The prophetic prognosticators are at the prediction game again. Greg Laurie, author of Are We Living in the Last Days?,” is peering through contemporary events like Hurricane Katrina, earthquakes, 9–11, and the tsunami that struck Southeast Asia on December 26, 2004 and claiming that these events are a prelude to the “rapture” of the church. George Noory, host of “Coast to Coast AM,” follows a similar line of thought. “I don’t think there’s any doubt. I think we’re really in [the end times].” We’ve read about similar predictions for centuries. Nearly 20 centuries of predictions of the end have yellowed and grown faint with the parchment and paper they were written and printed on.
World conditions in general all also dredged up to make a case for an end-time scenario that is current and provincial. Consider the following quotation. I’ve left the date blank. Can you guess the time period being discussed?:
At the end of the year ______ most men in Western Europe felt exceedingly gloomy about the future. Christian civilization appeared to be shrinking in area and dividing into hostile units as its sphere contracted. For over a century there had been no important advance in natural science, and registration in the universities dwindled as the instruction they offered became increasingly jejune and lifeless. Institutions were decaying, and many intelligent men, for want of something better to do, were endeavoring to escape the present through studying the pagan past. Islam was now expanding at the expense of Christendom.”
If you guessed the twentieth century, then you are five centuries late. Samuel Eliot Morison, writing in the Prologue to his biography of Christopher Columbus, The Admiral of the Ocean Sea, was describing 1492. There is little in Morison’s chronicle of the times more than five centuries ago that could not serve as an accurate description of our own era. A general societal pessimism fills speculation about our future. Christian influence seems to be shrinking due to infighting among rival Christian groups. A general malaise hovers over the educational establishment. Educational reform is demanded from each end of the political spectrum and from everyone in between because of a deficient curriculum that cannot compete with our European and Japanese economic rivals. Escape is in the air as many turn to paganism through New Age humanism, the occult, and goddess worship. As in Columbus’ day, Islam seems to be “expanding at the expense of Christendom.”
If, as the writer of Ecclesiastes writes, “there is nothing new under the sun” (1:9), then how do we evaluate historical tumults? How can we now discern when such “signs” are prophetic indicators since “a generation goes and a generation comes” (1:4) but the end does not?
Four Prophetic Keys
Many reasons could be put forth to explain why our Christian counterparts of long ago were wrong about what they believed to be prophetic certainties. The signs seemed to fit the times. How can we avoid their mistakes? The following prophetic keys will help any interpreter unlock the door to the prophetic past and the prophetic future:
- The first prophetic key is to recognize that prophetic themes are most often set within established time frames. Failure to pay attention to a time frame can lead a person to assume that his generation is the generation experiencing the fulfillment when, in fact, the fulfillment is in the past.
- The second prophetic key is to recognize that as far as history records, little is unique about our era when it comes to calamities like plagues, earthquakes, and wars. This means that their contemporary manifestation does not necessarily carry any prophetic importance. In terms of a given time frame, the fulfillment of such prophecies is more than likely past.
- The third prophetic key is to determine historical context. Before an interpreter assumes a future fulfillment, if the time text is clear, he should search events within the given time frame for possible fulfillment.
- The fourth prophetic key is to distinguish fulfillment from application. There is much in Scripture that is fulfilled, but principles remain that can be applied to any era.
We’ll look at each of these over the next few days.
 For a comprehensive account of date setting based on current events, see Francis X. Gumerlock, The Day and the Hour: Christianity’s Perennial Fascination with Predicting the End of the World (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2000).
 Samuel Eliot Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus (Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1942), 3.