Can We Please Get off the End of the World Kick

End_of_the_World_as_we_know_it I’ve been following prophecy speculators for almost exactly 40 years. They all have one thing in common. They’ve been consistently wrong for nearly 2000 years. In the 1970s, Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth was a mega-best seller. It was the No. 1 non-fiction book of the decade. (Some would put it in the fiction category.)

Lindsey predicted that it would all fall apart by 1988 based on the premise that Israel becoming a nation again in 1948 was the key to determining when the “rapture” of the church would take place. He claimed that it would be no longer than 40 years from 1948. That was 25 years ago.

Even after so many failed predictions, there are still millions of Christians who claim that the end is near. California mega-church pastor Greg Laurie is one of them. He’s teaching a series to his large congregation on the book of Revelation called “Revelation: The Next Dimension.”

“We have never been closer to the end of the world than right now.”

Where have we heard that before? Logic alone tells us as much. I can say, “You and I have never been closer to death than right now, and now, and now.” Every tick of the clock puts us closer to every event.

What Pastor Laurie means is that the end is around the corner. Again, this is a common thread in the history of prophetic speculation.(1) The history of prophetic speculation is the history of end-times claims. The black death, the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, World War I, World War II, the rise of the Soviet Union. Now it’s Islam, but Islam in the 15th century and earlier was said to be a sign that the end was near for them back then.

Samuel Elliott Morrison in his 1942 Admiral of the Ocean Sea, a biography of Christopher Columbus, wrote the following:

“At the end of the year 1492 most men in western Europe felt exceedingly gloomy about the future. Christian civilization appeared to be shrinking in area and dividing into hostile units as its sphere contracted. . . . Islam was now expanding at the expense of Christendom, the Ottoman Turks, after snuffing out all that remained of the Byzantine Empire, had overrun most of Greece, Albania and Serbia, presently they would be hammering at the gates of Vienna.”(2)

That was more than 500 years ago. Are we living in bad times? Yes we are. Are we living in impossible times? No we’re not.

You’ve heard of “whatever” as a statement of indifference. Pastor Laurie’s prophetic pronouncements produce an attitude of “What’s the use?” If it’s all going to come to an end, why bother trying to change anything. It can’t be done.

Too many Christians are disengaged because they believe that things are supposed to get worse. Couple their belief that the end times are upon us to claims that politics is dirty, Jesus didn’t get mixed up in politics, our citizenship is in heaven, we’re not supposed to judge, and there’s a separation between church and state, and you have a witches brew of prophetic inevitability that leads to cultural stagnation.

Pastor Laurie is a place in his series where he’s dealing with the “mark of the beast” and his number — “six hundred and sixty-six” (Rev. 13:17). He’s arguing that this passage refers to our time even though Revelation says the events revealed to John were to happen “soon” (1:1) because the time was near” for them (1:3; 22:10).

Pastor Laurie imputes more power to antichrist, of which there were many in John’s day that proved “it was the last hour” for that generation (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:2; 2 John 7) than he does to Jesus Christ:

“If you Google the number 666, you’ll receive 543 million results, the pastor said. ‘And you probably will find 543 million ideas about what it actually means. I don’t think anyone can answer this with complete certainly, but this much we do know… The antichrist is going to introduce a cashless society… The endgame of this is to cause people to engage in devil worship.”

We know the events in Revelation were on the horizon for those who first read Revelation (Rev. 1:1, 3). The book ends the same way it began: “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near” (22:10). Not near for us. Near for those who first read Revelation.

What about the number 666 (not 6-6-6). New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham writes:

“The solution to the riddle of 666 which has been most widely accepted since it was first suggested in 1831 is that 666 is the sum of the letters of Nero Caesar written in Hebrew characters as נרון קסר (נ = 50 + ר = 200 + ו = 6 + ן = 50 + ק = 100 + ס = 60 + ר = 200).(3)

The first readers of Revelation were told, “Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast. . .” (Rev. 13:17). When trying to match “six hundred and sixty-six” with a particular name, we need more than a plausible candidate from any time period; we need a relevant candidate from the time period when Revelation was written, otherwise why the statement about “wisdom” and “knowledge”?

The symbols in Revelation had to be relevant to the book’s first readers. Since Revelation was written to a first-century audience, we should expect the first-century readers to be able to calculate the number with relative ease and understand the result. They would have had few candidates from which to choose.

By all accounts, Nero had a reputation as a beast. “According to the emperor Marcus Aurelius [121–180], ‘To be violently drawn and moved by the lusts of the soul is proper to wild beasts and monsters, such as Phalaris and Nero were.’”(4) Other histories of the period offer a similar description. But for Christians, Nero was a beast because “he was the first emperor to persecute the church.”(5)

While Pastor Laurie means well, he is off base when it comes to Bible prophecy. He needs to stop teaching on the subject until he does some further study.Endnotes:

  1. Francis X. Gumerlock, The Day and the Hour: Christianity’s Perennial Fascination with Predicting the End of the World (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2000).()
  2. Samuel Eliot Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus (Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Co., 1942), 3.()
  3. Richard Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy: Studies on the Book of Revelation (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993), 387.()
  4. Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy, 409.()
  5. Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy, 411.()

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18 comments
Eric Heil
Eric Heil

The problem with many dispensationalists (especially those who are the most ardent supporters of the system) is that their faith in Jesus Christ is totally dependent on the 1948 creation of the modern, secular nation-state of Israel as "proof" that God exists. That's why they get so riled about "antisemitism" - at times placing ethnic-national Israel on the same plane of reverence as Jesus Christ Himself. If the 1948 advent was (biblically) proven to not match up with Biblical prophecy, their faith would be shattered. This is good reason not to root one's faith upon any worldly event.

