BURDENED ABOUT PROPHECY FEVER
Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, "I have a dream." Having read many chat-room posts, magazines, books, and internet articles where concerns are expressed about things like the implantation of microchips, a central computer in Belgium, identifying the Antichrist with the likes of Henry Kissinger or Arnold Swartznegger, marks on foreheads, etc., etc., I have aburden. My spirit aches when I see well-meaning people being distracted by spending time imagining that prophecies are unfolding in newspaper headlines and current events. Of course we are closer to the end today than we were yesterday. That goes without saying. But I have come to believe that something is amuck when folks are cocksure that they are in the very last times and that their view of end-times is absolutely correct, and all others are suspect and errant.
Please let me explore some thoughts with you in this regard. I'm not interested in defending some inflexible party-line; I'm open to learn from other brethren; I'm not going to do any detailed exposition of Bible passages. But I am going to share my heart with you, question the popular obsession with prophecy in our culture, and make some observations about various concerns I have. I believe that many people are being deceived by the fervor created by such phenomena as the "Left Behind" series of books, so my goal is to suggest some areas that need to be carefully evaluated.
Your feedback will be welcomed, of course!
I'm 58 years old, and I've been thinking about prophecy issues since 1965, when I was a part of Faith Baptist Church in Canoga Park, CA, where Roland Rasmussen was the leader.
In 1978 my book, "Dispensationalism: A Reformed Inquiry Into Its Leading Figures & Features," was published by Presbyterian & Reformed Publishers. It is currently available from Chapel Library in Pensacola Florida and on several websites.
If we were to compile say 50 dogmatic statements about what would happen in the future made by Bible teachers between 1830 and 1900, we would discover that they were all dead wrong. Nothing happened as they predicted. Now if we picked another 50 such assertions for the period of 1920 to 2000, we would draw the same conclusion - time has shown them to be wrong. Hal Lindsey and others essentially predicted that Jesus would return within a generation (40 years) after Israel's nationhood in 1948. 1988 has come and gone and Jesus still has not come back. A retired brother told me that he heard a pastor in 1957 say, "We are at 11:59:59 in the prophetic timetable." What would he say now that 46 years have elapsed without the end?
In 1979, Jack Van Impe said, "The Rapture is near, even at the door." Not a few were sure that America's invasion of Iraq would light the fuse for the final impending fireworks. The truth is, brethren, that if history continues for another 50 to 100 years, all the prophetic "the-end-is-near" hoopla going on right now is going to look foolish and mistaken, just like all the past prophetic rhetoric since 1830.
For years Russia was said to be the great nation that would come down on Israel. When the USSR fell apart in 1991, the predictions had to be revised again. If you say, "History just can't go on for 50 to 100 years," you are on very shaky ground. Neither you nor I know what a day will bring forth, or how many days lie ahead. Everybody tends to think they are in the last generation, but they've all been wrong so far. Of course, there will be those who are "alive and remain" when Jesus returns, but they more than likely will not be thinking before the momentous event, "we are surely the ones in view in 1 Thess.4:17." I thinkwe all need a large dose of humility and caution when it comes to curiosity about the future.
Some of you point out that there were premillennialists in the early post-apostolic times, and that is true enough. But it must be emphasized that none of those early fathers held that God had two purposes -- an earthly one with Israel and a heavenly one for the church. That opinion did not appear until roughly 1830. Charles Ryrie in "Dispensationalism Today" said that the two-purposes doctrine is the sine qua non of Dispensational theology. No pre-1830 premillennialist held to such a theory. The truth is there is a chasm of significant magnitude between pre-1830 and post-1830 premillennialists. For contemporary Dispensationalists to claim continuity and pedigree with the early premillennialists is not accurate in some crucial respects.
The rapture doctrine assumes the two-purposes notion - God cannot resume His earthly purpose with Israel until the heavenly church is first removed.
