#8. Confluence & Confusion

We live at an age of religious confluence and confusion.

Confluence, because the streams of many religions have come together.  Whereas we (in America at least) formerly saw churches and a few synagogues, we now see Islamic mosques, Buddhist and Hindu temples, Sikh gurdwaras and more. Our knowledge of other religions was developed in the 19th century, but it has become a lived reality today.

And, like at the confluence of two or more rivers, there are currents pushing several ways.  How are we to understand all of this, and make sense out of all the confusion?  And, looking at the Bible, what might we expect?

We have already discarded, in discussion #4. the mistranslated notion that mankind has reached “the end of the world”. We are looking for the fulfillment of Christ’s promises but, following the example of the Wise Men of the East (#1) we are not holding onto fixed, pre-conceived ideas. In particular, we are not clinging to the sort of meta-miraculous ideas of a Messiah which misled the Jewish people 2000 years ago–those who were hoping for someone who would descend from the sky to kill all of the evil- doers as noted in discussion #3.

So, what might we expect instead? 
Let us look at some Biblical clues:

First of all, He warned us that there would be some truths that could be difficult to bear.  But, returning as the “spirit of truth” He would, in the future, guide us to all truth (John 16:12-13) including those things which were too difficult for the Jesus’ disciples to understand. So we must be open to new ideas rather than clinging tightly to old ones.

He told us that His return would happen after His gospel had been taken to all nations (Matt 24:14).  In other words, it would happen when our means of transportation had advanced sufficiently that we could reach all nations and carry Christ’s message there. This task was completed in the early half of the 1800s. That’s why so many people started to expect the return of Christ in the early 1800s.

He knew that, when the age came in which His Christian followers were routinely encountering other belief systems in other parts of the world, a new infusion of Divine knowledge and wisdom would be needed at that time, in order to resolve the religious conflicts that would inevitably ensue from the confluence and mixing of the peoples of many religious backgrounds.

He warned us that everyone is going to need to make some changes.  He spoke of the other folds of sheep He had, and how He would gather together all of the folds into one fold (John 10:15-16).  This gathering implies that each of the different folds will need to move somewhat i.e. that some changes will be needed in each group, in order that they will be able to gather together in a common center.

Two millennia ago, Jesus brought a message that was difficult for the Jewish people to accept because it reached out to a wider world, beyond the confines of the Jews as “the chosen people”.

Might we not expect that His new teachings would again reach out even further, beyond the Christian world?

Having these understandings, you will be well-equipped to join Zach and James on their journey, in search of the Promised One in the Latter Days.

Available on Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/Wise-Men-West-Search-Promised/dp/173245115X

#7. Return of Christ? Are you crazy?

I get this response too often. Not universally, but still too often.

Why do so many people associate the topic with being nutty?

Why do so many people think of pictures like this one, when they hear people speak of the return of Christ?

The answer falls into two basic categories:
1) Too many false alarms and
2) Hugely weird things don’t happen

Let’s take them one at a time:

1. Too many false alarms:  There is no doubt that many people over the course of many ages have looked at the particulars of their age and wondered if the prophecies of His return might apply in some sense. And if any of these had any element of believability, a few folks might follow and create enough noise that they were recorded in history. Scoffers, of course, love to amplify the failures.

But the period of the 1830s and 1840s represented the height of Messianic anticipation in the West.  Whether one looked to the “signs from heaven” (Luke 21:11) or to the completion of the task of carrying Christianity to all nations (Matt 24:14) or to the discoveries that heralded the coming of a new age, it was hard for many people to ignore the assertion that the time was ripe for a new revelation from God.  And ever since that time, additional signs of the opening of the new age, which were foreseen in numerous prophecies, have accumulated with regularity.

