Once again Christians are being told that we are definitely living in the last days. For example, Pastor Greg Laurie of Harvest Christian Fellowship in California said in a November 19, 2015 sermon that current news events are following the plan laid out in Bible prophecy. Melody Dareing, writing for Western Journalism, states that Laurie “wrapped up [his] sermon with this conclusive statement. ‘We’re living in the last days.’”
Laurie based his “last days” comment on “two specific things: the rise of terrorism and the alliance between Russia and Iran. He said global terrorism is as ‘stronger that it has ever been.’”
For centuries, actually, near two millennia, prophecy prognosticators have been making claims like those of Laurie’s based on the events of their day. My library is filled with books claiming that the end was near during WW I, WW II, the Russian revolution, the militarization of Japan, the French Revolution, every European war ever fought, and even the rise of Islam hundreds of years ago.
For decades Christian prophecy writers have been telling their followers that we’re living in the last days and Jesus is coming soon. Hal Lindsey and Chuck Smith assured their readers that it would all come to an end before 1988. That was 27 years ago. If we go back to 1970 when Lindsey wrote Late Great Planet Earth, it’s been 45 years. How much damage do you think has been done to our nation because millions of Christians were convinced that nothing could be done to change things because they were convinced they were living in the “last days”?
There have been wars, famines, plagues, earthquakes, signs in the heavens, and the rise of disparate religions like Islam since the beginning of time. Prophecy writers turn to Jesus’ predictions that He made on the Mount of Olives and miss the point that He was addressing the generation of His audience. That’s why he used the second personal plural: “When you see . . .” (Matt. 24:15; see vv. 4, 6, 20, 33: “when you see all these things”). That why Jesus said, “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” “This generation” was their generation, not ours (Matt. 24:34).
The careful reader will note that Jesus does not say that there will be more wars, more earthquakes or bigger earthquakes. He states that there will be “wars and rumors of wars” and in various places “famines and earthquakes” (Matt. 24:6-7). Of course, anyone familiar with the history of the first century knows that there were wars and rumors of wars, famines, plagues, and earthquakes just like Jesus predicted. For example, the book of Acts tells us that there would be “a great famine all over the world” (Acts 11:28). This was not a prediction of an event that would take place 2000 years in the future, otherwise why would “the disciples determine “to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea” (11:28-29; see 12:25)?
Even the “gospel” being preached throughout the “whole world” — to “all the nations” — was fulfilled before that first-century generation passed away (Rom. 1:8; Col. 1:6, 23; Rom. 16:25-27; 1 Tim. 3:16). It’s important to note that the word often translated as “world” in Acts 11:28 and Matthew 24:14 is not the typical world for “world.” It’s oikoumenē and means “inhabited earth.” It’s the same word used in Luke 2:1: “Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth [oikoumenē].” Oikoumenē is also used in Acts 11:28. The famine was empire-wide, not global, in the same way that the tax was only empire wide.
What Jesus was describing in Matthew 14, Mark 13, and Luke 21 was the end of the Old Covenant. The outward manifestation of that covenant, which was always designed to pass away (see the book of Hebrews), would become a reality when the temple, the priesthood, and animal sacrifices passed away. And as Jesus predicted, it all took place when the temple in Jerusalem was dismantled stone by stone in AD 70.
Those were the “last days” that Jesus and the NT writers were describing (e.g., Heb. 1:1-2; 1 Cor. 10:11; Heb. 9:26; 10:24-25; James 5:7-9; 1 Peter 1:20; 4:7).
In Matthew 24:3, Jesus was not predicting the “end of the physical world” (kosmos) but the “end of age” (aiōn), a period of time. We now live in the New Covenant with Jesus as our temple, prophet, priest, king, and ultimate sacrifice for our sins.
Greg Laurie is pushing a popular prophetic theory that what we are seeing in the Middle East is a fulfillment of the prophecy of Ezekiel found in chapters 37-39. This was an ancient battle fought with ancient weapons: horses, chariots, bows and arrows, swords, clubs, and shields. There is no mention of Iraq, Iran, Russia, or any other modern-day nation.
Yes, I know that prophecy writers have tried to claim that the Hebrew word rosh is a reference to Russia. This is nonsense. The Hebrew word rosh means “head” or “chief.” It’s used this way 600 times in the Bible. The correct translation is “chief prince” not “prince of Rosh” (Russia). For example, Charles Ryrie, editor of the Ryrie Study Bible comments on Ezekiel 38:2 where the Hebrew word rosh is found (also 38:3; 39:1). “The prince of Rosh” is better translated as “the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.”
I can only touch on these topics in brief snippets. For further study, see my books Last Days Madness, Is Jesus Coming Soon?, and Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future which is an extended commentary on Ezekiel 38-39.
I do not make any money on any of the books I’ve written.