False Christs, False Prophets, Deceivers Arise

by Bob Anderson

The return of Jesus Christ, the "second coming," Armageddon, and the "end of the world" are topics discussed, argued, and debated among Christians and non-Christians alike at an escalating frequency. What has been termed by some as millennial madness will likely continue at an even more frenzied pace as we draw nearer to the end of this decade, century, and millennium.

Author Stanley J. Grenz, in his book, The Millennial Maze: Sorting Out Evangelical Options, observes:

At the close of the twentieth century the message of the doomsday preachers - once the brunt of jokes and the laughing stock of "enlightened" citizens of the modem world - has become in the minds of many people a serious possibility and a genuine concern in a way unparalleled in prior decades. For the first time in recent history we sense that our civilization is tottering on the edge of a precipice peering into the abyss of self- destruction and chaos.

Christians have been anxiously awaiting the Lord's return for nearly 2,000 years. But they are not the only ones sensing that something of an extraordinary nature could soon happen to the world. Omni magazine featured a tongue-in-cheek article entitled "The End Is Nigh - Again." In this review, the authors quoted many religious and even non-religious people who believe in and are pointing to the year 2000 or thereabouts for some earthshaking event. Among the sources Omni quoted were the prophecies of the sixteenth-century French philosopher Nostradamus and a seven- teenth-century mystic called the Seeress of Prague. The authors also cited New Age prophecies from a modem group called the New Age Millennialists, as well as twentieth-century psychics Edgar Cayce, the "sleeping prophet," who saw 1998 as the beginning of a New Age, and Jean Dixon who "foresees an evil and charismatic Antichrist leading ... the world astray in this decade.

The Omni authors even quoted writings that dated back thousands of years to the Aztec and Mayan Indian cultures. Each source stated that a great cataclysmic event would happen sometime near the end of this decade or early in the twenty-first century, and that it would be followed by a millennial period of peace on earth.

The Bible is exceedingly clear in its warning against putting stock in occult sources (Deut. 18:9-14). It is fascinating to note, however, that even the world believes something unique is about to happen - that we are headed for some staggering event in which the world will go through a great crisis followed by a period of 1,000 years of perfect peace.

The Most Distinct Sign

In theological terms, the study of Christ's return and the end times is called eschatology. In studying this subject, one cannot minimize the importance of Matthew 24. This section of Scripture paints a vivid picture of conditions on earth just prior to Christ's return.

In verse 4, Jesus begins to answer the questions posed to Him by His disciples concerning His advent, specifically, ". . . When shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and the end of the world?" Notice that the word "sign" is singular, not plural: "What shall be the sign of Your coming?"

A quick review of Matthew 24 reveals that Jesus does not immediately answer the initial part of the question, "When shall these things be?" He does, however, talk about the sign of His coming and the end of the world or end of the age. He begins with these words of warning: "Take heed that no man deceive you," then proceeds to caution that many will come in His name, saying "I am Christ" and deceiving multitudes.

The very first sign that Jesus mentions concerning His coming is that people will arise in (or on the strength and authority of) His name, stealing the title that belongs only to Him, and deceiving many. Three times in this chapter (verses 5, 11, and 24), Jesus warns that the end of the age, just prior to His return, will be characterized by the appearance of false Christs, false prophets, and false Messiahs who will not only deceive great multitudes, but "... if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect" (Matt. 24:24).

Jesus also mentions other "signs" of His coming (verses 6 and 7). He refers, for example, to wars and rumors of wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in diverse places.

In the past 50 years the world has experienced these "other" signs like no previous generation. However, it is interesting to note that Jesus is asked for the one sign that will distinguish His second coming - and three times He mentions the rise of spiritual deceivers! Notice that He mentions wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes only once. Apparently, there is something extremely significant about religious deceptions just prior to His return. Why else would the Son of God refer to it so often in this short series of verses?

Yes, Jesus obviously wanted His disciples to be keenly alert to the fact that the beguilers would come! He was so concerned about this problem that He called these false prophets ravenous (savage) wolves disguised as sheep (Matt. 7:15-23). From this analogy we derive the common expression, "a wolf in sheep's clothing." We are instructed to observe the "fruit" of these wolves.

