Once again, prophecy prognosticators are predicting Jesus is going to wrap up everything in our generation because things are so bad the end must be near. A recent article by Britt Gillette on the Prophecy News Watch website says as much:
“The signs of the Second Coming are all around us. When His disciples asked Jesus to describe the signs, He gave them several. The Jewish people back in possession of Jerusalem (Luke 21:24-28) … the Gospel preached throughout the world (Matthew 24:14) … the arrival of the exponential curve (Matthew 24:3-8) … and more.
“The Old Testament prophets also pointed to a number of signs. An increase in travel and knowledge (Daniel 12:4) … the rise of a united Europe (Daniel 2:42) … the rise of the Gog of Magog alliance (Ezekiel 38-39) … and more.
“Today, all these signs are either present or in the process of being fulfilled. Yet for 1,800+ years, none of these signs were present. Think about that. None of the signs. But today? Today, they’re all around us.”
These passages and “signs” have been used for centuries to prove that the end was near for their time. End-time speculation is not new. It has a long and failed history going back centuries and has led to a form of prophetic inevitability resulting in Christian passivity.
“If Jesus is coming back in my generation, then why expend time and effort to fix what can’t be fixed. Why rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic? It’s all going down.”
As Christians have waited for the soon return of Jesus, humanists, secularists, and materialists have infiltrated every part of society. Instead of fighting against the invasion, an end-time escapist eschatology was invented with disastrous results. In Hal Lindsey’s book The 1980’s: Countdown to Armageddon, he wrote, “The decade of the 1980’s could very well be the last decade of history as we know it.” In addition to his questionable interpretive claims, consider these comments from Lindsey:
- “What a way to live! With optimism, with anticipation, with excitement. We should be living like persons who don’t expect to be around much longer.”1
- “I don’t like clichés but I’ve heard it said, ‘God didn’t send me to clean the fish bowl, he sent me to fish.’ In a way there’s a truth to that.”2
If the end is always just around the corner based on certain prophetic texts linked to current events, then why bother or even hope to rebuild a failing and collapsing world?
We’ve seen such speculation many times before: in the French Revolution, World War I, World War II, and nearly every dramatic event throughout two millennia of history. If you want to read a chronicle of end-time speculation, take a look at Francis X. Gumerlock’s The Day and the Hour: Christianity’s Perennial Fascination with Predicting the End of the World. Send a copy to your end-time speculating friends.
I often hear, “But this time it’s different. We really are living in the last days and Jesus is coming soon.”
Today’s prophecy neophytes are under the false assumption that what they are reading in books and magazines, articles posted on the internet, seeing on television, and hearing on the radio and from pulpits are actually recently-discovered end-time truths of what they believe are current events that match up with particular prophetic passages. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Charles Wesley Ewing, writing in 1983, paints a clear historical picture of how prophetic interpretation based on current events turns to confusion, uncertainty, and in some people unbelief when it comes to predicting an end that disappoints:
“In 1934, Benito Mussolini sent his black-shirted Fascists down into defenseless Ethiopia and preachers all over the country got up in their pulpits and preached spellbinding sermons that had their congregations bulging at the eyes in astonishment about ‘Mussolini, the Anti-Christ,’ and to prove their point they quoted from Daniel 11:43, which says, ‘And the Ethiopians shall be at his steps.’ Later, Benito, whimpering, was hung by his own countrymen, and preachers all over America had to toss their sermons into the scrap basket as unscriptural.”3
Ewing goes on to mention how Hitler’s storm troopers took Czechoslovakia, Poland, France, North Africa, and set up concentration camps where millions of Jews were killed in what has become the modern-day definition of “holocaust.” Once again, preachers ascended their pulpits and linked these events to Bible prophecy and assured the church-going public that Hitler was the antichrist. When the allies routed the Nazis and drove them out, sermons were once again tossed out or filed away to be revised at some future date hoping people’s memories would fade.
