Chuck Smith is predicting that the end is near – again! At a three-day conference, with 8000 in attendance and the usual suspects misinforming thousands about Bible prophecy, Smith, the founder of Calvary Chapel, delivered “a strong message of hope in a fallen world,” the Christian Post reported. And what is the message of hope?
“We’re on the verge of, it looks like, a war in the Middle East that could expand into a global conflict of nuclear proportions. The economy is tanking. Many nations are on the verge of bankruptcy and our own nation is so many trillions of dollars in debt. It’s just amazing.”
How is a “global conflict of nuclear proportions” a “strong message of hope”? It’s simple. Smith believes Jesus is on the verge of returning to “rapture” His church so Christians won’t have to go through this period of tribulation. Here’s Smith in his own words:
“How can you make, you say, all these dire predictions with a smile on your face? Well, because the outlook for the Church is very bright. We’re almost there and I know how this story ends and that it’s always comforting when you know that it ends and ‘they all lived happily ever after.’”
I wonder if the 8000 people in attendance at the conference know about Chuck Smith’s penchant for date setting going back nearly 40 years. I wonder if the Christian Post reporter knows of Smith’s poor prophetic track record. Maybe he’s too young to know the history.
In his 1976 book The Soon to be Revealed Antichrist Chuck Smith writes, “we are living in the last generation which began with the rebirth of Israel in 1948 (see Matt. 24:32–34).” You will search in vain in the three verse’s Smith references to find any mention of “the rebirth of Israel.” He repeats the claim in his 1978 book End Times: “If I understand Scripture correctly, Jesus taught us that the generation which sees the ‘budding of the fig tree,’ the birth of the nation of Israel, will be the generation that sees the Lord’s return. I believe that the generation of 1948 is the last generation. Since a generation of judgment is forty years and the Tribulation period lasts seven years, I believe the Lord could come back for His Church any time before the Tribulation starts, which would mean any time before 1981. (1948 + 40 – 7 = 1981).”1 If this prophetic math sounds familiar, it’s because the same end-time logic was used by Hal Lindsey in The Late Great Planet Earth in1970.
In order to cover himself against charges of date setting, Smith wrote that “it is possible that Jesus is dating the beginning of the generation from 1967, when Jerusalem was again under Israeli control for the first time since 587 B.C. We don’t know for sure which year actually marks the beginning of the last generation.”2 A 1967 starting point to begin calculations and a 40-year generation would mean the rapture should have taken place before 2000. While it sounds like Smith is simply engaging in conjecture, in his book Future Survival, which was first published in 1978 and updated in 1980, his prophetic dogmatism is retained:
We’re the generation that saw the fig tree bud forth, as Israel became a nation again in 1948. As a rule, a generation in the Bible lasts 40 years. . . . Forty years after 1948 would bring us to 1988.3
Keep in mind that it’s not only important to show where Smith was wrong in his predictions, it’s crucial that we understand that he is using an interpretive model that leads him to make these predictions.
Smith wrote in 1980 that from his “understanding of biblical prophecies, he was “convinced that the Lord [would come] for His Church before the end of 1981.” He did add that he “could be wrong” but went on to say in the same sentence that “it’s a deep conviction in my heart, and all my plans are predicated upon that belief.”4 Notice the last statement. He may have voiced some doubts, but actions speak louder than words. He made plans based on his beliefs that were founded on his “understanding of biblical prophecies.”
On December 31, 1979, Smith told those who had gathered on the last day of the year that the rapture would take place before the end of 1981. He went on to say that because of ozone depletion Revelation 16:8 would be fulfilled during the tribulation period: “And the fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun; and it was given to it to scorch men with fire.” In addition, Halley’s Comet would pass near Earth in 1986 and would wreak havoc on those left behind as debris from its million-mile-long tail pummeled the planet.5 Here’s how Smith explained the prophetic scenario in his book Future Survival which is nearly identical to what appears on the taped message:
The Lord said that towards the end of the Tribulation period the sun would scorch men who dwell upon the face of the earth (Rev. 16). The year 1986 would fit just about right! We’re getting close to the Tribulation and the return of Christ in glory. All the pieces of the puzzle are coming together.6
Nothing significant happened in 1986 related to Halley’s Comet, and there is no reason why it should have since it’s been a predictable phenomenon for more than two millennia as it makes its way around the sun every 75 to 76 years.
To be fair, in a March 30, 1989 interview with William Alnor, Smith admitted that he “was guilty of coming close” to “date setting,” and this was wrong.7 But when we look back over Smith’s statements about the timing of specific prophetic events, we can see that he did more than come close to date setting. He wrote, “We’re the generation that saw the fig tree bud forth, as Israel became a nation again in 1948.” We are now more than 60 years removed from the 1948 founding of Israel. The interpretive methodology used by Smith, Lindsey, Dave Hunt, and others making the 1948–1988 connection was fundamental to their claim that they were following a literal hermeneutic. If a literal hermeneutic results in near certainty of when prophetic events will take place but ends in a colossal miscalculation on a key element of their system, how should the interpretive methodology that brought them to that calculation be evaluated? To paraphrase Jesus, “An interpretive tree is known by its fruit, and the 1948–1988 generation has turned out to be rotten fruit no matter how it’s sliced.”
- Chuck Smith, End Times (Costa Mesa, CA: The Word for Today, 1978), 35. [↩]
- Smith, End Times, 36. [↩]
- Chuck Smith, Future Survival (Costa Mesa, CA: The Word for Today,  1980), 17. [↩]
- Smith, Future Survival, 20. [↩]
- Halley’s Comet also appeared in A.D. 66 and passed over Jerusalem, four years before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem by the Romans. Could this have been the fulfillment of Luke 21:11? [↩]
- Smith, Future Survival, 21. [↩]
- Chuck Smith’s interview with William M. Alnor in Soothsayers of the Second Advent (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1989. [↩]