The context of this series of verses obviously pertains to false prophets. It becomes quite apparent upon examination that the "fruit" of these wolves is false prophecy. In the days immediately prior to Christ's return, many unbelievable things will no doubt occur. But the most distinct problem endured by that generation will be one of religious deception. Ours may well be that generation.

Spiritual Counterfeits

Fifty years ago had people been asked, "What will the world be like at the end of the age?" many would most likely have predicted a lack of religious beliefs - that atheism and agnosticism would be the prevailing sentiments. However, Matthew 24 indicates quite the opposite.

An explosion of interest in things religious and spiritual will develop at the end of the age, but a great deal of the attention will be directed toward the counterfeits. Likewise, in 2 Timothy 3:8, the apostle Paul warns that just as Jannes and Jambres (magicians in the pharaoh's court) had opposed Moses, men of corrupt minds would appear and present counterfeits of the true faith.

How did Jannes and Jambres oppose Moses? Was it by denying the miraculous? No, they also worked miracles through the power of Satan. Similarly, the end of the age will not be a time of atheism and skepticism. Rather, an outpouring of interest in religion and in the miraculous will occur, but deception and delusion will be rampant.

Today, in many nations of the world, a revival of "religion" is occurring. Unfortunately, in most of these nations the religion undergoing revival is not Christianity. Islam, second only to Christianity in size, is not only the dominant faith in the Middle East, but it is also the fastest-growing religion in the world.

Statistics from The Church Around The World (Tyndale House) show that over the past half-century Christianity's membership increased by 47 percent. During that same time, however, Buddhism's following increased by 63 percent and Hinduism's by 117 percent. The number of Islam (Muslim) devotees exploded with an astounding 500 percent growth, from 200 million to the present I billion members .

According to Muslim expert Dr. Robert A. Morey, "In England, there are more Muslims than there are evangelical Christians. Abandoned Anglican churches are being bought and converted into mosques so rapidly that some Muslims claim that England will be the first Muslim European country."

Here in the United States, more than 500 Islamic centers have been built, with plans for significant expansion underway.' According to USA Today, Islam's membership in this country exceeds 4 million.

Carol Stone, whose demographic analysis is included in a research collection, The Muslims in America, estimates that 6 million Muslims will reside in the United States by the year 2000. Islam will replace Judaism as the nation's second-largest religion sometime within this decade .6

What Is a Cult?

America has always guaranteed her people the freedom of religion. Cults, likewise, are protected under the same rights granted by our constitution to every citizen.

By use of the term "cult," I do not mean to imply anything of a derogatory nature to any group named herein. The word "cult" (from the Latin word cultis) simply refers to a group of individuals. However, theologically speaking, when brought into the context of Christianity, which has produced most of the cults in the world today, a cult is a group of persons gathered around somebody's interpretation of the Bible.

Such groups generally claim to be in sympathy or in harmony with orthodox Christianity, but all members deny essential doctrines of the faith as defined by the creeds of the historic church and upheld through the ages. These doctrines include the deity of Christ, the Trinity, Christ's bodily resurrection, salvation by grace through faith alone, Christ's bodily return, the virgin birth of Christ, and eternal punishment for the unredeemed.

Cults and aberrant groups began to form here in America in the nineteenth century. Groups such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), Seventh-Day Adventists, Theosophy, Christian Science, Unity, Jehovah's Witnesses, and others, all began to take shape during that period.

The twentieth century has seen a proliferation of cultic and occultic organizations. In addition to the older, well-established groups, the last 25 to 30 years in particular have produced Jim Jones, Charles Manson, Rev. Sun Myung Moon, Elizabeth Clare Prophet, "Moses" David Berg, Roy Masters, Jose Silva, Werner Erhard, and David Koresh, just to a name a few founders or leaders of relatively new aberrational religious movements in America. Additional deviant groups of every conceivable variety spring up almost daily.

