Do you remember Edgar C. Whisenant? That’s OK. Like countless others, he had his 15 minutes of fame.
Edgar C. Whisenant, was a former NASA engineer and Bible student who predicted the Rapture would occur in 1988, sometime between Sept. 11 and Sept. 13. He published two books about this, 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988 and On Borrowed Time.
Eventually, 300,000 copies of 88 Reasons were mailed free of charge to ministers across America, and 4.5 million copies were sold in bookstores and elsewhere. One was delivered to the St. Paul’s parsonage that year also.
Whisenant was quoted as saying “Only if the Bible is in error am I wrong; and I say that to every preacher in town and if there were a king in this country and I could gamble with my life, I would stake my life on Rosh Hashana ‘88.”
Whisenant died on May 16, 2001. To state the obvious, he was wrong.
There are issues worth addressing. There is the so-called “rapture.” The “rapture” is an unscriptural notion that before Judgment Day, there will be a preliminary sort of judgment in which the believers will be “raptured” or “snatched up” to heaven while chaos and tribulation run rampant over the earth. (The Left Behind series of books, quite popular a few years back, was based on the “rapture.”)
After this period (generally, they say 7 years) a thousand year reign of Christ on earth will begin (the “millennium”). During the millennium the ungodly will be suppressed and the righteous will hold sway. After that, the final judgment will come.
There are numerous variations of the “rapture” and “millennium.” There are pre-millennialists and post-millennialists. But none of these notions have Biblical support. They direct people’s hearts to an earthly, fleshly kingdom. The Bible teaches that there will be only one judgment day, not two or three.
That is why our own Augsburg Confession rightly refers to these ideas as “certain Jewish opinions.” Jesus had to deal with these Jewish opinions during His earthly ministry. Folks wanted to know “when the kingdom of God would appear.” After the feeding of the 5,000, the crowds wanted to crown Jesus as their earthly king. To governor Pilate Jesus had to explain: “My kingdom is not of this world.” And before the risen Savior ascended, His own disciples wanted to know: “Are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus replied: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority.”
We know that Edgar C. Whisenant was a false prophet because he contradicted Jesus who said: “Of that day and hour knoweth no man.” We know Whisenant was lying when he said Christ would return to rapture people in 1988 because it is now 2016. He was a deceiver because the Bible says: “The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” A thief does not phone ahead to make an appointment.
Clearly, Judgment Day is closer today than it was yesterday. Clearly the signs of which Christ spoke are intensifying as this world edges toward the inevitable rendezvous with its Maker. But those who watch the signs in order to set a date are watching the wrong thing. Jesus tells us to watch ourselves so that we are always ready by faith to meet Him. So, as the writer to the Hebrews says: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus!”