For centuries Bible prophecy pundits have predicted that the end was near. They appealed to the same types of signs: wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, and false religions. They all had one thing in common. They’ve all been wrong.
None of this has stopped contemporary prophecy writers and speakers from claiming that the end is near. My library is filled with their books. I’ve debated dozens of them over the years.
Prophetic predictions wouldn’t be much of a problem except that millions of people fall for the claims and the effect on our nation’s social, political, and moral landscape has been devastating.
Once again the usual suspects are gathering at Grace Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, in October of this year to tell an eager and naïve audience that all the signs are aligned for an inevitable end-time event.
Anybody familiar with the history of Bible prophecy knows, all of this has been done before. In fact, there is a nearly 2000-year history of predicting some type of prophetic event based on wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, and apostasy. Consider Frank X. Gumerlock’s The Day and the Hour, a nearly decade-by-decade chronicle of prophetic speculation.
People like Hal Lindsey and Chuck Smith, both popular prophecy authors who have sold tens of millions of prophecy books, assured us that the prophetic excrement would hit the fan by 1988.
I suspect that the majority of attendees who will sit under Mark Hitchcock, Jan Markell, Ron Rhodes, Erwin Lutzer, Jonathan Cahn, among others, will not realize that only the names, events, and dates have changed. They will be hearing regurgitated prophetic speculation in the name of the Bible.
In 1970 Hal Lindsey, who spoke at the 2005 “Understanding the Times” prophecy conference, argued that Israel becoming a nation again in 1948 was prophetically significant. He then turned to Matthew 24:34: “This generation will not pass away until all these things took place.” He stated that a generation was 40 years in length. He then argued that with the establishment of Israel as a nation in 1948 and the 40-year length of a generation that the so-called “rapture of the church” would take place before 1988.
Let’s not forget Edgar Whisenant’s booklet 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will be in 1988. I debated him in 1988 on radio. He told the audience, “If I’m wrong in my calculations, then the Bible is wrong.”
We are now 65 years from Israel’s founding and 25 years from the date that the “rapture” was to take place.
These date-setting foibles have not stopped the prophecy pundits or the thousands that will flock to hear these discredited speakers.
The conference is being sponsored by Jan Markell of Olive Tree Ministries. The name of the conference is “Understanding the Times,” taken form 1 Chronicles 12:32:
“Of the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do, their chiefs were two hundred; and all their kinsmen were at their command.”
Israel’s sons of Issachar did not hold out for an eschatological event that would rapture them out of history. They had “knowledge of what Israel should do.” These prophecy conferences breed cultural complacency. There is no way to fix our nation’s problems because the prophetic tea leaves say the end is near. We are in a loop of prophetic inevitabilities.
For a better understanding of “understanding the times,” I can think of no better advocate than Josef Tson of Romania:
“Let me illustrate the importance of understanding the times from my own experience. The communist disaster fell on my country [of Romania] when I was a teenager. For many years after that, my life was a battle for intellectual and spiritual survival under Marxist indoctrination and totalitarian and Christian terror. I struggled to understand the nature of that calamity, and the Lord gave me that understanding. In the forties, I wrote papers on the nature of the failure of communism. One of them, published under the title The Christian Manifesto landed me in six months of house arrest with harsh interrogations by the secret police. But for me the crucial moment came in 1977, when a friend of mine challenged me to set up an organization that would openly expose communism.
“Here is what I told him: ‘Communism is an experiment that has failed. It wasn’t able to fulfill any of its many promises and nobody believes in it any more. Because of this, it will one day collapse on its own. Now, why should I fight something that is finished? I believe that our task is a different one. When communism collapses, somebody has to be there to rebuild society! I believe our job as Christian teachers is to train leaders so that they will be ready and capable to rebuild our society on a Christian basis.’
“To my surprise, here is what my friend said to me: ‘Josef, you are wrong. Communism will triumph all over the world, because this is the movement of the Antichrist. And when the communists take over in the United States, they will have no restraining force left. They will then kill all the Christians. We have only one job to do: to alert the world and make ready to die.’
“A few years later my friend was forced to leave Romania. He came to the U.S. and settled down. Then I was forced into exile, and I moved to the U.S. as well. Since then, my friend has not done anything for Romania. He simply waited for the final triumph of communism and the annihilation of Christianity.
“On the other hand, when I came here in 1981, I started a training program for Christian leaders in Romania. We translated Christian textbooks and smuggled them into Romania. With our partners in the organization, The Biblical Education by Extension (BEE), we trained about 1200 people all over Romania. Today, those people who were trained in that underground operation are the leaders in churches, in evangelical denominations, and in key Christian ministries.
“You see, the way you look to the future determines your planning and your actions. It is the way you understand the times that determines what you are going to do.”1
- Excerpted from “The Cornerstone at the Crossroads, “Wheaton Alumni (August/September 1991). [↩]