America has also been besieged by occultic teachings from the East. Many of these teachings and/or techniques have come in under the guise of the latest "scientific" approaches to relaxation, meditation, health, medicine, and physical fitness. Under the banners of "New Age," "Human Potential," and "Holistic Health," many of these practices have become widely accepted in business and public education, and have even infiltrated Christian churches.

In short, the twentieth century has produced a cult explosion the likes of which our forefathers could never have imagined. According to the late Dr. Walter Martin, founder of the Christian Research Institute, in 1830 there were less than 1,000 cultists in the entire country. Yet today, estimates by experts in countercult ministries place that figure in the tens of millions.'

Occult Invasion

Eastern occultism made its major debut here in America during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, under the leadership of numerous Indian gurus. Most of these men not only claimed to be divine, but in many cases were worshipped by their followers. Among the more prominent gurus were Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who founded colleges in Iowa and California where students study his Eastern philosophies; Thackar Sing, who enticed many young people to follow him back to India where they have become his devoted disciples; Maharaj Gi, who, at the tender age of 14, was worshipped as God by his ardent followers; and the late Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, who built an occult empire in Oregon while separating many thousands of people from millions of their dollars before finally being deported by the U.S. governments.

In 1982, Benjamin Creme, a New Age counterfeit of "John the Baptist," helped the Tara Center in Los Angeles run a $500,000 newspaper ad campaign in more than 20 major cities of the world. These ads, including a 1987 full-page display in USA Today, proclaimed Lord Maitreya to be the Christ. According to Creme, Maitreya is the one awaited by all major religions. For the deceived Christians, he's the second coming of Christ; for the Buddhists, he's the fifth Buddha; for the Hindus, he's the Lord Krishna; for the Muslims, he's the Imammahdi; for the Jews, he's the long-awaited Messiah.

Maitreya's status and location are supposedly known to only a few. When the appointed time arrives, he is expected to make himself known to all of mankind. His task, according to the ads, is "to show us how to live together peacefully as brothers."

The initial foray of gurus and messiahs from the East were followed by many teachings and seminars, including Transcendental Meditation, Erhard Seminars Training (EST), the Forum, Life Spring, Dianetics, biofeedback, Silva Mind Control, International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Eckankar, Nichiren Shoshu, and numerous others.

Psychics, not to be overshadowed, regularly buy prime time on independent TV stations and "fringe" time on network stations, airing programs like the "Psychic Friends Network" with Dionne Warwick. Jean Dixon, a long-time frequent feature of occult magazines and grocery store tabloids, now appears regularly in TV commercials promoting her astrology telephone service along with Mickey Dane and numerous others.

A poll conducted in 1981 by George Gallup Jr., and confirmed by a USA Weekend poll in 1986, shows that nearly one out of every four Americans - roughly 60 million people - have now accepted the occult doctrine of reincarnation, a belief that lies in direct opposition to the biblical teaching on resurrection. I I

If one were to combine the previously mentioned tens of millions who are involved in the "mainline" cults with the 60 million involved in occultic activities, even allowing for some possible overlapping, one would arrive at the startling figure of at least 80 to 85 million people. That's about one out of every three Americans who are involved in some form of spiritual deception.

According to Gallup, "This is the most crucial decade in history. Designer A la carte religion flourishes as traditional Christianity is undermined by counterfeits.

Terminology Twisters

Adding to the dilemma of the deception created by cults, the occult, and false religions worldwide are two other developing phenomena among the general populace: a deficiency in biblical knowledge and the rejection of absolute truth. A growing number of Americans, possibly as many as one-third, "do not believe in the God of the Bible, but have other notions of who (or what) God is or means."

This problem seems to worsen annually - an inherent consequence of the declining percentage of people who read the Bible and/ or attend Christian church services and Sunday school each year." This decline in biblical knowledge renders the gullible, spiritually naive person easy prey for the cults and the occultists who twist Scripture to fit their own preconceived ideas and theology.

Consider the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:16 that we would know the false prophets "by their fruit." It is interesting that many cultists feel that their organizations are indeed the "true" church because of their "good works." By twisting Jesus' words, the cultist reasons that he is a genuine Christian due to his religious activities and ethical lifestyle.

