The doomsday film 2012 had a mega-weekend at the box office. It took in $225 million over a period of five days, a combination of $65 million domestically and $160 million internationally Wednesday through Sunday (Nov. 11–16, 2009). In anticipation of the hype and hysteria of the Mayan Calendar end-of-the-world scenario, Christians had their books ready for an answer. Mark Hitchcock, pastor of Faith Bible Church in Edmond, Oklahoma, is the author of 2012: The Bible and the End of the World. To his credit, Hitchcock offers a critical evaluation of the supposed Mayan prophecy. He even takes issue with the often used argument that the fig tree in Matthew 24:32 describes the reinstitution of the nation of Israel, a point he made in his The Complete Book of Bible Prophecy. In an interview for Christianity Today, Hitchcock said, “It’s the eschatology of the New Age. It’s basically a mystical, New Age belief system that I believe is spiritual deception. I want to take 2012 and bend the curve to God’s purposes, and use this as a springboard to tell people what the Bible says.”
Tim LaHaye, co-author of the multivolume, multimillion, multi-bestseller Left Behind series, offers a similar evaluation. He “believes the 2012 mania is distracting people from what the Bible predicts regarding the Rapture, Tribulation and Second Coming. ‘The date has been picked up by so many groups and cults that you have to conclude that someone or something inspired all these writers to come to essentially the same period—and that would be divination or spiritism,’ LaHaye says. ‘It’s probably satanic because there is nothing in the Bible about it. In fact, the Bible forbids us to even think about a day and an hour.’” But as we’ll see, it’s OK to think about what generation will see prophecy unfold.
I find all of this kind of funny. Now the dispensational prophetic sensationalists have to compete with the crazy New Agers and secular fright mongers. How many decades have we had to endure predictions of an imminent end from Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye, Jerry Falwell, and many others? Falwell (1933–2007) stated on a December 27, 1992, television broadcast, “I do not believe there will be another millennium . . . or another century.” He was wrong. John F. Walvoord, described as “the world’s foremost interpreter of biblical prophecy . . . [expected] the Rapture to occur in his own lifetime.’” It didn’t. Walvoord died in 2002 at the age of 92.These men claim to reject specific date setting, but they have no trouble and see nothing wrong with identifying the last generation. But even in this, their track record has been dismal, and yet they want respect from the non-believing world when they speak on Bible prophecy. For example, in his first edition of The Beginning of the End, which was published in 1972, Tim LaHaye wrote,
“Carefully putting all this together, we now recognize this strategic generation. It is the generation that ‘sees’ the four-part sign of verse 7 [in Matt. 24], or the people who saw the First World War. We must be careful here not to become dogmatic, but it would seem that these people are witnesses to the events, not necessarily participants in them. That would suggest they were at least old enough to understand the events of 1914–1918, not necessarily old enough to go to war.”
A number of things changed in the 1991 revised edition. The “strategic generation” has been modified significantly. It’s no longer “the people who saw the First World War,” it’s now “the generation that ‘sees’ the events of 1948.”
“Carefully putting all this together, we now recognize this strategic generation. It is the generation that ‘sees’ the events of 1948. We must be careful here not to become dogmatic, but it would seem that these people are witnesses to the events, not necessarily participants in them. That would suggest they were at least old enough to understand the events of 1948.”
The change from the years of the First World War to the specific date of 1948 as the starting point for the beginning of the generation that LaHaye claims will be alive when the “rapture” supposedly takes place was not made because of anything the Bible says on the subject. The generation that Jesus had in view in the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24, Mark 13, Luke 21) was the generation of His day. The phrase “this generation” always refers to the generation to whom Jesus was speaking. (For a study of this claim, see Last Days Madness and Is Jesus Coming Soon?) Time was running out for the First World War generation in 1991 when the revised edition of The Beginning of the End was published so LaHaye changed the date to 1948 even though the 40-year generation year of 1988 had passed. LaHaye did not offer justification for the change, and he did not tell those who picked up the new edition that he had made the change.
