Harry Whittaker
Five Minutes To Twelve

15. One Minute To Twelve

From early September 1988, when pen was first put to paper in the writing of this booklet it was intended that it should be just that- a booklet. Some of the topics touched on here could have been developed much more fully. But from the start the intention has been to give reminders, to stimulate enquiry, to set discussion and Bible searching going among those who should have oil in their vessels but don't.

Now, as a back-up to the foregoing, here is a sequence of paragraphs making brief mention of the other signs to which Scripture and current events steer attention. Most of these signs- the unbeliever could very well argue - are of too general a character to be regarded as signs specific enough to convince a critical mind. That is a false argument. Of course there have been pestilences. Of course there have been wars. Of course there has been a threat of nuclear convulsion, for over forty years, but only a threat. And so on. But the real force of a catalogue such as now follows is that now in our time these signs all accumulate together and in the eyes of anyone who is not too busy providing fulfilments by his own worldly self-centred heedlessness, these phenomena all have a specially pointed relevance to this miserably clever twentieth century. It is when the stark facts are considered from such an angle, that unbelieving hearts should have attacks of angina- or alternatively, should give way to the logic of these God-controlled events and so move at a step into a lasting sense of assurance and tranquillity. When a man can see that the Second Coming is near, he stops asking, "Whatever is the world coming to7" He knows!

1. "As it was in the days of Noah"

Then, not only was there a massive landslide away from godliness-"thee (only) have I seen righteous before me" (that last phrase implies religious decay); but also "the earth was filled with violence." No commentary needed!

2. "As it was in the days of Lot"

The men of Sodom not only enjoyed luxury and got a kick out of violence, but they also specialized in sodomy- what our modern society has tried to make respectable under the polysyllabic label: homosexuality.

And it is to be noted that in the times of Noah and Lot they were busy with their eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, marrying and giving in marriage right up to the time when the judgment of God fell. "Thus shall it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed.” No opportunity for a “death bed" repentance.

3. "Wars and rumours of wars"

Since the greatest war of all time finished, there has never been a let-up. Always, in any of those forty years there have been at least three or four wars going on somewhere. And with Gaddafi's plastic explosives, terrorists everywhere are having the time of their lives, and of other people's deaths.

4. "Famines"

It is one of the most sickly ironies in human history that at a time when human cleverness has made two ears of corn grow instead of one in huge areas of the world, in other huge areas of the world people are dying in their millions through wars and failure of crops. Farmers have to be paid vast sums not to work so hard, not to grow so much; and what they have grown is given away lavishly, but doesn't reach the desperate starving souls who clamour for it. "Whom the gods would destroy they first drive mad". They have!

5. "Pestilences"

In all history wars and famines have bred pestilences. But today, such is man’s cleverness, this process must needs be accelerated. "Malaria is now eliminated" was the triumphant cry; but now that great tropical killer has resumed its sway. We know how to cope with TB and measles, yet still they slay their millions. But such scourges as these are in the background today, for now THE incurable horror is being helped to pep up its efficiency by sexual depravity in every nation, and by the brainless philosophy that says to itself "I'm willing to chance it.”

6. "Earthquakes"

To be sure, this weary Earth has always been complaining about human wickedness, but again the folly of modern times accentuates the grumbling of the ground and the roar of rubble. Always the mad philosophy is: "It won't happen to us." But soon at the San Andreas fault, and at the Mount of Olives, Earth will make its most significant protest, but by that time it will be too late. For some time now the earthquakes have been intensifying, both statistically and on the Richter Scale, and also in our human awareness, thanks to newsmen hungry for another sensation.

7. "Men's hearts failing them for fear"

This comes in a context of signs in the sun, moon and stars, that is, in Israel (see "The Time of the End", H.A.W. ch.11). And the next phrase is "distress of nations with perplexity". Today the reading: "with no way out" is widely recognised. But why such slowness to see also that this foretells: "distress (in Israel!) caused by Gentiles"? (see ch. 8 in this booklet). Years ago the P.L.O. was pronounced dead and done with. Yet still, in 1989!, it poses the biggest threat Jews have to face. Its deadly wound has been healed.

