I thought we had learned our lesson from people like Edgar Whisenant, who claimed there were 88 reasons why the “rapture” would take place in 1988, as well as Hal Lindsey and Chuck Smith who argued in a similar way. Let’s not forget Harold Camping who made predicting the end end-times a popular and public spectacle with billboards, radio broadcasts, and books assuring the faithful that the end would come in 1994, and when that didn’t happen, certainly in 2011.
Why is this topic important to discuss? Because too many Christians are wrapped up in a form of prophetic inevitability whereby they drop out culturally and politically. They have given up on the political process because they believe it’s related to end-time events.
It’s tempting to do this, except that generations of Christians thought the same thing and were proved wrong in time. Such thinking has given liberals, secularists, progressives, or whatever you want to call them, a foothold. We know when conservatives act, they can change things. It’s happened many times before.
The early settlers that came to America did not believe that the end was near. They believed they could build a city on a hill — and they did. It can be done again
Claiming the end is near never seems to stop, as I point out in Doomsday Déjà Vu, which you can download free. Seemingly not paying attention to so many failed attempts at predicting the end times, David Jeremiah and Greg Laurie are convinced that the “rapture” is right around the corner. Laurie says that Jesus’ second coming is “very, very close.”
David Jeremiah, pastor and popular author, “believes the end times began in 1948, “when a nation that features prominently in the Bible was re-established as a state for the first time in 2,000 years. In fact, considering ‘the whole scope of world history,’ Jeremiah would have to conclude that ‘yes, we are in the End Times,’ or Earth’s last days.”
Jeremiah isn’t the first prophecy writer to claim that Israel becoming a nation again in 1948 was the point when the end times began.
Hal Lindsey claimed the same thing in his 1970 mega-best seller The Late Great Planet Earth. Here’s what he wrote:
“The most important sign in Matthew has to be the restoration of the Jews to the land in the rebirth of Israel. Even the figure of speech “fig tree” has been a historic symbol of national Israel. When the Jewish people, after nearly 2,000 years of exile, under relentless persecution, became a nation again on 14 May 1948 the ‘fig tree’ put forth its first leaves.
“Jesus said that this would indicate that He was ‘at the door,’ ready to return. Then He said, ‘Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place’ (Matthew 24:34, NASB).
“What generation? Obviously, in context, the generation that would see the signs — chief among them the rebirth of Israel. 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
Israel returned to the land 66 years ago and counting, more than the 40 years that Lindsey claims was the necessary length of a generation before the end would come.
Chuck Smith made a similar prediction 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
In a recent interview, David Jeremiah was asked about a “true prophet.” He said that it’s not enough to say, “‘Oh I think this might happen in the future.’ No, the Bible says a true prophet has to get it 100 percent right. If he misses on one prophecy, he’s not a true prophet. So in the Old Testament the prophets told the future, and the Bible and history tells us that they were absolutely accurate.”
Did Lindsey and Smith “get it 100 percent right”? They got it 100 percent wrong. We’re still here after we were told by them (and others) that the end would take place before 1988.
What about David Jeremiah’s claim that the end times “probably started for us in 1948 when Israel became a nation, because many of the prophecies in the New Testament especially, could not be fulfilled until Israel was at home in her nation”?
Where in the New Testament does it say this? There is not a single verse in the New Testament that ties Israel becoming a nation again with the end times. Jesus never said anything about it. Neither did the New Testament writers.
Lindsey and Smith use the budding of the fig tree as the key indicator:
“Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door” (Matt. 24:32-33).
Notice the audience reference: “when you see all these things.” Jesus was talking to His disciples. They would be the ones that would see all the prophetic signs mentioned by Jesus. In fact, in the next verse Jesus tells them that their generation would not pass away until all these things take place (24:34). Every time Jesus uses the phrase “this generation,” it always refers to the generation that was then living. It never refers to a future generation (Matt. 11:16; 12:41, 45; 23:36; 24:34; Mark 8:12 [twice], 8:38; 13:30 Luke 7:31; 11:29; 11:30, 31, 32, 50, 51, 17:25; 21:32).3
The second point to consider is that there is no indication that Jesus is using the fig tree as a way to illustrate Israel becoming a nation again. This meaning has to be read into the text. In fact, in Matthew 21, Jesus curses the fig tree and proclaims, “No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you” (Matt. 21:19). If the fig tree is supposed to be Israel in Matthew 24:32, Jesus says in chapter 21 that there will never be fruit on it. Prophecy writers can’t have it both ways.
Even prophecy writers who share much of what Laurie and David Jeremiah believe about prophecy maintain that the fig tree doesn’t have anything to do with Israel becoming a nation again. John F. Walvoord wrote the following about the fig tree and its supposed relation to Israel’s national status:
“Actually, while the fig tree could be an apt illustration of Israel IT IS NOT SO USED IN THE BIBLE. . . . Accordingly, while this interpretation is held by many, there is no clear scriptural warrant. A better interpretation is that Christ was using a natural illustration. Because the fig tree brings forth new leaves late in the spring, the budding of the leaves is evidence that summer is near.”4
The authors of Tim LaHaye’s Prophecy Study Bible agree with Walvoord that “the fig tree is not symbolic of the nation of Israel.”
The following are comments from Larry D. Pettegrew who’s a professor of theology at dispensational-oriented Master’s Seminary:
“The fig tree . . . does not illustrate Israel becoming a nation in 1948. The fig tree is simply an illustration from nature. . . . [I]n the parallel passage in Luke, Luke records Jesus adding the phrase, ‘and all the trees’ (Luke 21:19). If the fig tree blossoming is a reference to the founding of Israel, what would the blossoming of the other trees illustrate? The parable understood in this way does not make sense.”5
What about the Old Testament prophecies about Israel becoming a nation again? Israel did return to the land from where it had been exiled and rebuilt the temple and reinstituted the sacrificial system just like God promised (Dan. 9:1-2; 2 Chron. 36:21; Ezra 1:1; Jer. 25:11-12; 29:10; Zech. 7:5).
The promises made to Israel to return to the land were fulfilled. That’s why there were Jews in Israel when Jesus was born to a Jewish family (Luke 1:16, 54, 68, 80). That’s why there was a temple for Jesus to be taken to and teach in (2:21-52). That’s why there was a functioning priesthood (1:5, 8-10, 27). That’s why Anna could serve in the temple (2:36-38).
This short article cannot hope to touch on every aspect of this topic. My purpose in writing it is to give readers an alternative way to read Scripture that takes every word of it seriously. The above approach to the subject is not new. It has a long history among some of the finest Bible commentators over many centuries.
- Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan,  1971), 53–54. [↩]
- Chuck Smith, End Times (Costa Mesa, CA: The Word for Today, 1978), 35. [↩]
- “‘[T]his generation’ (ἡ γενεὰ αὕτη) in the gospels always means the people of Jesus’ own time (11:16; 12:41–42; 23:36) not, as some have proposed, the generation of the last days in history, the Jewish people, the human race in general, or the sinful people.” (Grant R. Osborne, Matthew: Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010], 899–900.). [↩]
- John F. Walvoord, Matthew: Thy Kingdom Come (Chicago, IL: Moody,  1980), 191B192. [↩]
- Larry D. Pettegrew, “Interpretive Flaws in the Olivet Discourse,” TMSJ 13/2 (Fall 2002), 188. [↩]