to avenge himself yet refrains from doing so], kindness [lovingkindness in action, opposite of severity], goodness [benevolence, active goodness], faithfulness [trustworthy, reliable], gentleness [submissive to God and His Word]], self-control [curbing fleshly impulses]; against such things, there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk [keep in step] by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:22-26)

Walking by the Spirit

This list follows the fifteen works of the flesh, the products of the human condition that each one faces every day. Fruit can only be produced by life in the Spirit and is possible when the believer puts on the new man, submitting his will to that of the Holy Spirit. Living by the Spirit means walking by the Spirit. According to Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary, Let our practice correspond to the ideal principle of our spiritual life-namely, our standing by faith as dead to, and severed from, sin and the law’s condemnation. ‘Life by the Spirit’ is not an occasional influence but an abiding state. Ephesians 4:22-24 says,

“that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.”

Partakers of the Divine Nature

The three major sources of New Testament theology come from Paul, John, and Peter. Paul uses the term “in Christ” or “in Him” to define this new spiritual relationship known as the new covenant. John’s preferred terminology is “born again”, “born from above”, or “born of God.” Peter also uses “born again”, but he has a deeper description of the process, likened to Paul’s commentary on the fruit of the Spirit, and found in 2 Peter 1.

Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ: Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power [Holy Spirit] has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge [full, complete] of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these, He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them, you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. (2 Peter 1:1-4)

Peter addresses believers in Jesus Christ, a faith of the same kind as ours, and a faith received by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Like Paul, his hope is that believers would experience God’s grace and peace, multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. According to Ellicott’s Commentary, Grace is the peculiar state of favour with God and Christ, into which the sincere Christian is admitted. Peace is the state of mind resulting from the sense of that favour.  Peter lays the foundation of a truly spiritual relationship with God when he references His divine power, represented by the Holy Spirit, who has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness. This is Peter’s unique expression of the quality of the new covenant. By His glory and excellence, the new covenant believer is granted precious promises through which he is a participant in the divine nature.

Applying All Diligence

Now for this very reason also, applying [adding more] all diligence [zeal, earnest effort], in your faith [firm persuasion, conviction, belief in truth] supply [support, provide lavishly] moral excellence [virtuous action], and in your moral excellence, knowledge [spiritual knowledge], and in your knowledge, self-control [curbing fleshly desires], and in your self-control, perseverance [bearing up under, related to circumstances], and in your perseverance, godliness [devotion to God], and in your godliness, brotherly kindness [a fervent, practical care for others], and in your brotherly kindness, love [agape]. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge [full, complete] of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you. (2 Peter 1:5-11)

Like the description of the fruit of the Spirit, Peter lists nine virtues that help define the fullness of the new covenant relationship. He starts with diligence [spoude – zeal, earnest effort]. According to Ellicott’s Commentary, bringing in all diligence to the side of God’s gifts and promises; making your contribution in answer to His. He has made all things possible for you, but they are not yet done, and you must labour diligently to realize the glorious possibilities opened out to you. The premise is that Christianity is not passive, but requires the believer’s effort in the form of diligence, given the foundation of a perfect relationship with God “in Christ.” The following eight virtues flow from an earnest effort by each believer to walk in that perfect position. Just as the perfect position begins with agape love in Galatians 5:22, a believer is to furnish, supply, or support his life through diligence with these virtues.

Spiritual Qualities

Galatians 5:22-23 | 2 Peter 1:5-7

  1. agape – self-sacrificing, unconditional love | diligence – zeal, earnest effort
  2. joy – deep, abiding gladness | faith – firm persuasion, trust, belief in truth
  3. peace – inner repose, quietness | moral excellence – virtuous action, good conduct
  4. longsuffering – forbear under provocation | knowledge – knowledge by the Holy Spirit
  5. kindness – lovingkindness in action | self-control – curbing fleshly impulses
  6. goodness – character in action, energized | perseverance – bearing up under (circumstances)
  7. faithfulness – trustworthy, reliable | godliness – Godly devotion
  8. gentleness – submissive to God & His Word | brotherly kindness – fervent care for others
  9. self-control – curbing fleshly impulses love | self-sacrificing, the highest good for others

God’s intention is that these qualities are yours and are increasing; they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge [full, complete] of our Lord Jesus Christ. God wishes that we would not be blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. Therefore, He wishes the believer to use that diligence to make certain about his calling and election through the exercise of these spiritual qualities that confirm salvation. One’s godly behavior is a warranty deed for himself that Jesus Christ has cleansed him from his past sins and, therefore that he was in fact, called and chosen by God. This believer will not stumble. According to Kenneth Wuest’s translation of 2 Peter 1:11, for in this way, the entrance shall be richly provided for you into the eternal kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord richly provides the entrance of His kingdom to those who operate in the spiritual qualities of a walk led by His Spirit.

But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. It was for this He called you through our gospel that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us. (2 Thessalonians 2:13-15)

In the believer’s pursuit of a deeper relationship with Christ, he finds His glory!

Christian Church History & Persecution (Timeline)

A Brief Survey of Faithful Israel Throughout History

Throughout the ages, Christianity has experienced both great growth and great persecution, often in the same breath. In fulfillment of Christ’s words, “In this world, you will have trouble…” (John 16:33), from generation to generation, God’s faithful remnant has experienced trial, even at the hands of others who declared Jesus as Lord. Who is faithful Israel? In this lesson, we journey across history to survey the arc of the people of God, even in the face of terrible persecution.

