Prophecy in Upheaval
by Albert Emanuel
Introduction: When Jesus did not return in the first century, it caused a major upheaval in
the interpretation of prophecy. The entire subject of eschatology became a question mark.
Augustine interpreted the book of Revelation as an allegory and taught that the millennium
was an interlude between the first and second coming of Christ. His position reigned supreme
until the subject was reevaluated during the reformation.
The latter part of the first century did not produce a letter from an apostle that explained why
Jesus didn't return immediately after the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. And yet it remains
the most important question in eschatology. Almost two thousand years have passed since
Christ predicted his return to this earth, but there is no sign of his second coming. Did God
change his mind or has the parousia been postponed to a later date? Have New Testament
prophecies been cancelled or do they await a future fulfillment? This article faces the tough
questions and brings honesty back to the subject of prophecy.
Most explanations for why Jesus didn't return in the first century are either inadequate or
dishonest. Jesus clearly predicted that his second coming would take place within one
generation, but it never happened. Fearful that Christ would be labelled a false prophet,
Christians invented clever but false explanations for the failure of the parousia. Some
engaged in scripture twisting to make it appear that Jesus never predicted that he would
return in the first century. Others claimed that he did return in 70 A.D.to pour out the wrath
of God upon Israel. But pretending that a second coming occurred is dishonest eschatology.
Many of Christ's predictions were fulfilled in the first century, but the prophecy that he would
return within a generation did not come to pass. That does not mean that Jesus is a false
prophet, but it does require us to provide a legitimate explanation for why he did not return
in 70 A.D. The claim that the expression "this generation" does not refer to a first century
generation is disingenuous. And the theory that the Olivet prophecy has a double fulfillment
lacks biblical support. The preterist contention that the Olivet prophecy was completely
fulfilled in 70 A.D.is not credible. Opting for a symbolic second coming hardly satisfies the
prediction that Jesus would literally return.
The entire subject of prophecy revolves around one question: Why didn't Jesus return in the
first century. Until we know the answer, prophecy cannot be rightly understood. Did prophecy
fail? Are predictions contingent? Can unfulfilled prophecies be projected into the future? The
surprising answers will dramatically change your approach to prophecy and prevent you from
repeating the mistakes of other eschatologists.
Every prophetic scheme has fallen flat on its face because the eschatologist had the wrong
answers to the above mentioned questions. He made predictions based on false assumptions
and experienced inevitable failure. Then, after looking for errors in his system, he made the
necessary adjustments and set another date for the second coming. But this approach turns
prophecy into a guessing game and brings ridicule upon the subject of eschatology. The cycle
of prediction and failure has been repeated for the last two thousand years. When is this "end
time" madness ever going to cease?
Why Jesus didn't return in the first century is the pivotal question in prophecy. The answer
determines the fate of eschatology. If Christ's predictions were wrong, eschatology has no
future. If they were fulfilled in the first century, prophecy belongs in the past. But if they await
fulfillment, eschatology has a future.
Chapter One The End of Eschatology
Chapter Two The Trail of False Predictions
Chapter Three The Meaning of "This Generation"
Chapter Four The Whore of Revelation 17
Chapter Five The Myth of the Seven Church Ages
Chapter Six Critique of Historicism
Chapter Seven Deficiencies in Futurism
Chapter Eight Problems with Preterism
Chapter Nine The Pretext of Postmillennialism
Chapter Ten Why Jesus Didn't Return in 70 A.D.
The End of Eschatology
When Jesus did not return in 70 A.D.,the church, for the most part, still believed in the second coming of Christ, but the method of interpreting prophecy changed. Some church fathers began to take a symbolic rather than literalistic approach to eschatology. In other words, prophecy experience an early retirement. It was no longer anticipated that the book of Revelation would be literally fulfilled. Prophecy was to be interpreted allegorically.
After the Montanist debacle in the second century, the church became suspicious of apocalyptic movements and prophetic speculation. Weber tells us that "early in the third century, St. Hippolytus, an important Roman theologian and foe of heresies, wrote a commentary on the book of Daniel that was meant to discourage the sort of eschatological expectations that had lately driven a bishop to lead his flock into the desert to meet the returning Lord" (Apocalypses, p. 44). He goes on to say that "it was Origen who provided the crucial argument against apocalyptists. The scriptures, wrote Origen, could be interpreted literally, morally, or allegorically... Literalism, Origen suggested, was too 'Jewish' to be doctrinally correct; the message of the scripture was symbolic, and that was how it should be read" (p. 44). Weber informs us that St. Jerome "agreed that sensible folk avoided literalism. He dismissed chiliasm (the theory that Christ would return to rule on this earth for a thousand years before the final consummation) as simply Jewish fables" (p. 44).
Augustine continued the retreat from literalism and took the position that prophecy was symbolically true. Weber summarizes Augustine's view on eschatology:
"Biblical apocalypse was to be read allegorically, as a discussion of good and evil, the later
being part of time, and of the history whose end would necessarily see the end of evil. But
the struggle between good and evil was even now unfolding; literalists readings of prophecy,
millenarianism, Armageddon, and the rest were to be avoided, and end-of-time speculation
should be avoided too. The City of God was not of this world or for this world. Christians
could struggle toward it by restraining violence and injustice, but millenarian perfection could
only be attained in another life. If history had failed to end on time, that was because the
kingdom of God was already here. Parousia had come with Christ; and his church, which
represented humanity and forgiveness, was the Kingdom of God on earth" (p. 45).
To take prophecy literally was considered an error of great magnitude. Crude literalism was replaced with
allegory and metaphor. Prophecy was now interpreted in a figurative and spiritual sense. Augustine's approach was made official at the Council of Ephesus in 431 and has exercised a dominant and decisive influence upon the interpretation of prophecy. While "end time" fever broke out numerous times during the middle ages, the church held to its Augustinian position on prophecy. And when the reformation set off an explosion of prophetic speculation, the church fought against these purveyors of prophecy. Even Luther seems to have taken a page from Augustine when he relegated the book of Revelation to an appendix in his German Bible. He considered the apocalypse "neither apostolic nor prophetic". Weber notes that "in 1530, the authoritative Lutheran Confession of Augsburg denounced millenarianism as 'Jewish Doctrine'" (p. 68).
Many modern theologians take a negative attitude toward prophecy. It is seen as an acute embarrassment to the church, a relic of the past that should be hastily discarded. They stripped the gospel of apocalyptic elements and abandoned a literalistic approach to the Kingdom of God. When the New Testament was demythologized, prophecy became its first casualty. The apocalyptic interpretation of history was no longer pursued. The book of Revelation was quietly retired and relegated to obscurity. The subject of eschatology was suppressed and viewed with disdain. Scholars lost interest in the "end of history" and considered it a primitive concept. According to them, prophecy was fiction mistakenly elevated to fact. And the idea that history had a divine direction was no longer contemplated. For all intents and purposes, prophecy was dead. It became the domain of cults on the fringe of Christianity. For liberal theologians, the idea of the second coming was out of date and the longing for the return of Christ was emotion gone to waste. It was time for the church to grow up and put away childish things. The ephemeral apocalyptic assertions of the book of Revelation were replaced with the enduring
message of the gospel. But what is missing from this liberal evaluation of prophecy is the fact that the gospel itself is apocalyptic. Christ's preaching is apocalyptic theology. To divorce prophecy from theology destroys the gospel. The apostles taught an apocalyptic gospel and considered the second coming of Christ an integral part of their message. A gospel without apocalyptic elements is false. The theology of the Kingdom of God cannot be separated from prophecy because theology devoid of eschatology is dead.
Conservative scholar Oscar Cullmann noted that "an exaggerated fear of attributing to Jesus statements dealing with the final cosmic events can be found in the exegetical and theological writings of the English-speaking world in particular" (Salvation in History, p. 229). Considerable effort was made to distance Jesus from the apocalyptic view of the Kingdom of God. Scholars concluded that Jesus was ethical, but not apocalyptic. The theory of a non-apocalyptic Jesus and his apocalyptic church still has support among New Testament scholars. Liberals decided to remove "the stain of prophecy" from Christ's message and present a gospel "uncontaminated by apocalyptic expectation". According to them, the gospel should have been understood in a "non-eschatological and spiritual sense". But this represents another failed attempt to deal with the fact that Christ did not return in the first century.
In his book "The Rediscovery of Apocalyptic", Klaus Koch writes about "the great chorus of New Testament scholars who view apocalyptic of every kind with mistrust and discomfort, even when it appears in Christian guise, within the canon, in the book of Revelation". He mentions that "even so cautious a commentator as W.G. Kummel gives it as his opinion that 'there still remains no doubt that the Apocalyptist is in danger of falsifying the message of God's objective in world history" (p. 63).
R. Schnackenburg exposes the attitude of many New Testament scholars towards apocalyptic writers:
"This dwelling on fantastic nightmares, this conscious excitement of anxiety and fear, this
deliberate indulgence in an emotional expectation of the end of the world, coupled with
the hammering on the theme of apocalyptic's secret knowledge...its concealment from the
multitude and its delivery to the wise...the pride of the elect and the contempt for the massa
damnata - indeed the positive thirst for revenge and pleasure in the destruction of the
wicked: all these things are heavy shadows in the picture, otherwise so radiant, of universal
perfection; and they are a blot on the apocalyptic writers who created them" (God's rule and
the Kingdom, pp. 74f).
This attitude of suspicion and contempt toward anything apocalyptic permeates the writings of many New Testament scholars. Apparently they are trying to rescue Jesus from being labelled an apocalyptists. But they fail to take into account the significance of apocalyptic for Jesus and his first century followers. Bousset points out that the "tense and acutely heightened expectation of the imminent End, which deeply determines the whole of the New Testament in its religion and ethics, derives from apocalyptic" (The Jewish Apocalyptic, p. 56). Thus, the scholarly effort to sweep the apocalyptic under the rug or pretend that it never existed in the teachings of Jesus does not succeed.
In 1941, liberal theologian Rudolf Bultmann wrote an essay on "The New Testament and Mythology" which, in essence, demanded that the New Testament be demythologized. He claimed that the "cosmology of the New Testament is essentially mythical in character". In his book "Kerygma and Myth", he defines apocalyptic:
"The mythology of the New Testament is in essence that of Jewish apocalyptic and the Gnostic
redemption myths. A common feature of them both is their basic dualism, according to which
the present world and its human inhabitants are under the control of daemonic, satanic spirits,
and stand in need of redemption. Man cannot achieve this redemption by his own efforts; it
must come as gift through divine intervention. Both types of mythology speak of such an
intervention: Jewish apocalyptic of an imminent world crisis in which this present aeon will be
brought to an end and the new aeon ushered in by the coming of the Messiah, and Gnosticism
of a Son of God sent down from the realm of light, entering into this world in the guise of a man"
But why did Bultmann decide that New Testament eschatology is mythological? He explains his reason: "The mythical eschatology is untenable for the simple reason that the parousia of Christ never took place as the New Testament expected. History did not come to an end, and, as every schoolboy knows, it will continue to run its course" (p. 5). He concluded that the eschatology of Jewish Apocalyptic was outdated and unacceptable.
Bultmann reconsidered the significance of apocalyptic for the modern world. Klaus Koch explains:
"It is not easy in the twentieth century to imagine an imminent end of the world at which angels
fly down with trumpet blasts from heaven, while the sun is darkened and the stars cease to
shine. Consequently many theologians felt it to be a liberation when Bultmann showed the
presence of a quite different eschatology in the New Testament - an individual, wholly personal
eschatology, bound up with the moment of truth - the eschatology of detachment from the world;
and when Bultmann expounded this as being the real eschatology meant by Paul and John and
others". Koch adds the sober note that "nearly all discerning Christians had finally lost faith in a
divinely willed progress in history after the outbreak of the Second World War, particularly in
view of the initial victories of the German army. This meant, however, that all apocalyptic
longing for the speedy approach of the Kingdom of God in time became suspect" (The
Rediscovery of Apocalyptic, p. 67-68).
How Christians interpret the failed parousia of the first century determines their approach to eschatology. If Jesus was wrong about his predictions, how can we maintain that he is a true prophet? And if his prediction of a first century return was false, why should we believe that he will return in the future? If eschatology is a myth, we can no longer believe in a literal return of Christ. Thus, the fate of eschatology hangs on one critical question: Why didn't Jesus return in the first century?
Klaus Koch tells us that "Harnack did indeed recognize an apocalyptic admixture in Jesus and the New
Testament writers ('it was an evil inheritance which the Christians took over from the Jews'), but he held it to be an ultimately unimportant husk which could easily be discarded" (p. 70). First we recoil in horror at Bultmann's demythologizing and then we are severely vexed by Harnack's attitude toward apocalyptic. Rather than being an evil inheritance that can be easily discarded, apocalyptic eschatology is a spiritual inheritance that must be embraced. Bultmann and Harnack could not adequately cope with the failed parousia. Their reaction was to discard biblical eschatology and create a purified kerygma "unburdened by apocalyptic and national expectations of the future". But, in doing so, they effectively destroyed the gospel. It is not possible to separate the kerygma from the apocalyptic because the kerygmatic Jesus is the apocalyptic Christ.
It was Bultmann's misinterpretation of the failed parousia that precipitated his demythologizing of the New Testament. Something similar and equally dangerous took place in the first century. Koch relates that when the parousia did not take place, "the Christian community had either to give up or take fresh bearings. It did the latter. The result was a step-by-step de-eschatologization through the development of Christian dogma. The Hellenization of Christianity, so much lamented by Harnack and others, was not the precondition of the growing alienation from (apocalyptic) eschatology; it was the result of that alienation" (p. 72). Disillusionment with eschatology caused many Christians to question the authenticity of the book of Revelation. While some held to the imminent expectation of the parousia, others detached and distanced themselves from eschatology. Thus, the "highly charged apocalyptic elements in the message of Jesus" receded into the background. Bultmann finished the task in the twentieth century when he purged the kerygma of apocalyptic elements. But his efforts were misguided because the kerygma is eschatological and history is apocalyptically determined. The assertion that Christ's original gospel was purely kerygmatic has no biblical basis and the claim that the apostles inserted apocalyptic elements into the gospel is not credible. In his essay "The Beginnings of Christian Theology", Ernst
Kasemann wrote that apocalyptic was "the mother of all Christian theology". Jesus is a prophet and the gospel is apocalyptic kerygma. The fact that he didn't return in the first century does not justify purging apocalyptic elements from the gospel.
Christian theology cannot survive without a strong apocalyptic foundation. The announcement that the Kingdom of God is at hand must be interpreted in apocalyptic terms. But theologians like Gerhard Ebeling take a rather dim view of apocalyptic eschatology. In his article "The Basis of Christian Theology", he writes that "according to the prevailing ecclesiastical and theological tradition (and especially that of the reformation), apocalyptic is...at least a suspicious symptom, suggesting a heretical tendency" (ZTK 58, 1961, p. 230). Ebeling brought serious charges against apocalyptic thinking, implying that it bordered on heresy. For many liberal theologians, eschatology is "useless speculation about the future". Anti-apocalyptist Klaus Koch issued a stern warning: "For our theological endeavors, today, typology is the absolute crucial category; apocalyptic on the other hand is more or less unimportant, if not positively dangerous" (p. 85). But how can this statement be reconciled with the fact the Jesus is an apocalyptist? Is Christ's apocalyptic gospel unimportant and dangerous for theological endeavors? I think not. By discarding the apocalyptic, theologians like Koch have abandoned the gospel. What should be termed dangerous is any theological endeavor that ignores or neglects the apocalyptic elements in the kerygma. We are not permitted to create our own private theology and personal gospel. The fact that Jesus
didn't return in the first century does not give theologians permission to discard eschatology. We must continue to preach the apocalyptic gospel and interpret history in the light of eschatology.
In 1972, Koch wrote that the "prevailing opinion among German New Testament scholars is still that apocalyptic is a marginal phenomenon which undoubtedly played a certain role in some early Christian circles but which, seem as a whole, is unimportant" (p. 93). But this is hardly the view shared by fundamentalists and evangelicals. These "end time" enthusiasts have a "burning apocalyptic expectation of the imminent end" that cannot be quenched. Why, then, do liberal theologians take such a radically different approach to apocalyptic? Koch supplies the answer: "Anyone who finds a futurist eschatology impossible today does not want to find one in the New Testament either, at least not exclusively. Anyone who is prevented by their historical sense from thinking in terms of salvation history finds it difficult to allow the New Testament writers to think in those terms either" (p. 84). But in spite of what Koch says, a futurist eschatology is not impossible today and the concept of salvation history remains valid in the modern world.
In his article "The Concept of Apocalyptic in the Theology of the Pannenberg Group", Hans Dieter Betz makes a troubling statement: "I would say that the apocalyptists were the first theologians to discover that the relationship between world history and revelation has become a problem. Their dilemma has much in common with the contemporary problem as to whether there is any meaning in history" (Journal for Theology and the Church 6, 1969, p. 206). Betz was implying that apocalyptic history does not match world history. When a comparison was made between what was prophesied to happen and what actually occurred in world history, theologians noticed a disconnect. Jesus did not return in 70 A.D.and the Roman empire was not destroyed in the first century. It prompted theologians to ask the question: Was Jesus deluded on the subject of prophecy or did the apostles insert apocalyptic eschatology into his teachings? They concluded that the apostles were the source of error and that eschatology had to be removed from the gospel. However, it is not possible to legitimately separate Jesus from eschatology. In spite of the fact that Betz "rejects any theological acceptance of these apocalyptic ideas', he admits that "it is one of the results of historical research that Jesus of Nazareth must be understood in the context of apocalyptic imminent eschatology" (p. 203).
Koch informs us that "in the later ancient church the idea of a world catastrophe apocalyptic in nature soon became religiously defunct" (p. 94). But apocalyptic experienced a revival in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In fact, the twentieth century became "the apocalyptic century". Numerous groups were proclaiming the second coming of Christ and date setting became the rage. Apocalyptic fever spread rapidly through fundamentalist and evangelical churches and the imminent expectation of the end reached a crescendo as the century came to a close. But once again, as in the first century, Jesus did not return. How many great disappointments must Christians experience before they start rethinking eschatology? Daniel-Rops makes an observation about Jewish apocalyptists that might well apply to Christian eschatologists. Koch quotes him as saying that "the apocalyptists...rejected reality, which had become odious and unendurable, and consequently more or less fell victim to the temptations of pure fantasy and to morbid daydreams" (p. 96). Are apocalyptic Christians escaping into fantasy worlds because reality is unbearable or are they sound minded believers who recognize the reality of salvation history?