Some claim that Jesus' words, "not one stone will be left upon another; every one will be thrown down" (Mk.13:2), were only partially fulfilled in 70AD, and still await total fulfillment over 2000 years later. This cannot be! They were literally fulfilled in 70AD. Josephus' eyewitness account portrays the utter devastation of Jerusalem and the Temple. He said, "The war had blotted out every trace of beauty, and no one who had known it in the past and came upon it suddenly would have recognized the place, for though he was already there, he would still be looking for the city" (War, VI:8, Cornfeld trans.).
The Jews' genealogical records were destroyed, so that no Jew now can say, like Paul did, "I'm of the tribe of Benjamin." The Jews were forbidden to return to the site of Jerusalem and the Temple for about 200 years after 70AD. The city was absolutely desolate, having been raped and pillaged by the Romans for years after 70AD. Jesus said, "this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zachariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all" (Lk.11:50-51). To suggest that Matt.24:2, Mk.13:2 and Lk.21:6 were not totally fulfilled in first century events, and to suggest that they await further fulfillment 2000+ years later, is to distort God's Word beyond recognition. We cannot claim to take Scripture literally, yet fudge on Jesus' "this generation" wording. Why do some do that? Is it because a first century fulfillment doesn't fit their prophetic scheme?
Further, to suggest that the today's "wailing wall" in Jerusalem is part of the Herod's Temple is without foundation for several reasons. First, those stones are part of Antonia, a Roman structure, not the Temple. Jesus said, "not one stone would remain upon another," so the Temple stones were leveled in 70AD as Jesus predicted. The current "wailing wall" cannot consist of rock from Herod's Temple.
Second, the "wailing wall" is on the west side, so those who pray are facing east. These people should know better than that. In the OT, service toward God in the Tabernacle and Temple was always done from the east side facing west. The priests faced west toward the Holy Place.
Third, the current "Dome of the Rock" cannot be where Herod's Temple was located. The Temple was located about 1200 feet south of the Dome of the Rock. The Dome of the Rock is located in what would have been to the Jews an "unclean" area of the Antonia fortress, which Herod built to curry favor with Rome. Living waters from the spring of Gihon ran through the Temple area. If the Temple was where the Dome of the Rock is now located, the presence of this spring would be impossible.
These points, and many others of significance, are documented in Ernest L. Martin's "The Temples that Jerusalem Forgot" (ASK, 2000, 486pp) and "Secrets of Golgotha: The Lost History of Jesus' Crucifixion" (ASK, 1996, 464pp.).
All of this, of course, shows how futile and misdirected the ruckus is about a future Jewish Temple replacing the Dome of the Rock. They're contemplating a Temple located in the wrong place! More than that, they dare to revive obsolete old covenant shadows in the future, when the reality has appeared in the past -- Christ said His body was the Temple that would be raised up, and that His body the ekklesia is the Temple that is being built in the gospel age (Jn.2:19-22; Eph.2:21).
The rapture theory seems to put contemporary and future "Jews" in a lose-lose situation. Their return to Israel since 1948 is seen as a fulfillment of prophecy. But what awaits these people in the post-rapture "Great Tribulation" period according to Dispensationalists' interpretation of Zech.13:8-9? Two-thirds of them will be exterminated. Based on Israel's current population, two-thirds would come to a total of about 3,000,000 deaths. So why aren't today's premillennialists warning them to get out of the land in order to avoid the alleged post-rapture slaughter? The answer is simple. In order for their bliss to occur via the rapture, the land of Israel must be fully populated with people who will face a prophetically-predicted mass liquidation.
So according to today's prophecy experts for every three people who return to their homeland, two will be murdered under the worst of circumstances in the "Great Tribulation." It is no wonder that this embarrassing aspect of premillennial eschatology is not widely publicized (cf. Gary North, "Fundamentalism's Bloody Homeland for Jews,"www.LewRockwell.com/north/north222.html; Don Preston, "Israel: 1948 Countdown to Nowhere," 2003, 47pp.).