The next end-time-antichrist candidate was Joseph Stalin, the leader of godless Communism, a movement hell-bent on conquering the world. “But on March 5, 1953, Stalin had a brain hemorrhage and preachers all over America had to make another trip to the waste basket.”4
Consider the “Signs”
Let’s take the above prophetic claims one at a time:
First, the Olivet Discourse found in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 describes events leading up to and including the destruction of the temple and the judgment on Jerusalem that took place in AD 70. Jesus makes this clear when He told His first-century audience, “This generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matt. 24:34; Mark 13:320; Luke 21:31). Every time “this generation” is used in the gospels it always refers to the generation to whom Jesus is speaking (Matt. 11:16; 12:39; 41, 42, 45; 17:17; 23:36; Mark 8:12; 13:30; Luke 7:31; 11:29, 30, 31, 32, 50, 51; 17:25; 21:32). There are no exceptions. Grant Osborne summarizes the argument well:
“[T]his generation” (ἡ γενεὰ αὕτη) in the gospels always means the people of Jesus’ own time (11:16; 12:41-42; 23:36) not, as some have proposed, the generation of the last days in history, the Jewish people, the human race in general, or the sinful people.”5
William Sanford LaSor writes, “If ‘this generation’ is taken literally, all of the predictions were to take place within the life-span of those living at that time.”6 These are just two examples of many who hold this position. See my soon-to-be-released book Wars and Rumors of Wars for a long list of Bible commentators who interpret the Olivet Discourse in the same way.
This means that Luke 21:24-28 and Matthew 24:14, since these signs occur before Luke 21:31 and Matthew 24:34 they must have taken place before that first-century generation passed away.
Second, the New Testament does not say anything about Israel becoming a nation again. To the contrary; it only refers to its judgment (Matt. 21:18-22; 24:2-3; Luke 19:43-44). Israel did become a nation again after the Jews returned to their land from the Babylonian exile (Dan. 9:2; 2 Chron. 36:21; Ezra 1:1; Jer. 25:11-12; 29:10; Zech. 7:5; Neh. 1). The temple was rebuilt and the nation was reestablished. The fact that Jews were living in Israel during Jesus’ day proves this is true.
Third, contrary to Britt Gillette, Luke 21:24-28 does not say that Israel will become a nation again. Consider what is said in verses 31-32: “So you also, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place.” Jesus is not describing what will happen to a future generation. The use of the second person plural (you) and the near demonstrative “this” make it clear Jesus had that generation, and that generation alone, in view.
Fourth, what about “the Gospel preached throughout the world (Matthew 24:14)”? This does not refer to the whole globe and all human populations a we know them. The Greek word translated “world” is not kosmos (world) but oikoumenē and means “inhabited earth” or “empire boundary.” It is often translated “Roman Empire.” The same Greek word is used in Luke 2:1: “Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth [oikoumenē].” Rome could only tax those within the boundaries of its own empire, not the whole wide world.
Fifth, even if the Greek had said “kosmos,” it is written that the faith of the Roman Christians had been “proclaimed throughout the whole world [kosmos]” (Rom. 1:8). Paul wrote to the Colossians “the gospel,” which had come to them, had also come to those “in all the world [kosmos]” where it was “constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as in” them (Col. 1:6). Even if Jesus had used kosmos in Matthew 24:14, therefore, the above passages would indicate that Jesus’ words were fulfilled. This was so true that Paul could write, “the hope of the gospel . . . was proclaimed in all creation under heaven” (1:23). In fact, the gospel had been “proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world [kosmos]” (1 Tim. 3:16). Paul concludes his letter to the Romans with the following:
“Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations [remember Matt. 24:14: “as a testimony to all the nations”] leading to obedience of faith; to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.” (Rom 16:25-27)
Based on the above biblical evidence, it is untrue to say, “yet for 1,800+ years, none of these signs were present.” These signs were present in the first century as the Bible makes clear and as many Bible expositors have pointed out for centuries.
