The Danger of Date Setting (John 21:20-25)
Good morning everybody. If we could take our Bibles and open them to John 21, verse 20. The title of our message this morning is The Danger of Date Setting. And here we are at the tail end of our study of John’s Gospel, which is all about Jesus and who He is as the Son of God as demonstrated through His various miracles, so that people might believe in Him and have the gift of life.
There we are, in that very last section of John’s Gospel, the passion narratives which revolve around first, His death, and then His resurrection. We’ve seen the empty tomb, chapter 20, verses 1-10, which is how the resurrection story starts in John’s Gospel. And then the book sort of wraps up with five post resurrection appearances of Jesus. We are looking at that very last one and essential what it is, is the book concludes with a conversation between Jesus and His two, perhaps top disciples, John and Peter, strolling along the Sea of Galilee, in the northwest area there in a place called Tabgha.
That’s the shoreline and what it looks like from that vantage point and here is how John chose to conclude this book. Jesus is speaking and answering questions in His resurrected body, in His resurrected state, speaking to both John and Peter, revealing, to a very large extent, their futures. And that’s why the whole section there begins with the confessions; Peter is given a chance to reaffirm his loyalty to Christ three times, just as he denied Christ three times in verses 15-17. And in that process Jesus reveals to Peter his destiny, which is to tend, as a pastor, God’s sheep.
[John 20:15-17, “So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Tend My lambs.’  He said to him again a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Shepherd My sheep.’  He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’ Jesus said to Him, ‘Tend My sheep.’”]
And then in verses 18 and 19 He reveals another part of His destiny. He basically says (and these are the verses we covered last time), when you were young you did what you wanted, when you are old people will take you against your will and you will stretch out your hands. And that is a prophecy about Peter which would be fulfilled about 30 years later and it’s a prophecy Peter lived with his whole life, knowing that the time of his departure was always imminent, or at hand, how Peter too would be crucified as Christ was crucified. And just as the Father was glorified through the crucifixion of God the Son, the Father in the same way is going to be glorified through the crucifixion of Peter because a servant is not greater than his master.
And Jesus doesn’t reveal all of the circumstances of when and how and who but He just leaves them with a simple command there at the end of verse 19, “Follow Me.’” And that leads us into the concern, this is a concern of Peter, and notice what verse 20 says, “Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His bosom at the supper and said, ‘Lord, who is the one who betrays You?’”
So following along in this conversation is also John. Jesus has just said a bunch of things to Peter and John is there, perhaps within earshot, listening. And we know that this is a reference to John because John doesn’t like to reveal his own name in this book. He wants the focus to be on Jesus, not John. So John never reveals Himself by name as the author of the book but we very clearly know it’s John because John, throughout this book is called “the disciple whom the Lord loved.” That expression has been used of John in John 13:23; John 19:26, John 20:2, John 21:7 and yet here it is again in verse 20, so a clear reference to John.
[John 13:23, “There was reclining on Jesus bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.” John 19:26, “When Jesus then saw his mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby….” John 20:2, “So she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved….” John 21:7, “Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord.’”]
We also know that it’s John because John reveals himself as the one who leaned against Christ’s chest in the Upper Room and asked the Lord who is the one that’s going to betray You. And this reminds us of the last supper there in the Upper Room, it’s described in John 13:20-25, you remember we talked about that earlier in our study of John’s Gospel, how John had such a close relationship with Christ that he leaned up against Christ’s chest there in the Upper Room. And he asked Jesus a question: who is the one that’s going to betray You, because Jesus had made a prophecy that I will be betrayed. And so that was clearly John involved in that interchange, and so that story is sort of resurfaced for us here in verse 20.
And in essence what is going on is as Jesus is walking along the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee with these two apostles He has made a prediction about Peter’s death; John is walking nearby and consequently Peter asks a question about John. Notice what Peter says there in verse 21, “So Peter seeing him” that would be John, “said to Jesus, ‘Lord, and what about his man?’” I mean, if I’m going to be crucified, as You just told me, verses 18-19, then what is going to happen to John? So Peter, in essence, wanted to know God’s will, not for himself, but he wanted to know the will of God for another believer. He wanted to know the will of God for another disciple.
And Peter is not the only believer in the Lord Jesus Christ in the last 2,000 years of church history who has had this obsession. Isn’t it interesting that we’re so curious and interested, sometimes not so much in our own walk with the Lord but somebody else, what’s going on with them? What’s their future? What’s their destiny? And this leads to the very abrupt correction or chiding of Peter by Jesus Christ.
