To Tell the Truth

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the game show, “To Tell the Truth.”  It features a panel of four celebrities who attempt to correctly identify a relatively unknown contestant who has an unusual occupation or experience.  Two impostors sit with and pretend to be that person while all three persons are asked questions about the central character.   While the central character is sworn “to tell the truth,” the impostors are allowed to lie.   Prize money is awarded to all three challengers based on the number of incorrect votes the impostors draw from the panel; in other words, based on how good of a liar each is.  This game show has actually aired episodes on and off over the last six decades.  I guess its main attraction is that the audience is put in the same boat as the celebrity panelists – of trying to identify who is and who is not telling the truth.

No one of us is immune from being deceived, or from being tempted to deceive others.  Unlike the challengers in our game show, most “untruth” in the real world does not come in the form of an outright lie.  More often we find it in the truth being stretched or an unconfirmed source being quoted and relied on as support for a business advantage sought or a desired policy or doctrine pursued.  Society unfortunately has grown used to expecting this type of behavior in our business leaders, in the political arena and even in the broadcast media.  Unfortunately, it’s sometimes even slipped into Christian ministry – and this ought not ever be the case!

I believe it’s more than just a challenge that we have to deal with, but an obligation we must embrace to weed out the true from the false – wherever we find it.  Any minister worth his salt will encourage the people to whom he ministers and/or speaks to “cross-check” his truth claims with the Word of God and with evidentiary facts.  And I make it a practice to do just that.

This week’s blog addresses two such claims that I recently heard espoused by a respected ministry, whose name will remain anonymous.  Both truth claims relate to purported evidence that we are living in the end-of-days leading up to the return of Jesus Christ.  As I wrote in a prior blog, I believe that we are in the last of the last of the last days.  However, I base this on the prophesies of the Bible, many of which have already been fulfilled in my lifetime. (See my blog entitled “Storm Chasers and First Responders.)

I’m not sure why some ministries feel compelled to stretch the truth or to use unconfirmed, disputed and, in some cases nonsensical reports to back up what the written Word of God clearly states.  We cannot use the ways of the world to convince the world that the Bible is alive and true.  Doing so hurts the credibility of that specific ministry and may even make it more difficult for some unbelievers to “hear” the true Gospel message later on.  Below are two such end-of-times claims: the first claim exaggerates and misstates the evidence associated with a valid prophesy – the second claim is down-right foolish in nature and has no scriptural basis whatsoever.

Claim #1:  In fulfillment of Ezekial 39 and Revelation 19 concerning the battle of Armageddon, and the feasibility of every sort of bird coming to feast on the victims killed in the battle: “Scientists are very puzzled at the phenomenon that is taking place in the valley of Megiddo in Israel. Vultures are reproducing and hatching in an unusual manner, more than they normally produce. There are millions of vultures along the canyon walls of Megiddo.”

Below are the specific prophetic statements:

Then I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in the midst of heaven, “Come and gather together for the supper of the great God, that you may eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, both small and great.”  And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone. An d the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh.  Revelation 19:17-21

“You shall fall on the mountains of Israel, you and all your hordes and the peoples who are with you. I will give you to birds of prey of every sort and to the beasts of the field to be devoured.” Ezekiel 39:4

“And as for you, son of man, thus says the Lord God, ‘Speak to every sort of bird and to every beast of the field: “Assemble yourselves and come; gather together from all sides to My sacrificial meal which I am sacrificing for you, a great sacrificial meal on the mountains of Israel, that you may eat flesh and drink blood.  You shall eat the flesh of the mighty, drink the blood of the princes of the earth, of rams and lambs, of goats and bulls, all of them fatlings of Bashan.  You shall eat fat till you are full, and drink blood till you are drunk, at My sacrificial meal which I am sacrificing for you.  You shall be filled at My table with horses and riders, with mighty men and with all the men of war,” says the Lord God.  Ezekiel 39:17-20

Facts:

