Sunday, February 17, 2008

Are we REALLY living in the end times? Part 3: Matthew 24

One of the most pivotal passages in the New Testament occurs in Matthew 24. In this famous passage, was Jesus really giving a preview of the end times? Or was He talking about something that was going to happen before His apostles’ generation literally passed from the earth?

To set the scene:

The Lord had just had an intense discussion with the teachers of the law and the Pharisees in the temple courtyard. Previously, He had chased the money changers and defilers out of “HIS” house. Now, the Lord proclaimed woe on them and labeled them blind vipers and hypocrites.

He declared that He would send them “prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.” (Matt 23:34-36)

He then declared that “your house is left to you desolate” (Matt 23:38, emphasis added). It should be taken as a chilling foretelling of what He was about to say.

Peter, John and the rest followed Jesus and wanted to know what He meant. Jesus pointed to the temple, which He had just said was no longer God’s (for what else could your house mean?) and said, in effect, that the temple would be destroyed—and this time, He wasn’t talking about His own body.

What did the Lord mean? they asked. What would be the sign of your coming and the end of the age? And on the Mount of Olives, Christ explained that Jerusalem was going to be destroyed soon and anyone living there would be slaughtered; the age of Israel would end. They would know then that He was God.

Here is the passage in full:

Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. "Do you see all these things?" he asked. "I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down."

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. "Tell us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?"

Jesus answered: "Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.

"Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

"So when you see standing in the holy place 'the abomination that causes desolation,' spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.
Let no one on the roof of his house go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. At that time if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or, 'There he is!' do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time.

"So if anyone tells you, 'There he is, out in the desert,' do not go out; or, 'Here he is, in the inner rooms,' do not believe it. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.

"Immediately after the distress of those days " 'the
sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.'

"At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.

"Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

"No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be
at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

"Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

"Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in
charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, 'My master is staying away a long time,' and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

These verses do not refer to a 21st century end times as far as the LaHaye/Darby/Lindsey model posits. They may seem like they do, and it’s entirely understandable if you read them solely from the standpoint of dispensationalism. But if you keep it in context, not only with Matthew 23 but also the Old Testament, you can understand how the Lord is referring primarily to the terrible persecution of the Christians by Caesar Nero, leading up to the annihilation of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

The last 10 or so verses, however, are post likely prophesies about the last days, and only Christ knows for certain. After all, the Bible is written to specific people yet is still for us, thousands of years later. The latter verses do seem to deal with the end of the world, not just, or even with, the end of Jerusalem and the temple system. After all, some of them seem like they would square with some of Daniel 9 and especially 2 Peter 3:10. But for the immediate moment, when Jesus’ followers asked the questions, His answers definitely applied to quickly impending events.

Hank Hanegraaff says that you absolutely cannot read/study the New Testament unless you have “the song” or “the music” of the Old Testament singing in your mind. What he means by that is that you have to read the Bible for all that it is worth, and understand it in a much richer and fuller context than, sorry to say, the shallow “Left Behind” sensationalism of the Tim LaHayes of Christiandom. (And even, I’m sorry to say, John MacArthur, who I respect tremendously but who I think is absolutely wrong about his complete interpretation of the end times. He certainly knows the Old Testament, much more than me, but his conclusions no longer make sense.)

Here’s why.

End of the age
The dispensationalists and Left Behind theologists say that this “end of the age” is the end of the so-called “church age,” which was inaugurated at Pentecost. The “end” comes with the rapture and the start of the tribulation. But that’s not what Christ is referring to. Instead, the actual end of the age is the end of the sacrificial/temple system. Christ, of course, was the ultimate sacrifice, the unblemished Lamb. But those who never believed in Christ continued the sacrificial system. The destruction of the temple was to put an end to that age of sacrifices forever.

Ends of the earth
Dispensationalists claim that only in our age of modern technological wonders can the gospel be actually preached to the “ends of the earth.” But that’s not what the Bible itself says! Acts, Peter and Paul all attest to the gospel being preached to the furthest extent of “the earth,” which then was the Roman Empire. Paul talked of going to Spain, it’s thought he even went to Roman England, other apostles went into Africa, others went into parts of Asia, and so fourth. When you understand the language of the Bible, and know when to take the Bible at its literal word, you won’t need to make such fantastical leaps as claiming that the gospel could only be preached to the “ends of the earth” in the 21st century.