It is indeed true that many cultists can and do live moral and ethical lives. In fact, many of them lead lives that exceed the ethics and morality of some Christians. Thus, the world looks at the virtuous life and reasons, "Well, that's good fruit; therefore, the tree must be good." The problem, of course, is that it is entirely possible to lead, at least on the surface, an ethical and a moral life, and at the same time be hostile toward God and antagonistic to His Word.

Atheists, agnostics, and skeptics, as well as members of multiple forms of world religions, are often capable of living lives that appear to comply with Christian ethics and morality. However, all of them share one common theological attribute: Every non-Christian religion and religious system will not only deny that Jesus Christ is the exclusive way to God but will reject His incarnate deity as well.

The lives that these people live may be acceptable, but their teachings and their doctrines are corrupt. Therefore, the tree must be judged not only by the fruit of the life that is lived, but more importantly by the fruit of the doctrine that is taught."

Cult Litmus Test

The writers of the New Testament stress the need to guard against coming religious treachery. Paul alerts us in 2 Corinthians 11:4 that there would be those coming who "preacheth another Jesus, another spirit ... another gospel. . . ." Paul again cautions the church about a different gospel in Galatians 1:6- 9. John, Peter, and Jude warn us to beware of false prophets and teachers.

With all this New Testament caution of coming spiritual treachery, it is incumbent upon us to learn to recognize cults. Is there an acid test to determine a full-fledged cult?

Consider the words of Jesus in John 8:24, "1 said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if you believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins." Jesus states categorically that a person must believe that He is the I AM.

What exactly does He mean by this statement? Jesus is quoting Exodus 3:14, where Jehovah (Yahweh) God, speaking to Moses through a burning bush, identifies himself as "I AM that I AM." In John 8, Jesus applies this title to himself and says one must believe that He is the I AM or he will perish.

Other references that verify that Jesus is the I AM of the Old Testament are found in John 8:58, 10:30-33, 13:19, and 18:5-6. Scripture confirms that Jesus is God incarnate, the second person of the Trinity. For anyone to deny this fact not only categorizes that person as a false prophet but condemns him to spiritual death as well, no matter how ethical and moral a life he may live.

Billion Dollar Cults

Due in part to biblical illiteracy in our society and compounded by a breakdown in morality, groups such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), the Jehovah's Witnesses, and others who espouse virtue and family values are experiencing phenomenal growth.

The Witnesses, for example, while denying every basic doctrine of orthodox Christianity, have grown by more than 400 percent in the United States since 1960. In 1940 there were only slightly more than 58,000 active, baptized Witnesses in the U.S.; by 1950 there were more than 108,000; by 1960 the figure reached 205,900; there were 416,789 by 1970; 565,309 by 1980; 850,120 by 1990; and their numbers now approach I million. 16

The Mormons are perhaps the most widely condoned cult (even among Christians), yet their highly unorthodox doctrine includes the teaching that God the Father was once a man who worked His way to godhood, and that we, too, can become gods.

Mormons, like the Witnesses, have experienced phenomenal growth in the last few decades. From around 200,000 members in 1890, the Latter Day Saints today claim a worldwide membership of more than 8 million. 17 It is estimated that the Mormon faith is growing at a rate of 1,500 members per day.

In addition to being one of the largest cults, it is also one of the wealthiest, with an estimated income of $4.7 billion per year. The Mormon church reportedly controls at least 100 companies or businesses (including a $300 million-a-year media conglomerate), and has an investment portfolio exceeding $1 billion.

The New Age Hodgepodge

The New Age movement has made tremendous gains in the West over the past decade. A national opinion poll conducted by the University of Chicago shows that 67 percent of Americans "now profess a belief in the supernatural," and 42 percent "believe that they have been in contact with someone who died." 19 Two million Americans have reported having "out of body" or near-death experiences; another 20 million are "tuning in" to psychics and transchannelers; and at least two-thirds of these adults have experienced ESP.

