Reflections on September 23, 2017

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Now that September 23, 2017, has passed with no major incident, it is time to reflect. I’ve waited a month after September 23, until the Hebrew month Ethanim (Tishri) ended, for reasons I will explain shortly. First, let me recap. In the previous 2.5 years, many self-professed Bible prophecy teachers suggested that the Lord likely would return on September 23, 2017. They primarily based this teaching upon a peculiar understanding of Revelation 12:1–2,

And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth.

They noted that on this date, the sun would be in Virgo (clothing that woman in the sun), with the moon near the portion of that constellation representing her feet. Above her head was the constellation Leo, which allegedly contains 9 stars, but the addition of the planets Mercury, Venus, and Mars brought the number of stars to 12, thus representing the crown with 12 stars on the woman’s head. Finally, the planet Jupiter had spent much of a year in Virgo, representing the child about to be born.

It was argued that some of these elements come together from time to time, but that all of them had not occurred simultaneously in history, implying that this celestial event was literal fulfillment of Revelation 12:1–2. Many reasoned that this heavenly sign (Genesis 1:14) must be a harbinger of the Lord’s return. But supposedly it wasn’t just this one sign. It was the convergence of many lines of evidence on this date that made September 23, 2017, such a likely time for his return.

Will the Lord Return on the Feast of Trumpets?

For instance, it has become quite fashionable in the past decade to believe that the Lord must return on the Feast of Trumpets, a two-day celebration that begins with Rosh Hashanah, New Year on the Jewish (civil) calendar. This year Rosh Hashanah began at sundown on September 20. Since in Hebrew reckoning of time the day begins at sundown, Rosh Hashanah technically begins on our September 20 (with the day beginning at midnight), but most of Rosh Hashanah fell on September 21. This means that the Feast of Trumpets this year began on the evening of September 20 and ended on the evening of September 22. The moon is best placed near the feet of Virgo on the following day, September 23. However, one could argue that it is close enough either way, so that the Lord might return shortly before or after sunset on September 22. This corresponded to early afternoon on September 22 in the eastern United States. Or it could be later on September 23 in Jerusalem, corresponding to late on September 22 or early September 23 in much of the United States.

Why the belief in the Lord’s return on Rosh Hashanah? I first encountered this belief 30 years ago.

Why the belief in the Lord’s return on Rosh Hashanah? I first encountered this belief 30 years ago. Then, it was based upon the Jewish tradition (including Josephus, and Ussher followed this tradition in his The Annals of the World) that Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of creation. That is, either Day One or Day Six (when God created man) of the Creation Week fell on Rosh Hashanah. The ceremonial calendar begins six months earlier, but this new calendar was introduced at the first Passover while Israel was still in Egypt (Exodus 12:1–2). Apparently, the older civil calendar reflects the reckoning of time since creation. For instance, the time markers of the Flood account (Genesis 7:11; 8:4, 13, 14) probably are on the civil calendar. This is the understanding of Ussher’s chronology and most Genesis commentators, placing the beginning and end of the yearlong Flood in autumn. Jewish tradition goes on to teach that the end of the world (or age) will fall on Rosh Hashanah as well. Therefore, some Christians have adopted the belief that the Lord’s return is more likely at the time of Rosh Hashanah or the Feast of Trumpets sort of as a set of bookends on the history of the world. Keep in mind that a key element to this reasoning is Jewish tradition, which has no basis in Scripture.

However, over the past decade, the foundation for this belief has been transformed, largely through the influence of Mark Biltz, a Tacoma-based Hebrew roots teacher. In what follows, I don’t want anyone to misunderstand what I’m saying. I agree with Biltz that far too many Christians do not understand the Hebrew roots of Christianity. Both Jesus and his disciples were observant Jews, as was much of the early church for its first few decades. Jesus fulfilled the Law in every way (Matthew 5:17). It is no coincidence that the Crucifixion was on Passover—Jesus was the perfect sacrificial lamb of which all those real sacrificial lambs had merely been a picture. The poetry and significance of this is very rich. One cannot have a deep understanding of Christianity without a good understanding of the Old Testament and the Law. However, Biltz goes much further, wishing to enslave Gentiles into observing certain aspects of the Law that we have been freed from (Romans 6:14; 7:1–25; Galatians 2:19–21; 3:1–14; 5:1–6). Part of this is the insistence that Christians ought to observe the feasts of the Law, calling them “dress rehearsals” for end-time events.

Biltz correctly notes that Jesus was crucified on the Feast of Passover, and that he rose from the dead on the Feast of Firstfruits. Furthermore, Jesus ascended to heaven 40 days later, followed by the arrival of the Holy Spirit a week later, on the Feast of Pentecost. Biltz then asks, what is the next major feast? Why, it’s the Feast of Trumpets. And what is the next event on God’s calendar? It is the Lord’s return. Therefore, the Lord must return on the Feast of Trumpets. Now, since the Feast of Trumpets is a two-day celebration, no one can be sure exactly which day the Lord will return. Furthermore, one cannot say in exactly which year the Lord will return, so no one is really claiming dates for the Lord’s return.

