Eschatology sign-the-end-world-comics-488278

Published on January 21st, 2013 | by Gary DeMar

24

How I Got into the Prophecy Thing

sign-the-end-world-comics-488278My first introduction to the topic of Bible prophecy came by way of Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth. That was in 1973 when I was in my final year at Western Michigan University. Having very little knowledge of the Bible, I was intrigued with the argument and the seemingly incontrovertible evidence that we were living in the last days. The signs, I was told, were all around us. It all seemed to make sense  . . . until I read the Bible.

As I began reading the New Testament, I came across numerous passages that did not fit Lindsey’s Late Great Earth paradigm. Here are three from the Gospel of Matthew:

  • “But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes” (Matt 10:23).
  • “For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and WILL THEN REPAY EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS. Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” (Matt. 16:28).
  • “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matt. 24:34; see 12:39, 41, 42; 23:36).

I was perplexed, so I put the study of eschatology on hold for a time until I got on better scriptural footing. But about a year later, the issue again became a topic of discussion. By then I was a student at Reformed Theological Seminary where I had access to a library. I picked up William Hendriksen’s commentary on Matthew in his multi-volume New Testament Commentary series. Hendriksen was reliable and Dutch, a good place for me to start since I was being taught by professors with names like DeYoung, Van Groningen, and Kistemaker, who took over the commentary series after Hendriksen’s death. Hendriksen’s comments on these passages were not much help.

In his more than two pages of explanation as to why “this generation” does mean the generation of Jesus’ day, he did not reference a single verse in the synoptic gospels where the same phrase is used (12:39, 41, 42, 23:36):

By no means has it been established that the term “this generation” must be limited to contemporaries. It can also refer to “this kind of people”; for example, the Jews, at any time or in any age. Worthy of the consideration in this connection are such passages as Deut. 32:5, 20; Ps. 12:7; 78:8; etc., where the LXX uses the same word as is here rendered “generation,” but evidently with a meaning that goes beyond “group of contemporaries.”(1) Thus even in the New Testament (see Acts 2:40; Phil. 2:15; Heb. 3:10), thought he starting point may well be a reference to the people of that particular day, this many not be the entire meaning. So also probably here in Matt. 24:34.(2)

In his attempt to back up his weak exegetical argument, Hendriksen writes: “Jesus does not necessarily mean that his disciples shall see all that has been predicted and is going to take place” even though in Matthew 24:33 Jesus says, “you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door.”(3) It seemed to me at the time that if Jesus had had a future generation in view, He would have used the far demonstrative “that” instead of the near demonstrative “this.”(4)

His comments on Matthew 24:14 were equally weak, never mentioning that Jesus uses the word oikoumene, the only time the word is found in Matthew’s gospel, or its connection to limited geography in Luke 2:1, Acts 11:28, and other places in the New Testament (Luke 4:5; Acts 17:6, 31; 19:27; Rom. 10:18; Heb. 1:6; 2:5; Rev. 3:10; 16:14).(5)

Marcellus Kik’s Matthew 24

Then one day, the RTS librarian put out some books from his personal library to sell. My eyes focused on a faded red hardback with “Matthew XXIV” stamped on the spine. It was J. Marcellus Kik’s brief commentary on Matthew’s version of the Olivet Discourse. (Kik was also Dutch.) In the Preface to the second edition Kik wrote:

The first edition of this work was published in 1948 and it is indeed gratifying that the demand for it has necessitated a second edition. The particular interpretation represented in this book found slow acceptance but in recent years approval has multiplied, especially with the decline of the dispensational position.(6)

In time I learned that Kik’s interpretive model was not new or unique to him. In addition, I found that the preterist interpretation of the Olivet Discourse has a long and distinguished history among Bible commentators from diverse orthodox theological traditions. Kik’s little book forever changed the way I studied the Bible because it used the Bible to interpret the Bible, the very methodology I was learning in my hermeneutics classes.

