A skeptic named Jonathan asked the following question on Ray Comfort’s blog:
“Could anyone of you believers tell me when the end times will happen, besides soon? It seems to me that the end times have been preached by man ever since the time they created their fictional deities.”
Ray’s answer is similar to an article he wrote for Christian Worldview Network. Skeptics have pointed out the prophecy problem of passages like Matthew 10:23, 16:27–28, and Matthew 24:34 (see How Ray Comfort Should Not Answer a Skeptic: Part 1). There’s no doubt that these passages predict that Jesus would return in some capacity before the passing of that present generation. By turning “this generation” into “that generation” or “this race” or “the generation that sees these signs,” does nothing to promote the integrity of the Bible. If Jesus did not come back as He predicted He would, then how can we trust Him and the gospel writers on anything He said? Ray Comfort’s words are in bold. My response follows:
Look at the signs the Bible speaks of (combined from Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21; 1 Timothy 4; and 2 Timothy 3), and relate that to contemporary life on earth.
The Olivet Discourse is describing what will take place before “this generation” passes away” (Matt. 24:34). The events of Matthew 24 take place before “this generation” passes away (v. 34). Jesus always uses “this generation” to refer to His contemporaries (Matt. 11:16; 12:41, 42; 23:36; Mark 8:12; 13:30; Luke 7:31; 11:29, 30, 31, 32, 50, 51; 17:25; 21:32). Jesus never uses “this generation” to refer to a future generation. For those who claim that “generation” (genea) really means “race,” there are two problems. First, the Greek word genea cannot be made to mean “race,” as in the “Jewish race.” Genea means “generation” (e.g., Matt. 1:17; Luke 1:48; 9:41; Acts 14:16; 15:21; Eph. 3:5; Col. 1:26). The Greek word for “race” is genos. If Jesus had wanted to identify the Jewish race, He could have used genos. Second, there is the logic of the verse. If genea is translated as “race,” as in the “Jewish race, then Matthew 24:34 would read, “This Jewish race will not pass away until all these things take place.” So when “all these things take place,” the Jewish race will pass away. One additional argument needs to be dealt with. A popular way to interpret Matthew 24:34 is to have it read like this: “The generation that sees these signs will not pass away until all these things take place.” I can get a verse to say almost anything if I get to add words to it.
Also, notice how “the” is substituted for “this.” We are told which generation will see “all these things”: “so, YOU too, when YOU see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door” (Matt. 24:33). The “you” is a reference to Jesus’ audience. Follow the use of “you” throughout the chapter and notice that the second person plural refers to Jesus’ present audience (Matt. 24:2, 4, 6, 9, 15, etc.). If Jesus had a future generation in mind, He would have said “when that generation passes away.” Jesus uses the near demonstrate “this” to indicate the generation that was present with Him. One last point needs to be considered. Let’s suppose that Jesus was referring to a future generation. What words would He have used if He had wanted to specify that it was His first-century audience that would see all these things? He couldn’t have used “you” or “this generation” since futurists claim these words refer to a future time and audience. It is clear that Jesus was describing events that would take place before that present generation passed away.
It says that at the end of the age there will be earthquakes in various places, famines, diseases, people becoming fearful of the future, nation rising against nation, wars, people would be deceived by religious leaders who said they were from God, a dead religious system, materialism, a forsaking of the Ten Commandments, money-hunger [sic] preachers who would have big followings and slur the name of Christ (see 2 Peter 2:1–3), a denial of the Noahic flood (how true is that one!), increase in violence (watch the news tonight), haters of God (listen to His name blasphemed daily), an increase in knowledge (think of the Internet/computer age), an increase in travel (air travel), false converts who would fall away from the Christian faith and get into the occult (see 1 Timothy 4:1-5).
Other than references to modern technology, there is nothing in the above description that wasn’t going on in the generation leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. There were earthquakes in various places. There’s one mentioned in Acts 16:26. Historians of the day describe many more that occurred throughout the Roman Empire. There is even mention of a “great famine all over the world [lit., inhabited earth]” in Acts 11:28 (also see Rom. 8:35) that took place during the reign of Claudius.
The use of Daniel 12:4 to support the idea that the information age and air travel are signs of the end times may be popular, but it is unfounded. Very few if any noted Bible scholars hold this view. In the 19th century, it was thought by some that the locomotive was the fulfillment of prophecy. Even dispensational author Thomas Ice (Thomas Ice, “Running to and Fro”: http://www.pre-trib.org/pdf/Ice-RunningToandFro.pdf )) recognizes that the interpretation Comfort and so many other popular prophecy writers have adopted have misread and misapplied Daniel 12:4. Daniel is referring to an increase in understanding of the prophecies concerning the coming Messiah that are scattered throughout the Old Testament in the form of types and shadows (Luke 24:25–27, 45–47). The Holy Spirit is not referring to an increase in general information, bits and bytes of computer data or content added to Google, but of covenantal knowledge.
Interest in the occult was also prevalent (e.g., Acts 19:19, 23–41), as was homosexuality (Rom 1:18–32; 1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:10). A look at the first chapter of Romans will demonstrate that the first century had its share of moral problems:
“And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Rom. 1:28–32).
Similar wording is found in 2 Tim. 3:1–8. In this passage, Paul was explaining to Timothy how he should live in the midst of his corrupt culture. The use of “last days” in verse 1 is a reference to the last days of the old covenant (see Heb. 1:1–2; James 5:7–9).
There were Gnostics who taught that Jesus did not have a true human body, and Jews who denied the incarnation: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 John 7). Paul had to warn the Ephesian church of “savage wolves [who] will come in among you, not sparing the flock . . . speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:29–30). He warned the Corinthian church of “false apostles, deceitful workers” who transform “themselves into apostles of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:13). Paul instructed Timothy to stop false teachers (1 Tim. 1:3–4, 7, 19–20; 6:3–5, 20–21, 2 Tim. 2:16–18). Peter wrote in a similar way:
“But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed” (2 Pet. 2:1–2; cp. 2:1–22; 3:1–9).
Notice Peter’s use of “among you,” his present audience. John writes: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). Again, John is describing what was happening in his day. There were those who had fallen away from the faith: “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19).
The use of “last days” and “end of the age” often leads interpreters to view these as references to a distant future time (1 Cor. 10:11; Heb. 1:1–2; 9:26; 1 Tim. 4; 2 Tim. 3). It’s quite obvious, however, that the phrase refers to the end of the old covenant era. The writer of Hebrews makes this clear when he writes: “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world [lit., ages]” (Heb. 1:1–2). The “ends of the ages” had come (1 Cor. 10:11). Jesus suffered at the “consummation of the ages” (Heb. 9:26).
Keep in mind that in the midst of all these corruptions, Paul left Timothy with this word of encouragement: “Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith” (2 Tim. 3:8). There was no talk about the end of the world, the “rapture of the church,” or an inevitable mid-east conflagration. The world is in a mess today because Christians and the church have taken a back seat in the materialist’s bus. A few dozen believers in Jesus’ day changed the world. Think what could happen if today’s millions of Christians caught Paul’s optimistic vision of the future. We could change the world!