TAKE AWAYS:

  • Error entered even the first-generation Church as they drifted from New Testament teaching
  • Persecution came through paganism, Judaism and finally, through the Church itself
  • There has always been a faithful remnant, from Noah to today

Early Church: 30-500 AD

Writing in the late 50’s AD, Paul quotes 1 Kings 19:8 as an encouragement to the young Roman church. His message: Though the days may darken and persecution increase, God has always kept a faithful remnant:

2 God has not cast away his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he interceded to God against Israel saying, 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets and demolished your altars and I alone remain, and they seek my life.” 4 But what did God say to answer him? “I have reserved to myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.” 5 Even so, at this present time, there is also a remnant according to the election of grace. (Romans 11:2-5)

Throughout the age of the Jews (ending in 70 AD with the destruction of the Temple and the dissolution of the Mosaic rites) and continuing to today (the times of the Gentiles, per Luke 21:24, Romans 11:25), God continues to call His elect. But, who are God’s elect? They were defined by the prophet Malachi when he spoke of a “day of the Lord” sifting following the reappearance of Elijah (Malachi 4:5-6; cf. Matthew 11:14 where Jesus refers to John the Baptist as Elijah.)

…You shall discern between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. (Malachi 3:18)

God’s elect are seen again in Revelation 12:17, when John’s vision tells us:

The dragon (Satan, the enemy) was furious with the woman (faithful Israel), and went to make war with the remnant (the faithful Church) of her seed (Jesus, the Jewish Messiah), those who keep the commandments of God, and who have the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Our definition is clear then: God’s elect are those who remain true to God, following Him and the one He sent, the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.

Division Enters the Early Church

Though it’s often proposed the fracturing of Christianity began with the formation of the Roman state church—denominationalism, also known as sectarianism—had taken root in God’s holy people long before. Denominationalism can first be seen in the division between the Jews and Samaritans, and again as the Jewish cult continued to splinter, first into the Pharisees and Sadducees, then the Essenes, and soon after, the Zealots. In fact, as Christianity exploded onto the scene during the Pentecost of Acts 2, both Jew and Gentile viewed Christianity as simply another sect of Judaism. In its earliest days, the Church was, after all, a mainly Jewish population believing the prophecies of Israel’s Messiah had been fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. Indeed, Judaism had split again, this time between those who believed Jesus was the Christ, criminalized and crucified upon a Roman cross, and those who still awaited another. This explains why persecution from Jewish religious leaders was so fierce (cf. Acts 23, 25:3, 26:9-11, etc.) Christianity was seen as a blasphemous aberration threatening to consume those faithful to the Law of Moses; it had to be stamped out.

Throughout the New Testament, evidences of this division can be seen. Likely the result of the ongoing conflict between Jews and Christians, the Roman historian Suetonius writes about the expulsion of Jews from Rome under Claudius Caesar, also seen in Acts 18:2:

“He banished from Rome all the Jews, who were continually making disturbances at the instigation of one Chrestus.” (Divus Claudius 25. Chrestus was a popular Greek and Roman variation of Christus, meaning “the anointed one,” an obvious reference to Jesus.)

Perhaps Galatians 4:22-31 best illustrates the division between Old and New Covenant Judaism:

22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a free woman. 23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh, but he of the freewoman was by promise. 24 This is an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the Mount Sinai bearing to bondage, is Hagar. 25 For this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and represents Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. 26 But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. (v22-26)

So maybe it should come as no surprise when we see the early stages of division creeping into the Christian Church by the time Paul writes his first letter to the new church in Corinth. A mere 20 years after Jesus, Paul has become aware of quarreling within the Corinthian body and he exhorts that there be “no divisions among you”:

12 Now I say this, that every one of you says, ‘I am of Paul’ and ‘I of Apollos’ and ‘I of Cephas’ and ‘I of Christ.’ 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius, 15 lest any should say that I had baptized in my own name.” (1 Corinthians 1:12-15)

In 2 Peter 2, Simon Peter counsels against false teachers and deceivers creeping into the Church:

1 But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you. They will secretly bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. 2 Many shall follow their depraved ways; because of them the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. 3 Through their greed, these teachers’ lies shall exploit you. Their judgment has been long lingering, yet their destruction slumbers not.” (2 Peter 2:1-3)

In the third epistle of John, we see the apostle addressing a wayward Church leader, “…Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first [and] does not acknowledge our authority” (3 John 9). Diotrephes was apparently allowing his position over his local church go to his head.

Paul warns the leaders at Ephesus to be watchful when he says,

29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.” (Acts 20:29-30)

See also the second and third chapters of Revelation where Jesus Himself admonishes the local churches of the day for drifting into error and warns of His impending judgment:

“I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” (Revelation 2:5)

Christian Persecution Increases

Not only was Stephen stoned by the Jewish authorities within a few short years of the birth of the Christian Church (Acts 7), we see by Acts 12, James killed by the sword and Peter imprisoned under Herod. Paul tells of his own beatings and stonings (2 Corinthians 11:25) before he was eventually beheaded in Rome in 66 AD, possibly about the same time as Peter’s crucifixion. According to Church tradition, many of the early disciples met grisly deaths during this time:

“Stephen was stoned, Matthew was slain in Ethiopia, Mark dragged through the streets until dead, Luke hanged, Peter and Simeon were crucified, Andrew tied to a cross, James beheaded, Philip crucified and stoned, Bartholomew flayed alive, Thomas pierced with lances, James, the less, thrown from the temple and beaten to death, Jude shot to death with arrows, Matthias stoned to death and Paul beheaded.” (Carroll, Blood, p.30.)

Joining the Jewish affliction and growing in-house division, was a mounting crescendo of pagan persecution coming down from the highest levels of the Roman state. Though state-sponsored persecution seems to have begun with Claudius Caesar, the trophy for “Most Infamous” goes to his successor, Nero.