Jesus and His Mistaken Prophecy

There is a history of skeptics turning to Bible prophecy and claiming Jesus was wrong about the timing of His coming at “the end of the age” (Matt. 24:3) and the signs associated with it. Noted atheist Bertrand Russell (1872–1970) wrote the following in Why I Am Not a Christian, a lecture he delivered on March 6, 1927 to the National Secular Society:

I am concerned with Christ as he appears in the Gospel narrative as it stands, and there one does find some things that do not seem to be very wise. For one thing, He certainly thought that His second coming would occur in clouds of glory before the death of all the people who were living at that time. There are a great many texts that prove that and there are a lot of places where it is quite clear that He believed that His coming would happen during the lifetime of many then living. That was the belief of His earlier followers, and it was the basis of a good deal of His moral teaching.(7)

There have been others. Even C. S. Lewis understood the dilemma present in Jesus’ statement in Matthew 24:34 that He would return before that first-century generation passed away. After dealing with critics who maintain that Jesus was just another Palestinian seer, Lewis confronts the more serious objection:

“But there is worse to come. ‘Say what you like,’ we shall be told, ‘the apocalyptic beliefs of the first Christians have been proved to be false. It is clear from the New Testament that they all expected the Second Coming in their own lifetime. And, worse still, they had a reason, and one which you will find very embarrassing. Their Master had told them so. He shared, and indeed created, their delusion. He said in so many words, “this generation shall not pass till all these things be done.” And He was wrong. He clearly knew no more about the end of the world than anyone else.’

“It is certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible.”(8)

Two recent examples of apocalyptic questioning come to mind. In his best-selling book Misquoting Jesus, Ehrman describes how he struggled to reconcile what he had been taught about the inerrancy of the Bible with what he believed to be predictive errors made by Jesus. His trek down the road toward skepticism and unbelief includes what he describes as “one of the most popular books on campus” that was being read while he was a student at Moody Bible Institute in the 1970s, Hal “Lindsay’s [sic] apocalyptic blueprint for our future, The Late Great Planet Earth.”(9) Ehrman writes that he “was particularly struck by the ‘when’” of Lindsey’s prophetic outline of Matthew 24.

Lindsey followed a futuristic paradigm that assured his readers that Jesus would return within forty-years of 1948 (1948 + 40 = 1988), because, according to Lindsey, the reestablishment of the nation of Israel was the prophetic key to Bible prophecy. As anyone who reads the New Testament can see, there is not a single word said about Israel becoming a nation again. Ehrman writes that “this message proved completely compelling to us. It may seem odd now—given the circumstances that 1988 has come and gone, with no Armageddon— but, on the other hand, there are millions of Christians who still believe that the Bible can be read literally as completely inspired in its predictions of what is soon to happen to bring history as we know it to a close.”(10)

Instead of questioning the exegetical work of Lindsey and other prophecy writers, Ehrman rejected the authority of the Bible. As the chairman of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and someone who is described as “an authority on the history of the New Testament, the early church, and the life of Jesus,” Ehrman should know that the interpretation made popular by Lindsey, Tim LaHaye, and other prophecy writers has a recent history when compared to the great Bible expositors of the past.

In his debate with Douglas Wilson in, the late Christopher Hitchens charged that Jesus was in error because He predicted His coming within a generation, and it did not come to pass. You can see the exchange in the DVD version of their four-day debate exchange. This, of course, would make Jesus a false prophet and the New Testament unreliable. In just a few sentences Wilson showed that that Jesus was referring to a judgment coming that in fact did take place before that first-century generation passed away. It’s the only way to read the Olivet Discourse found in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. Hitchens, always ready with a quick response, had none.

The skeptics are reading it the right way. Jesus predicted that He would return within the time period of that generation. Unfortunately, too many Christians are giving the wrong answer when skeptics claim Jesus was mistaken. All of what Jesus said would happen before that generation passed away did happen.

On a personal note, I received the following email from a man whose faith was hanging by a thread because of certain passages that he could not reconcile with the claim that Scripture is inerrant:

I am writing to you as sort of a last hurrah to save my faith. As a former American fundamentalist, I had my faith sorely bruised and wrecked in seminary. Fighting both professors and the arguments of the new atheists, I found myself, in the end, questioning my own faith. When I found that quite a few of our apologetic claims are at worst deceitful and at best misleading, I found myself in a hole that I can’t seem to dig myself out of. I am hanging on to my personal experience of Him, which my atheist friends are trying to explain away with all sorts of biochemistry, evolution, etc.

The Bible seems to be, from an honest objective view, errant and Jesus seems to be quite wrong about several factual matters. While I am ashamed to admit it, I feel myself backing away from him when I read that he was wrong about . . . imprecise details of . . . the destruction of Jerusalem, etc. . . . I’ve read scores of apologetics books, but they seem full of special pleadings and weird exegetical gymnastics to scurry away what seems . . . clear and real to any reader of the Book.