Klaus Koch mentions the emergence of non-apocalyptic eschatology between 1920 and 1960. He summarizes Buri's complaint that "all modern talk about eschatology is really nothing other than an attempt 'to eliminate the New Testament expectation of the imminent end of history'" (p. 100). Koch defines non-apocalyptic eschatology as "nothing other than the will towards life's consummation in the face of a contradictory present" (p. 100). He derides New Testament apocalyptic eschatology and says that "for the history which followed, however, this complex of ideas and concepts had tragic results, since the hope for the speedy second coming of Christ which it initiated proved an illusion" (p. 100). Koch tells us that "attempts at a completely non-apocalyptic eschatology dominated systematic theology in Germany between the two world wars....Bultmann finally completely condemned the futurist aspect of eschatology, declaring an eschatology of the present (i.e., detachment from the world on the part of the individual believing existence) to be the real kernel of New Testament message; and therefore, the kernel of our present-day eschatology as well" (p. 100-101). But non-apocalyptic eschatology contradicts scripture. It eliminates the futurist aspect of the gospel and crushes the hope of the second coming.
As it turned out, rumors of the death of apocalyptic were premature. Koch informs us that "the renaissance of apocalyptic in post war theology" began with Pannenberg. But it was not a true apocalyptic. He notes that "Pannenberg has in fact renewed an apocalyptic concern, though stripping away all the mythical components and combining it with a historical scholarship unknown to the apocalyptists" (p. 105). Koch continues his story of the rediscovery of apocalyptic: "Like Pannenberg, Moltmann discovers the burning actuality of apocalyptic. He sets out to restore eschatology from its obscure peripheral position to its place in the center of Christian dogmatics" (p. 107). But Koch noticed the defects in Moltmann's eschatology. He writes that "perhaps it would have helped to overcome the abstract contradiction which he establishes as being present between the hoped for eschatological reality and the reality of history. In the interests of his inclination towards a revolutionary ideology, Moltmann in the end tears salvation and creation apart, which is neither apocalyptic nor reasonable"
(p. 108). Both Moltmann and Pannenberg tampered with apocalyptic eschatology and discarded elements they considered offensive or irrelevant. Each assimilated apocalyptic into their dogmatic theology and presented a new approach to eschatology. But the interests of truth are more important than the value of originality. It is one thing to rediscover apocalyptic and another to reinvent it. A radically new apocalyptic eschatology that departs from the faith once delivered must be rejected.
After the second general assembly of the World Council of Churches in 1959, Neil Hamilton gave a survey called "The Last Things in the Last Decade". He comments that "we are tempted to think that eschatology is a symptom of desperation, a grasping for straws, the figment of a fevered theological imagination. Thus, the observation that the doctrine of the two ages arose after the exile and became generally accepted in Judaism during the Maccabean unrest and Roman domination is often taken as proof of such doctrine's invalidity. Judaism went eschatological when it went desperate, and it has been so ever since" (Interpretation 14, 1960, p. 132). Was fundamentalist and evangelical eschatology of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries a symptom of desperation? Were they grasping for straws when they set dates for the second coming? Is the doctrine of the pre-tribulation rapture a figment of a fevered theological imagination? These questions will be addressed later on in this article. What needs to be pointed out now is that for many theologians "eschatology has absolutely no significance". The reintroduction of apocalyptic into dogmatic theology by Pannenberg and Moltmann is the expression of a minority. Koch informs us that "apocalyptic ideas play no part whatsoever for dogmatic theologians, students, of ethics, or philosophers of religion outside the German-speaking countries" (p. 110).
However, apocalyptic ideas play an extremely important part for fundamentalists and evangelicals. The fevered frenzy of apocalyptic hope continues unabated. As each end time prediction fails, the date is pushed forward and the anticipation of the parousia burns even brighter. Surely the time has come to question this "end time" methodology that thus far has produced nothing but failure and disappointment.
Was Luther right when he called the book of Revelation "every mob-leader's bag of tricks"? Is eschatology
"dangerous food" for Christians? Should fundamentalists and evangelicals take a time out from calculating the end of the world and reflect upon the failed predictions of eschatologists, or should they forge ahead with renewed vigor and proclaim the imminent return of Christ? The majority of the two billion Christians on this earth have little if any interest in eschatology. Other than affirming that Christ will return to judge the living and the dead, Lutherans, Methodists, and other mainline protestant denominations rarely discuss the subject of end time prophecy. In the halls of academia, apocalyptic eschatology is treated as a quaint relic of the past. And among prominent theologians and scholars the subject of end time prophecy is dismissed as irrelevant. I strongly disagree with their assessment of apocalyptic eschatology and consider end time prophecy relevant to the proclamation of the gospel. But we must examine the errors of eschatologists and learn from their mistakes.
The Trail of False Predictions
It is instructive to follow the trail of false predictions from the second century charismatic Montanists to the twentieth century evangelical dispensationalists. I have selected nine examples from Christian history to illustrate the point that making predictions based upon private interpretations of prophecy is an unsound practice.
1. Montanus (140 A.D.) The first great apocalyptic eruption that took place after the apostolic age involved a reformer named Montanus. Harold Brown relates the story:
"Montanus felt that the church was falling back into worldliness, and tried to call it back to its first love by
emphasizing the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit, whose spokesman he claimed to be...Montanus was a charismatic, who maintained that he received direct revelation from the Holy Spirit. He considered himself the last great prophet, who would be immediately followed by the establishment of the heavenly Jerusalem" (Heresies, p. 66).
His "spurious private revelations" convinced a number of Christians that the last days had arrived and "the New Jerusalem would soon descend from heaven near a Phrygian town" (Eugen Weber, Apocalypses, p. 43). Even the Latin theologian Tertullian was caught up in this movement and joined their ranks. Brown tells us how the story ends:
"Montanus' conviction that the end of the age was at hand led him to call on Christians to abstain from marriage, dissolve marriages already contracted, and gather in an appropriate place to await the descent of the heavenly city. The heavenly city did not descend when expected, and consequently Montanus and his followers had to come to terms with its delay, as the whole church had to learn to deal with the postponement of Christ's second coming. The concept of the last days was broadened into a concept of Last Days, during which Montanus called upon his followers to live a life of strict discipline and self-denial" (p. 67).
The prophetic gift that he claimed to possess was more like a prophetic curse. Montanus reminds me of
contemporary charismatic prophets who are pronouncing private revelations that never come to pass. While the Bible does not specifically state that direct revelations ended with the apostolic age, Christians are advised to exercise extreme caution before jumping on the latest prophetic bandwagon.
2. Gregory I (590-604 A.D.) Even the pope could not resist the temptation to relate events of his day with the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation. Eugen Weber fills in the details:
"The calculations of Bishop Gregory of Tours, who died in 594, suggested some time between 799 and 806, which allowed mankind a spell to breathe and pray. But in September 589 a terrible earthquake ravaged Antioch, killing tens of thousands; and in November 589 fearsome floods devastated Gaul and Italy, after which the plague killed thousands, including Pope Pelagius II. No wonder his successor, Gregory I, judged that the end was a good deal closer than the calculations of his Gaulish namesake indicated...Inundations, famine, pestilence, and invasions may account for Gregory's lifelong obsession with the world's ending" (Apocalypses, p. 48).
Does this not remind us of those who interpreted the devastation of hurricane Katrina as a sign that the end was near? Reading prophecy into current events is a precarious practice that should be undertaken with the utmost of caution.
Other than falling meteorites or an occasional comet, the dark ages received little illumination. Each earthquake, inundation, famine, and pestilence, created apocalyptic terror in the minds of superstitious Christians.
3. The Millennium of the birth of Christ (1000 A.D.) The belief that after a thousand years "Satan would be
unchained and become antichrist" created dreadful thoughts about this foreboding year.
Weber tells the tale:
"In 989, Halley's comet swept through the skies, proof that not much time was left. Likewise, a rumor that the end would come when the feast of the Annunciation coincided with Good Friday. This happened in 992, when Easter fell on March 22, and eager calculators established the world would end before three years had passed. The three years passed and nothing happened in 995; nor in 'the millennium of the birth of the all-vilifying word'. Then, the hopes or fears of those who cared about such things, such as the monk Raoul Glaber, shifted to the thousandth anniversary of the Passion, when Augustine's millennial countdown had begun. For 1033, premonitory signs appeared more satisfying: a great famine was followed as usual by pestilence, even cannibalism...Yet once again, the end did not come on time" (Apocalypses, p. 51).
Does this not remind us that the appearance of Halley's comet in the nineteenth century was also considered a sign of the end? Christians who do not learn from the mistakes of eschatologists are doomed to repeat them. How many comets does it take till they get the point?
4. Joachim of Fiore (1135-1202) The twelfth through fourteenth century was littered with predictions of the end. Weber comments on the Abbot who was considered a great prophet by his contemporaries:
"Joachim was a great numerologist in the traditional vein, and his history was patterned by divisions into sevens and threes. Seven ages, inspired by Jewish lore, placed his own times near the end of the sixth age, which would be followed by the Sabbath of repose and peace between the coming of the antichrist, expected around 1260, and the last judgment" (Apocalypses, p. 52-53).
Even Richard the Lionheart, while on his way to the Third Crusade, met with Joachim and inquired about the antichrist. Weber remarks that "as time passed, the Abbot's admirers had to adjust their predictions on this score and others" (p. 53). We are reminded of the date changing games played by nineteenth century cults, the most egregious example being the Jehovah's Witnesses.
5. The Reformation Period (1500-1600) Luther's break with the Catholic Church coincided with a flood of end time predictions. Weber describes the cast of characters:
"In 1433, the scholarly Nicholas of Cusa...had predicted the Great Judgment for 1533. As the time drew nigh, Cusa's predictions began to coincide with the expectations of Anabaptists, who probably ignored it: Melchior Hoffman, the itinerant visionary who preached the Second Coming and the Millennium for 1593, before he was caged in a Strasbourg jail; Jan Matthys, the righteous Haarlem baker who sent his apostles out to rid the earth of the ungodly and predicted the Lord's vengeance for 1534; and John Leiden, who joined him that year in Munster to prepare a New Jerusalem for the Apocalypse" (Apocalypses, p. 67).
End time ecstasy was in the air and even Luther believed that the last days had arrived. Sixteenth century
England produced a plethora of false Messiahs. Weber describes this carnival of false Christ's that paraded through the British landscape during the reign of Elisabeth:
"The list of those who claimed to be Christ or witnessed to his coming is a long one...In 1591, an illiterate
ex-soldier, William Hackett, proclaimed himself the messiah come to judge the world. He threatened dire plagues upon the kingdom if its people did not repent, and if the queen did not give up her crown to him. His arrest and execution did not discourage other messengers of God. The last Englishman burnt for heresy (in 1612) would be Anabaptist, Edward Wightman, who claimed to be Elijah, the prophet" (Apocaplyses, p. 72).
Weber's account gets even more interesting as he describes the madness of self-proclaimed prophets:
"Without much need of prompting, Baptists and Anabaptists, Levellers, Diggers, Socinians, Ranters, Quakers, Muggletonians, and all sorts of popular utopian millenarians, the stoutest foes of antichrist, were busy preparing Christ's kingdom...Some like William Sedgewick, who incautiously prophesied the end of the world in fifteen days, lived to be dubbed Doomsday Sedgewick. Cromwell's own porter, driven mad by eschatological expectations, preached to the London crowd from the window of his cell. Lodowicke Muggleton and his cousin John Reeve, both tailors, proclaimed themselves to be the two witnesses of Revelation come to usher in the Second Coming" (Apocalypses, p. 73). Weber adds that "the apocalypse supplied Cromwell's New Model Army of millenarian saints with a guide to
action and with the goal of installing the New Jerusalem in verdant England" (p. 72). What are we to make of this eschatological madness? Had Christians listened to the Fifth Lateran Council (1512-1517) which took the time to "denounce popular apocalyptic tendencies", this end time circus would have been avoided. To repeat the same predictions century after century and expect different results is a sure sign of apocalyptic madness.
6. Cornelius Jansen (1510-1576) Jansenists were not Protestants. They were part of the Catholic Counter Reformation . Weber explains their motivation: "They hoped to beat the Protestants at their own game by recapturing the pious austerity of the primitive church" (Apocalypses, p. 80).
Papal Rome's persecution of Jansenist Catholics is a story worth telling. Weber does so with his usual aplomb:
"Papal bulls condemned their rigor; royal and ecclesiastical officials persecuted them. The worse the
persecutions got, the more radical the Jansenist response became. A Jansenist barrage of books and
pamphlets demonstrated that the persecution they suffered was a sign of the end. A concert of Jansenist prophets filled the 1700's with dire predictions: calamity, blood, destruction, torments and persecutions, plagues and flames, the coming of Elijah and of the antichrist, cities and monarchies cast down, the earth covered with sores - sinful, abject, desolate. In 1713, one more papal bull, Unigenitus, soon denounced as the Beast of the Apocalypse, persuaded those who rejected it that the church had abandoned its redemptive function and that only a faithful remnant could expect salvation" (Apocalypses, p. 81).
Separatist tendencies and claims of exclusivity are marked characteristics of groups who consider themselves the true remnant. But in retrospect, these claims seem rather hollow. Not one group has turned out to be the last faithful remnant.
Weber continues the story:
"Apocalyptic predictions were obviously being fulfilled, and the Jansenists likened themselves to early martyrs of the church and, like some of these (notable the Montanists), began to fall into ecstatic trances, to speak in tongues, or to produce prophetic rantings. By 1731, miraculous phenomenon began to attract crowds to the tomb of a recently deceased Jansenist 'saint,' the deacon Francois de Paris. The rash of healings, convulsions, fits, and faints at Paris's tomb in the cemetery of St. Medard led to a royal ordinance in 1732 that closed the cemetery to the public" (Apocalypses, p. 81)
Was this the precursor to the pentecostal outpourings of the twentieth century or was it a foretaste of the current Catholic charismatic movement? This episode was included because it shows that Protestants are not alone in their rantings and ravings about the end of the world. Even Catholics are prone to end time fever and charismatic outbursts.
Another issue is the perception of persecution by self-proclaimed prophets. Even legitimate criticism is
perceived as persecution. Often they deliberately provoke opposition in an effort to create an enemy and then insist that the resultant persecution make their cause legitimate and validates their predictions.
7. William Miller (1782-1849) The man responsible for the Great Disappointment of 1844. Deceived by his end time miscalculations and intoxicated by the thought of the second coming, Miller boldly proclaimed his prophetic message. Weber tells the infamous tale:
"In 1836, Miller published his conclusions as "Evidence from Scripture and History of the Second Coming", predicting that it would occur in twelve months following March 1843, then shifting the fateful day to October 1844. Tens of thousands withdrew from their churches to await the predicted event. The faithful who, at Millers behest had waited for the bridegroom when he failed to turn up in 1843, had gone out to meet him on October 22, 1844, having abandoned homes, crops, animals, given away their money, and closed their stores were bitterly disappointed" (Apocalypses, p. 177).
Miller had the honesty to admit his error, but others could not countenance the thought of being wrong. Thus, a new vision emerged that supposedly corrected Miller's mistake. Rather than being the year of the second coming, 1844 marked the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary. The advantage of this theory is that it cannot be falsified. The Jehovah's Witnesses took a page from Adventists when they invented the "secret chamber" theory to explain their "great disappointment" of 1914.
8. Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916) Founder of the Jehovah's Witnesses. The nineteenth century was awash with dates for the second coming. It is difficult to find a year that wasn't predicted to be the year of the parousia. Russell set the record for date changing. Let's turn to Weber for the story:
"In the 1870's, Charles Taze Russell, a Pennsylvania draper and self-taught Adventist, attracted many fellow students of Bible prophecy when he explained that the second coming had taken place in 1874, that true believers could expect to change from fleshly to spiritual bodies in 1878 (a date shifted to 1881, then dropped), and that the kingdom of God on earth would materialize in 1914, after the battle of Armageddon. Believers in Russell's message were to shun earthly religions and nation-states, read the Bible, warn as many as they could about the impending end, and watch for its coming. 'The Watchtower' (1879) turned into the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society and then, in 1931, into Jehovah's Witnesses" (Apocalypses, p. 185).
This self-taught Adventist founded a notorious cult that currently exists on the lunatic fringe of Christianity. Weber chronicles Russell's date changing practices.
"As the terminological progression suggests, Russell's Bible Students survived several crisis; 1878, 1881, 1914. When the Kingdom of God failed to show up in 1914, rapture was postponed to 1918; then to 1925 by Russell's successor, 'Judge' Joseph Franklin Rutherford (1869-1942), who was certain that 'our generation will see the great battle of Armageddon' and that 'millions now living will never die' (Apocalypses, p. 185).
The fact that Russell could keep changing dates for the second coming and still maintain a group of faithful followers shows how naive and gullible humans can be. Jesus told us to be wise as serpents, not dumb as sheep.
9. Hal Lindsey (1929- ) The author of the bestseller "The Late Great Planet Earth" believed that the founding of the state of Israel in 1948 signaled the time of the end and that Christ would arrive within one generation (forty years). But nothing happened in 1988. Gary DeMar writes about the Lindsey fiasco:
"When the 'pieces of Lindsey's prophetic puzzle began to disintegrate in the early 1990's with the breakup of the former Soviet Union, 'he tried in vain to salvage his teachings by' editing 'erroneous conclusions out of subsequent editions of the Late Great Planet Earth. His 'updated' version, along with several newer books he has written, promote an altogether different scenario. Now, instead of the U.S.S.R.attacking Israel, the southern former Soviet republics (predominately Muslim) 'will soon unite with their 'Islamic brethren' in the MIddle East to attack Israel'" (End Times Fiction, intro, xx, xxi).
It would be an understatement to say that Hal Lindsey's book "The Late Great Planet Earth" is bad eschatology. This piece of prophetic junk sold thirty million copies and made Lindsey filthy rich. Then, by editing errors out of the original edition, he was able to acquire even more wealth from subsequent editions. He should have written a book on how to prosper from prophecy. DeMar reveals a little secret about Lindsey's prophetic puzzle: "The prophetic system upon which all of these prophecy writers (Lindsey, Unger, LaHaye) depend is an nineteenth century theological invention that changes with historical circumstances" (End Times Fiction, intro, xx). Thus, when Lindsey's original predictions proved to be wrong, he simple adjusted his prophetic system to fit the new circumstances. But any system that is sufficiently flexible to fit any circumstances should be held suspect.
Instead of labelling Lindsey a false prophet and repudiating his eschatology, many Christians were willing to forgive his errors and embrace his newly revised version of prophecy and allow themselves to be deceived again.
Making end times predictions has become big business. A bestselling book on prophecy can make the author an instant millionaire. And playing the role of a modern prophet can bring power and prestige in the evangelical community. Numerous ministries are being fueled by apocalyptic speculation. And church membership can increase dramatically when a new prophetic timetable is revealed. These prophecy mongers usually predict that the end of the world will take place within twenty to forty years. They know that their prophecy racket cannot be exposed until after their predictions fail. That gives them plenty of time to fleece the pockets of the faithful.
Gary DeMar comments on the pathetic state of eschatology:
"The history of date setting is long and tortuous. Francis Gumerlock catalogues more than a thousand false predictions over the last two millennia, everything from the identity of the Antichrist to the date of Christ's coming. Two common streams run through all of them: they were sure of their prediction and they were wrong. The track record for pointing out even the 'season' or 'generation' of Jesus return is dismal as well: a 100 percent failure rate by everyone who claimed they were living in the 'terminal generation'"(End Times Fiction, p. 201).
