As usual, prophecy wars are being waged on Facebook. There’s so much bad eschatology that it’s impossible to keep up. There are debates over “the rapture”—is it, pre-trib or post-trib? Neither, and neither is it mid-trib or pre-wrath. There is no basis for any rapture position. In most cases, I point this out and move on. The rapture doctrine is a concoction of verses ripped from their original contexts to create an eschatological form of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster.

The antichrist pops up as often as “the rapture,” with few people ever looking at the verses where the word is used (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7). There were many, they denied that Jesus had come in the flesh and of His relationship with the Fathe; they were “already in the world” when John wrote his epistles, and it was “the last hour.” John was describing the covenantal debate of his day. There was a theological battle going on between Jews who acknowledged Jesus as the promised Messiah and those who did not. In addition, there were Jews who initially accepted Jesus but believed that elements of the Old Covenant were still in effect and Gentiles could not participate in the promises made to Israel. Modern-day dispensationalism has revived and succumbed to this major theological error.

I’ve seen appeals made to Matthew 24:15 about the “abomination of desolation” as a prophecy yet to be fulfilled even though Jesus made it clear who would see it: “When YOU see the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place.” The “you” was them. The temple was still standing. The temple was going to be torn down (24:2). The temple was torn down—stone by stone—before that generation passed away (24:34). That is a fact of history, and there isn’t anything in the New Testament that says anything about a rebuilt temple. So far, the eschatologicalists are 0-3. It gets worse when we add in Gog and Magog.

Why would any Christian expect the Old Covenant order to be reinstituted? For what purpose? Too many Christians are living in the shadow of the Old Covenant. “When He said, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is near to disappear” (Heb. 8:13). When was the timeframe of that “near”? When Hebrews was written! Like the Witch of Endor (see cover image above), modern-day prophecy pundits are trying to raise up the corpse of the Old Covenant.

This brings me to Matthew 24:21 and the Great Tribulation. Even though Matthew 24:34 says, “This generation will not pass away until all these things that place,” including the Great Tribulation, prophecy writers consider Matthew 24:21 to be an impediment to a preterist interpretation of the discourse because it says, “For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will.” Its fulfillment had to have taken place before the passing of “this [their] generation” (Matt. 24:34). The language is like what is found in Ezekiel 5:9, a form of rhetorical hyperbole that was used about events that took place under the Old Covenant. Notice the use of the phrase “your abominations.”

And I will do among you what I have not done and the like of which I will never do again because of all your abominations.[1]

One Facebook writer posted that World War II was much worse than the judgment on Israel in that generation. Was Jesus describing a world-wide tribulation? Not according to Matthew 24:16-20. The Great Tribulation consisted of a series of local events that could be escaped on foot. Hank Hanegraaff notes, Jesus “was not literally predicting that the destruction of Jerusalem would be more cataclysmic than the catastrophe caused by Noah’s flood. Rather, He was using apocalyptic hyperbole to underscore the distress and devastation that would be experienced when Jerusalem and its temple were judged.” Their trusted and privileged covenantal order was going to be judged. In terms of God’s covenant relationship with Israel, the events surrounding that generational judgment could not be repeated because God’s covenant with Israel had been forever altered. Note what Jesus said to the religious leaders when He was on the Mount of Olives (Matt. 21-25):

“Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation, producing the fruit of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.” And when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them (21:43-45).

Wars and Rumors of Wars

Wars and Rumors of Wars

A mountain of scholarship shows that the prophecy given by Jesus was fulfilled in exacting detail when He said it would: before the generation of those to whom He was speaking passed away. Skeptics read the Olivet Discourse in the right way, but come to the wrong conclusion. Christian futurists read it the wrong way and come to a different wrong conclusion.

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Jesus used hyperbole in 21:21-22 when He said, “Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will happen.” Hyperbole. Mark quotes Jesus, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25).” Jesus said, “Everything is possible for him who believes” (Mark 9:23). We’re back to casting that mountain into the sea. “Everything”? The Pharisees said of Jesus, “the whole world has gone after him” (John 12:19). That statement is like what we find in Matthew 24:21.

Jesus used hyperbole when He mentioned a plank being in one’s eye while attempting to remove the splinter in a brother’s eye (Matt. 7:3-4). If this was not hyperbole, the lesson would be rejected as being impossible. We use hyperbole in everyday speech with very little misunderstanding. “This book weighs a ton,” or “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.”

