A few weeks ago I was asked to participate in a panel discussion on Bible prophecy. I had been on this program before. To my surprise, the audience reaction to the first show was very favorable. As a result, I was invited back. One of the participants is a behind-the-scenes producer who has been involved in a number of end-time film projects. He knew who I was, but it was obvious with our conversations between takes that he didn’t have a handle on what I actually believed. I asked him if he was interested in producing a documentary on competing views of Bible prophecy. He was polite in telling me that when he read the Bible, he read prophecy in a literal way. Here was my response: “I bet you that I interpret the Bible more literally than you do.” Silence. I then asked him the following questions:
- Can you give me one verse that explicitly teaches a pretribulational rapture?
- Can you point out one verse from the New Testament that teaches that the temple will be rebuilt?
- Where in Revelation is the seven-year tribulation found?
He could not identify a single verse in support of any of these end-time beliefs that are very popular with Christians today.
A number of popular end-time prophecy writers are beginning to acknowledge that there are problems with their system. For example, Thomas Ice has admitted, in agreement with me, that the weapons in Ezekiel 38 and 39 have to be interpreted literally – bows and arrows are bows and arrows and not missile launchers and missile and horses are horse and not horse power.
“I have come to agree with DeMar who says: ‘A lot has to be read into the Bible in order to make Ezekiel 38 and 39 fit modern-day military realities that include jet planes, ‘missiles,’ and ‘atomic and explosive’ weaponry.’”1
This is a huge concession and goes against so much of what is written by many popular prophecy writers with whom Ice is associated with.
But there is more. Walid Shoebat is a popular end-time theorist who writes regularly for WND (WorldNet Daily) and hosts “End Times Today.” Shoebat wrote the following in an article titled “America in Bible Prophecy: Walid Shoebat explains why Antichrist won’t conquer the United States”:
For many years, it has been taught that in the Last Days literally every nation of the earth, including the United States, will be utterly dominated by the Antichrist; that there will be no place to escape from the dreaded Mark of the Beast; that every last nation of the world will come against Jerusalem. Zechariah 12 is usually used to validate the theory, as well as the Apostle John, since the Antichrist will be given “authority over every tribe, people, language, and nation” (Revelation 13:7). This would seem an ironclad case for the Antichrist ruling the globe, including the United States, which he uses in his march against Jerusalem. It is this dilemma that caused many to believe that America will be taken over by the Antichrist.
But before we solve this issue, it is necessary to clarify the dilemma. For this, we can ask a Jesus-style question: Does the usage of “the whole earth” and “every tribe, tongue and nation” in the Bible mean “the entire globe”? If so, then did Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4:1 send his letter to every nation, tribe and tongue in the “entire globe”?
Shoebat makes a number of good points. In fact, he gets so much right in his article that I have to wonder why he remains an end-time enthusiast. There are dozens of verses that seem to address global issues when they are really describing local events. Here are comments that I’ve included in my commentary on Zechariah 14 to be published sometime in the near future.
In addition to what we know from secular history, the Bible itself uses the phrases “all nations,” “all the nations,” and “every nation” to mean nations in proximity to Israel not necessarily nations from around the globe (2 Sam. 8:11; 1 Chron. 14:17; Jer. 28:11; Neh. 6:16; Ps. 118:10; Zech. 7:14; Acts 2:5; Rom. 16:24–26). In comments on Zechariah 14:2 from the Critical Commentary and Paraphrase on the Old and New Testament, we learn that “The Romans being lords of the known world, had the strength of all nations united in their forces.”2
Consider this description of the extent of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign: “Nebuchadnezzar the king to all the peoples, nations, and men of every language that live in all the earth: ‘May your peace abound!’” (Dan. 4:1; cf. 5:19). In a similar way, Persia, Greece, and Rome had become empires of nations made up of soldiers and armies from the kingdoms it had conquered. When any one of these empires attacked a nation, it was as if the entire world was against that nation.
The New Testament uses the Greek word oikoumene, most often translated as “the inhabited earth” or “Roman Empire” (Luke 2:1; Matt. 24:14; Acts 11:28), to describe this multi-national makeup of military forces. The Roman Empire “extended roughly two thousand miles from Scotland south to the headwaters of the Nile and about three thousand miles from the Pillars of Hercules eastward to the sands of Persia. Its citizens and subject peoples numbered perhaps eighty million.”3 This certainly qualifies as “all the nations,” certainly more so than David’s use of the phrase (Psalm 118:10). Rome was raised up like Assyria to be the “rod of [God’s] anger” (Isa. 10:5). “So completely shall the city be taken that the enemy shall sit down in the midst of her to divide the spoil. All nations ([14:]2), generally speaking were represented in the invading army, for Rome was the mistress of many lands.”4 Similar language is used of the nations that would serve Nebuchadnezzar: “And all the nations shall serve him, and his son, and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes; then many nations and great kings will make him their servant” (Jer. 27:7). Cyrus proclaimed that God had given him “all the kingdoms of the earth” (Ezra 1:2; cf. 2 Chron. 36:23; Jer. 34:1).