Except some people are.

For instance, David Meade is one who explicitly predicted the Lord’s return on September 23, 2017. There are others. Biltz himself was specific about setting dates in the past, though experience and at least some level of good sense has altered his behavior since. Back in 2008–2010, Biltz was predicting the Lord’s return on Rosh Hashanah or sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) in either 2014 or 2015. This was based upon Biltz’s teaching that the tetrad of lunar eclipses that fell on Passover and sukkot those years would usher in the Lord’s return. By 2012, Biltz had backed off being so dogmatic about the dates. It appears that many of the earlier YouTube videos where he made specific predictions have been removed, thus eliminating evidence that he ever made these claims. Now he denies he ever made such statements.

Of course, many people respond to such statements with Matthew 24:36,

But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.

But Biltz counters that this verse means the opposite of what it seems clearly to say. Biltz notes that in ancient times, exactly when the Feast of Trumpets began was uncertain. For a very long time (since sometime after the destruction of Herod’s Temple), the Jews have used the Metonic cycle to fix their calendar. But the ancient Hebrews used an observationally based lunisolar calendar. The beginning of every month was indicated by observation of the first thin crescent moon after new moon. One could anticipate within a day or two when that might happen, but the new month was not announced until someone (presumably a priest or more than one priest) sighted the crescent moon. Since the Feast of Trumpets was the first two days of the month of Ethanim observed with trumpet (shofar) blasts, the beginning of this month supposedly was announced to much anticipation by a shofar blast. Since no one knew exactly when this would happen, Biltz claims that the Feast of Trumpets became euphemistically known as “the day and hour no one knows.” Therefore, Biltz reasons, Jesus’ disciples understood that he would return on the Feast of Trumpets.

According to Biltz, this fits very nicely with 1 Corinthians 15:51–52,

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.

According to Biltz, the shofar is blown 100 times on the Feast of Trumpets, so this mention of the last trumpet must refer to the 100th shofar blast. Except that some people think the mention of the last trumpet in 1 Corinthians 15:52 refers to the seventh trumpet blown in Revelation 11:15 (the seven trumpets span Revelation 8–11). On the other hand, some people think it is part of the Jubilee celebration on Yom Kippur (Leviticus 25:9).

This is an excellent example of how many of those wrapped up in prophecy allow external sources or traditions of men to affect their interpretation of Scripture.

Which is right? Perhaps none of them, for 1 Corinthians 15:52 may be talking about something entirely different from these three examples of trumpets used in Scripture. Furthermore, why are there 100 shofar blasts on the Feast of Trumpets? The Bible nowhere proscribes the number of times trumpets were to be blown on this feast, only that trumpets be blown (Leviticus 23:23–25). The tradition of blowing 100 trumpets is just that, a tradition instituted by men. And not all people celebrating this feast blow the shofar 100 times, because traditions vary on that. This is an excellent example of how many of those wrapped up in prophecy allow external sources or traditions of men to affect their interpretation of Scripture.

This claim about the supposed euphemism for the Feast of Trumpets has been repeated endlessly in the leadup to September 23, 2017, so much so that many people just assume that it is established fact. But it isn’t. I haven’t found a single commentary that endorses Biltz’s understanding of Matthew 24:36. Not one. Furthermore, this understanding contradicts other biblical passages. For instance, Matthew 24:42 expresses a similar sentiment to Matthew 24:36, though it is worded very differently.

Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

Notice that this verse is not stated in a manner that would lend support to Biltz’s claim about Matthew 24:36. Or consider the question Jesus’ disciples posed to Him in Acts 1:6–7,

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.

Note that this was only six weeks after Jesus had uttered the words recorded in Matthew 24. In the intervening 40 days, Jesus had taught his disciples many things (Acts 1:3), and, with this instruction and hindsight, they understood things much better than they had previously. Yet they asked Jesus if it was the time to restore the kingdom. If they had taken Biltz’s understanding of Matthew 24:36, they wouldn’t have asked this question, because, being a week short of Pentecost, the Feast of Trumpets was 4.5 months away.

Where did Biltz get this notion that he unleashed on the world? One possibility is that he just made it up. However, there is another possibility. Biltz frequently transforms Jewish legends and myths into ancient Hebrew beliefs and practices. In the late middle ages, some Jewish authors created many odd teachings. These were fabrications about the past that undiscerning people easily might confuse with ancient teachings. I am looking for just one credible historical source for this teaching about the supposed euphemism referring to the Feast of Trumpets. Only one. It is most unfortunate that this erroneous idea now has become so widely accepted when it is without foundation.

Other Supposed Lines of Evidence

Many people who objected to my criticism of the September 23, 2017, mania have responded that it’s not just the fulfillment of Revelation 12:1–2 on that date, but rather a host of other corroborating evidences that converges on this date. Examples include great significance attached to the numbers associated with last year and this year. On the Jewish calendar, the year 5777 ended September 20, 2017. People argue that the number 5 means “grace,” and the number 777 is completion, so the year 5777 is interpreted to mean “completed grace.” Most people excited about the return of the Lord on a certain date are dispensational in their theology (note that most dispensationalists do not indulge in such numerology). Many dispensationalists think of the church as an insertion into history, at least in some sense temporarily replacing Israel, but that when the church is suddenly removed, the age of grace ends (is completed), and God will go back to dealing directly with Israel (Romans 11). Therefore, the year 5777 has a prophetic meaning that the Lord will return by that year’s end or very early in the next.