What about Gillette’s claim that an “an increase in travel and knowledge (Daniel 12:4) … the rise of a united Europe (Daniel 2:42) … the rise of the Gog of Magog alliance (Ezekiel 38-39) … and more” are signs of the end?
Like the above passages, these verses also have been used repeatedly to “prove” the end was near for people in past generations. For example, John Cumming (1807-1881) considered “railway traveling”7 to be a reference to “many shall run to and fro” (Dan. 12:4). Current prophecy writers like Hal Lindsey are just as ingenious when they see modern transportation systems and computer technology as a fulfillment of Daniel 12:4.8 This is such a discredited interpretation that it’s embarrassing to read that anyone still believes and teaches it. Even many die-hard dispensationalists reject the idea that the “increase in knowledge” refers to “the recent explosion in knowledge.”9
What does “knowledge will increase” really mean? James B. Jordan, in his commentary on Daniel, The Handwriting on the Wall, offers a helpful explanation:
Those who take verse 4 [in Dan. 12] as referring to events at the end of history believe that Daniel’s prophecy is “sealed up” until that time. Only as the second coming of Christ draws near will we be able to understand prophetic truth. Hal Lindsey, of course, believes that the end is near and that he, unlike previous generations of Christian thinkers, understands the previously hidden prophetic truth. The sealing of the book, however, does not mean that it cannot be understood, but rather that the angel has told Daniel all that he is going to say at this point in history. The book is unsealed in Revelation 5-6, and in Revelation 22:10 the completed book is left unsealed because there is no more to be said.
Prophetic speculators take note of the fact that with the coming of railroads, automobiles, and airplanes, people “go to and fro” much more than ever before in history. Scientific knowledge has also boomed in recent years. We can say, of course, that a thousand years from now people may be going to and fro even more than they do now, and there will be even more knowledge around, so how can anyone know that our own generation is the time verse 4 is pointing to?
The real point, of course, is that this kind of “interpretation” of verse 4 is possible only by wrenching the text completely out of its context and then dreaming up possible meanings… [T]here is plenty of going to and fro in Daniel 11 and that is pretty clearly what verse 4 refers to.…((“run to and fro—not referring to the modern rapidity of locomotion, as some think, nor to Christian missionaries going about to preach the Gospel to the world at large [Albert Barnes], which the context scarcely admits; but, whereas now but few care for this prophecy of God, ‘at the time of the end,’ that is, near its fulfilment, ‘many shall run to and fro,’ that is, scrutinize it, running through every page. Compare Hab 2:2 [John Calvin]: it is thereby that ‘the knowledge (namely, of God’s purposes as revealed in prophecy) shall be increased.’” (Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, et al., A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments [Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997], Dan. 12:4).)) [T]he increase of knowledge is pretty obvious: As time goes along and the predictions in Daniel 11 are fulfilled decade by decade, the prophecy will be better and better understood.10
The Hebrew word for “knowledge” in Daniel 12:4 is not a reference to a mass collection or a library of data.11 Knowledge is used as revelational information about God and His works. It’s most likely that the knowledge being described in Daniel 12:4 is related to the new covenant and the coming of the promised Redeemer. Since the focus of the Bible is on Jesus (Luke 24:25–27), we should expect that this is what God had in mind when the angel told Daniel that “the knowledge” (note the “the” here) will increase. What redemptive significance does a modern Google search have to do with God’s redemptive plan for His people? Zacharias and Elizabeth (1:5-25), Joseph and Mary (1:26-56), Simeon (Luke 2:25-32) and Anna (2:36-38) had an increase in “the knowledge” as the realities of the old covenant were unfolding in their day. The Scriptures “testify” about Jesus (John 5:39). Jesus uses Daniel 7:13 as the defining event in His ministry (Matt. 24:30), something His accusers (again, in that generation) should have understood (26:64). This is the “increase in knowledge” that the angel was describing. Even prophecy writer Thomas Ice—who still believes in the future repetition of all these “signs”—recognizes that the interpretation followed by Lindsey, Morris, Gillette, and so many other pop-prophecy analysts found on the Internet have misread and misapplied Daniel 12:4.12
It could be argued that the New Testament itself is the increase of knowledge: “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). Then there is the negative side to the promise of an increase in revelational knowledge: “Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you yourselves did not enter, and you hindered those who were entering” (Luke 11:52).
