Once again, the Bible is being interpreted through the lens of current events. The Christian Post reports:
“Nearly eight out of 10 Evangelicals say they believe the ongoing violence in the Middle East is an indication that the rapture is on the horizon, a new survey released Friday shows.
“Research conducted by the Brookings Institute’s Center for Middle East Policy on Americans’ attitudes toward the Middle East and Israel found that 79 percent of Evangelicals say they believe ‘that the unfolding violence across the Middle East is a sign that the end times are nearer.’”
There is little that is new in these types of surveys. For centuries Christians have seen certain current events as precursors to the end times. Two world wars in the 20th century, the French revolution in the 18th century, “wars and rumors of wars” throughout the world, the Black Death (Bubonic Plague) of the Middle Ages, the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, and even the rise of Islam centuries ago have been considered end-time signs.
I could offer many examples. The following was written by prophecy writer Wilbur Smith about Egypt:
“Personally, I must confess that when this recent crisis (of 1956) occurred in Egypt, I was driven to examine, for the first time in years of study of Biblical prophecy, the whole subject of Egypt in Israel’s history and in the Old Testament predictions concerning certain other nations of that part of the earth. Had someone placed before me, six months ago, an examination covering Egypt in Biblical prophecy, I would have ‘flunked’ it, even if the questions were not of a technical nature. However, when newspapers were recently filled with reports from Egypt day by day, I was unable to escape a desire to review the whole theme of Egypt in the Biblical writings, both historical and prophetical.”1
Like today, the newspapers in Smith’s day (1956) were “filled with reports from Egypt,” and because of that he concluded those events had something to do with Bible prophecy. The events he was referencing happened 60 years ago.
For additional reading: “Contrary to Popular Opinion We Are Not Living in the Last Days.”
The “recent crisis of 1956” that Smith refers to concerned who would control the Suez Canal, a significant world chokepoint connecting the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. Without this narrow passageway water transportation between Europe and Asia one would have had to navigate around Africa. When’s the last time you heard anything about the Suez Canal?
John F. Walvoord’s 1974 book Armageddon, Oil and the Middle East Crisis has gone through a number of revisions based on changing current events. The book opens with this claim: “Each day’s headlines raise new questions concerning what the future holds.”2 That was 39 years ago.
Described as “the world’s foremost interpreter of biblical prophecy,” in 1991 he expected “‘the Rapture to occur in his own lifetime.’”3 He died in December of 2002.
Walvoord’s Armageddon book was reprinted in 1976 and then sank without a trace until a revised edition appeared in late 1990 based on then current headlines. It was decisively predictive based on events that were taking place during the first Gulf War:
“The world today is like a stage being set for a great drama. The major actors are already in the wings waiting for their moment in history. The main stage props are already in place. The prophetic play is about to begin. . . . Our present world is well prepared for the beginning of the prophetic drama that will lead to Armageddon. Since the stage is set for this dramatic climax of the age, it must mean that Christ’s coming for his own is very near.”4
Not many people realized that the basic content of the revised edition was nearly sixteen years old when it was reissued. When the Gulf War ended abruptly, the book was being remaindered for twenty-five cents a copy, if it was bought by the case! But by then the book had sold nearly 1.7 million copies and was “the recipient of the Platinum Book Award from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association.”5
Tyndale House Publishers released a third edition in 2007 with a revised title and content edited and written by one of his sons and Mark Hitchcock to reflect a change in a set of new current events: Armageddon, Oil, and Terror.6 The promotion material assured readers that its content “is as current as today’s news . . . and every prediction rings true.” Where have we heard this before? That’s right! In 1974 when the first edition of Armageddon, Oil, and the Middle East Crisis was published and the same wording was used – 33 years later.
I suspect that the 79% who believe that current events in the Middle East relate to the end times don’t have a clue about the assured predictions of past prophecy writers.
(For a counter argument that we are living in the worst of times, I suggest that you take a look at “The World Is Not Falling Apart.” While it’s not written from a Christian perspective, it has a lot of good statistical information that shows how much progress we’ve made with “dramatic reductions of practices such as slavery, dueling, whaling, foot binding, piracy, privateering, chemical warfare, apartheid, and atmospheric nuclear testing.”)
The Christian Post article cited above goes on to report the following:
“Meanwhile, 63 percent of Evangelicals and 51 percent of non-Evangelical Christians believe that ‘for the rapture or Second Coming to occur, it is essential for current-day Israel to include all of the land they believed was promised to biblical Israel in the Old Testament.’”
There are several problems with this statement. First, the New Testament doesn’t say anything about Israel returning to the land as being a fulfillment of Bible prophecy. Israel was already in the land in Jesus’ day and the lead up to the destruction of the temple in AD 70.
Second, the Old Testament does predict that Israel would return to its land. The people returned, the nation was reestablished, and the temple was rebuilt. That’s why there were Jews living in Israel when Jesus was born. The Jews returned to the land after the Babylonian captivity (see the books of Ezra and Nehemiah).
Third, Israel had received all that had been promised to the nation regarding the land:
“So the Lord gave Israel all the land which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they possessed it and lived in it. And the Lord gave them rest on every side, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers, and no one of all their enemies stood before them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hand. Not one of the good promises which the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass” (Josh. 21:43-45).