Where does this notion come from? Certainly not from Scripture. This goes beyond numerology, the study of numbers in the Bible and gleaning some patterns of meaning in the use of numbers in Scripture. Rather, this has shifted into gematria, the belief that words and numbers contain coded messages that one can decipher to find meaning. This mystical practice has ancient origins, and it had appeal to some ancient Jews. However, its present form originated in the last middle ages, when many Kabbalistic influences arose. Some people even think there is significance that the new year on the Jewish calendar is year 5778, which is the surface temperature of the sun in Kelvin. What this has to do with anything is a mystery to me.

Perhaps it connects to the August 21, 2107, total solar eclipse, which many have tied to the sign of Revelation 12:1–2 supposedly being fulfilled on September 23, 2017. This was the first total solar eclipse visible in the continental United States since 1979. The path of totality entered the United States in Oregon, the 33rd state. The path of totality exited the United States on the 33rd parallel. September 23, 2017, was 33 days after this eclipse. For those who believe in numerology, three is a significant number, and three times 33 is 99, the number of years since the last total solar eclipse that crossed the United States from coast to coast. It’s not clear exactly what that is supposed to mean. And the path of totality passed over several cities, towns, and communities named Salem, which means “peace” in Hebrew, though others think it refers to judgment. Again, it’s not clear what that was supposed to mean, especially when one considers that the path of totality also passed over “Little Egypt,” an area of southern Illinois, which was supposed to refer to something evil.

Furthermore, the next total solar eclipse visible from the United States will be in April 8, 2024, nearly seven years after this eclipse. Of course, believers in gematria think this number seven is significant. The paths of totality of the 2017 and 2024 eclipses cross in “Little Egypt.” Since these two eclipse paths of totality form a large X on the United States, this is interpreted as God’s warning to the United States.

A parallel is made to Jonah’s warning to Nineveh: Jonah showed up in Nineveh 40 days after a total solar eclipse, and the August 21, 2017, total solar eclipse was 40 days before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. How do we know Jonah arrived in Nineveh 40 days after a total solar eclipse? Well, we don’t know that from Scripture, because there are no time markers in the book of Jonah. There has been some discussion in theological literature that events in Nineveh (famine, civil war, and possibly a solar eclipse) preceded Jonah’s arrival, thus making fertile ground for Jonah’s message of repentance. The intended eclipse is the one on June 15, 763 BC (though the path of totality missed Nineveh). While the book of Jonah has no time markers, 2 Kings 14:25 tells us that Jonah prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam II. Jeroboam II ruled a long time—41 years. According to 2 Kings 14:25, Jonah prophesied the expansion of the territory controlled by the northern kingdom under Jeroboam II, so we may surmise that Jonah made that prophecy early in Jeroboam’s reign.

On the other hand, we have no idea how old Jonah was at that time or how long he lived. Therefore, it is possible that the events recorded in the book of Jonah may have been a decade or so earlier or later than Jeroboam II’s reign. The date of the reign of Jeroboam II makes it is possible that Jonah’s ministry to Nineveh was close to the time of this eclipse. However, there is no reason from Scripture to insist the eclipse in 763 BC had anything to do with Jonah’s account.

Such precision in dating the events of the book of Jonah are not possible, so this is just another thing that Biltz made up. Biltz obtained the date from Jewish traditions about when Jonah arrived in Nineveh (to the day and month on the Hebrew calendar, but not the year). This is another example of how Biltz assumes Jewish legends correctly reflect Hebrew history. And then Biltz combined this tradition with the discussion of an eclipse prior to Jonah’s arrival. Those who wish to make this connection uncritically accepted Biltz’s teachings on this matter, because it so easily conforms to what they want to believe. By the way, Biltz also asserted a few years ago that eclipses of the moon are signs of judgment to Israel, but that eclipses of the sun are signs of judgment to Gentiles. He claims this comes from the fact that the Jews use a lunar calendar (actually, they use a lunisolar calendar), but that Gentiles use a solar calendar. Never mind the fact that other non-Jewish cultures around the world use a lunisolar or lunar calendar. For example, the Islamic calendar is a strictly lunar calendar (oops!). Unfortunately, some who promoted the September 23, 2017, nonsense uncritically repeated this part of Biltz’s teaching too.

