The newspapers are commenting regularly on the Harold Camping claim that a so-called rapture will take place on May 21, 2011 with the end of the world to following on October 21st. Here’s one that National Public Radio (NPR) posted on its website: “Is the End Nigh? We’ll Know Soon Enough.” Even the international press has been reporting on Harold Camping’s end-time prediction. “If Mr Camping were speaking from any normal pulpit,” Guy Adams writes, “it would be easy to dismiss him as just another religious eccentric wrongly calling the apocalypse. But thanks to this elderly man’s ubiquity, on America’s airwaves and billboards, his unlikely Doomsday message is almost impossible to ignore.”
As a result, I have been making the radio circuit myself, trying to breathe some sanity into prophetic interpretation. While most Christians know that Mr. Camping is off his rocker (this is at least his second attempt to predict the end), they still fall into a similar interpretive trap by arguing that all the signs are in place for the “near” return of Jesus. While they won’t say that Jesus is coming on this or that day, they do believe that He will be returning “soon.” Hal Lindsey has described our generation (or was it the last one?) as the “Terminal Generation.”
On May 3, 2011, I was interviewed by Jan Mickelson on the topic of Bible prophecy as it relates to the Camping campaign. As usual, there were a number of people who were not happy with some of my arguments. Of course, it’s difficult to set forth a counter position in 40 minutes. Even so, the questions were good, and there weren’t any “you’re a heretic” callers. I am always surprised, however, when Christians use the book of Revelation as a prophetic club in an argument over the end times when it states in the first chapter that “these things must shortly take place” (1:1) because “the time is near” (1:3; 22:10) and so much of the book is in interpretive symbols.
After the interview, I was forwarded a number of emails from people who had questions. As is my practice, I answered all of them. Then Jan sent me the following email that he wanted me to answer and he would post on his website:
Concerning Gary DeMar, it must be noted that he is a Preterist, and sees eschatology through that lens and the presuppositions that come with that system. Preterism is just as much a “fringe” group as is Camping and his followers, just opposite ends of the spectrum. Any well studied historical pre-millennialist (which was the predominant view of the early church up until Augustine) would be able to answer his assertions.
Let me say that I enjoy and welcome debate on the subject of eschatology. The claim that “any well studied historical pre-millennialist . . . would be able to answer” my exposition of a passage like Matthew 24 remains to be seen since I have repeatedly answered them in six books and numerous public debates. It’s getting harder to find anyone who will defend a futurist interpretation of the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24; Mark 13; Luke 21) over against a preterist one in a public forum. I invited a number of notable published futurists to participate in a public forum on the issue at our National Prophecy Conference (June 1-4 at Asheville, NC). They all declined for one reason or another. In addition to the work I’ve already done on the subject, I have answered every new argument raised by futurists. When a new one arises, I’ll study it and offer a comprehensive response. I enjoy the challenge.
Yes, I am a preterist, just like some of the greatest Bible expositors the church has ever produced, past and present (see below). What is a preterist? A preterist believes that certain prophecies have already been fulfilled. Preterist—from the Latin word praeteritus—which means “past” or “gone by.” If you are a Christian, then you are a preterist. You believe the prophecies concerning the first coming of Jesus Christ have been fulfilled. Their fulfillment is in the past.
There are numerous NT prophecies that have been fulfilled. Jesus predicted his death, burial, and resurrection. These have been fulfilled. Their fulfillment is in our past. Then there are prophecies concerning the destruction of the temple that we know were fulfilled within a generation. Jesus states that not one stone of the temple would remain (Matt. 24:2). Sure enough, as history attests, the temple was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. There were prophecies about earthquakes and famines (24:7; 27:51; 28:2) and false prophets (24:11) that were to take place before that generation passed away (24:34). These, too, were fulfilled within a generation. A great earthquake shook the prison that released Paul (Acts 16:26). The history of the period before the fall of Jerusalem confirms that earthquakes were common. The first-century historian Tacitus describes conditions in Rome around AD 50: “This year witnessed many prodigies signs or omens . . . including repeated earthquakes.” Josephus recounts that a mega earthquake in Judea was so powerful that “the constitution of the universe was confounded for the destruction of men.” He also wrote that earthquakes were “a common calamity” and pointed out that God Himself had brought them about for a special purpose. A severe earthquake hit the Roman city of Pompeii on February 5 in AD 62.
There was a famine that extended throughout the Roman Empire (Acts 11:28). John writes that there were false prophets alive in his day (1 John 4:1).
Even the prediction that the gospel would be preached throughout the inhabited earth (Matt. 24:14) was fulfilled before that generation passed away (Col. 1:6, 23). Matthew uses the Greek word oikoumene, the only time he uses it in his gospel, and not the usual word for world (kosmos) as a way to show that Jesus’ prediction was about what would happen to His time and locale, the boundaries of the Roman Empire (see 1 Tim. 3:16; Rom. 16:25–27).
Notice the use of the second person plural (“you”) throughout Matthew 24. Then there’s the use of “this generation” (24:34). Each and every time “this generation” is used in the gospels it ALWAYS refers to the generation to whom Jesus was speaking (Matt. 11:16; 12:41–42; 23:36; Mark 8:12; Luke 7:31; 11:30–32, 50–51; 17:25). It never refers to a future generation or a race of people.
There’s much more that I could say on these matters. For a more detailed, verse-by-verse exposition of Matthew 24, see my books Last Days Madness (http://bit.ly/ixLxgN) and Is Jesus Coming Soon? (http://bit.ly/gxJJHH).
On the historical side, preterism has a long and distinguished history. It can be found in the writings of Eusebius (c. 263–339), in particular his The Proof of the Gospel (Demonstratio evangelica), as well as in other pre-Augustinian writers. Then there are commentators like John Lightfoot (1602–1675), Henry Hammond (1605–1660), John Gill (1697–1771), N. A. Nisbett (1787), Philip Doddridge (1702–1751), Thomas Newton (1704–1782), Thomas Scott (1747–1821), Adam Clarke (1762–1832), John Owen (1616-1683), B. B. Warfield (1851-1921). These were standard commentaries in their day. You can also find a pretrist interpretation of the Olivet Discourse in contemporary writers like J. Marcellus Kik, Loraine Boettner (1901-1990), William Lane, John Nolland, G. R. Beasley-Murray, R. T. France, and R.C. Sproul.
Misinformation on Bible prophecy abounds in the church. Yes, Harold Camping is on the fringe, but there are many more millions of Christians who have caught the fever of the end times.