After 70 A.D.prophetic speculation should have been place on hold until the church received further clarification from Christ. Two thousand years of false predictions have done great harm. Those who were deceived by false prophets experience great disillusionment and some even abandoned Christianity. False predictions have brought the Bible into disrepute. Critics contend that predictive errors prove that Christianity is a false religion. Christians have no one to blame but themselves. How many false predictions does it take until we at least temporarily suspend prophetic speculation and start asking some tough questions about eschatology?
The Meaning of "This Generation"
The expression "this generation" is used numerous times in the gospels and in each and every case it refers to the generation that was alive when Jesus walked the earth. In other words, "this generation" was the first century audience that Jesus addressed. It can be demonstrated from scripture that the expression "this generation" refers exclusively to Jews living in the first century during the time of the apostles. Jesus said: "the men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and shall condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, a greater than Jonah is here" (Luke 11:32). Christ was not referring to a generation that would exist two thousand years into the future. He specifically referred to his generation.
Numerous verses can be cited to show that the expression "this generation" consistently refers to a first century generation. Luke wrote that "when the people were gathered thick together, he began to say, This is an evil generation: they seek a sign; and there shall no sign be given it but the sign of Jonah the prophet. For as Jonah was a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the son of man be to this generation" (Luke 11:29-30). Can there be any doubt as to which generation Jesus was referring to? I challenge readers to find one scripture in the gospels where the expression "this generation" does not refers to Jews living in the first century prior to 70 A.D.
After detailing events leading up to and including his second coming, Jesus made the bold pronouncement that "this generation shall not pass till all these things be done" (Mark 13:30). He specifically stated that the son of man would come in the clouds with great power and glory before "this generation" passed away (Mark 13:26). It is here in the Olivet prophecy that the meaning of the expression "this generation" becomes critical. Those who concede that "this generation" refers to Christ's generation are apt to conclude that Jesus was mistaken in his prophetic utterance. We know from history that "this generation" did pass away before the second coming. Many Christians decided that "this generation" could not refer to a first century generation. Therefore, some other interpretation had to be found that would keep Christ's prophetic status intact.
One school of eschatologists advanced the argument that in the context of the Olivet prophecy the Greek word "genea" (translated "generation") must mean "race". Therefore, what Jesus supposedly meant was that the Jewish race or the human race would not pass away before the second coming. But F.F. Bruce put that argument to rest when he wrote that "plainly the idea that the human race is meant cannot be entertained; every description of that event implies that human beings will be around to witness it, for otherwise it would have no context to give it significance. Nor is there much more to be said for the idea that the Jewish race is meant: there is not hint anywhere in the New Testament that the Jewish race will cease to exist before the end of the world" (Hard Saying of Jesus, p. 226).
An alternative explanation is that "this generation" does not specifically refer to a first century generation, but rather to the generation that would be alive when these things take place. F.F. Bruce comments: "Is this at all probable? I think not. When we are faced with the problem of understanding a hard saying, it is always a safe procedure to ask, 'What would it have meant to the people who first heard it'. And there can be but one answer to this question in relation to the present hard saying. Jesus' hearers could have understood him to mean only that 'all these things' would take place within their generation. Not only does 'generation' in the phrase 'this generation' always mean the people alive at one particular moment; the phrase itself always means 'the generation now living'" (Hard Saying of Jesus, p. 226). When Jesus used the phrase "this generation", he was not referring to whatever generation happened to be living when he returned. He was identifying a specific generation that was alive in the first century.
Jesus ministered to "this generation" and aimed specific criticisms at this same "evil' generation". He said that the "blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias would be required of this generation" (Luke 11:51). F.F. Bruce observes that "the phrase 'this generation' is found too often on Jesus' lips in this literal sense for us to suppose that it suddenly takes on a different meaning in the sayings which we are now examining. Moreover, if the generation of the end-time had been intended, 'that generation' would have been a more natural way of referring to it than 'this generation'" (Hard Saying of Jesus, p. 227). Thus, it becomes apparent that when Jesus said "this generation shall not pass till all these things be done", he could not have meant any other generation than the one alive at the time he spoke those words. To suggest that "this generation" refers to a generation that would exist two thousand years after this prophecy was spoken is dishonest eschatology. It isn't necessary to invent false explanations to protect Christ's reputation as a prophet.
Even Bruce fudges on the issue when he takes what is actually a continuous prophecy and divides it into two sections, one concerning the destruction of the temple and the other having to do with the second coming of Christ. He creates an artificial gap in this tightly interwoven prophecy and contends that Mark "had no means of knowing whether or not there would be a substantial lapse of time between the two events" (Hard Sayings of Jesus, p. 228). For Bruce, the expression "all these things" refers to the events leading up to and including the destruction of the temple and does not include the second coming. But this can be refuted by Matthew's version of the Olivet prophecy. After Jesus uttered his prediction of the destruction of the temple, his disciples asked the question" "Tell us, when these things shall be? And what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" (Mat. 24:3). Jesus then presents a major prophetic discourse which includes his second coming and says that "this generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled" (v. 34). Thus, Bruce's gap theory lacks credibility because Jesus clearly states that his second coming would occur before "this generation" passes.
Another verse that corroborates the fact that "this generation" refers to the apostle's generation is found in 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". Mark words it slightly different: "There be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste death till they have seen the Kingdom of God come with power" (Mk. 9:1). Some say that this was fulfilled in the transfiguration that followed six days later, but that cannot be the case because the Kingdom of God did not come. The transfiguration of Christ should not be confused with "the Son of man coming in his kingdom". Clearly the phrases "coming in his kingdom" and coming with power" refer to the actual second coming. W.G. Kummel comments that "it may be safely asserted that Mark 9.1 bears the meaning that some of Jesus' hearers will live to see the appearance of the Kingdom of God in the comparatively near future and therefore will not fall victim to death" (Promise and Fulfillment, p. 27). It is unmistakably clear that Jesus expected to return before the apostle's generation passed away. The fact that it didn't happen caused a theological earthquake that shook eschatology from its foundations.
Another important factor in this discussion is the timing of the book of Revelation. John tells us that the purpose of this book is "to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass" (Rev. 1:1). And he adds in verse three that "the time is at hand". At the end of the book, John says that the events described will happen "shortly" and that "the time is near" (Rev. 22:6-10).
Gary DeMar comments:
"Near (engus) and shortly (tachos) are used hundreds of times in the New Testament, and they
mean what they mean in everyday speech. That's why translators chose these very clear
English words to represent their Greek equivalents. While there is often debate over how some
words should be translated and interpreted based on their use in certain contexts, there is no
debate over how these two Greek words should be translated. Nothing in the context of
Revelation indicates that these words should have specialized and unique meanings"
(End Times Fiction, p. 56).
When you consider the obvious meaning of the words "near" and "shortly", it becomes apparent that John
meant the immediate future. He was not leaping over two thousand years of history and placing himself in the twenty-first century. John was addressing his generation and describing events that would soon take place. Milton Terry chides those who misinterpret such simple words as "near" and "shortly":
"When a writer says that an event will shortly and speedily come to pass, or is about to take
place, it is contrary to all propriety to declare that his statement allow us to believe the event
is in the far future. It is a reprehensible abuse of language to say that the words 'immediately',
or "near at hand', mean 'ages hence', or 'after a long time" (Biblical Hermeneutics, p. 495-6).
When you combine the evidence from scripture, the picture becomes crystal clear. The events described in the Olivet prophecy and the book of Revelation were scheduled to take place in the first century. Here are three plain and simple verses that prove the point.
"The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things
which must shortly come to pass" (Rev. 1:1).
"Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled" (Mat. 24:34).
"Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here, which shall not taste death, till they see
the Son of man coming in his kingdom" (Mat. 16:28).
Only one conclusion is possible. Christ's second coming was scheduled for the first century and prophesied to take place before the apostle's generation passed away. The reason some Christians are in denial of these facts is because Jesus did not return in 70 A.D. To accept the obvious meaning of the statements quoted above would, at least in their mind, require them to admit that Jesus was wrong about prophecy. But no such admission is necessary. It is possible to accept the plain meaning of these verses and still maintain that Jesus is a true prophet. I present the solution to this dilemma in the chapter entitled "Why Jesus did not return in 70 A.D."
The Whore of Revelation 17
The identity of the "great whore" is critical to our understanding of the book of Revelation. The entire book revolves around the destruction of this harlot. But who is "Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots"? Most commentators assume that the harlot is either the city of Rome or the Catholic church. During the Reformation, anti-Catholic prejudice reached such a fevered pitch that the pope was declared the "mother of harlots". But we should not let blind prejudice guide our interpretation of scripture. Not being Catholic or Protestant allows me more objectivity on this matter. If this "great whore" turns out to be Rome or the Catholic church, we should accept the verdict of scripture, but if it can be demonstrated that neither one was intended, we should start searching for the true identity of the "great harlot".
After John received a vision of the "great whore" and described her in detail, an angel said to him: "I will tell thee the mystery of the woman" (Rev. 17:7). To eliminate any possible misinterpretation and prevent this from becoming a guessing game, the angel revealed the identity of the harlot: "The woman which thou sawest is that great city which reigneth over the kings of the earth" (Rev. 17:18). Notice that the angel didn't say that the woman is a false church. She is clearly identified as a "great city". But which city is that? The answer is found in the book of Revelation. Chapter eleven begins with a measurement of the temple in Jerusalem. In verse two, we are informed that the holy city will be tread under foot by the Gentiles. Then the chapter continues with the story of the two witnesses and their death at the hands of the beast: "And their bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified" (v. 8). Chapter eleven reveals the identity of the "great city". It is Jerusalem, not Rome. The "great city" of Jerusalem is the place where Christ was crucified. Rome cannot be the "great city" because Christ was not crucified there. In fact, the city of Rome is never even mentioned in the book of Revelation.
The same book contrasts the earthly Jerusalem with the heavenly Jerusalem. An angel showed John "that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God" (Rev. 21:10). Both the earthly and the heavenly Jerusalem are called a "great city". The earthly is a harlot and the heavenly is a virgin. The Bible never refers to Rome as a "great city" nor does it contrast pagan Rome with holy Jerusalem. To insert Rome would break the continuity of the book. John is completely consistent in his use of the expression "the great city". He does not switch back and forth between Jerusalem and Rome. There is only one "great city" in Revelation and that is Jerusalem. If we allow the book of Revelation to reveal the identity of the "great whore", the conclusion is inescapable. The "great whore" is the "great city" of Jerusalem.
Chapter seventeen contains even more information on the identity of the harlot. We are told that the woman sits on seven mountains, which is taken to mean seven hills (v. 9). Most commentators consider this a reference to the seven hills of Rome. But John has in mind another city with seven hills. We are informed by the Jewish historian Josephus that Jerusalem has seven hills: "Zion, Acra, Moriah, Bezetha, Millo, Ophel, and Antonio" (WJ, V, 5:8). Thus, the "mother of harlots" sits on the seven hills of Jerusalem.
Another indication that Rome cannot be the "great city" or "Babylon the Great" is the fact that the beast
destroys Babylon. John reveals that "the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire" (Rev. 16:17). If the Roman empire is the beast and the city of Rome is Babylon, then John is predicting that Rome would destroy Rome. But the fact that the beast destroyed Jerusalem and not Rome shows that Babylon the Great is the city of Jerusalem.
It is important to let the Bible identify the "mother of harlots". Commentators too often follow their prejudice and venture outside of scripture in search of this woman. But neither Rome nor the Catholic Church is the harlot of Revelation. God was married to the nation of Israel and made a covenant with her, but Israel went whoring after other gods and broke the agreement. Yahweh said to Jeremiah: "Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? She is gone up upon every high mountain and under every green tree, and there hath played the harlot" (Jer. 3:6). And commenting on Jerusalem, Yahweh said: "How is the faithful city become a harlot" (Isa. 1:21). Israel had been unfaithful in the days of Isaiah and Jeremiah and was being unfaithful in the days of the apostles. First century Jerusalem was playing the harlot. The marriage covenant with God was being broken again and this "evil and adulterous generation" would receive the full fury of God's wrath. God was not in covenant with Rome nor married to a pagan city. Israel was his wife and she became a harlot. In the book of Revelation, Jerusalem represents the nation of Israel that committed fornication with the kings of the earth. She is designated Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots. When the angel shouts "Babylon the Great is fallen", he is referring to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
Notice the way the harlot is dressed: "The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet color, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication" (Rev. 17:4). It is worth noting that the garments of the Aaronic priesthood were made "of gold, of blue, and of purple, of scarlet, and fine twined linen" (Ex. 28:6). And the breastplate had twelve precious stones with the name of the children of Israel" (Ex. 28:15-21). It is no coincidence that the harlot was wearing garments similar to the high priest. Also note that upon Aaron's forehead was "a plate of pure gold" and engraved upon it were the words "Holiness to the Lord" (Ex. 28:36). In sharp contrast, the "great whore" had a name written on her forehead that symbolized unholiness. The connection between the high priest of Jerusalem and the harlot of Revelation cannot be denied.
Once you discover the true identity of the harlot, it drastically changes your interpretation of the book of
Revelation. You realize that the primary focus is upon the destruction of Jerusalem. Other than the section on the seven churches of Asia Minor, the entire book is about the city of Jerusalem and nation of Israel. Jerusalem is Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots. Jesus never made any predictions concerning an apostate church in Rome nor did he specifically mention the destruction of the city of Rome. The theme of the book of Revelation is God's vengeance upon Jerusalem and the nation of Israel. The holy city had become the mother of harlots and deserved the title "Babylon the Great". Until you grasp the fact that the whore of Revelation is the city of Jerusalem, you cannot comprehend the apocalypse.
Professor Iain Provan states that "the case of Babylon as Jerusalem, then, is in my view a compelling one" (Foul Spirits, Fornication, and Finance: Revelation 18 from an Old Testament Perspective, JSNT 64, (Dec. 1996):96.
Here is a list of Protestants who teach that Jerusalem is the whore of Revelation.
Phillip Carrington, author of "The Meaning of Revelation" (1931)
David Chilton, M. Div., PhD., author of "The Days of Vengeance" (1987)
Gary DeMar, author of "End Times Fiction" (2001)
Kenneth L. Gentry Jr., Th.D., author of "Before Jerusalem Fell" (1998)
Hank Hanegraaff, author of "The Apocalypse Code" (2007), President of Christian Research Institute
Keith A. Mathison, Master of Arts in Theological Studies, author of "Postmillennialism" (1999)
Iain Provan, M.A., B.A., PhD., Professor of Biblical Studies at Regent College, Presbyterian Minister
James Stuart Russell, M.A., D. Div., Congregationalist Pastor, author of "The Parousia"
R.C. Sproul, PhD., Whitefield Theological Seminary, B.D., PIttsburgh Theological Seminary
Milton S. Terry, author of "Biblical Apocalyptics" (1898)
Cornelius Vanderwaal, author of "Hal Lindsey and Biblical Prophecy" (1978)
Author's note: Kenneth L. Gentry Jr., informs us that "this view has also been held by F. Abauzit, J. G. Von
Herder, J.J. Wetstein, J.C. Harenberg, F.G. Hartwig, Holweerda, K. Schilder, and others (for documentation see Stuart, Apocalypse 1:278 and Vanderwaal, Hal Lindsey p. 117)", (Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 240).
The Myth of the Seven Church Ages
The book of Revelation contains letters that were written to seven churches in Asia Minor. Scholars agree that John addressed seven literal churches. But historicists and futurists advance the claim that these churches represent seven successive church ages from the time of the apostles to the second coming of Christ. Apparently they found certain parallels between the contents of the letters and events in church history. Steve Gregg provides a typical example:
"The letter to Ephesus is said to describe the church during the apostolic age until about
A.D. 100. Smyrna, the church enduring persecution, is likened to the church from about
100 till 313, which suffered under a series of Roman Emperors. Pergamos is a church
compromised with carnality and false doctrine, much as the church became from
Constantine's Edict of Tolerance (313) until the rise of the papacy (about 500). Thyatira
is seen as the papal church until the Reformation (from 500-1500) and Sardis as the
church during the Reformation itself (1500-1700). Philadelphia is regarded as
corresponding to the church which experienced a resurgence of missionary activity (1700
to the present), followed by the Laodicean church, which was lukewarm, and is likened to
the liberal churches of modern times" (Revelation: Four Views, p. 62).
Here is a list of objections to the theory of the seven church ages.
1. The book of Revelation does not contain the concept of seven church ages.
John does not explicitly state that the letters to the seven churches contain a prophetic history of the Christian church. The expression "church ages" is not found in the seven messages. Historicists and futurists are reading the concept of "church ages" into scripture. The idea that Jesus would not leave us without a prophetic history of the church has no biblical basis. He expected his second coming to take place within a short time and therefore did not anticipate a lengthy church history. The book of Revelation contains no evidence that a secondary meaning was attached to the seven messages. Historicists and futurists are inventing hypothetical church ages and projecting prophecies into the future that were meant for the first century. The concept of church ages lacks direct biblical evidence. It is a private interpretation of scripture that is devoid of substance.
2. The seven letters were specifically addressed to first century churches.
The seven churches were already living in the last days and expected Christ to return in their generation. Jesus addressed specific issues that were relevant to Christians in the first century. He did not make any reference to future generations. Christ promised to keep the first century Philadelphian church from the "hour of temptation", which is the great tribulation. But if historicists and futurists are correct, the promise was made to a future church of Philadelphia. If that is the case, then how would the first century church interpret those words? What relevance would it have for them? Would it not create false hopes in their mind? If Jesus knew that the great tribulation would not occur for two thousand years, it would be misleading to tell a first century church that they were going to be kept from the hour of temptation. It is evident from studying the book of Revelation that the seven letters were not addressed to future churches.
3. The seven churches exist during the same time period.
Historicists and futurists should explain how seven contemporary churches can symbolize seven successive churches. The fact that the churches existed at the same time casts doubt upon the theory of successive church ages. The principle of double fulfillment would require that all seven churches exist just prior to the second coming of Christ. Jesus never talked about one church arising after another or one church age succeeding another. There isn't the slightest hint that each church represents a separate and distinct church age. And the idea of seven successive churches or church ages cannot be found in Revelation. The fact that the seven churches were contemporaneous does not bode well for the theory of seven successive church ages.
4. The length of each church age is arbitrary and based on subjective criteria.
When you divide two thousand years into seven equal periods, the resultant figure is 285 years for each period. But instead of an equal division, historicists stretch some periods and shrink others. Without a uniform or agreed upon length, any number of years can be assigned to a particular church age. Note the striking difference between the first church age (70 years) and the fourth church age (1000 years). Historicists need to explain why the age of Thyatira lasted for a thousand years while other church ages are condensed into a relatively short period of time. Thus, deciding the length of each church period seems arbitrary and subjective.