There are other examples of gematria employed in this argument. Most of the teachers of the September 23, 2017, fulfillment of the Revelation 12:1–2 sign also attached great significance to the tetrad of total lunar eclipses that fell on Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles in 2014–2015. Some people have pointed out that the first of these lunar eclipses, on April 15, 2014, was 3.5 years prior to September 23, 2017. On the other hand, some point out that the last of the tetrad, on September 28, 2015, was 726 days before September 23, 2017. Furthermore, there was 726 minutes of daylight on September 23, 2017, presumably in Jerusalem. Finally, the Greek word harpazo, the word that is translated “caught up” in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, and the Vulgate renders rapiemur, from which we get the word “rapture,” is the 726th entry in the dictionary of Greek words in Strong’s Concordance. There’s that occurrence of three things again. To true believers in gematria, this occurrence of three 726s is further proof that Revelation 12:1–2 was fulfilled on September 23, 2017. Of course, to those who don’t believe in gematria, such reasoning is playing with numbers. Therefore, the coincidence of three incidences of the number 726 proves nothing, except perhaps some people have way too much time on their hands.

Do you want more proof that the Lord would return on September 23, 2017? In the parable of the fig tree in Matthew 24:32–35, we are told (verse 34):

Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.

We often have been told that a generation is 40 years (Numbers 32:13; Joshua 5:6). Therefore, there was much anticipation of the Lord’s return in 1987–1988, because it was 40 years after the birth of the modern state of Israel. There had been similar interest in 1980–1981, allowing for a seven-year tribulation to end on the 40th anniversary. Interest was renewed once again in 2000 and 2007 for the same reasons, this time marking 40 years since the retaking of Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967. Obviously, these were wrong, and there is no 40th anniversary of any significant event in 2017.

However, promoters of the September 23, 2017, day claimed other lengths for a generation. Some now argue that, based upon Psalm 90:10, 70 years is a generation. Some argue that a generation is 100 years. This is based upon the prophecy of Genesis 15:13–16 that Abraham’s descendants would spend 400 years and four generations in Egypt. Furthermore, Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born. Some argue from Genesis 6:3 that 120 years is a generation. The first Zionist conference was in 1897 (120 years ago); the Balfour Declaration was in 1917 (100 years ago); and the United Nations’ plan to establish the modern state of Israel was passed in 1947 (70 years ago). Again, there is an appeal to gematria. Also note that Israel was founded on May 14, 1948; it was the United Nations that passed the Partition Plan for Palestine on November 29, 1947. One could argue that 2017 is the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War, but there doesn’t appear to be any biblical precedent for a generation being 50 years.

Supporters of the September 23, 2017, fulfillment of the Revelation 12:1–2 sign bring in other extrabiblical arguments. For instance, in AD 1217, the Jewish rabbi Judah Ben Samuel allegedly predicted the Messiah would appear during the Feast of Tabernacles in 2017. One must wonder how many other such predictions have come and gone, and why is this one prediction so special. This is reminiscent of the excitement over the end of the world on December 21, 2012, supposedly predicted by the Mayan calendar. Unfortunately, far too many Christians saw in this the Lord’s return in 2012.

There is another interesting tidbit for those who expected the Lord’s return on September 23, 2017. Each year, the United Nations observes an International Day of Peace on September 21. Notice that the 2017 observance was just two days prior to the supposed fulfillment of Revelation 12:1–2 on September 23, 2017. Even more shocking were reports that this year’s theme for the International Day of Peace was “peace and safety.” Of course, this phrase is word-for-word what we find in 1 Thessalonians 5:1–3, which follows directly the major rapture passage, 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18. In the King James Version, 1 Thessalonians 5:1–3 (KJV) reads,

But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. (my emphasis).

Except that “peace and safety” wasn’t the theme of this year’s International Day of Peace. The theme was “Together for Peace: Respect, Safety and Dignity for All.” Sure, the words “peace,” “and,” and “safety” appear in this theme. However, to get to the three-word slogan claimed, one must delete two-thirds of the nine words in the slogan, delete a colon, and do some rearranging of the remaining three words. With such liberal rules of editing, one easily could take words of all those claiming the fulfillment of Revelation 12:1–2 on September 23, 2017, and edit them to read, “I was wrong.” It was not very difficult to check this claim about the UN’s International Day of Peace theme, but apparently few fans of the September 23, 2017, phenomenon bothered to do so. This is another example of how gullible people find it very easy to believe things that aren’t true to support other things they believe are true (Ephesians 4:14).

The Aftermath of September 23, 2017

Now that September 23, 2017, has come and gone, what do those who promoted great fulfillment of prophecy on that date say now? As with those who had falsely predicted the Lord’s return in the past, there generally are four lines of defense, and most promoters of the apocalyptic nature of September 23, 2017, use all three to varying degrees. First, many promoters move the goal posts by claiming a better alignment (in this case, quite literally) shortly after the predicted date.

First Defense: Readjusting the Dates

A few weeks before September 23, 2017, some promoters already were suggesting that the Revelation 12:1–2 sign might be better fulfilled on the next day, September 24, 2017. Particularly sad was Scott Clarke’s YouTube post on September 23, 2017, suggesting the following day was a better fit. His original date wasn’t even over yet before he predicted the great event might happen the next day!