We get so caught up in trying to defend the Bible against skeptics that we forget the Bible is literature. To interpret the Bible literally is to interpret it according to its literature. The Bible is translatable because it uses everyday speech. It’s not a book of science. You don’t have to defend the Bible because describing the dimensions of a circle do not line up with our view of scientific or mathematical accuracy regarding Pi (1 Kings 7:23).[2] Round numbers are accurate enough and used repeatedly in the Bible. So are very large numbers. Kenneth Gentry has this to say about the “thousand years” in Revelation 20:

 • “The fact that he has an army as large as ‘the sand of the seashore’ (Rev 20:8b) should not make us believe that this is the vast majority of the human race. This is a hyperbolic statement in an enormously symbolic book. And this figure is a common ancient image used of large-scale armies in (Jos 11:4; Jdg 7:12; 1Sa 13:5; 2Sa 17:11), various local populations (1Ki 4:20; Isa 10:22; 48:19; Jer 15:8; 33:22; Hos 1:10), the patriarchs’ offspring (Ge 22:17; 32:12), and so forth. In fact, the 1 Sam 13:5 reference specifically mentions only 30,000 chariots and 6,000 horsemen accompanying Philistia’s army. In 2 Sam 17:11 the writer is referring to early Israel’s own army, which could hardly approach this enormous number literally. In Jeremiah God speaks against Jerusalem warning that ‘their widows will be more numerous before Me / Than the sand of the seas’ (Jer 15:8a). Sandy (2002: 41)[3] notes that prophets often ‘express emotion rather than exactness … in order to shock listeners….’”

• “Thus, prophets writing apocalyptic are often more poetically compelling than mathematically precise.”

• Sandy (41) notes that such language is hyperbolic, and that hyperboles “stretch the truth in order to increase the impact of the words.” Thus, we must understand that “prophetic language is scripted to have the greatest impact possible on hearers. It was a rhetoric of persuasion calling for repentance” (Sandy 80).

Similar hyperbolic language is found early in the Bible:

• “The LORD your God has multiplied you, and behold, you are this day like the stars of heaven in number” (Deut. 1:10).

• “Where can we go up? Our brethren have made our hearts melt, saying, ‘The people are bigger and taller than we; the cities are large and fortified to heaven. And besides, we saw the sons of the Anakim there’” (1:28).

• “They came out, they and all their armies with them, as many people as the sand that is on the seashore, with very many horses and chariots” (Josh. 11:4).

Jesus’ disciples would have understood His use of hyperbole, and even if they didn’t, Jesus was the truthteller not their understanding of what He said. Often those in Jesus’ audience and His disciples didn’t understand His statements (e.g., John 6:41-65). This was true of the “teacher of Israel” (3:1-21). Since He mentioned the destruction of the temple and used sun, moon, and stars language, they would have interpreted His words against the background of the Scriptures of their time (Isa. 13:10, 13, 17; 24:19, 21, 23; 30:26; 34:4).

Today’s prophecy “experts” are oblivious to how the Bible uses various literary devices. To make Bible prophecy relevant, they force it to comply with modern concepts and technology. Bows and arrows and riders on horses in Ezekiel 38 and 39 must mean missiles and missile launchers and horsepower. Chariots must refer to tanks.

The Gog and Magog End-Time Alliance

The Gog and Magog End-Time Alliance

Jet planes … missiles … and atomic weapons. You will search in vain in Ezekiel 38 and 39, and you will not find them. You will, however, find horses, bows and arrows, shields, clubs, and chariots. If the Gog and Magog prophecy was written for a time more than 2500 years in the future from Ezekiel’s day, why didn’t God describe the battle in terms that we could relate to and understand? Why confuse Ezekiel’s first readers and us?

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Nineteenth-century prophecy “experts” are some of the worst, far outpacing Hal Lindsey’s locusts of Revelation 9:1–12 that could be Vietnam-era “Cobra helicopters.”[4] Robert H. Ellison,[5] in an insightful study of prophecy writer John Cumming (1807-1881), makes the following observation: “[Cumming] asserts that it is ‘neither hasty nor irrelevant’ to compare ‘ancient prophecy’ with daily press reports and states that ‘This use of the modern newspaper is all the originality I claim.’”[6] Here are some examples of Cumming’s “newspaper exegesis” as detailed by Ellison: 

Cumming’s use of current events to interpret ancient Scripture gets rather ingenious at times. He claims, for example, that Daniel’s phrase ‘And knowledge shall be increased’ [Dan. 12:4] can also be translated ‘And knowledge shall be flashed along’, a rendering which anticipates the telegraph, the ‘mysterious whispering wire’[7] that can transmit a message to ‘the most distant capital of Europe’ in less than an hour’s time. Even more inventive is his interpretation of the prophecy he sees in Isaiah 18:1–2—‘Woe to the land . . . beyond the rivers of Ethiopia: That sendeth ambassadors by the sea, even in vessels of bulrushes upon the waters’. He asserts that the phrase ‘vessels of bulrushes’ is literally ‘vessels of that which drinks water’, a phrase which many have perplexed the translators working in 1611 [when the King James version of the Bible was published] but which can now be seen as a reference to the steamship, a ‘vessel whose . . . motive force from beginning to end, is water’.[8]

Cumming also saw “railway traveling”[9] to be a reference to “many shall run to and fro” (Dan. 12:4) even though trains don’t “run” and neither did the people who took the trains. Seeing some forms of technology as the fulfillment of Bible prophecy can get outdated very fast. We need to read and interpret the Bible in its covenantal context. 