5. The difficulty of identifying which church represents a particular church age.
The splits and divisions in Christianity make it difficult to identify which church represents a particular church age. Does each church age (after the apostolic) describe the condition of the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church (after 1041), the Protestant churches (after 1517), or heretical sects that exist outside of mainstream Christianity? Historicists identify Thyatira (500-1500) as the papal church, but when it comes to identifying Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea, they mysteriously switch to the Protestant churches. Does the Catholic Church disappear from the prophetic scene during the last three church ages? And why is the Eastern Orthodox Church being ignored?
Historicists disagree among themselves as to which denomination represents a particular church age. While most associate the seven churches with orthodox Christianity, others suggest that they represent the "small remnant" of true believers that live in the shadows of church history. Several cults offer their own version of the history of the true church and claim an unbroken line back to the apostles. They often trace their ancestry through groups like the Albigensis and Waldensians who emerged during the middle ages. But they are creating fictional lines of succession through heretical groups that represent imaginary church ages.
6. The seven messages can fit almost any period in church history.
Throughout the entire history of the church, Christians have lost their first love, suffered persecution, required repentance, showed patient endurance, or became lukewarm. Therefore, each of these conditions cannot be limited to one particular historical time period. Surely readers would agree that during the Thyatiran age, which lasted one thousand years, most of the conditions mentioned above would have surfaced. The example of the Smyrna age (100-313) further illustrates the point. The church experienced several periods of persecution under Roman Emperors. But keep in mind that during the Ephesian age (33-100) the church faced intense persecution from Nero (64 A.D.) and Domitian (95 A.D.). And first century Christians were harassed, beaten, imprisoned, and martyred by Jewish authorities in Jerusalem. Now consider the twentieth century. The Russian Orthodox Church experienced seventy years of continuous persecution under the communist regime. The question is: Which historic time period most accurately fits the symbolism of Smyrna? Obviously, several time periods were marked by intense persecution. What prevents either the first or the twentieth century church from being called the age of Smyrna? The fact that the messages to the seven churches can fit several time periods argues against the theory of seven separate church ages, each marked by distinct characteristics and well
7. Lack of evidence that the church is currently in the Laodicean age.
The twentieth century was equated with the Laodicean age because it was falsely assumed that Jesus would return during that time. Perhaps the start of the Laodicean age needs to be recalculated. The worldwide missionary efforts of evangelicals and the explosive growth of Pentecostal and Charismatic churches seem to contradict the notion that we are living in the Laodicean age. It is evident that the twentieth century had all the signs of the seven churches. The Pentecostals experienced their first love, the Eastern Orthodox suffered intense persecution, the Catholic Church required deep repentance from their sex scandals, the evangelicals pursued wealth with great abandon, and the mainline Protestant churches turned lukewarm. Thus, it seems doubtful that the twentieth century can be equated with any particular church age.
While it is possible to find interesting parallels between the seven messages and periods in church history, they are more imaginary than real. Improperly reading prophecy into history is a common error of eschatologists. Let's analyze the messages and determine how tightly they fit a particular period of church history.
A. The Church at Ephesus
Due to the fact that this message contains a reference to "those who say they are apostles but are not", it was assumed that Ephesus represents the first church age. And because this church left their first love, it was taken for granted that it must refer to the first generation of Christians. But throughout Christian history, thousands of new churches have been started through missionary efforts and each one of them experienced their first love. But over time, some of these churches lost their first love. Thus, losing ones first love is not an exclusive characteristic of the first century church. The zeal of first century Christians and their willingness to suffer martyrdom shows that many did not lose their first love. Therefore, a blanket statement that the entire first century church lost their first love would be imprecise. Subsequent periods of church history more accurately reflect the loss of first love described in the message to Ephesus. Most Protestant churches lost the first love that once blossomed in the Reformation.
B. The Church at Smyrna
The Smyrna age supposedly depicts a period of persecution between 100 and 313 A.D. However, it more
accurately reflects the first century persecution under Nero (64 A.D.) and Domitian (95 A.D.). And we must not forget that first generation Christians were being constantly persecuted by Jewish authorities. Between 33 A.D. and 70 A.D., the church experienced its longest and most sustained period of persecution. The martyrdom of Stephan, James, Peter, and Paul shows the determination of Jews and Romans to stamp out Christianity. Thus, the Smyrna age seems to fit the first century.
Historicists point to the ten year persecution under Diocletion as the fulfillment of the ten days of tribulation promised to the Smyrna church. This is another example of misapplying Ezekiel's day for a year principle to prophecy. Caringola writes that "the ten days of Smyrna is one of the greatest arguments for the message of the seven churches being applied to successive church ages. This divine time measure forces the issue" (The Present Reign of Christ, p. 50). But it is Caringola who forces the issue by insisting that the ten days of Smyrna equals ten years of persecution under Diocletion. Gregg comments that the ten days could "simply suggest that the tribulation of the church will be of a relative short duration" (Revelation: Four Views, p. 67). Historicists often make the mistake of turning mere coincidence into fulfilled prophecy. Gregg notes that other interpreters "often consider the ten days to refer to ten actual waves of persecution, or to the ten emperors who allegedly persecuted the churches throughout the first three centuries" (Revelation: Four Views, p. 67). Historicists and futurists tend to make forced connections between prophecy and events in church history. Both embark on fishing expeditions in search of fulfilled prophecies and return with a handful of coincidences.
C. The Church at Pergamos
The Pergamos period (313-500) supposedly begins with the reign of Constantine, when persecutions ceased and the church gained official recognition. For historicists, it marked the foreboding rise of the papacy. Much blame is placed on the papal system for idol worship and immorality. However, any student of church history knows that the pope was only one of five archbishops in the universal church. The archbishops of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, and Constantinople, were independent of the papacy and exercised power and authority in their respective jurisdictions without interference from the pope. By narrowly focusing on the archbishop of Rome and ignoring the other four archbishops who presided over vast territories in the eastern empire, historicists are painting a grossly distorted picture of papal influence. It is worth noting that the pope did not even attend the Council of Nicaea in 325, when the doctrine of the Trinity was declared official dogma.
Some historicists have even gone so far as to suggest that the name "antipas" means "anti papas" and refers to those who opposed the pope, but a quick course in etymology would soon dispel that notion. By reading things into the Pergamos message, historicists identify Rome as the place where "Satan's throne is". Their obsession with the papacy blinds them to other possible alternatives. Constantinople became the official capital of the Roman Empire and would be a more suitable location for "Satan's seat".
D. The Church at Thyatira
The Thyatiran age extended from 500 to 1500 A.D. The length itself arouses suspicion because stretching a church age for one thousand years seems excessive. And it is hard to believe that Jesus would compliment a church supposedly controlled by a corrupt papacy. He said: "I know thy works, and charity, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; the last to be more than the first" (Rev. 2:19). Thus, he spoke of this church in glowing terms and was highly pleased with their works. Surely the notorious inquisition would not be an example of this. And the severe persecution of heretical sects hardly deserves a compliment. This illustrates the difficulty of making a church message fit a particular time period.
The sole criticism directed toward Thyatira involved its tolerance of a woman named Jezebel who claimed to be a prophetess. Historicists claim that Jezebel is symbolic of the papal church which introduced the worship of Mary the "Queen of Heaven". But they are creating imaginary links between the Jezebel of Revelation and the papacy of Rome. And Christ's threat that he would "kill her children with death" is incorrectly interpreted as a reference to the black plague. For historicists, the seven church periods seem to fall into place, but in reality they only have the appearance of falling into place. The theory is filled with false connections and absurd analogies. One could just as easily read the symbolism of Jezebel into the twentieth century, which witnessed the entrance of feminist theologians into the church and the ordination of women into the ministry.
E. The Church at Sardis
This period (1500-1700) included the Reformation and the establishment of Protestant churches. It is interesting to note that the previous church period, which was dominated by a corrupt papal system, received more compliments than Sardis. One would think that if Sardis represents the reformation church, it should receive a glowing tribute from Christ. But instead, the message is largely devoid of praise. Apparently only a few names in Sardis had not defiled their garments.
Isn't is ironic that Sardis, a church that looks alive but is actually dead, was chosen to represent the Protestant Reformation? Some evangelicals object to the reformers being characterized as spiritually deceased. Sardis does not seem the appropriate church to symbolize the rebirth of Christianity. In fact, the message doesn't even contain a hint about a reformation taking place. This should be viewed as a strong indication that the theory of the seven church ages has no merit.
F. The Church at Philadelphia
The Philadelphian era supposedly runs from 1700 to the present and marks the great awakenings in America and the worldwide missionary efforts of Protestant churches. It is difficult to believe that a church described as having "little strength" could symbolize the powerful protestant churches that emerged from the Reformation and evangelized the world. The Church of England used the power of the British Empire to spread the gospel. The "open door" mentioned in the message is thought to be the door of evangelism. But Gregg comments that "the reference to Jesus having the Key of David, so that he opens and no one shuts is an allusion to Isaiah 22:22, in which the same privilege and prerogative is assigned to a man named Eliakim, who was steward over the house of King Hezekiah. This man had the power either to admit persons or to deny entry into the King's house. Jesus is claiming to have a corresponding right with reference to admitting people into heaven. As a matter of fact, He tells the church that he has chosen to admit them: 'I have set before you an open door' (Revelation: Four Views,
p. 75). Thus, the "open door" is most likely the door of the Kingdom, not the door of evangelism.
It is difficult to believe that a message to the church which symbolizes the past three hundred years would not contain the slightest hint of criticism. Surely the liberalization of Christianity, the demythologizing of the Bible, and the abandonment of inerrancy would have brought a stern rebuke from Christ. Thus, there is little evidence that the last three hundred years of church history represents the Philadelphian era.
G. The Church at Laodicea
Laodicea is equated with the end times simply because it is the last church addressed. But the message itself does not indicate that Christ's second coming will take place during the Laodicean age. The date for the beginning of the Laodicean period (1900 to the present) was based on the assumption that the twentieth century constituted the last days, but that has been proven wrong. Some historicists insist that Philadelphians will continue to exist in the Laodicean period. Otherwise, they would be forced to brand themselves lukewarm. It would take a miracle for evangelicals to admit that they are Laodiceans, but the symbolism fits. During the twentieth century, they passionately pursued the gospel of prosperity and became a wealthy church.
The words "I am rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing" could easily have come from the mouth of many contemporary evangelical ministers. In this case, the message to Laodicea seems to accurately reflect the evangelical stampede to riches. But historicists could claim that the message is a reference to the vast wealth of the Catholic Church. It brings up a difficult question: Does a message apply to the church in general or to a particular sector? The lukewarm state of Laodiceans appears to be a church wide phenomenon and the boast of riches is not limited to a small sector. But with millions of Christians living in abject poverty in third world countries, the message to Laodicea obviously doesn't fit their situation. And evangelical missionaries will attest to the fact the third world churches are anything but lukewarm.
Concluding Remarks: The myth of the seven church ages was created by historicists who claimed to find cryptic messages in the letters to the seven churches of Revelation. Apparently the entire history of the church was laid out in advance and hidden in the messages to the seven churches. According to historicists, Jesus knew that he would not return until the seven ages of the church had passed. But that contradicts his explicit statement to the first century church that he would arrive "shortly". If Jesus had no intention of returning in the first century, he would not have told the seven churches that the "time is near". The messages to the seven churches were specifically directed toward first century Christians. Jesus had no other audience in mind. The theory that he left messages for Christian's who would be living in future church ages has no scriptural basis.
New Testament Greek scholar William Hendriksen comments on the theory of seven church ages:
"The notion that these seven churches describe seven successive periods of Church history
hardly needs refuting. To say nothing about the humorous - if it were not so deplorable -
exegesis which, for example, makes the church of Sardis (A.D. 1520 to the tribulation), which
was dead, refer to the glorious age of the Reformation; it should be clear to every student
of scripture that there is not one atom of evidence in all the sacred writings which in any way
corroborates this thoroughly arbitrary method of cutting up the history of the church and
assigning the resultant pieces to the respective epistles of Revelation 2 and 3" (More Than
Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation, Second Edition, p. 60).
The theory of the seven church ages has been thoroughly discredited and needs to be retired from eschatology.
Critique of Historicism
The previous chapter on the myth of the seven church ages introduced the subject of historicism, but a more detailed analysis of the historicist approach is needed. This school of interpretation contends that the book of Revelation sketches the entire history of the church age. Historicism dominated Protestant theology until the nineteenth century when it was eclipsed by futurism.
Steve Gregg briefly describes how historicist's interpret Revelation: "For example, the breaking of the seven seals (chs. 6--7) is often said to be the barbarian invasions that sacked the western Roman Empire. The scorpion/locusts that come out of the bottomless pit (ch. 9) are the Arab hordes attacking the eastern Roman Empire, followed by the Turks, represented as the horses with serpents for tails and flame-throwers for mouths. 'The beast' (ch. 13) represents the Roman papacy" (Revelation, Four Views, p. 34).
The two defining characteristics of historicism are the "year for a day principle" and the accusation that the papacy is the "antichrist". The most significant application of the year for a day principle involves the 1260 days (Daniel 7:25) which are interpreted as 1260 years, the period between 538 A. D. (when the papacy ascended to power) and 1798 A. D. (when Napoleon imprisoned Pope Pius VI). Historicist's identify the Beast (Rev. 13), the whore of Babylon (Rev. 17), the Man of Sin (2 Thes. 2), and the antichrist (I John), with the pope and the Roman Catholic Church.
There are serious problems with the historicist point of view.
1. Historicism is based on the assumption that the book of Revelation is a prophetic map of church history.
I have already made this point in the previous chapter but would like to add a few remarks. John wrote
prophecies that were meant for his generation and would be fulfilled in the immediate future. This apocalyptic masterpiece is the story of the events leading up to and including the destruction of Jerusalem. The Olivet prophecy synchronizes perfectly with the book of Revelation. Both are concerned with the fate of Jerusalem, not Rome or the papacy. Rather than being an "almanac of church history", the apocalypse is more like a "scroll of destruction", which depicts the fall of Jerusalem, identified as Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots.
2. John was instructed not to seal up the book because "the time was at hand".
Gregg comments that "when this is contrasted with Daniel's being commanded to seal up his book because it would not be immediately fulfilled (Dan. 12:9), this seems a deliberate promise that there would be no great interval between the time Revelation was written and the time of its fulfillment (Revelation, p. 38). This virtually eliminates the idea that John was outlining a history of the church that would stretch over the length of two thousand years. His book was not "closed up and sealed" for the simple reason the he was living in "the time of the end" and the apocalypse was about to be fulfilled. Thus, historicism goes against the grain of Revelation.
3. What relevance would Revelation have for the audience it addressed?
This point was covered in the previous chapter but requires elaboration. Why make promises to first century Christians that were meant for future generations? And providing an outline of church history would hardly bring them consolation because it meant that Christ would not return until after a lengthy church period. Historicism implies that Revelation doesn't have much to say to the audience it addressed because the majority of events would take place hundreds of years into the future. But in truth, most of the apocalypse depicts events that were scheduled for the first century. Almost every verse in Revelation was extremely relevant to the first century audience it addressed. Historicism removes that relevance and turns the prediction that the events in the apocalypse "must shortly come to pass" into an empty and meaningless statement.
4. The "year for a day" principle does not apply to all prophetic time.
The so-called "year for a day" principle is not actually a principle. It is a technique used in specific instances for prophetic purposes and can only be applied where scripture specifically states that it should. When prophecies designate time using "days", it is often assumed by historicists that each day equals one year. Gregg comments that "in support of this procedure, appeal is made to Ezekiel 4:4-6, in which the prophet was required to lie on his left side for 390 days, and upon his right side for 40 days, representing the same number of years decreed upon Israel and Judah respectively. This principle is then extrapolated to apply to 'prophetic time' in all plausible cases in Daniel and Revelation" (Revelation, p. 34-35). But this is a major eschatological error. Indiscriminate applications of the so-called "year for a day" principle gives prophecy an unintended meaning. The correct principle is that the "year for a day" designation of time cannot be applied unless scripture specifically requires it. Rather than arbitrarily deciding when an application is valid, it is better to let scripture make that decision.
Regarding the application of the so-called "day for a year" principle, Gregg states that "the 1000 years of
Revelation 20 represents a notable exception. If the day-for-a-year principle were to be applied consistently here, the so-called Millennium would be 360,000 years long. Most historicists do not apply the principle to this period. Other examples in which 'prophetic time' is not calculated on the day-for-a-year principle includes Isaiah 7:8 (65 years), Isaiah 16:14 (3 years), Isaiah 23:15 (70 years), Jeremiah 29:10 (70 years), Matthew 20:19 (3 days), raising questions about this principle's general applicability" (Revelation, p. 48). When a prophet applies the "day for a year" designation in one specific instance, it does not mean that it applies to other parts of his prophetic utterance. Unless otherwise stated in scripture, a day should be interpreted as a day. Referring to the "day for a year" designation of time as a "prophetic principle" is misleading and encourages arbitrary application.
The historicist assertion that the 1260 days of Daniel 7:25 equals 1260 years of papal rule (538-1798) requires careful scrutiny. Apparently it was a twelfth century Catholic named Joachim of Flora who was first to suggest that the 1260 days equal 1260 years. He calculated the 1260 years from the birth of Christ to 1260 A.D. The end would come and usher in the "age of the spirit" and the Catholic hierarchy would be dismantled. But Joachim's predictions proved to be false. The new spiritual kingdom did not arrive. It is instructive that the first attempt to transform the 1260 days into years and place it into a time frame turned out to be eschatological nonsense.
The question is: When does the 1260 year period start? Because the reformers believed that they were living in the end times, some thought that the 1260 years began in the third century and ended in or around 1517. Hales decided that it started with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A. D. Isaac Newton thought it started with the crowning of Pepin in 755. John Nelson Darby began the 1260 years in 532. Prideaux places it in 606 when the pope was given the title "universal bishop". And the Mormons start the period in 570 A. D. With numerous variants available, it becomes difficult to decide which one might be correct.
For the purpose of discussion, let us assume that the 1260 years started in 538 and ended in 1798. What
caused historicists to conclude that the year 538 marked the beginning of papal rule? Apparently they believe that the Justinian code, which granted power to the papacy, came into effect in 538. But that is not accurate. History records two Justinian codes. The first was completed and declared law in 529, and the second, which was a revision, went into effect in November 534. Therefore, the claim that the Justinian code came into effect in 538 is false. And the assertion that papal power began that same year is equally untrue. Pope Vigilius (538-555) was actually thrown into prison by Justinian.
The powers given to the pope were already in existence from the time of Theodosius. The edict of the Three Emperors (Gratian, Valentinian, and Theodosius) issued in 380, states that [The Emperors demand that all people remain] "in the religion which the divine apostle Peter passed on to the Romans" [And which flowered to this day of (Pope) Damasus] (Quoted in "Upon This Rock", Stephen Ray, p. 217). Thus, the legal recognition of the papacy already took place in the fourth century. Three emperors granted the pope authority. The Justinian code (529-534) did not change the role or authority of the pope and therefore cannot mark the beginning of papal rule. Historicists not only have the wrong date for when the Justinian code went into effect, they also ignore the fact that papal rule began with the Edict of the Three Emperors in 380.
