In Chuck Smith’s Revelation commentary Dateline Earth he informed his readers in 1989 that “the rapture is at hand.”[1] Earlier he wrote, “Very soon there are going to be some strange and terrible things happening on this planet of ours.”[2] These “very soon” happenings are based on his reading of Revelation. He reinforces this claim when he argues emphatically, “Jesus is coming back, and He’s coming back soon.”[3] In his book The Final Curtain, he writes, “It is later than you think. It is time to wake up from your lethargy and realize that the coming of the Lord is at hand!”[4] Notice the use of “soon” and “at hand,” a phrase that is most often translated as “near” (Matt. 24:32–33; 26:18; James 5:8; 1 Pet. 4:7; Rev. 1:3; 22:10)

As a reader, what do you think Smith wants to convey when he uses “soon” and “at hand”? He sees them as time indicators. By his use of them, Smith is conveying his belief that the prophetic events he has been describing in all his prophecy books since 1976 is that the “rapture” is on the horizon not thousands of years in the future. So why is it when the Bible uses “at hand” (lit., “near”) that it does not mean soon to take place? Skirting the implications of the time references in the Bible is a major problem with dispensationalism.

Smith maintains that as a futurist he “believes that Revelation says what it means and means what it says, and he or she does not need to twist its words to make them fit any particular doctrine. The futurist believes this book is to be taken at face value. . . .”[5] In Dateline Earth Smith argues that much of Revelation is “symbolic in nature,” so “the seven churches are used to signify that the message is for the complete Church—for all of God’s people, in every country and in every age.”[6] If Revelation says what it means and means what it says, then why don’t the seven churches mean seven literal named churches in Asia Minor (Rev. 2–3)? Where does Revelation say, as Smith tells it, that “these churches are representative of the universal church,” each representing “a particular period of Church history”?[7] How does he know, for example, that the church at Pergamum “represents the beginning of the church-state system that developed under Constantine”[8] or the church at Sardis is the church of the Protestant Reformation?[9] Revelation doesn’t say any such thing? Smith is reading his interpretive system into the Bible. Smith follows the same non-literal interpretation in his most recent prophecy book The Final Act. [10]

Dispensationalists have been teaching that the rapture could have come at any moment during the so-called church age, which is now nearly 2000 years long. But this is impossible given Smith’s interpretation of Revelation 2 and 3 which he claims describes the entire history of the church age up to our time. This means, following his interpretive system, the rapture can only take place at the end of the Laodicean period, the symbolic church of our time. So then, the any-moment rapture was never a tenet of dispensationalism until just recently.

I was truly surprised when I read endorsements of The Final Act from Joel Rosenberg, Mark Hitchcock (who knows better), Dave Hunt, David Hocking (who ought to know better), and Greg Laurie. If The Final Act is representative of dispensational scholarship today, then the title is appropriate.

Chuck Smith with David Wimbish, Dateline Earth: Countdown to Eternity (Old Tappan, NJ: Chosen Books, 1989, 38. [2] Smith, Dateline Earth, 21. [3] Smith, Dateline Earth, 25. Emphasis in original.**
[4]** Chuck Smith, The Final Curtain (Costa Mesa, CA: The Word for Today, 1984), 46.**
[5]** Smith, Dateline Earth, 20. **[6]** Smith, Dateline Earth, 20**
[7]** Smith, Dateline Earth, 28.**
[8]** Smith, Dateline Earth, 28–29.**
[9]** Smith, Dateline Earth, 33. **[10]** Chuck Smith, The Final Act: Setting the Stage of the End Times Drama (Costa Mesa, CA: The Word for Today, 2007), 113-144.