Gary discusses how failed prophecies take a toll on those who believe them.

Hal Lindsey argued that Revelation was written in the form of an ancient code that needed a time machine to speed to the right prophetic era where the original symbols could be understood. “You might say,” Lindsey writes in There’s A New World Coming, “that [the apostle] John was put into a ‘divine time machine’ and transported nineteen hundred centuries into the future. Try to put yourself in his place. Suppose you were suddenly catapulted nineteen centuries into the future and confronted with the marvels of that time, then instructed to return to your own century and write what you had seen!”[1]

But John was told, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near” (Rev. 1:3). This verse indicates that the symbols and things signified were to be understood by Revelation’s first readers. How do we explain Lindsey’s “catapult” and “time machine” examples, when John was told “the time is near” (22:10), and that He was coming “quickly” (3:3, 11; 16:15; 22:7, 12, 20)? If we follow Lindsey’s methodology, the people who first read Revelation were confused because what they were reading didn’t line up with what they knew of their world. The people who read Revelation any time after the 19th century were also confused because the imagery was from an era long passed.

Revelation uses many Old Testament symbols: eating scrolls, beasts, marks on the forehead, gold, thrones, sun, moon, stars, candlesticks, Balaam, Jezebel, dragon, Gog and Magog, Sodom, Egypt, and Babylon. It’s unlikely that Old Testament references to people and places appeared either in John’s day, or will appear in their original form in our day or a time future to us. God uses them as a form of prophetic shorthand that those who were familiar with the Scriptures would have recognized but not always understood. Simon J. Kistemaker states the following in his commentary on Revelation:

The conclusion we must draw is that the numbers, images, and expressions of greatness must be interpreted as symbols that present the idea of totality, fullness, and perfection. Much of John’s symbolism derives from the Old Testament Scriptures and from the ecclesiastical context in which he spent his time. Let us note that the Jewish mind of the first century received and presented information by means of pictures, illustrations, and symbols.[2]

Interpreting any piece of biblical literature takes skill and a broad knowledge of the Bible. Like with any piece of literature — and the Bible is literature — it’s necessary to know a great deal about the type of literature you are studying. In fact, the word “literal” is derived “from the word Latin litera meaning letter. To interpret something literally is to pay attention to the litera or to the letters and words which are being used. To interpret the Bible literally is to interpret it as literature. That is, the natural meaning of a passage is to be interpreted according to the normal rules of grammar, speech, syntax and context.”[3] The Bible should not be read outside the way it uses language to tell its story.

The Rapture and the Fig Tree Generation

The Rapture and the Fig Tree Generation

For decades Christians have been enticed with the belief that they would be taken to heaven before a coming tribulation period in an event called the ‘rapture.’ Since the national reestablishment of Israel in 1948, countless books and pamphlets have been written defending the doctrine assuring readers that it could happen at any moment. Some prophecy writers claimed the rapture would take place before 1988. We are far removed from that date. Where are we in God’s prophetic timetable?

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Failed prophecies take a toll on those who believe them. For the last 100 years or so, Christians have been told by popular writers, speakers, and pastors that the rapture is near. While most can take it with a grain of salt, some get very bound up by fear of the “impending” event that never actually happens. These poor folks suffer from gnawing anxiety caused by RAD (Rapture Anxiety Disorder).

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[1] Lindsey, There’s a New World Coming, 23.

[2] Simon J. Kistemaker, Revelation: Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2001), 16.

[3] R.C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1977), 48–49.