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Prophecy Speculation and the Days of Noah

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Ray Comfort’s film Noah and the Last Days isn’t so much about Noah and the flood. Instead, it’s a way to introduce the topic of end times’ speculation with the claim that there are 10 signs that are indisputable evidence that we are living in the last days. This is an old overused story.

Comfort isn’t the only person referencing Jesus’ use of the Noah story as a jumping off point for prophetic speculation. I just ordered two new books that attempt to make the same case: Jeff Kinley’s As It Was in the Days of Noah: Warnings from Bible Prophecy About the Coming Global Storm (Harvest House) and Minister Dante Fortson’s As The Days of Noah Were: The Sons of God and The Coming Apocalypse (which seems a little kooky).

In 1919, Lewis Sperry Chafer wrote Seven Biblical Signs of the Times. [1] He assured his readers of nearly a hundred years ago that the rapture “is imminent, and has been since the first promise regarding it was given.” [2] If an event is always “imminent,” what need do you really have for signs?

In 1979 Colin Hoyle Deal wrote Christ Returns by 1988: 101 Reasons Why. Then there was the tract Strange Events Forecast for 1982. [3] In 1988 the World Bible Society sent out a fund raising letter with the following appeal:

I beg you, as brothers and sisters in the Lord, to take time to read the first ten reasons the Rapture is in 1988 and the first ten pages of The Bible Dates of the 7th Week in Daniel, Armageddon and the Millennium. If you are not totally convinced of the Bible dates, I’ve sounded the trumpet, and I rest my case. We, as Christian booksellers, are responsible to make known to the Body of Christ these upcoming events. The watchman is held responsible, and the blood is on his hands if he doesn’t sound the alarm.

There was Edgar Whisenant who wrote 88 Reasons Why the Rapture is in 1988. [4] In our radio debate, he told the audience, “If I’m wrong about this, then the Bible’s wrong.”

Following these attempts to compile a list of prophetic signs concerning the end times, Mark Hitchcock released a book in 2003 with the title Seven Signs of the End Times. [5] In his 2012 updated edition, Noah W. Hutchings published 40 Irrefutable Signs of the Last Generation.

I have a library full of similar books that have made the same type of claims over the centuries. [6] The internet is filled with sites that list supposed end-time signs pointing to the “rapture” or some cataclysmic end-point of history. One site posits 26 signs. Another site lists 12 signs.

Many prophecy enthusiasts believe the story of the flood is analogous to our period in history. In fact, Jesus recounts the flood story to indicate a pending judgment upon Jerusalem, the temple complex, and the nation of Israel, a catastrophe that would engulf the capital city within the confines of that first-century generation.

To help His listeners better understand the timing and circumstances of the events leading up to and including the destruction of the temple before their generation passed away, Jesus draws on a familiar Old Testament judgment event — the flood. Jesus, teaching by analogy, shows how the coming of the flood waters during Noah’s generation and His own coming in judgment against Jerusalem are similar in certain respects (Luke 17:22-37).

Noah’s Flood is not an end of the world analogy. How do we know? Because Jesus said, speaking of Himself, “but first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation” (17:25). Every time Jesus uses the phrase “this generation,” it always means the generation to whom He was speaking (Matt. 12:39, 41, 42, 45; 23:36), never a future generation. Jesus isn’t jumping over nearly 2000 years of history to make a prophetic point about a people and time far removed from what was an impending judgment. There is a link between His suffering, the rejection by His own generation (Acts 2:22-23, 40), and the flood analogy of judgment. Joel McDurmon writes:

To those who may be tempted to argue . . .  that “this generation” refers to something other than the generation to whom Jesus was speaking – something more general or more future – the context here in Luke 17:25 makes it clear that Jesus’ “this generation” would be the same generation which rejected Him and caused Him to suffer. [7]

In Matthew’s gospel we read about “those days which were before the flood” and “the day that Noah entered the ark” (Matt. 24:38). Similarly, there were days before the coming of the Son of Man who prophesied judgment on the temple and city of Jerusalem and the day of the coming of the Son of Man. The same people were involved in both the “days before” and “the day of” the Son of Man. Those who “were eating and drinking” and “marrying and giving in marriage” were the same people who were shut out on “the day that Noah entered the ark.” They were all a part of Noah’s generation.