 “Jesus said to him,” that would be Peter, “‘If I want him,” or John, “to remain until I come, what is that to you?” You follow Me!’” The Woods translation of the Bible puts it this way: It’s none of your business what I’m going to do with John; don’t focus on what I’m going to do with John, that shouldn’t be your concern, I’ve already told you what your concern should be, you are all about following Me. What I do with John is within My own care, within My own custody, within My one sovereignty. That is totally outside of your sphere; it is not something you are to be preoccupied with and it’s really not something you’re to be worried about. ‘…what is that to you?” Instead, you focus on following Me faithfully.
The grammarians tell us that the “you” here, second person pronoun, is emphatic. In other words what He’s saying is “you,” the focus is “you” Peter, YOU follow Me.” The command here, “you,” we’ve mentioned this, I think last week, because the same command was given back in verse 19, is what’s called the imperative mood, present tense. So when Jesus reiterates a second time “You follow Me” He’s not giving him a suggestion. It’s not this kind of thing where try this on for size and see how it fits. Focus on Me, Jesus says, focus on following Me; it’s a command and it’s also in the present tense meaning that Peter’s following Christ is this idea that “follow Me” and keep on following Me. It’s not a one-time act that you do a single time; it’s something that’s a habit. It’s something that’s habitual. It’s something that’s a lifestyle. It’s something that is moment by moment, every day of your life you, Peter, are supposed to be following Me rather than preoccupying yourself with somebody else.
Now why is that? Because part of the reason is God is relational. God has no grandchildren. The only way you can have a relationship with God is not through what your parents have but your own personal relationship with God. It really doesn’t matter what your parents believed; it doesn’t matter what your family line is, it doesn’t matter what your family heritage is, the issue is: are you in a personal relationship with God? That happens through trusting in what Jesus has done. But then God wants us to grow up, He wants us to mature, He wants us to come of age and we do that through the process of discipleship which simply means following God as a command; following Christ as a command on a moment by moment basis.
That is to be the preoccupation of our lives; it is to be the preoccupation of Peter’s life. It is not to be a busybody interjecting ourselves into the life of somebody else wondering what is God going to do in their life. Essentially that’s really none of our business, to a large extent. Certainly we’re in community with each other, we minister to each other, we help each other out, we are others focused, but sometimes things can go too far where we preoccupy ourselves with other people. And that really is not the point of our lives.
The point of our lives is following Christ. And we minister to others out of the abundance of that relationship that we have with Christ, because let me tell you something; if you are not in a relationship with Christ, personal relationship, and you are not, as an individual walking with Him, following Him moment by moment you really don’t have much to minister to other people. The power of your ministry comes from your own relationship to Him and out of the overflow of that relationship you’ll discover you’ll have a very vibrant ministry into the lives of other people. But if you’re focus is something else, someone else, what God is doing in someone else’s life, then the ministry that you could have had, we could have had, quickly dries up. Peter, it’s really none of your business what I’m going to do with John; you focus on following Me.
Now why is it that being a busybody and interjecting ourselves into the life of another, why is that really none of our business? The answer to that is God is a God of variety. God is a God of diversity. God is a God of creativity; you’ll look at the physical world and you’ll see evidence of that—no two snowflakes, when examined under a microscope are exactly the same. Of the nearly seven billion people in the world today no two fingerprints are exactly the same. So obviously as you examine the diversity of the variety of the natural world we can come to the conclusion that God is a God of diversity and variety.
Therefore the way He works in your neighbor’s life is in a way that’s totally creative, totally distinct from the way He’s working in your life. God’s plans for your neighbor are not necessarily His plans for you. God has gifted you in a special way; God has put opportunities in your life that are very unique and special. God has a particular path or a destiny for you and that’s different for what He’s doing in your neighbor’s life. Therefore it is foolish, is it not, to focus on what God is doing in someone else’s life. God is so rich and diverse and creative that the plans that he has for your neighbor are unfathomable. In fact, the plans He has for you are unfathomable. That’s why we need to focus on Him, not on somebody else.
I’m reminded very much of what the Apostle Paul wrote when he taught on the issue of spiritual gifts, in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, Paul says, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.  And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord.  There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.” God is behind all of it but He gifts people differently, ministries are totally different, oftentimes within the same church. We installed Gabe just a moment ago; his ministry will be totally different than my ministry. And my ministry will be totally different than his ministry. And everybody else on our staff and all of our leaders and all of our members and all of our regular attenders, it’s all different because God is a God of diversity, God is a God of variety; He works creatively and differently through different persons. And praise the Lord for that, right? Because if you were exactly like your neighbor, then one of you is unnecessary. Right?