You will notice in the Christianity Today article that those quoted decry date setting, but some don’t seem to have a problem identifying what generation will be the “last generation.” Here’s how LaHaye explains it: “I refuse to set any date limits, for the Lord didn’t, but he did specify a generation’s experiences and said that he would return during that period. We are in the twilight of that generation—that I firmly believe.” He wrote this nearly 20 years ago! Moreover, Hal Lindsey and Chuck Smith, who made some very definite predictions about “last generation” (that it would end with a “rapture” no later than 1988), seem to get a pass by their fellow dispensationalists who claim to condemn date setting (also see here). Consider this interview that LaHaye had with Larry King on June 19, 2000:
LaHaye: But I think another reason people are interested in [Left Behind ] . . . is because it talks about the future. We’re living at a time when people look at the future and think of it as rather precarious. In fact, there’s a popular book out a couple of years ago on the death of history, and it’s not from a Christian perspective. And so people recognize that something is about to happen. And the Bible has a fantastically optimistic view of the future.
King: But weren’t people saying this in 1890 and 1790? “It’s coming. Boy, the apocalypse is coming. The end is near.” They’ve always been saying it.
LaHaye: Well, we have more reason to believe that. Until Israel went back into the promised land, we couldn’t really claim that the end times were coming. But ever since 1948, in subsequent years, we’ve realized that things are getting set up. It’s stage setting for these momentous events.
King: Do you believe that some sort of end is coming?
King: You believe that that will happen?
LaHaye: In fact, I believe there are a number of signs in Scripture that indicate it’s going to come pretty soon. We say maybe within our lifetime.
King is right. Making predictions has been the stock and trade of prophecy writers like LaHaye. Of course, they don’t pick a specific date, but they use words like “pretty soon” and “within our lifetime.” If they didn’t make these concessions, their books would not sell. LaHaye’s co-author Jerry Jenkins even wrote a book with the title Soon: The Beginning of the End (2003). Not to be outdone, LaHaye has teamed with Craig Parshall to publish Edge of Apocalypse, an apocalyptic novel “with political intrigue ripped from today’s headlines, the first book in a new series called The End.” Don’t these guys know when to stop? Like those who are attracted to the prophecies of Nostradamus and the Mayan calendar, there is a steady stream of gullible Christians who know nothing about the failed predictions of some of their favorite Christian prophecy writers but are willing to shell out money for prophecy books that in the ned fail to deliver.
New Testament scholar Ben Witherington writes, “The Mayans no more knew when the end would come than anyone else does. It’s time for theological weather forecasting to be given up entirely. Even TV weathermen predicting ordinary events are more accurate.” And this includes the “we know the generation” prophecy writers like LaHaye, Jenkins, Hitchcock, and Parshall.
 Tim LaHaye and many popular prophecy writers see Matthew 24:32 as the key NT prophetic passage: “when a fig tree is used symbolically in Scripture, it usually refers to the nation Israel. If that is a valid assumption (and we believe it is), then when Israel officially became a nation in 1948, that was the ‘sign’ of Matthew 24:1-8, the beginning ‘birth pangs’—it meant that the ‘end of the age’ is ‘near.’” (Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, Are We Living in the End Times? Current Events Foretold in Scripture . . . And What They Mean [Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999], 57). The editors of LaHaye’s own Prophecy Study Bible (2000) disagree: “the fig tree is not symbolic of the nation of Israel” (1040).
 Mark Hitchcock, The Complete Book of Bible Prophecy (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999), 158. Hitchcock follows the lead of John F. Walvoord: The fig tree representing Israel "is not so used in the Bible. . . . 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.” (John F. Walvoord, Matthew: Thy Kingdom Come [Chicago, IL: Moody, (1974) 1980], 191–192).
 Quoted in Kenneth L. Woodward, “The Final Days are Here Again,” Newsweek (March 18, 1991), 55.
 Tim LaHaye, The Beginning of the End (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1972), 165, 168. Emphasis added.
 Tim LaHaye, The Beginning of the End, rev. ed. (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1991), 193. Emphasis added.
 Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970), 53–54.
 LaHaye, The Beginning of the End, rev. ed., 194.
 Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: The Free Press, 1992).