The Agora
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Setting dates

John Thomas interpreted the time periods to bring the 1,260 to a close in 1866-1870, and firmly believed that Christ would return at that time or very shortly thereafter (five generations ago!). When this proved premature, Robert Roberts (and others) resorted to the convenient 30-year "add-on" (1,260 to 1,290) and again "circled" a date, or time period: 1896 to 1900. They were wrong too.

The history of Christadelphian prophetic study in the 20th century has been a continual tinkering and retinkering with the basic framework of "day-for-a-year, 1,260-1,290-1,335" ideas... always guessing prematurely, and always being wrong. (Maybe not to the same degree as the JW fiasco, because the JW officialdom -- being the next best thing to infallible -- felt the need to make absolute pronouncements... whereas Christadelphians must know they are guessing, and don't ever put great stock in their latest "guess". For Christadelphian CHers, it's been a "don't put all your eggs in the latest basket" syndrome for some time: more like 'if not this basket, then the next one!' Or, 'if you miss this bus, just wait: another will be along shortly.')

The real problem is with the whole day-for-a-year idea, which is so unwieldy, with all its paraphernalia of dates, and has so many "moving parts". Looked good in the 18th century, not so good in the 19th century, distinctly out of date in the 20th, and getting impossible in the 21st. CHers fix on a date as the end point of the whole rigmarole, having lined up about 15 previous dates to plausible (or semi-plausible) "pegs". Then the date comes and goes, and Christ still isn't here. What to do? First, do all the "add-ons", 1,290 and 1,335 -- but then they run out and still no culmination. Now you have to go back to the starting point and move ALL those 'pegs' forward 25 or 50 or 75 years and look for another "fit" -- all the time pulling and pushing and squeezing, to get everything in the right place. And then that "absolute, final, last-time, for-sure" date comes and goes too.

Am I being too critical? I don't mean to be. My point is: any Bible students who truly believe in the coming of Christ at the end of the age... are going to see themselves as living at or very near that end. And they are going to "fix" things in their prophetic apparatus to suit that deep-seated hope. No, the problem is with the CH framework, which just doesn't work any more; it's been stretched to the breaking point, and refitted, and stretched again, and now it's broken.

(An interesting irony, if you will, is that JT and RR, and others besides, have of course died at just about the time their prophetic time-period expectations ran out. So they haven't been around to admit, 'Guess I jumped the gun a good bit!' or 'Maybe I didn't get all my numbers right!' But then, on the other hand, as far as they were concerned, Christ DID -- or should I say, WILL HAVE -- COME at just about the times each envisioned.)

Of course, the (subconscious?) desire to be living at the very end, and to see everything as it unfolds, has led even really good Bible students to "read into" events and circumstances more than was really there, as may be seen in retrospect. It was true of John Thomas -- who was 'scraping the bottom of the barrel' when he went looking for ten duchies and postage-stamp "kingdoms" that were closely connected with Rome in the 1860s... to fill out his scenario of a Last Days Roman power. (Just a test: how many of JT's original "ten toes" can anyone name today? [Don't laugh: I'm talking about "expositional" toes, not "real" toes!] No fair looking it up... if this is really important stuff, you should be able to do it from memory!)

Likewise, RR looked long and hard (as did others of his day) for signs of Jews returning to the Promised Land, and did in fact see the very, very earliest beginnings of a Jewish community there. He wasn't wrong; he was just very premature in his predictions, and evidently thought (or hoped) that a few hundred -- or at the most, a few thousand -- Jews living in splendid isolation -- with no government or military power or legal standing of their own -- amongst millions upon millions of Arabs was enough for the divine plan. And his perspective of the Middle East of his day colored (how could it not have colored!?) his interpretations of Bible prophecies... all with a view to seeing Christ come very soon, even in his own day! He was wrong, but who can blame him?

Interesting, too, that the very latest things Harry Whittaker wrote on prophecy (in the late 1980s) contain some of the same sort of overblown, over-eager grabbing on to certain political situations as "key" to the return of Christ. In fact, some of those "guesses" are even now out of date. But not as out-of-date as a lot of JT's and RR's political surmisings. (Second question on the pop quiz: discuss in depth the causes and effects of the Crimean War, and how it has a bearing on Last Days prophecies.)

Of course, as far as HAW is concerned, Christ will have returned in 1992 (when HAW died, after long years of looking for the return of Christ).

So... we seem to have finally gotten to where JT and RR and lots of other folks expected: Israel in their own Land, still in ignorance of God for the most part, and threatened by many enemies intent on her destruction. It just took us longer to get here than anyone thought. And it wasn't the CH 1,260-framework that got us here; we got to this point DESPITE that; we got to this point because a latter-day restoration of Israel was and is fundamental Bible teaching, and essential for the return of Christ.

I well remember a conversation I had with a brother and sister about prophecy in general. The gist of their objection to my views on prophecy was: 'We could never accept that point of view, because you believe that several things must happen before Christ returns (which might take up to 3 1/2 years), while WE believe that Christ could return at any minute.' And the way it was said indicated that they NEEDED to believe that Christ could return at literally any minute!

My experience and observations tell me that CH folks are the worst "offenders"... if it is an offense to require that Christ's return will be in *their* generation. I should mention that that conversation took place almost 10 years ago. They NEEDED to believe that Christ could return at any minute, and couldn't stand the idea that it could be 3 years away. And I guess they feel the same way today.

So every year or two they go back to looking at the CH dates, and seeing where they must have been wrong, and reworking the 1,260 and 1,290 and 1,335... and remixing Jubilee years, and figuring out how long a "generation" is and trying to figure out when the "generation" started: was it 1917 or 1948 or 1956 or 1967 or whatever? Trying to find a new date on the calendar to circle, so like the carrot it can be just out there, very close and beckoning them on.

Me? I don't need to resort to the calculator and add all manner of two- and three- and four-digit numbers, looking for the next "right combination" that tells me 2002, or 2003, or 2004.... ad infinitum... is the one!

I just wait and watch to see when that volatile mix of ethnic and religious interests in the Middle East finally gets to the point of explosion. Maybe it will be this year, maybe next. For all I know, maybe it'll be when I'm an old, old man... or asleep in the grave. But I guess I'm enough like JT and RR and HAW to think it won't be that long!


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