You become necessary to God because God’s plan for you is special. God’s plan for you is unique. Not everybody is called to go to Bible College; some are, some aren’t. Not everybody is called to be a preacher; some are, some aren’t. Not everybody is called to be a youth pastor; some are and some aren’t. It’s possible that God’s plan for your life could have something totally unrelated to do with fulltime ministry in a church. He could use you in the realm of nursing. He could use you in the realm of academia. He could use you in the realm of scholarship. He could use you in the realm of management. He could use you in the realm of business. Think of all the different possibilities that are out there and the issue is not what someone else has or doesn’t have, the issue is: is the plan of God being executed in your life. That’s the issue. And we achieve that, not on human power but it becomes achievable as we follow Him, present tense, moment by moment.
I also like very much what Paul says here in 1 Corinthians 12:6, there are not just varieties of gifts and ministries, “there are varieties of effects.” Now from that word “effect,” when you study it in the Greek we get the word energy from that word. Different ministries have different energies. Some men, I have known people like this, they start up a Bible study and within a period of time they have a church of 20,000 people. Other people are simply faithful as small group leaders and their groups never grow, in fact, they might even shrink. And we always say well, we must be out of the will of God because we don’t have the same effect as somebody else. But the fact of the matter is in God there are differing effects. Perhaps it is the will of God for you to minister over a smaller sphere while it is the will of God for someone to minister over a larger sphere.
And the great problem that we run into is we compare ourselves to other people. If this principle of diversity is true you cannot compare yourself to someone else because God is doing different things in the lives of different people. And this, of course, is the mistake Peter is making. If I’m going to be crucified I want to know what happens to John. Jesus told him, “Follow Me.” Peter doesn’t follow Christ; he wants to know what He’s going to do with John. He just disobeyed the command.
“Follow Me!” God is a God of richness; God is a God of diversity.
And it’s interesting that when you study the lives of both John and Peter, over the decades that followed, how different their ministries were, how different their lives in God became. John, for example, became the last living apostle, the last eyewitness to the things of Christ. And as John the aged, or John the elder, he spent the majority of his time in Ephesus presiding over the churches there in Asia Minor and in that role he wrote four New Testament books, one of which we have been studying, John’s Gospel. And then he wrote First John, then he wrote Second John and then he wrote Third John. And according to tradition at this time the Roman Emperor, which would be the reign of Domitian, tried to kill John. And the problem with John is the guy wouldn’t die.
There’s a very interesting description of this in Tertullian’s Prescription Against Heretics, chapter 36, written about A.D. 180, about 90 years after John left the scene, and it says this: Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics, chapter 36, Tertullian, of course, being a great Church Father, he writes: “Where Paul wins his crown in a death like John, where the Apostle John was first plunged unhurt into boiling oil, and thence remitted to his island exile.”
At some point the Roman Empire had enough with John and they said we’ve got to get this guy dead, let’s put him in the boiling oil and kill him. The problem is, this stubborn old man wouldn’t die. Now why did he not die? Because God wasn’t finished with him yet, and that’s something else to understand; until God is finished with you on this earth I believe you are essentially immortal. I don’t believe that means we should test God and put ourselves into Harm’s Way. I do believe that as we are following Him nothing can cut short our lives until the purpose of God in our lives is achieved. So because this man wouldn’t die like he was supposed to Domitian did with John what he did with all of the troublemakers; he just banished him to an island and we know that island is the island of Patmos.
And John was put there as an exile. And yet that was the will of God for John. It wasn’t the will of God for Peter; it was the will of God for John because John, on that island, would get a vision one day from Jesus Himself. And He gave to John the very last book of the New Testament that we call the book of Revelation. It wouldn’t be Peter that would write the book of Revelation, it would be John. God had a unique role for John to play.
Jesus says if I want him to remain alive until I come what business of that is yours? Peter, on the other hand, had a totally different calling and vision. They were both apostles, they were both called to serve the Lord, but Peter was the apostle to the Jews. John wasn’t. So what did Peter do? He traveled to where the Jews were. Where were most of the Jews if they were not living in the land of Israel? They were living in a place called Babylon. 1 Peter 5:13 tells us that Peter wrote his two letters from Babylon; I believe Babylon there means Babylon. [1 Peter 5:13, “She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings, and so does my son, Mark.”] And I don’t want to babble on about Babylon at this point because I’ve done a lot of academic work on it, but the fact of the matter is, that’s what it means.
Now why would Peter go to Babylon? Where is Babylon? Babylon is between the Euphrates and the Tigris and modern day Iraq; it’s about 350 miles or so to the east of Jerusalem. Why would he go there? Because he had a different calling; he was the apostle to the Jews, Galatians 2:7-9 tells us. [Galatians 2:7-9, “But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised  (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also the Gentiles),  and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.”]