Wars, earthquakes, etc.
Don't, please, think that the 20th and 21st centuries respresent the only times in human history when the earth has experienced numerous "wars and rumors of wars," nations fighting each other, earthquakes, famines, etc. etc. that the Lord mentions. They were as commonplace then as they are now. Don't also assume that false Christs arise only today. They existed before Christ even came and they existed shortly after He came. Acts describes some of the purveyors of false gospels.

So, if you think that "wars and rumors of wars," etc., and only apply to the end times, you will make a leap of logic that defies natural and written history.

Apocalyptic language
At that time, the only scripture that existed was the Old Testament (which, of course, wasn’t yet called the Old Testament). Christ, as Lord and God, naturally was master of what went into that scripture, considering that all scripture was His story, by His admission. Therefore, Jesus would be naturally intimately familiar with what His prophets wrote and said and also how they said it. Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, etc. all used apocalyptic language when discussing or relaying the Almighty’s words of judgment. Compare what Jesus says in Matthew 23 to the entire books of Ezekiel and passages from Isaiah, Psalms, Jeremiah and other prophets. For example, see Isaiah 9:8 through 10:11, where the Lord, through Isaiah, describes his anger against the people and what will become of them. Or see Ezekiel chapter 14 for an even greater apocalyptic description.

Throughout Matthew 24, Jesus uses a mixture of hyperbole, simile and plain language to foretell the terrible things to come and what was undoubtedly the dawning realization of survivors that Jesus was indeed correct.

Often, the Lord proclaims that a judgment will happen of the likes never seen before and never to bee seen again. Of course, the Lord is no liar nor is He inconsistent. He is using language to convey the deadly seriousness of the judgment.

And surely no judgment upon humanity could possibly have been greater than the Flood, when all of humankind and all land animals were wiped out except those on the ark—and no fanciful writing from Lindsey or LaHaye could possibly make their great tribulations any worse than that!

Clouds appear throughout the Old Testament in relation to divine judgment. For example, when the Lord tells Ezekiel to prophesy against Egypt, He says to say, “For the day is near, the day of the Lord is near—a day of clouds, a time of doom for the nations.” (30:3)

When Jesus used that imagery, His apostles immediately knew what He was talking about. People like Tim LaHaye obviously don’t, and neither do people like Mr. Ehrman, who are quick to proclaim Jesus a false prophet because He didn’t return in 70 AD on the clouds—but that’s because He never said He would! Jesus was employing a familiar image, but it is a mistake to think that in A.D. 70 He was actually going to be descending to earth. He is actually ascending to heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand. It’s an analogy, not an actual image that people were to have seen.

Now, will He descend to earth on clouds in glory at the end of the ages, if the passage is also doubly prophetic in nature? Well, we could see in our lifetime. It's definitely possible.

“This generation”
Jesus was speaking literally when He said that “this generation will certainly not pass away.” Why in the world would He be talking about Jews born in 1948, more than 19 centuries later? It makes absolutely no sense! As Hank Hanegraaff illustrates beautifully in the Apocalypse Code, you have to engage in serious grammatical acrobatics to believe that a president of the United States doesn’t know the meaning of the words “is,” “alone” and “sex.” Likewise, you need to seriously twist things around if you think the Lord of all creation doesn’t know how to use the Aramaic versions of the words “this generation,” “soon” and “you” (more on the latter two in a later post). When He said “this” generation, He meant the people alive at that time with Peter, James and John.

Remember, they were asking Jesus to tell them when these things would occur—“these things” meaning the end of the temple in Matthew 23. And He told them, in language and terms they easily recognized. If He meant to say “you won’t live to see it” and “it will happen for the generation alive in 1848 or 1967,” He would have used a term such as “70 times 7” or a similar phrase to denote a great distance of time.