Nero and the Roman-Jewish War

Following Claudius’ poisoning by his fourth wife, Agrippina the Younger, the way was made clear for her 16-year old son, Nero, to ascend the throne. Initially guided by wise counsel, the first five years of Nero’s reign were marked by prudent changes for the empire, including empowering the Senate and ending secret political trials. Alas, his last decade spiraled into insanity and depravity. Among other evils, Nero is credited for exiling and murdering his first wife, murdering his brother and mother, kicking his pregnant second wife to death (and then castrating and marrying a boy who looked like her), and engaging in a reign of terror over Christianity following the famous Great Fire of Rome. Tacitus writes, following the fire,

Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all [Christians] who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.” (Annuls 15.44.)

As seen in the examples of Pharaoh and King Nebuchadnezzar, men were positioning themselves and their pagan gods for worship long before the emperors of Rome. Like his predecessors, Nero also promoted emperor worship, an intolerable idolatry to committed Jews and Christians. Though many compromised their faith to continue participating in local commerce, increased taxation and forced pagan worship mixed with Messianic expectation eventually kindling Jewish rebellion. During the Roman-Jewish War (66-73 AD), the Judeo-Christian community further separated themselves from their Jewish heritage by not answering the call-to-arms. Instead of throwing in on the revolt against Rome and rushing to the aid of Israel’s besieged cities, the Christian community heeded Jesus’ Olivet Discourse warning to flee Judaea (Matthew 24:16, Luke 21:21-22), taking up residence in the mountain wilderness of Pella, east of the Jordan River. This was the fulfillment of Revelation 12:6,14 where “the woman fled into the wilderness, having a place prepared by God, where she will be nourished for 1,260 days” (3½ years or ‘time, times and half a time’ per v14).

After the fall of Jerusalem and the razing of the Temple in 70 AD, the war devolved into a three-year manhunt for any remaining Jewish rebels still clinging to their Messianic fervor. The last Jewish stronghold to fall was the mountain fortress of Masada, where Josephus reports 960 people (consisting of Jewish families and an extremist faction of Zealot rebels called Sicarii) took their own lives rather than face capture by the Romans.

Domitian

Though paling in comparison with Nero’s terror, at the close of the first century, it seems Jews and—by proximity, Christians—may have experienced renewed persecution under emperor Domitian. However, if there was state-sponsored oppression of Christianity under Domitian, it has not been well-recorded by history. In his Church Fathers (3.17), Eusebius does say,

“Domitian, having shown great cruelty toward many, and having unjustly put to death no small number of well-born and notable men at Rome, and having without cause exiled and confiscated the property of a great many other illustrious men, finally became a successor of Nero in his hatred and enmity toward God. He was in fact the second that stirred up a persecution against us, although his father Vespasian had undertaken nothing prejudicial to us.”

Church father Tertullian reports Domitian’s persecution was brief and that he “even recalled those whom he had banished.”

The Great Persecution

Around the late second century, Tertullian writes of the rising popularity of Christianity, even in the face of civil persecution:

“We are but of yesterday, and yet we have filled all the places that belong to you—cities, islands, forts, towns, exchanges; the military camps themselves, tribes, town councils, the palace, the senate, the market-place; we have left you nothing but your temples.” (Ante-Nicene Fathers, XXXVII.)

Like the early Hebrew nation in the land of Goshen under Pharaoh, this growth alarmed the pagan Roman Empire. Though laws against religious minorities were already being partially enforced across the empire, in February 303 AD, Caesar Galerius persuaded Emperor Diocletian to initiate civil persecution of Christians as enemies of the state. By 304, Galerius passed an edict forcing all Roman citizens to sacrifice to the empire’s pagan gods under threat of arrest, forced labor or execution.

Eventually succeeding Diocletian as emperor, Galerius continued his savage hostility toward Christians in what became known as the Great Persecution. This oppression persisted for eight years until Galerius fell seriously ill during the winter of 310 AD. Recognizing years of formal persecution had yielded only growth among the Christians, and possibly suspecting his failed health as judgment by the Christian God, Galerius issued a formal edict of toleration on April 30, 311, granting the Christians recognized freedom to pursue their faith openly. This Edict of Serdica was the first formal legalization of Christianity in history.

Christianity Legalized and Compromised

Through the Civil Wars of the Tetrarchy—a series of conflicts between Rome’s coregents in the early 300’s—Constantine I eventually emerged as emperor supreme in 324 AD. Eucebius reports Constantine was moved by an open vision of a red cross in the sky emblazoned with the words, “In this sign you shall conquer.” Constantine took this vision to mean he would conquer and unify the known world through Christianity. Subsequently, he re-established dynastic rule under himself and—with the first ecumenical (empire-wide) Council of Nicaea in 325—he instituted church-state cooperation that would eventually lead to Christianity’s takeover as the official religion of the Holy Roman Empire. (What could go wrong?) The downside? This secular state influence in Church government would invite syncretism and political compromise from this point forward. Additionally, local churches began trading in their self-governed executive autonomy (thereby abandoning the New Testament model) and looked instead to the Roman state for legislative direction and support.

Yet, as Constantine pushed for the favor and unification of all Christians under the Roman banner, the pagan Roman Senate pushed back. This opposition led Constantine to establish a second Roman capital at the eastern city of Byzantium. Gratuitously renamed Constantinople, this move foreshadowed the future denominational split from Rome, which would establish the center for Greek Orthodox Christianity centuries later in 1054 AD.

Doctrinal Error Advances

Through these centuries of tribulation, doctrinal error continued to creep into the Christian Church. Beside the merging of church and state, one of the first tenants to fall was baptism. New Testament baptism was a believers’ baptism, requiring one to hear and understand the Gospel message, repent of sin and make their public declaration through immersion (Romans 6:3-5, Acts 2:38, 8:12, 8:38-39).