In the past I posted some material from Bob Emery's "Evening in Ephesus: The Revelation of Jesus Christ," in which he submitted that the "666" figure was fulfilled in the person of Nero: "By using the numerical value for each letter in Nero's name, it was easy for the Christians throughout the Empire to see that he was the beast. 'Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six'" (p.83).
To me this makes a lot more sense than all the fruitless speculation that has gone on over the years in trying to identify the 666 with various leaders or cultural phenomena. Nero fulfilling 666 also makes sense because when Revelation was written, the Temple was still standing (Rev.11:1-2) - "measure the temple of God..it has been given to the nations and they will tread under foot the holy city for 42 months." "For forty-two months," Emery notes, "from spring of A.D. 67 until the end of the summer in the year A.D. 70, the Gentiles did trample Jerusalem underfoot" (p.67). It seems natural to see the brunt of John's visions related to first century events, not to events pushed out some 2000+ years. Revelation deals mostly with things "soon" to come to pass, not things to be speculated about 2000 years later (cf. Jay Adams, "The Time Is At Hand: Prophecy & the Book of Revelation," Timeless Texts, 2000, 138pp)
One of the crucial pillars of the eschatology that God has two purposes - an earthly one for Israel and a heavenly one for the church - is the notion that the 70 weeks of Daniel were not consecutive. They posit that the first 69 weeks were consecutive, but that the church age is a hiatus, a parenthesis (2000 years and counting), between the 69th and 70th weeks.
After the rapture of the church, they say, God picks up His earthly purpose with Israel again, and commences Daniel's 70th week. Whether or not these weeks run consecutively is not a small issue, as the interpretations that result are as far as east is from west. In the 69-hiatus-then-70 view, the Antichrist is seen as making a covenant with Israel in the 70th week.. When the 70 weeks are seen as consecutive, the 70th week brings history to the ministry of Christ, and he makes a covenant with many unto salvation. The one is Christ-centered; the other is Antichrist centered. The natural way to take Daniel's prophecy is for the 70 weeks to run in sequence, with the 70th week culminating in Jesus Christ. The other view requires certain assumptions to be read into the text (cf. Jay Adams & Milton Fisher, "The Time of the End: Daniel's Prophecy Reclaimed," Timeless Texts, 2000,120pp.).
If Daniel's 70 weeks were completed in the first century, then the pillars of the Darby-Scofield-Chafer-Ryrie-Walvoord-VanImpe-Lindsey-LaHaye prophetic scheme crash to the ground.
In the past, I have read a paper called, "Amillennialism: The Most Pervasive Heresy in History," but the writer showed no evidence of having studied the most representative articulations of this view. I was present at a conference in which this paper was read, but the amillenialists present indicated that they did not feel that their position was properly presented/represented. The paper gave no documentation for the information about the 'amil' view. Some of the key books that present the amil view are:
Anthony Hoekema, "The Bible & the Future" (Eerdmans; cf. www.graceonlinelibrary.org/theology for Hoekema's "Amillennialism - Part 1"),
William Cox, "Amillennialism Today" (Pres. & Reformed),
Floyd Hamilton, "The Basis of Millennial Faith" (Eerdmans),
William Hendriksen, "More Than Conquerers" (Baker),
and Leon Morris, "The Revelation of St. John" (Eerdmans).
These sources will not yield the caricature of Amillennialism which is sometimes presented.
It distresses me that in the practical outworking of things among many Premillennialists, the limelight falls on Israel instead of Christ. This is illustrated in Charles Feinberg's "Israel: At the Center of History & Revelation" (Multnomah, 1980). The Lord does not have two separate purposes, one for Israel and one for the church. He has one eternal purpose which He purposed in Jesus Christ (Eph.3:11). Adrio Konig's book, "The Eclipse of Christ in Eschatology" (Eerdmans, 1980) is a wonderful corrective to the popular Israel-centered mentality. Steve Temple's message at our 2003 Searching Together Conference, "Christ: The Center of Eschatology," was a glorious presentation of how Adam failed, how Israel failed, but how in Christ all the Father's promises in the gospel are "Yes" and "Amen." The Scripture does not say, "Kiss Israel," but "Kiss the Son, lest He be angry and you be destroyed in your way" (Ps.2:12). The Lord may indeed have future purposes for the Jews, but they will be in connection with gospel-grafting into the olive tree, not in regard to some alleged separate earthly purpose (after the church is removed from history) that results in another Temple and animal sacrifices.