Noah entered the ark on a single day similar to the way Jesus as the Son of Man came on the “clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:30), a day and hour known only to the Father (24:36). “Some shall be rescued from the destruction of Jerusalem, like Lot out of the burning of Sodom: while others, no ways perhaps different in outward circumstances, shall be left to perish in it.” [8]

Jesus says that His coming “will be just like the days of Noah” (24:37). The people were doing normal things—“eating and drinking” and “marrying and giving in marriage.” Jesus is telling his audience that life will go on as usual when Jesus returns in judgment against the temple and city of Jerusalem. People had no thought of a coming judgment in Noah’s day since there were no signs except the preaching of Noah (2 Peter 2:5). Noah was told to prepare for “things not yet seen” (Heb. 11:7).

Jesus is not describing evil behavior like drunkenness and sexual sins that included “‘exchanging mates’ or ‘wife swapping,’” contrary to what M. R. DeHaan and Jack Van Impe claim. [9] “Marrying and given in marriage” is a phrase to describe, well, “marrying and giving in marriage” (see Matt. 22:30; Luke 17:27-28). People do it every day. Men and women marry and parents give their daughters away in marriage. D. A. Carson’s comments are helpful:

That the coming of the Son of Man takes place at an unknown time can only be true if in fact life seems to be going on pretty much as usual—just as in the days before the flood (v. 37). People follow their ordinary pursuits (v. 38). Despite the distress, persecutions, and upheavals (vv. 4–28), life goes on: people eat, drink, and marry. There is no overt typological usage of the Flood as judgment here, nor any mention of the sin of that generation. [10]

Support for Carson’s interpretation can be found in Luke’s account of the time just before Sodom’s destruction: “It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all” (Luke 17:28). Buying, selling, planting, and building describe life going on as usual without any regard to an impending judgment.

The picture here is on normal life, eating and drinking at meals and parties, getting married and giving their children in marriage. . . . In itself is not a negative picture, but these were people obsessed with their daily lives, giving no thought whatsoever to their obligations to God. All this was to change when “Noah entered the ark,” but then it was too late. [11]

Are prophecy speculators willing to say that these activities “connote moral corruption”? Darrell L. Bock attempts this interpretation even though he admits that the idea of “moral corruption . . . is not emphasized in Luke’s description.” [12] Of course it isn’t. Buying, selling, planting, and building are common everyday actions that can describe any period of history and any type of people. It’s the time indicator of “this generation” that identifies who is in view.

No one disputes that Noah and Lot lived in a time of moral corruption that brought judgment. Jesus’ point, however, is that the people in Noah and Lot’s day went on with their lives as if the promise of imminent judgment was an idle threat similar to the way the skeptics in the time before Jerusalem’s destruction thought of Jesus’ prediction (see 2 Peter 3:3–4). Notice the audience reference: “Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things” (v. 14). Peter is not describing a distant event for a future audience (he would have then used the word “they”) but one that was soon to take place and would impact them. The same is true of those who were told that Jesus would return in judgment within a generation (Matt. 24:34). The use of the second person plural (“you”) throughout Mathew 24 is evident of this fact (vv. 1, 3, 4, 6, 9, 26, 32, 33, 34).

No Rapture Here!

Many futurists claim that the phrase “took them all away” (24:39) refers to a rapture that is still in our future. On the contrary, “In the context of 24:37–39, ‘taken’ presumably means ‘taken to judgment’ (cf. Jer. 6:11 NASB, NRSV),” [13] or taken away “to their doom.” [14] It’s not about the rescue of the church from tribulation.

The phrase ties the judgment of the world in Noah’s day with the judgment on Israel’s world that took place with the destruction of the temple in AD 70. Who was taken away in the judgment of the flood? Not Noah and his family. They were “left behind” to carry on God’s work. John Gill writes in his commentary on this passage: “the whole world of the ungodly, every man, woman, and child” were taken away in judgment. Note who was left behind: “except eight persons only; Noah and his wife, and his three sons and their wives.”

And what does Gill say about those in the field? They shall be taken away “by the eagles, the Roman army, and either killed or carried captive by them.” The Bible gives its own commentary on the meaning of “took them all away.” “Destroyed them all” (Luke 17:27, 29) is equivalent to “took them all away.” This can hardly be referring to a rescue via the "rapture." Consider dispensationalist John F. Walvoord’s comments on “took them away.”

An argument advanced by Alexander Reese and adopted by [Robert] Gundry is that the references in Matthew 24:40, 41 should be interpreted as referring to the rapture. These verses state, “Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; one shall be taken and the other left.”

Here both Gundry and Reese violate the rule that the context should determine the interpretation of a passage. Both Gundry and Reese concede that the context deals with judgment such as characterized the time of Noah. According to Matthew 24:39 those living at that time “knew not until the flood came, and took them all away, so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be.” Those taken away were taken away in judgment.

                                                                       * * * * *

Claiming that those taken in verses 40 and 41 are taken away in the rapture, Gundry in discussing the parallel passage in Luke 17:34–37, ignores verse 37. There two are pictured in the same bed, with one taken and the other left. Two are grinding together, and one is taken and the other left. Two are in the field, one is taken and the other left. Then, in verse 37, the question is asked, “Where, Lord?” The answer is very dramatic: “And He said unto them, Wherever the body is, there will the eagles be gathered together.” It should be very clear that the ones taken are put to death and their bodies are consumed by the vultures. If the ones taken are killed, then verses 40, 41 of Matthew 24 speak of precisely the same kind of judgment as occurred in the flood where the ones taken were taken in judgment. [15]

Walvoord writes in another place:

Because at the rapture believers will be taken out of the world, some have confused this with the rapture of the church. Here, however, the situation is the reverse. The one who is left, is left to enter the kingdom; the one who is taken, is taken in judgment. [16]

But like Reese and Gundry, Walvoord ignores the time texts that run throughout Matthew 24–25, claiming that they refer to a distant coming of Christ. Since there was a judgment where Jews were in fact “taken away in judgment” by the Roman armies, it makes much more sense to place the timing of the event to the temple’s destruction and Jerusalem’s judgment in AD 70 since Jesus tells His disciples that “not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down” (Matt. 24:2). Jesus was not describing a supposed future rebuilt temple; He was describing what was going to happen to the temple that they could see with their own eyes: “not one stone here.”

Mix and Match

A number of commentators argue that Matthew 24:35 is a “transition text.” It’s at this point, they say, that Jesus is referring to a time period that is still in our future, the Second Coming. While Matthew 24:35 seems to be transitional if we only look at Matthew’s version of the Olivet Discourse, it ceases to be so when we compare it with Luke 17:22–37.

This section of Luke’s gospel describes five Olivet-Discourse prophetic events that are identical to those found in Matthew 24. The difference between Matthew 24 and Luke 17 is in the order of the events. Ray Summers writes:

This is a most difficult passage. The overall reference appears to be to the coming of the Son of Man—Christ—in judgment at the end of the age. Some small parts of it, however, are repeated in Luke 21 in reference to the destruction of Jerusalem (A.D. 70), and larger parts of it are in Matthew 24, also in reference to the destruction of Jerusalem. The entire complex cautions one against dogmatism in interpreting. [17]

Taking Matthew 24 as the standard, Luke places the Noah’s ark analogy (Matt. 24:37–39) before the events of Matthew 24:17–18 (“let him who is on the housetop not go down” or the person “in the field must not turn back to get his cloak”) which makes perfect sense because he or she might be caught and “taken away,” verse 27 (“for just as the lightning comes from the east”), and verse 28 (“wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather”). If the five prophetic events of Matthew 24 that are found in Luke 17:22–37 are numbered 1–2–3–4–5, Luke’s numbering of the same events would be 2–4–1–5–3. While this is not positive proof of an AD 70 fulfillment for chapters 24 and 25, it certainly adds credibility to the position. See the chart from my book Prophecy Wars.

From Prophecy Wars, page 61
Available at American Vision

After A Long Time

Another line of evidence offered by those who believe that events following Matthew 24:34 refer to a yet future personal and physical return of Jesus is the meaning given to “after a long time” (24:48; 25:19) and the “delay” by the bridegroom (25:5). On the surface these examples seem to indicate that two different events are in view, one near (the destruction of Jerusalem) and one distant (the second coming of Christ). This is the view of Stephen F. Hayhow.

Both parables, the parables of the virgins (vv. 1–13), and the parable of the talents (vv. 14–30), speak of the absence of the bridegroom/master, who is said to be “a long time in coming” (v. 5) and “After a long time the master of the servants returned” (v. 19). This suggests, not the events of A.D. 70 which were to occur in the near future, in fact within the space of a generation, but a distant event, the return of Christ. [18]

Notice that the evil slave says, “My master is not coming for a long time” (Matt. 24:48). The evil slave then proceeds to “beat his fellow-slaves and eat and drink with drunkards” (24:49). But to the surprise of the “evil slave” the master returned when he least expected him (24:50, compare with verse 42). The master did not return to cut the evil slave’s distant relatives in pieces (24:51); he cuts him in pieces. The evil slave was alive when the master left, and he was alive when the master returned.

In this context, a “long time” must be measured against a person’s lifetime. In context, two years could be a long time if the master usually returned within six months. The same idea is expressed in the parable of the “talents.” A man entrusts his slaves with his possessions (25:14). The master then goes on a journey (25:15). While the master is gone, the slaves make investment decisions (25:16–18). We are then told that “after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them” (25:19). In this context “a long time” is no longer than an average lifetime.

The settlement is made with the same slaves who received the talents. In every other New Testament context, “a long time” means nothing more than an extended period of time (Luke 8:27; 23:8; John 5:6; Acts 8:11; 14:3, 28; 26:5, 29; 27:21; 28:6). Nowhere does it mean centuries or millennia. The delay of the bridegroom is no different from the “long time” of the two previous parables. The bridegroom returns to the same two groups of virgins (25:1–13). The duration of the delay must be measured by the audience context.

This brief analysis helps us understand the “mockers” who ask, “Where is the promise of His coming?” (2 Peter 3:3–4). Peter was aware that Jesus’ coming was an event that would take place before the last apostle died (Matt. 16:27–28; John 21:22–23). The doctrine of the soon return of Jesus was common knowledge (Matt. 24:34; 26:64; Phil. 4:5; Heb. 10:25; 1 John 2:18; Rev. 1:1, 3). It is not hard to imagine that the passage of several decades would lead some to doubt the reliability of the prophecy, especially as the promised generation was coming to a close. The horrendous events of AD 70 silenced the mockers.

Conclusion

When prophecy pundits turn to the story of Noah and the Flood as a way to teach on the end times, they do serious damage to the text of Scripture by ripping it from its first-century context. Jesus used the story to describe what was going to happen to Jerusalem, the temple, and the nation within a generation.

  1. Lewis Sperry Chafer, Seven Biblical Signs of the Times (Chicago: The Bible Institute Colportage Association, [1919] 1928).[]
  2. Chafer, Seven Biblical Signs of the Times, 10.[]
  3. Cyril Hutchinson (Independence, MO: Gospel Tract Society, Inc.).[]
  4. An expanded edition changed the title to Why the Rapture Will be in 1988.[]
  5. Mark Hitchcock, Seven Signs of the End Times (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 2003).[]
  6. For a historical study of how prophetic passages have been misapplied for nearly 2000 years, see 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).[]
  7. Joel McDurmon, Jesus v. Jerusalem: A Commentary on Luke 9:51–20:26, Jesus’ Lawsuit Against Israel (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision Press, 2011), 113.[]
  8. Thomas Newton, Dissertations on the Prophecies, Which Have Remarkably Been Fulfilled, and at This Time are Fulfilling in the World (London: J.F. Dove, 1754), 379.[]
  9. Jack Van Impe, The Great Escape: Preparing for the Rapture, the Next Event on God’s Prophetic Clock (Nashville, TN: Word, 1998), 127.[]
  10. D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, gen. ed., Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 8:509. Also see N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996), 365–366.[]
  11. Grant R. Osborne, Matthew: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 904. Also see Alfred Plummer, An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1953), 340.[]
  12. Darrell L. Bock, Luke: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996), 2:1432–1433.[]
  13. Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 115.[]
  14. Osborne, Matthew, 904.[]
  15. John F. Walvoord, The Blessed Hope and the Tribulation: A Historical and Biblical Study of Posttribulationism (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976), 89, 90. Also see David L. Turner, Matthew: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 590.[]
  16. John F. Walvoord, Matthew: Thy Kingdom Come (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1974), 193.[]
  17. Ray Summers, Commentary on Luke: Jesus, the Universal Savior (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1972), 202.[]
  18. Stephen F. Hayhow, “Matthew 24, Luke 17 and the Destruction of Jerusalem,” Christianity and Society 4:2 (April 1994), 4.[]
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