The year 1798 supposedly marks the end of papal rule. But what really happened in that year? According to Bill No. 8 (Feb. 15, 1798), the pope lost "every other temporal authority emanating from the old government of the pope". However, this Roman Republic lasted a mere fifteen months and the temporal power of the pope was soon regained. The papacy suffered the loss of temporal power on three more occasions: France annexed the Papal States (1809-1814); Mazzini proclaimed a Roman Republic (1849); and finally in 1870, the Papal States were lost and never regained. Surely the year 1870 would be a more appropriate date to mark the end of the pope's temporal power. The choice of 538-1798 for the 1260 years is a false beginning and ending. This so-called fulfillment of prophecy is actually a meaningless coincidence. Papal power began long before 538 and continued until well after 1798. And during the period 538-1798, several popes were imprisoned. The historicist method of prophetic interpretation, which places the 1260 years between 538 and 1798, is hopelessly flawed.
5. Historicism is largely based on the premise that the papacy is the antichrist.
I am not an apologist for the Roman Catholic Church, but it is time to dispel the myth that the pope is the
antichrist. Based upon a strictly biblical definition of an antichrist, it is obvious that scripture does not have the papacy in mind. Many Protestants refuse to let scripture define an antichrist. Instead, they provide their own extra-biblical definition in order to brand the papacy as the dreaded antichrist. Anti-Catholic prejudice causes this type of distorted thinking. By labelling the pope the antichrist, Protestant reformers scored a major propaganda victory in their battle against Rome. But they confused the corruption of the papacy with the person of the antichrist.
John's epistle provides a precise definition of an antichrist: "Who is a liar but he that denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denies the Father and the Son" (I John 2:22-23). He then adds to this definition: "And every spirit that confesses not the Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is the spirit of antichrist" (I John 4:3). From the inception of the papacy to the present day, no pope has ever denied that Jesus is the Christ or said that he did not come in the flesh. Therefore, Protestants wrongly identify the papacy with the antichrist.
When John used the term "antichrist", he was being very specific. Some were denying that Jesus is the Christ and that he came in the flesh. Only those specific individuals were labelled antichrist. John was involved in a doctrinal dispute over whether Jesus actually came in the flesh or only had the appearance of being in the flesh. Christian Gnostics did not believe that the Son of God could be embodied in sinful flesh. Therefore, they denied that Christ came in the flesh. Protestants remove the concept of antichrist from its proper context and wrongly apply it to the papacy. Much of historicism is protestant propaganda against the papacy. Gregg remarks that "since the principle advocates of this view were the Reformers, this identification leaves the interpreters open to the charge of forcing their exegesis into an ideological straightjacket for partisan reasons for the sake of maintaining the diabolical nature of their opponents" (Revelation, p. 35).
Only Protestants blinded by anti-Catholic prejudice and steeped in theological ignorance still maintain that the pope is the antichrist. The historicism of the Reformation was part of a protestant conspiracy to identify the papacy with the antichrist and the whore of Revelation 17. Most enlightened Protestants have repudiated historicism and are somewhat embarrassed by its third grade eschatology. To brand the pope the antichrist would be anti-Christian.
6. Historicism primarily concentrates on western European history.
Historicism limits the relevance of the apocalypse to the western church and almost totally ignores the Eastern Orthodox Church. Other than mentioning the Muslim hordes that conquered the eastern empire and subjugated the Orthodox church, historicism pays little attention to non-European churches and thus tends to reduce eastern orthodoxy to insignificance. The churches of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem are conspicuously absent from the historicist interpretation of Revelation. To confine the apocalypse to western European history is narrow minded eschatology. It reveals the hidden agenda in historicism, which is to completely concentrate on the Roman Catholic Church and finger point the papacy as the antichrist.
The historicist interpretation of the apocalypse cannot be correct because it fails to take into account the church outside of western Europe. If the book of Revelation contains the history of the church, surely it would make mention of the split between the eastern and western church and include the subsequent history of eastern orthodoxy. If the apocalypse has nothing to say about eastern orthodoxy, then it does not contain a prophetic history of the church. Historicists need to explain why the book of Revelation would ignore a significant portion of the church. Is the apocalypse the history of half the church?
7. Each generation of historicists has identified their time period as the last days of history.
Gregg comments that "another criticism of historicism has been that it is too flexible in the service of its
advocates, allowing most of them to identify their own times as the culmination of history. Walvoord criticizes historicism on these very grounds, saying, 'its adherents have succumbed to the tendency to interpret the book in some sense climaxing in their generation" (Revelation, p. 37).
Martin Luther was a historicist who believed that he was living in the last days, but what actually transpired during the Reformation was quite different from what was predicted. The historicism of the Reformation turned out to be junk eschatology. Even though Luther was critical of the book of Revelation and considered it "neither apostolic nor prophetic", that did not prevent him from using it as a propaganda tool in his struggle against the papacy. He was guilty of what is known as "actualizing interpretation". Kovacs and Rowland define the concept: "Actualizing interpretations take two forms: In one form the imagery of the Apocalypse is juxtaposed with the interpreters own circumstances, whether personal or social, so as to allow the images to inform understanding of contemporary persons and events and to serve as a guide to action" (Revelation: The Apocalypse of Jesus Christ, p. 9). Historicists and futurists should pay particular attention to the problem of "actualizing interpretations" because they are prone to falling into that trap.
Historicists of the Reformation were obviously wrong about Christ returning in their generation. Consequently, historicism of the sixteenth century is outdated and self-refuting. When you contrast reformation historicism with modern historicism, some rather glaring discrepancies become apparent. For obvious reasons, the historicists of the Reformation did not predict that the so-called 1260 year papal reign would end in 1798. As mentioned earlier, they placed the start of the 1260 years in the fourth century so that it would end in their time. If it was obvious that the 1260 years started in 538 and would end in 1798, then why were the first protestant historicists completely unaware of it? Had a historicist living during the Protestant Reformation suggested that the 1260 years would end in 1798, he would have been ridiculed by end time advocates.
As each new and unanticipated century unfolds, historicists are forced into constant revision. They find yet another verse in the book of Revelation that supposedly alludes to the events of their generation. And as history grows longer, they stretch scripture even farther.
8. Historicists present many conflicting systems of interpretation.
John Walvoord comments that "at least fifty different systems of interpretation have arisen from the historical view alone" (The Millennial Kingdom, p. 125). The lack of agreement on the fulfillment of prophecies makes historicism suspect. Gregg points out that "if the prophecies' meanings cannot be identified with certainty, even after their fulfillments, the value of the prophecies to the reader of any period, whether before or following the fulfillments, is in serious question" (Revelation, p. 37).
Which historicist system of interpretation is correct? Should we follow J. A. Bengel in Germany, Joseph Meade in England, or Seventh Day Adventists in America? Do the seven seals refer to the destruction of Jerusalem or the defeat of the western Roman Empire? An example of the prophetic imagination of Adventists is found in their interpretation of Revelation 10. According to them, the little book represents the Millerite movement and the "bitterness" is the "Great Disappointment" of 1844. But for historicists who lived during the Reformation, the eating of the little book represents the word of God being made available to the common man and printed in his native language. Which historicist interpretation are we to believe? Both seem designed to fit the interpreter's own circumstances. Thus, historicism, with its many conflicting systems of interpretation, seems to be in a constant state of confusion over what constitutes the fulfillment of a particular prophecy.
I would like to make an additional comment on the Seventh Day Adventist system of interpretation. They
associate themselves with the remnant church of Revelation 12 and identify the papacy with the first beast of Revelation 13. According to them, the United States of America is the second beast of Revelation 13 and the Protestant churches represent the image of the beast. Their most startling interpretation is that the "mark of the beast" represents the enforcement of a future Sunday law. They expect to be persecuted and even martyred for not keeping Sunday as the official day of worship. What I find most objectionable about this interpretation is that it places the mark of the beast upon two billion Christians for worshipping on Sunday and teaches that those who do not keep the Jewish Sabbath will be destroyed at Christ's second coming. This false and outrageous interpretation is an insult to Christianity. The belief that Christ will destroy the entire church except for a small remnant of sabbath keeping Adventists borders on blasphemy. The cult of Ellen White brainwashes believers into thinking that they are the only true church and that Jewish sabbath keeping is necessary to avoid the mark
of the beast. They are turning the glorious second coming into a holocaust for Christians. How disgusting and revolting. Adventist historicism is eschatology out of control.
Conclusions: Historicism is an embarrassment to eschatology. Its hermeneutic strains credulity. Gregg
comments: "Though his process requires a fair degree of conjecture so that the preterist critic Professor Moses Stuart accused historicists of setting the reader of Revelation 'afloat upon a boundless ocean of conjecture and fancy, without rudder or compass" (Revelation, p. 35).
F.F. Bruce wrote that "no important contribution to the exegesis of Revelation was made by [historicists],
whether J. A, Bengel in Germany or Joseph Mede, Sir Isaac Newton, and William Whiston in England -- eminent as these exegetes were in other fields of study. The book itself has suffered in its reputation from the extravagances of some of its interpreters, who have treated it as if it were a table of mathematical conundrums or a divinely inspired Old Moore's Almanack" (Revelation, IBC, p. 1595).
Regarding historicism, Eugene Boring writes that "although widely held by Protestant interpreters after the Reformation and into the twentieth century, no critical New Testament scholar today advocates this view" (Quoted by Gregg, Revelation, p. 33). This illegitimate approach to eschatology seized the minds of protestant reformers and became an effective weapon in their fight against the papacy. But Historicism is more interesting than true and represents a prejudicial and detrimental form of eschatology.
Adventists are desperately trying to keep afloat the sinking ship of historicism, but the time has come to
abandon the vessel.
Deficiencies in Futurism
For the past one hundred and fifty years, the futurist approach to prophecy has captured the Christian
imagination and catapulted eschatology to the forefront of evangelicalism. Convinced that we are living in the last days, preachers are sounding the trumpet and warning the world that the second coming of Christ will take place in the immediate future. Their frightening "end time" sermons describe the four horsemen of the apocalypse and the arrival of Christ with ten thousand of his saints to take vengeance upon the world.
But is futurism the correct method of interpreting prophecy? Was it the invention of a Jesuit priest determined to deflect criticism from the papacy? Should Christians jump on the end time bandwagon and prepare for the rapture? Or should we take a cautious approach to futurist eschatology?
Gregg tells us that "the futurist approach is held by the majority of the most popular contemporary evangelical writers and Bible teachers. It has so dominated the Christian media, in fact, that many Christians and virtually all non-Christians are unaware even of the existence of other approaches. The best known version of futurism today is that of dispensational theology" (Revelation, Four Views, p. 40).
Perhaps the most famous futurist is Hal Lindsey, the author of the best selling book "The Late Great Planet Earth". He expected the return of Christ within one generation of the founding of the state of Israel. The most infamous futurist is William Miller whose prediction that the second coming would take place in 1844 turned into the "great disappointment". But that didn't stop futurists from making predictions. The Jehovah's Witnesses were notorious for constantly revising the dates for the second coming. The list of futurists and their failed predictions would require an entire book. Let's examine this phenomenon and analyze the errors of futurism.
Futurists presuppose a double fulfillment of the Olivet prophecy and assume that chapters four through
twenty-two of the book of Revelation have not been fulfilled. They claim to take a strictly literal approach to prophecy, but modernize battle scenes in the book of Ezekiel and Revelation. Most futurists expect to escape the great tribulation. According to them, the rapture will take place prior to that event and the church will be spared this time of trouble. They believe in a literal thousand year reign of Christ upon this earth and some think that the sacrificial system will be re-instituted during the millennium.
The most influential futurist of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century is Tim LaHaye and his writing partner Jerry Jenkins. Their fictional accounts of the rapture, the great tribulation, and the second coming of Christ are contained in the "Left Behind" series that has sold millions of copies. These books seem more like pulp fiction than quality literature. Or perhaps the series could be classified as "comic book eschatology". And yet their influence upon evangelical Christians has been considerable.
Gary DeMar summarizes Tim Lahaye's eschatology: "According to this elaborate scenario, the world will be living under a tyranny directed by Satan through his Beast-Antichrist and False Prophet. Each and every person will be stamped with the dreaded identifying number 666 (Rev. 13:18)! This recipe for disaster will eventually lead to Armageddon where all the nations of the world will be brought against Israel (Rev. 16:13-16). Only the return of Christ will save Israel and the world" (End Times Fiction, p. 136).
Careful scrutiny of the futurist method of interpretation exposes its flaws.
1. Futurists mismatch prophecy with modern nations and world events.
Every generation of futurists has made the claim that certain religious, political, social, and economic events taking place in their lifetime were predicted in the Bible. Thus far, they have been wrong. With their batting average at zero, it is difficult to place any confidence in their predictive ability. Students of eschatology know that matching prophecy with current events is a precarious undertaking and identifying modern nations with ancient nations has its difficulties. Because futurists are convinced that they are living in the end times, they often engage in the practice of force-fitting prophecy into the events of their generation. Thus, the current European Union becomes the fourth beast of Revelation and modern Russia becomes Gog and Magog. But the Roman Empire has long since perished and the fourth beast of Revelation no longer exists.
Russia is definitely not Gog and Magog. God said to Ezekiel: "Son of man, set your face toward Gog of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal" (Ezek. 38:2). When Tim LaHaye writes that "the name Gog is from the original tribal name, Magog, which gradually became Rosh, then Rus, and today is known as Russia" (The Beginning of the End, p. 65), he is committing a gross etymological error. And Scofield's assertion that Meshech is Moscow and Tubal is Tobolsk is absurd.
Ralph Alexander comments that "there is no evidence from the ancient Near East that a country names Rosh ever existed. Some would understand 'rosh' as modern Russia. Proponents of this views usually appeal to etymology based on similar sounds (to the hearing) between two words. Such etymological procedures are not linguistically sound, nor is etymology alone a sound hermeneutical basis on which to interpret a word. The word 'Russia' is a late eleventh century A. D. term. Therefore, the data does not seem to support an interpretation of
'rosh' as a proper name of a geographical region or country" (Article on "Ezekiel" in The Expositor's Bible
In his book "Foes from the Northern Frontier", professor Edwin Yamauchi, an expert on the subject, completely demolishes the notion that "Rosh" is Russia. He shows that the modern name "Russia" is based on the name "Rus', which was brought to the region of Kiev by the Vikings in the Middle Ages. Thus, Tim Lahaye indulges in etymological nonsense when he links modern Russia with Rosh. It is another attempt to force-fit prophecy into modern times. Futurists like LaHaye were wrong when they made the assertion that certain prophecies in Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation fit the twentieth century. But instead of admitting their mistake and disqualifying themselves as eschatologists, they made some slight modifications in their prophetic scheme, then pushed their predictions into the twenty-first century and wished the world a happy doomsday.
Futurists are mismatching the modern European Union with the ancient Roman Empire. The nations of Europe do not constitute a resurrected Roman Empire. The fact that these nations occupy the same territory once ruled by Rome does not automatically transform them into the fourth beast of Revelation. The prediction that the European Union would be limited to ten nations proved to be untrue. And the belief that Russia would attack Israel during the twentieth century was equally false. Now the prophetic emphasis has shifted to the Muslim nations. Futurists keep finding new enemies to fit their revised version of prophecy. Instead of admitting that ancient prophecy doesn't fit the modern world, they prefer to create the illusion that it does.
Even the current state of Israel is not the same as ancient Israel. A priest like Ezra did not bring the Jews back to Palestine in modern times. And the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 was not predicted in scripture. Because futurists assume a double fulfillment of the Olivet prophecy, they take prophecies that were meant for first century Israel and mistakenly transfer them to modern Israel. As a result, Christian Zionists and other friends of Israel are predicting another holocaust for the Jews. What a shame that they are so clueless about prophecy that they would make such an utterly false prediction. The Bible does not foresee a future holocaust for the Jews.
Futurists believe that the establishment of the state of Israel is a significant sign that we are living in the end times and that the second coming of Christ is right around the corner. But I remind readers that there are about five hundred years between the return of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity and the first coming of Christ. The fact that the Jews returned to Israel in modern times and established a state does not necessarily mean that the second coming is imminent.
It is important to note that previous generations of futurists, especially those who lived in the nineteenth century, did not insist that the Jews must return to Palestine, establish a state, and build a temple prior to Christ's second coming. When William Miller predicted that the parousia would occur in 1844, there were only a small number of Jews in Palestine. It seems like the necessity of a Jewish state prior to the second coming became a requirement after the fact.
Twentieth century Israel is significantly different from first century Israel. Modern Israel is a democracy, it is not governed by the law of Moses, it does not have a temple and a levitical priesthood offering sacrifices, and it is not occupied and ruled by a foreign power. Thus, a double fulfillment of the Olivet prophecy is not possible under the present circumstances. And because Israel has nuclear capability, it is doubtful that a foreign army could penetrate the country and surround Jerusalem. Futurists fail to realize that prophecies concerning first century Israel do not apply to modern Israel. The return of the Jews in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was not anticipated in the writings of the Old Testament prophets, nor was it included in the Olivet prophecy. And the book of Revelation doesn't contain even a hint about a resurrected state of Israel in modern times. Until a genuine prophet of God steps forward and makes predictions concerning the modern state of Israel, God's plan for this nation remains a mystery.
Futurists are mismatching modern times with the end times, falsely identifying modern nations with ancient ones, and force-fitting prophecies into current world events. Thus, the futurist method of interpretation is the mother of confusion.
2. Futurists do not take a literal approach to prophecy.
Futurists claim to take a literal approach to prophecy, but that is hardly the case. Gregg explains how futurists contradict themselves: "The desire to understand Revelations literally may be the leading factor favoring the adoption of a futurist approach, although most of the elements of the scenario predicted by dispensationalists' appeal to the book of Revelation do not arise from the literal application an any particular passage. For example, a major feature of the Tribulation expected by futurists is its seven-year duration, divided in the middle by the Antichrist's violating a treaty he had made with Israel and setting up an image of himself in the rebuilt Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Yet none of these elements can be discovered from the literal interpretation of any passage in Revelation" (Revelation, Four Views, p. 41).
Gregg adds that "similarly, there is no passage, which, literally applied, will yield a prediction of 200 million Chinese troops, cobra helicopters, a global cashless economic system, or nuclear war" (p. 41). Futurists pretend to be literalists. Gregg notes that they are "reading into passages in Revelation features that are not plainly stated" (p. 41). Prophecy would be better served if futurists practiced the literalism they preach. Reading nuclear war into the prophecies of Revelation contradicts the literalist approach because the book doesn't even mention modern weapons of destruction. Thus, futurists are going against their own principles of interpretation.
