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Debunking "Last Days Fever" at Charisma

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Charisma magazine provides news, analysis, prophetic commentary and teachings for charismatic and Pentecostal Christians.” Lee Grady, who came out of the Maranatha movement of the 1980s, is its editor. Since I don’t follow what goes on among charismatics, I can’t comment on all the diversity of opinion that’s in the movement, and there is a lot of it. The charismatic movement is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get doctrinally. That’s what makes Charisma magazine so intriguing. Sometimes the magazine tackles subjects that other magazines won’t touch with a ten-foot poll. One of them is Bible prophecy. Grady wrote Don’t Get Infected With Last Days Fever back in August of this year in his “Fire in My Bones” blog.

Troy Anderson’s “Last Days Fever” in the October issue of Charisma  expands on what Lee wrote in his blog post. It’s a good attempt at sorting out various views on the subject of the last days. Instead of promoting speculation regarding the last days, Anderson presents several opinions, even including preterism: “Peter Wagner, president of Global Harvest Ministries, is an adherent of partial preterism, believing most end-times prophecies were fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.” Wagner is the author of Dominion! How Kingdom Action Can Change the World published by Chosen Book in 2008. There are better representatives for the partial preterist position than Wagner, but at least it’s a start.

A sidebar debate between Wagner and Perry Stone on the rapture is also included on pages 22 and 23. Stone’s explanation is pure dispensationalism with no bibliographical support for some of his historical claims. I would like to see him back up his assertion that John Gill taught a pre-tribulational rapture since dispensationalist Grant Jeffrey writes that “there is some ambiguity in Dr. Gill’s 1748 timing and sequence of prophetic events.”[1] Wagner, unfortunately, offers no exegetical rebuttal. Anderson should have called on a real preterist to counter Stone’s argument.

A great deal is said about Israel in this article. Some of it is quite encouraging:

  • Since the late 1960s, the number of Jews professing faith in Jesus has exploded from several thousand to anywhere from 250,000 to 500,000 worldwide.
  • David Brickner, executive director of the San Francisco-based Jews for Jesus, says a growing number of the world’s nearly 14 million Jews are discovering Jesus as their Messiah and revival is beginning in Israel.
  • “What we are seeing now in the beginning of the 21st century is openness and a surge of Israeli believers in Jesus,” Brickner says.

What starts off as good news for the Jews ends up in disaster. Rabbi Jonathan Bernis states, “There are Jews in just about every country in the world. These are clear signs of the last days that are often overlooked when we talk about end-times prophecies. Israel is restored, Jerusalem is restored, the Jews are coming back from the four corners of the earth and they are being restored to Jesus, their Messiah.” This is seen as a “super prophecy” where “hundreds of thousands of Jews are returning to Israel from exile.” What Bernis and his fellow end-time advocates do not tell the readers of Charisma is what happens to the Jews after they return to Israel: Two-thirds of them will be slaughtered during the great tribulation (Zech. 13:7–8). Knowing this, dispensationalists should be telling Jews to leave Israel.

Because Charisma has a large charismatic audience, a number of prominent charismatic leaders often write for the magazine. Benny Hinn is one of them. The title of Hinn’s article is “The Fig Tree Is In Bloom.” He believes the fig tree represents modern-day Israel and it is the singular sign that is telling us when that the last days are upon us. We heard this with the signing of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, when Israel became a nation again in 1948, and when the Jews captured Israel in the Six-Day in 1967. Hinn has given himself some prophetic room by making a generation 100 years. Even so, he gets the fig tree sign wrong:

Many of these events [in Matthew 24] began to unfold immediately after Christ ascended back to the Father and have continued to this very day. But what was the one “sign” that would be unmistakable? As Jesus often did, He answered their question in the form of a simple story: “‘Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place’” (Matt. 24:32–34).

First, notice that it was Jesus’ present audience that would see the signs: “when you see all these signs.” Jesus does not have a future generation in view. Second, the “this generation” of Matthew 24:34 refers to the generation to whom Jesus was speaking. This includes the “parable of the fig tree.” Third, if you want a tree that represents Israel, it’s the olive tree (Rom. 11:17–24). Fourth, if the fig tree represents Israel in Matthew 24, then there is a problem with Matthew 21:19: “Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, [Jesus] came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it, ‘No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.’ And at once the fig tree withered.” Fifth, the parallel passage in Luke 21:29–30 shows that Jesus referred not only to the fig tree but to “all the trees”: “And He told them a parable: ‘Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; as soon as they put forth leaves, you see it and know for yourselves that the summer is now near. Even so you, too, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near.’” (Luke 21:29B30). Thus, it’s not just the fig tree but all the trees whose leaves herald the nearness of summer. Sixth, Hinn needs to take a look at what dispensational scholar John F. Walvoord wrote about the fig tree being Israel:

Actually, while the fig tree could be an apt illustration of Israel, it is not so used in the Bible. In Jeremiah 24:1–8, good and bad figs illustrate Israel in the captivity, and there is also mention of figs in 29:17. The reference to the fig tree in Judges 9:10–11 is obviously not Israel. Neither the reference in Matthew 21:18–20 nor that in Mark 11:12–14 with its interpretation in 11:20–26, gives any indication that it is referring to Israel, any more than the mountain referred to in the passage. Accordingly, while this interpretation is held by many, there is no clear scriptural warrant.

A better interpretation is that Christ was using a natural illustration. Because the fig tree brings forth new leaves late in the spring, the budding of the leaves is evidence that summer is near.[2]

When you see leaves on a fig tree, Jesus told His audience, and for that matter, when they see leaves on all the trees, they would know that summer is near. In a similar way, when they saw all these signs, they would know that Jesus was near, “right at the door” (Matt. 24:33). Near to what? Near to fulfilling the promise He made about coming within a generation to destroy the temple.[3]

In attempting to deal with Last Days Fever, Charisma at least is attempting to tackle some of the movement’s date-setting elements. But it can’t shake the paradigm that makes date setting or “generation setting” one of its main pillars. Benny Hinn’s article cancels out most of the good that is found in Troy Anderson’s article.

Endnotes:

[1] Grant Jeffrey, “A Pretrib Rapture Statement in the Medieval Church,” When the Trumpet Sounds: Today’s Foremost Authorities Speak Out on End-Time Controversies, eds. Thomas Ice and Timothy Demy (Eugene OR: Harvest House, 1995), 121–122. Quoted in James F. Stitzinger, “The Rapture in Twenty Centuries of Biblical Interpretation,” The Masters Seminary Journal 13/2 (Fall 2002), 163. Stitzinger claims that Gill, Philip Doddridge, and Thomas Scott held to a pretribulational rapture position. This is a questionable conclusion based on referencing a secondary source. What is not questionable, however, is that all three men held to a preterist interpretation of Matthew 24.
[2]
John F. Walvoord, Matthew: Thy Kingdom Come (Chicago, IL: Moody, [1974] 1980), 191B92.
[3]
For a comprehensive study of the fig tree parable, see DeMar, Last Days Madness, appendix 3.

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