Nonetheless, the writings of Irenaeus, Origen and Tertullian all seem to indicate baptism of children began among the local churches as early as the second century. One of the causes for this shift may have been the developing idea that baptism enabled salvation instead of simply being a symbol of it. This thinking also encouraged infant baptism in a time when infant mortality was high. Though not doctrinally sound, some Christians today still hold infant baptism as a continuation of its predecessor, infant circumcision, as seen in the Mosaic Law (Genesis 17:10-14, Leviticus 12:2-3).

As Paul points out in Galatians 2:16, however, the works of the flesh accomplish nothing. Circumcision was always intended to lead to circumcision of the heart (Deuteronomy 10:16, Romans 2:29). To be clear, it is the belief in the finished work of Christ that saves, not baptism. Romans 10:9 plainly states if we confess with our mouths Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts God raised Him from the dead, we will be saved.

Disagreement with salvific and infant baptism among the local churches, coupled with a healthy distrust of Rome after centuries of abuse, led to many churches staying away from the ecumenical council meetings. Undeterred, by 418, the Roman Catholic Church signed infant baptism into law thereby making it compulsory across the empire. In effect, forced paganism had now been exchanged for forced Christianity, casting a shadow over religious freedom once again.

The Middle Ages: 500-1500 AD

The downfall of Rome in 476 created a power vacuum that could not be recovered by the weaker nations and tribes that rushed to fill it. It was during this decline of state rule and the ensuing rise of feudalism when the Roman Catholic Church rose to power. Though the term “Middle Ages” describes the time roughly between 500-1500 AD, the expression “Dark Ages” speaks to the first 500 years, where darkness reflects either a lack of cultural advancement or merely the weak historical documentation surrounding this period. As the gap between New Testament teaching widened, many errors became encoded into the Catholic Church during these years. Ratified through ongoing council meetings, these errors included:

  • hierarchical legislative government (325 AD);
  • the official marriage of church and state (380 AD);
  • the suppression of religious freedom (391 AD);
  • infant baptism as a means to salvation (418 AD);
  • worship of Mary as the “Mother of God” (known as “Mariolatry,” a play on the word “idolatry”, 451 AD);
  • image and saint worship (787 AD);
  • purgatory and indulgences (payments to the Catholic Church for heavenly mercies, 1095 AD);
  • forced celibacy of priests (1123 AD);
  • inaugurated the Inquisition (1184 AD) to stamp out all “heresy” which included Jews, Muslims, pagans and non-Catholic Christians, a ratcheting up of the Catholic Church’s bloody religious wars known as the Crusades, already in progress;
  • confession to priests and transubstantiation—the doctrine that the communal bread and wine was not a symbol but the literal body and blood of Christ (1215 AD); and finally,
  • made possessing any copies or fragments of the Bible illegal (so as to reduce “private interpretation,” 1229 AD).

The condemnation of particular Christian groups who refused to join the Catholic order was a frequent topic at these councils. Christians rejecting the Catholic institution, with its Pharisaical laws and increasingly pagan doctrines, found themselves accused of heresy. Many groups were targeted, including the Paulicians, Cathari, Patarenes, Donatists, Anabaptists, Petrobrusians, Arnoldists, Henricians, Waldenses and Albigenses. Though some of these strains really were heretical—like the Cathari, Patarenes and Albigenses—the Catholic response was decidedly more in step with the Jewish authorities of Jesus’ time than with Jesus Himself. Still, God was keeping a group of people for Himself who had not departed from the New Testament teachings.

Reformation: 1400-1600 AD

Following these centuries of brutality and bloodshed, we now enter a period of, well… more bloodshed. With its lust for oppression, legalism and corruption, the need for reform within the Church was becoming painfully obvious to Catholic piety who still had access to Scripture. Reformation became the cry from within, but was violently rejected by the Catholic Hierarchy who sought to protect its power. Change was led by devout Catholics like John Wycliff and John Huss, and like Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon, who went on to begin the Lutheran Church in Germany, and Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin, whose work launched the Presbyterians of Scotland. Even so, within several short decades, these churches joined their Catholic mother in achieving state sponsorship, securing for themselves both power and compromise.

During all this upheaval, the Catholic Church of England was having its own trouble. King Henry VIII—motivated by his desire to divorce Catherine, his wife, in exchange for her maid of honour, Anne Boleyn—broke from the Roman Church so he could have his marriage annulled. This placed Henry as the head of a new Church of England, Catholic though it was. Reformation entered the English Church during this time but was soon reversed when Catherine’s daughter, Mary, took the throne and placed the church back under papal authority. In doing so, she burned hundreds of Protestant “heretics” at the stake, earning the nickname “Bloody Mary.” She died five years into her reign and was succeeded by Elizabeth, Anne’s daughter, who returned the Church of England to its Protestant arc.

Recognized as established state churches, these new Protestant Churches of England, Germany and Scotland soon joined the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches in persecuting those outside their doctrinal borders. Without governmental authority, religious liberty was withheld from those who worshipped apart from the established institutions. Imprisonment, fines, beatings, banishment and loss of property still fell upon those who preached the Gospel or opposed child and infant baptism.

Post-Reformation: 1600-Today

In 1611, the King James Bible was made available to the commoner, further eroding papal power. The growing number of independent churches—now called “Congregationalists”—began to return to New Testament conduct. These self-governed churches adopted policies for remaining separate from state influence, held themselves apart from worldly values, esteemed the Bible as their standard and considered Jesus their head. Still, abuse by the larger state-sponsored denominations continued.

As colonial migration amped up during the 17th century, families fleeing religious persecution joined the exodus to America. Unfortunately, Europe’s established churches were also migrating to the New World, bringing with them the same intolerance those religious refugees had hoped to escape.

In time, the Church of England began to recognize religious oppression of fellow Protestants was not in the Crown’s best interest. Through a series of formal toleration acts from 1688 to 1854, the pressure on “dissenters”—all who remained apart from the Church of England—turned to liberty, eventually including even Catholics. Christianity had finally attained religious liberty from itself. Mostly.