Tim Lahaye's golden rule of biblical interpretation states that we should "take every words at it primary, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context clearly indicate otherwise" (No Fear of the Storm, p. 240). LaHaye and Jenkins published a prophecy guide entitled "Are We living in the End Times" in which they supposedly applied the golden rule. Gary DeMar comments that "in the twelve page discussion of the battle described in Ezekiel 38-39, Jenkins and LaHaye never tell us how they were able to turn horses, war clubs, swords, bows and arrows, and spears into 'war planes,' 'intercontinental ballistic missles,' 'nuclear equipped MiG fighter-bombers,' and 'chunks of burning, twisted molten steel smashing to the ground' while maintaining a 'literal interpretation' where 'every word' is to be taken 'at its primary, literal meaning'" (End Times Fiction, p. 5).
The practice of modernizing ancient battle scenes contradicts the literalist approach to prophecy and leaves eschatology wide open to highly imaginative interpretations. In truth, the battle scenes of bible prophecy do not fit the modern world. DeMar correctly states that "to account for an invasion that would use super-modern weapons such as jets and 'atomic explosive devices', the battle of Gog and Magog must be interpreted symbolically, a methodology that LaHaye, at first reading, seems to reject". He adds that "there doesn't seem to be any indication in the 'immediate context' of Ezekiel 38-39 that these implements of war are being used symbolically, that is, they stand for sophisticated modern weaponry. And even if they are symbols, it is a great leap in logic to assume that they symbolize twenty-first century weaponry" (End Times Fiction, p. 11-12). LaHaye only pretends to take a literal approach to prophecy. His symbolic interpretations betray the golden rule to "take every word at its primary, literal meaning".
LaHaye's private interpretation of prophecy exposes his incompetence. If he followed the golden rule of biblical interpretation, his entire prophetic scenario would collapse. Perhaps the only person "left behind" will be Tim LaHaye.
3. The lack of relevance to the original audience and future readers.
Steve Gregg explains the problem: "Some biblical scholars have complained that futurism, like historicism, renders the book of Revelation about 90 percent irrelevant to the original readers, since, on this view, they lived nearly 2000 years prior to its fulfillment. If we go along with dispensational interpreters in finding the Rapture of the church in Revelation 4:1, then the book becomes largely irrelevant, not only to the original readers, but also to all Christians of any age. This is because the church will be in heaven before the majority of prophecies begin to unfold, neither experiencing nor witnessing their fulfillment. This leaves it far from obvious why Christians should take an interest in such events, or why God wished to reveal them" (Revelation, p. 42).
In other words, if Revelations has little to say to the original audience and even less to say to future readers, then what purpose does the book serve? Futurism renders the book of Revelation superfluous. It becomes a book without an audience. But that is not how the word of God functions. Jesus made the Olivet prophecy extremely relevant to the audience he addressed. He spoke to his generation and detailed their fate. And when he delivered the apocalypse, he spoke directly to first century Christians. Future generations where not the intended audience.
4. The questionable origin of futurism.
Historicists claim that futurism is a Roman Catholic invention that was part of the counter-reformation. Gregg informs us that "some critics object to futurism on the basis of its origin. Francisco Ribeira, a Spanish Jesuit, is known to have originated this approach to Revelation in 1585 for the purpose of refuting the historicist view, and the Reformers insistence that the 'beast' was the papacy. Ribeira taught that the 'antichrist' had not yet come and would be an individual arising 'in the last days'. Protestants rejected this view for over two hundred years, but if was finally introduced in Protestant circles by Samuel Maitland in 1827 and popularized in the works of J. N. Darby, the founder of dispensationalism, beginning in 1830. Protestant interpreters sometimes still look upon this approach with suspicion because of its roots" (Revelation, p. 42).
However, anyone who takes the time to study the early church fathers will notice futurist elements in their writings. Ribeira did not invent futurism but he did devise his own version. The introduction of futurism into protestant eschatology led to numerous false predictions. Critics should object to this system of interpretation, but not because Ribeira was a Roman Catholic. The system itself is highly questionable. Perhaps Ribeira was attempting to deflect criticism from the papacy. He certainly was entitled to defend the Catholic Church against the accusation that the pope was the antichrist. The false claims of protestant historicists needed to be refuted. When protestants switched from historicism to futurism, they simply traded one false system of interpretation for another.
5. Signs that we are living in the last days are non-existent.
Not one single solitary scripture in the entire Bible specifically refers to the twentieth or twenty-first century. The modern world was not anticipated by the biblical prophets and the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 was not foretold in scripture. The fact that Israel exists as a nation does not prove that we are living in the end times. And the predictions of war, famine, pestilence, and disease can fit any period in history. Futurists are misreading the "signs of the times". An honest assessment of the present age indicates that we are not yet living in the last days.
The futurist model of prophecy requires a temple in Jerusalem. But until that temple is built, how can futurists claim that we are living in the end times? The nation of Israel has not even announced that it will build a temple. They could decide against building it or postpone its construction for fifty years. Part of the ground upon which the ancient temple was built is currently occupied by a Muslim holy place. Constructing a temple in close proximity could inflame religious hatred and lead to war with Muslim countries.
Scripture makes no predictions regarding a third temple, but futurists insist that a temple must exist prior to the second coming. Neither the Olivet prophecy nor the book of Revelation describes a temple being built after the destruction of the second temple in 70 A.D. Even if the nation of Israel builds a temple, it doesn't necessarily have any prophetic significance. Nor can we conclude that a future temple will be desecrated and destroyed. The futurist system of interpretation demands a third temple, but scripture does not.
During the twentieth century, a major effort was made to saturate the planet with the gospel because it was believed that once this biblical commission was fulfilled, the end would come. But this concerted effort to make prophecy happen did not succeed. Futurists ignore the fact that the commission to preach the gospel to the world was already fulfilled in the first century.
Milton Terry comments that "the preaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom 'in the whole world for a testimony unto all nations' (Mat. 24:14) must precede the end, and therefore, its is argued, the end here contemplated must be in the far future, after all nations have been evangelized. But a comparison of Luke 2:1 shows that all this same world was enrolled by a decree of Caesar. In Col. 1:6, 23, the gospel is said to be 'bearing fruit in all the world' and to be 'preached in all creation under the heaven.' The Gospel, therefore, uttered its testimony to all nations of this same world before the ruin of the temple and the end of the Jewish aeon" (Biblical Hermeneutics, p. 444). Thus, according to biblical reckoning, the whole world heard the gospel in the first century. Futurists are taking a prophecy that was fulfilled 2000 years ago and trying to make it happen today. Present efforts to cover the globe with the precious gospel are commendable and part of the ongoing commission of the church, but it should not be taken as a sign that we are living in the "end times".
Futurists claim to have evidence that mankind is living in the last days, but their case is anything but solid. Resorting to vague terminology and leaving the length of the "end times" open gives them plenty of space to maneuver. Futurists tried to pinpoint the twentieth century as the "last days", but the passage of time has proven them wrong. Now the twenty-first century is the new "end times" and prophecies will be reinterpreted to fit the current circumstances. Futurists are extracting signs from fulfilled prophecies and manufacturing a fake end times.
6. The double fulfillment theory is highly questionable.
Because Jesus did not return in the first century, futurists decided that the Olivet prophecy must have a double fulfillment. Thus, they projected this prophecy into modern times. For futurists, the double fulfillment theory salvaged the Olivet prophecy and refueled the engines of eschatology. But the idea that God is going to recreate and replay certain events of the first century and resurrect the Roman Empire for the final battle of Armageddon has no biblical foundation.
Not once did the apostles state that New Testament prophecies have a double fulfillment. Thus, futurists lack scriptural authority for applying the double fulfillment theory to the New Testament. They claim that every event predicted in Matthew 24 has to be repeated. But with only one event left to be fulfilled (the second coming), it seems redundant to repeat the entire prophecy.
In order to meet the requirements of the double fulfillment theory, Jesus would have to return twice. But he did not return during the first fulfillment of Matthew 24. The questions is this: If the second coming has only a single fulfillment, then why would the rest of the Olivet prophecy have a double fulfillment? It appears that futurists are inconsistent in applying the double fulfillment theory.
Biblical scholars seriously question the double fulfillment theory and some reject it outright. Milton Terry explains that "some writers have confused this subject by connecting it with the doctrine of type and antitype. As many persons and events of the Old Testament were types of greater ones to come, so the language respecting them is supposed to be capable of a double sense....But it should be seen that in the case of types, the language of the scripture has no double sense. The types themselves are such because they prefigure things to come, and this fact must be kept distinct from the question of the sense of language used in a particular passage....Isa. vii, 14 was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ and no expositor has ever been able to prove a previous fulfillment.... The twenty-fourth of Matthew, so commonly relied on to support this theory, has been already shown to furnish no valid evidence of either an occult or a double sense" (Biblical Hermeneutics, p. 495-496).
Terry continues his insightful comments by stressing that "the precious word of promise to God's people find more or less fulfillment in every individual experience. But these facts do not sustain the theory of a double sense. The sense in every case is direct and simple; the applications and illustrations are many. Such facts give no authority for us to go into apocalyptic prophecies with the expectation of finding two or more meanings in each specific statement, and then to declare: This verse refers to an event long past, this to something yet future; this has a partial fulfillment in the ruins of Babylon, or Edom, but it awaits a grander fulfillment in the future. The judgment of Babylon, or Ninevah, or Jerusalem, may, indeed, be a type of every other similar judgment, and is a warning to all nations and ages; but this is very different from saying that the language in which that judgment was predicted was fulfilled only partially when Babylon, or Nineveh, or Jerusalem fell, and yet is waiting its complete fulfillment" (Biblical Hermeneutics, p. 495).
Terry concludes that "to assume, in the absence of any hint, that we have an enigma, and in the face of explicit statements to the contrary, that any specific prophecy has a double sense, a primary and secondary meaning, a near and remote fulfillment, must necessarily introduce an element of uncertainty and confusion into biblical interpretation" (Biblical Hermeneutics, p. 495).
Students of eschatology should give due consideration to Milton Terry's remarks. We should question the double fulfillment theory and demand scriptural evidence for its validity.
Conclusions: Futurism has a solid record of failure because it is based on a faulty system of interpretation. The Olivet prophecy does not have a dual reference and does not require a double fulfillment. And in spite of their statements to the contrary, futurists take a symbolic approach to prophecy. The existence of the state of Israel is not a "super sign" that we are living in the last days. In fact, the present era is devoid of end time signs.
Gary DeMar comments that "there is no single verse in the entire New Testament that says anything about Israel becoming a nation again. Nothing prophetic in the New Testament depends on Israel becoming a nation again. If Israel becoming a nation again is such 'a significant sign', then why doesn't the New Testament specifically mention it?" (End Times Fiction, p. 203). Modern Israel was not anticipated in scripture and therefore we do not know its prophetic significance.
DeMar tells us that "C. Marvin Pate, professor at Moody Bible Institute, argues convincingly that 'correlating current events' with Bible prophecy is 'an obsession' that has 'undoubtedly caused more harm than good'" ( End Times Fiction, p. 209). The vain speculation of futurism brings nothing but disappointment and disillusionment.
Futurism is pop eschatology. It creates a fictional end times, offers the false hope of a pre-tribulation rapture, and demands the repetition of already fulfilled prophecies. Futurists relish tinkering and toying with prophecy. They dream of discovering the date for Christ's second coming. And their favorite game is "fit the prophecy to the current event". But futurism is a thing of the past. They are riding a dead horse and refuse to dismount.
Problems with Preterism
This chapter evaluates "full preterism" which is also known as "hyper-preterism". It is not to be confused with "partial preterism". Adherents of full preterism teach that the Olivet prophecy and the book of Revelation were completely fulfilled in the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. For preterists, the wrath of God upon the nation of Israel was the second coming of Christ. In contrast, partial preterists teach that the second coming awaits a future fulfillment.
Preterists champion the single fulfillment theory. Most are convinced that prophecy came to an end after the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. A few extend it to 476 A.D., when Rome fell. In most cases, preterists take a literal approach to prophecy, but will switch to symbolism whenever their system of interpretation demands it. The most serious charge against preterism is that Jesus did not visibly return in 70 A.D. And most scholars contend that the book of Revelation was written around 95 A.D., and therefore does not refer to the events surrounding the destruction of the temple.
Lets evaluate the arguments against preterism and determine their validity.
1. Scholars claim that the book of Revelation was written after 70 A.D.
Preterism is based on the belief that the apocalypse was written prior to 70 A.D. If it can be proven that it was written after that date, preterism would be in serious trouble. Most liberal scholars contend that many New Testament books, including Revelation, were written after 70 A.D. But in his book "Redating the New Testament", British scholar John A. T. Robinson lays that fallacy to rest. He offers convincing proof that all twenty-seven books of the New Testament were written prior to the destruction of the temple. And Kenneth Gentry's magisterial work "Before Jerusalem Fell" marshals strong evidence that the apocalypse was in circulation prior to 70 A.D.
Gentry provides a list of notable scholars who affirm that the apocalypse was written prior to 70 A.D. Among them are the Oxford triumvirate, Lightfoot, Westcott, and Hort. Others include F. F. Bruce, Adam Clark, Frederick Farrar, J. Fitzmeyer, Arthur Peake, Phillip Schaff, Henry Swete, Milton Terry, and Cornelius Vanderwaal. Gentry furnished the list "in order to dispel the common, but erroneous, notion of the fixity and unanimity of scholarly opinion in regard to the date of Revelation" (Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 29). It is noteworthy that the list includes some liberal scholars. Thus, it cannot be said that the liberal and conservative camps are strictly divided over the issue of dating the apocalypse.
Late date advocate R. H. Charles makes a telling admission: "It thus follows that the date of the Apocalypse, according to [the Preterist] school, was about 67-68 or thereabouts. And if the absolute unity of the Apocalypse be assumed, there is no possibility, I think, of evading the conclusion" (Studies in the Apocalyptic, p. 57).
Determining the date of the apocalypse is critical to understanding its contents. Milton Terry explains that "if the prophetic book was written before the destruction of Jerusalem, a number of its particular allusions must most naturally be understood as referring to that city and its fall. If, however, it was written at the end of the reign of Domitian (about A.D. 96), as many have believed, another system of interpretation is necessary to explain the historical allusions" (Hermeneutics, p. 237).
Henry Swete states that "early Christian tradition is almost unanimous in assigning the Apocalypse to the last years of Domitian" (Commentary on Revelation, pp. xcix ff.). But Gentry notes that "the generally accepted dates from a few of the notable witnesses yield a wide range of diverse conclusions, including a pre-Vespasion date (Epiphanius, Theophylact, the Syrian Revelation manuscripts), a Domitian date (Irenaeus, Jerome, Eusebius, Sulpicius Severus, Victorinus), and a Trajanic date (Dorotheus)" (Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 44).
Irenaeus (130-202 A.D.) is the earliest authority assigning a date for the writing of Revelation. His statement that the apocalypse "was seen no such long time ago, but almost in our generation, at the end of the reign of Domitian" is the primary external evidence cited by late date theorists. Gentry tells us that "Irenaeus wrote the very work in question around A.D. 180 to 190, just a little over a century after the destruction of the Temple and almost a century after Domitians reign" (Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 45). He adds that "Irenaeus is affirming, it is argued, that John 'saw' (ie., received by vision) the prophecies of Revelation at a time fitting the late date theory of composition" (p. 45). But the evidence isn't as solid as it appears. We have a translation problem to solve.
Gentry informs us that "there are, however, a number of noted scholars who have disputed various parts of the common translation" (Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 48). He then comments on the "overall internal confusion in Irenaeus suggested by the incompatibility of Irenaeus's statements on Revelation" (p. 48). Apparently Irenaeus was "often a very obscure writer" and his statement regarding Revelation is no exception. Did he mean that the apocalypse was "seen" (ie., received and written) during the reign of Domitian or that John, the author, was "seen" during that time?
Gentry writes that "in the 1913 Bampton Lectures at the University of Oxford, George Edmundson offered his analysis of the problem, which is along the lines of Chase's: 'But surely this rendering [ie., the common rendering of Irenaeus] is wrong. It should be 'for he (St. John the writer) was seen...almost in our generation toward the end of the reign of Domitian" (Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 53).
Thus, it seems apparent that the external evidence for the late date theory amounts to nothing more than a mistranslation or misinterpretation of an obscure statement made by Irenaeus. Farrar concludes that "we cannot accept a dubious expression of the Bishop of Lyons as adequate to set aside an overwhelming weight of evidence, alike external and internal, in proof of the fact that the Apocalypse was written, at the latest, soon after the death of Nero" (Early Days of Christianity, p. 408). And even if Irenaeus did say that the Apocalypse was received during the reign of Domitian, his words are opinion not scripture. Gentry informs us that "late date advocate Guthrie admits that Irenaeus is too often uncritical in his evaluation of the evidence" (Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 61). And Farrar comments that "Eusebius does not hesitate to say that Papias was a source of error to Irenaeus and others who relied on his 'antiquity'. When Irenaeus says that the 'Pastor of Hermes' is canonical; that the head of the Nicolaitans was the Deacon Nicolas; and that the version of the LXX was written by inspiration; we know what estimate to put on his appeal to apostolic tradition" (Early Days of Christianity, p. 398). It is evident that the writings of Irenaeus contain historical errors. He claims that Christ's ministry lasted fifteen years or more and that Jesus lived beyond the age of forty (Against Heresies, 2:22:5). Gentry says that
Irenaeus "could err on matters of historical detail - even if he claimed the authority of eyewitness accounts" (Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 64). Thus, Irenaeus was not "above reproach on historical matters" and his famous statement has "questionable significance". The late date theory "turns upon the single statement of Irenaeus" and is hardly sufficient to establish a case.
Gentry mentions that "Irenaeus could have had information that related to Domitian's brief reign for Vespasian in 70 A.D., when he had 'full consular authority - imperio consulari.' Tacitus states in his Histories that before Vespasian came to Rome to assume power 'Caesar Domitian received the praetorship. His name was prefixed to epistles and edicts.' Irenaeus could have confounded this evidence with Domitian's later reign as emperor" (Before Jerusalem Fell).
Now we turn to the internal evidence and attempt to discover "the original context of the Apocalypse". Stuart writes that "the internal witness of any writing which is not suppositious, must always outweigh testimony of such a nature, provided such evidence is sufficiently plain and amply...What book in the New Testament has as many diagnostic passages in respect to time as this" (Apocalypse, 1: 282). But is there enough information in the apocalypse to clearly identify the time period in which it was written? According to Gentry "there do seem to be inherently suggestive and positively compelling historical timeframe indicators in Revelation" (Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 119). He offers the following evidence:
A. The identity of the sixth king.
In Revelation 17, John mentions a sixth king. He writes that "the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits, and they are seven kings; five are fallen, one is, the other has yet to come, he must remain a little while" (v. 9-10). John appears to be making "a chronologically precise statement". Torrey writes that "this certainly seems to provide, as exactly as could be expected of an apocalypse, information as to the time - the precise reign - in which the book was composed" (Apocalypse of John, p. 60). But who is the sixth king that was ruling at the time John wrote the apocalypse? And where does the line of Roman emperors start? Gentry informs us that "Roman historian Suetonius (c. A.D. 70-160) begins his numbering of the Caesars with Julius" (Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 155). He adds that "likewise, another Roman historian, Dio Cassius (c. A.D. 150-235), numbers Julius as the first of the emperors" (p. 155).
