I just got back from American Vision’s National Prophecy Conference. If you weren’t there, you missed a great time of teaching, fellowship, and beautiful scenery at the Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina that overlooks the Blue Ridge Mountains. The speakers were first class. The amount of material covered was amazing. A good time was had by nearly all. Only two people — a couple — walked out. Now that’s progress!
The emphasis throughout the conference was, “What does the Bible say?” Repeatedly, the speakers took the audience back to the Bible. Since the majority opinion in eschatology is dominated by dispensationalism, I spent most of my six talks dealing with some of the necessary assumptions of the system and demonstrated by citing their own writers that the popular end-time view is inconsistent with itself and hopelessly out of accord with Scripture. In the debate over eschatology, “Show me the text!” is the challenge that needs to be brought before advocates of dispensational premillennialism and every other prophetic system.
A CNN article published the day after the conference (“Actually, that’s not in the Bible ,” June 5, 2011) lists a number of “phantom passages” that many people believe are in the Bible. For example: “God helps those who help themselves,” “Spare the rod, spoil the child,” “God works in mysterious ways”1 and “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”2. Not only do Christians get the interpretation of certain passages wrong, says Craig Hazen, director of the Christian Apologetics program at Biola University in Southern California, “but very often end up quoting verses that really aren’t there.” Here are some examples that I repeatedly mentioned at the conference:
- Show me a text that supports the claim that the church will be raptured before a future Great Tribulation.
- Show me a text that puts a gap of indefinite time between the 69th and 70th weeks of Daniel’s prophecy (9:24–27) and between Revelation 3 and 4.
- Show me a New Testament text that clearly shows that Israel becoming a nation again is the timing key for the fulfillment of Bible prophecy.
- Show me how Jesus’ use of “this generation” in the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:34; Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32) means something different from the way “this generation” is used by Jesus in every other instance.
- Explain how time words like “near,” “shortly,” “quickly,” and “at hand” mean something different from they are used in the Bible and ordinary speech.
The texts to answer these questions are not there. Consider the following by Tim LaHaye, co-author of the monstrously popular end-time prophetic novel series Left Behind and namesake of the LaHaye Prophecy Study Bible and many other prophecy works:
One objection to the pre-Tribulation Rapture is that not one passage of Scripture teaches the two aspects of His Second Coming separated by the Tribulation. This is true. But then, no one passage teaches a post-trib or mid-trib Rapture, either.3
* * * * *
No single verse specifically states, “Christ will come before the Tribulation.” On the other hand, no single passage teaches He will not come before the Tribulation, or that He will come in the middle or at the end of the Tribulation. Any such explicit declaration would end the debate immediately.4
In my debates with Dave Hunt and Thomas Ice, they asserted that the pre-tribulational rapture, while not explicitly stated in any single text, is developed through “deduction in the same way as the Trinity.” I don’t think so.
- First premise: the Bible declares that there is one God (Deut. 4:35, 39; Isa. 37:20; 43:10; Rom. 3:30; 1 Cor. 8:4).
- Second premise: the Bible asserts, without equivocation, that Jesus is God (John 1:1; 8:58; 20:28; Titus 2:13), the Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3–4), and the Father is God (John 6:27).
- Conclusion: There is one God who exists in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.5
Compare this simple logical progression with the pre-tribulational rapture and count the number of steps necessary to formulate the doctrine. Keep in mind that gaps where none exist must be manufactured to make the Rapture doctrine a fathomable possibility (e.g., Dan. 9:24–27; between Revelation 3 and 4). This says nothing of creating two redemptive groups (church and Israel).6
Christian orthodoxy is measured by the Trinity. If a religious group, claiming to be Christian, denies the Trinity, then that group is labeled a cult. Can the same be said for the pre-tribulational rapture? Read any book dealing with cults and you will note that there is no mention of a pre-trib rapture as a doctrinal requirement. Evangelical Christianity is severely divided over the rapture question. Some Christians are pre-trib, mid-trib, post-trib, partial-trib, and pre-wrath rapturists. In addition, there are those like me who believe this entire futurist scenario has no biblical support. A majority of Christians who hold differing positions on the rapture have determined not to break fellowship over the doctrine and not to make it a determiner of orthodoxy. With these points in mind, to compare the pre-trib rapture to the Trinity is like comparing the mythical unicorn to the horse.
What does the pre-tribulationalist do with all those Christians prior to the nineteenth century who never even heard of a pre-trib rapture? So when I object to the “rapture,” it’s only because there are no verses that teach it. It’s a nineteenth-century invention. The Trinity analogy is desperate and unconvincing, especially when a dispensational author like Harry Ironside makes a comment like the following regarding the newness of the pre-trib position:
[U]ntil brought to the fore through the writings and the preaching and teaching of the distinguished ex-clergyman, Mr. J. N. Darby, in the early part of the last [19th] century, [the pretribulational rapture] is scarcely to be found in a single book or sermon throughout a period of sixteen hundred years! If any doubt this statement, let them search, as the writer has in measure done, the remarks of the so-called Fathers, both pre- and post-Nicene, the theological treatises of the scholastic divines, Roman Catholic writers of all shades of thought; the literature of the reformation; the sermons and expositions of the Puritans; and the general theological works of the day. He will find “the mystery” conspicuous by its absence.7
In the final analysis, Christians who hold to a dispensational interpretation of the Bible will have to turn to specific biblical texts to support their positions.