Another example: When Jesus transfigured before Peter, James and John, He had previously told them that “some who are standing here will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God come with power.” (Mark 9:1; Matt 16:28 says “…until they see the Son of Man come into His kingdom.) There are two ways to take this passage. The first is that what the three saw in the transfiguration was the glimpse of the kingdom. But another way too look at this is to tie it to Matt 24, where Jesus talks of the “sign” of the Son of Man and etc. Peter might have already been executed by Romans by the time Jerusalem was destroyed, but James and John were still probably alive. (I’m not making a hard argument concerning the Transfiguration, just an intriguing guestimation.)

The “abomination of desolation”
Actually, there were two such events. Daniel prophesied one, which took place in 168 B.C. when the Syrian King Antiochus desecrated the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus refers to what Titus will do in A.D. 70 when Jerusalem falls and the final temple is desecrated. I have a hard time accepting that this refers to a far future event, because I have a hard time believing that there will be another temple built in the far future (that discussion is to come in a later installment).

The annihilation of Jerusalem in 70 AD was one of the most terrible events in all antiquity. Josephus gives a chilling account, no less horrible than what the Lord said would happen. The Romans destroyed the city and killed more than a million people at the end of 3½ years of a great tribulation inaugurated by Caesar Nero—the real beast of Revelation. More on that next time.

It’s easy to see why people would take this entire passage as a foretelling of the end of the world, and it may very well be—but it is primarily, if not solely, a prophesy about the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the age of the temple/sacrifice system. If you are thoroughly versed in Old Testament language and prophesy, you’ll recognize that the Lord’s pronounced judgment was not unique, but “typical” of all of His past (and fulfilled) judgments.

In the next part, I’ll examine the identities of “the Beast” and “the Antichrist.”

Supporting links/books
(I’ll repeat these in every post):

I have read all of these books:

Gary DeMar, End Times Fiction and Last Days Madness

Hank Hanegraaff, The Apocalypse Code

Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, Are We Living in the End Times?

Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth

Friday, January 25, 2008

Are We REALLY Living in the End Times? Part 2: The Rapture

A certain bumper sticker actually annoys me: “In case of rapture, car will be empty.” You know what? So will every single other car on earth, because there will be no rapture, at least as defined by the Darby/Scofield/Lindsey/LaHaye crowd.

The dispensational end times interpretation holds that believers will be drawn up, or “raptured,” to meet Christ in the air in a secret second coming, so that all believers will be removed from the earth in advance of the great tribulation. It was first popularized by J.N. Darby in the mid-1800s. It’s a complete fabrication that is unsupported by scripture and was never taught throughout the entire history of the church until Darby. (I’m sorry if this shocks or hurts anyone, but I need to be blunt.)

The rapture as taught is a non-Biblical doctrine. It is tortuously drawn from 1 Thess. 4:17 which says (in full context, from the NIV):

“Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

First, the original, contextual Greek language does not refer to physical flying through the air to meet Jesus.
Writes Don Matzat:

“The language of 1 Thess. 4:17 does not allow for the ‘rapture’ teaching. The phrase ‘to meet the Lord’ literally means ‘to meet for the purpose of welcoming back.’ The Greek phrase ‘to meet’ ( eis apanthsin) is only used on four occasions in the New Testament. In each case it means to go out to meet for the purpose of welcoming. (See, for example, Acts 8:15.)” (Truman note: That passage, by the way, says: “The brothers there had heard that we were coming, and they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us. At the sight of these men Paul thanked God and was encouraged.”)

Second, it is totally illogical when ripped from context. The thought that Jesus Christ would remove certain people from what was to come flies in the face of the rest of scripture. If you believe in Christ, does that free you from disease, suffering, sorrow, poverty, death? Absolutely not! God promises to preserve us and save us from our sins, not turn us into totally happy campers, free from all sorrow and discomfort on earth. Why would He let His children suffer through pain and turmoil on earth throughout the entire course of human history, but only remove certain Christians from pain and turmoil just one time?