Gentry tells us that "perhaps the most decisive representative of those who reckon the emperors from Julius is the Jewish writer Flavius Josephus. Not only do his dates (A.D. 37-101) overlap the very period of John and the New Testament, but he is also a Jew from Palestine, and his works were written for both the Romans and the
Jews. Surely his reckoning would reflect contemporary opinion among the Jews and Romans. In his Antiquities he calls Augustus the 'second' and Tiberius the 'third' emperor. Later Gaius is called the 'fourth'" (Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 155).
Here is a list of the Roman Emperors starting with Julius Caesar.
1. Julius Caesar (49-44 B.C.)
2. Augustus (31 B.C. - A.D. 14)
3. Tiberius (A.D. 14-37)
4. Gaius (Caligula) (A.D. 37-41)
5. Claudius (A.D. 41-54)
6. Nero (A.D. 54-68)
7. Galba (A.D. 68-69)
Gentry says that "it seems indisputably clear that the book of Revelation must be dated in the reign of Nero Caesar, and consequently before his death in June, A.D. 68. He is the sixth king; the short lived rule of the seventh king (Galba) 'has yet to come'" (Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 158).
B. The temple was still standing when John wrote the apocalypse
It is significant that the book of Revelation contains a reference to the temple. John wrote that "there was given me a measuring rod like a staff; and someone said, 'Rise and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and those who worship in it. And leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the nations; and they will tread under foot the Holy city for forty-two months" (Rev. 11:1-2). It seems obvious from this passage that at the time John received the apocalypse the temple was still standing and Jerusalem had not yet been trodden under foot by the Gentiles. Weiss concludes that "the time of the apocalypse is also definitely fixed by the fact that according to prophecy in chap. xi, it was manifestly written before the destruction of Jerusalem, which in xi. 1 is only anticipated" (A Manual of Introduction to the New Testament, 2:82). Torrey writes that the first two verses of chapter eleven are "truly decisive in view of all the other evidence...This was written before the year 70 A.D...." (The Apocalypse of John, p. 87).
C. The beast with the number 666 is Nero Caesar.
Revelation 13:18 says: "Here is wisdom, Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six". Gentry informs us that "as scholars note, a first century spelling of Nero Caesar's name (NRWN QSR), written in Hebrew characters, adds up to that exact value" (Four Views on the book of Revelation, p. 68).
David Currie comments that "to reveal the identity of the beast to Jewish Christians, while hiding it from
outsiders, St. John used the rabbinic numbering system for names, called Gematria, When the Gematrian
numbers of Nero's official name in Hebrew are added together, they total 666. The original Hebrew Christian readers of this vision would have understood this immediately. Without endangering the church, St. John succeeds in fingering the present Roman Emperor, Nero, as the sea beast. The early church universally understood these numbers to refer to Nero. Even the futurist Irenaeus mentions that Nero is the Gematrian solution to the puzzle of the 666" (Rapture, p. 296).
For a more detailed examination of the evidence, I refer readers to Gentry's book "Before Jerusalem Fell".
Now lets turn our attention to another major objection to full preterism.
2. The second coming of Christ did not take place in 70 A.D.
This is the strongest argument against full preterism. To believe that Jesus returned in 70 A.D.requires a
suspension of rational faculties. Preterists are forced to escape into symbolism in order to maintain their system of interpretation. Their first proof-text is Matthew 24:30 which says that the tribes of the earth will "see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory". The second is Isaiah 19:1 which tells us that "the Lord rides upon a swift cloud and shall come into Egypt". De Mar correctly points out that "God showed himself by the physical presence of clouds, even though he was not physically present" (End Times Fiction, p. 103). Based on that, he makes the assumption that the coming of the Son of man "in the clouds of heaven" does not require the physical presence of Christ. But scripture does not teach a symbolic second coming.
Taken by itself, Matthew 24:30 could be interpreted symbolically, but there are other scriptures on the subject of Christ's return which clearly state that the second coming will be literal and visible. So, even if the expression "coming in the clouds of heaven" is symbolic, it does not negate other verses that require the physical presence of Christ at his second coming. It simply means that one particular verse describes the parousia in symbolic terms.
The statement that "this same Jesus which is taken up from you in heaven, shall so come in like manner as you have seen him go into heaven" leaves no doubt that the second coming of Christ will be literal and visible (Acts 1:11). The plain sense of the verse is that Jesus will be physically present at the parousia. And when John says that Jesus "comes with clouds and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him", it seems obvious that a physical presence is necessary to make that possible (Rev. 1:7). The suggestion that the word "see" in this verse means "sensing or realizing" rather than actually seeing is hard to accept.
In order to satisfy their system of interpretation which requires that the Olivet prophecy and the apocalypse be completely fulfilled in the first century, preterists identified the second coming with the wrath of God upon Israel. But It almost seems like they are pretending that the parousia occurred in 70 A.D. Apparently an invisible second coming was sufficient to meet the requirements of their system. But the question is: What about the rapture and the resurrection? Obviously, neither one of these events literally happened in 70 A.D. Preterists had no choice but to spiritualize the rapture and the resurrection. But in the process, their interpretive system lost some credibility.
In the quest to comprehend eschatology, preterism has much valuable information to offer. We learn that many New Testament prophecies were fulfilled in the first century and therefore require no future fulfillment. We find out that the apocalypse was written prior to the destruction of the temple and that Nero Caesar was the beast whose name equals the number 666. We discover that the "great tribulation" already took place in the first century and that the harlot of Revelation was the great city of Jerusalem.
Steve Gregg mentions some of the favorable points of preterism: "This view has the advantage of immediate relevance to the original readers, a feature we would strongly expect to find in an epistle. It also is the only view that does not need an alternative to the literal sense of the passage like Revelation 1:1 and 19, which affirm that the events predicted 'must shortly come to pass' and 'are about to take place'; and like Revelation 22:10, where John is told not to seal up the book, because 'the time is at hand'" (Revelation, p. 38). Thus, a straightforward reading of these verses becomes possible and the plain sense of scripture can be accepted.
The writings of Josephus add considerable weight to the preterist position. Gregg says that "another point favorable to the early-date preterist approach is that the prophecies of Revelation exhibit many points of correspondence with the fall of Jerusalem as recorded in awful detail by the eyewitness Flavius Josephus. Since Josephus was not a Christian and probably never had the opportunity to read Revelation, these correspondences seem to bolster the credibility of this interpretation..." (Revelation, p. 38).
Many students of eschatology assume that the forty-two months or 1260 days are part of a future "great
tribulation". They seem unaware of the fact that "the Roman war upon the Jews lasted precisely forty-two months, from February 67 until August 70 A.D." (David Currie, Rapture, p. 225). Prior to that, we have the Roman persecution of Christians which lasted approximately three years. Nero began the persecution in July 64 but in February 67 he turned his attention to the Jews who had revolted against Rome in 66 A.D., when they stopped making daily sacrifices for the emperor. We are not certain if Nero continued his persecution of Christians until his suicide in June 68., but it does seem likely. Thus, the "great tribulation" has already taken place and there is no biblical reason to believe that it will be repeated in the future. Jesus did not predict two "great tribulations". The one "great tribulation" was scheduled for the first century and took place exactly as predicted. Therefore, the futurist prediction of a second "great tribulation" is end times fiction.
Evangelicals of the futurists persuasion are claiming that a falling away from the faith is currently taking place. That may well be the case. But it should not be confused with the "falling away" that was prophesied in scripture. Paul said to the Thessalonians, "let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed" (II Thes, 2:3). And he wrote to Timothy that "the spirit speaks expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith" (I Tim. 4:1). Futurists are either waiting for the great apostasy to happen or saying that it started in the twentieth century. But according to scripture the apostasy is past tense. The predicted "falling away" occurred in the first century.
Futurists tend to dismiss the fact that a great apostasy was taking place when the writer of Hebrews penned his epistle. Jewish Christians were warned not to abandon Christ and return to Judaism. But persecution and societal pressure caused many to depart from the faith. The apostle Peter also described this first century apostasy. He wrote that "false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves" (2 Pet. 2:1). The apostasy was so widespread that Jude had to exhort Christians to "earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints". Jewish Christians were forsaking Christ and returning to Judaism and Gentile Christians were leaving the church to follow after false teachers. Thus, preterists correctly teach that the great "falling away" or "apostasy" occurred in the first century. The current apostasy was not specifically predicted in scripture and should not be misconstrued as a sign that we are living in the end times.
Another matter that needs to be discussed is the mark of the beast. Some futurists would have us believe that the beast will utilize super technology to place his mark in the hand or forehead of human beings. Only those who have a specific microchip implanted under their skin will be able to buy and sell goods. This stands in stark contrast to the Seventh Day Adventist argument that the mark of the beast is Sunday observance. It appears that Adventists have mastered the art of misinterpreting scripture. The apocalypse does not contain even the slightest hint that the mark of beast is related to Sunday observance.
The preterist interpretation of the mark of the beast clears up the matter. In the book of Revelation, the third angel said that "if any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God" (Rev. 14:9). Worshipping the beast is equated with receiving the mark of the beast. By correctly identifying the beast, we can better comprehend what it means to worship the beast and receive his mark. We know that Nero Caesar, the first emperor to persecute Christians, was the beast. David Currie tells us that "many historians think that Nero did believe in his divinity, and so he rigorously enforced his edict of worship on all his subjects....During Nero's reign, even simple trade became impossible without submitting to the worship of Nero in the square" (Rapture, p. 294). Revelation tells us that "no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast" (Rev. 13:17). By refusing to participate in the worship of Nero Caesar, Christians were not allowed to buy or sell in the public square. They were considered traitors and many were put to death. Nero claimed divinity and demanded worship. The Jews compromised by offering daily sacrifices for the emperor, but when they stopped, Nero declared war on Israel.
Preterists correctly define the mark of the beast. It was not a physical mark visible to the naked eye. Scripture does not demand an external mark or a microchip under the skin. Participation in the ceremonial worship of the emperor and permission to buy and sell in the public square identified those who had the mark of the beast.
Preterists remind us that the mark of the beast is time specific. It belongs in the first century. Nero and the other emperors mentioned in the apocalypse are dead and the mark of the beast no longer exists.
Now lets move on to other matters.
When you understand that the book of Revelation centers on the destruction of Jerusalem, the apocalypse comes alive and reveal its secrets. It is remarkable how many predictions literally came true during the siege of Jerusalem.
For instance, the fifth trumpet sounded and a swarm of locusts were released and given authority to torment men for five month (Rev. 9:5). Currie comments that "this scorpion army would torment the Jews for five months, which was the length of the season in Israel for insects (May to September). Those are precisely the months during which Titus completed his final assault upon and siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D." (Rapture, p. 254). John writes that "their torture was like the torture of a scorpion, when it stings a man" (Rev. 9:5-6). Currie interprets this to mean that "the locusts army stung like scorpions in the hand and foot by using the nails of crucifixion. Imagine the hills around Jerusalem completely filled with Jews being crucified; that was the scene during the final five months of the siege. During those five months, well over a million Jews died, many of them from crucifixion" (Rapture, p. 254).
John tells us that "the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into a great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horses bridle, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs" (Rev. 14:19). Currie tells us that "one thousand six hundred stadia is approximately 180 miles. It is no coincidence that this is the length of ancient Israel. When the Roman army under Vespasian and then Titus marched through ancient Israel to conquer Jerusalem, the toll was horrific. What do you see when you imagine the winepress of God? If you are like most Christians, nothing specific comes to mind. But imagine the city of Jerusalem surrounded by crosses. So many crosses that ring the city walls that the Romans ran out of trees to cut down. When the Romans catch a Jew, they whip him and nail him to a cross. Beaten and bloody captives are lying about, awaiting their crucifixion when crosses become available. As the blood pours down from the crosses encircling Jerusalem, it looks like the very life of Judea is being crushed out of it....The wounds of the crucified were approximately at the height of a horse's bridle" (Rapture, p. 310). Revelation 14:15-20 was fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem and the holocaust of the Jews in 70 A.D.
John tells us that when the seventh angel poured out his vial "there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weigh of a talent" (Rev. 16 :21). Currie writes that "the seventh plague, the hailstones, has an interesting fulfillment. The Roman army set up catapults to heave great stones into Jerusalem during the siege. Josephus tells us that each stone weighed about a talent, or approximately one hundred pounds. This was what John predicted....Who could ask for a more historical fulfillment?" (Rapture, p. 319).
It hardly requires a leap of imagination to connect the prophecies of Revelation with the destruction of
Jerusalem. The three examples provided show that some verses were literally fulfilled during the siege of the city. For those who desire a detailed verse by verse exposition of the apocalypse from a preterist point of view, I suggest reading Steve Gregg's "Revelation, Four Views", or David Currie's "Rapture". Gary De Mar's "End Time Fiction" provides a detailed interpretation of the Olivet prophecy from a preterist perspective and includes a stinging critique of futurism.
Concluding Remarks: The apocalypse is primarily the story of the wrath of God upon Jerusalem. Preterists are to be commended for preserving that truth. But they are wrong to conclude that Christ returned in 70 A.D. This fictional first century parousia is the Achilles heel of hyper-preterism. Only a literal and visible return will satisfy the requirements of scripture.
For some eschatologists, the parousia was the resurrection of Christ. For others, it was the arrival of the
paraclete on Pentecost. For preterists, the second coming was the wrath of God upon Israel. Some Christians theorize that there are many comings of Christ. Partial preterists believe that Christ came back in 70 A.D., and that he will return again for the final day of judgement. But the idea of a third coming lacks scriptural support.
Preterists realized that the events described in the Olivet prophecy and the book of Revelation were scheduled to happen in the first century. They rejected the postponement theory and the double fulfillment principle. Thus, they were forced into finding a first century event that could be interpreted as the second coming. The wrath of God upon Jerusalem seemed the obvious choice. For preterists, it was a literal but invisible coming. Now they could claim that Christ fulfilled his promise to return within a generation. It was a sincere attempt to show that Christ was a true prophet. But it can be demonstrated that Jesus was a bona fide prophet without force-fitting every prophecy into the first century. Spiritualizing the rapture and the resurrection seems somewhat contrived. Why not recognize the fact that parts of the Olivet prophecy and portions of the book of Revelation remain unfulfilled.
Full preterism cannot be sustained. It does not accurately reflect what happened in the first century. Preterists are not justified in closing the books on prophecy. Much remains to be fulfilled. A better case can be made for partial-preterism.
The Pretext of Postmillenialism
What difference does it make whether Christians take a premillennial, postmillennial, or amillennial position? Don't we all believe in the millennium and isn't that sufficient? Why argue the fine points? Does it matter when it begins, how long it lasts, and what happens during that time? Or should we all become pan-millennialists and believe that everything will pan out in the end?
Both amillennialists and postmillennialists believe that the thousand years will take place prior to Christ's return. In contrast, premillennialists teach that the thousand years will not begin until Christ returns. This difference significantly impacts eschatology. We also note a major difference between amillennialism and postmillennialism. The orthodox or majority position (amillennialism) considers the thousand years to be the period between the first and second coming of Christ. It will be marked by an intense struggle between the church and the world which will not be resolved until Christ returns. But postmillennialists teach that through spreading the gospel the church will eventually Christianize the entire world and inaugurate a thousand years of peace and prosperity. Thus, the difference between amillennialism and postmillennialism is rather striking.
The postmillennial position has powerful political consequences. It dramatically changes a persons approach to the world and the future. The idea is the evangelize the world, Christianize the nations, and rule the earth. The implications are startling. It would add a new purpose to spreading the gospel. Christians would not have to wait until Christ returns for the millennium to dawn. Through their efforts to evangelize the nations, they could make the millennium happen. In a sense, the postmillennial position is conspiratorial: A church plot to rule the world.
It is worth noting that a small but vocal group of postmillennialists who call themselves "reconstructionists" or "dominionists" want to impose portions of the law of Moses upon the nations of the world. They seek to establish a theocratic government and practice biblical economics. But would modern Christianized nations want to re-institute ancient economic and agricultural laws? And more importantly, would they tolerate a theocracy? Dominionists are largely responsible for the revival of postmillennialism in the latter part of the twentieth century. But their rather eccentric version of the millennium has yet to capture the imagination of most eschatologists.
Now let's analyse the objections to postmillennialism.
1. The Bible does not teach that Christ will return after the millennium.
Scripture says nothing about the church reigning over the nations of the world prior to the parousia. And if the events in chapter 19 and 20 of the apocalypse are in chronological order, then the second coming must precede the millennium. It seems like postmillennialists are somewhat baffled by the thousand year period and don't quite know where it belongs in God's prophetic timetable, so they attach it to the latter part of the church age and teach that it will not begin suddenly or on any particular date. It will be phased in gradually and only become apparent in retrospect. As for its length, they consider the millennium to be an indefinite period of time. But the Bible does not attach the millennium to the latter part of the church age and teach that it will be phased in gradually and last an indefinite period of time. Postmillenialists are substituting speculation for scripture.
The weakness in their eschatology is obvious. They don't know when the millennium begins or how long it will last and can't find a verse which shows that Christ will return after the thousand years. We ought to be wary of a doctrine that doesn't have at least one explicit scripture to back its assertions. The Bible doesn't even imply that Christ will return after the millennium. Thus, postmillennialism is eschatology empty of biblical evidence.
2. The Bible does not predict that all nations will be Christianized before Christ returns.
According to postmillennialists, the church will gradually convert the nations of the world and then the millennium will be established. But when Jesus commissioned the church to preach the gospel and make disciples of all nations, he never said that all nations would be Christianized. Postmillennialists are reading too much into scripture. The commission does not include a prediction of the outcome.
After two thousand years of spreading the gospel, the world remains largely unconverted. Could this indicate failure on the part of the church to fulfil the commission or did Christ expects these results? At present, four billion humans are unconverted and major nations have not been Christianized. It has been noted that after two hundred and fifty years of missionary efforts throughout the Indian subcontinent, the Christian population is less than three percent. It is disappointing but true that the Christian mission to make disciples of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists has largely been a failure. Thus, the prospect of Christianizing the world prior to the second coming of Christ looks rather dismal.
3. The current nations that are Christianized are not genuine Christian nations.
We need to ask the question: Does Christianization work? Let's take a look at the United States of America. After two hundred years of Christianization, what are the results? Is America a shining light to the world?
1. It is the largest supplier of arms to the world.
2. It has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world. (2 million in prison)
3. Thirty million abortions have been performed in this country since legalization in 1973.
4. It is one of the world's worst environmental polluters.
5. It is the world's leading producer of pornography.
6. 500 billion dollars are spent on gambling each year.
