Sixty five years ago today, Israel became a nation again. Prophetic writers saw this event as the end-time sign that something called the “rapture” could not be far off. Within 40 years of that May 14, 1948 date, prophecy writers were telling us, Jesus would return and take His Church to heaven to be followed by a seven-year period where the temple in Jerusalem would be rebuilt, animal sacrifices would be restored, the antichrist would arise, and all hell would break loose.
With the publication of Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth in 1970 this end-time scenario became standard operating procedure among millions of evangelical Christians. Lindsey wrote:
“A generation in the Bible is something like forty years. If this is a correct deduction, then within forty years or so of 1948, all these things could take place. Many scholars who have studied Bible prophecy all their lives believe that this is so.1
If these many “scholars” have studied Bible prophecy “all their lives” and came to this same conclusion, then what does this say about their study of the Bible? They, along with Lindsey, were obviously wrong. Keep in mind that the methods used by Lindsey and his many unnamed scholars are the same methods being used today by those making similar claims about the nearness of Jesus’ return to “rapture” His church.
Chuck Smith wrote in his 1976 book The Soon to be Revealed Antichrist that “we are living in the last generation which began with the rebirth of Israel in 1948 (see Matt. 24:32–34).” You will search in vain in these three verses for any mention of “the rebirth of Israel.” He repeated the claim in his 1978 book End Times: “If I understand Scripture correctly, Jesus taught us that the generation which sees the ‘budding of the fig tree,’ the birth of the nation of Israel, will be the generation that sees the Lord’s return. I believe that the generation of 1948 is the last generation. Since a generation of judgment is forty years and the Tribulation period lasts seven years, I believe the Lord could come back for His Church any time before the Tribulation starts, which would mean any time before 1981. (1948 + 40 – 7 = 1981).”2
On December 31, 1979, Smith told those who had gathered at Calvary Chapel that the rapture would take place before the end of 1981. He went on to say that because of ozone depletion Revelation 16:8 would be fulfilled during the tribulation period: “And the fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun; and it was given to it to scorch men with fire.”
In addition, Halley’s Comet was about to pass near Earth in 1986 and would wreak havoc on those left behind as debris from its million-mile-long tail pummeled the planet.3 Here’s how Smith explained the prophetic scenario in his book Future Survival which is nearly identical to what appears on his 1979 taped message:
“The Lord said that towards the end of the Tribulation period the sun would scorch men who dwell upon the face of the earth (Rev. 16). The year 1986 would fit just about right! We’re getting close to the Tribulation and the return of Christ in glory. All the pieces of the puzzle are coming together.4
Nothing significant happened in 1986 related to Halley’s Comet, and there is no reason why it should have since it’s been a predictable phenomenon for more than two millennia as it makes its way around the sun every 75 to 76 years.
Dave Hunt (1926–2013), who believed that Israel’s national reestablishment is the time indicator for future prophetic events,5 lamented that Lindsey’s prophetic recklessness had a negative effect on many Christians:
“Needless to say, January 1, 1982, saw the defection of large numbers from the pretrib[lational rapture] position. . . . Many who were once excited about the prospects of being caught up to heaven at any moment have become confused and disillusioned by the apparent failure of a generally accepted biblical interpretation they once relied upon.”6
The generation that Jesus had in mind was the generation of His day. Each time “this generation” is used by Jesus it always refers to the generation of His day. There are no exceptions (e.g., Matt. 11:16; 12:39, 41, 42, 45; 16:4; 23:36; Mark 8:12, 38; Luke 7:31; 11:29–32, 50–51; 17:25).
Prophetic speculation has a significant impact on social, economic, and political issues. If millions of people believe the end is near, then a certain percentage of those people believe that little or nothing they do can change the inevitable.
- Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970, 53–54). [↩]
- Chuck Smith, End Times (Costa Mesa, CA: The Word for Today, 1978), 35. [↩]
- Halley’s Comet also appeared in A.D. 66 and passed over Jerusalem, four years before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem by the Romans. Could this have been the fulfillment of Luke 21:11? [↩]
- Smith, Future Survival, 21. [↩]
- Dave Hunt, Whatever Happened to Heaven? (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1988), 64. [↩]
- Dave Hunt, Whatever Happened to Heaven? (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1988), 68. [↩]