Who are God’s Elect?

Represented by the Acts 2 Church of the first century, the 7,000 who refused to bow the knee to Baal, and the persecuted people of God who have remained steadfast across the ages, the faithful remnant continues to grow with every generation. They are not marked by denomination, nor by national heritage, nor by geographic location, but by faith and obedience. As Galatians 3:7-9 reminds us,

7 Therefore, know that they who are of faith are the children of Abraham. 8 The scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, first preached the gospel to Abraham, saying, ‘In you, all nations shall be blessed.’ 9 So then they who are of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.”

Today, Christianity remains the world’s most predominant faith, and the most persecuted. According to Open Doors, an organization that tracks Christian oppression across the globe, 5,621 Christians were killed for faith-related reasons in 2022. Over 2,110 churches were attacked and 4,542 Christians were detained. Since the time of Noah, there has been a faithful remnant—God’s elect—who have stayed true to God and His commandments, even in the face of persecution unto death.

As I’ve illustrated in this brief survey of doctrinal erosion and religious persecution, it is on every believer to cleave to the tenants of God’s Word. We must regularly compare our congregational doctrines and liturgies with the biblical record, for we see historically—apart from the guidance of the Holy Spirit—drift happens. The models for church conduct and sacraments were clearly established in the New Testament. Throughout the ages, and even within the Word itself, we have seen what happens when men take matters into their own hands, soon departing from God’s standards.

And so, beloved, when persecution comes, whether from within or without, let us take comfort from the words of Peter:

The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of trials, and to reserve the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment,” (2 Peter 2:9).


References

Suetonius Tranquillus. “Divus Claudius.” Alexander Thomson, Ed. https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:abo:phi,1348,015:25.

Carroll, J.M. “The Trail of Blood.” 1931. The Bible Nation Society.

History editors. March 27, 2023. “Inquisition.” History.com. https://www.history.com/topics/religion/inquisition.

History editors. June 7, 2019. “Nero.” History.com. https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-rome/nero.

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The Eighth Day: The Importance of the Number 8 in Biblical Numerology

Numbers have important meanings in Scripture. For example, the number four represents the world (four corners), five speaks about grace, six is the number for man, and seven is used to reference perfection or completion. But what about the number eight?

The number eight is very significant such that it is used 73 times in the Bible. It is the symbol of resurrection and regeneration. In Bible numerology, eight means a new beginning; it denotes “a new order or creation, and man’s true ‘born again’ event when he is resurrected from the dead into eternal life.” The first historic reference is to Noah and his family as “eight persons were brought safely through the water” (1 Peter 3:20). Those eight persons experienced a true new beginning once the flood receded. Another was instituted by God as a sign of the covenant He was making with Abraham in Genesis 17:12, that each child would be circumcised on the eighth day. This covenant with Abraham represented a new relationship with God.

Plumpness

The Hebrew word shemoneh is translated as eight or eighth and is derived most likely from the root word meaning plumpness as if a surplus above the “perfect” seven. Of course, the first mention of seven is found in Genesis 1 with the creation story, in reference to seven days as a week. Metaphorically, the eighth day takes us above and beyond the seventh day, the day of rest.

Two other Old Testament references to the number eight include 1 Samuel 17:12-14 indicating King David as the youngest of eight children, the eighth child, and the one who would become known as “a man after My (God’s) heart.” In 2 Chronicles 34:1-3, Josiah, one of only three good kings, became king when he was eight years old. In verse 3, Scripture says, “For in the eighth year of his reign while he was still a youth, he began to seek the God of his father David.” A new beginning took place in Josiah’s heart in his eighth year. It says he began to purge the images of other gods from Judah and Jerusalem. Both David and Josiah changed the course of history.

Shemini Atzeret

In Leviticus 23:33-36, the Lord institutes the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) to be celebrated for seven days in fabricated booths as a reminder of the nation’s exodus from Egypt. In verse 36: “For seven days you shall present an offering by fire to the Lord. On the eighth day, you shall have a holy convocation and present an offering by fire to the Lord; it is an assembly. You shall do no laborious work.” This eighth day of Sukkot is also known as Shemini Atzeret and is a separate—yet connected—a holy day devoted to the spiritual aspects of the festival of Sukkot. Part of its duality as a holy day is that it is simultaneously considered to be both connected to Sukkot and also a separate festival in its own right. It is also referred to as “the great day of the feast.” John’s gospel cites a particular event that occurred on that day in John 7:37-39:

Now, on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'” But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given because Jesus was not yet glorified.

This connection between the eighth day and the Holy Spirit is significant.

The Fountain of Living Water

Jesus is believed to have been born on the first day of Sukkot, so His dedication, covered by Luke in chapter 2:22-23, was on Shemini Atzeret. In John 8:2, Jesus entered the temple on that day and addressed the woman caught in the act of adultery. When Jesus was writing with his finger on the ground after His statement, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her,” He may have been writing their names as a statement of judgment, in fulfillment of Jeremiah 17:13, O Lord, the hope of Israel, all who forsake You will be put to shame. Those who turn away on earth will be written down because they have forsaken the fountain of living water, even the Lord.

After eight days, His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands, and reach here your hand and put it into My side, and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see and yet believed.” (John 20:26-29)

Eight days after the resurrection, an important event is covered by the Gospel of John. Thomas had not been present during an earlier meeting of the disciples with the risen Lord. Thomas had expressed doubt after others told him, “We have seen the Lord.” Jesus went out of His way to address those doubts by allowing Thomas to touch His wounds as proof that He was real. This is the very moment that Thomas became a believer when he said, “My Lord and my God!” It was the eighth day when Thomas finally recognized His resurrection. Jesus then addresses those who follow, that our “come to Jesus” moment is to be realized on the basis of faith when we are taken beyond the physical realm into the spiritual realm.