God preserves his people through persecution and suffering—He even uses trials to refine and shape us to make us more His—but removing believers from the world before a great, final tribulation would counter everything that came beforehand in the Bible. Even Noah and his family, preserved from the Great Flood, weren’t exactly living in style on board that ark, undoubtedly filled with the smells and constant noise of thousands of animals (and themselves). An even better example: why weren’t the first Christians saved from the tribulations of Rome? What makes our generation better than theirs? Why would our generation of Christians, which includes fat and lazy Americans, be “raptured” from all harm, while the incredibly brave Christian men and women who faced the wrath of godless Rome be tortured, put to the sword, used as human torches and torn by wild beasts?

Third, Rev. 3:10 is used to support the rapture theory: “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.” But that’s only if you take the passage entirely out of it’s context. Who is Christ speaking to? All Christians? Christians in the 21st century? No—that would make absolutely no sense, because when you keep this passage in its proper context, it is found within the letter John is sending to the church at Philadelphia, in the wider context of seven contemporary churches. As Hank Hanegraaff says, keep in mind that the Bible is written TO specific people but it is also written FOR us. Meaning, we can certainly draw lessons from what is being taught, but there were very specific purposes in the words being said or written at the time they were said or written!

What is the “hour of trial” and the other troubles to come that are referred to in left behind theology? Well, that depends on when you date the writing of Revelation, which opens up another whole can of worms. I’ll deal with that fully in a later entry, but Christians facing imminent persecution would take no comfort from a cryptic letter describing far future events, would they? Of course not. But a letter describing the present and near future—that’s something different.

Fourth, the rapture can’t be biblical, because it would mean that Jesus will remove Christians from the earth, then allow some to become saved yet go through a massive time of suffering, and then come again for the “real” Second Coming. It’s never been taught, or thought of, until the modern era. You get one chance to accept Christ: during your life on earth. A “secret second coming,” which is what the rapture is, gives those “left behind” a second chance at repentance.

NOWHERE in the Bible is there any mention of true believers being taken from the earth and judged separately from the rest of humanity. On the contrary: there is but one judgment for all, as illustrated in Rev. 11:18 and 20:11-15.

Also, see Luke 16 for the story of the rich man and the beggar Lazarus. When the rich man dies and goes to hell, he begs Abraham to warn his brothers, but is told “They have Moses and the prophets” to listen to, and if they don’t believe them, they won’t even believe if someone raises from the dead. The subtext of this parable is that you don’t get a second chance. No one does.

Fifth, other evidence for a rapture includes Matthew 24, where Jesus says that “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.” But applying a rapture to this is again a misapplication. It refers to judgment, where the wicked are judged first and the righteous second, in accordance with Matthew 13:24-30. This interpretation is suggested by Hannegraaff in The Apocalypse Code, p.60; and I agree with him. Remember, you must interpret scripture in light of scripture. Otherwise, scripture will not make as much sense as it should. In this context, it makes perfect sense.

Sixth, think about this for a second: if millions upon millions of people suddenly disappeared, do you seriously think that the Lindsay/LaHaye model of “well, bye-bye Christians and good riddance!” will be what follows? Heck, no. Such a disappearance could never, ever be explained by science, aliens or anything else. It would have to be the Bible—and people would be desperate to be taken too. People would be begging God to rapture them as well. There would be mass suicides, panic, hysteria and the whole of civilization would collapse. Don’t think that this automatically means that the rise of the Antichrist naturally follows, because that’s a whole different matter, which I’ll explain in a later post.

Consider this: if the rapture is such a crucial bit of end times dogma, why doesn’t God just come out and say it, like He does with so many other crucial bits of information? Because it isn’t there. You shouldn’t have to search hard and make guesses and risk misapplying interpretation to something so critical. In other words, the supposed rapture is cryptic and spread throughout several passage that don’t fit together and have to be misinterpreted or taken out of context in order to work. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is unambiguous and easy to find. “I am who am” is unambiguous and easy to find. Not so with the rapture.