Rev.20 is used as the framework for a 1000-year Israel-centered period on earth which occurs after the rapture of the church, and after a time of "Great Tribulation." Among other strange phenomena during this alleged millennium, it is posited that there will be glorified, immortal saints living on earth and mingling with mortal wicked people. It is a time of incredible material prosperity, and procreation is resulting in babies who live to be very old. However, it would seem that if one just reads Rev.20,minus all the imported baggage packed into the text, you would never come up with such a picture. Here are some questions I have.
If Satan will be destroyed by the brightness of Christ's coming (2 Thess.1), how can he be bound for a 1000 years after that event?
If history comes to an end at His glorious coming (2 Thess.1), what would be the sense of the devil no longer deceiving the nations after than event?
Do the martyrs who live and reign with Christ for 1000 years appear to be above or on the earth?
Where is there any focus or mention of Israel in Rev.20?
Don't the images portrayed in Rev.20 seem more heavenly-oriented than earth-based?
When Christ returns there will be no more curse and no more sin. Thus, the idea of the devil functioning after His glorious return in a millennium where sin remains present is an opinion that needs to be evaluated long and hard.
It seems to me that the prophetic dogmatism since 1948 that Christ will return in our times is a built-in set-up for letdown and disillusionment (cf. L. Festinger, et al.,"When Prophecy Fails: A Social-Psychological Study of a Modern Group that Predicted the Destruction of the World," Harper, 1964, 253pp).
A person in our assembly recently received a spam-generated ad for the "Left Behind Prophecy Club," which promises (for a monthly fee) an "in-depth analysis of the news in light of end-time prophecy" provided by LaHaye, Jenkins, and Hitchcock "to help you see and interpret the signs." They will no doubt get many paying customers to partake of their speculations. Paul L. Maier, in a new novel, "More Than A Skeleton" (Thomas Nelson, 2003), shows the fallacies of end-times predictions. He notes, " I believe that the heart of the Gospel is being replaced by an overemphasis on prophecy, which turns away serious seekers of faith. I fear that their over-literalizing of what is obviously symbolic material in the Bible could send people into a panic and disillusion others when such 'prophecies' fail." Not a few premils are uncomfortable with the details of Lindsey's and LaHaye's vision of the future, but the fact remains that the basic contours of their eschatology (Rapture, Tribulation, Millennium, etc.) are the same.
Hal Lindsey said in 1981, "I believe absolutely.we are the generation that will see the end of the present world and the return of Jesus Christ," and then cited Jesus in Matt.24:34, "Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place." But the generation Jesus had in view was the one He lived in - not one 2000+ years later - as is indicated by His words to the disciples, "when you see standing in the holy place 'the abominaton that causes desolation,' spoken of by Daniel, then let those in Judea flee to the mountains." Jesus, predicting 70AD, said of the Temple, "I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down" (Matt.24:2).
To teach that our generation will surely be alive when Jesus returns, and to import contemporary events into the Book of Revelation, is an act of futility and arrogance by well-intentioned people (and by some hucksters). Keith said, "only the spiritually blind could miss these things [being fulfilled in our day]."
I would humbly suggest that those who think they see what bodes in the future may actually be the ones afflicted with blindness in this regard. The truth is, all of us are probably "wrong" in some ways concerning our conception of the future. What will actually happen transcends anything our finite minds can conceive of. What the Lord intends to do will come to pass, regardless of what our opinions may be. I think it is important for us, therefore, to be sure we focus on what we know to be true - Jesus is concerned that we take care of those with needs in varied situations while we await His return (Matt.25:31-46).
Thank you for considering some of the things on my heart.
JZ, Dec 1, 2003