The term "New Age movement" is in itself a misleading euphemism. It is neither new, nor a movement. Actually, "New Age" is an umbrella term covering a hodgepodge of ideas ranging from reincarnation, evolution, and meditation to cosmic enlightenment through the aid of extraterrestrials. Its roots can be traced back thousands of years to the occult religions of the Babylonians and to India and Hinduism, which claims to be the world's oldest religion. The New Age movement would, therefore, be more correctly classified as a belief system, philosophy, or religion than a movement.

How widespread this "movement" is can only be guessed. Guide to the American Occult, 1988 edition, lists "over 3,500 Mystical, Metaphysical, Psychic, ESP, Spiritualist, Faith Healing, Astrological, Pagan, Wicca (sic) and other new and unconventional religions and 'occult' organizations, publishers, book dealers, newsletters, and journals in the United States and Canada.""

High-Tech Deception

Many New Age tenets are simply the practices of shamans and occultists of the past, packaged in Western terminology and disguised as the latest technology. The reason for this approach is simple. Hinduism and Eastern philosophies are not very palatable in the West due in part to our religious heritage. Both Christianity and Judaism, the dominant religions of America, believe in just one God - a belief known as monotheism. The New Age, by contrast, sees the entire universe as divine, a belief called pantheism.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi realized that he faced problems peddling his ideas in the U.S. due to the great religious and cultural differences between East and West. He soon discovered, however, that Americans would accept his brand of occultism more eagerly if he could make it appear as the latest in "scientific" technology.

To appeal to America's fascination with technology, Maharishi began to utilize biofeedback machines, which monitor blood pressure, basic metabolic rates, brain wave patterns, etc. Once people were hooked up to the machine, Maharishi would then teach them his Eastern meditation techniques.

People discovered that during such sessions they would achieve lower blood pressure, lower basic metabolic rates, etc., and, thus convinced of the benefits, would eagerly embrace Maharishi's total "scientific" system of relaxation. In these meditation sessions, a person is taught and encouraged to cast out all thoughts. The problem with this type of meditation is that it can lead to altered states of consciousness and to possible demonic influence.

By contrast, Christians are told in Isaiah 26:3, "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee...." Romans 12:2 states, "And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind. . . ." In 2 Corinthians 10:5 we read, "Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." The Bible simply does not teach the practice of emptying the mind.

Making Your Own Way to God

Scripture not only warns of deceivers attacking the Church from without, but also of false prophets who will mislead people from within. For example, in 2 Peter 2: 1, Peter is obviously addressing those in the church. "But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction."

We are told, ". . . in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils." (I Tim. 4: 1). Scripture teaches that the time will come when people will not endure sound doctrine but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables" (2 Tim. 4:3-4). Some will be carried about with every wind of doctrine . . (Eph. 4:14).

About 100 years ago, a heresy called New Thought was rejected and expelled from the Church. It was the New Age movement of its day. From those who were banished from the Church came the founders of the mind science cults - Christian Science, Unity School of Christianity, Science of Mind, Religious Science, etc."

This movement has been kept alive in the Christian church today largely through the writings of the late Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. Peale has managed, over the years, to maintain credibility among his millions of readers of Guideposts magazine despite regular features of the "spiritual stories" of non- Christians. The magazine has even, on occasion, spotlighted cultists.

Such was the case with former Atlanta Braves baseball star Dale Murphy, a devoted Mormon, who was featured in Peale's publication. That incident would not surprise those who recall that Peale went to the late Mormon president and prophet, Spencer W. Kimble, for the laying on of hands to receive the Holy Ghost. Peale said he had never felt the power of God so strongly as he did on that occasion. Moreover, when Peale, as a guest of the Phil Donahue program was asked if a person had to be "born again" to reach heaven, he replied, "Oh, no, you've got your way to God, I've got mine. I found eternal peace in a Shinto Shrine.

Peale, a 33rd degree Mason, was featured on the covers of two masonic publications, The New Age (May 1986), and the Scottish Rite Journal (March 1991). Peale also delivered the eulogy at the funeral of his friend Earnest Holmes, founder of the cult known as Religious Science.

