If there’s one passage of Scripture that is repeatedly brought up as an indictment against people who object to modern-day prophetic speculation it is 2 Peter 3:3–18. If you dispute with those who argue that all the signs around us indicate that we are living in the “last days,” then you are labeled a “scoffer” or a “mocker” (2 Peter 3:3; Jude 18). If this is how the passage is to be understood, then how should Bible students who argued against similar prophetic speculation during two World Wars and previous periods of social, civil, and moral unrest going back centuries be evaluated? Those who questioned the prophecy speculators were correct in their skepticism that they were not living in the last days as that phrase is generally understood!
The people Peter and Jude accuse of being “scoffers” were enemies of Jesus and the gospel and were alive when Peter and Jude wrote their letters. They scoffed at the claims made by Jesus that the temple would be destroyed (Matt. 24:2) and Jesus Himself would be the person to make it happen before their generation passed away (Matt. 24:34; 21:18–46; 22:1–14). Since nearly 40 years—a generation—had passed since Jesus had prophesied about the impending destruction, and the revitalized temple was still standing in great splendor with no indication that it would be destroyed in their lifetime, the scoffers began to mock the words of Jesus. “Where’s the sign of His coming? Your Jesus predicted it with certainty, and it has not come to pass. All is as it has been. Based on the Law of Moses, this Jesus was a false prophet” (see Deut. 18:22).
Identifying the Real Last Days Scoffers
The judgment coming that the New Testament describes was leveled against Israel in the period leading up to the temple’s destruction in A.D. 70 (Matt. 22:1–14). It was this event that bred a generation of prophetic scoffers since nearly four decades had passed with no change in Israel’s situation. The temple was still standing, stone upon stone, when the scoffers began to ridicule the earlier predictions. Identifying the Real Last Days Scoffers is an eye-opening account of how today’s prophetic speculators are the real last days scoffers.Buy Now
A similar situation happened regarding the prophecies related to Judah’s captivity in Babylon. Consider the following from 2 Chronicles 36 and compare it to Jesus’ description of the destruction of Jerusalem that was prophesied by Him in the Olivet Discourse in the Synoptic Gospels:
Furthermore, all the officials of the priests and the people were very unfaithful following all the abominations of the nations; and they defiled the house of the Lord which He had sanctified in Jerusalem. The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent word to them again and again by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place; but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people until there was no remedy.
Therefore, He brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion on young man or virgin, old man or infirm; He gave them all into his hand. All the articles of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king and of his officers, he brought them all to Babylon. Then they burned the house of God and broke down the wall of Jerusalem and burned all its fortified buildings with fire and destroyed all its valuable articles.
Those who had escaped from the sword he carried away to Babylon; and they were servants to him and to his sons until the rule of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days of its desolation it kept sabbath until seventy years were complete (vv. 14–21).
There’s a big difference between a “scoffer” who rejects God’s word outright and someone who argues for an alternative position using sound biblical arguments. A person who disagrees with modern-day prophetic speculation is not a “scoffer,” especially when there have been so many failed attempts at predicting the certainty of the end over the years.
One could just as easily make the case that modern-day prophetic speculators are “scoffers” and “mockers” because they twist and distort Jesus’ clear words that He would return in judgment before that first-century generation passed away (Matt. 24:34; Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32). Some of today’s prophecy speculators try to argue that the Greek word genea—best translated as “generation” (Matt. 1:17)—can be translated as “race” or “nation.” When that doesn’t work, some argue that “this generation” (the generation of Jesus’ day: e.g., Matt. 12:41–42; 23:36), should be translated as “that generation” (any generation but the generation to whom Jesus addressed). For example, Henry Morris, who insisted that the Bible should be interpreted literally on issues related to creation, does not take the same approach when he interprets prophecy:
The word “this” [in Matt. 24:34] is the demonstrative adjective and could better be translated “that generation.” That is, the generation which sees all these signs (probably starting with World War I) shall not have completely died away until all these things have taken place.”
Prior to comments in his Defender’s Study Bible, Morris wrote the following extended comments on Matthew 24:34 in his book Creation and the Second Coming:
In this striking prophecy, the words “this generation” have the emphasis of “that generation.” That is, that generation—the one that sees the specific signs of His coming—will not completely pass away until He has returned to reign as King. Now if the first sign was, as we have surmised, the First World War, then followed by all His other signs, His coming must indeed be very near—even at the doors! There are only a few people still living from that generation. I myself was born just a month before the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918. Those who were old enough really to know about that First World War—“the beginning of sorrows”—would be at least in their eighties now. Thus, we cannot be dogmatic, we could very well now be living in the very last days before the return of the Lord.
World War I was from 1914 to 1918. No one fighting in that war is alive today. Anyone born during that time would be more than 100 years old. Morris died in 2006.
I received the following comment in an email from someone supporting the view held by Morris but with a twist. While for Morris “this” could mean “that” in some sense, the emailer took a complete left turn: “I will admit that the word ‘this’ has ALWAYS presented an obstacle to a full understanding of the Discourse. Have you ever considered [if] this word COULD HAVE BEEN ‘that’ in the original [Manuscript]? I believe from my reading that could have been possible” (November 12, 2007). Almost anything is possible, but there is no indication that the Greek word ekeinos (“that”) was ever used. It’s pure conjecture.
When Jesus’ clear words don’t suit a particular prophetic paradigm, words are removed, new words added, and Greek words redefined. “This generation” becomes, “the generation that sees these signs,” as if Jesus was addressing a generation other than the one to whom He was speaking. Jesus made it clear that it was His present audience (the repeated use of the second person plural “you” throughout the chapter) that would “see all these things” (Matt. 24:33).
Second Peter 3 links “scoffers” (v. 3 in KJV; “mockers” in NASB) with “the last days” (v. 3), “the promise of His coming” (v. 4), the “day of the Lord” (v. 10), and the passing away of the “heavens” and the “earth” (v. 10). The phrase “last days” is not code for events leading up either to an event called the “rapture of the church” or a future second physical coming of Jesus. Gordon Clark comments:
“The last days,” which so many people think refers to what is still future at the end of this age, clearly means the time of Peter himself. I John 2:18 says it is, in his day, the last hour. Acts 2:17 quoted Joel as predicting the last days as the lifetime of Peter…. Peter obviously means his own time.
There are other passages like Hebrews 1:1–2 (note the use of the plural near demonstrative: “in these last days”), Hebrews 9:26 (note the use of “now”), “as you see the day drawing near” (10:25; also 1 John 2:18), 1 Corinthians 10:11 (“upon whom the ends of the ages have come”), and James 5:3 (the storing up of their treasure was in “the last days” not “for” the last days). The question is, the last days of what?: the last days of the old covenant with its stone temple, blood sacrifices, and earthly sinful priesthood, the theme of the book of Hebrews.
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Henry M. Morris, The Defender’s Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: World Publishing, 1995), 1045.
There is nothing in Matthew 24 that says Jesus is going to return to reign as king on the earth.
Why does “near” mean “even at the doors” for Morris in his day, but it did not mean “near” in the first century?
Henry Morris, Creation and the Second Coming (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 1991), 183. Morris died on February 25, 2006 at the age of 87.
Gordon H. Clark, II Peter: A Short Commentary (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1975), 64.