A number of websites (The Blaze, Red State, and The Hill) have picked up a story from Right Wing Watch about Michele Bachmann’s comments about eschatology. There have been numerous reposts on Facebook.
In biblical theology, eschatology is the study of the last things. It’s often synonymous with Bible prophecy of which there is a huge evangelical business enterprise ever since Hal Lindsey published The Late Great Planet Earth in 1970 (30+ million copies) and the continuing saga of the Left Behind multi-volume series and accompanying films. It’s a multi-million-dollar industry.
After a trip to Israel sponsored by Tony Perkins’ Family Research Council, former Congresswoman Bachmann tied her trip to the subject of Bible prophecy. It’s not a new thing. It’s been done for centuries. Hal Lindsey predicted in 1970 that it would all come to an end before 1988, forty years after Israel became a nation again in 1948 based on a misreading of Matthew 24:32-34.
Here’s some of what Bachmann said on Tony Perkins’ Washington Watch radio show last week:
This week really was about biblical prophecy in many ways, and we’re seeing as events are speeding up — it seems like events are speeding up so quickly right now,” she continued. “And we see how relevant the Bible is, and we’re reading our newspaper, at the same time we’re learning about these biblical events … we’re seeing the fulfillment of scripture right in front of our eyes, even while we’re on the ground.
“We recognize the shortness of the hour,” she said, “and that’s why we as a remnant want to be faithful in these days and do what it is that the Holy Spirit is speaking to each one of us, to be faithful in the Kingdom and to help bring in as many as we can — even among the Jews — share Jesus Christ with everyone that we possibly can because, again, He’s coming soon.”
As I’ve mentioned, there is nothing new about Christians making such predictions. They go back centuries as Francis G. Gumerlock shows in his book The Day and the Hour.
Bachmann said something similar in 2006.
Preaching the gospel is essential no matter when Jesus is coming back. Too many Christians, however, when they hear that “Jesus is coming soon,” remove themselves from the battles that are raging all around is. They see the present distress as inevitable signs that it’s all about to hit the fan so why bother rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as some have put it?
Erik Erickson at RedState.com also commented on Bachmann’s “Jesus is coming soon” claims. Erickson is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary (Atlanta). I’m a 1979 graduate of RTS (Jackson). We share a similar theological tradition. I was surprised that Erickson did not deal with the obvious problems with Bachmann’s comments.
Of course, eschatology is one of the last subjects taught in seminary if it’s taught at all, unless you attend a seminary like Dallas Theological Seminary which is heavily into eschatology. Having studied this subject for a long time, I know there are many prophetic passages that seminary professors often ignore or interpret in terms of an already-developed system. I know this is true because I’ve encountered it firsthand.
In her defense Erickson cites Revelation 22:7, 12-13, and 20 where they confirm that Jesus would come “quickly.” He does not quote Revelation 22:10: “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.” Why not seal up the book? Because, in fact, the time was near. The events envisioned in Revelation were on the horizon for that generation.
Keep in mind that the book of Revelation was written nearly 2000 years ago. Notice how the book of Revelation begins:
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.
You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door (James 5:8-9).
“Near” means “right at the door,” not 12,000 miles away.
The “coming” mentioned in James and Revelation refers to a judgment coming that was on the horizon; it was going to happen “soon” because the time was near for those who first read these circulated letters. It’s the same promise of judgment that Jesus spoke about in the Olivet Discourse that would result in the destruction of the temple in AD 70 before that first-century generation passed away (Matt. 24:1-3, 34). “This generation” (not “race”) is a marker for that contemporary generation not a distant generation (where the word “that” would have been used).
Erik Erickson appeals to the one-chapter epistle of Jude about “mockers in the last time.”
But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts” (vv. 17-18).
Peter says something similar in his second letter:
Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation” (2 Pet. 3:3-4).
When was the “last time” or the “last days”? The book of Hebrews begins with these words:
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. (Heb. 1:1-2).
Then there are these two passages later in the epistle where the writer describes the era in which in was writing as the “consummation of the ages” (9:26). As a result, they were not to forsake their “our own assembling together” as was “the habit of some.” They were to encourage one another — “and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (10:25). What day? The day of promised judgment. John said something similar in 1 John 2:18 about it being the “last hour” (also see Rom. 13:11; 1 Tim. 4:1; 1 Pet. 4:7).
They were living in the last days of the Old Covenant that was passing away because of the redemptive work of Jesus: No more physical temple (John 2:18-21), no more animal sacrifices (John 1:29; Rev. 5:6), no more human sinful priesthood (Heb. 7), no more ongoing bloody sacrifices (Heb. 10:1-18), and no longer any dividing wall separating Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:11-22).
Paul writes to the Corinthians:
Now these things happened to them [Old Covenant Israel] as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come (1 Cor. 10:11).
Peter writes in his first letter:
For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared at the end of the times for the sake of you (1 Peter 1:20).
The mockers were mocking Jesus’ prophecy in the Olivet Discourse and elsewhere that He would come in judgment against the temple and Jerusalem within their generation. A generation (40 years) had nearly passed away, and the temple was still standing. They were mocking this very specific prophecy because it had not been fulfilled. They weren’t mocking a prophecy that hadn’t come to pass in 2000 years. They were mocking a prophecy that was to be fulfilled in their lifetime.
Their mocking did not last for long since every stone from the temple that Jesus and predicted would be torn down (Matt. 24:2) took place less than a decade later when the Romans captured the city and dismantled the temple stone by stone.
The words “soon,” “near,” “shortly,” “quickly,” and the phrase “this generation” meant to the Jews of Jesus’ day what they mean to us. Do your own study to see how the New Testament uses these words. You will not find a delay of nearly 2000 years.
When the Bible says Jesus is coming soon, it refers to His coming in judgment against Jerusalem, an event confirmed by Jesus, history, and documented by the Jewish-Roman historian Flavius Josephus (AD 37-100) who was an eyewitness to the tragedy.