Charles Wesley Ewing, writing in 1983, describes a clear historical picture of how prophetic interpretation based on current events turns to confusion, uncertainty, and in some people unbelief when it comes to predicting an end that disappoints:
In 1934, Benito Mussolini sent his black-shirted Fascists down into defenseless Ethiopia and preachers all over the country got up in their pulpits and preached spellbinding sermons that had their congregations bulging at the eyes in astonishment about “Mussolini, the Anti-Christ,” and to prove their point they quoted from Daniel 11:43, which says, “And the Ethiopians shall be at his steps.” Later, Benito, whimpering, was hung by his own countrymen, and preachers all over America had to toss their sermons into the scrap basket as unscriptural.1
Ewing goes on to mention how Hitler’s storm troopers took Czechoslovakia, Poland, France, North Africa, and set up concentration camps where millions of Jews were killed in what has become the modern-day definition of “holocaust.” Once again, preachers ascended their pulpits and linked these events to Bible prophecy and assured the church-going public that Hitler was the antichrist.
When the allies routed the Nazis and drove them out, sermons were once again tossed out or filed away to be revised at some future date hoping people’s memories would fade.
The next end-time-antichrist candidate was Joseph Stalin, the leader of godless Communism, a movement hell-bent on conquering the world. “But on March 5, 1953, Stalin had a brain hemorrhage and preachers all over America had to make another trip to the wastebasket.”2
There are so many examples of these types of examples that an entire book would be needed to list and refute them. Francis X. Gumerlock has written such a book: The Day and the Hour: Christianity’s Perennial Fascination with Predicting the End of the World.
Like I heard in a sermon this morning, many of the passages that people use to explain events concerning the end of the world have nothing to do with the end of the world. For example, in Luke 17:20-37, Jesus is answering a question put to Him by the Pharisees about the coming of the kingdom of God. To their surprise, Jesus said, “the kingdom of God is in your midst” (v. 21), implying the kingdom was linked to the first coming of Jesus (Matt. 3:2; Luke 21:31). In His further comments, Jesus delivered some disappointing news to the Pharisees and the nation as a whole. Their generation would come under judgment similar to what took place during Noah and Lot’s day. Jesus was not describing the end of the whole wide world in some distant future. He was describing the judgment that was going to come upon Jerusalem before their generation passed away (Luke 21:6-36; Matt. 24:1-34; Mark 13).
Failure to understand the timing of Jesus’ pronouncements about prophetic events and their intended subject (e.g., Luke 13:34-35; 19:41-44) can lead many astray. Here are some examples…