  1. The actual numbers of raptors (e.g.: vultures and eagles) actually birthed and permanently residing in Israel is somewhat reduced in recent years due to poisoning.  However, Israel is one of the main migration routes for these birds.
  2. The Israel Federation of the North Shore (Boston) advertises that Israel has the largest raptor migration in the world, with hundreds of thousands of African birds of prey crossing as they fan out into Asia.
  3. Israeli Tourist Bureau acknowledges that “Israel is located at a geographical bridge between three continents – Europe, Asia and Africa, which make it a “bottleneck” into which hundreds of migrant species converge during spring and autumn migration. Thanks to its unique location a vast variety of migrant species are found in Israel.  As result of this singular geographic location, the boundaries of many birds distribution range occur in Israel.  Few countries can simultaneously boast skies filled with raptors, storks and pelicans, wetlands heaving with egrets, herons, wildfowl and shorebirds, hillsides alive with the songs of warblers, wheatears and bunting. Israel has all of these. It is one of the most exciting and accessible regions for bird watching in the whole of the West Palearctic.  More than 500 species have been recorded in Israel and over 400 of these occur annually. Many Middle Eastern and classic desert birds, specialties such as Black Francolin, Spur-winged Plover, White-breasted and Pied Kingfishers, Clamorous Reed Warbler and many raptors can be seen with relative ease year-round. Little Green Bee-eater, Desert Lark, Pale Crag Martin, Blackstart, White-crowned Black Wheatear, Scrub Warbler, Arabian Babbler, and Brown-necked Raven can be easily seen here.”
  4. In September 1985, Thomas L. Friedman published in the New York Times an article titled: Israel and the birds vie for precious air space.  In it he notes that “Since the mid-1970’s, migrating buzzards, storks, pelicans and eagles have done more damage to Israeli fighter jets than all the Arab air forces combined. A two-pound stork hits a fighter jet flying at about 500 miles per hour with a force of 20 tons.  In hundreds of jet-bird collisions each year, Israeli planes sustain millions of dollars of damage in cracked and punctured wings, destroyed engines – and worse.  The severity of the problem derives from Israel’s unique geographical and political predicament: It is a tiny country with very little air space, maintaining one of the world’s biggest air forces in what happens to be the main corridor for storks, pelicans and raptors – predatory birds – migrating from Europe and Asia to Africa and back every spring and fall.”

He goes on to note that, “The dimensions of the bird problem facing Israeli Air Force pilots were enormous.  Every fall, as the food supply dwindles, millions of birds of all species migrate from their nesting places in Europe and Western Asia to their wintering grounds in Africa. The smaller, ‘active flyers,’ like quails or waders, are so light they can cross the Mediterranean by flapping their wings in one tiring day.  However, the bigger birds, known as ‘passive flyers,’ primarily raptors and storks and pelicans, have to take an overland route for two reasons.  First, they must land each night to rest, and second, with their heavy bodies and wide, long wings, they glide their way to Africa on the warm air currents, known as thermals, which are produced only over land. If the birds had to beat their wings for the whole 5,000 to 6,000-mile journey, they would never make it.  The birds make their way by gliding into a rising thermal of warm air and riding its swirling spiral up to about 2,000 to 4,000 feet, where the air cools and the thermal expires. The birds glide down from the top of one thermal to the bottom of the next one and repeat the process all the way down to Africa and back.  The narrow valleys flanked by cliffs running from northern Israel through the Jordan River and Dead Sea, as well as along Israel’s coastal plain, are ideal hothouses for rising thermals, and they serve as the two main aviation highways for most European and West Asian raptors looking for the shortest route around the Mediterranean.”

In the 1980’s,volunteer bird watchers at 13 points all over the country began to count the birds and identify species.  “They soon discovered that more birds were coming over Israel than anyone imagined – one million birds of prey alone during each spring and fall. More important, each species was coming at almost the same time and through the same air corridors every year. For instance, on Sept. 4, 1984, and on Sept. 4, 1985, the honey buzzards began their parade over Israel, an estimated 220,000 of them in two days.  When the birds start coming they are a remarkable sight, swirling around in thermals of sometimes 5,000 birds at a time, and then gliding in pairs or three or four across to the next thermal.  There are 475 different species of birds flying through Israel – so many birds, in fact, that the International Council for Bird Preservation, the leading bird conservation organization in the world, has decided to hold its quadrennial convention in Eilat in March 1987.”

The Israeli Air Force even replaced their motto with a slogan which has been printed on a poster that now hangs in every Israeli air base. The poster shows a fighter plane flying next to a steppe eagle and says, ‘Take Care, We Share the Air.’

5. Birds of prey in Israel, an update/July 29, 2010 – “Israel is a great place to go birding having over 500 resident and migrant species. This is due largely to its location in the eastern Mediterranean at the crossroads of Asia, Europe and Africa. Habitats from all three continents meet here: the snowy peaks of Mount Hermon, the temperate rolling mountains of the Galilee, the warm Mediterranean coastline, the semitropical Jordan Rift Valley, the varied deserts of the south and east, and the Red Sea shores of Eilat`s desert oasis. Part of the only land bridge between the three continents, Israel is along the major migration routes between them, with millions of birds making the trip twice a year. All this variety comes in a small package: the drive from north to south takes less than a day and the trip from west to east under two hours.

