On a pre-recorded Trinity Broadcasting program broadcast on March 20, 2003, prophecy teacher John Hagee said the (then) current Iraqi crisis was the beginning of the end, and that the Rapture would likely occur within six months. The host, Benny Hinn, appeared shocked, and asked "Are we that close? Are you saying the rapture could be in six months?" Hagee responded, "We are that close." The time is almost up for Mr. Hagee’s prediction to come true. It is now late June, and nothing has happened, and guess what? Nothing will happen! Forgive my cynicism, but this kind of thing is a shame and a disgrace on the Christian community.
The third week of June, 2003, I watched Mr. Hagee again. He was again speaking of the Rapture, and had some very unkind things to say about anyone that would deny the Rapture. He said that those who deny the Rapture are "dangerous," and assured his audience that the Rapture is coming "very, very soon." I wonder why we should believe Mr. Hagee when he cites Hebrews 10:37. That was written 2000 years ago. He wants to ignore its first century application. Why should we take him seriously, when he won’t take the Bible seriously? By the way, anyone is welcome to send this article to him.
Here is a test. In Luke 21:8, Jesus said some Christians would come with a premature message of the end. They would say, "The end has drawn near, do not go after them." To what generation did that warning apply? Jesus said no one was to proclaim the end was near, until the end was actually near. He told his disciples not to follow anyone that said the end was near, when the end was not actually near. Anyone proclaiming the nearness of the end prematurely was to be considered a false teacher.
In Matthew 24:14, Jesus said, "This gospel of the kingdom must be preached in all the world, for a witness to the nations, then comes the end." The disciples asked for a sign of the end, Jesus gave a sign! Remember, Jesus told his disciples that when they saw the fulfillment of the signs they could then know and proclaim that the end was near.
William Miller said the end was going to be in 1844. That failing, he said 1845. Alexander Campbell, although he hedged a bit, said 1866 was "A significant year." Russell and Rutherford said it was going to be 1917, 1925, 1975, etc. Edgar Whisenant (remember him?) said 1988 was it "without fail!" Of course, when that did fail, he reset it to 1989, and then promptly dropped out of sight. (And it wasn’t the Rapture that took him.) Hal Lindsey also said 1988 had to be the year. Jack Van Impe said 1999 was it. And now Hagee has said it is within six months, which is now only three months away.
Back to Luke 21:8. To whom was Jesus speaking? If he was speaking to our generation then, everyone before this generation that has said the end was near was a false teacher. Only the generation that would see the end was to say the end was near. But, this is very troublesome. Why? Because Jesus’ own apostles, the Bible writers, all said the end was near in the first century (James 5:8-9, 1 Peter 4:7-17, 1 John 2:18, Revelation 22:10-12, etc). This means, that if Hagee, Lindsay, LaHaye, or whoever, is right to say the end is near today, then the Bible writers were wrong to say it was near in the first century. Were the Bible writers, inspired by the Holy Spirit, actually wrong?
Look at another way. If only the generation that would see the end was to say the end was near, then this means that all generations after that proclamation would be too late to preach that message, because the message of nearness is not a generic timeless message. In other words, the end was supposed to come in the generation that would say it was near. Thus, if the inspired apostles said the end was near in the first century, then all subsequent generations were too late to say it was near. If the end did not come in the first century, when the apostles said it was near, they are falsified as prophets.
Jesus not only told his disciples not to say the end was near before it was near, and warned them against anyone who did, but he told them "when you see all these things come to pass, then know that it (he) is at the door" (Matthew 24:32). In other words, Jesus told his disciples that by watching the signs they could know when the end was truly near, and avoid the premature declaration condemned by Jesus. What disciples was he speaking to? Again, if it was a generation millennia removed from those disciples gathered around him that day on the Mt. of Olives, then those living, breathing disciples were not supposed to see the signs, and know when the end was near. But, again, the problem is, they said the end was near. So, if those living breathing 1st century disciples of Jesus did not see the signs of the end, then their declarations of the end were the very premature declarations condemned by their Master.
