A growing distaste for Bible prophecy is rearing its head in many evangelical circles. This often manifests itself in skepticism when men voice sentiments like “we are living in the last days” or “Christ is coming soon.” These skeptics point to the failed predictions of the Lord’s soon coming in the past and scoff that today’s sentiments are no different. But their ignorance of history is as profound as their skepticism of the prophetic Scriptures.
First of all, prior to the 1830s, there was no consistently literal approach to the interpretation of prophecy anywhere in the church. The fears men entertained that the end was near were not reasonable beliefs based on knowledge of the prophetic scriptures, but unreasonable beliefs that were birthed in ignorance of the prophetic scriptures and a superstitious handling of the same — e.g. the year-day theory or identifying the persecutions of the pope with the persecutions of the antichrist.
Secondly, between the 1830s and 1948 prophecy teachers often claimed that the world was on the cusp of the last days on the basis of “wars and rumors of wars” and similar prophetic points. But this was a crucial mistake. The fact is, there was zero reason for believing that the world was in the last days prior to the rebirth of Israel as a nation, for that event is the foundational point that is assumed by almost the entire body of future prophecy. Apart from a restored nation of Israel there can be no last days. Israel is the chief focus of the last days.
Thirdly, prophecy teachers since 1948 have often been guilty of a superficial treatment of prophecy that runs roughshod over sober exegesis — a superficiality that has led to supposed proofs that we are in the last days which border on the ridiculous. A glaring example is the common teaching that the budding of the fig tree in Matthew 24 is the rebirth of the nation of Israel and that the generation which witnessed this event will go up in the rapture of the church. This is inexcusable. The context plainly tells us that the budding of the fig tree is the events that happen during the seventieth week.
None of these three mistakes — spiritualizing prophecy, pre-Israel prognostications, and superficial exegesis — are legitimate arguments against the belief that the prophetic scriptures enable men to discern that they stand on the cusp of the last days and that the coming of the Lord is drawing near. Failure to do the job right is not proof that the job cannot be done.
Next week I shall take up prophecy again and present a number of weighty arguments why we really are standing on the cusp of the last days and why it is not unreasonable to suspect that those of us who are still relatively young are likely to meet the Lord in the air — never falling asleep in Jesus.
“Eyes wide open, brain engaged, heart on fire.”
Lee W. Brainard