Now where were most of the Jews residing? Babylon. Why is that? Because that’s where they were taken into captivity during the Babylonian captivity. And when the Jews came back from the Babylonian captivity, as recorded in the book of Ezra and Nehemiah, most of the Jews remained behind in Babylon. In fact, a very small percentage of Jews came back into the land of Israel in the postexilic time period. So it’s an area where the Jews still were in large numbers. In fact, Josephus tells us that. There were Jews residing there in large numbers.
So Peter went to Babylon because he had a different calling than John. He did not go to Ephesus; he went to Babylon to minister to those Jews. And from that location he wrote two books: one is called 1 Peter and the second one is called 2 Peter. And when he wrote those two books from Babylon he was writing to the people in north central Turkey, another group of scattered Jews, 1 Peter 1:1 says, “To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.”
And then what ultimately happened to Peter? What record we have of it comes from Eusebius, in his Ecclesiastical History. Eusebius writes: “Peter appears to have preached in Pontus, Galatia, Bithynia, Cappadocia and to the Jews of the dispersion and at last, having come to Rome he was crucified head downwards, for he had requested that he might suffer in this way.” Peter, according to the prophecy given to him by Jesus Christ would be crucified; Peter requested he would be crucified upside down, because he did not feel worthy to die the exact same way that Jesus had died.
You see, my point that I’m trying to make is that’s a total different destiny. And so what Jesus says here is very real. If I want him to remain alive until I come, what business of that is yours? And we know that as New Testament history unfolded there were two different destinations for these two individuals. Different destinies in God: focus on fulfilling your own destiny rather than worrying about the life of somebody else. And that is contained through the two-fold repetition of the command, “Follow Me.”
And it’s very easy to just skip over these verses but there’s a lot that we need to learn from this in terms of our own walk with God and letting God have His way in the life of somebody else.
Now that chiding leads to confusion. Notice the confusion that started there in verse 23, “Therefore this saying went out among the brethren that that disciple” or John, “would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?’” Confusion started; it started amongst the believing community because a false rumor went out amongst the brethren. Did you know that the Christian community can be contaminated by the rumor mill? And this is what happened here. What they did is they misconstrued what Jesus said. They turned a hypothetical into a promise.
If you go back to verse 22 and you look at what Jesus actually said to Peter regarding John, he uses this phrase, “If I want him to remain” alive, “what is that to you?” So “if” implies a hypothetical situation. In other words, it’s really none of your business what I’m going to do in John’s life. If I do this, what business is that of yours? If I do that, what business is that of yours? And the Christian community, which was just forming at this point, of course the name “Christian” wasn’t used until Acts 11. But the believing community at this point circulated a rumor and they took a hypothetical situation and they turned it into a promise. And they made it sound as follows: Jesus must return before John dies. In other words, John cannot die until Jesus comes back, when the fact of the matter is Jesus had made no such promise.
And I find this verse here, verse 23, very interesting because this is the first reference we have in the Bible to a very unfortunate phenomenon in the body of Christ, the phenomenon of date setting, trying to fasten, if you will, a specific date for the return of Christ, trying to make it sound as if Jesus actually said before John dies I’m coming back. In other words, within the lifetime of John the return of the Lord is going to happen. And it is interesting how vulnerable the Christian church is into misconstruing the words of Christ so as to set a date for the future.
Here’s a Wikipedia article talking about Harold Camping. Harold Camping died recently, so if he’s a Christian he’s with the Lord so he knows better now than some of the things he once taught. But this is what it says: “Camping predicted that Jesus would return to the earth on May 21, 2011, whereupon the saved would be taken to heaven in the Rapture and there would follow five months of fire, brimstone and plagues on the earth with millions of people dying each day, culminating on October 21, 2011 with the final destruction of the world.”
Now I remember when this was a big buzz, some of my students at the College of Biblical Studies asked me what I thought about this prediction. And I said wait here for a minute and I went up to my office and I found a book on my shelf written by Harold Camping and the title of it was Judgment Day, September 6, 1994. So this is a man with a failed track record and I said this book title explains to you what I believe about Harold Camping; I believe he’s gone beyond the pale of Scripture and he set a date for the Lord’s return and he’s been wrong before, so I think he’s wrong this time. Wikipedia says, “He had previously predicted that judgment day would occur September 6, 1994.” And I remember when I first became a Christian I remember seeing all of these slogans and signs and bumper stickers that said September 28, 1992. A few year back date setting fever swept through the Christian community in Korea advocating September 29, 1992 as the date of the Lord’s return.”