Look at it another way (in summation). Gary DeMar, a harsh critic of dispensationalism, says this about the supposed rapture in his End Times Fiction: A Biblical Consideration of the Left Behind Theology, pages 20-21:

How is it possible that:

  • So many well-meaning Christians believe in a pretrib rapture when even pretrib advocates tell us that that not one passage of Scripture teaches the two aspects of Jesus’ second coming separated by the Tribulation;
  • The Old Testament doesn’t teach a pretrib rapture;
  • No one up until about 1830 taught a pretrib rapture; and
  • The doctrine, supposedly “so clearly revealed in the Scriptures,” became “utterly lost” immediately after the close of the New Testament canon?”

Why, indeed. Advocates of the rapture cannot answer those questions. And without the rapture, the entire great tribulation/left behind end times theology comes crashing down.

In subsequent parts, I will examine Jesus’ predictions as recorded in Matthew 24, the real identity of the antichrist/beast (yes, they’re one in the same), the real timeframe for a great tribulation, the real dating of the writing of Revelation, what the end of the age really meant (why there will be no new temple) and the role of modern-day Israel.

Supporting links/books
(I’ll repeat these in every post):

I have read all of these books:

Gary DeMar, End Times Fiction and
Last Days Madness

Hank Hanegraaff,
The Apocalypse Code

Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins,
Are We Living in the End Times?

Hal Lindsey,
The Late Great Planet Earth

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Are we REALLY living in the end times? Part 1: Introduction

Shortly after I was saved, I became hooked on the end times. I believed that the end of days was fast approaching, that the warning signs were all around us, that we all needed to get ready, and that Biblical prophesies were coming true before our very eyes.

I read Hal Lindsey, read Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye and even started their Left Behind series, and read and listened to John MacArthur take a “whirlwind tour through Revelation.” I believed that what was written in Revelation was going to come true almost word for word.

I no longer believe that. It no longer makes any sense.

Before going further, I want it understood that I am NOT questioning anyone’s faith. Instead, I am questioning the methodology used and conclusions reached. I believe that Christ will come again and there will be final judgment. It just won’t happen as so many preach today, because scripture itself says no such thing.


According to the dispensational theology, first introduced about 1830, here’s what’s supposed to happen:

There will be a rapture of all believers in Christ. They’ll just disappear from the earth to be “caught up” in the air to meet the returning Christ. (The trouble is, Christ will reverse course in this secret second coming and return to heaven, taking all believers with Him. This makes no sense, but we’ll get into that in a subsequent part.)

Second. The Antichrist rises in the wake of the disappearance of all real Christians and begins to take over the world, while those “left behind” must make a choice: take the opportunity to follow Christ or follow the god-like Antichrist.

Third. Meanwhile, Antichrist makes peace with Israel and the temple is rebuilt in Jerusalem. But Antichrist breaks his peace and sets himself up as god in the temple. This is supposed to be “the abomination of desolation.”

Fourth. The great tribulation occurs – hell is unleashed – where all who are left behind on earth are subjected to terrible things: earthquakes, fires from heaven, plagues, demon armies (according to some). Believers are spared from God’s wrath but are killed by Antichrist’s forces.

Fifth. The great tribulation is cut short when Christ returns in all His glory. He binds Satan and casts him in the pit for a 1,000 years, while Christ rules in the new Jerusalem, which has the sacrificial system reinstated (again, this makes no sense).

Six. At the end of the 1,000 years, Satan is released one final time and the battle of Armageddon occurs. Satan is ultimately defeated.

Seven. Final judgment occurs for all the living and the dead. The end.

I left out a few things, but that’s the basic story line. Unfortunately, it’s no more true than LaHaye and Jenkins’ Left Behind fiction—not if you read the Bible for all that it is worth and have the “song” of the Old Testament in your ears as you read the New Testament, that is.



It’s crucial to help understand this because many Christians base their faith on the belief that the end times are literally around the corner. Many Christians (usually on the political right) are caught up in the end times teaching and thinking, and it colors their perceptions of the world differently than the Biblical worldview as called for in the New Testament.