Anointing

A Hebrew word closely related to shemoneh is shemen and is translated “anointing” in the King James version. In Isaiah 61:1, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners.” This is a clear reference to Jesus as Messiah and quoted by Him in Luke 4:18 as being fulfilled “in their hearing” (verse 21). The Holy Spirit is the source of His anointing and will become that for the New Testament believer as well at Pentecost.

It is commonly accepted that the Law was given to Moses on the Feast of Shavuot, otherwise known as Pentecost. This means that the old covenant and the new covenant were given on the same day, some 1,500 years apart. When the Holy Spirit came upon believers in Jesus as Messiah in Acts 2, it was the completion of the old work and the new beginning of a better covenant (Hebrews 8:6). Like Shemini Atzeret, it is connected to the old covenant, yet it is its own separate celebration, bringing in an anointing to the believer by the Holy Spirit not experienced by Old Testament believers. This eighth day is really a brand-new week in God’s sovereign plan to take us to the Second Coming of Messiah.

What is Double-Minded?

There is so much in this crazy world in which we live that competes for our attention. Life is confusing. Thinking clearly in the midst of all the obstructions and noise has become more difficult than ever. To know what I believe and why I believe is a mountain the believer must climb to find peace of mind. In James 1:5-8, the one who lacks wisdom is encouraged to ask of God, in faith and without doubting, and God would answer. Otherwise, he will be “like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.” This man cannot expect to receive anything from God since he is “a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” The Greek word for double-minded is dipsychos and it literally means two souls or minds and is the foundation for his doubt.

To understand double-mindedness is to acknowledge the spiritual warfare each believer faces. In Galatians 5:17, “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” In Romans 7:14-15, Paul tells us that, “For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.” The man of the flesh is being controlled by his fleshly desires and is not capable of consistently doing what he wishes. Paul tells us that the root cause is the law of sin and death “waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members” (Romans 7:21-24).

Are we lukewarm?

This terminal condition is influenced and promoted by the believer’s relationship to the world around him. In Revelations 3:15-18, Jesus addresses the Laodicean church as being “rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing”. As a result, they “do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” Because they are so comfortable in their surroundings and their possessions, Jesus tells them they are lukewarm, apathetic rather than hot or cold. It appears that their apathy is directly related to their double-mindedness and is caused by their relationship to their environment. Unhealthy attachments to the material realm distort the mind’s ability to think clearly and recognize spiritual realities.

The mind governing the spiritual man is uniquely different than that of the man of the flesh. Scripture tells us that the central issue is the condition of the heart. In James 4:8, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” The avenue to overcoming double-mindedness is a pure heart. But what exactly does that look like? Jesus gives us the answer in Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” The Greek word for pure is katharos and it means not only clean and pure, but also real and genuine. It means the believer is transparent with no secrets. He is willing to face any failure head-on, without hiding. He is honest.

Psalm 51:6-10

“6 Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom. 7 Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8 Make me to hear joy and gladness, let the bones which You have broken rejoice. 9 Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

In this psalm, David acknowledged his sin before God, admitting his sin is against God Himself in verse 4. He is ready to come clean and face the music, whatever that may be. He also recognizes he needs God to make his heart pure and clean; this work is beyond him. Hyssop was used in the sacred purification rites and David was asking God to purge, to remove from within him his sin problem. He continued by asking to hear joy and gladness, evidence that his sin was resolved. Finally, he asks God to create (bara – create from nothing) a heart that has had the guilt and shame removed from the emotions and conscience. A steadfast spirit is one that is committed to righteousness. David understood that sin has its own energy and is offset by a steadfastness to integrity.

The importance of a pure heart

These verses from Psalm 51 tie in nicely with Psalm 24:3-6 where David speaks of the one who “ascends into the hill of the Lord.” He is the one who, “has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood and has not sworn deceitfully.” In verse 6, he is the one who seeks God in every generation. Who better to learn this lesson from than the one who was after God’s heart (Acts 13:22).

In the New Covenant age, everyone whose hope is fixed on the promise that, “We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:2-3). The one who places his confidence in the promise that he will be like Jesus is purified in that hope. In 2 Corinthians 7:1, “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” The believer who focusses his attention on the person and work of Christ (Hebrews 12:2) has been motivated to avoid anything that would defile him and is perfecting his holiness in that relationship.

Like a Madness That Knows No Bounds: The Parable of the Prodigal Father

In Luke 15:11–32, Jesus tells the parable of the prodigal son. This description only captures the first half of the parable (15:11–24), which will be the focus of this post. Charles Dickens reputedly called it “the greatest short story of all time.” It is also referred to in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and has inspired masterpieces such as Dickens’ Great Expectations, paintings such as Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son, and lyrics amongst artists as diverse as Everlast, Keith Green, the Rolling Stones, and U2.

Elements of the parable have entered our common language. Even Michael Scott from The Office, when reuniting with Jim, could say, “the prod . . . er . . . prodigal . . uh . . . my son returns,” with the assumption that his audience would understand the reference, however fumbled it was.

This is especially revealing. It demonstrates that for many the traditional description of this parable is still familiar to them without even knowing what it means. I would like to describe briefly what this parable really teaches, what the term “prodigal” means, and why we so often attribute the term to the wrong person in the story.

A Better Title

“There was a man who had two sons” (Luke 15:11).  The hero in this story is a respectable owner of an estate with servants and fatted calves to spare. Jesus’ story implies that this father, however, is most foolish. It is not his money that makes him foolish. It is not a lack of status. It is his love for a son.

There is something timeless and familiar about the younger son. With the world before him, he demands his inheritance early, gathers his portion, and he runs. More audacious, as we will discuss shortly, is the father’s response. The father acquiesces rather than rebukes. Moreso, the father gives over his property (lit. “his life”) to divide between the brothers. The father gives it all.