Yet, in spite of all of these signs, there have been a long string of false alarms about His coming. So people have begun to adopt the flawed logic of “The previous claims proved false, so any new claims will be false also.”  Thus do people fall asleep spiritually.  “There is no need to investigate any claims,” so they say.  All tend to ignore the fact that many of the prophecies of the Old Testament were fulfilled with the coming of Jesus, although it is true that they were often fulfilled in a manner that the Jewish leaders had not expected. Could something similar be happening in the modern age?

2. Hugely weird things don’t happen: The 2nd reason many people regard the topic as nutty is simply that “hugely weird things just don’t happen”. 
“Yes,” they will say, “Jesus did miracles.  But the huge miracles such as the parting of the Red Sea (Moses) or the great Flood (Noah) are so far back in history that one cannot be certain of how much of this was physically true and how much was simply allegory to illustrate a spiritual lesson.  We know enough about physical processes to know what things can happen.  Yes, we might have a large earthquake, for instance, but that is a known phenomenon.  The idea that Jesus will descend from the clouds is just too hugely weird to be worthy of consideration.”

Thus has the standard understanding of the manner of Christ’s return become an impediment to looking at other possibilities.  The Jews of Jesus’ time expected a Messiah who would come down from the sky, slay the Romans and rescue them from their plight.  God had another idea.  The Jews who could recognize the spiritual reality of Jesus, and who saw His teachings as the greatest miracle, were able to become His first followers, while the Jews who clung to their manmade concepts of how the Messiah must appear were the ones who were left behind. 

If, two millennia ago, a Messiah could appear as a humble Teacher who would provide spiritual lessons so insightful as to be able to eventually topple the polytheistic Roman world,  why should we regard it as impossible to think that He might appear again, in a similar manner, in the modern age?

This is the question that Zach and James have asked–the question which provides them with the driving desire to board ships or mount camels in order to conduct their search for Him. 

With these thoughts in mind, perhaps the question of the return of Christ is not as crazy as many people think.  Consider what our leading seekers, Zach and James, will tell you:  Their search was not in vain.

Available on Amazon:

#6. Fiction or Non-Fiction?

How much of this book is fictional?

I get this question often.

The short answer is:  Very little is fictional.

Like most good historical fiction, a few fictional characters have been created to enable readers to view the historical past from the perspective of people living inside it.

All of the people in the story are real people, except for those listed on the table of fictional characters at the beginning of the book.  When a historical character is introduced, his or her name is in italics.  Almost all of these historical characters can be found in Wikipedia for further details. 

In addition, all of the places are real places, carefully researched in older books and/or on the internet.  You can generally find them on Google Earth (unless their name in the 1840s has been replaced with a newer name—which would be mentioned in the footnotes).  Similarly, the sketches in the books are generally scenes from real places.

The times, the seasons, and even the phases of the moon are also accurate.  I created a spreadsheet to list all of the points of travel, the distances between them and the typical speed of travel so that I could, thereby, calculate the dates for each place they visited.   It is also possible to get typical monthly weather for most places, so that could be added as needed.  Online calendars enable one to make accurate translations from Gregorian dates to the dates on the lunar calendar used in the East.

Adventist and those of similar Christian denominations know that William Miller was a particularly important historic figure in the field of American religious development. Prof. George Bush (pgs 25, 78 & 81, Vol I) was also real, as were my references to the book he wrote. (On my own, I would never have chosen to name a fictional character after a later president—it only adds to the confusion! But he’s historical, so the name could not be changed.)

For those who are familiar with Google Earth and its “street view” feature, I say that history is to historical fiction as Google Earth’s aerial view is to its street view.  While history sees the whole picture from above, historical fiction takes you into the historic scenes themselves, to give the reader the sense of being there—a sort of front-row seat when watching history enfold.

And, as in street view, the fictional characters can view, but not change, the scenes.  They move across the panorama of history like a transparency sliding over a painting—learning and observing but unable to change the underlying history.  These are the rules for writing historic fiction.