8. Nuclear destruction

There will be home-made earthquakes as well. The Nuclear Club grows in number and in indiscipline. Every year or two another member dedicated to international benevolence creeps in by the back door. How long before some crazy dictator, intent on showing that his Big Bang is as big as the Creator's, presses a button to prove it? There are scriptures enough (Isaiah ch. 24, 25, 34; Jeremiah 25; Zechariah 14, 2 Peter 3; and sundry purple passages in Revelation) to indicate that when at last God wearies of mankind He will give them license to use their ingenious toys-"every man's sword against his brother". In five prophecies the idea is the same though the words are different (see "Jews, Arabs and Bible Prophecy", H.A.W., ch.15).

9. "Perilous Times"

The entire paragraph - 2 Tim. 3: 1-5 needs to be considered in detail. Of course there have been other periods in the history of this "civilisation" of ours when one phrase or another in this purple passage have been relevant enough. But it would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to point to any other epoch when these characteristics of society have been so palpably and simultaneously true. The argument about "wars, famines, pestilences, earthquakes" all intensifying together in this present generation stands true here also.

10. "Peace and Safety"

- and instead of these, "sudden destruction". But this, contrary to much uninformed guesswork, is not about a gasp of relief at UNO or Geneva or Jerusalem, but about those who take pride in knowing (and in knowing that they know) the Plan of God and its impending climax. On this, see "The Time of the End"; H.A.W., ch. 16. When at midnight there is a cry made: "Behold, the Bridegroom!" All the virgins will be asleep, and their lamps out. For many of them, "sudden destruction". How many? Five out of ten?

1988 – What Went Wrong?

The fortieth year from the foundation of the state of Israel found many Christadelphians (though not all!) in a state of foundering expectation. Instead of an ecstatic welcoming of the Kingdom or at least a year of matchless excitement at unmistakable preliminaries about the personal appearance of the Lord of Glory, there was a non-year — a dreary depressing sequence of human blunders, disasters such as the hyper clever 20th century is good at.

Were those 1988 expectations well founded? Yes, of course they were.

Good Bible Evidence

  1. The parable of the fig-tree (Mt.24: 32) speaks of the revival of Israel. Can this be argued against? The Bible evidence is too clear and emphatic. See "Bible Studies", ch.6.02.
  2. "This generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled" (Mt.24: 34). Here, "these things" can only refer to the preceding paragraph, all of which is about the Second Coming.
  3. But what about "this generation'? Certainly not the generation to which Jesus spoke. Nearly 2,000 years empty of significant Jewish history have proved this (but there is a reason, not to be gone into now, why our Lord should use the expression ambiguously here). In two places not to be swept aside (Mt.23: 36; Heb.3: 9, 10, 17) this word "generation" is given the precise meaning of "forty years".
  4. When did the fig-tree nation begin to blossom? It hardly seems possible to put a finger on any date except 1948. It is true that some try to rationalize a later date by opting for 1967, the year when Jerusalem, all of it, became the capital of the Israeli state. Against this it can surely be urged (i) the fig tree was blossoming well before that date. (ii) It is difficult to believe that our crazy modern civilisation can continue all the way to 2007 without blowing Israel and itself to bits long before that date is reached.
Thus strong Bible evidence, combined with the stark facts of modern history point emphatically to 1988 as the crisis year.

And that conclusion proved to be wrong. Why?

The short answer, not too clear until explained (sorry!) is this:

There is no Bible evidence that God's purpose with his ancient people and with His elect is tied to a rigid unbudgeable chronology. Our forefathers bequeathed to us the big unwarranted assumption that it is. Hence a century of wrecked expectations.

On the other hand there is a vast amount of Bible evidence that significant developments in God's Purpose depend on contingencies — upon the disposition and attitudes of those with whom God is dealing.

Familiar Examples:

It is important first to illustrate and then prove the truth of this neglected principle.