When nothing happened on September 24, Clarke went back on YouTube to declare that the Day of Atonement, September 30, 2017, was the likely date of the Lord’s return. After all, September 30 was seven (a special number) days after the September 23 sign, and 40 days after the Great American Eclipse of August 21, 2017. Steven Sewell also adopted this date after the failure of his earlier prediction of September 23, 2017. There are many others who did as well. Of course, that day came and went. Many others claimed the Feast of Tabernacles that commenced two weeks after Rosh Hashanah would be the day (October 4/5–October 11/12). After all, three years earlier during the hype surrounding the tetrad of lunar eclipses in 2014–2015, the Feast of Tabernacles seemed to be a good choice. For instance, David Meade, who predicted a collision of the mythical planet Nibiru with the earth on September 23, 2017, to usher the Lord’s return, changed the date of the Lord’s return to mid-October. This apparently would leave a week before the end of the month of Ethanim, the seventh month on the Hebrew ceremonial calendar. This is one of the reasons I waited a month after September 23, 2017, to post this follow-up. I reckoned that by the following month on the Hebrew calendar, most, if not all, the recalculated dates would have expired.

Or maybe not. Now some people are claiming that there ought to have been an intercalary month before the Jewish month of Nissan (the first month on the Jewish ceremonial calendar) this year. This means that all the Jewish feasts, including the Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles, were observed a month too early. Therefore, the Lord’s return could be on the correct observance of the Feast of Trumpets on October 21 this year. Or October 22. Or Yom Kippur on October 30. Or during the true Feast of Tabernacles November 4–11. It seems that this year’s hoopla about the Lord’s return will not end until November 19, the first day of the month following. Assuming we get through this period, I expect that excitement for this quickly will ebb to rise again next autumn.

Second Defense: Add Natural Disasters into the Mix and Give Them Undue Significance

A second line of defense is to claim some other events in the news as fulfillment of their prophecy. This amounts to bait-and-switch. There have been ample opportunities for this. For instance, there was a 7.1 magnitude earthquake in southern Mexico on September 19, 2017, followed by a 6.1 magnitude earthquake near Mexico City four days later, on September 23, 2017! Surely, it is reasoned, these are signs of God’s impending wrath. Or consider the two hurricanes, Harvey and Irma, that struck the United States less than two weeks apart in the month before September 23, 2017. Or what about the wildfires in the American northwest that have produced enough smoke to make the moon appear red to some people (fulfillment of Joel 2:31 and Acts 2:20)? For people with short-term memories or those who are ignorant of history, can easily spin these events into significance.

For people with short-term memories or those who are ignorant of history, can easily spin these events into significance.

However, for those who know history, the argument is unconvincing. Consider the two Mexican earthquakes: though tragic, their combined death toll is a little more than 300. That total is dwarfed by the September 19, 1985, Mexico City earthquake that may have killed as many as 45,000 people. More recently, the May 12, 2008, magnitude 8.0 earthquake in Sichuan, China, killed 69,000 people. But that death toll was eclipsed by the July 28, 1976, magnitude 7.8 earthquake in Tangshan, China, that killed at least 250,000 people. It is believed that the January 23, 1556, Chinese earthquake, estimated 8.0 magnitude, killed approximately 830,000 people. Or consider the 1755 Lisbon earthquake that may have killed 100,000 people. Striking on November 1, All Saints Day, this quake generated much interest in theodicy, the question of how evil can exist if God is good. There are many other examples of deadly earthquakes throughout history that dwarf the recent quakes in Mexico in terms of strength and death tolls.

What of the two hurricanes? Hurricane Harvey set a record for peak rain accumulation from a tropical cyclone in the United States (over 60 inches). It also was the first major hurricane to hit the United States in a dozen years. That stretch of no major hurricanes striking the United States itself was a record, which played a role in many people thinking these two storms were unusual. The death toll from Hurricane Harvey was 90, with all but one death in the United States. Hurricane Irma killed more than 100 people, with 90 of those being in the United States. Since there had not been a major hurricane in the United States in so long, it is easy to forget past hurricanes. In 1969, Hurricane Camille killed 259 people in the United States. The 1935 Labor Day hurricane was the most intense storm to strike the United States. Its death toll was 423. The 1900 Galveston hurricane, the deadliest hurricane to strike the United States, killed between 6,000 and 12,000 people. There are many other examples in history, most not affecting the United States, that dwarf the death toll of the two recent storms in the United States.

As for fires, there have been much greater fires in the past. Most people are aware of the Great Chicago Fire in October 1871 that killed 300 people, leveled more than three square miles of Chicago, and left 100,000 people homeless. Less well known is that at the same time there were other fires in the region, spawned by the same warm, dry, windy weather that fanned the flames in Chicago. The Peshtigo (Wisconsin) Fire killed 1,500–2,500 people and consumed more than 1.2 million acres, making it the worst fire in US history. At the same time, fires in Michigan consumed more than 2.5 million acres. That part of Michigan was much more sparsely populated than the regions affected in Chicago and Wisconsin, so the death toll is not known, though it is thought to have been far less than in Peshtigo. Again, the conflagration of early October 1871 dwarfs any recent fires.

