By Pete Coker
(A Friendly Challenge to the Validity of Popular Eschatology)
First: Some questions and comments on the notion of (supposedly) holding to a literal interpretation of scripture. For example; Mt. 24: 33, 34:
If you presume dispensationalists hold to a literal interpretation of the Scriptures, why do proponents of dispensational/pre-mil eschatology change the obvious and contextual meaning of the phrases “these things” (Mt 24:33) and “this generation” (Mt. 24: 34) and place them in the distant future?
In context, the text literally relates to the generation to whom Jesus is talking to, (the first generation believers). That is, it contextually speaks to the near future and not the distant future. (Just as when Jesus said, “…when YOU see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door.”)
By claiming these phrases refer to a ‘future generation’ (an abstract interpretation), –it completely ignores the plain contextual and literal interpretation of the text. By turning these phrases into abstract interpretations, it then follows that the entire segment of text is thus made figurative and its true contextual meaning altered to fit a (pre-mil/dispensational) presupposed context. If we claim that the altered “future generation” interpretation is correct, don’t we then have to openly admit to adopting abstract or figurative interpretations in order to suit presupposed theological ideas?
Additionally, Jesus also made use of the phrase “this generation” elsewhere, in Matthew 11: 16. Here, Christ says: “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places, who call out to the other children, and say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” Does it not appear even more obvious that Jesus is referring to that present generation that He is speaking to? Just as it is when He says; “But to whom shall I liken this generation?”
The literal interpretation of Matthew 24 generally describes these events: (1) The coming of Jesus Christ via the Day of Pentecost; (2) the (soon coming) destruction of the Jewish Temple; A.D. 70; (3) the close of the (Old Covenant) Temple Age; (4) the Abomination of Desolation, and (5) the first century Great Tribulation.
Have we not learned from the Bible and from the secular histories of that period that wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes (Matt. 27:4; 28:2; Acts 16:26), famines (Acts 11:28), false prophets (1 John 4:1; 2 Peter 2:1), tribulation (Rev. 1:9), and the gospel being preached throughout all the world (Rom. 1:8; 16:27–28; Col. 1:6, 23; 1 Tim 3:16) did take place before the Romans sacked the city of Jerusalem and tore down the Temple, stone by stone, just as Jesus predicted would soon happen? (Matt. 24:2)
It seems clear, in context, when Jesus refers to “this generation” He means His present audience, His contemporaries. Not a distant “future generation,” nor ‘another generation,’ nor a certain type of generation such as the Jewish race.
As F. F. Bruce stated it (1983): “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 saying we are now examining. Moreover, if the generation of the dispensational end-time had been intended, ‘that generation’ would have been a more natural way of referring to it than ‘this generation.”
Second, Let’s consider some questions and comments concerning Israel and Prophecy:
Chuck Smith wrote in his 1976 book ‘The Soon to be Revealed Antichrist’ that “we are living in the ‘last generation’ which Smith (and many others) said began with the rebirth of Israel in 1948” (see Matt. 24:32–34). Further, in his 1978 book ‘End Times’ Smith also said: “… Jesus taught us that the generation which sees the ‘budding of the fig tree,’ (i.e.), the birth of the nation of Israel — will be the generation that sees the Lord’s return. I believe that the generation of 1948 is the last generation. Since a generation of judgment is forty years and the Tribulation period lasts seven years, I believe the Lord could come back for His Church any time before the Tribulation starts, which would mean any time before 1981.” (1948 + 40 – 7 = 1981).
In addition to this, on December 31, 1979 (in a taped message on New Year’s Eve), Smith told those who had gathered at Calvary Chapel that the ‘rapture’ would likely occur before the end of 1981. He also went on to say that because of ozone depletion, Revelation 16:8 would be fulfilled during the tribulation period: “And the fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun; and it was given to it to scorch men with fire.” In addition, Smith said Halley’s Comet would soon pass near Earth in 1986 and would wreak havoc on those left behind as debris from its million-mile-long tail pummeled the planet (earth).
Chuck Smith further explained this prophetic scenario in his book ‘Future Survival,’ which is nearly identical to what appears on his 1979 taped message, as follows: “The Lord said that towards the end of the Tribulation period the sun would scorch men who dwell upon the face of the earth (Rev. 16). The year 1986 would fit just about right! We’re getting close to the Tribulation and the return of Christ in glory. All the pieces of the puzzle are coming together.”
Since the foundations of Chuck Smith’s (and many others) prophecy predictions have not materialized as they were stated – and since it is has been over sixty-five years (since 1948) and no soon expectation of a rapture, no hint of the Great Tribulation, no coming Antichrist, and no Abomination of Desolation (not to mention the predicted havoc of Halley’s Comet); why then should we believe in the mistaken claims of Pre-millennial-Dispensationalism and its overall pessimistic narrative?
By 1988 it seemed obvious to me (and many others) something was very wrong in the Pre-mil camp. 1988 came and went and biblical prophetic events did not begin to pan-out as expected. Not even close. New theories then emerged and the narrative was altered. For example, it was then postulated by some that 1967 was the true beginning date for the state of Israel, as this was the year that Israel had won the Arab-Israeli war. So, forty years after 1967 would then put us at the year 2007. But, 2007 has come and gone, and still; no hint of a soon coming rapture, or an Anti-Christ, or of a coming Great Tribulation, etc., etc. It has now been more than forty-five years since 1967 and still none of the Dispensational prophetic claims appear on the near horizon. The eschatological urgency of the 1970’s and 1980’s has dissipated considerably, to say the least! Even the current troubles in Israel (which has been going on since modern Israel became a state) do not reflect the end-times scenarios postulated by the ever-changing Dispensational narratives.
- Third. Pre-mil/dispensational eschatology presents the overall narrative of a struggling end-times church that is ever-thwarted by the secular-world-order influenced by Satan and his minions. This view ignores Christ’s victory over Satan at the cross and portrays the Gospel of Jesus as being utterly defeated at some point in history. In this view, Christ’s victory ends up being a supernatural rescue of His defeated church from Satan’s overpowering evil-world-order. Here’s some problems with this scenario as an eschatological meta-narrative:
1. The Gospel of Jesus appears to have less power than the already defeated Satan.
2.The Holy Spirit’s overall power and influence is, in effect, weaker than Satan’s power and influence throughout history.
3. Jesus’ death on the cross and subsequent resurrection accomplishes only a relatively small remnant of believers throughout history.
4. This perspective presents Satan’s overall strategy as cleverly outsmarting and overcoming God’s Gospel plan of redemption for mankind; that is, until God supernaturally intervenes to rescue an elite group of believers at the last minute!
This view of God’s supernatural kingdom seems to depict God’s glorious Gospel as inferior to the wiles of the devil. Satan’s clever scheming appears to win out over the power of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit in the life of the church. If God’s ultimate plan (since the time of Creation) is to save mankind through His own sacrifice on the cross, and, that good would eventually triumph over evil through the spreading of the Gospel by His church; why then would He have to end up rescuing His Spirit-empowered church from an overtly evil world? Did He not equip His church with the means to overcome the world’s evil? Or, did God provide a gospel plan for His church that is inferior to the powers of Satan? Did God set-up His church (the Bride/Wife of Christ) to fail? Is the gospel not a conquering victorious gospel?
(4) Fourth. One final question on Israel in prophecy: Pop-eschatology seems to have missed one possible aspect of Israel’s future in prophecy. This is found in Isaiah 19. Verses 23-25 are as follows:
(23) In that day shall there be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian shall come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians shall serve with the Assyrians.
(24) In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land:
(25) whom the Lord of Hosts shall bless saying, blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance.
Here, Isaiah’s passage appears to teach that in the end, Egypt and Assyria shall faithfully serve God prior to Israel doing so (the last will be first, and the first last?). So, prior to Israel coming to faith in Christ, it appears the ‘age of the gentiles’ will end with the conversion of the peoples in the Egyptian and Assyrian territories. It also appears there will be a brotherly alliance between those nation territories. How would this end-times scenario figure-in with the Pre-mil/Dispensational future timeline?
Some Pre-mil/Dispensationalists have criticized the validity of these verses (?) because they do not appear elsewhere in the Scriptures! So what! – It is still one-more-time than the Dispensationalist’s pre-tribulation rapture doctrine is found anywhere in Scripture! I have yet to find a single verse clearly describing the rapture occurring just prior to the “Great Tribulation.” In order to fabricate a pre-tribulation rapture, one must concoct a rapture narrative using Scriptures and stories unrelated to the rapture. Such a lack of Scriptural evidence (especially in the Book of Revelation) seems truly odd for such a miraculous and momentous event in the history of the church!
Some may see and react to every conflict, uprising, war or revolution as the future defeat of the Gospel or the beginning of another Great Tribulation; however, others may see that the Bible describes a very different future for the church; a world radicalized by the spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His ultimate victory over Satan — past, present, and future.
To get a clearer picture of the victorious nature of the Gospel and the spreading of Christianity in general, see “The Next Christendom – The Coming of Global Christianity” by Philip Jenkins. Jenkins has some mind-blowing data on the world-wide growth of Christianity in Africa, South America, and Asia in recent decades.