In the mid-1800s, a former English priest named John Nelson Darby began teaching the notion of 7 “dispensations” of time, of which there would be a one-thousand year reign of Christ on earth. A fellow believer also influenced Darby on the notion of a “rapture” of believers. This “Dispensationalism” included a key role for a reconstituted nation of Israel. Darby may not have been the absolute first to teach such notions, but he gave it real life. Like Darwin and his evolutionary “natural selection,” Darby’s dispensational eschatology spread like wildfire.

“Darby contended that God had two distinct people with two distinct plans and two distinct destinies,” writes Hank Hanegraaff in The Apocalypse Code on page 41. “Only one of those peoples – the Jews – would suffer tribulation. The other – the church – would be removed from the world in a secret coming seven years prior to the second coming of Christ. Darby’s distinctive twist on scripture would shortly come to be known as dispensational eschatology.”

At century’s end, the notes in the widely read Scofield Reference Bible (King James Version) expanded upon Darby’s teaching and interpreted many passages to be referring to events that had yet to happen—events that had not been fulfilled in Biblical times (other than the return of Christ, that is). For instance: Ezekiel 34:13 was taken to refer to a far-future gathering of Israel. When Israel actually became a state again in 1948, many of the prophesies from the Old and New Testaments were looked at again in a brand new light, such as Isaiah 35:1-2, where it speaks of blossoming in the desert—which has happened with Israeli farming techniques. Israeli military prowess seemed heaven-blessed, and the renewed nation captured the city of David in 1967. Also,
writes Don Matzat:

“Those … also taught, from Scripture, that before the end of all things, there would be a tribulation period of seven years according to the prophecies of Daniel. Rev. 7:14 speaks of the Great Tribulation. During those seven years, the anti-Christ would arise. He would be a political figure and, according to Dan. 7:24-25, he would be given authority by ten kings. Since the European Common market was forming and nearly ten nations had already come together, the time of the anti-Christ was soon upon us.”
Then came Hal Lindsey’s book, The Late Great Planet Earth, THE publishing phenomenon of the 1970s. This incredible best-seller laid out exactly what was supposed to happen in the next few years, the rise of the anti-Christ, the rapture of believers, the Great Tribulation, the return of Jesus Christ, the establishment of His 1000-year kingdom on earth, the final battle of Armageddon and victory of Satan, and final judgment. The Soviet Union was to be heavily involved in the story by launching a massive attack against Israel which would easily—divinely—defeat the “Gog/Magog” of the far north.

It was all supposed to happen, starting with the rapture, on May 14, 1988. Obviously, it didn’t. Why in the world Hal Lindsey has not been denounced as a false prophet and banished from all Christian circles I have no idea.

Many others have also predicted the coming rapture and Armageddon, in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s. For example, Harold Camping predicted the rapture coming in 1994. Well, we’re still here. Some believed that the start of the Gulf War in 1991 was the beginning of the end. People like John Hagee preached that Yitsak Rabin’s murder in 1996 was the sign of impending Armageddon.

Christians who adhere to the dispensational theology (which I use interchangeably with “Left Behind theology”), such as John Hagee, are Christian Zionists, which means that they believe that the modern state of Israel is no different than the Biblical Israel and is under God’s special protection even today. Hagee even once said that “Anyone who makes the life of Jewish people difficult or grievous, as did the Pharaoh, as did Hitler, will be cursed by God.” (Source: keynote address to AIPAC, March 12, 2007.)

Some preachers—many prominent ones—went nuts with millennial madness in the late 1990s and led their flocks astray by insisting the end times were nigh when the calendar changed from Dec. 31, 1999, to Jan. 1, 2000.

The end times phenomenon continues today, but without the dates, and sometimes with a new cast of characters. It gained new currency in the late 1990s and early 2000s with LaHaye and Jenkins’ phenomenal Left Behind series, which is essentially a fictional version of Lindsey’s book. (The Left Behind series has sold more books than the Harry Potter series!)

And on and on and on… End times madness, or as author Gary DeMar puts it, Last Days Madness in his highly critical book, has gripped the church, but not in a good way.