The parable indicates that both the father and the younger son act dishonorably here. The father apparently ignores the wisdom of the ancient scribe, Ben Sira: “In all that you do retain control . . . When the days of your life reach their end, at the time of your death distribute your property” (33.23–24). Likewise, land and possessions in Jewish antiquity were highly prized and preserved through family lines. In this instance, the younger son sells off not merely what his father would have worked for but likely what his father was given by the generations preceding him.

The father’s permissiveness extends beyond granting the wish of dividing the inheritance prematurely. At any instance, the father could regain control over his son’s actions and prevent him from selling off the family possessions. No such actions appear to be taken.

The son, in response, takes all that his father worked for and gave him and wastes it with what has been understood and translated as “wild living,” “a prodigal lifestyle,” or what Walter Bauer refers to as “a madness that knows no bounds.”  This is where the term “prodigal” comes from. Prodigal means “lavish” or “wasteful.” As we will see, a better title for the parable is, “The Parable of the Prodigal Father.”

Like the People That Moved Jesus

Having squandered his inheritance, the details of the younger’s son condition resonate with the timeless, common afflictions that have faced every generation: failure, desperation, and abandonment. Although the older son would later tell his father that the younger son “wasted his inheritance on prostitutes” (15:30), it is unclear if Jesus intends us to believe this. There is nothing in the parable, per se, that indicates that this younger son’s exploits were sexual in nature versus a mere reckless opportunism. The point is that he gambled it all. And lost.

Following his complete failure, the son was exposed to the types of famine that ravished Palestine and its surrounded regions on a regular basis. Like many, the younger son was both a responsible agent and unwitting victim in his circumstance. He was forced to sell himself to foreigner, to “a citizen,” who, under such a contract, had complete authority over the man’s daily life.

In this case, it was the son’s task to feed this foreigner’s pigs. This is emphasized by Jesus to paint a picture of this man as a reckless, foolish disappointment. Pigs were so loathed by Jewish people that archeologists use the presence or absence of their bones to determine the settlement distributions of Jews in antiquity. In their eyes, they were the most unclean of animals, and this younger son was not even permitted, so to speak, to eat the food that fell from the pigs’ table (cf. Matt 15:27).

The son was in worse condition than the dogs that roamed the streets of Palestine. He was like a harlot who sold herself for survival. He was like a tax collector who betrayed his people. He was like a leper, unclean and exiled and hopeless. He was, in other words, like all the people that moved Jesus.

Shame, Shame, Shame

Everything we have learned about first century Jewish culture increases the shame that runs through the story. It is shameful for a son to demand his father’s inheritance before he dies. It is shameful to abandon your family. It is shameful to neglect to care for your father in his old age. It is shameful to squander your inheritance and your family’s name. It is shameful to abandon your identity as a Sabbath-observant Jew, which the younger son surely would have done under his new labor contract. It is shameful to feed the pigs of a foreigner.

At this moment, the son literally “comes to himself” (15:17) and comes up with a strategy (15:18–19): “I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’” Although some bible teachers claim that this amounts to repentance, there are several reasons to doubt it.

Whenever there is internal dialogue in the parables in Luke’s Gospel, they give the hearer or reader insight into the depravity of a character’s intentions. For example, the rich hoarder says to himself, “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones . . . And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry’” (12:18–19). The shrewd manager, before unjustly reducing the debts of his master’s debtors, says, “What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg . . .” (16:3). Every instance of internal dialogue in a parable of Luke’s Gospel seems designed to accentuate moral ambiguity.

Moreso, the younger son rehearses his lines: “I have sinned against heaven and against you,” and these words mirror those of Pharoah to Moses: “I have sinned against God and against you” (Ex 10:16).  This son’s heart is no softer than the Egyptian. But he believes his father has food to spare. He leaves (likely under the cover of darkness), abandoning the obligations of his labor contract, and he decides to become his father’s servant instead.

But when his father sees him, his shame, too, knows no bounds (Luke 15:20). Seeing his child from a far distance, he runs with self-abandon to embrace him. This father, too, has been shameful. He failed to discipline his son. He failed to keep him from wrongdoing. And now he fails to be honorable. Grown men in Palestine are not encouraged to hike up their robes to run, exposing their legs.  But the father does much more. He gives a dishonorable son the “best robe.” Whose robe is this? The father’s own. He gives his son the signet ring of responsibility. Whose ring is this? The father’s own. And he slaughters the fatted calf for him. Such a calf could feed up to a hundred people; a whole village could be invited.

The True Prodigal

A great party ensues. But it is also a completely unexpected party, and this creates an insight into the father’s joy. A fatted calf took approximately six months to prepare for a slaughter after its birth. It would be penned up and confined to limit weight loss. These animals were not merely there for the taking at any moment, but they were groomed for special occasions such as weddings or communal feasts.  The father must already have been grooming this calf for a special occasion. Its slaughter did not merely result in an extravagant feast for a wasteful son; it meant that whatever occasion the father had saved it for would be deprived of its fatted calf.

This is why the father is the true “prodigal.” He is heedless, wasteful, and excessive in his gracious joy. His is a madness that knows no bounds. His is a picture of the prodigal love of God.


This blog post is based on an excerpt from For People Like Us: God’s Search for the Lost of Luke 15. It has been reprinted exclusively to this blog with permission from Wipf & Stock.Luuk van de Weghe (PhD, University of Aberdeen) is the author of For People Like Us: God’s Search for the Lost of Luke 15. He has publicly debated leading skeptics and has been published in preeminent peer-reviewed journals such as New Testament Studies, Tyndale Bulletin, and Bulletin for Biblical Research.https://www.luukvandeweghe.com/publications.html

7 Historic Examples of End-Times Error

One of the most fascinating aspects of the Bible is its prophetic nature. The prophecies in the Bible astound us and give us insight into who God is and how He operates in our lives. But understanding biblical prophecy is not always easy, nor is it something that can be done overnight. It requires years of dedicated study and a willingness to dive deep into the Scriptures, history, geography, ancient languages and more.

