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Monday, November 13, 2006

Understanding the End Times

As we rapidly close in on the year 2007, I keep in the forefront of my mind that which David Chilton refers to as “the Chicken Little Doctrine”. For those who follow the popular brand of eschatology (end times teaching), the year 2007 should hold some significance. It will be 40 years (one biblical generation) since the 1967 Six Day War, when Israel regained “the promised land”. As might be expected, the date setters are already hard at it (See http://www.2007rapture.com/). These people hope that the church will forget their failed prophecies of the past, such as Jack Van Impe’s Soviet flags over Philadelphia by 1976, or Hal Lindsey’s 1988 Fig Tree Generation. (Oddly enough, you can buy a used copy of Edgar Whisenant's “88 reasons why the rapture is in 1988” for $20.00. I guess it is now a classic of science fiction). The same can be said for 1992, 1996, and 2000.

A quick survey of past predictions from our modern “prophecy experts” shows that they have been wrong at every turn for the past 40 years. At some point, we need to ask ourselves if the popular “prophecy experts” even have a clue as to what they are talking about. Is finding a newspaper item with the number 6, 7, or 10 in it a valid method for interpreting Bible Prophecy? As it turns out, most of what passes for “Bible Prophecy” today is built on sensationalism and pop-paperback fiction novels, not sound Bible Exegesis . The “Left Behind” Rapture theology, otherwise referred to as “Premillennial Dispensationalism”, is so ingrained in the minds of the modern church that people are hit with a bombshell to find out the following facts:
  • The Bible does not say that Jesus will reign “on earth” for 1,000 years.
  • There is no mention of a “pre-trib” rapture or a third Jewish Temple in the Bible.
  • The word “antichrist” does not appear in either Daniel or Revelation.
  • The “Rapture” Doctrine was an invention by a teenage Scottish necromancer named Margaret McDonald in the late 1820’s.

I will defend these and other goodies during my series highlighting and refuting some popular end time’s myths. Believe it or not, most of the Scriptures used to predict today’s imminent rapture were actually written to warn first Century Christians to flee Jerusalem before the Roman Invasion of 70 AD. After some heavy study in this area since the dawn of the so-called “Y2K Crisis”, I have come to the conclusion that a proper understanding of Bible Prophecy requires adherence to the following principles.

1.) The Time Frame References to Bible Prophecy must be taken seriously, as well as the original audience.

This is an area where are modern “experts” have failed miserably. They tell us over and over again that “the end is coming soon”. Why? “Because that Bible says so”, they say. The problem is that the last Book of the Bible was written no less than 1900 years ago. Therefore, if the Bible does teach that “the end is coming soon”, we must ask, “the end of what?” If we answer, the end of the world, then it is painfully obvious that the Bible was mistaken.What does the Bible say about “the end”? A clarification can be seen in the following passage.

Matthew 24:3
“And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world (aion)?” (KJV)

Matthew 24:3
“As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?" (ESV)

As we can see, the greek word “aion” (age) has been badly translated “world” in the King James Version. (The greek word for “world” is “kosmos”, not “aion”). Obviously there is a big difference between “the end of the world” and “the close of the age”. For those who hold that the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21) is a prophecy about the Second Advent and the End of the World, Matthew 24:34 provides a huge obstacle.

“Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” (Matthew 24:34)

This is the passage that has led to the “fig tree generation” theory espoused by Lindsey, Van Impe, and many others. Lindsey comments, “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.” (The Late Great Planet Earth, p. 54). Later, Lindsey clarified his stance. “Jesus said ‘this generation shall not pass, till all these things come to pass.’ What generation ? The generation that would see all these signs. We are that generation! I believe you cannot miss it. We're that generation, and I believe we're rapidly moving toward the coming of Christ.” (Apocalypse Planet Earth videotape, HLM)


What’s wrong with this interpretation? For one thing, 1988 has come and gone, and we are still here (and I expect that the 2007Rapture.com site will either close down or rename itself in two years.) Thus Lindsey was forced to revise his clear predictions above. “I also said that ‘if’ a generation was forty years and ‘if’ the generation of the ‘fig tree’ (Matthew 24:32-34) started with the foundation of the state of Israel, then Jesus ‘might come back by 1988.’ But I put a lot of ifs and maybes in because I knew that no one could be absolutely certain.”


