After decades of failed prophetic expectations, it is time for believers to reexamine many popular ideas about the “last days.”
Fifty years ago, I was influenced greatly by the bestseller, ‘The Late Great Planet Earth.’ In it, I read, and rather enthusiastically, how last day prophecies were being fulfilled before my eyes. All the “signs” pointed to me being a member of the “last generation” before the return of Jesus. The Antichrist, Armageddon, and Millennium were all about to unfold on the world scene.
The arguments were appealing. I mean, who is not thrilled at the thought of witnessing the fulfillment of prophecy firsthand? And compelling, at least, at first glance. The “last days” commenced with the founding of modern Israel in 1948. And allegedly, according to Jesus, the “generation” that saw that event would witness the concluding events of the age, and a “biblical generation” was defined as about “forty years.”
So, here we are in 2021, two “biblical generations” have passed since the founding of Israel. Rather than morph into a ten-nation revived Roman Empire, the former European Common Market became the European Union headquartered in Brussels with 27-member states. Rather than evolve into “Gog and Magog” and attack Israel from the north, the former Soviet Union collapsed under its own weight, one of the most pivotal events since the Second World War, yet one that NONE of the prophecy “experts” saw coming. 1988 came and went with NO tribulation, NO Antichrist, NO “mark of the Beast,” NO “false prophet,” and NO “rapture” or second coming.
I admit, at times I can be a bit slow, and perhaps hesitate to buck the popular view. Still, by around 1991 or 1992 I was beginning to smell a prophetic rat. Things no longer jibed. So, what went wrong? Had Bible prophecy failed?
According to the leaders of the Prophecy Industry, things are still proceeding according to plan, only, perhaps, they made a slight error or two in arithmetic. Maybe they forgot to carry the ‘2’ or convert forty 365-day years into 360-day years. They still peg the start of the “last days” to 1948, but rather than admit error, they have redefined a “biblical generation” to be anywhere from forty to eighty, and even to one-hundred and twenty years. All very convenient, all very self-serving, and all very dishonest. Whenever an interpretation fails, simply redefine your terms, and recalculate your chronologies.
But we can put it another way. When has the Prophecy Industry ever got one right? According to Deuteronomy, if a prophet gets one prediction wrong, he is a false prophet. Whether that warning is still applicable under the New Covenant, it does not bode well for today’s prophecy “experts,” nor does common sense or logic.
But the complete failure of the Prophecy Industry does not, by itself, mean that Bible prophecy has failed. It can just as well indicate that the prophecy “experts” were completely wrong, that there was (and is) something fundamentally wrong in their interpretive methods and assumptions. In fact, by far, that is the likeliest explanation.
It would take days, even weeks, to examine all the predictions, assumptions, and interpretive nuances of the Prophecy Industry, so I will point out just two of the basic errors common to every version of this interpretive school, most often labeled ‘Dispensationalism.’ For that matter, the Prophecy Industry cannot survive if Christians begin to question these assumptions, for it is dependent on promoting heightened prophetic expectations among Christians.
First, in the Bible, the “last days” commenced with the outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, following the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. “In the last days, declares God, I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.” In ancient times, God spoke “to the fathers in the prophets,” here a little and there a little. However, now, “upon the last of these days, He has spoken to us in a Son.” This may be counterintuitive; nevertheless, the “last days” have been underway since the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. That period did NOT begin in 1948.
Second, according to Christ’s repeated warning, no one except “God alone,” period, end-of-discussion, knows the timing of that day. The idea that we can approximate the date of his return by adding a certain number of years to 1948 is incompatible with His words.
Sooner or later, the prophecy “experts” must all explain away Christ’s warning – his words did not really mean what they obviously do mean. Most often, they claim we cannot know the “precise day or hour,” but Jesus did not say that we cannot know the general “season.” Putting aside the false logic (‘argumentum e silentio’), in fact, Jesus said that very thing. “It is NOT for you to know the season” or ‘kairos.’ I mean, by their logic, because Christ did not include the week, month, year, decade, or century in his warning, we can know the week, month, year, decade, and century of his coming, just not the exact day and hour– (Mark 13:33).
But just prior to his ascension, Jesus told his disciples that “It is not for you to know times [plural] or seasons [plural], which the Father hath set within His own authority.” And the terms “times” and “seasons” cover just about any way one might delimit time – (Mark 13:33, Acts 1:7).
Church history is replete with examples of men and women who have predicted the time of Christ’s return. And while their methods and conclusions have varied, one thing they all had in common was that they ALL, without exception, failed. And so far, today’s Prophecy Industry is NO exception to the rule. And like all their predecessors, the “experts” have chosen NOT to heed the clear and repeated warning of Jesus.
In none of this am I claiming that Christ’s return is not imminent, nor that it will not occur before the present generation ends. For all I know, he may arrive “on the clouds” tomorrow, and therefore, the need to be ready at every moment for his “sudden” and “unexpected” return.
And that is the point. I do NOT know, you do NOT know, and most certainly, today’s self-appointed prophecy “experts” do NOT know when the “end” will come, or whether we are members of the “last generation.”
Since we cannot calculate the time of the “end,” is it important to study Bible prophecy? Yes! Absolutely! Among other things, prophetic passages teach us what is coming and what to expect (e.g., the “apostasy,” deceivers, the resurrection), and how to be prepared for every eventuality so that his “arrival” does not overtake us “like a thief in the night.” Further, the knowledge that the present age WILL end, whether we know when or not, should motivate us to righteous living, and to proclaim the gospel at every opportunity while time remains to do so (“for the night is coming when no man can work”).
And I am not saying that the Bible does not provide clear information about the future. I mean, when Paul writes that the dead will be resurrected and death will cease at the “arrival” of Jesus, that is plain enough. I KNOW that death will no longer occur after his return. I just do not know when that event will become a glorious reality.
And what I am “suggesting”; actually, “shouting from the rooftops,” is that that it is high time for us to reexamine very carefully the many popular claims and fads about the “last days” propagated by the Prophecy Industry over the last fifty or so years.
Jesus’ other repeated warning was about “coming deceivers” who would come in his name, and thereby, “deceive many,” pointing to “rumors of wars” and otherwise disseminating false information and expectations about the end. And that is one prophecy that IS being fulfilled daily and in far too many churches.