For some time now I have been challenging dispensationalists to be consistent with their claim that they interpret the Bible literally. They don’t take time words like “near” and “shortly” literally. “This generation will not pass away,” Tim LaHaye and others argue, becomes “the generation that sees these signs will not pass away.” Donald E. Green agrees with Neil Nelson that “‘generation’ refers to an evil kind of people in Matthew’s gospel.”[1] Richard L. Mayhue, Professor of Theology and Pastoral Ministries at the Master’s Seminary, argues that the Greek word genea (“generation”) “refers to ‘the category of rebellious people who have rejected God’s truth and righteousness through the ages.”[2] In each of these cases, words have to be added to Matthew 24:34 in order to get genea to mean these things. “This generation,” to follow the “plain sense” interpretive methodology employed by dispensationalists, means nothing more than the generation to whom Jesus was speaking if you stick to the text and compare how “this generation” is used elsewhere in the gospels.

Even when Jesus uses the phrase “evil and adulterous generation,” He is referring to that first-century generation, not some undesignated future generation (Matt. 12:38–45). The Pharisees say to Jesus, “We want to see a sign” (v. 38). Jesus answers, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign” (v. 39). That makes their generation an evil and adulterous generation since they are the ones asking for a sign. Even so, Jesus gives them a sign, “the sign of Jonah the prophet” (v. 39). And when was the sign of Jonah the prophet fulfilled? In their day (v. 40). The use of “this generation” throughout this passage (vv. 41–42) is used by Jesus to point out how their generation will be judged by the people of Nineveh and the Queen of the South because someone greater than Jonah and Solomon “is here.” The “here” is there! LaHaye, Green, Nelson, and Mayhue are wrong in their attempts to make “this generation” mean something other than the obvious.

My persistence in pushing for a more consistent hermeneutic is beginning to pay off in other areas. Since writing The Truth Behind Left Behind with Mark Hitchcock, Thomas Ice has “come to disagree” with the following statement that he and Hitchcock made about the weapons described in Ezekiel 38 and 39: “Ezekiel spoke in language that the people of his day could understand. If he had spoken of MIG-29s, laser-fired missiles, tanks, and assault rifles, this text would have been nonsensical to everyone until the twentieth century.’”[3] Ice admits that he no longer holds this view:

Gary DeMar criticizes such an approach when he says, “If someone like Tim LaHaye is true to his claim of literalism, then the Russian attack he and Jerry Jenkins describe in Left Behind should be a literal representation of the actual battle events as they are depicted in Ezekiel 38 and 39.”[4] DeMar continues, “How do Hitchcock, Ice, and LaHaye know that this is what the Holy Spirit really means when the text is clear enough without any modern-day embellishment?”[5] This may surprise some, but I think DeMar is basically right in his criticism of us on this point, even though he is demonstrably wrong about so many other items he addresses in the prophecy of Ezekiel 38 and 39.”[6]

He goes on to write, “Instead, I have come to agree with DeMar who says: ‘A lot has to be read into the Bible in order to make Ezekiel 38 and 39 fit modern-day military realities that include jet planes, ‘missiles,’ and ‘atomic and explosive’ weaponry.’”[7]

This is a wonderful development. Tommy should be commended for his honesty. It’s difficult to break from a long-held theological position. Hopefully he will get others to follow his lead. While he is becoming more consistent with his claim to interpret the Bible literally, he still believes that Ezekiel is describing a future battle that will be fought with ancient weapons. How he is going to reconcile his new view with those who claim that the antichrist will use modern technology to rule the world is still a question that needs to be answered convincingly. 

Neil D. Nelson, “‘This Generation’ in Matt 24:34: A Literary Critical Perspective,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 38 (September 1996), 381, n. 37. Quoted in Donald E. Green, “A Critique of Preterism” (2001), 28. [2] Richard Mayhue, “Jesus: A Preterist or Futurist?” Paper presented to the Evangelical Theological Society (November 1999), 19. Quoted in Green, “A Critique of Preterism,” 28.**
[3]** Mark Hitchcock and Thomas Ice, _The Truth Behind Left Behind: A Biblical View of the End Times_ (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Press, 2004), 47.**
[4]** Gary DeMar, “Ezekiel’s Magog Invasion: Future or Fulfilled?” _Biblical Worldview Magazine_, 22:12 (December 2006), 4.**
[5]** DeMar, “Ezekiel’s Magog Invasion,” 6. (italics original
**[6]** Thomas Ice, “Ezekiel 38 and 39: Part VIII.”**[7]** Ice, “Ezekiel 38 and 39: Part VIII.” Ice quotes me in “Ezekiel’s Magog Invasion: Future or Fulfilled?,” 4.