MoGrace2u
MoGrace2u

So please tell us about the REAL end of the world scripture speaks of since the dispy's have got it all wrong. Robin

Vance
Vance

You wrote, "Lindsey predicted that it would all fall apart by 1988 based on the premise that Israel becoming a nation again in 1948 was the key to determining when the 'rapture' of the church would take place. He claimed that it would be no longer than 40 years from 1948. That was 25 years ago." Commenting on Matthew 24:34, Lindsey said, "What generation? Obviously, in context, the generation that would see the signs--chief among them the rebirth of Israel. If this is a correct deduction, then within forty years or so of 1948, all these things could take place. Many scholars who have studied Bible prophecy all their lives believe that this is so" (TLGPE, p. 54). Notice the "If" and the "could" in the above quotation. Do you think you're fairly representing Lindsey when you say that he "predicted that it would all fall apart by 1988" and "claimed that it would be no longer than 40 years from 1948"?

Splashman
Splashman

Mr. DeMar, I grew up in a church which (like most) preached dispensationalism as fact. I fancy myself a Biblical scholar, but having been weaned on end-times theology (films such as "A Thief in the Night" and "A Distant Thunder" had a huge impact on me as a child), I had a gargantuan blind spot in that area well into middle age — I simply never questioned it. The very first time I became aware of the existence of another interpretation of "end-times" prophecy was when I stumbled upon this website a few years ago. What a revelation! It encouraged me to dig deep into areas of scripture I had taken for granted. I don't claim to have a complete handle on it all at this point (and probably never will), but thanks to you and your team, as well as the endless grace of God, I'm confident that I'm on the right track. So . . . thank you! I also wanted to give a hearty "amen" to an aspect of this discussion which you have alluded to many times, and which strikes me as the most convincing evidence for a partial preterist position. To wit, if I accept the end-times theology of dispensationalism, what sort of behavior does that encourage in me? If I accept the partial preterist position, what sort of behavior does that encourage in me? The former, while possibly lending urgency to evangelistic efforts, inevitably results in fatalism, to one degree or another, as well as overall pessimism and a short-term outlook. The latter will tend to encourage optimism and an "in it for the long haul" attitude -- thus, it will tend to lead me closer to God's will for my life.

Thoughts For Young Men
Thoughts For Young Men

Raymond, could you please elaborate? What is DeMar's error? He has exposed supposed "prophecy experts" who have made prophetic claims that proved to be false. He believes that Bible says what it means and means what it says. For example "the time is near" means "the time is near", not "maybe a few thousand years from now." The Church needs more sound Biblical teaching like this instead of wild, fearful speculation.

Raymond
Raymond

Gary DeMar is deeply involved in biblical error.

Bryan
Bryan

That is quite an extreme charge. I grew up in and spent the first 30 years of my life in dispensationalism, and NO ONE, no matter how much they may support Israel, has tied their faith to the creation of that state in 1948. The only thing that it is tied to is their belief that end time events are unfolding according to their understanding of Scripture. If it had not happened, they would be looking for it to happen. To say this is their proof that God exists is an unfounded smear.

Gary DeMar
Gary DeMar

Vance: You need to take a look at Lindsey's 1977 interview with W. Ward Gasque. You will see that he does not counter with the claim that he had equivocated in in "The Late Great Planet Earth." Gasque asked Lindsey, “But what if you’re wrong?” Lindsey replied: “Well, there’s just a split second’s difference between a hero and a bum. I didn’t ask to be a hero, but I guess I have become one in the Christian community. So I accept it. But if I’m wrong about this, I guess I’ll become a bum.”

Arrow
Arrow

If you read the book, it's obvious that it was a statement like: "if 2+2=4, then..." When you use this language, you'renot doubting that 2+2=4.

Gary DeMar
Gary DeMar

Yeah, Raymond, where am I "involved in biblical error"? Give specifics. Please don't just quote somebody else or list a 100 verses. I want to know in a well thought out response where I am in error.

Alex Alexander
Alex Alexander

Flashman, Firmly asserted; but not demonstrated. What error? Alex A UK (Nice uniform. My boy is a Royal Marine!)

Arrow
Arrow

No he isn't. Your turn.

Eric Heil
Eric Heil

Joseph Farah, EIC of World Net Daily.

Vance
Vance

I was not aware of the 1977 interview. I read The Late Great Planet Earth in 1971 and it always seemed to me that Lindsey worded his statements in such a way as to leave an out for himself. But don't get me wrong--I'm with you on dispensationalism. And I don't think there is a single serious scholar out there who accepts the approach to prophecy represented in TLGPE.

Vance
Vance

Arrow, the question is not whether Lindsey believed the Rapture would occur by 1988. Rather, it is whether DeMar's characterization is 100 percent accurate. I say that it would have been better to simply say that Lindsey *speculated* that the rapture would occur by 1988. DeMar's comment, however, left the impression that Lindsey dogmatically stated that it would occur by that year. Other dispensationalists *have* dogmatically asserted that the end would occur on a specific date or by a particular year. For accuracy's sake, the difference between them and Lindsey should be noted.

Arrow
Arrow

I get really annoyed with people who make a claim (more so if it is in the form of an accusation or challenge) and then do not bother to back up what they say. I think if you express an idea, you have some obligation to defend it (again, especially if it is an accusation or challenge).

Pete
Pete

Good luck getting an answer Gary. The drive by dispies only know one way to argue.