The Los Angeles Times reports: “If there’s one government agency really looking forward to Dec. 22, it’s NASA. The space agency said it has been flooded with calls and emails from people asking about the purported end of the world — which, as the doomsday myth goes, is apparently set to take place on Dec. 21, 2012.”
I find all of this kind of funny. Now evangelical prophetic sensationalists have to compete with the crazy New Agers. How many decades have we had to endure predictions of an imminent end from Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye, Jerry Falwell, and other so-called prophecy experts? Falwell (1933–2007) said the following on December 27, 1992 television broadcast: “I do not believe there will be another millennium . . . or another century.” He was wrong.
John F. Walvoord, described as “the world’s foremost interpreter of biblical prophecy . . . [expected] the Rapture to occur in his own lifetime.’”1 It didn’t. Walvoord died in 2002.
These men claim to reject specific date setting, but they have no trouble, and see nothing wrong with identifying our generation as the last generation. But even in this, their track record has been dismal, and yet they want respect from the non-believing world when they speak authoritatively from the Bible about prophetic events.
For example, in his first edition of The Beginning of the End, which was published in 1972, Tim LaHaye wrote,
“Carefully putting all this together, we now recognize this strategic generation. It is the generation that ‘sees’ the four-part sign of verse 7 [in Matt. 24], or the people who saw the First World War. We must be careful here not to become dogmatic, but it would seem that these people are witnesses to the events, not necessarily participants in them. That would suggest they were at least old enough to understand the events of 1914–1918, not necessarily old enough to go to war.”2
A number of things changed in the 1991 revised edition. The “strategic generation” has been modified significantly. It’s no longer “the people who saw the First World War,” it’s now “the generation that ‘sees’ the events of 1948.”
“Carefully putting all this together, we now recognize this strategic generation. It is the generation that ‘sees’ the events of 1948. We must be careful here not to become dogmatic, but it would seem that these people are witnesses to the events, not necessarily participants in them. That would suggest they were at least old enough to understand the events of 1948.”3
The change from the years of the First World War to the specific date of 1948 as the starting point for the beginning of the generation that LaHaye claims will be alive when the “rapture” supposedly takes place was not made because of anything the Bible says on the subject. The generation that Jesus had in view (Matt. 24; Mark 13; Luke 21) was the generation of His day. The phrase “this generation” always refers to the generation to whom Jesus was speaking. (For a study of this claim, see my books Last Days Madness, Is Jesus Coming Soon?, Left Behind: Separating Fact from Fiction, and Basic Training for Understanding Bible Prophecy).
Consider this interview that LaHaye had with Larry King on June 19, 2000:
LaHaye: But I think another reason people are interested in [Left Behind ] . . . is because it talks about the future. We’re living at a time when people look at the future and think of it as rather precarious. In fact, there’s a popular book out a couple of years ago on the death of history,4 and it’s not from a Christian perspective. And so people recognize that something is about to happen. And the Bible has a fantastically optimistic view of the future.
King: But weren’t people saying this in 1890 and 1790? “It’s coming. Boy, the apocalypse is coming. The end is near.” They’ve always been saying it.
LaHaye: Well, we have more reason to believe that. Until Israel went back into the promised land, we couldn’t really claim that the end times were coming. But ever since 1948, in subsequent years, we’ve realized that things are getting set up. It’s stage setting for these momentous events.
King: Do you believe that some sort of end is coming?
King: You believe that that will happen?
LaHaye: In fact, I believe there are a number of signs in Scripture that indicate it’s going to come pretty soon. We say maybe within our lifetime.
King was right. Making predictions has been the stock and trade of prophecy writers like LaHaye for centuries. Of course, they don’t pick a specific date, but they use words like “pretty soon” and “within our lifetime.” If they didn’t make these types of predictions, their books would not sell. LaHaye’s co-author Jerry Jenkins even wrote a book with the title Soon: The Beginning of the End—in 2003.
Like those who are attracted to the prophecies of Nostradamus and the Mayan calendar, there is a steady stream of gullible Christians who know nothing about the failed predictions of some of their favorite Christian prophecy writers but are willing to shell out money for prophecy books that in the end fail to deliver.
New Testament scholar Ben Witherington writes, “The Mayans no more knew when the end would come than anyone else does. It’s time for theological weather forecasting to be given up entirely. Even TV weathermen predicting ordinary events are more accurate.” And this includes the “we know the generation” prophecy writers like Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye, Chuck Smith, David Jeremiah, Mark Hitchcock, Ron Rhodes, and so many more.
If the Mayans were so good at predicting the end of the world, then why weren’t they good at predicting their own end and then fixing it?
- Quoted in Kenneth L. Woodward, “The Final Days are Here Again,” Newsweek (March 18, 1991), 55. [↩]
- Tim LaHaye, The Beginning of the End (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1972), 165, 168. Emphasis added. [↩]
- Tim LaHaye, The Beginning of the End, rev. ed. (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1991), 193. Emphasis added. [↩]
- Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: The Free Press, 1992). [↩]