While at the National Prophecy Conference, I received a series of emails from two men not in attendance who objected that I compared the failed predictions of Harold Camping with Hal Lindsey and Chuck Smith. (See my article “Before Harold Camping, there Were Hal Lindsey and Chuck Smith.”) They claimed while it was wrong to predict a specific “day and hour,” it was OK to predict a particular year, even if the prediction failed year after year. One of these days I’ll publish some of what they wrote. It’s amazing how people will defend a position even when all the evidence is stacked against them and staring them in the face.
I could have mentioned other near date-setters. Dave Hunt, who like Lindsey and Smith believes that Israel’s national reestablishment is the time indicator for future prophetic events, laments that Lindsey’s prophetic recklessness had a negative effect on many Christians: “Needless to say, January 1, 1982, saw the defection of large numbers from the pretrib position. . . . Many who were once excited about the prospects of being caught up to heaven at any moment have become confused and disillusioned by the apparent failure of a generally accepted biblical interpretation they once relied upon.”8 Even so, this did not stop Hunt from writing How Close Are We?: Compelling Evidence for the Soon Return of Christ. How is Hunt using the words “close” and “soon,” and why don’t they mean the same thing when the Bible uses them?
Billy Graham wrote that he does not “want to linger . . . on the who, what, why, how, or when of Armageddon. I will simply state my own belief that it is near.”9 What does Graham mean by “near”? He told us in 1983 that the hoofbeats were approaching, that the time was “near.” The book of Revelation tells us that the time is “near” (1:3). Charles R. Taylor wrote the following in Bible Prophecy News (Summer 1992): “What you are starting to read probably is my final issue of Bible Prophecy News, for Bible prophecy fulfillments indicate that Jesus Christ our Lord will most likely return for us at the Rapture of the Church before the Fall 1992 issue can be printed.”
Charles H. Dyer wrote in The Rise of Babylon: Sign of the End Times (1991), on the cusp of the first Gulf War, that present‑day Iraq is the Babylon of Isaiah (13) and Revelation (16:19; 17:5; 18:2, 10, 21). Saddam Hussein’s building program was said to be proof that Babylon will rise from the desert sands in fulfillment of Bible prophecy.
Paul Meier, best known for his work in the area of psychiatry, has written an eschatological novel, The Third Millennium. Dr. Meier is the co‑founder of the Minirth‑Meier Clinics. In an appendix, Dr. Meier outlines his prophetic beliefs. He writes that Jesus “will return within 70 or 80 years of” May 14, 1948. He also believes that “the year 2000 will probably be a significant time and the Third Millennium A.D. will bring the Second Coming.”10
Jerry Falwell stated on a December 27, 1992, television broadcast, “I do not believe there will be another millennium . . . or another century.” He lived to see another century and millennium. He died in 2007.
Like Falwell, John F. Walvoord, described as “the world’s foremost interpreter of biblical prophecy from a premillennial and dispensational perspective,” expected “the Rapture to occur in his own lifetime.”11 He died in 2002. There are dozens more. “Is Jesus Coming In ‘98?” and “The Jubilee Year of ‘1988’: The Rapture of the Church and the end of Grace by Faith!” were two failed predictions that identified a year as the time of the “rapture.” One piece of evidence that was put forth that 1998 was the year of the so-called rapture is that by adding 666 + 666 +666 you get 1998.
For nearly 1900 years uninformed but assured Christians have predicted, in words similar to those of Lindsey and others of our day, that “they were the generation that would see the end times . . . and the return of Christ.” In each and every case the prophetic prognosticators have been wrong. Seemingly not learning from this dismal track record, popular prophecy writer Thomas Ice asks, “Is there any relationship between the events which we read, hear, and see in the daily news and biblical prophecy?” His answer? “Yes! Just as when we are traveling and see signs beside the highway telling us what to expect on the road ahead, so also does the Bible provide signs of the times that point to specific events in the future.”12 There are millions of Christians who would agree with this assessment, and they would be wrong, just as millions of Christians before them have been wrong.
- A paraphrase of a 19th century hymn by the English poet William Cowper: “God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform.” [↩]
- “Slovenliness is no part of religion. ‘Cleanliness is indeed next to Godliness.’” Cited by John Wesley in his 1791 sermon “On Dress.” [↩]
- Tim LaHaye, No Fear of the Storm: Why Christians Will Escape All the Tribulation (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 1992), 69. This book was later republished as Rapture Under Attack. [↩]
- LaHaye, No Fear of the Storm, 188. [↩]
- For a helpful discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity, see Robert M. Bowman, Jr., Why You Should Believe in the Trinity: An Answer to Jehovah’s Witnesses (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989). [↩]
- Keith A. Mathison, Dispensationalism: Rightly Dividing the People of God? (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1995). [↩]
- Harry A. Ironside, The Mysteries of God (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, 1908), 50–51. [↩]
- Dave Hunt, Whatever Happened to Heaven? (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1988), 64. [↩]
- Billy Graham, Storm Warning (Dallas, TX: Word, 1992), 294. This is a revised version of Approaching Hoofbeats (1983). [↩]
- (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1993), 305, 306. [↩]
- Quoted in Kenneth L. Woodward, “The Final Days are Here Again,” Newsweek (March 18, 1991), 55. [↩]
- Thomas Ice and Timothy Demy, Prophecy Watch: What to Expect in the Days to Come (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1998), 7. [↩]