The Rapture: Dangers of Date-Setting

I still remember the billboards plastered along the highways here in the United States. We were warned that “Judgment Day” was coming and urged to “cry mightily unto God.” Apparently, the wise men had correctly figured the exact time of Jesus’ first arrival, and therefore we could know the time of His second arrival because “wise men” were again involved in the calculations. And so the mystery was finally unlocked, and the date of Christ’s coming was determined and printed in bold font for the many passersby, along with the audacious claim that “The Bible Guarantees It.”

But the date has long passed, as have the predicted dates for countless eschatological scams, each usually involving confusing charts, hidden codes in Hebrew texts, rumors of wars in Middle Eastern nations, the “rare” appearances of blood moons on the calendar, or frustratingly complicated mathematical models. Ironically, the math is always flawed in one very obvious way – the prognosticators have been right 0% of the time.

But the predictions by such prophetic panhandlers never seem to die down. Each new world development, whether a terrorist attack, an economic downturn, or a frightening pandemic, presents a new opportunity to perpetuate (and profit from) a new “prophecy” that the world must hear. All such predictions are as worthless as copies of 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988, and nearly as plentiful as meteorological forecasts for summer afternoon thunderstorms.

The work of such spurious soothsaying has been with us since the very century in which Christ first told us about His return and will likely remain with us until He comes. As each prediction fails, some are content to shrug their shoulders and move on or merely laugh it off as if no harm were done. But the dangers of setting dates for Christ’s return are no laughing matter nor as harmless as some may seem to imagine.

Date-Setting Contradicts Christ’s Teaching

Although the Bible does guarantee Christ’s return, Christ Himself guaranteed no one could know the time: “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows” (Mar 13:32).[1] It’s hard to imagine intentionally avoiding Jesus’ words here (which are also recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke), but I surmise that a desire to sell books or gain followers is more valuable to present-day “prophets” than truth itself.

We should reject any teaching that contradicts the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ, even if Bible verses are copiously used (or more likely, abused) to propagate it. Anyone who proposes a date for Christ’s return is directly opposing Christ Himself. We must honor and obey all of our Lord’s teaching, whether it pertains to the past, present or future.

Date-Setting Claims More Knowledge Than Christ

Repeating the quotation from Mark, Jesus said, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Putting aside the difficulties of the text itself and how Christ (who is fully God) did not know something, anyone who alleges to have accurately determined the date of Christ’s return is doing something not even Christ Himself did. Whether you interpret His words here in relation to the Rapture or in relation to His return to earth to establish His kingdom, Christ did not claim to know the date,[2] and it is the height of arrogance to allege more knowledge than Christ.

Date-Setting Opposes Imminency

Once a date for Christ’s return is set and announced, the implication is that Christ could not return before that date, thus contradicting the New Testament’s teaching of imminency. A dangerous change in our focus occurs as we no longer look for Christ but for signs or events preceding His return. Signs are not for the Church. We are not to be looking for the Antichrist, but for Christ. Paul’s instructions were to “wait for his [God’s] Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus our deliverer from the coming wrath” (1Th 1:10 NET). We are to look for “Christ … [who] will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Heb 9:28). Let us not lose our focus or the thrill of our blessed hope (Titus 2:13) by embracing the fallacy of date-setting. Christ’s return could happen at any moment, perhaps today.

Date-Setting Disparages Pre-tribulationism

Predictions about Christ’s coming are largely proposed by pre-tribulationists, because we believe the next event on God’s calendar is the return of Christ. As these reckless predictions continue to prove false, pre-tribulationism itself is unfortunately maligned by some as an erroneous theological position. This is truly regrettable, and unfair. Predictions of the rise of the Antichrist or the beginning date of the tribulation are not in short supply by those who embrace mid-tribulationism or post-tribulationism. Pre-tribulationism should be assessed in relation to Scripture, not the pre-tribulationists who set dates.

As COVID-19 continues its sweep across our world, the fear of end-time pestilence is gripping many hearts. Already, the “wise men” and “wise women” of our day are lending their voices to how it’s all going to end. It won’t be long and yet another New York Times Bestseller filled with dates and frightful predictions will hit the shelves. Ironically, the one thing that is easier to predict than anything else is this – more predictions of Christ’s return are yet to come. Yet before any more books (which should properly be shelved as fiction) are written and the first copies sold, the moment could arrive. Christ could come, and He could come today. His return is imminent, and we would be truly wise men and wise women to remember His words and prepare accordingly; “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows.” Let us be among those who are waiting for His return rather than the release of yet another fraudulent book on the subject.


[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the ESV unless otherwise noted.

[2] For a handling of this difficult text, see the Q&A section of the July 2019 issue by Shawn St. Clair.