7. It has extremely high crime rates.
U.S. Crime Statistics for the year 2007
Is America a Christianized nation? We would expect crime statistics like these from an atheistic nation. How is it possible for the citizens of a Christianized nation to commit eleven million crimes in one year, including sixteen thousand murders and ninety thousand forcible rapes? An Associated Press release dated November 20, 2006 said that "a record 7 million people, or one in every 32 American adults were behind bars, on probation, or on parole by the end of last year, according to the justice department". Is America turning into a nation of criminals? According to the 2002 National Survey on Drugs and Health, "there are 19.5 million Americans who currently use illicit drugs". It also said that "18.6 million need treatment for a serious alcohol problem". Is America becoming a nation of drug addicts and alcoholics? This same report, which was issued by the Department of health and Human Services, stated that "in 2002, there were estimated 17.5 million adults ages 18 and over with serious mental illness". If this is what Christianization produces, then postmillennialists should rethink their eschatology and pray that Christ will return before the millennium.
Here is a typical day in Christianized America. We can expect 46 murders, 248 forcible rapes, 1,219 robberies, 2,344 assaults, 5,962 burglaries, 17,996 larceny thefts, and 3,002 vehicles stolen. What happened to America? Has it become the land of crime and the home of the incarcerated? Statistics explode the myth of the Christian nation. At present, there isn't one genuine Christian nation on the face of the earth.
4. The claim that the world is gradually improving is questionable.
Nineteenth century postmillennialists thought that the golden age of the church was right around the corner and a thousand years of peace and prosperity was about to begin. But the horrifying wars of the twentieth century destroyed the idea of human progress and showed that Christianized nations could descend into barbarism. The belief that the world is getting better doesn't fit reality. The twentieth century was arguable the worst century in recorded history. It has rightly been called the "century of genocide".
The following list of events illustrates the point.
1. 1914 - World War I - 25 million deaths
2. 1915 - The Armenian genocide - 1 million deaths
3. 1917 - The Russian Revolution - Communists seized a Christianized nation
4. 1929 - The Great Depression caused a worldwide economic crises
5. 1938 - World War II - 50 million deaths
6. 1938 - The Jewish holocaust - 6 million deaths
7. 1945 - Atomic bombs obliterate Hiroshima and Nagasaki
8. 1950 - The Korean War - 3 million deaths
9. 1960 - The Vietnam War - 2 million deaths
10. 1961 - The Cuban missile crisis - The world was on the brink of nuclear war
11. 1967 - The Nigerian civil war - 2 million deaths
12. 1970 - The Cambodian genocide - 2 million deaths
13. 1985 - The Chernobyl nuclear disaster
14. 1994 - The Rwandan genocide - 900,000 deaths
15. 1999 - Estimated that 25,000 humans starve to death each day
16. 2000 - Estimated that 26 million humans live in slavery
This effectively refutes the postmillennial assertion that the world is gradually getting better. In truth, it is getting worse. Absent divine intervention, the twenty-first century could be the suicide of civilization.
5. A world ruled by Christians won't necessarily be a better world.
The idea of Christianized nations ruling the world before Christ returns should be greeted with apprehension. With carnal, corrupt Christians in charge, will evil be minimized, will human rights be respected, and will the freedom to practice unorthodox forms of Christianity be guaranteed? Who will lead the Christian world? With one billion members, the Roman Catholic Church represents the majority of Christendom. Will the pope be the spiritual leader of the Christian world or will the archbishop of Canterbury? Will the different and disagreeing churches accept Christian pluralism? Will a power sharing arrangement be worked out or will Christians fight each other for control of the world?
Let's examine the record of the Christian churches.
1. Corruption of the worst sort has plagued the church for centuries.
2. The evils of the crusades brought Christian rule into question.
3. Thousands of innocent victims were tortured and murdered during the Inquisition.
4. Dangerous anti-Semitism resulted in forced conversions, expulsions, and murders.
5. For centuries, Christian have slaughtered each other on the battlefield.
6. Doctrinal differences tore the church apart and continue to create hostility.
7. The percentage of Christians who actually practice their faith is minimal.
8. The majority of Christians do not even attend church.
9. The Roman Catholic and some Protestant churches are hoarding extreme wealth.
10. Christians are hopelessly divided on social, political, and economic issues.
11. Christian churches have supported evil and corrupt governments.
12. Most Christians have not shown themselves morally better than others.
Timothy Longman documented the involvement of the church in the Rwandan genocide. He wrote that
"numerous priests, pastors, nuns, brothers, catechists, and Catholic and Protestant lay leaders supported, participated in, or helped organize the killings" (In God's Name, Genocide and Religion in the Twentieth century). Even postmillennialists would shutter at the thought of these Christians ruling the world. And keep in mind that Rwanda is one of the most Christianized countries in Africa.
It is doubtful that the world would be a better place if Christians ruled. Unless or until the church cleans up its moral and spiritual act, it is not even qualified to rule the world.
6. The theory of recapitulation is seriously flawed.
According to postmillennialists and amillennialists, chapter 20 of the apocalypse "recapitulates" chapter 19. Kim Riddlebarger explains that "the order in which the various visions contained in Revelation are recounted by John does not necessarily reflect the order of historical occurrence of the reality which those visions symbolize. That is what is known as 'recapitulation', in which the same basic pattern is repeated in a variety of formulations. Put more simply, the visions were arranged topically, not chronologically....Revelation 20 may, in fact, not be describing events which come chronologically after those recorded in Revelation 19, but events which are contemporaneous with them" (A Case for Ammillenialism, p. 201).
Premillennialist George Ladd counters that "no such indication [of recapitulation] is to be found. On the
contrary, chapters 18-20 appear to present a connected series of visions. Chapter 18 tells of the destruction of Babylon; chapter 19 tells of the destruction of the beast and the false prophet; and chapter 20 moves on to tell of the destruction of Satan himself" (Commentary on Revelation, p. 261). Stanley Grenz writes that "of the parallels proposed by amillenial expositors, the break between chapters 19 and 20, demanded by this eschatological system, is most problematic. Such a break seems unwarranted by the text" (The Millennial Maze, p. 170). And Craig Blaising comments that "the visions of 19:11-21:8 are structured in a unified sequence. There is no structural indication of a major break within the sequence recapitulating pre-Parousia conditions" (Premillennialism, p. 215).
When the book of Revelation was first read in the churches, the audience would have naturally sensed that the events in chapter 20 came after the events in chapter 19. Nothing in the text would have led them to believe that chapter 20 was a recapitulation of chapter 19. It seems apparent that the visions of chapters 19 and 20 were arranged chronologically, not topically. Postmillennialists and amillenialists are attempting to break this unified sequence of visions and change the chronological order of events.
It is important to understand why postmillennialists and amillenialists want to alter the sequence of events in the book of Revelation and make chapter 20 a recapitulation of chapter 19. In their system of interpretation, the second coming will be the final consummation. Thus, there is not place for the millennium after the parousia. Their only option was to position the millennium before Christ's return. This required rejecting the idea that the events of chapter 19 and 20 were in chronological order and inventing the theory of recapitulation to explain how it is possible for these events to be contemporaneous. But It appears like they are juggling scripture to fit their interpretive grid.
Scriptures contained in the gospels condense the events surrounding the parousia and create the impression that the final judgment will immediately follow Christ's return and that the just and the wicked will be raised simultaneously. But that is not our only source of information. The book of Revelation expands eschatology and adds critical details. John tells us that the physical resurrection of the righteous and the wicked will be separated by a thousand years. But according to Postmillennialists, the clear passages of scripture indicate otherwise.
Keith Mathison comments that "postmillenialism (and amillennialism), in contrast to premillennialism, does not teach that this single passage, in this highly symbolic book, should be the cornerstone of one's system of eschatology....Revelation 20 does not overturn the basic eschatological structure that is clearly evident in the rest of scripture" (Postmillennialism, p. 155). Indeed, had the apocalypse not been written, most would have concluded that the resurrection of the righteous and the wicked will take place simultaneously. Postmillennialists often criticize premillennialists for using "obscure passages" in the apocalypse to interpret clear passages in the gospels. But Revelation is remarkably clear on the subject of the millennium and the resurrection.
The verses that postmillenialists quote from the gospels do not specifically state that the resurrection of the righteous and the wicked will be concurrent. They simply say that the just and the unjust will be resurrected after Christ returns. New information in the apocalypse clarifies these gospel passages. The idea that a separate resurrection for the righteous and the wicked overturns the basic eschatological structure is nonsense. But it certainly overturns the postmillennial system of interpretation.
Postmillennialists are trying to spiritualize the first resurrection. Mathison claims that "the first resurrection is the resurrection of Christ, and only those who are in Christ partake of that resurrection. Our participation in this first resurrection is spoken of in the past tense in terms of our regeneration, or spiritual resurrection, and in the future tense in terms of our bodily resurrection" (Postmillennialism, p. 156). But the "first resurrection" as described in the apocalypse is the resurrection of believers, not the resurrection of Christ. This resurrection takes place after the return of Christ and not at time of conversion. Postmillennialists interpret the first resurrection as spiritual in order to maintain that the second resurrection is the physical resurrection of the righteous and the wicked.
The postmillenialist position on the first and second resurrection cannot be justified on exegetical grounds. Ladd quotes Henry Alford: "If, in a passage where two resurrections are mentioned, where certain [psychai ezesan] at the first, and the rest of the [neckroi ezesan] only at the end of a specific period after the first, ---if in such passage the first resurrection may be understood to mean spiritual rising with Christ, while the second means literal rising from the grave; ---then there is an end of all significance in language, and scripture is wiped out as a definite testimony to anything" (Commentary on Revelation, p. 267). Postmillennialists must perform mental gymnastics to reach the conclusion that the first resurrection is spiritual and the second physical. The plain sense of scripture is that both involve a bodily resurrection.
How was it possible for systematic postmillennialism, which was introduced by Daniel Whitby (1638-1726), to become so popular during the nineteenth century? John Walvoord explains that "his [Whitby's] views on the millennium would probably have never been perpetuated if they had not been so well keyed to the thinking of the times. The rising tide of intellectual freedom, science, and philosophy, coupled with humanism, had enlarged the concept of human progress and painted a bright picture of the future. Whitby's views of a coming golden age for the church was just what people wanted to hear" (The Millennium Issue in Modern Theology, Bibliotheca Sacra 106:44, January 1948).
But the popularity of postmillenialism was short lived. Events of the twentieth century crushed the idea of a soon coming golden age for the church. Dwight Pentecost comments:
"World War II brought about the demise of the system. It's collapse may be attributed to (1) the inherent
weakness of postmillennialism in that, based on the spiritualizing principle of interpretation, there was no
coherence to it; (2) the trend toward liberalism, which postmillennialists could not meet, because of its
spiritualizing principle of interpretation; (3) its failure to fit the facts of history; (4) the new trend toward realism in theology and philosophy, seem in neo-orthodoxy, which admits that man is a sinner, and can not bring about the new age anticipated by postmillennialists; (5) a new trend toward amillennialism, growing out of a return to Reformation theology as the basis of doctrine" (Things to Come, p. 387).
Postmillennialists are perpetuating the myth of the Christian nation. What nation can truly be called Christian? The Christian nation of Germany was responsible for the holocaust . Thus, referring to Germany as a Christian nation empties the term of all meaning. If the current state of so-called Christian nations is any indication of the future, then there is little hope of establishing a truly Christian world before Christ returns. Postmillennialists will agree that a Christian world in name only would leave the millennium devoid of significance.
Postmillennium is long on speculation and short on scripture. Adherents are spinning millennial fantasies out of thin air. Their eschatology is false hope for the future.
Why Jesus Didn't Return in 70 A.D.
Now I will answer the question posed at the beginning of this article: Why didn't the second coming of Christ take place in the first century. It remains the most important question in eschatology.
If the first century was the end times and the predictions in Matthew 24 do not have a duel fulfillment, are we forced to conclude that Jesus was a false prophet? The answer is emphatically no. His predictions concerning the fall of Jerusalem and the destructions of the temple were extremely accurate and represent strong evidence that he is a true prophet. The Olivet prophecy remains an impressive display of Christ's prophetic ability. But we cannot ignore the fact that Jesus did not literally return in the first century. Critics of Christianity are quick to claim that Jesus was mistaken when he predicted that he would return within a generation. But is it possible that both Christians and critics have overlooked another explanation for why the second coming did not happen in the first century?
In order to answer this question, we need to understand the nature of prophecy. Some predictions are absolute and others are contingent upon human behavior. The prediction of the prophet Jonah concerning the city of Ninevah is an example of the contingency of prophecy. When residents took the warning seriously and repented of their sins, God cancelled his plans to destroy Ninevah. Therefore, the behavior of human beings can influence God's decision to either fulfill or cancel a conditional prophecy.
Had the first century nation of Israel heeded Christ's warning to repent of their sins, the city of Jerusalem and the temple would not have been destroyed. The Olivet prophecy was contingent upon human behavior. It was Israel's rejection of the Messiah and their refusal to repent that influenced God's decision to fulfill only part of the Olivet prophecy. The second coming of Christ scheduled for the first century was cancelled.
Many students of prophecy will be surprised and dismayed when they read the statement that God cancelled the second coming that was scheduled for the first century. This is the first time they have been introduced to the cancellation theory. I contend that it represents a significant step forward in solving eschatological problems, offers a credible explanation for why Jesus didn't return in the first century, and maintains the belief that Jesus is a genuine prophet. I hope that readers will give it serious consideration.
If eschatologists embrace this new theory, they could safely retire the belief that the Olivet prophecy has a dual fulfillment. Jesus never predicted that a third temple would be built after the destruction of Herod's temple. Students of prophecy would be able to agree that the expression "this generation" was the generation of the apostles and that the first century was the last days. They would no longer have to teach that the second coming was postponed. Jesus warned about an evil servant who will say in his heart "my Lord delays his coming" (Mat.24:48). Keep in mind that this warning is part of the Olivet prophecy. The postponement theory which teaches that Jesus delayed his coming runs contrary to scripture. The second coming scheduled for the first century was cancelled, not postponed. The difference is rather significant and goes beyond identifying as evil servants those who believe that Jesus delayed his coming. When Jesus said "behold I come quickly" it hardly sounds like he was delaying his return. To postpone an appointment is one thing, but to cancel it is an entirely different matter. And readers will agree that there is a significant difference between postponing and cancelling a war. Thus, I am not splitting hairs when I point out the difference between delaying and cancelling an event.
When the author of Hebrews wrote that God had spoken unto us by his son "in these last days", he was not making a mistake in prophetic timing. And when Jesus said repeatedly in the book of Revelation that he would come quickly, he was not stretching it two thousand years. Jesus and the apostles all agreed that the first century was the end time and the last days. God scheduled the second coming for the first century, but because Israel rejected their king, he cancelled the event. Many eschatologists are reluctant to believe that the first century was the end times because they think it would make Jesus a false prophet. But the cancellation theory overcomes that problem. You can believe that the first century was the last days and still maintain Christ's reputation as a true prophet.
The book of Revelation remains a puzzle and a mystery to many students of prophecy because of the simple fact that they do not know the identity of the whore of chapter seventeen. Once you realize that this woman is the city of Jerusalem and the book of Revelations is about her destruction, the book becomes intelligible. And when you comprehend the fact that Emperor Nero's name in Hebrew equals the number 666, it becomes apparent that the book of Revelations is speaking about events in the first century not the twenty-first.
I want to make it clear that even though the second coming scheduled for the first century was cancelled, the promise of the second coming was not. Jesus will return in power and glory. Whether God has already scheduled a specific day for the second coming remains unknown. It could be left open and contingent upon the behavior of Christians and Jews.
The cancellation theory has other important implications. God is not obligated to reconstruct the entire Olivet prophecy and replay it again in the future. When he schedules the second coming, he could include parts of Matthew 24 and parts of the book of Revelation or he could deliver new prophetic revelations and create an entirely new end time scenario. Some theologians think that the canon of the Bible is closed and no new revelations can be added. While it is true that humans should not add to the canon, God has no such restriction. Who would question God if he sent a prophet with new visions of the last days.
I encourage readers to open their eyes and take a look at the new prophetic horizon. There may be adjustments in the prophetic timetable and changes in the way God fulfills prophecies. The second coming might be quite different from what was expected. While it most likely would contains elements from the Olivet prophecy and the book of Revelation, it would have to be updated to fit the current conditions in the world and especially the dramatic changes in technology. Wars are no longer fight with ancient weaponry and conducted on horseback. The book of Revelation, as it stands, does not fit the twenty-first century. For futurists to convert horses to tanks and trumpets blasts to nuclear explosions contradicts their principle of literalism and seems a bit disingenuous.
I realize that the cancellation theory can initially be a shock to your prophetic senses, but it does offer a viable alternative to other eschatological theories. It is an inescapable fact that the generation Jesus spoke about was his own and the last days were in the first century. For want of a better term, we can call the first century the old end times and look forward to the new end times. Many scholars recognize that Christ's predictions were for the first century, but they are wrong when they claim that Jesus is a false prophet. His detailed prophecies find a remarkable fulfillment in the first century. Had the Father not decided to cancel the second coming scheduled for the first century, the entirely of Matthew 24 and Revelations would have been fulfilled. But a first century coming was contingent upon the decisions of the nation of Israel.
Humans cannot add to the word God or invent prophecies in their imagination like Joseph Smith and Ellen White did. But if God sends a genuine prophet with new revelations and wants them included in the Bible, who are we to object. Obviously, we would have to exercise extreme caution before accepting new revelations and always test the spirits to make sure they are of God. Any new revelations would have to contain the same morals and values as scripture and could not contradict the doctrines of the Bible.
I believe that before the second coming of Christ and the great day of the Lord, a true prophet will emerge and reveal the events that precede the parousia. If God reveals to him a completely different scenario for the second coming, he will preach and publish this new information. I realize that there are elements of speculation in what I am saying, but the time has come to shake the field of eschatology and rethink the subject of prophecy. God does not have to recreate an end times exactly like Matthew 24 or Revelation. Jesus could return in a much different manner than we think and the events surrounding the new last days could be radically different from what we imagined.
I do not believe that we are currently living in the end times. All the signs that futurists put forward prove nothing. Even they cannot properly claim that we are living in the last days because there is no temple and the city of Jerusalem is not surrounded by armies. Thus, the two most definitive signs in the Olivet prophecy are missing. And even if there was a temple, it does not prove that we are living in the last days. When the end times start, God will send a signal. And based upon what Jesus said, the end times will last one generation which is usually fixed at forty years. I personally think that the appearance of a true prophet will be the signal that the end times have begun. It was John the Baptist who gave the signal in the first century, but the identity of the prophet who will signal the new end times has not yet been revealed.
The acceptance of the cancellation theory would necessitate a new prophetic paradigm. The old models of eschatology are obsolete and have lost their relevance. They simply don't fit the twenty-first century and need to be discarded. The cancellation theory solves many perplexing problems associated with eschatology and leaves the prophetic horizon wide open for new revelations inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Copyright (C) 2007 Albert Emanuel