Northern Israel is blessed with an abundance of water sources, craggy volcanic mountains in the northeast and a temperate climate, all of which attract species not found in other parts of Israel. The north is home to many birds of prey, including Griffon vultures, imperial eagles, long legged buzzards and Egyptian vultures. A prime site for these species, especially Griffon vultures, is the Gamla nature reserve in the southern Golan Heights.

6. Abstract from Ibis, 21st May 1996, Israel – Crossroads for Migrant Birds

Israel as a very important country for the migration of soaring birds. The numbers involved have been counted accurately by a string of observers covering the whole width of the country and radar observations and brought together by Yossi Leshem and Yoram Yom-Tov. The autumn figures were about 500,000 raptors, 250,000 White Storks and 70,000 White Pelicans and spring was even higher with a millionm raptors and 450,000 White Storks. No fewer than 35 different species of raptors were involved with Honey Buzzards featuring heavily in both spring and autumn but, of the major species, Lesser Spotted Eagles and Levant Sparrowhawks were autumn species and Steppe Buzzards, Steppe Eagles and Black Kites were spring species.

Variations between years in numbers was quite high – probably mostly to do with weather or counting effort. The total World population Lesser Spotted Eagle and Levant Sparrowhawk and the Pelearctic population of White Pelicans passed over each year. For other species it is clear that the previously published population estimates are grossly too small – even in some cases an order of magnitude too small!

The mean arrival dates of the raptors is very predictable with confidence limits ranging from 1.5 to 5.5 days – so holiday makers can plan very precisely what they want to see – but White Storks and White Pelicans are not so predictable – confidence limits 4.2 to 13.8 days. The flocking species pass in a very concentrated period. The period in autumn when 90% of the passage takes place is 13 days for Levant Sparrowhawk, 15 days for Lesser Spotted Eagle, 16 days for Honey Buzzard and 18 days for Red-footed Falcon. Individual migrants – Egyptian Vulture, Marsh Harrier and Short-toed Eagle take twice as long. The timing and spread of the migration for each species was affected by age at first breeding, diet and the extent of the breeding area.

Claim #2: The Irish Bishop Malachy, in the 12th Century received a vision accurately describing the next 112 popes.  The current Pope is the 112th pope in Malachy’s list.

As you read the history of this so-called prophesy, keep in mind:

  1. There is no scriptural basis for this claim as it relates to the Last Days.
  2. The “accuracy” of the descriptions of the future popes is highly questionable.
  3. The evidence seems to indicate the list was fabricated to try to influence (unsuccessfully) the election of a specific man to be pope in the late 16th Century.

Prophetia Sancti Malachiae Archiepiscopi, de Summis Pontificibus is a series of 112 short, cryptic phrases in Latin which purport to predict the Roman Catholic popes (along with a few antipopes), beginning with Pope Celestine II in the 12th Century.

According to an account put forward in 1871 by Abbé Cucherat, Malachy (a 12th‑century Archbishop of Armagh, Ireland) was summoned to Rome in 1139 by Pope Innocent II to receive two wool palliums for the metropolitan sees of Armagh and Cashel. While in Rome, Malachy purportedly experienced a vision of future popes, which he recorded as a sequence of cryptic phrases. This manuscript was then deposited in the Vatican Secret Archives, and forgotten about until its “rediscovery” in 1590, supposedly just in time for a papal conclave ongoing at the time.  Bernard of Clairvaux, a contemporary biographer of Malachy who recorded the saint’s alleged miracles, makes no mention of the prophecies, nor are they mentioned in any record prior to their 1595 publication.

The alleged prophecies were first published in 1595 by a Benedictine named Arnold Wion in his history of the Benedictine order. Wion attributed the prophecies to Saint Malachy.  He explained that the prophecies had not, to his knowledge, ever been printed before, but that many were eager to see them. Wion includes both the alleged original prophecies, consisting of short, cryptic Latin phrases, as well as an interpretation applying the statements to historical popes up to Urban VII (pope for thirteen days in 1590), which Wion attributes to Alphonsus Ciacconius.  This attribution was refuted by Claude-François Menestrier in 1694.