  1. At Kadesh-barnea faithless Israel chose to believe the faithless spies instead of being guided by faithful Joshua and Caleb. For this they were condemned to forty years of wandering in the wilderness. But suppose the people had adhered in faith to the counsel of Joshua and Caleb. In that case those forty years would have been replaced with forty days of exhilarating victorious conquest. Little faith - belated fulfilment. Firm faith - prompt divine response.
  2. Good king Hezekiah was mortally ill. The prophet of the Lord was sent to him: 'Set thine house in order. Thou shalt die, and not live". 'No!' wailed Hezekiah; 'death cannot praise thee. I must live and not die'. That importunity added fifteen years to his life. A drastic change in the divine purpose with a godly man.
  3. "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" The message of Jonah rang through the Assyrian metropolis. However, a century later that greatest city of the 8th century B.C. I was still flourishing. Another dramatic change in the declared divine purpose! And why? Because king and people of that great city repented at the awesome threat from heaven.
  4. More than once the intercession of Moses saved his people from an outpouring of the wrath of God. After the sin of the golden calf—'Out of my way, Moses! I will consume them, and start again from you'. But because of the pleading of this great leader, the threat was not carried out. 'I will not go up (into Canaan) in the midst of this people', God declared. But he did! Again, it was because Moses would not be said nay.
These are only illustrations. The proof of the principle — which the fulfilment of God's declared will depends on the people He is dealing with, is available in the existence of another thirty examples and more. And Jeremiah 18: 7-10 declares the principle in words that a child can understand.

There has been no lack of effort to get round the obvious conclusion indicated by this multitude of examples by bringing in woolly arguments based on the fore-knowledge of God. Let the reader attempt to work his way through three dozen examples, explaining away the obvious, and he will find his "lucid" thesis getting lost in a cloud of verbiage.

Instead, let it be frankly recognised that the Almighty wants His people to think of Him as a God who, in certain circumstances, 'changes His mind'. Whether we understand or we don't, Holy Scripture bids us shape our thinking this way.

A Big N.T. Problem

And now here is the solution to one of the biggest problems in the NT.

It is not to be gainsaid that the NT writers looked for an early return of their Lord and they were inspired to write thus. At least 35 NT passages of this kind are available. These expectations were not fulfilled.

How Explain?

There are three ways of coping with the problem thus presented:

  1. To pretend it isn't there.
  2. 'The Second Coming is as near as the day of your death'. Why has this glib “explanation" been so often repeated when as yet no one has found it in the pages of Holy Scripture? The acceptance of this notion proclaims the bankruptcy of those from whose tongue it trips so lightly.
  3. The present writer's former desperate expedient: to find a means of explaining away each separate passage by its own individual "fiddle"; e.g. "Behold I come quickly" means "I come suddenly"— which it certainly doesn't; it means "soon" (see as many modern versions as you like). In any case, this coining of a fresh explanation for each problem passage at last breaks down under its own weight. Try it, and you will see!
Instead of this kind of well-intentioned but unworthy handling of the Word of God, it is suggested that here is another well-documented example of a dramatic change in the time-fulfilment of God's purpose because of the unworthiness of Israel and the New Israel in whom it centres — stubborn rejection of Christ by the former, and spiritual decadence of the latter.

Bible Proof

Here is a group of passages, which enunciate or clearly imply this idea:

  1. "Repent ye therefore, that your sins may be blotted out...and that he may send Jesus Christ which before was preached unto you" (Acts 3: 19,20 RV). Here the return of the Lord is made dependent on Jewish repentance.
  2. "For if the casting away of them (Israel) be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be but life from the dead"

    (Rom.11: 15). Here, twice over, Paul presents the connection between Cause and Effect: The rejection of faithless Israel had already led to the Gospel being taken to receptive Gentiles. All Paul's readers knew this. So also a change of heart in Israel will lead to the resurrection (and, therefore, to the Second Coming). Clearly the timing of those great occasions was and will be determined, or at least influenced, by the spiritual reaction of the people concerned.