And then you might remember the book that came out by Edgar Wisenant, and this was the title of it, 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will be in 1988. Well, that date came and went. He came out with a sequel, 89 reasons why it’s going to happen in 1989. That date came and went and he took his winnings and retired to his cabin in the wilderness and we haven’t heard from him since. But you see, it’s this phenomenon of date setting and becoming preoccupied with a specific date of the Lord’s return. I believe that is the practice that the early Christians here, the early believers in Jesus, started to go down this road.
Thomas Ice writes this, in Pre-Trib Perspectives: “The most famous date-setter in American history was the Baptist, William Miller. He took the 2,300 days from Daniel 8:14, when the Holy Place will be properly restored and turned them into years.” There’s the problem. Daniel 8:14 doesn’t talk about 2,300 years, it talks about 2,300 days. [Daniel 8:14, ‘He said to me, ‘For 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the holy place will be properly restored.’] But Miller turned it into years. Miller’s starting point was 457 B.C., the time when Nebuchadnezzar profaned the temple in Jerusalem. When you add them up you arrive at the year 1843 A.D. as the time of Christ’s second coming. But when that day came and went, like any other year, it was discovered that a year had been left out for the shift from B.C. to A.D. Thus 1844 was the true year he said, not 1843. However, it too came and went and Miller’s scheme became known historically as the great disappointment.”
Many people mistakenly believe that date setting is new. But in fact, when you go back in church history you’ll discover that it is more common, perhaps, in the past than it is today. Some of the greatest Christian luminaries were date-setters. Names like John Wycliffe, the Wycliffe Bible translating movement named after him. Names like Martin Luther. Names like Jonathan Edwards. Jonathan Edwards is called the greatest intellect of evangelicalism; I believe at one point he became the President of Princeton, what is now known as Princeton University. Jonathan Edwards set a date for the Lord’s return.
Our camp, which is dispensationalism, is always blamed for date setting, but you see, I can point to people across the spectrum that engaged in this practice. One writer says this: Even Sir Isaac Newton was bitten by the millennial bug. He predicted that Christ’s millennium would begin in the year 2000, in his book, Observations Upon the Prophecies of Daniel and Apocalypse of St. John. Most people don’t know this but Isaac Newton, remember the apple fell on his head and he articulated the law of gravity, he is looked at as one of the greatest scientists the world has ever seen, he was a devout believer in Jesus and in the Scriptures. He spent a huge amount of time studying the books of Daniel and Revelation and unfortunately he drew some things out of there that weren’t true, and he set the year 2000 A.D., which obviously has come and gone, as the date when everything is to end.
Now here is a statement from Irenaeus. John discipled Polycarp, Polycarp discipled Irenaeus and Irenaeus in his book, Against Heresies, deals with date setting in his day. Irenaeus writes, “We will not, however, incur the risk of pronouncing positively as to the name of the antichrist,” so trying to figure out who the antichrist is, is sort of a subtle form of date setting, isn’t it? Because the antichrist because the antichrist precedes the return of Christ? And so there are all these theories floating around as to who the antichrist is. Some say it was Nero, Titus; others are given in Irenaeus’ day.
Irenaeus writes, “We will not, however, incur the risk of pronouncing positively as to the name of the antichrist but if it had been necessary to announce his name plainly at the present time it would have been spoken by him who saw the apocalypse.” Now “him” is John, who wrote Revelation. “For it,” the apocalypse “was seen not long ago but almost in our time at the end of the reign of Domitian.” What Irenaeus is saying to people is knock it off, quit trying to figure out who the antichrist is. If John wanted to give you the name of the antichrist he would have told you his name in his book, which he does not do.
All of my years as a Christian there have been different theories as to who the antichrist is. The first President I voted for as a high schooler when I first came to Christ, I went and proudly voted for Ronald Reagan and people told me I just voted for the antichrist. And I said why do you say that? Well, you see, Ronald has six letters in it, Wilson, his middle name, has six letters in it, and Reagan, his last name has six letters in it.
And then along came Saddam Hussein, people thought he was the antichrist. Along came Gorbachev as the man of peace, with Glasnost and Perestroika, people thought he was the antichrist. And then Bill Clinton comes along and I said that man is not the antichrist, I can tell you that right now. People will say why do you say that? Well, Daniel 11 says the antichrist will have no desire for women, so that ruled Clinton out.