Endnotes:

  1. I believe Hendriksen is wrong. The Bible is referencing to a specific generation, in the case of Deuteronomy 32:5, 20, the generation that was in the wilderness. The same is true of Psalm 78:8: “And not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation that did not prepare its heart and whose spirit was not faithful to God.”()
  2. William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1973), 868.()
  3. Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew, 868.()
  4. “Greek grammars and lexicons recognize two demonstratives: near and distant. The near demonstrative, as the name denotes, points to someone or something ‘near,’ in close proximity. They appear as the singular word ‘this’ and its plural ‘these.’ The distant demonstratives, as their name suggests, appear as ‘that’ (singular), or ‘those’ (plural).” (Cullen I K Story and J. Lyle Story, Greek To Me: Learning New Testament Greek Through Memory Visualization (New York: Harper, 1979), 74. “Sometimes it is desired to call attention with special emphasis to a designated object, whether in the physical vicinity or the speaker or the literary context of the writer. For this purpose the demonstrative construction is used. . . . For that which is relatively near in actuality or thought the immediate demonstrative [houtos] is used. . . . For that which is relatively distant in actuality or thought the remote demonstrative [ekeinos] is used.” (H. E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament [New York; Macmillan, 1957], 127–128, sec. 136). Similarly, “[T]his, referring to something comparatively near at hand, just as ekeinos [that] refers to something comparatively farther away.” (William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 4th ed. [Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1952], 600).()
  5. Hendriksen is not the only commentator who fails to make the connection. See James H. Hamilton, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology (Wheaton: IL: Crossway, 2010), 377: “Jesus explains that there will be birth pains until the gospel has gone through the whole world (24:4–14).”()
  6. J. Marcellus Kik, Matthew Twenty-Four: An Exposition (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1948), vii.()
  7. Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957), 16.()
  8. C. S. Lewis, The World’s Last Night and Other Essays (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, [1952] 1960), 97–98. Also see Gerald A. Larue, “The Bible and the Prophets of Doom,” Skeptical Inquirer (January/February 1999), 29; Michael Shermer, How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science (New York: W.H. Freeman and Company, 2000), 1–7; Tim Callahan, Bible Prophecy: Failure or Fulfillment? (Altadena, CA: Millennium Press, 1997), 204–229.()
  9. Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (New York: HarperCollins, 2005), 12.()
  10. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, 13.()
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About the Author

Gary is a graduate of Western Michigan University (1973) and earned his M.Div. at Reformed Theological Seminary in 1979. He is the author of countless essays, news articles, and more than 27 book titles, His most recent book is Exposing the Real Last Days Scoffers. Gary lives in Marietta, Georgia, with his wife, Carol. They have two married sons and four grandchildren, Gary and Carol are members of Midway Presbyterian Church (PCA).



24 Responses to How I Got into the Prophecy Thing

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  2. alan sandman says:

    awsome the good news of the gospel needs to be heard thanks for your good works

  3. Dave says:

    need closure…faith crisis guy? Did he make it?

  4. Judi says:

    I’m just getting back to reading all the comments I received here…..and this is the group that uplifts and is so well studied and will know all the answers and “will not bite your head off” !!! Greg, may I say that you had the most touching and “telling” comment given. “What happened to the guy with the faith crisis?” Yes, it does seem like an odd end to the post….and then add Gary’s “Don’t know”. really leaves you with such a feeling of ,”where is the compassion for this poor person”? It seems like just another place for people to sprout whatever they think to be the truth, when in fact, I will believe the first person that says, “I have had a personal encounter with Jesus”. I ask HIM what the truth is and if there exists anywhere on this earth– another Smith Wigglesworth who met Jesus at his refrigerator every morning and talked to him, then I would truly celebrate !! I pray that we all will have a more personal relationship with Jesus and He will answer all our questions and “clear up” misunderstandings and misinterpretations and self centered needs to be right! God bless you all. You seem to be a very “searching” group !!judi btw: I don’t consider myself in any “catagory” that you have placed me in. I’m just a person who has long ago discovered that man will always let you down and to go directly to Jesus.

  5. Curtis Dunn says:

    Mt. 24:30 could descrive two comings;
    1. And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man (Isaiah 7:14 tells us this sign is the Virgin which cinceives and which.Matthew himself includes as the sign to Joseph.

    2:. and then [here is the seeming delay of time between the sign appearing in heaven].
    shall all the tribes of the earth shall mourn [Jer. 4:31Hosea 10:-5] and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

    Also, 31 may be seen as a prophesy of the angels/messengers sent by Christ to the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. This verse promuse a fullfillment of their mission, for those gathered are the elect.