Generally, fictional characters do not interact with historic characters.  Or when they do, it cannot be in a manner that affects history in any way.  (That would be “alternative history”—a branch of fantasy, which is an entirely different genre.)  Although my main character has two meetings with William Miller (and a minor meeting with Margaret Fuller) no significant change in their perspective can occur.

Like the famous historical fictional movie “Titanic,” there is nothing that Rose and Jack can do to change the historic outcome.  Yet, their presence as fictional characters in this historic situation brings to life, for all its viewers, to what might otherwise seem like a dry recounting of historical facts.

One final non-fictional aspect of my novel is the epilogue.  This is entirely historical.  It traces further historical steps along four aspects of the story line, as the world evolved beyond the critical year of 1844.

The book also has footnotes, endnotes and a bibliography. These are unusual for a novel, but needed because of its large historical component.

Available on Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/Wise-Men-West-Search-Promised/dp/173245115X

#5. Why is Christ’s Coming So Long Delayed?

Still Waiting, after more than 175 years

Is There a Problem in Heaven? Or is the problem here with us?

If you’ve ever Googled the question of why Christ’s coming is so long delayed, you would have found dozens of proposed answers (or perhaps hundreds? —I was unable to find the end of the list). This blog is different. Rather than proposing yet another theological excuse, it proposes that we re-start the search—this time with eyes and ears that are wide open.

Ever since the Great Disappointment of 1844, when Christ (apparently) failed to appear in the year that was so clearly described by Jesus and Daniel, Adventist followers of William Miller and others have been asking sadly, “Why is Christ’s coming delayed?”  After attempts to adjust the calculation of the year brought additional failures, the question became, “Why is Christ’s coming so long delayed?” 

At first, a decade’s delay seemed to be a long time.  After 17 years, America was plunged into the chaos of the Civil War, with many parts of the country witnessing destruction on what seemed to be an apocalyptic scale.  In a dream in November 1861, Julia Ward Howe heard and wrote down the words which became the Battle Hymn of the Republic:  “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord…” with several references to the return of Christ drawn from the Book of Revelation.

But after four years of extreme suffering, although the principles of freedom and equality won out in America, yet still Christ did not return from the sky.  The long delay stretched onward—the first generation, who had witnessed the Great Disappointment, all passed away, while a new generation grew up—constantly being taught that He could appear in the sky “any day now”. 

New theologies sprung up in an attempt to explain the delay.  Some suggested that the clear Biblical references to 1844 pertained to a time when Christ was moving in heaven, in preparation for His descent to earth, and that His descent would be a little later, but still “soon”. 

One of the clearest signs of the time of the end was cited by Jesus: The return of the Jewish people to Jerusalem (see Luke 21:24) after an age of its control by the Gentiles (non-Jewish peoples). This change has clearly unfolded in stages, from the early 1800s to 1967.  But still, Jesus did not descend from the sky.

Now additional decades have elapsed without the expected return, and it seems ever more likely that something is wrong with our expectations.  This might cause us to reflect on how most of the Jewish people, 2000 years ago, allowed their particular expectations of their own Messiah’s return to block them from recognizing Jesus. Then we might begin to wonder if a similar clinging to our own particular expectations in the modern age may have blocked us from considering unexpected possibilities.

If you are ready to explore other possibilities, then you are ready to join Zach and James as they begin their spiritual exploration from the West to the East, in 1844, and to share in their discovery of answers that far exceeded their highest hopes.  The quest begins in Chapter 1.

Available at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Wise-Men-West-Search-Promised/dp/173245115X

#4. “End of the World”?? Possibly the world’s greatest translation error.

I’d like to nominate the phrase “End of the World” as the most significant translation error of all time.

This translation is found in several places in the King James version of the Bible in the Gospel of Matthew (13:39-40, 49, 24:3, and 28:20). If translated correctly, it would have been the “end of the eon” or age, according to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, which gives the Greek equivalent of each word.