  3. Rom.11: 25 declares, or at least implies, the same idea: "Blindness in part is happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in". That last phrase seems to imply that one-day the last conversion and the last baptism among the Gentiles will take place, and with this "fulness" the blindness of Israel will be finally removed. Certainly there is here once again a clear connection between unbelieving Israel and believing Gentiles and the Second Coming.
  4. Except for its last three verses, the whole of 2 Peter 3 is about the Second Coming. Here are two specially significant phrases from it: "What manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation (way of life) and godliness, looking for and hastening (see AVm and most modern versions) the coming of the day of God...and account that the longsuffering of our Lord is (your) salvation" (v.11, 12, 15).
Paraphrased, the first of these quotes says: 'Your repentance and godly living will help to bring nearer the Second Coming of the Lord'. And the second: 'The delay hitherto in the Lord's return is meant to provide you believers with an added opportunity for fuller repentance'. It needs a very clever man to make these words mean anything different from this. Here, once again, and very clearly, the time of the Lord's return from heaven is conditioned by the attitude and spiritual disposition of those whom it specially concerns.

Now, back to the original question:

What went wrong in 1988?

The clearest and most precise sign, carefully and Biblically interpreted, pointed to that year as the time of the last big development immediately prior to the Day of the Lord — and nothing happened!


Here are two possible explanations, both of them very unwelcome:

  1. There is a serious unperceived flaw in the reasoning developed at the beginning of this study. If so, why has no one long since put a finger on it?
  2. There is yet again a delay in fulfilment, and this because Israel and the New Israel are alike unworthy of their high privilege. Five minutes to midnight, and all the virgins, wise and unwise alike, are “asleep" — and for more reasons than one. Some are sunk in tradition, with more reverence for the mistakes of their "pioneers" than for Holy Scripture. Some — many — have wrapped themselves in the comforts of an affluent Godless society. Some — not a few! — find self-congratulation in erecting and maintaining barriers of fellowship between brother and brother.
All this whilst the miseries of the world intensify, and whilst angels, eager to go into action on their Lord's behalf, weep over Jerusalem as He did.

More examples of God changing His mind:

Acts 7: 25RV; 1 Kgs. 21: 19, 21RV, 29; 1 Kgs. 20: 42; 2 Sam. 24: 15; Heb.; Gen. 2: 17; Amos 1: 3RVm; Is. 62: 6RV; Lk. 13: 8, 9; Dt. 28: 1, 15; Acts 1: 6-8; Jn. 1: 23; Jn. 1: 31; Mk. 13: 32; Mt. 23: 39Gk; (other examples: Mt. 10: 23; 12: 20; Lk. 19: 23; 1 Cor. 4: 5; 11: 26; Jas. 5: 7; Rev. 2: 25); 1 Kgs. 8: 46-53; Dan. 9: 4-19 (especially v.13); Neh. 1: 5-11; Mal. 4: 5, 6; Is. 17: 7, 8; 40: 3; 59: 20; Zeph. 2: 3; Ezek. 20: 42-44; Ps. 81: 13; Jer. 4: 1, 2.

New Testament expectation of early return of Christ:

Phil. 4: 5; 1 Pet. 4: 7 (cp. use in Mt. 26: 18; 2 Tim. 4: 6); Heb. 10: 37 (cp. Jn. 13: 33); Rom. 16: 20; 1 Cor. 7: 29; Mt. 10: 23; 24: 29; Mt. 16: 27, 28; 1 Pet. 1: 20; Heb. 9: 26; Mt. 13: 40; 24: 3; 1 Jn. 2: 18; 1 Cor. 10: 11; Mt. 26: 64; Lk. 24: 52; Rom. 13: 11, 12; 1 Th. 1: 10, 5: 23; Heb. 1: 2; 10: 25; Jas. 5: 8, 9; 2 Pet. 2: 3; 1 Jn. 2: 17, 18RV; 2 Pet. 3: 3; Jn. 21: 22; Rev. 1: 1, 3; 2: 5, 16; 2: 25; 3: 3; 19: 15; 22: 7, 20; 6: 11; 3: 20; 22: 10-12.

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