  6. Curtis Dunn says:

    Well, there is the known HISTIRICAL fact of the feast of the falling asleep/Dormition of the Virgin. It certainlybis celebrated as a fulfillment of Promuse to His Mother, to come and takes her up where He was, is and ever will be.

    This could explain two fold rapture idea.
    Partial Preterist is helped by it.
    Iit follows the typis of King Solomon raising His Virgin Mother up to His Right Hand and receive her portion as the Queen.

    • Mark says:

      Hey Curtis, don’t stop there……maybe there will be 1, 674 comings of Christ…………………not.

      • Curtis Dunn says:

        Mark, thank-you, if you mean the year 1674 as the 1674th year.of our Lords appearance (parousia), then I concede He has as appeared 1674 times (+/-), and further He has appeared 2012 times (+/-) in time, but only once each year His Parousia is made known to whole world through the Christian Calendar inherited from the Ecumenical Church.

        Curtis

  7. Michael Riemer says:

    Brother DeMar,

    Thanks for the post. I always like to read about the journey others have taken to the path they are now on. My path was not the same. When I became a Christian, not knowing any better, I “took in” the whole dispensation doctrine I was taught. For a number of years, even after I was teaching home Bible studies, I thought it was the “eternal” truth directly from the Scriptures. It was not until a friend of mine gave me the book “Great Prophecies of the Bible” by Ralph Woodrow, that my darkened mind began to open. Reading that book was like getting hit in the stomach. I was very upset finding that my Scriptural knowledge and history of the Church was really lacking. That book, along with booklets by John Bray really started me searching and studying about “end times.” Somewhere along the road I read your book “Last Days Madness” and many others. While I do not always agree with everything you write nor with the others on American Vision, I really do appreciate very much American Vision and your thoughts, books and posts. You and AV are in our prayers.

  8. Michael Riemer says:

    “most people who study the Bible will agree that all the signs Jesus said would happen have come together” Judi Bailey, you, along with many who “teach” prophecy such as Hal Lindsay always seem to miss the “elephant” in the room. Let me ask just a few questions. What were the signs Jesus gave, signs of? What was going to happen when those signs came to pass? What was the reason for Jesus Olivet Discourse? What prompted the questions the disciples asked Jesus? “See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (Matt. 24:2). That is the “elephant” most miss. All those signs pointed to the time when that was going to happen…”not one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” All those signs of that event happened before AD70. Because that is when not one stone upon another came to pass, the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. It should be obvious that His “coming” was a coming of judgement on that wicked generation. And it happened within the generation Jesus said it would happen. Those events can not happen in the future, for that temple is long gone.

    So Judi, when you read about all the signs “coming to pass” now, next time think about the “elephant” “not one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down, and when it happened, the temple was destroyed in AD70.

    I hope that does not bite your head off.

  9. Mark says:

    Gary’s article ends without a conclusion. I would like to imply that is sorta like partial preterism. Mostly correct but………… but I will resist the temptation……….oh, darn it.

    Gary would also break up Matt 24 into two sections which is not correct.

  10. alex alexander says:

    Re the guy with the “faith crisis”. He’s not alone. I just hope he’s still plugged-in to AV. Many of us have a tremendous debt of gratitude to their wonderful ministry.
    I hope/pray that “hanging-by-a-thread” man is continuing to gain strength and encouragement and insight — as I and many, many others continue to do.
    Great ministry. Thank you all.
    Alex A
    UK

  11. Judi Bailey says:

    I also read Hal Lindsay’s “Late Great Planet Earth”, and I’m perplexed that you are thinking Jesus wrong about the generation that will see him. I’ve read everything I can find and many proclaimed prophets and most agree that it is clear that the generation that will see his return is the generation that is living at the time all these events come together. Even though Hall Lindsay go the 40 years wrong, I think he is so right with most of his teaching and he doesn’t claim to be 100 per cent correct, but to think Jesus to be incorrect……wow, that much really be hard to take in. I think we are at the point when most people who study the Bible will agree that all the signs Jesus said would happen have come together and He could appear at any time. I think the sure sign would be the antichrist going into the temple and proclaiming to be God. I don’t think that has happened yet, but it seems that things are coming together quickly for that to happen…
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I found them very iteresting and it’s the first time I’ve seen anyone write that Jesus made a mistake.
    God Bless,

    • alex alexander says:

      Hi Judi,
      I don’t know how else to put this, but… perhaps you’re looking through the wrong end of the telescope, but all the while you’re thinking you’re seeing things nice and clearly.
      Maybe you’re not actually seeing things completely straight. Just maybe you have to start afresh in certain areas! Ever wondered that? We all should!
      As I rudely ask Christian friends: “What’s the last big Christian issue that you’ve had your mind changed on? Or, have you already got complete and perfect knowledge about everything the Bible teaches? If not, you need to shape-up — and keep shaping-up.”
      This might sound “liberal” — but it’s not: we are COMMANDED to have an open mind… or, as the Bible puts it, we have to be teachable. “Come, let us reason together, says the Lord.”
      Why not just hang around AV for the next year or so?
      No one is going to bite your head off!
      Nothing is going to railroad your faith.
      These AV guys (and gals) believe the Word and teach the Word!
      They are serious Bible-believers and -students.
      Are you? Or are you (as I was) locked-in to an historically very recent and theologically very thin interpretative scheme which does not square with what the Bible actually says?
      Just check out what you read here with what’s in the Bible.
      Simple! Give it a go for a few months.
      Blessing to you and yours (from me and mine…).
      Alex A
      UK

    • DeMar is definitely not saying Jesus made a mistake, but he is pointing out that a futurist interpretation of Matthew 24 *does* cast doubt on the accuracy of Jesus’ prediction. If you watch the documentary “Collision,” you will note that Christopher Hitchens (a famous atheist) brings up the futurist interpretation of Matthew 24 as proof that the Bible (and Jesus) are not infallible. Doug Wilson demolishes the attack by rejecting the futurist perspective. Since we know Jesus’ prophecy could not have been wrong, we must choose a more biblical interpretation of His words. DeMar suggests that a partial preterist interpretation of Matthew 24 provides that more accurate and biblical interpretation, thus defusing the attack on Jesus’ veracity.

    • Arrow says:

      I’ll second what Alex Alexander says. On one hand it is essential to be steadfast on the fundamentals of the faith. On the other hand, if you have not changed your mind on any significant issue in your entire life, you are not thinking, you are simply repeating…and possibly repeating errors that were taught to you by other fallible humans.

      If you are truly an Christian and truly and sincerely seeking the Truth, there is nothing wrong, or to be afraid of, in questioning your beliefs, and seeking where you need to make adjustments. This should be done with a reverence for Scriptural truth, and in the company of Godly counsel of fellow believers…which in fact you can find at places like AV. NOBODY has all the answers, none of us. Therefore we are wise to “be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we can prove what is the good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God”.

    • Wesley says:

      Judi,
      you do know that Hal Lindsay, Tim LaHaye, Tommy Ice, Mark Hitchock, John, Hagee, and other dispensational prophecy writers are busy taking your money to fund their life styles and retirement while convincing their readers to not prepare for the future. they republish their books many times making changes and calling it a updated version while changing their false prophecies to something new that fits the trends. in the 1920s Mussolini was the Antichrist, late 1930s early 1940s Hitler, 1950s Joseph Stalin, 1960s JFK, 1980s Ronald Reagan, present Barack Obama. all these were supposed antichrists in just the last 100 years. even Pope Leo X was though to be the antichrist at the time of Martin Luther and the reformation. i used to be a dispensationalist like you until last year after reading Mark’s account of the Olivet Discourse and then comparing it to Matthew and Luke. all three accounts have Jesus and the disciples at the temple and Jesus telling them that it would be destroyed. they ask him to tell them about these things. only Matthew has the questions about the signs of coming and end of the age. neither additional question specifically say anything about Christ physical return or end of all time. if the Olivet Discourse was about the end of time and Christ second coming Mark and Luke would have had the last two questions of Matthew included for all three describe the same events. even Tim LaHaye admits that Luke 21 deals specifically with the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in 70AD. he just refuses to apply the same to Matthew. Mark Hitchcock says that the disciples did not care really about the destruction of the temple and cared about Christ’s second coming and end of time. yet Mark and Luke make it perfectly crystal clear that the disciples were disturbed about the destruction of the temple. my guess Mark is assuming that the readers of Mark and Luke already had Matthew and would referred back to Matthew. meanwhile the New Testament was not complied like we know it today until the 4th century. i really do hope that you would start to see fallacies that go with dispensationalism.

  12. Tom says:

    Great intro … where’s the rest of the article?

  13. Greg says:

    Seems like an odd end to the post. What happened to the guy with the faith crisis?

      • MoGrace2u says:

        Not knowing what happened to that man could be alleviated somewhat if you would share with us your answer to his email, since apparently you kept it. Perhaps others would like to contact the man…?

        Robin

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