In the original Greek Bible, the term used was the Greek word “aion” from which we get the English word “eon,” that is, a long period of time.  When King James asked his scholars to create a reliable English version of the Bible back in 1611 AD, they somehow decided that the end of an eon was also the end of the world.  But if the Greeks had intended to say “the end of the world,” they would have used the term kosmos. Elsewhere in the New Testament, kosmos is used for describing the physical world.

The unforeseen results of this error are astounding to contemplate. It suggested that Christian followers did not need to look carefully for the signs of the end of the age. If the world itself was ending, no one could possibly miss it!!  There would be no need to make the effort to search, as the wise men of the East had searched for the King of the Jews at the time of Jesus’ birth (Matt. 2:1–2).

And thus, much of Protestant Christianity, in the English-speaking world at least, proceeded along with a false premise that Christ’s return was associated with the ending of the physical world.

Paul’s letter to the Hebrews (9:26) provides clear evidence of his understanding of the term: In the KJV, he notes that his own time (“now”) was “the end of the world.” Clearly, the physical world did not end during Paul’s lifetime. In the Greek Bible, he is using the same term,  aion, and he was correct because the age of Judaism  was gradually ending during his lifetime and within the first century after Jesus’ crucifixion. The Jewish temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD during the First Jewish-Roman War and the Jewish people were barred from living in the Holy Land after the Bar Kokhba Revolt in 132-136 AD.  Paul clearly understood that the Hebrew age had ended, but the world itself would not end.

And, in case you have any doubts, look at more recent English translations of the Bible.  For ease of reference, you can find many different translations of the above verses at http://www.biblegateway.com .  The scholars of the Christian world have adjusted their translations because they have recognized that the dramatic end-of-the-world was never predicted in the Bible.  The only prediction was for “the end of the age”. 

But alas, the error was realized too late!  Many Christian ministers and missionaries had used the concept so often that it became woven into their theology and written into their books and teachings. This was particularly true of the newer denominations that have appeared since the 1830s in America, which were built on “end times” theology. These ideas were spread extensively by Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses and a host of smaller evangelical churches, which grew particularly in America in the later 1800s, and which led to the modern evangelical movement within Christianity.  In the twentieth century, they carried these teachings around the world.

So, although the errant translation in 1611 might have seemed minor at the time, it has created a world-encircling misunderstanding since then. The signs of the end of the previous age have occurred regularly since the 1830s—the spread of Christ’s gospel to all nations (Matt 24:14), the ending of the period of Gentile control of Jerusalem (Luke 21:24), as well as more outward evidence such as the invention of millions of modern devices that have transformed our world, and the creation of a host of modern problems that have ensued.  But the mistranslated end-of-the-world has not occurred. For nearly 200 years, religious leaders have told us to wait because “it is coming soon”. 

Now, as several generations have come and gone, many people have realized that something was wrong with this understanding.  Many are realizing that the time has come to go back and re-evaluate some fundamental assumptions, including the real meaning of “the end of the world”.  Many are looking to see if they or their forebearers might have missed something. Is there a reasonable way out of this conundrum?

This is why The Wise Men of the West was written.

Available at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Wise-Men-West-Search-Promised/dp/173245115X

#3. The Great Disappointment & the Great Tragedy

Much of the Christian world, especially the Adventists and similar groups who trace their origin to the 1830s and 1840s, will recall how the prediction of Christ’s return originally focused on the years 1843 & 1844.

When the day arrived and Jesus did not descend from the sky in the manner expected by a half-million followers, they called it “the Great Disappointment“–a term still used today. Various explanations were developed to explain why He was delayed, and to offer hope that He would come “soon”.

But I call it “The Great Tragedy”. Why? Because they came so very close. The changing of a single word could have made all the difference. And that word is this: They looked up when they should have looked east. You may ask, “Why should they have looked east?”

Answer: Because Jesus Himself had indicated that His return would be from the East. He said (in Matt 24:27) “For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.”