The Darby/Lindsey/LaHaye end times thinking has lead some Christians to look at current events through a skewed lens. Everything concerning the Middle East is interpreted to have some meaning relevant to Biblical prophesy. Many Christians base their support of the modern state of Israel on their interpretation of the Bible. Hank Hanegraaff calls this newspaper eschatology (others call it newspaper exegesis), which means using the headlines to interpret the Bible (which I agree with Hank is a serious and critical error). Scripture should be read in light of scripture, not in light of today’s news and recent history. (I support Israel, but it has nothing to do with the Bible.)

What does it matter what you believe about the end times? A majority of evangelicals believe it, so why is the dispensational theology a major problem?

There have been hundreds of end times and last days predictions in the last 50 years alone that have been proven wrong time and time again by the mere passage of time. Instead of these false prophets being rebuked, cast down and forgotten, they’re still lauded as great prophesy teachers!

What does that say about the Christian faith, and our—your—Christian witness when people like Lindsey, LaHaye, Hagee, Benny Hinn, etc., makes these breathless last days predictions based on bad theology that repeatedly fail to come true?

How many souls have been lost and have turned away from Christianity because false prophets have made a mockery of the Bible through their false claims that have failed to come true?

The dispensational theology is thoroughly and completely unbiblical. I am convinced of this.

Until the mid-1800s, dispensationalism and a rapture, a secret second coming for the church, a separate punishment for the Jews, etc. has never been part of Christian teaching. Neither John, Paul, Peter, James or Jude, or their immediate followers such as Clement, Polycarp and Ignatius taught it. Nor did the Lord Himself.

Only through misinterpretation and some fantastic grammatical gymnastics do we arrive at the conclusions of Darby, Lindsey, LaHaye, etc.

Dispensational theology sets up a separate salvation for Christians and Jews that neither Jesus Christ nor the New Testament writers ever called for. Believe it or not, dispensational theology actually proscribes that Jews MUST and WILL face a holocaust far greater than the Nazi holocaust as part of the great tribulation. If they're supposed to still be God's chosen people -- even though Christ proclaimed the gospel for all -- why would untold numbers of them be returned to the promised land only to face a horrible slaughter? It's a facet of evangelical support for Israel that rarely gets discussed.

This is the worst thing of all: the dispensational theology totally negates Christ’s completed work on the cross by claiming there will be a return to the types and shadows of Old Testament worship (e.g., the reconstructed “Third Temple” in Jerusalem and the “Fourth Temple” in the 1,000 years, where animal sacrifices are performed). Christ Himself is the new temple, not some new construct to be built during the last days, and we are the church. Remeber what He told the Samaratan woman at the well? No more temples!

In subsequent parts, I will examine the rapture, Jesus’ predictions as recorded in Matthew 23 and 24, the real identity of the antichrist/beast (yes, they’re one in the same), the real timeframe for a great tribulation and the real dating of the writing of Revelation, what the end of the age really meant (why there will be no new temple) and the role of modern-day Israel. This won't cover everything, but it will be enough.

Again, please understand I am NOT questioning anyone’s faith. I am, however, questioning the interpretation of, and expectations for, impending end times according to the dispensational understanding. This also doesn’t mean that Christ isn’t returning. He is—but according to God’s schedule. When He’s ready, and not when supposed “signs” say that He’s ready, Jesus will come to transform all of us instantly, depose Satan and judge the living and the dead, and reign forever and ever.

Dispensational – the belief that there will be a rapture, “the” Antichrist, a seven-year great tribulation, a millennial kingdom on earth ruled by Christ, a final battle at the end of the 1,000 years between Jesus and Satan, and then the final judgment.

Pre-millennial – the belief that a secret rapture of all believers—dead and living—will occur before the great tribulation.

Preterits – the belief that all prophesy has been fulfilled by the close of scripture, including the Second Coming.

Exegesis – means “explanation”

Eschatology – it means concerned with final events

Supporting links/books
(I’ll repeat these in every post):

I have read all of these books:

Gary DeMar, End Times Fiction and
Last Days Madness

Hank Hanegraaff,
The Apocalypse Code

Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, Are We Living in the End Times?

Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth