I was doing my typical daily research when I came across the article “The Jews in End Time Bible Prophecy” written by David R. Reagan of Lion and Lamb Ministries. In it he claims the following:
“We are living in exciting times when we can witness Bible prophecy being fulfilled before our very eyes. Many of these prophecies relate to the Jewish people and their nation.”
As I and others have written over the years, the New Testament does not say one word about the reestablishment of the Jewish people in their land as being a prophetic indicator of end-time events.
Prior to 1948 and after, prophecy writers have claimed that the reestablishment of modern-day Israel would have prophetic significance. In fact, predictions were made about when the “rapture of the church,” prior to the seven-year post-rapture tribulation period, would take place. Hal Lindsey, Chuck Smith, and others argued that it would take place within 40 years of 1948. Sixty six years have passed and nothing has changed except for the way prophecy writers are trying to explain why they were wrong about the significance of 1948.
The year was changed from 1948 to 1967, and a generation was stretched from 40 to 60 to 70 to 80 to now 100 years. In 1977, Lindsey said in an interview with W. Ward Gasque that he didn’t “know how long a Biblical generation is. Perhaps somewhere between sixty and eighty years.”1
It’s obvious that there is no set number for the length of a generation. In biblical terms, however, if length of a generation is measured, then we would have to look at Matthew 1:17: “So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.”
The average length in terms of the number of years of a generation, we find that “from Abraham to David (Matt. 1:17) was approximately 64 years, while the average generation for the other two groups was 38 years. The time span covered by each generation is not the emphasis, but rather the fact of the passing of the number of successive generations.” It’s most likely that when Jesus told His disciples that “this generation” will not pass away until all the stated non-specific signs (e.g., earthquakes, wars, famines since these are present in every generation) and prophetic signs (e.g., abomination of desolation, fleeing to the mountains, signs in sun, moon, and stars, coming on the clouds of heaven) took place He had in mind the generation that was in the wilderness – 40 years (Num. 14:33-34; 32:13; Ps. 95:10; Acts 7:36; 13:18; Heb. 3:10, 17).
But no matter what the duration of the generation that Jesus references in Matthew 24:34, He was addressing the generation that was alive in His day. The use of “this generation will not pass away” makes it clear that Jesus had His contemporary’s generation in view. Any other interpretation is forced.
Consider these comments on Matthew 24:34 from Henry M. Morris, a dispensationalist and founding father of the modern-day six-day creationist movement. They are taken from his creationist themed Defender’s Study Bible which was first published in 1995:
“The word ‘this’ is the demonstrative adjective and could better be translated ‘that generation.’ That is, the generation which sees all these signs (probably starting with World War I) shall not have completely passed away until all these things have taken place” (1045).
Morris describes the use of “this” as a “demonstrative adjective,” but it is better designated as a “near” demonstrative adjective identifying what generation will see what Jesus describes in the Olivet Discourse. Prior to his comments in his Defender’s Study Bible, Morris wrote the following extended comments on Matthew 24:34 in his Creation and the Second Coming:
“In this striking prophecy, the words ‘this generation’ has the emphasis of ‘that generation.’ That is, that generation — the one that sees the specific signs of His coming — will not completely pass away until He has returned to reign as King.2 Now if the first sign was, as we have surmised, the first World War, then followed by all His other signs, His coming must indeed by very near — even at the doors!3 There are only a few people still living from that generation. I myself was born just a month before the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918. Those who were old enough really to know about that first World War — ‘the beginning of sorrows’—would be at least in their eighties now. Thus, we cannot be dogmatic, we could very well now be living in the very last days before the return of the Lord.”4
As of late 2014, any survivors from the World War I era would be more than 100 years old if they were infants when the war started (1914-1917). Morris died in 2006. The last surviving veteran of World War I died in 2012 at the age of 110.
Matthew 24:33 tells us what audience Jesus said would see “these things,” and it wasn’t the World War I generation: “so, YOU too, when YOU see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door” (see James 5:7-9). It is obvious, and without any need for debate, that the first “you” refers to those who asked the questions that led to Jesus’ extended remarks (Matt. 24:2–4). Jesus identifies those who would “see all these things” by once again using “you.” If Jesus had a future generation in mind, He could have eliminated all confusion by stating, “when THEY see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. Truly I say to you, THAT generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”
At the same time I saw this particular article, I came across a new book by Ron Rhodes who writes a great deal on the subject of Bible prophecy. His latest book is The 8 Great Debates of Bible Prophecy: Understanding the Ongoing Controversies. I found this comment in a review of The 8 Great Debates:
“Some issues, orthodox preterism specifically, are treated to no more than one page, dismissed with the prefatory ‘evangelicals in general believe,’ as if that were representative of past or contemporary preterist enthusiasts. RC Sproul is mentioned, as is Gary DeMar. But none of their particular arguments are presented. Only their names are listed as advocates of a position that is untenable for no apparent reason other than the rejection of their interpretation of one word by ‘general evangelicals.’”
Rhodes’ book covers a lot of material, so he can’t expect to cover everything, but at least a book like this should present the best argument for a position, offer some supporting material from those who advocate for the position, and then list the major works of those who hold the position so readers can do their own independent research.
I have to agree with the above reviewer that Rhodes’ section on preterism, the belief that the Olivet Discourse prophecy (Matt. 24; Mark 13; Luke 21) has already been fulfilled (preterist = past) is poorly presented. In addition, his section on postmillennialism is also lacking (132-134). While he mentions a few postmillennialists, all of whom are dead, he doesn’t mention the most prolific and cogent postmillennial author writing today, Kenneth L. Gentry (233). Gentry has written He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology, the definitive work on postmillennialism, now its third edition and in print for more than 20 years. He has also written the definitive work on the dating of the book of Revelation: Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation. He has contributed to The Great Tribulation: Past or Future? (with Thomas Ice), Four Views on the Book of Revelation, and Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond: How is it possible that Rhodes would not mention him and his body of work?
A book on “great debates” should present the material of those who are actually engaged in the great debate. Gentry is the leading advocate for postmillennialism, and he and his body of work on the subject don’t even get mentioned under the postmillennialism section.
Now back to David Reagan who lists a number of examples in an attempt to make the case that Bible prophecy is being fulfilled before our very eyes. In all of the examples he cites, there is no indication that there are alternate interpretations. These types of prophecy writers simply dismiss competing positions out of feat that their readers might take a look at them and be persuaded.
Here’s is first claim:
- The Jewish people will be regathered in unbelief from the four corners of the earth (Isaiah 11:11-12). Fulfillment: 20th Century and continuing.
No Jew reading Isaiah 11 would ever have considered such an interpretation given that the chapter mentions Assyria, Shinar, the Philistines, Edom, Moab, “and the sons of Ammon” (vv. 11, 14). These people groups existed at the time when the prophecy was given, and the fulfillment was expected when those people groups still existed. New Testament scholar William Hendriksen writes:
“[T]hose who believe that now, in the twentieth century A.D., these Philistines, Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites must still be destroyed or plundered or subjected will have a hard time even finding them!”5
This prophecy was fulfilled when the people of Israel returned to their land, rebuilt the temple, and reestablished the priesthood and the sacrificial system after their 70-year captivity (Dan. 9:1-2; 2 Chron. 36:21; Ezra 1:1; Jer. 25:11-12; 29:10; Zech. 7:5). Note what Isaiah 11:1 states: “Then it will happen on that day that the Lord will again recover the second time with His hand the remnant of His people. . .”
If this was to be the “second time,” then when was the first time? Isaiah tells us in the same chapter:
And there will be a highway from Assyria
For the remnant of His people who will be left,
Just as there was for Israel
In the day that they came up out of the land of Egypt (11:16).
If the second gathering of the remnant back to the land comes by way of Assyria, and Assyria does not exist today, the first return was when Israel “came up out of the land of Egypt.” Reagan misses the Egyptian exodus as the first time Israel was recovered and brought into the Promised Land. Hendriksen states:
“The fact that Isa. 11:11 refers to a second recovery has nothing whatever to do with recent events, for according to the context the first recovery or exodus was the one under Moses. It was the return from the house of bondage (11:16). Hence, the second recovery was fulfilled when in stage, the Jews returned from the Assyrian-Babylonian captivity, and were established in their own land. All this took place long, long ago. There is, accordingly, no justification for interpreting these prophecies as if they refereed to events happening in the twentieth century.”6
Nothing is said about returning “in unbelief.” Reagan throws in this claim in order to maintain the fiction that Israel becoming a nation again in 1948 is the fulfillment of this particular prophecy.