But my point is everywhere you look people are involved in this prognostication over who the antichrist is, even going so far as to set dates for the Lord’s return. It’s not a new practice, it’s an old practice. There are many theories today that are floating around and I think they’re interesting to think about but at the same time I don’t want to give air time to these theories because to my mind they come dangerously close to this forbidden practice: blood moons, Mayan calendar, the rapture has to occur on a feast day of Israel, all of these kinds of things. Interesting to think about but sometimes I wonder if we’re crossing the line with some of these theories.
Then what becomes, or what is the teaching of the Bible on this subject of date setting? The teaching is Matthew 24:36, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” That’s the teaching of the Bible. The teaching of the Bible on the subject of date setting is Acts 1:6-8 which says this: “So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” What is the timing of Your promise of restoration to the nation of Israel?  He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority;  but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”
What Jesus is saying here to His disciples who are so interested in the timing of end time is He’s saying you focus on your assignment. Which is what? To fulfill the great commission. And if you become preoccupied with timing then the great commission will become the great omission and you will not do what I have called you to do.
What is the teaching of the Scripture on the return of Christ? Here is the teaching in a nutshell:
1 Corinthians 1:7 says, “so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” What is the New Testament teaching on the return of Christ? We do not set a day for the Lord’s return because every day could be that day. We live every single day of our lives as if this is the day, and if you set a date for two months from now, two years from now, then there’s a tendency to slack off.
But if we live as if every day could be the return of Christ, looking for Jesus, the revelation of the Son of God from heaven, every day you think today’s the day, I guarantee you your whole life is different. Your priorities are different, the way you spend your money is different, even the conversations that you have are different. I can’t tell you how many conversations I have been in that move in a gossipy direction. And I say to myself, you know, I don’t know if I want to get involved in this conversation because if Jesus comes back today, He’s going to find me in this conversation and that would be embarrassing. And so I steer away from the conversation because I think often about the return of Christ. Jesus Christ, and this is what we call the doctrine of imminence, can come back at any moment. There is no prophetic event that must transpire before Jesus can come back for His church in the rapture.
I am not looking for the antichrist; I am looking for Jesus Christ. I know there’s an antichrist coming, I know there’s a time of terrible tribulation coming, the Bible tells me about that, but those things are not my preoccupation. My preoccupation is the any moment return of Christ.
You know, Jesus Christ can come back before this sermon is over, some of you may be praying for that to happen. But any second it can happen, and this is how God has set up the doctrine of eminency for every generation. And people say well, why aren’t you midtrib and posttrib, which is pure trib trying to navigate your way through all that stuff. Why aren’t you pre wrath? Do you know why I’m not? Because all of those schemes have you looking for something else; you’re looking for antichrist, you’re looking for some kind of sign. And the Scripture is saying look for Jesus. Today could be the day, don’t set a date for the Lord’s return but look every moment as if today is the day.
There’s nothing wrong with being excited about the Lord’s return. There is nothing wrong with saying this, that we have more evidence in our lifetime that Jesus is coming back than any other generation that has preceded us. We are certainly one step closer than we were yesterday. But the danger becomes getting more specific on that. It’s going to be this decade, or that decade, or this month or that year, and as I’ve gone through these various examples from church history what you’ll discover is people that go down that road, it never ends well for them. The date comes and goes and they’re involved in a speculative practice that the Lord Himself and the Scripture does not endorse.
And so John here in John 21:23 corrects the record. He corrects this misunderstanding, “Therefore this saying went out among the brethren that that disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?” Do you ever get to a point in your life where you think the Bible is wrong, and certainly people that misunderstood this promise after John died and Jesus didn’t come back would think the Bible is wrong. Let me in on a little secret here; the Bible is never wrong! The reason the Bible is never wrong is because God cannot lie. Numbers 23:19, “God is not a man, that He should lie.” Titus 1:2, “God, who cannot lie….” Hebrews 6:18, “it is impossible for God to lie.”
Therefore the problem is not what the Bible says; it’s our misinterpretation of the Bible. What you have here in early Christendom is a misinterpretation of what Jesus actually said. There’s the problem. So if you look at something and you think the Bible is in error you might want to look back at yourself and be humble enough to see, are we really reading or interpreting the Bible correctly on that point.
Now having said all that, let’s pretend that this was a promise, that Jesus said John will not die until I come. I don’t think it’s a promise but let’s just say it was. Did you know that Jesus even kept that promise? He did not return in the Second Advent in John’s lifetime, but He did appear to John, did He not, on the island of Patmos, as John was in exile there under the reign of Domitian, because Revelation 1:17 says this, “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand of me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last.” John saw something at the end of the first century that blew his mind and this is what he saw—the glorified Christ. And I know this is exactly what John saw because I found this picture on the internet so it’s got to be true.
