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With America’s self-conscious move toward unfettered socialism and fascism, some Christians will undoubtedly rev up the prophecy presses and inform the world that the end is near-again! History is a sober teacher of such foolishness.
In 1927, Oswald J. Smith wrote Is the Antichrist at Hand?-What of Mussolini? Smith believed that the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, who had ruled Italy since 1922, was the predicted antichrist. Ample biblical evidence was put forth to establish his claim. In addition, Smith also believed that the Bible’s prediction about a revived ten-nation Roman confederacy was on the horizon. All the prophetic pieces were in place. Smith was so sure of his views that in subsequent printings of his book, he included the following on the front cover:
The fact that this book has run swiftly into a number of large editions bears convincing testimony to its intrinsic worth. There are here portrayed startling indications of the approaching end of the present age from the spheres of demonology, politics and religion. No one can read this book without being impressed with the importance of the momentous days in which we are living.
Following the prophetic script outlined by C. I. Scofield in his note-filled edition of the Bible, Smith was emphatic that "Ten nations, no more, no less, are to become allied and known as the Roman empire because Rome will be the centre, the capital, and it will be in Rome that the Emperor will reign." Similar predictions have been made by more modern prophecy writers. In his Late Great Planet Earth, Hal Lindsey wrote about a "ten nation [European] confederacy" that would be in place by 1980. For support, he quoted Dr. William Hallstein, the former president of the European Economic Community, who described how a "Common Market could someday expand into a ten-nation economic entity who industrial might would far surpass that of the Soviet Union." Lindsey remarks, "Imagine that. A ‘ten-nation economic entity.’"
But something happened to Smith on his road to prophetic certainty. In April 1945, just before the Allied armies reached Milan, Mussolini was caught by Italian Communist partisans as he tried to escape to Switzerland. He and his mistress, Clara Patacci, were hanged. Oops! Now that’s a monkey wrench in a well-oiled prophetic machine. Lindsey was also off the mark. The European Union is much bigger than ten nations and includes nations not originally part of the old Roman Empire and excludes the nations of northern Africa. But Smith did what no modern-day prophetic speculator has dared to do. He apologized for his presumption. John Warwick Montgomery adds this bit of historical perspective: "I understand that after the fall of Mussolini, Smith himself tried to buy up all remaining copies of the book to destroy them." This may be one of the reasons why Smith’s book is so hard to find today.
The ten-nation common market idea is beginning to take a back seat to historical reality. The union is now made up of fifteen nations. "Eight former Communist states and two island Mediterranean nations are poised to join the European Union in 2004, creating a unified economic and political force in a continent long divided." This will bring the total to twenty-five. Part of a revived Roman Empire also includes Israel and northern Africa. For apologetic purposes, prophetic certainty has proved to be a disaster. Montgomery’s warning needs to be heeded:
We are not saying that such efforts at end-time prophecy reach the level of the false prophets condemned in the Old Testament: those who "speak a vision out of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the Lord" (Jer. 23:16). But we are saying that end-time prophecy lacks the necessary factual grounding to make it an effective apologetic to the unbeliever—and that it can be and often is in reality counterproductive, lowering rather than raising the credibility of Christianity in the eyes of the outsider.
Does this mean that we as Christians should dismiss world events as outside the searching eye of Scripture? Not at all. There are enough non-prophetic examples in the Bible that can be used to analyze current social, moral, cultural, and political events. Consolidated political power is certainly a biblical issue, both in its efficiency (Ex. 18) and its potential for danger (1 Sam. 8). Christians can offer a reasonable voice without the dogmatism inherent in the ever-changing pronouncements found in prophetic speculation.