We know that Israel returned in belief from their post-Babylonian and earlier Assyrian captivity in the events recorded in Ezra and Nehemiah. “The sons of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered together as one man in Jerusalem” (Ezra 3:1). The Jews considered themselves to be an “escaped remnant” by god’s grace.
“But now for a brief moment grace has been shown from the Lord our God, to leave us an escaped remnant and to give us a peg in His holy place, that our God may enlighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our bondage. For we are slaves; yet in our bondage our God has not forsaken us, but has extended lovingkindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us reviving to raise up the house of our God, to restore its ruins and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem” (Ezra 9:8-9).
This is a description of a believing remnant returning according to God’s promise a second time. The admit their “great guilt” (9:13-15): “behold, we are before You in our guilt, for no one can stand before You because of this.”
“Now while Ezra was praying and making confession, weeping and prostrating himself before the house of God, a very large assembly, men, women and children, gathered to him from Israel; for the people wept bitterly. Shecaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, said to Ezra, ‘We have been unfaithful to our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope for Israel in spite of this. So now let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law. Arise! For this matter is your responsibility, but we will be with you; be courageous and act.’ Then Ezra rose and made the leading priests, the Levites and all Israel, take oath that they would do according to this proposal; so they took the oath” (10:1-5).
God would not have regathered Israel if they had not first been faithful:
“Remember the word which You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful I will scatter you among the peoples; but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though those of you who have been scattered were in the most remote part of the heavens, I will gather them from there and will bring them to the place where I have chosen to cause My name to dwell’” (Neh. 1:8-9).
The people were so moved because of God’s loving kindness to them that they “were weeping when they heard the words of the law” (8:9-10). No such thing happened in 1948. Israel did not return believing. In fact, the Jews return with no regard for Jesus Christ.
The “four corners of the earth” or “land” is no difficulty since the Israelites that were taken into captivity were often sold to other neighboring nations (Ezek. 27:13; Joel 3:7; Amos 1:6, 9). Four corners means the same thing as it does today – the four points of the compass.
David Reagan and other modern-day prophecy writers who believe that Israel becoming a nation again, returning to their land in unbelief, is a fulfillment of Bible prophecy do not rightly interpret Scripture. If such a singular prophetic witness is so significant, we have to wonder why Jesus and the New Testament biblical writers never mentioned it.
If the land was so important to Jews after the “It is finished” (John 19:30) work of Jesus on the cross and His subsequent resurrection, ascension, and enthronement, then why did “all who were owners of land or houses” sell them? (Acts 4:34). The world was now open to the gospel. Jews and Gentiles were now one new person in Christ:
“Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called ‘Uncircumcision’ by the so-called ‘Circumcision,’ which is performed in the flesh by human hands — remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit” (Eph. 2:11-22).
Being in Christ means that Gentiles are included in the “Commonwealth of Israel.” If this includes the land promises, then believing Gentiles would have to have the same access to it. But is not what dispensationalists teach.
Reagan and his fellow dispensationalists want to rebuild the wall and divide Jews and Gentiles and make Gentiles strangers once again. This is a false gospel.
- W. Ward Gasque, “Future Fact? Future Fiction?,” Christianity Today, 21 (April 15, 1977), 40. [↩]
- There is nothing in Matthew 24 that says Jesus is going to return to earth to reign as king. Even Revelation 20 doesn’t say that Jesus is going to reign on the earth. [↩]
- Why does “near” mean “even at the doors” for Morris in the twentieth century, but it did not mean “near” in the first century? See James 5:7-9. [↩]
- Henry Morris, Creation and the Second Coming (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 1991), 183. [↩]
- William Hendriksen, Israel and the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1968), 21. [↩]
- Hendriksen, Israel and the Bible, 21. [↩]