This is just an artist’s rendition of what John likely saw. You see John down there as he is receiving this vision, falling down, you see the sword coming out of Christ’s mouth, you see the various seven lamps, lampstands surrounding the throne, you see the brightness of Jesus Christ. That is what John saw, and it’s very interesting to me that even if you want to take this as a promise, that the promise itself was fulfilled, not in the second advent but in the personal disclosure of Christ to John on the island of Patmos, A.D. 95, giving John the book of Revelation.
But John doesn’t want people to read this book and be confused about what Christ really said, so he said it really was not a promise, it was a hypothetical, that’s all it means. And I think this is instructive to us because we’re so prone to go beyond what is written. I am so excited about the return of Christ. I don’t know why the American church is so silent on this soon return of Christ. I don’t understand why there’s such silence amongst pulpit after pulpit, not even wanting to broach the subject for fear of division, for fear of alienating people for fear of causing theological controversy.
The fact of the matter is the excitement of it, in my mind, outweighs any potential concern like this. I want to teach this doctrine, I want to thunder away at it, I oftentimes stand confused and perplexed, why it doesn’t get more air time, but I’m also at the same time very wary of it, because I have an eye on church history and I understand the excitement of people that push the envelope and take things too far.
Charles Ryrie summed it up the best. He says look, “the study of prophecy is damaged by two groups of people, people that are foes of it and people that are friends of it, people that do not read enough into it and people that read too much into it. Prophecy is destroyed by certain theological systems that ignore the doctrine or pretend like it’s not there, that sets us back constantly the more this doctrine is marginalized. But what else sets us back in the study is people that will read more into it than what is there and get specific where the Bible is not specific.
Every time one of these individuals today, like a Harold Camping, gets some kind of exposure and makes a specific date, that sets back the legitimate study of eschatology, to my mind, another decade, because people won’t get near it because they think, and this is a satanic delusion, they think that only the weirdos are into that stuff, only the wackos are into that stuff and so I’m afraid of it and I won’t touch it. That’s what Satan is doing through some of these elaborate end times theories.
But I say this: let’s teach it correctly. Let’s not shy away from it, particularly in the time period that we’re living in but let’s not go overboard and start reading thins into it that are not there. Let’s teach it in its fullness and its accuracy and let’s let this majestic topic of end times have its natural stimulating motivating effect on the people of God. That’s what it’s done for me; that’s what it’ll do for you if you give it that opportunity. And then the book concludes with this confirmation. Notice, if you will, verse 24, “This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true.” John here is claiming to be the author again and he is saying to us I am not lying to you or misleading you about the contents of this book.
One of the wonderful things about the New Testament, John’s Gospel included, is you’ll discover that it was put together through the hands of actual eyewitnesses to the events of Christ. It’s not some liberal seminary professor trying to piece things together 2,000 years after they happened. No, this is not hearsay evidence. Hearsay evidence is an out of court statement for the truth of the matter asserted, any lawyer worth his salt will object on hearsay grounds. This is not hearsay evidence; this is eyewitness testimony. This is not somebody referring to some statement outside the pale…oh, so and so said. No! This is what John saw.
John told us that, did he not, at the beginning of the book. John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory….” Didn’t John tell us this in 1 John 1:1-3, “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands,” that’s eyewitness testimony. I saw, John says. I heard, I looked, I touched. That’s how this was handed down to us.
You know, the most powerful evidence you can introduce in a court of law is eyewitness testimony. I know of no evidence more powerful than listening to an eyewitness who was there when the jury was not. And that’s what we have in the Scripture. And the question for all of us is: is John a credible eyewitness? I believe John is the most credible type of eyewitness you can possibly have. Why? Number 1, he was Jewish and he tried to follow the Ten Commandments and one of those commandments, the last time I looked, says “thou shalt not lie.”
Beyond that, John is the man who is plunged into oil for what he said. He is the one that was marooned to the island of Patmos for what he said, for what he saw, for what he taught. It’s one thing to die for the truth; it’s a totally different thing to die for something you know is a lie. Why would anybody die for a lie, let alone John?
Many scholars have looked into the credibility of eyewitness testimony. A name like Simon Greenleaf, others; Simon Greenleaf, professor of evidence at I believe Harvard Law School was goaded by his students to put the rules of evidence to the test to the New Testament. See if the New Testament stands up under scrutiny. Simon Greenleaf, not a believer at that point, did just that. And he scrutinized and he analyzed and he walked away saying this testimony is more powerful than any evidence I’ve ever presented in all of my court cases. And through that persuasion he became a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s what the Scripture is calling us to do.