Edward J. Young writes that the “Assyrian and Babylonian kings regarded themselves as kings of all the earth, and in their inscriptions were accustomed thus to speak of themselves. This practice was also in vogue among Persian rulers.”5 Consider that when a communiqué was sent out by the king that it had to be translated into “the scores of languages spoken throughout the empire.”6 A variety of languages meant a variety of nations. “Herodotus says sixty nations were under Persian rule.”7 The armies that came up against the Jews, and this would have included Jerusalem, came from “all the nations” under Persian rule at that time. Notice in the following examples how “all nations” is used describe nothing more than a kingdom-wide dominion:
- Speaking of Nebuchadnezzar, “And all the nations shall serve him, and his son, and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes; then many nations and great kings will make him their servant” (Jer. 27:7).
- “And Hananiah spoke in the presence of all the people, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Even so will I break within two full years, the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon from the neck of all the nations”’”(Jer. 28:11).
- “I scattered them with a storm wind among all the nations whom they have not known. Thus the land is desolated behind them, so that no one went back and forth, for they made the pleasant land desolate” (Zech. 7:14).
- “Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men, from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5).
As these examples show, “all nations” does not always refer to every single nation of what we know of the world today.8
The same is true about Zechariah 12:9 where most if not all modern-day prophecy speculators argue that this prophecy is yet to be fulfilled: “And in that day I will set about to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.” This is not a prophecy about a distant time and distant nations around the globe as we know it today. I agree with Shoebat when he writes that “Zechariah 12 in context only encompasses the surrounding nations: ‘I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that sends all the surrounding peoples reeling. Judah will be besieged as well as Jerusalem. On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves’ (Zechariah 12:2–3).”
Shoebat gets so much right that it’s a shame that he gets so much wrong. While he gets the “all nations” and “all the earth” language right, he fails to recognize the timing element. John tells his readers, or better, is told by Jesus, that “these things which must soon take place” (Rev. 1:1) for “the time is near” (1:3; cp. 3:11; 22:7, 10, 12). We’re told by John that antichrists are “deceivers” who “do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh” (2 John 7). It’s interesting that John does not use the word ‘antichrist’ in Revelation. There’s not just one antichrist; there are many antichrists that were alive in John’s day:
“Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. 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. . . . Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:18–19, 22).
“Even now,” not sometime in the future, John writes, “many antichrists have appeared,” not one day will appear. These antichrists were not political figures. They were most likely Jews who had first embraced Jesus as the Messiah and then apostatized. “They went out from us,” he tells his first-century readers. This is why John could write, “and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the [spirit] of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world” (1 John 4:3). There’s that important Greek word nun – ‘now’ – again. Not our now but John’s now.
Walid Shoebat’s article is worth reading. It shows that more prophecy writers are letting the Bible speak for itself. Hopefully he will devote similar attention to other prophetic passages that will move him away from end-time prophetic speculation.
- Thomas Ice, “Ezekiel 38 and 39: Part 8.”(↩)
- Patrick, Lowth, Arnald, Whitby, and Lowman, “Commentary on Zechariah” in A Critical Commentary and Paraphrase on the Old and New Testament and Apocrypha, 6 vols.(London: Richard Priestly  1822), 4:230.(↩)
- Otto Friedrich, The End of the World: A History (New York: Coward, McCann and Geoghegan, 1982), 28.(↩)
- G. N. M. Collins, “Zechariah,” The New Bible Commentary, F. Davidson, ed., 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1954), 761.(↩)
- E. J. Young, The Prophecy of Daniel: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1949), 97.(↩)
- John C. Whitcomb, Esther: Triumph of God’s Sovereignty (Chicago: Moody Press, 1979), 43.(↩)
- F. B. Huey, Jr., “Esther,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, 12 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1988, 4:792.(↩)
- I’ve dealt with the issue of limited geography in biblical interpretation in my book 10 Popular Prophecy Myths Exposed and Answered.(↩)