This is confirmed during Solomon’s reign:
“Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance [Deut. 1:10; 7:7; 10:22; 26:5; 28:62; Gen. 15:5; 22:17; 32:12; 1 Kings 3:8; Jer. 33:22; Heb. 11:12]; they were eating and drinking and rejoicing. Now Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the River to the land of the Philistines and to the border of Egypt; they brought tribute and served Solomon all the days of his life” (1 Kings 4:20-21).
Anyone who takes the Bible seriously must acknowledge that the land promises to Israel have been fulfilled.
Fourth, the most popular end-time perspective today is called dispensational premillennialism. This view teaches that no prophecy can be fulfilled until the church is “raptured,” an event that has not taken place yet. (The idea of a pre-tribulation “rapture” is a prophetic doctrine that was created in the early part of the 19th century. It is not a position that I hold.)
Well-known dispensational author Earl D. Radmacher makes an important point related to people who claim that certain world events are signs of an end-time event:
“Equally as unjustified as date-setting for Christ’s return are the numerous sermons attempting to find fulfillment of prophecy in this age. Typical of them is a popular author, conference speaker, and television personality who has stated his belief that the ‘paramount prophetic sign’ is that Israel had to be a nation again in the land of its forefathers. This condition was fulfilled, he claims, on May 14, 1948.7 This pronouncement is simply representative of hundreds, perhaps, thousands, of others who, although eager in their anticipation of Christ’s coming, distort the Scripture and cause terrible confusion for God’s people.”8
Radmacher calls using Israel becoming a nation again in 1948 as a prophetic sign a distortion of Scripture that causes “terrible confusion for God’s people.” “This conflicting emphasis,” he writes, “begets the rather embarrassing plight of talking about signs of a signless event.”9
It’s evident that the Christians taking part in the survey are not (1) aware of the theology that defines most of them and (2) the history of people using current events to predict that either a so-called “rapture” is near or we are living in the “last days.”
John R. Rice, who also holds to a dispensational view, wrote the following in the third chapter of We Can Have Revival Now: “False Teaching about the Last Days”:
“This ultradispensational teaching that Jesus is certain to come soon, that certain signs prove the age is rushing to an early end, that the apostasy, world conditions and increased activity of Satan make gospel efforts less fruitful and revivals more difficult and unlikely, is a distressing perversion of a great truth. It is true that Jesus may come at any moment, but the ultradispensationalists do not preach the emphasis that Jesus urged, ‘Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh’ (Matt. 25:13), and the Bible doctrine often stated and inferred that Jesus might have returned any time since Pentecost and may return now at any time. Instead, they emphasize world conditions and so-called signs, and spend their time in study of the technical details of prophecy and speculation rather than on the soul-winning work which Jesus clearly told us to be about until He should return.”
Charles H. Spurgeon, the great nineteenth-century Baptist preacher, had this to say in his comments on Psalm 86:9 in his magisterial 7-volume work on the Pslams, The Treasury of David:
“David was not a believer in the theory that the world will grow worse and worse, and that the dispensations will wind up with general darkness, and idolatry. Earth’s sun is to go down amid tenfold night if some of our prophetic brethren are to be believed. Not so do we expect, but we look for a day when the dwellers in all lands shall learn righteousness, shall trust in the Saviour, shall worship thee alone, O God, and shall glorify thy name. The modern notion has greatly damped the zeal of the church for missions, and the sooner it is shown to be unscriptural the better for the cause of God. It neither consorts with prophecy, honours God, nor inspires the church with ardour. Far hence be it driven.”10
While what’s going on today seems inevitably dark, sitting down with a good history book will show that the former days were not better than these (Ecclesiastes 7:10).
- Wilbur Smith, Egypt in Biblical Prophecy (Boston: W. A. Wilde Company, 1957), 5. [↩]
- John F. Walvoord and John E. Walvoord, Armageddon, Oil and the Middle East Crisis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1974), 7. [↩]
- Quoted in Kenneth L. Woodward, “The Final Days are Here Again,” Newsweek (March 18, 1991), 55. [↩]
- John F. Walvoord, Armageddon, Oil and the Middle East Crisis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1990), 228. [↩]
- As reported in “Zondervan Book on Prophecy Receives Bestselling Award” by Zondervan Publishing House (1991). On file. [↩]
- John E. Walvoord and Mark Hitchcock, Armageddon, Oil, and Terror: What the Bible Says About the Future of America, the Middle East, and the End of Western Civilization (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 2007). [↩]
- “The one event which many Bible students in the past overlooked was this paramount prophetic sign: Israel had to be a nation again in the land of its forefathers.” (Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970), 43. [↩]
- Earl D. Radmacher, “The Imminent Return of the Lord,” Issues in Dispensationalism, eds. Wesley R. Willis and John R. Master (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), 248. [↩]
- Radmacher, “The Imminent Return of the Lord,” 248. [↩]
- Charles H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David: Containing the Book of Psalms; A Collection of Illustrative Extracts from the Whole Range of Literature; A Series of Homoletical Hints Upon Almost Every Verse; and Lists of Writers Upon Each Psalm, 7 vols. (New York: Funk & Wagnalls Co., , 1881), 4:102. [↩]