In making their case that recent events fulfill prophecy, notice these prophecy teachers concentrate on events related to the United States. However, the Bible does not have such an emphasis. Any honest, objective examination of the data related to earthquakes, hurricanes, and fires reveals that the events leading up to September 23, 2017, were hardly unusual. Such events happen somewhere in the world regularly. Therefore, claims that these events somehow fit into end-times prophecy are either based in ignorance of the facts or are dishonestly presented. Purveyors of this nonsense ought to be ashamed, because they bring the cause of the gospel into disrepute.

Another argument for fulfillment of the Revelation 12:1–2 sign on September 23, 2017 is mention of things that might happen soon. One of these is the possibility of conflict between North Korea and the United States based upon the recent exchange of sharp words between the two governments. Another example is recent activity at Mount Agung in Indonesia that may indicate a possible eruption soon. Another example is a recent swarm of earthquakes under Yellowstone, leading some to conclude it could be an indicator of a possible eruption of this super volcano. Keep in mind that almost none of the small quakes in the Yellowstone swarm can be felt by people. Yellowstone had similar swarms in 2010, 2008–2009, and in 1985. Indonesia’s Mount Agung last erupted in 1963–1964, but that apparently had nothing to do with the apocalypse. The leaders of North Korea have issued bellicose statements for years. All these possibilities are just that—possibilities. To claim these possibilities as fulfillment of one’s pronouncements descends to a new low.

Third Defense: Deny Your Dates, Revise, and Republish

The third line of defense is to deny that that the prognosticators ever claimed the Lord would return on September 23, 2017. In a technical sense, this is true. Most of them placed disclaimers somewhere in their presentations that the Lord might not return that day. This is disingenuous. If these so-called teachers are not convinced that the Lord will return on a certain date, then why spend all that time trying to convince others that he would? Very clearly, the prognosticators were convinced of their conclusions, so why the cop-out by saying they might be wrong? I suppose this is an attempt to salvage some level of credibility in case their date-setting falls short. Leading people to the conclusion that the Lord will return on some date while simultaneously claiming that is not what one is doing is dishonest.

Most of the people peddling dates of the Lord’s return will continue to revise their dates, pretending that their earlier predictions never happened. Sadder, from the many comments on their websites in response to the new dates, few of their followers appear to be disillusioned. I previously mentioned that over the weekend of September 23, 2017, Scott Clarke revised his predicted date twice. Back in 2015, Clarke was convinced that the Lord would return during the fall festivals that year. He opined then that the Revelation 12:1–2 sign appearing on September 23, 2017, then would be nearly halfway through the seven-year tribulation. Back in 2015 Clarke correctly identified Revelation 12:1–2 with the birth of Jesus.

Fourth Defense: Switch Up the Prophetic Parallels

But now Clarke has changed his thinking on this, believing that Revelation 12:1–2 is about the rapture of the church. Some people may object that I’m picking on Clarke. However, keep in mind that Clarke claims he was the one who first made the connection between Revelation 12:1–2 with celestial events on September 23, 2017. Therefore, it is reasonable to hold him accountable for this nonsense that he admittedly unleashed on the world.

And Clarke continues to generate dubious claims. In the September 23, 2017, alignment, Clarke identified the planets Mercury and Mars with archangels Gabriel and Michael, respectively. He further identified Venus with Christ, because he is the bright and morning star (Revelation 22:16). However, this is muddled when he claims elsewhere the planet Jupiter represents Jesus, partly because Jupiter was the king of the gods in Roman mythology (Zeus in Greek mythology). He went on to reason that the bands and Great Red Spot on Jupiter represents the stripes and wound that Jesus suffered on our behalf (Isaiah 53:5; 1 Peter 2:24). Which is it? Does Jupiter or Venus represent Christ? But even more troubling is Clarke’s recent identification of Saturn with Satan. At the time of the supposed sign fulfilled on September 23, 2017, Saturn was between the constellations Scorpius and Sagittarius, in a portion of the constellation Ophiuchus. Ophiuchus represents a man wrestling a snake (the constellation Serpens). Serpens is divided into two parts, the head and the tail of the snake. All this is supposed to conform to the second sign of Revelation 12,

And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it.

At least in Stellarium, the desktop planetarium software these people use, the head of Serpens has seven stars, so Clarke claims they represent the seven heads or diadems (however, there is no mention of the 10 horns). Clarke teaches that the location of Saturn in Ophiuchus places Saturn in position to be the red dragon ready to devour the child the woman is giving birth to. Clarke appealed to ancient mythology further to drive home the identification of Saturn with Satan. Saturn (Greek equivalent Cronus) overthrew his father Caelus (Greek equivalent Uranus). In similar manner, Satan attempted to overthrow God. Fearful that one of his own children would overthrow him, Saturn devoured his children. Clarke sees a parallel here and the Revelation 12:3–4 sign, with the dragon attempting to devour the child of the woman as soon as he is born. This is very disturbing. Particularly when one considers how selective Clarke is in adopting themes from Roman and Greek mythology. In mythology, Jupiter was one of the surviving sons of Saturn. So, to be consistent, Clarke must conclude that Jesus is the son of Satan. This line of reasoning is very disturbing.