But the Adventists of the 1840s chose to ignore this. Instead, they chose to assume that a passage from Acts 1:9-11 concerning a return “from heaven” should be understood physically instead of spiritually.

This was the easy path—the effortless path. All one needed to do was to sit back and look up into the sky for Christ’s return. There was no need to make the effort to travel and search, as the Wise Men of the East had so successfully done in the days of Jesus’ birth.

Alas, the easy path is often the wrong path. As Matthew wrote: “…the way is broad, that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.” The right path, on the other hand, would have been the path of active search as implied in the verse “seek, and ye shall find” (Matt 7:7) But where to search? As Jesus Himself indicated, the Son of Man would come “out of the East”.

So, we ask: “What if there had actually been someone, in the 1840s, who was willing to follow the example of the Wise Men of the East, and do a serious search for the Promised One by traveling to the East? What would he have found?” The western assumption that nothing significant happens in the East turns out to be entirely wrong.

The answer is mind-boggling. It struck as a bolt of lightning in the East, creating religious shock waves through a whole society there. But the thick clouds of persecution would block its light from reaching to the West for some years.

The Wise Men of the West is a story about exactly what some wise men could have found, if they had only been willing to make a serious effort. The fact that no such people actually existed will someday be regarded as one of the greatest tragedies in the history of religion.

You can find The Wise Men of the West on Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/Wise-Men-West-Search-Promised/dp/173245115X

#2. Why is this search described as “successful”?

A search for the Promised One that was SUCCESSFUL?? That may sound totally weird to most readers. And what’s more, the story is not set in the future. Looking closely at the book’s cover, you might notice that the story is set in the days of sailing ships. Indeed, sailing ships were the only means of crossing oceans in the 1840s—at the time when much of the Christian world first believed that Christ’s return was imminent. The lead characters, Zach and James, are searching for Him. If they are successful in finding Him, it would show that the Return of Christ must have appeared in a manner that is utterly different from what most people were (or are, even today) expecting.

In any case, by the end of the story, Zach and James are fully convinced that their search was a success.

So, the real question is: By the end of the story, will you agree that they were successful?

Join us in a journey that will open your eyes to whole new realms of possibilities, which most people have never even imagined before. And yet, it is not fantasy. For, although this novel is categorized as historic fiction, you will find that it is almost all historic fact.

You can find it on Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/Wise-Men-West-Search-Promised/dp/173245115X

#1. What about the Wise Men of the East?

If the book’s title has a familiar ring, especially in December, it is because in some sense, it is an echo of the Christmas story of the Wise Men from 2000 years ago.

At that time, Persian wise men had unraveled a thousand-year-old prophecy from the religion of Zoroaster, in order to make a remarkable thousand-mile journey from the Persian East to the Roman/Jewish West. They discovered the infant Jesus at the time of His birth. And they worshipped Him, as the Promised One predicted by their own Zoroastrian religion.

Wise Men of the East, traveling on camels
The original Wise Men were pursuing the fulfillment of a prophecy of the Persia Prophet Zoroaster

Later, after Jesus had grown, He gave us many wonderful lessons. And He also left us with some indications of the time of His return. Our lead characters, Zach and James, are following these indications eastward this time–to the Holy Land and beyond. In the process they are re-enacting the story in the more modern age, becoming the “Wise Men of the West”.

The Wise Men of the East were able to transcend the religious and cultural barriers that separated Zoroastrian Persia from the Jewish/Roman world. They came in search, without preconceived notions about what the “King of the Jews” must look like. They did not allow His birth in a manger, instead of a royal palace, to prevent them from seeing His spiritual reality.

Now, as Zach and James head eastward in the 1840s in their more modern search, will they be able to muster that same spirit of detachment and humility which guided the Wise Men of the East? And will it lead to a similar success?

Answers will be found in the books The Wise Men of the West Volumes I and II, now available in soft cover and on Kindle at Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Wise-Men-West-Search-Promised/dp/173245115X
The modern search begins