Peale's protege, Robert Schuller, has one of the largest followings of any American preacher, with a weekly television audience of nearly 20 million people .21 Yet, according to the late Dr. Walter Martin, Schuller denies several cardinal teachings of Christianity, including the doctrine of eternal punishment. Schuller teaches that hell is the loss of self-esteem, says Martin, and that Jesus suffered hell on the cross when He lost His self-esteem. Schuller believes that the greatest need of mankind today is to regain his self- esteem."

Although Paul wrote that ". . . Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.. ." (1 Tim. 1: 15), and Christ himself said that He came to call sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32), Schuller comments, "I don't think anything has been done in the name of Christ and under the banner of Christianity that has proven more destructive to human personality and, hence, counterproductive to the evangelism enterprise, than the often crude, uncouth, and un-Christian strategy of attempting to make people aware of their lost and sinful condition."

Schuller, on the "Praise the Lord" television program, was asked by Trinity Broadcasting Network president Paul Crouch if he teaches repentance and redemption. Schuller replied, "Of course I do. But I do it so positively no one recognizes it."

Date Setters

One current trend or "wind of doctrine" as we approach the year 2000 is the idea that we can somehow know the time of Christ's return. Of course, the practice of date-setting is certainly not confined to the twentieth century. Since the first century A.D., there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of prophecies predicting "the end."

The Jehovah's Witnesses have been setting dates for more than 100 years. The Witnesses first proclaimed Christ's presence in 1874. Subsequent dates heralding the end of the world were set for 1914, 1918, 1925, 194 1, and 1975. Each time the Watchtower, a periodical publication of the Jehovah's Witnesses, sets a date, membership soars. When the prophesied event fails to materialize, the Witnesses' leadership suddenly develop amnesia, denying that they ever made such a claim or passing the blame for the failure on to "over-zealous" members.

In 1835, Mormon founder Joseph Smith declared "The coming of the Lord is nigh - even 56 years should wind up the scene."" This prophecy specifically dates the second coming of our Lord no later than 1891. Another of Smith's fantastic prophecies, given in 1832, reads:

"Verily this is the word of the Lord, that the city - New Jerusalem [which they define as Independence, Missouri] - shall be built by the gathering of the saints, beginning at this place, even the place of the temple, which temple shall be reared in this generation.

Another cult leader, William Miller, a second advent preacher of the nineteenth century, had a sizable following. Miller eagerly awaited Christ's second coming in the year 1843. After that prophecy failed, Miller changed the date to October 1844. When neither of these dates proved true, Miller denounced the movement and left.

James and Ellen G. White and Hiram Edson, who were among the hundreds of thousands influenced by Miller, saved the movement by instituting the "Sanctuary Doctrine," also known as the "Investigative Judgment," in which Jesus played a "new role" in heaven beginning in 1844. In effect, Jesus, according to them, moved from one compartment of heaven to another, where He was to "investigate" our works. This strange teaching is still accepted today among this group, now known as the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

The late Herbert W. Armstrong, founder of the Worldwide Church of God, was another date setter with a list of failed prophecies. Space does not permit a comprehensive account of them all, but in 1968, Armstrong gave his followers this prophecy: "The 6,000 years are about up. We may have another 3, 5, or 10 years to go." The great tribulation, which he prophesied would start in 1972, of course, failed to materialize.

Worldwide Rapture Fever

Many people have been prophesying "the end" for years. Most of those "prophecies," at least during the past few centuries, have come from aberrant teachers or groups considered cults or sects outside of orthodox Christianity. Few, if any, among orthodox Christians gave much credence to those who espoused "the end," much less set dates for the same.

More recently, however, the practice of setting dates for Christ's return by otherwise fundamental, conservative Christian teachers has become almost fashionable. Even more upsetting, perhaps, is the number of Christians who have fallen prey to these false prognosticators.

We have already witnessed several failed attempts at date setting during the late eighties and early nineties by Christian ministers. Probably the most notable, because of the sheer numbers of people affected, was the failed prophecy of Edgar Whisenant, author of a 92- page booklet, 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988.

The book was an overnight sensation circulating throughout America. As the title suggests, Whisenant claimed that Christ would return for His church in 1988, between September I I and 13, during the feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah), to be precise. According to Whisenant's publisher, the World Bible Society, more than 4.5 million copies were printed. The Society, apparently undisturbed by the failed prophecy, asserted that although Christ had not returned, many people had come to Christ and the book had inspired revival and renewal in the hearts of many Christians.