What about the Gog and Magog prophecy found in Ezekiel 38-39? There is nothing new under the same. These two prophetic passages have been used over the centuries as proof texts to some end-time bad guy from their era. In reality, the prophecy was fulfilled long ago during the time Haman the Agagite tried to kill all the Jews (Esther 3). See my book The Gog and Magog End-Time Alliance for a detailed study of Ezekiel 38–39.
It is simply time that Christian move past the repeatedly-failed nonsense of these sensational prophecy pundits. Their predictions have always failed because their methods and interpretations of Scripture have always been wrong to begin with. Today’s recent versions will fare no better than the many past failures—for they are founded on the same flawed understanding.
But there is a far better way of looking to the Bible’s understanding of the future. Here’s just a well-written glimpse I found and happen to agree with. Brian Walsh writes:
Build houses in a culture of homelessness. Plant gardens in polluted and contested soil. Get married in a culture of sexual consumerism. Make commitments in a world where we want to always keep our options open. Multiply in a world of debt. Have children at the end of history. Seek shalom in a violent world of geopolitical conflict and economic disparity. This is Jeremiah’s word to the exiles. This is Jeremiah’s subversive word to us. And in this vision, we just might see, with Jeremiah, “a future with hope” (Jer. 29:11).
- The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970), 145. [↩]
- “The Great Cosmic Countdown,” Eternity (January 1977), 21. [↩]
- Charles Wesley Ewing, “The Comedy of Errors,” The Kingdom Digest (July 1983), 45. [↩]
- Ewing, “The Comedy of Errors,” 45-46. [↩]
- Grant R. Osborne, Matthew: Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 899-900. [↩]
- William Sanford LaSor, The Truth About Armageddon: What the Bible Says About the End Times (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987), 122. [↩]
- Robert H. Ellison, “John Cumming and His Critics: Some Victorian Perspectives on the End Times,” Leeds, Centre Working Papers in Victorian Studies: Platform Pulpit Rhetoric, ed. Martin Hewitt, vol. 3 (Horsforth, Leeds: Leeds Centre for Victorian Studies, 2000), 79. [↩]
- Ed Hindson and Lee Fredrickson, Future Wave: End Times Prophecy, and the Technology Explosion (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2001); Peter Lalonde and Paul Lalonde, Racing Toward . . . The Mark of the Beast: Your Money, Computers, and the End of the World (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1994). [↩]
- Mark Hitchcock, The Complete Book of Bible Prophecy (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999), 176-177. [↩]
- James B. Jordan, The Handwriting on the Wall: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2007), 624-625. [↩]
- “An increase in travel toward the end of the age is not the idea of the phrase ‘will go here and there.’ In a number of Old Testament passages (e.g., 2 Chr 16:9; Jer 5:1; Amos 8:12; Zech 4:10), [the] Hebrew . . . denotes ‘to go here and there’ in search of a person or thing, and that is the meaning here. An ‘intense’ searching seems indicated by the verb form. The purpose of this search will be ‘to increase knowledge.’ Yet Gabriel was not predicting a mere surge in scientific ‘knowledge,’ and so forth, in the last days. The article appears with ‘knowledge’ (lit., ‘the knowledge’), showing that a particular kind of ‘knowledge’ was intended, that is, when and how Daniel’s message is to be fulfilled. As the time of fulfillment draws nearer, the “wise” will seek to comprehend these prophecies more precisely, and God will grant understanding (‘knowledge’) to them.” (Stephen R. Miller, Daniel [Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001], 18:321). [↩]
- Thomas Ice, “Running To and Fro.” Ice gets a lot right in this article but applies its fulfillment to a post-rapture Great Tribulation. [↩]