You’ll notice here it says “we, verse 24, “we” first person plural, “know.” John is not the only eyewitness; in fact, John told us that back in John 1:14, “The word became flesh and dwelt among” not me, but “us” John says. Not I saw His glory, John 1:14, “we saw His glory.” This is testimony built on not just John who went to his grave but all the other disciples and apostles who went to their graves proclaiming this truth.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:4-8,  “that He” the resurrected Christ, “appeared to Cephas,” that would be Peter, “then to the twelve.  After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren,” interesting here, “most of whom remain” alive. Paul says don’t take my word for it, go talk to these folks. If I were to get up here and say John F. Kennedy died of a heart attack, you could say no, I was there, I know an individual that was there in Dallas when he was assassinated, and what I said would be immediately discredited by a living eyewitness. Paul is saying check it out, go talk to these five hundred people that saw Jesus Christ.
How could the resurrection ever have developed credibility if the Corinthians had gone and talked to these 500 people and found gaps in their stories? He appeared to five hundred, He appeared to James Paul says, after that He appeared to all the apostles. And then finally, I am the least and the last, He appeared to me as well. It’s not just on Paul’s testimony, it’s not just on John’s testimony, it’s not just on Peter’s testimony, it’s on all of their testimonies and what they went through.
Notice the last verse here of the book, verse 25, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.” John is saying that this brief record that I’ve given you is not exhaustive. He speaks hyperbolically, if I told you everything then the world itself couldn’t even contain the books written thereof, but I’ve focused on just a few things, seven signs to be specific. And I look at this and I say but John, I want to know more. I mean, why don’t I know anything about what happened to Christ from age 12 to age 30? Why do the Gospel records leave out all of that information?
John answers that by saying I haven’t told you everything, but what you have is enough. What you have is sufficient. Rather than being focused, as so many of these A & E type programs go on the lost years of Christ, secret years of Christ, where Christ went between His resurrection and ascension, all of this speculation, John is saying forget all that stuff. Focus on what you have, being content with that because the divine promises, what you have, is enough.
Enough for what? Verse 31 tells us, of chapter 20, “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book,  but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” What you have is enough; what you have is sufficient to prove to any objective inquiry that Jesus is the Son of God. No doubt about it at this point. So go the next step and trust in Him for the gift of life by fulfilling a single condition, which is to believe.
Folks, the Bible is enough. Didn’t Paul say, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” so that the man of God may be adequately equipped for” what? 95% good works? No, “every good work”! [2 Timothy 3:16-17] The Bible is enough for that result.
2 Peter 1:3-4 says, “Seeing that His divine power has granted to us” what, a couple of things? No, “everything pertaining to life and godliness…  For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature.” The Bible is enough; don’t be preoccupied about what the Bible does not say; focus on what it says because of this great promise that we call the sufficiency of Scripture. The Bible is enough.
For what result? Belief. And I would just encourage anybody here within the sound of my voice that’s unclear of their eternity, as the Spirit of God places you under conviction, to respond to this testimony of Jesus Christ, to become convinced that Jesus is different than any other human being that has ever lived. He is the unique God-man and in that role He did something that no mortal ordinary human can do. He died on a cross and paid the sin debt for the world and He rose from the dead to prove who He was.
And if He is sufficient for those things He is sufficient to guard your soul throughout all eternity, isn’t He? Because He is who He claimed to be, His promises are true. So the very next thing is to trust in those promises which we take as to “believe,” which simply means to rely upon, to depend upon, to have confidence in. Believing in Christ is not some sort of human work, it’s not something you raise a hand to do, walk an aisle to do, join a church to do, give money to do. It’s a private moment between you and the Lord where you trust, or rely, the best you know how, in the promises of Christ. No longer Lord am I my own master in terms of my own soul but I trust that to You. I don’t know what tomorrow brings but I do know who holds tomorrow.
What a tragedy it would be to go all the way through a book like this and to never let it accomplish why God gave it, which is to inculcate faith. The Spirit of God has come into the world to convict us of our need for this faith in Christ. You’re not going to get to heaven or into a relationship with God any other way; it’s through Him and Him alone. And as I’m speaking as the Spirit of God convicts you believe in Jesus the best you know how. If it’s something you have done or are doing, then on the authority of the Word of God you’ve just altered your eternal destiny. If there’s more information that you need I’m available after the service to talk.
What a wonderful way to conclude the confession, the cross, the concern, the chiding, the confusion and the confirmation. Shall we pray.
Father, I am overwhelmed at this book and what it says. Thank You for this historical record; help us to be faithful to its teaching as we proclaim this gospel to others and believe it ourselves. We’ll be careful to give you all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name. And God’s people said…
 This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true.  And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.”