Home > Bible Prophecy, eschatology, Israel, John MacArthur, Sir Robert Anderson > Bible Prophecy and Common Errors

Bible Prophecy and Common Errors

After spending several months perusing the popular Christian blogs and message boards, especially those of the pre-trib rapture prophecy focus, I have learned that amongst all the good biblical teaching, a lot of error (and the tolerance of error) also exists “among the masses” (i.e., lay people — including those who write prophecy articles but are not among the class of serious Bible preachers and teachers).

I am not here referring to damnable heresies, matters related to salvation, or false teachings such as the emergent church or the prosperity gospel.  Yet these are errors of interpretation related to Bible Prophecy, basic flaws in exegetical reasoning.  Following are some of the more common ones I’ve come across:

1)  Nation of Israel in 1948 = the Fig Tree —  this notion has persisted for years, since at least the 1970s when Hal Lindsey and others posited that a generation is 40 years, and so to look for the return of Christ by 1988.  Then the length of a generation was extended, and now the same Bible teachers have concluded that a generation is really a human lifetime of 70 years, based on a reference made in one of the Psalms regarding man’s years of life.  1948 + 70 = 2018, and subtracting 7 years for the tribulation means that the rapture must occur in 2011.

Here I agree with reputable teachers, including S. Lewis Johnson and John MacArthur, as well as some prophecy teachers including Thomas Ice, that the passage in Matthew 24 is not talking about the secular nation of Israel born in 1948.  The parallel passage in Luke 21, after all, says “the fig tree and all the trees.”  Yet some Christians are so set on desiring the rapture now, so sick of living in this world now, that when I try to point out the obvious exegetical problems here they dismiss it without any consideration.  Obviously they are more set on what they desire, rather than on truly understanding what God has said so as to align their views with God’s purposes.

Finally, I must concur with the perspective stated over 100 years ago by Sir Robert Anderson in “The Prince to Come”:

But having thus clearly fixed these principal landmarks to guide us in the study, we cannot too strongly deprecate the attempt to fill up the interval with greater precision than Scripture warrants. There are definite events to be fulfilled, but no one may dogmatize respecting the time or manner of their fulfillment. No Christian who estimates aright the appalling weight of suffering and sin which each day that passes adds to the awful sum of this world’s sorrow and guilt, can fail to long that the end may indeed be near; but let him not forget the great principle that “the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation,” (2 Peter 3:15) nor yet the language of the Psalm, “A thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.” (Psalm 90:4) There is much in Scripture which seems to justify the hope that the consummation will not be long delayed; but, on the other hand, there is not a little to suggest the thought that before these final scenes shall be enacted, civilization will have returned to its old home in the east, and, perchance, a restored Babylon shall have become the center of human progress and of apostate religion.
(emphasis added)

2)  Connected with the above date-setting attempt is the notion of an imminent, major collapse of the U.S.  After all, since America clearly is not a player in the End Times scenario, and yet the Tribulation must occur from 2011 – 2018, something dramatic must occur to completely wipe out America.  Various ideas have been proposed, such as a major terrorist attack, even an EMP attack, but the especially favored view is simply that the Rapture itself will take out so many American Christians, that the country will immediately fall into decline due to the absence of the believers.

I agree that America is under God’s judgement, in the Romans 1 sense as described by John MacArthur (When God Abandons a Nation), and we are seeing rapid decline.  I also agree that by the time of the Great Tribulation, America will be insignificant, on the level of other “banana republics” — and if things continue along the present course, in just 20 or 30 years that could very well occur:  but not in the next two years, and certainly not due to the sudden loss of population after the Rapture.  Here again I must consider the implications of scriptures that strongly associate a rebuilt Babylon (as a major commercial center) with the Second Coming judgments, and admit that God’s timescale may not be as soon as I would prefer.

3)  Ezekiel’s war (Ezekiel 38-39) as an event separate from Armageddon, likely coming either before the Great Tribulation or at its midpoint.  A variation of this includes two wars, Ezekiel’s war and a separate “Psalm 83” war.  Here is a point of admitted dispute, a place to especially recognize that “nobody is right on every point,” because we can’t see the detailed sequencing in the Bible.  Until the 20th century, apparently Ezekiel’s war was understood as referring to Armageddon.  More recent Bible teachers see it as a separate event, either during or before the Great Tribulation, and underlying it (so I’ve observed) again is the 1948 date.  The end-times scenario describes a pagan system and a pagan anti-Christ that all unbelievers will worship; since Muslims are also monotheistic and would not bow down to some other, non-Muslim being, Islam must be destroyed first, and thus the Gog-Magog war is a mechanism to destroy Islam quickly, to bring in the European anti-Christ in the next few years.

I’m still studying this matter, though inclined to agree with those who say Ezekiel 38 and 39 is a reference to the battle of Armageddon, and not a separate, earlier event.  Ezekiel 38:17 is a strong indicator, where the Lord says “Are you not the one I spoke of in former days by my servants the prophets of Israel? At that time they prophesied for years that I would bring you against them.”  Joel Richardson at the Joel’s Trumpet blog points out many exegetical reasons, including Ezekiel 38:17, to support this view.  His answer to the dilemma of Muslims versus pagans is that the antiChrist is Islamic, and he makes much of Muslim “Mahdi” eschatology.  I’ve also read of many problems with the details concerning his ideas, so won’t go too far with that.

However, another possibility is simply that Islam will yet be defeated at some future point — not connected with any specific Bible prophecies — and so this too must occur before the end comes.  This does not seem very likely right now, with Islam apparently growing yet stronger in the 21st century.  At this point indeed we can have fun speculating about all the different possibilities, but recognize that God is truly in control and that He will bring it all to pass, whenever and however that will occur.  As Sir Robert Anderson also pointed out, the Bible prophecies are written vaguely enough to prevent anyone from deliberately attempting to fulfill them — yet specific enough that when the actual fulfillment does come to pass, it is clearly recognizable to all.

Finally, a few words from Sir Robert Anderson, regarding the restoration of the Jews to Palestine, as an example of how we can know the general facts but cannot foresee the details of Biblical prophecy:

The decline of the Moslem power is one of the most patent of public facts; and if the dismemberment of the Turkish Empire be still delayed, it is due entirely to the jealousies of European nations, whose rival interests seem to render an amicable distribution of its territories impossible. But the crisis cannot be deferred indefinitely; and when it arrives, the question of greatest moment, next to the fate of Constantinople, will be, What is to become of Palestine? Its annexation by any one European state is in the highest degree improbable. The interests of several of the first-rate Powers forbid it. The way will thus be kept open to the Jews, whenever their inclinations or their destinies lead them back to the land of their fathers.

Not only would no hostile influence hinder their return, but the probabilities of the case (and it is with probabilities that we are here concerned) are in favor of the colonization of Palestine by that people to whom historically it belongs. There is some reason to believe that a movement of this kind has already begun; and if, whether by the Levant becoming a highway to India, or from some other cause, any measure of prosperity should return to those shores that were once the commercial center of the world, the Jews would migrate thither in thousands from every land.

True it is that to colonize a country is one thing, while to create a nation is another. But the testimony of Scripture is explicit that Judah’s national independence is not to be regained by diplomacy or the sword. Jerusalem is to remain under Gentile supremacy until the day when Daniel’s visions shall be realized. In the language of Scripture, “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.”  But long ere then the Cross must supplant the Crescent in Judea, else it is incredible that the Mosque of Omar should give place to the Jewish Temple on the Hill of Zion.

If the operation of causes such as those above indicated, conjointly with the decay of the Moslem power, should lead to the formation of a protected Jewish state in Palestine, possibly with a military occupation of Jerusalem by or on behalf of some European Power or Powers, nothing more need be supposed than a religious revival among the Jews, to prepare the way for the fulfillment of the prophecies.

References for additional information:
Ezekiel 38, 39 The Battle of Gog and Magog

Is the Parable of the Fig Tree about the generation that saw the rebirth of Israel?

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