No one knows the day or hour

Apparently millions of people took seriously the suggestion that the "Rapture" might take place yesterday - not quite the end of the world, but the supposed beginning of the end, with millions of virtuous people taken straight to heaven. Needless to say it didn't happen.

(My wife, who was raised in Luton, commented that "There certainly wasn't any Rapture in Luton after yesterday's football match!" but there you go.)

I don't know whether I am more irritated that people who ought to know better are taken in by this sort of nonsense, or that the real Christian faith may be discredited because others imagine that the fraudsters and blithering idiots who peddle it have anything whatsoever to do with the teachings of Jesus.

The most cursory reading of the sections of the New Testament which deal with the end of the world is sufficient to prove beyond any possibility of doubt that anyone who claims to know exactly when Jesus will come again is a fool or a liar.

Jesus himself said that "No one knows the day or hour" of his return, (Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:32) and emphasised that even He himself did not know exactly when that would be. He told his followers, "You must always be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you are not expecting him."

One of today's newpapers picked up the suggestion, argued by a minority of theologians, that Jesus then embarrassingly proved the truth of his statement that even he did not know the time of his return by suggesting that it would come in the lifetime of some of his listeners - "These things will come to pass before the people now living have all died" (Matthew 24:34). There is a case for this interpretation of scripture, but I myself disagree with it.

Other theologians make a much more convincing argument that this sentence, and large parts of the 24th Chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew to which it refers, were actually a prediction of the siege and sack of Jerusalem by Titus's Roman army in 70AD. The early Christians at the time certainly thought Jesus's prophecy was coming true when they saw Titus's legions approaching, followed His instructions to run for the hills without stopping to collect their belongings, and thereby probably saved their lives.

And I can't see that there would have been any point in Jesus instructing His followers in Judea to run for the hills, (Matthew 24:16) if the end of the world was happening. It could only be worth running if Jesus was talking about some lesser catastrophe, limited to Judea, and from which flight might save them.

But whether or not you believe in Jesus, and whatever is meant by Matthew 24:34, it is crystal clear that He said that nobody other than God, not even he himself, knew exactly when he would return, or the timing of the rest of the sequence of events which can loosely be described as "The end of the world." That specifically includes the passage in the bible which a minority of Christians understand to mean that some people will be taken straight to heaven in an event they call "Rapture."

What's more, Jesus warned his followers to watch out for "False Prophets" who would wrongly claim to speak for him or for God, who would make false predictions of these events.

In other words, two thousand years ago, Jesus warned Christians to be on their guard against people like Dan Carter, the american preacher who predicted "Rapture" yesterday.

He told us that we should live our lives as though the end of the world might come very soon indeed, or might not come for many generations. And to be ready for either possibility.

Interestingly enough, modern scientists, whether they are religious believers or atheists, say pretty much the same thing on this particular point.

And on this issue, both real christian teaching, and modern science, are right.


Tim said…
For Atheists like myself this has been very, very amusing.
Jim said…
"You must always be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you are not expecting him."

If he does get here he should fill in a form for a job at british gas. He would be a natural.
Chris Whiteside said…
Tim - I bet it has. But bear in mind that some people who call themselves Christians are saying things which are completely out of line with the bible, and when such people prove to be raving loonies it doesn't necessarily prove that all Christians are.
Tim said…
I see that the date has been revised for the 21st of October - better buy a hard hat.
Jim said…
As you are aware im not a man of faith, if anything i find it too daft to laugh at, a bit like the labour party manifesto, but there you go.

The thing that does concern me however is when you say
"not quite the end of the world, but the supposed beginning of the end, with millions of virtuous people taken straight to heaven."

Are you implying that these people are actually hoping and praying for the end of the world?

I can never come to terms with it being "gods will" (which ever god it happens to be)to blow yourself up and take as many people as you can with you, but the end of the whole planet, thats like a whole new level of madness
Chris Whiteside said…
I don't pretend to know what these people are hoping and praying for.

There is a passage in the bible in which Jesus talks about the events which are coming, and he gave two instances of people working side by side and said after each, "one will be taken, and the other left."

Some people interpret this to mean that millions of the most virtuous people will be taken straight up to heaven at the start of the Last Days to save them having to live through the difficult time which follows.

Personally I think that this sort of elaborate extrapolation from what a religious text actually says can easily bring the entire religion into disrepute, which is rather unfair on those who don't indulge in it. In context it is at least as plausible that Jesus was warning his listeners about the forthcoming Roman invasion of Palestine and warning that the conquering legions would kill many while sparing others (which they did.)

I can only tell you whether or not there is any truth in religion, there will certainly come an end to the world sooner or later, but I'm not praying for it and doubt if too many other people are.
Jim said…
Tim- What happend to the Dec 21st 2012 date (or do they need something in between to spread the cash flow)?
Tim said…

Dec 21st or 23rd according to which source you look at has been widely flagged up as the 'end of the world'. This date is the final day of the Mayan long count calendar - read the full details at

In a nutshell, this article debunks all the usual held myths and only speaks about the start of an age of enlightenment. I suppose that the possibility exists that this date will see Armageddon. There is also a possibility that I will be the next Primeminister and that I will also be this year's winner of Britain's got talent.
Chris Whiteside said…
No offence, Tim, but I don't think any of us will hold our breath waiting for any of those events.

There is many a true word spoken in jest and I think it's at least as likely that the correct answer was given by the newspaper cartoons a little way back which showed the Mayan calendars stopping at 2012 because that's where the space they were writing them on ran out.

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