The United States is by no means the only country affected by rapture fever. USA Today ran a full-page ad on October 20, 1991, paid for by the worldwide Hyoo-go ("rapture") or Jong Mal Ron ("endtime theory") movement based in Korea. The ad read "RAPTURE: OCTOBER 28,1992 - JESUS IS COMING IN THE AIR." It went on to state that "50 million people will die in earthquakes, 50 million in traffic accidents, 50 million from fires, 50 million from collapsed buildings, 1.4 billion from World War III, and 1.4 billion from a separate Armageddon.

Failed Prophecy

A more recent "failed prophecy" occurred on the Trinity Broadcasting Network. On Paul Crouch's "Praise the Lord" program, a Southern California Pastor, John Hinkle, proclaimed that God had told him that on June 9,1994, "All evil will be ripped from the earth."

The prophecy received wide coverage, having been promoted by both Crouch and Christian Broadcasting Network president Pat Robertson. Crouch even admitted that if the prophecy did not come to pass, it would prove that Hinkle was a false prophet! Of course, June 9 came and went and, as we have seen and experienced, evil is still very much with us. As might have been predicted, the proclaimers quickly "spiritualized" the event, claiming that it was "accomplished in the spirit world or something to that effect.

Anyone with a pittance of biblical knowledge should have realized the absurdity of such a prophecy. As long as man inhabits the earth there will be evil. Jeremiah 17:9 reads, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it." Evil is in the human heart. How could evil be removed without man being removed? Does the apostle Paul see evil being ripped from the earth? No; quite the contrary. "But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse.. ."(2 Tim. 3:13). How could evil be ripped from the earth when the Antichrist is yet to come? (2 Thess. 2:4-10). Even during the thousand-year reign of Christ, man's heart will still be capable of evil, as evidenced by the attack against Christ in Jerusalem (Rev. 20:7-9).

Another within the Christian church who issued forth a so-called prophecy that has proved false is Harold Camping. Although orthodox concerning essential doctrines, through a system of numerology, speculation, and private interpretations, Camping introduces some truly bizarre renditions of Scripture. In his book 19947, Camping proclaimed that the end of the world would occur between September 15 and 23. "When September 6,1994 arrives, no one else can become saved. The end has come."

Earlier in this chapter, I pointed to the fact that Jesus did not immediately answer the first part of the question His disciples posed in Matthew 24:3 as to when He would return for His church. In Matthew 24:36, Jesus tells us why: "But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only."

One would think that this admonition by the Lord would make people fearful about precise date setting. If Jesus himself didn't know the day or the hour of His return, how can anyone else? Certainly it seems to many Christians that the time is short, but when will men ever learn to quit setting precise dates?

Back to the Basics

Deuteronomy 18:21-22 gives us the definition of a true prophet of God: "And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the Lord hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously; thou shalt not be afraid of him."

In Old Testament times, a person proclaiming himself to be a prophet of God needed to fail in only one professed revelation from God to be labeled a false prophet. The penalty for such a performance was death by stoning. Today, many of the supporters of these false teachers simply develop a case of amnesia, and anxiously await the next serving of spiritual arsenic.

Believers in Jesus Christ are called to be the salt of the earth (Matt. 5:13). Salt is known as a preservative. We are to be preservers of the Christian faith. We are to affect the world for Christ. But how can we be salt if we don't even know the basics of that faith?

One of the most glaring problems within the church of Jesus Christ today is that too many Christians don't know why they believe what they believe. How then can they ever hope to follow Peter's command to ". . . be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you. . ." (I Pet. 3:15)?

That is exactly why more than 80 percent of the cults' membership consists of people who were once members of Christian churches .17 They simply didn't know the real gospel message. Hosea 4:6 reveals the result of such a condition. "My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge. . . ."

If we are ever to make a difference in our world, we must get back to the Bible. We would be wise indeed to consider the biblical admonition found in 2 Timothy 2:15: "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."