Several historians have concluded that the prophecies are a late 16th‑century forgery.  The Roman Catholic Church also dismisses them as forgery. Spanish monk and scholar Benito Jerónimo Feijóo y Montenegro wrote in his Teatro Crítico Universal (1724–1739), in an entry called “Purported Prophecies,” that the high level of accuracy of the alleged prophecies up until the date they were published, compared with their high level of inaccuracy after that date, is evidence that they were created around the time of publication.

The prophecies and explanations given in Wion correspond very closely to a 1557 history of the popes by Onofrio Panvinio (including replication of errors made by Panvinio), which may indicate that the prophecies were written based on that source.  One theory to explain the creation of the prophecies, put forward by 17th-century French priest and encyclopaedist Louis Moréri, among others, is that they were spread by supporters of Cardinal Girolamo Simoncelli in support of his bid to become pope during the 1590 conclave to replace Urban VII. In the prophecies, the pope following Urban VII is given the description “Ex antiquitate Urbis” (“from the old city”), and Simoncelli was from Orvieto, which in Latin is Urbevetanum, old city. The prophecies may, therefore, have been created in an attempt to demonstrate that Simoncelli was destined to be pope.  Simoncelli was not elected pope; Urban VII was succeeded by Pope Gregory XIV, born Niccolò Sfondrati.

The interpretation of the prophecies for pre-publication popes provided by Wion involves close correspondences between the mottos and the popes’ birthplaces, family names, personal arms, and pre-papal titles. For example, the first motto, Ex castro Tiberis (from a castle on the Tiber), fits Pope Celestine II’s birthplace in Città di Castello, on the Tiber.

Efforts to connect the prophecies to historical popes who were elected after its publication have been more strained.  For example, Pope Clement XIII is referred to in a prophecy as Rosa Umbriae (the rose of Umbria), but was not from Umbria nor had any but the most marginal connection with the region, having been briefly pontifical governor of Rieti, at the time part of Umbria.

One writer notes that among the post-publication (post-1595) predictions there remain “some surprisingly appropriate phrases,” while adding that “it is of course easy to exaggerate the list’s accuracy by simply citing its successes,” and that “other tags do not fit so neatly.” Among the reported ‘successes’ are ‘Religion depopulated’ for Benedict XV (1914–22) whose papacy included World War One and the atheistic communist Russian Revolution; ‘Light in the sky’ for Leo XIII (1878-1903), with a comet in his coat of arms; and ‘Flower of flowers’ for Paul VI (1963–78), with fleur-de-lys in his coat of arms.

In recent times, some interpreters of prophetic literature have drawn attention to the prophecies due to their imminent conclusion; if the list of descriptions is matched on a one-to-one basis to the list of historic popes since the prophecies’ publication, Benedict XVI (2005-2013) would correspond to the second to last of the papal descriptions, Gloria olivae (the glory of the olive).

The longest and final prophecy predicts the Apocalypse, which when translated into English is: “In the final persecution of the Holy Roman Church, there will sit Peter the Roman, who will pasture his sheep in many tribulations, and when these things are finished, the city of seven hills will be destroyed, and the dreadful judge will judge his people.”  Many proponents of the prophecies claim that Pope Francis (the 112th on the list) corresponds to “Peter the Roman” the pope described in the final prophecy, whose pontificate will allegedly bring the destruction of the city of Rome and usher in the beginning of the Apocalypse.  Since Francis’ election as Pope, proponents in internet forums have been striving to link him to the prophecy.  Theories include a vague connection with Francis of Assisi, whose father was named Pietro (Peter).

e.g.: In a WND Films documentary “The Last Pope?” Tom Horn, co-author of “Petrus Romanus,” says he believes the motto fits just fine.  Explains Horn in the film: “We had given interviews [prior to the election of Pope Francis] saying it would be a mistake to try to nail down the last pope having the Christian name Peter, that in fact the only thing that it would take to fulfill the prophecy would be a cardinal of Italian descent. And low and behold Jorge Bergoglio, Italian descent, parents full-blooded Italians, or in the old language ‘Romans.’  “But he names himself after Francis of Assisi. Now this is a Catholic friar who lived in the late 1100s and the early 1200s, but his name of birth Giovanni Di Pietro Di Bernardone, Peter. He was an Italian, or Roman in the old language, a man whose name can literally be translated as ‘Peter the Roman.’ So to take that as a namesake, well it was intriguing to say the least.”

Clearly, this argument is a stretch – and one in which Christians should not engage.  We should stick to the written Word of God.  There is plenty of evidence in the form of fulfilled prophesy to know that we are in the last of the last of the Last Days.

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