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Some catastrophic events are so sudden there’s no time to prepare. For others, there’s a warning. But do people heed it?

It was Shrove Tuesday, 1945. The night air was clear over the city of Dresden, Germany. Children had already gone to bed. Suddenly, at about 9:30 P.M., the mournful wail of air raid sirens filled the air. Could it really be? Nobody seriously expected Dresden to be a target. Of course, an air raid was always possible, but few people believed it could actually happen. All over the city, trembling fingers fumbled with radio dials. A frenzied announcer confirmed their worst fears: The planes were really coming. Dresden was under attack.

Families scrambled to remember inadequately rehearsed emergency plans. Moments later the ominous drone of Allied bombers enveloped the city, followed by the sound of seemingly endless explosions. The intense heat of the resulting fires rose so quickly into the night air that it created a vacuum powerful enough to uproot trees.

The merciless pounding continued through the night and well into the next day as waves of Allied planes dropped their lethal loads on the helpless citizens of Dresden. Estimates of the death toll range from 35,000–100,000 people. When it was over, a once-beautiful medieval city lay in smoldering ruins.

According to the words of Jesus, His return to this world will creep up on millions of people like a thief.1 Many who hear the trumpet blast will be caught by surprise. It’s not that they didn’t know about the possibility of Christ’s coming; it’s just that they didn’t really expect it to happen.

Tragically, for those who choose to disbelieve, the appearance of Christ will come as a devastating surprise. It will be similar to Shrove Tuesday in Dresden: The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.2

The parallels are sobering. In the city of Dresden, people were well aware that war was raged all around them. In our world today, there are few people who do not sense that a massive spiritual struggle between good and evil is taking place. With the passing of time, however, many people have been lulled into complacency. They simply assume Christ’s appearing will never happen—at least not in their lifetime.

Given the sterling track record of Bible prophecy, which in thousands of years has never been wrong, I’m convinced the promised second coming will happen. The big question, of course, is when?

Dresden Codex survives

After the loss of human life, one of the worst tragedies in the destruction of Dresden was the destruction of priceless documents housed in the library. At the time, the library contained one of the most important Mayan documents in existence—an ancient manuscript known as the Dresden Codex. After the firestorm subsided, curators found, to their great relief, that the document was damaged but not destroyed.

What was so important about this document? The Dresden Codex, written between A.D. 1200–1250, is one of only three surviving ancient Mayan books. Its survival is even more remarkable because it is written on tree bark. The Codex is something like a Mayan Rosetta Stone that unlocks the mysteries of a long-lost civilization and provides a glimpse of ancient Mayan culture and belief.3

Like the ancient Babylonians, the Mayans were shrewd students of the heavens. Generations of Mayan scholars measured the paths of stars through the night sky and produced astronomical measurements that continue to amaze modern scholars. Many of these astonishing observations are recorded in the Dresden Codex.

The Mayans viewed the world in terms of rhythmic historical cycles. Their calendar began at 3114 B.C. (by our calendar) and traced a number of repetitive cycles in nature. Using those cycles as checkpoints, they made a number of predictions about the course of history, including the prediction that on December 21, 2012, the world will end.

End of time in 2012?

In a world steeped in New Age philosophy, this ancient Mayan prophecy has generated a lot of wild speculation about the year 2012. Some people have tried to find this date laid out in the measurements of the Great Pyramid. Others have tried to tie it to the writings of Nostradamus, who also predicted that something cataclysmic would befall our planet after the year 2000. I’ve even heard the occasional Christian minister make reference to this date as if it were a sign that we are nearing the end.

Is there anything to it? Personally, I do not believe that the ancient Mayans had a magical key to the future. Given the Mayan track record in other areas of spirituality, I cannot accept that they had a God-given gift of prophecy. The only reason that I’ve raised the subject at all is that, in addition to generating a lot of modern speculation, the 2012 date points out something important: The Mayans believed the world would end.

Ask yourself, why did they believe this? For that matter, why did the ancient Assyrians, Romans, and Zoroastrians, for example, all make apocalyptic predictions at some point? After assessing the state of the world, they concluded, as do modern-day Christians, that the world is gradually degenerating and will someday come to a grinding halt.

I do not believe that it is a mere coincidence that so many ancient cultures believed in a last day or final judgment. God has planted an uneasy sense in the human heart that something is wrong with our world. Instinctively, we know that something is amiss. In spite of our insistence that the human race is slowly evolving into something better, a still small voice in our hearts tells us otherwise. We have a sense of uneasiness about where the world is heading.

In Ecclesiastes we read that God has “put eternity in [our] hearts.”4 Buried somewhere deep within the human heart is a desire for something better. We intuitively sense that pain and suffering are not the natural order of things. We feel sorrow when we suffer loss. We become angry when we witness unjust behavior. We complain when things aren’t fair. Why?

The human race seems to have a collective memory of a time when things were better. Communists, sensing the injustice of the world we live in, tried to manufacture a political system that would eradicate inequality. The more radical members of the modern environmental movement try to return to “the way things were.” Materialists try to better their station in life with possessions. Scientists try to manufacture solutions for human ailments in the laboratory.

Why do we do these things? Why do we assume that suffering is wrong? Why do we assume there’s a possibility for improvement? Is it because God has planted a sense of eternity in our hearts?

As we sit poised in the first decade of a new millennium, there’s a growing sense that it may no longer be business as usual on planet Earth. Scores of ancient biblical prophecies about the return of Christ are coming to pass before our eyes. We do not need to be caught off guard like the people of Dresden. If we choose to accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, we can be eager and joyous at the prospect of the end of our world and the beginning of life eternal.

1See Matthew 24:43; Luke 12:39. 22 Peter 3:10. Bible quotations in this article are from the NKJV. 3"The Dresden Codex." 4Ecclesiastes 3:11.

Shawn Boonstra is the speaker/director of the It Is Written telecast. He writes from Simi Valley, California.

Christ’s Second Coming: A Devastating Surprise?

by Shawn Boonstra
From the March 2006 Signs  

Are you looking for HOPE?

Recent polls indicate that nearly two-thirds of the public have been thinking about the book of Revelation. Recent television programs supposedly based on this final book of the Bible have turned out to be works of fiction. And with our world in turmoil, people don’t want entertainment anymore—they want answers.

This March, join Pastor Shawn Boonstra of It Is Written Television as he presents Revelation Speaks Peace—Unlocking the Signs. During this satellite series, Boonstra will explore Revelation chapter by chapter as he uses the Bible itself to unlock the mysterious signs in this important book and reveal hope for the future.

The meetings begin March 10, and you are invited to attend a location near you. To find the host site in your area, visit the Unlocking the Signs Web site.