Why Is This an American Phenomenon?

I have noticed what other people have noticed—that this fascination with setting dates for the Lord’s return is almost exclusively an American phenomenon (one noticeable exception is Steve Cioccolanti, who was born in Thailand and is a pastor in Australia, but he obviously attaches great significance to the United States). Why is this? I’m not sure, but consider at least three factors. Dispensational theology is more prominent in the United States. While most dispensationalists are not date setters, date setters appear to be dispensationalists.1 Furthermore, those who set dates for the Lord’s return are pretribulational and premillennial in their eschatology. Under this system, there is nothing yet to happen prior to the Lord’s return, so the Lord’s return is imminent, and that event will set in motion all manner of events leading to the final judgment of the world. Other eschatological systems may place other events prior to the Lord’s return.

A second factor is something that I’ve already mentioned: the increasingly widespread belief in the United States that the Lord must return at the time of the fall feasts. If one adds this to pretribulational, premillennial eschatology, the situation changes. If the Lord’s return is timed to the fall feasts on the Jewish calendar, then his return is not imminent, at least not most of the year, for it can happen only one month per year. That is, one may not be certain of the exact day and exact year when he might return, but one can eliminate 11/12 of any year as a possibility. Even within the one-month window each year, only a few days are ideal in this line of thinking. And if one adds a celestial event that happened on September 23 this year that allegedly only happens once in history as a fulfillment of prophecy that ushers in the Lord’s return, then one cannot escape the conclusion that the Lord must return at the time of the fall feasts in 2017. Again, most people promoting the hype surrounding this date carefully issued disclaimers that they weren’t teaching the Lord’s return that day, but this was disingenuous.

A third factor may be the unique history of the United States. Some of the earliest colonies began as religious dissenters were seeking a new world where they could carry out their worship of God as they felt directed in his Word, and not by the strictures established by the Church of England. Many of these dissenters viewed themselves as a sort of new Israel embarking into a new Promised Land. That gave followers a sense of God’s purpose as God’s chosen people. Notice that this amounted to a sort of replacement theology, that the church has replaced Israel as God’s chosen people.

Once American independence was established in the late 18th century, this belief morphed into what was later termed manifest destiny, belief that God had blessed the United States and given it a special destiny to fulfill in the world. It was this foundation that led so many American Christians eventually to mingle their Christian identity and patriotism. This blend of God and country appears to be unique to the United States. Unfortunately, this has caused many Christians in the United States to forget that our citizenship is in heaven, not on earth (Philippians 3:20). Many Americans reason that if the United States is so blessed and set apart by God in these last days, and if the Lord will return soon, then surely the United States must play a role in end-times prophecy. However, while some see certain nations mentioned in end-time prophecies, the United States does not appear to be mentioned anywhere.

Solving this conundrum may be the impetus for the United States’ fascination with end-time prophecy. It also may explain the central role that the United States plays in the minds of so many people when interpreting so-called signs from God. Examples include the focus on interpreting recent events, such as hurricanes and the August solar eclipse in terms of biblical prophecy. There hadn’t been a total solar eclipse visible from the continental United States since 1979, and very little of the United States experienced that totality. This gives the false impression to many that total solar eclipses are rare. True, on average at any given location, a solar eclipse happens about once every four centuries. However, a total solar eclipse typically occurs somewhere in the world every 18 months. And it isn’t that rare for the paths of two solar eclipses a few years apart to cross each other. So why are the solar eclipses of August 21, 2017, and April 8, 2024, so significant?

If one believes that the United States has special status yet does not see it in end-time prophecies, then one may conclude that the United States will be removed from that special status before or when end-time prophecies play out. Ergo, these eclipses are God’s warning to our nation. I haven’t heard anyone remark on the fact that in 2019–2020, Chile and Argentina will experience two total solar eclipses just 18 months apart. These are the only two countries that will experience these eclipses. Why aren’t these two eclipses significant prophetically? In the minds of many people, the simple answer is that the Chile and Argentina are not the United States.

Conclusion

A few years ago, Mark Biltz started using a catch phrase. When he and his audience get wound up while he makes his pronouncements, he exclaims, “You can’t make this stuff up!” Well, actually, you can, because he does. Of late, Scott Clarke has taken to using this catch phrase too.

You can’t make this stuff up!

The hoopla about September 23, 2017, this year reminds me of an event 175 years ago. As one of the original date setters, William Miller predicted the return of the Lord sometime between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844. Of course, those dates came and went without the Lord’s return. To move the goal post (defense number 1), Miller set a new date of April 18, 1844, and when that passed, October 22, 1844, was suggested by one of Miller’s followers. Eventually, Miller’s followers became disillusioned, and the Millerism movement fell apart. Dubbed the Great Disappointment, this failure of Miller’s predictions had a very serious effect on his followers. I don’t see the effect of the recent failed predictions to be nearly as serious as those 175 years ago. Still, there ought to be some repercussions. Hence, we ought to call the failure of the September 23, 2017, and its aftermath, whatever it is, the Mediocre Disappointment (or maybe more aptly, the Social Media Disappointment).