The choices here are limited. Since Jesus condemned all premature declarations of the end, and since his own apostles said the end was near, 2000 years ago, either they were right, and the end was near then, or they were some of the very false prophets Jesus warned them about. But, if those disciples and Bible writers were right, then all of the subsequent prophecy "experts" since then, that have said the end was near, are too late. There should be no declarations that the end is near after the generation when the inspired prophets said it was near — the first century. This means that all of the men, and of course countless others through the generations, who have said the end was near, have been falsified, not only because their predictions were proven false, but because, by the nature of the case, they came too late. They came after the time when God’s inspired first century prophets said the end was near.
Consider Luke 21:8 in light of Matthew 25:1-13, and the concept of the Wedding. The cry, "The Bridegroom cometh," did not go out until the time was actually there. There was no premature cry, no premature warning, nor was there supposed to be. The time for the Wedding was not announced until the time for the Wedding had come. This is significant in Revelation when, at the time of the destruction of Babylon, the city "where the Lord was slain," the cry was then made, "the marriage of the Lamb has come" (19:7). The Wedding was not announced until the time for the Wedding had come. But of course, John was told to proclaim, repeatedly, "The time is at hand," "The Spirit and the Bride say come," and Jesus, the Groom, said, "Behold, I come quickly!" The book of Revelation proclaimed the nearness of the Wedding at the judgment parousia of the Groom. If John was saying the time for the Wedding had come when it had not actually come, then he most assuredly falls under the condemnation of Luke 21:8.
Of course, Thomas Ice and company, in their new book End Times Controversy, say that all that John and Jesus were saying is that when the parousia finally comes, Jesus will ride the fastest cloud in heaven.* The idea is supposedly the rapidity of the action, not how soon things were to occur. However, this does not fit the context of the parable of Matthew 25, nor the situation in Revelation. Again, the cry, "The Bridegroom cometh!" was not made prematurely, and most assuredly, the emphasis was not only how fast he was traveling, it was on the nearness of his presence. (Try telling any waiting bride that her groom is coming quickly, but that she is not to be concerned with when he leaves for the wedding, just that he drives a fast car to get there. You will discover that she is very concerned with when he arrives, not how fast he travels.) The warning of Luke 21 is very applicable to the story of the Wedding, and demands a first century locus for the Wedding, since the cry "The Bridegroom cometh!," was a first century message.
The issues here are very serious
. We are not speaking about wishful thinking. We are not speaking of God giving a timeless message of imminence to keep the church on the "tiptoe of expectation" as John MacArthur affirms. We are talking about the fact that Jesus himself said premature declarations of the end were wrong, and to be condemned. By the very nature of the case, that falsifies MacArthur’s claims, for if a sense of expectation was all that Jesus wanted to create, regardless of truth, then it would be just fine for all generations to proclaim the nearness of the end. You could not follow the mandate of Luke 21:8 "Do not go after them!" On the contrary, if a sense of expectation was all that God intended by having the Biblical writers say the end was near, whether it was true or not, then there could not be a true or false prophet, because after all, even if the "false prophet" was wrong, he was simply creating a sense of urgency, trying to keep the church on the tiptoe of expectation. So, even though all of the prognosticators through the ages have been wrong, they were serving God’s purpose! (?) As the Ripley’s Believe It or Not guy says "Can You Believe It?"
Personally, I can’t believe that. It is clear from Luke 21:8 that Jesus did not want a sense of urgency created until that urgency was appropriate and true. It is far past time that the modern church hold accountable the men who continue to proclaim that the end is near, centuries after the inspired writers said it was near. It is time to reexamine preconceived ideas of the nature of the end to bring them in line with the temporal statements of those inspired authors. Remember, they were either right, or they were wrong. There is no middle ground. Let’s bring our eschatology into line with their divine declarations that the end was near in the first century.
In my book Can God Tell Time? I discuss the importance of Luke 21:8 extensively. The implications of this text are profound, but largely ignored. I have not found a discussion of this text, with a discussion of its significance to the ongoing declarations of the nearness of the end, in any literature. Perhaps I have missed it, but it seems to me that this verse is pivotal, and yet is being largely overlooked.
* Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice, End Times Controversy: The Second Coming Under Attack, (Harvest House, Eugene, Or. 2003) 83f