The second problem with Lindsey’s interpretation is that it ignores Jesus’ audience. Jesus was speaking to His first century apostles when he uttered the words of Matthew 24:34. It was their generation that was to see these things, not ours. The Olivet Discourse was Jesus’ warning to the Apostles about the great tribulation that they would suffer prior to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD (see Luke 21:20-24). It wasn’t written so that the modern church could play childlike games of “pin the tail on the antichrist”. It was in 70 AD that the Old Covenant was physically ended on earth. It was within that generation that the Church (Christ’s kingdom on earth) was established. And it was in 70 AD that the Owner of the Vineyard came to “miserably destroy those wicked men (the Pharisees)” and to take the kingdom from them. (Matthew 21:41-45).


The clear statement of Matthew 24:34 has forced many in the Dispensational camp to try and redefine the word “generation”. David Chilton explains, “Some have sought to get around the force of this text by saying that the word generation here really means race, and that Jesus was simply saying that the Jewish race would not die out until all these things took place. Is that true? I challenge you: Get out your concordance and look up every New Testament occurrence of the word generation (in Greek, genea) and see if it ever means “race” in any other context…Not one of these references is speaking of the entire Jewish race over thousands of years; all use the word in its normal sense of the sum total of those living at the saw time. It always refers to contemporaries. (In fact, those who say it means “race” tend to acknowledge this fact, but explain that the word suddenly changes its meaning when Jesus uses it in Matthew 24! We can smile at such a transparent error, but we should also remember that this is very serious. We are dealing with the Word of the living God.)”1


There are many other time frame references in addition to Matthew 24:34 to show that Jesus was clearly warning of an imminent first century event, not of 21st Century computer chips and nuclear warheads. Consider the following:

Matthew 10:23 – “You (my disciples) shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.”

Matthew 16:28 – “Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.”

Romans 13:11-12 - "You know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand."

1 Corianthians 7:29-31 - "Brethren, the appointed time has grown very short; from now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the form of this world is passing away."

1 Corinthians 10:11 - "On [us] the ends of the ages have come."

Philippians 4:5 - "The Lord is at hand."

James 5:8-9 - "The coming of the Lord is at hand. ... Behold, the Judge is standing at the door."

1 Peter 4:7 - "The end of all things is at hand."

1 John 2:18 - "It is the last hour ... we know that it is the last hour."


Can anyone objectively read these statements, written to the Christian Church of the First Century, and honestly conclude that the speakers/writers were concerned with 21st Century events? If we ignore the original audience and clear time frame references in Scripture, we are bound for error in our interpretation of Bible Prophecy.

2.) Correct Prophecy understanding requires an understanding of Apocalyptic language.

One of my favorite comedians is the Russian Yakov Smirnoff. He does a great job of playing off of English slang. He once commented on an experience he had as a bartender when one of his patrons proclaimed that he had just “quit smoking cold turkey.” Yakov couldn’t understand why or how anyone would even try to smoke cold turkey to begin with. This is a good illustration of what can happen when someone who speaks one language tries to interpret literally everything in another language. Literalism isn’t always the best policy, as each language has its own slang and eccentricities, and this is especially true in dealing with Bible Prophecy.

We need to remember that our New Testament is an English translation of a Greek text of people who spoke Hebrew and Aramaic. Thus a proper interpretation requires an understanding of some of the Apocalyptic language used. When we see passages that tells us that “the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken” (Matthew 24:29), must we take this literally? No. Consider how these types of phrases were used through Scripture. Isaiah used similar language about the fall of Babylon (Isaiah 13:1-13) to the Persians in 539 BC (Isaiah 13:10-13). The same is true with Jeremiah’s prophecy about the first destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC (Jeremiah 4:24-28). Ezekiel used this type of language to describe the Persian conquest of Egypt in 525 B.C. (Ezekiel 32:7-8). In the Bible, heavenly bodies represented kings and governments. Thus the prophets used the analogy of heavenly bodies “falling” and “turning to blood” in order to describe the fall of a kingdom, and this was clearly understood by those who heard these sayings.


This is just one example of the many types of figurative language used in Bible Prophecy. Once the “language” of Bible Prophecy is understood, the prophecies begin to make sense. May the Lord use this series of studies to build our faith in the accuracy of His Word.


For more information, I would suggest:

Biblical Apocalyptics by Milton S. Terry
Biblical Hermeneutics by Milton S. Terry

Footnotes:

1 David Chilton – The Great Tribulation, p.3

3 comments:

August said...

The only upside from having a rapture in 2007 is that we won't have to live through a Hillary Clinton presidential campaign...

Puritan Lad said...

August,

You aren't referring to Rev. 17 are you???

:)

August said...

LOL, that is a low blow.

Oops, that may be a bad choice of words in the same context as a Clinton.