Besides what I had written on the Answers in Genesis website, I did two video programs on the September 23, 2017, phenomenon with Lyn Leahz. Many people who believed the September 23, 2017, hype were upset that I dared rain on their parade, prompting many rude comments. Some contacted me directly with their strong disagreement. Now that my doubts about the many claims concerning this date have been proved right, I haven’t heard from any of them. Not one. I’m not hurt by this, nor am I upset. In fact, I didn’t expect to hear from any of them. It’s just that common decency would dictate an apology for the rude remarks. Again, I’m not expecting it or demanding it. Nor have I attempted to contact any of these people. That would smack of “I told you so,” and that isn’t proper either.

I am concerned with the mystical aspects that this teaching about the supposed fulfillment of the Revelation 12:1–2 sign has introduced. I’ve already mentioned the fascination with numerology and gematria. Then there is the introduction of many Jewish traditions spawned by mystical influences during the Middle Ages. Perhaps most disturbing is the “Christological astronomy” taught by Dale M. Sides alongside his promotion of fulfillment of the Revelation 12:1–2 sign on September 23, 2017. “Christological astronomy” is a very misleading term, because it very clearly is astrology. Christians need to be far more discerning than this.

In the week leading up to September 23, 2017, I attempted to see as much of this “sign” that I could. Fortunately, the weather cooperated, and it was reasonably clear on most mornings. Venus easily was visible, because it is so bright (the brightest object in the sky after the sun and moon), and it appeared relatively far from the sun. I saw Mercury on two mornings. Mercury is difficult to see. It’s not nearly as bright as Venus, and it never is far from the sun. This renders Mercury low in the sky where any haze and obstructions near the horizon can obscure it, and it is never visible outside of twilight. I typically see Mercury only a few times each year. I barely saw Mars one morning, but only after I had spotted it with binoculars. I first saw the moon in the evening sky on September 20, as well as each succeeding evening. During this time, I did not see Jupiter, nor did I see any of the stars of Virgo. Furthermore, other than Regulus, it was difficult to pick out the stars of Leo. As a professional astronomer with a half-century of practical sky watching to boot, this was the best I could do.

Did any of the prophecy gurus who talked endlessly about this “sign” even attempt to see it? Probably not, for if they had, they would have seen how unimpressive this “sign” was. I seriously doubt any of them could actually find these things in the sky. Instead, they were content just to view simulations of it on their computer screens. Sorry, but the Apostle John wrote that “there appeared a great wonder (or sign) in heaven,” (Revelation 12:1, KJV) not that “there appeared a great wonder on computer screens.” Genesis 1:14 tells us that one of the reasons God placed lights in the sky was to be for signs. Again, it is an unreasonable stretch to morph this into signs on computer screens. To function as a sign, a sign must be seen. Imagine an intersection with a stop sign badly obscured by growth from a tree or shrub. To operate as a sign, the sign must be visible to those for whom it was intended. Simply knowing that there is a sign there (say by consulting a computer listing of stop signs maintained by the city) does not suffice.

If the Lord does not return in the next few months or years, memory of the hype about September 23, 2017, will fade, as did the hype about other suggested dates of the Lord’s return, such as in 2012, 2007, 1999–2000, and 1988–1989. A couple of years ago, I added up all the returns of the Lord that I have lived through. This one makes number 10, and those are just the supposed dates that I know about. Unfortunately, most of the teachers of this nonsense will be undeterred, for they will go on to the next new thing supposedly in biblical prophecy about to be fulfilled. Even sadder, much of their loyal following will not be dissuaded either, for they will be eager to embrace whatever new things their teachers dream up.

Many of these teachers mean well. They seem to be motivated to reach the lost with the message of repentance and salvation, though I wonder if at least some are motivated by pride in being the first or among the first to have figured out something significant. Many critics of the date setters liken this endless cycle of setting dates to the story of the boy who cried “wolf!” Those who support the date setters indignantly respond that eventually the wolf came. This is true, but recall that in the story, when the wolf finally came, no one came to rescue the boy, because everyone assumed it was another false alarm. That is precisely the danger presented by the date setters. Eventually, as people become immune to the false alarms, they become part of the scoffers of 2 Peter 3:3. They reason that since the Lord didn’t return all those other times prophecy teachers raised the alarm, Jesus must not be returning at all. It’s ironic that these false interpreters of prophecy claim that we who question their pronouncements on these matters are the scoffers of 2 Peter 3:3. This is a misapplication, because we are not skeptical of the Lord’s return. Rather, we are skeptical of their claims.

Ultimately, it isn’t about being right regarding when the Lord will or won’t return. That isn’t our job. Our job is to be vigilant, to be ready. I keep asking this question, and I’ll keep asking it—are you ready?

Footnotes

  1. Most pretribulational, premillennial dispensationalists do not set dates. This is because if the Lord’s return truly is imminent, then it could happen at any time, so date-setting is meaningless, particularly if one takes Jesus’ warning of Matthew 24:36, 44 at face value.

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