When it comes to interpreting Scripture, context matters—and that’s especially true with biblical prophecy. Proper context helps us understand God’s will by providing us with the necessary historical and cultural background information needed to make sense of these complex passages. Without proper context, we miss out on understanding what God has actually revealed in His Word.

What negative side effects happen when we don’t understand it properly? Throughout history, many people have been so passionate about understanding these prophecies that they’ve made false predictions and taken drastic action only to be proven wrong. In this article, we’ll look at seven examples of times when people misunderstood biblical prophecy about the last days and the errors that resulted.

The Crusades (1095-1291)

The Crusades were a series of military campaigns that took place in the Middle Ages and were led by members of the Latin Church in an effort to reclaim land that had been taken by Islamic forces. The Crusades began in 1095, when Pope Urban II called on Christians to take up arms against Muslim forces in the Middle East. In his speech, he asked for “Christian soldiers to fight those who have invaded the lands of Christians and have depopulated them by pillage and fire.” He based this call to arms on a passage from the book of Revelation that spoke of an impending war between God’s people and those who opposed him. This misunderstanding led to centuries of bloodshed and conflict between Christians and Muslims.

The Great Awakening (1734-1745)

Nearly four centuries after the Crusades ended, another misunderstanding arose when it came to biblical prophecy—this time around the Second Coming of Christ. During this period, known as the Great Awakening, religious leaders began preaching about an imminent return of Jesus Christ and encouraged their followers to be ready for His coming by repenting from their sins. They argued that all signs pointed to His imminent return—a claim largely based on passages from 2 Peter 3:8-9 which states that “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like one day”—and warned of dire consequences if their listeners failed to heed these warnings. Eager for Jesus to return, many began neglecting their everyday responsibilities such as tending farms or paying taxes, causing economic disruption across the country.

Millerites (1843 (2x), 1844 (2x))

William Miller was a Baptist preacher in the early 19th century who founded what became known as the Millerites. Using Daniel 8:14 (the “cleansing of the sanctuary”) and other proof texts, Miller calculated and recalculated several dates for Jesus’ return to earth, finally landing on October 22, 1844. When this last attempt also failed to occur, his followers were devastated and entered a time known as the Great Disappointment. Some eventually went on to form the Seventh-day Adventists.

Jehovah’s Witnesses (1914)

Charles Taze Russell was a Presbyterian clergyman who founded what is now known as the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1872. He believed that Jesus Christ returned invisibly on October 2nd, 1874 to usher in a new era of peace and prosperity for believers on earth. Inspired by the beginning of World War I as the beginning of Armageddon, Russell taught that Jesus would return in 1914. This obviously did not happen, but Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to hold onto the belief that Jesus returned invisibly in 1874 and will reveal Himself soon.

Herbert W Armstrong (1936, 1943, 1972, 1975)

Having already missed two end-times predictions, Herbert Armstrong, American evangelist and founder of the Worldwide Church of God, predicted that Jesus Christ would return sometime between 1972-1975. These calculations were based on his interpretation of biblical prophecies concerning Israel’s rebirth as a nation-state in 1948 and their victory in the 1967 Six-Day War. However, both 1972 and 1975 came and went without any sign of the Second Coming or Armageddon. Armstrong died in 1986 without ever having seen his predictions come true.

Harold Camping (1994 (3x), 1995, 2011 (2x))

Harold Camping was an American Christian radio host who proclaimed throughout his career he had discovered a new formula which revealed when Christ would return. Camping first claimed several moving dates for Jesus’ return in 1994-1995 and then again in 2011. His predictions received widespread attention but failed to materialize as expected. Deluded, some Christians fell into financial ruin after spending their life savings on Doomsday preparations and billboards advertising Camping’s predictions. Camping later admitted he was wrong and apologized for misleading people with his false claims.

Edgar Whisenant (1988, 1989, 1993, 1994…)

In 1988, former NASA engineer Edgar Whisenant published a book titled “88 Reasons Why The Rapture Will Be In 1988.” In it, he claimed that the Rapture would occur on September 11-13 of that year. His book sold over 4 million copies. When his prediction failed, he republished the book under the title “89 Reasons Why The Rapture Will Be In 1989” explaining he had made an error in his calculations. When this prediction failed too, Whisenant went quiet until 1993 when he wrote another book entitled “On Borrowed Time,” predicting 1994. Whisenant continued to make predictions until he eventually faded into obscurity.

The Need for Proper Interpretation

These have been just a handful of end-times errors where people have misunderstood biblical prophecy about the last days and were led into misguided beliefs with negative consequences. As Christians today, it is important that we seek knowledge from reliable sources (1 Tim 2:4; 2 Tim 4:3) so we might understand God’s plan for us more clearly. Romans 12:2 reminds us not to be conformed to this world, but to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what is the good, acceptable and perfect will of God.”

If you are interested in growing in your understanding why you believe what you believe, consider joining or starting a small group Bible study with your local church today.

Prophecy Course Bible study

References

“Bible Study Groups”. Crosswalk Inc. Accessed March 10, 2023. https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/bible-study/bible-study-groups-1277321.

“What is Prophecy?” Got Questions Ministries. Accessed March 10, 2023. https://www.gotquestions.org/prophecy-prophesy.html.

Schoenherr, Matthew. 2022. “You’re Probably Wrong”. Prophecy Course. Retrieved from https://prophecycourse.org/session/03/wrong/.

“Unfulfilled Christian Religious Predictions.” Wikipedia.org. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unfulfilled_Christian_religious_predictions.