J.L. Martin’s The Voice of the Seven Thunders: Lectures on the Apocalypse, outpaces them all:

“And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand and I heard the number of them.” The four angels are two hundred millions. Two hundred thousand thousand are just two hundred millions, and that is just about the fighting force of the whole world [of the 19th century]. We have a few more than one billion inhabitants on the earth, and in a few centuries past the average population on the globe has not varied much from one billion. But of that billion, about five hundred millions (one half) are females, leaving an average population of male inhabitants of about five hundred millions, and of that number about one-half are minors, leaving about two hundred and fifty millions of adult males on the earth at a time. But of that number of adult males, about one-fifth are superannuated—too old to fight. These are statistical facts. This leaves exactly John’s two hundred millions of fighting men on earth. And when we prove a matter mathematically, we think it is pretty well done. (149-150).


But when let loose, John tells us how they fought. We are now in the time of the sounding of the sixth angel’s trumpet as certain as that the nations of earth are loosed to fight and there is no power to prevent them from it. “And thus, I saw the horses in the Vision and them that sat on them having breastplates of fire and of jacinth and brimstone, and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone.” The heads of the horses, including the rider, were as the heads of lions. 

John is pointing to the modern mode of fighting on horseback [in the 19th century], with the rider leaning forward, which, to his sight, and to the sight of one looking on at a distance, would appear as the great mane of the lion; the man leaning on his horse’s neck. He would, in fighting with firearms, have to lean forward to discharge his piece, lest he might shoot down his own horse that he was riding. In John’s day, the posture was very different. . . . Now, I want to ask my friendly hearers if it is not as literally fulfilled before our eyes as anything can be? Are not all nations engaged in this mode of warfare? Do they not kill men with fire and smoke and brimstone?… Do you not know that this is just ignited gunpowder? Do not all men know without calling in a chemist that it is precisely the chemical division of gunpowder when ignited—fire smoke and brimstone?


Could an uninspired man in the last of the first century have told of this matter? Could he have known unless he had been inspired that soon after the darkest time of the dark ages when these greedy preachers hurt the men that had not the knowledge of God’s Word, that the nations would all be let loose from that mighty power that bound them and engage in the fight with fire and smoke and brimstone?

Modern-day prophecy teachers are not only an embarrassment, but they are also very bad Bible students.

[1] See William Greenhill, An Exposition of Ezekiel (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, [1647-1667], 1994), 145-146.

[2] Harold Lindsell, The Battle For the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976), 165-167.

[3] D. Brent Sandy, Plowshares & Pruning Hooks: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2002).

[4] “I have a Christian friend,” Lindsey writes, “who was a Green Beret in Viet Nam. When he first read this chapter he said, “I know what those are. I’ve seen hundreds of them in Viet Nam. They’re Cobra helicopters! That may be conjecture, but it does give you something to think about! A Cobra helicopter does fit the sound of ‘many chariots.’ My friend believes that the means of torment will be a kind of nerve gas sprayed from its tail.” Hal Lindsey, There’s a New World Coming: A Prophetic Odyssey (Santa Ana, CA: Vision House Publishers, 1973), 138-139.

[5] Robert H. Ellison, “John Cumming and His Critics: Some Victorian Perspectives on the End Times,” Leeds, Centre Working Papers in Victorian Studies: Platform Pulpit Rhetoric, ed. Martin Hewitt, vol. 3 (Horsforth, Leeds: Leeds Centre for Victorian Studies, 2000), 83, note 20.

[6] Robert H. Ellison, “John Cumming and His Critics: Some Victorian Perspectives on the End Times,” Leeds, Centre Working Papers in Victorian Studies: Platform Pulpit Rhetoric, ed. Martin Hewitt, vol. 3 (Horsforth, Leeds: Leeds Centre for Victorian Studies, 2000), 83, note 20.

[7] John Cumming, Behold, The Bridegroom Cometh: The Last Warning Cry with Reasons for the Hope That is in Me (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1865), 357-358. Also see pages 189-190.

[8] Ellison, “John Cumming and His Critics,” 77.

[9] Quoted in Ellison, “John Cumming and His Critics,” 79.