As one raised in Dispensational theology, I understand first hand the End-Time jitters and paranoia associated with that particular interpretation of Scripture. I lived through the Hal Lindsey and Edgar Whisenant’s End-Time scares. Through the years of study in the Scriptures, however, I have rejected that view for a number of reasons.
Most rest their conjectures of the End-Times based upon Jesus’ Olivet discourse found in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. Dispensational theology regulates these passages of Scripture to a future fulfillment, perhaps in the near future. Thus the reason for some of the hysteria over the current events taking place in the Middle East. Jesus spoke of wars and rumors of wars, natural disasters, the rise of false teachers and religions, etc. In conjunction, people also read newspapers, watch the news, see some of these things happening in this generation, and are led to believe the time is at hand and the end of the world has come upon us.
There are a number of problems with this interpretation. Namely, it is never safe to interpret Scripture by reading the daily news. Scripture should interpret Scripture. The Bible is a self-authenticating book and doesn’t need the opinions of men nor commentary from CNN to validate Itself. Secondly, after Jesus pronounced judgment upon Jerusalem and the Holy Temple, the Apostles were obviously alarmed and asked, “… Tell us, when shall these things be (i.e., the destruction of the Temple) and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world (or “age”)? Jesus answered their questions with a prophetic warning. His purpose was to make sure the Apostles and the early Church would be prepared to escape the wrath that was to come upon Israel, Jerusalem, and the Holy Temple.
Some may question the validity of this interpretation. I give three reasons to support this claim. First and most important, there is a time text quoted by Jesus Christ that one cannot escape. It inextricably places the entire context in a historical setting, rather than in a future scenario. Jesus said, “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (Matthew 24:34). Jesus didn’t say “that generation” indicating a future generation, but “this generation” indicating His contemporaries. Besides, Jesus stated this phrase “this generation” five other times in the book of Matthew and all five times it referred to the generation under the sound of His voice. For example, right before He pronounced judgment upon Jerusalem He stated, “Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Batrachians, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.”
Secondly, one cannot escape the personal pronoun Jesus used as He addressed His contemporaries. He stated continually that “you” would experience this (persecution) or when “you” see this sign (The Abomination of Desolation for instance) or “So likewise you, when you shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors (Matthew 24:33).” If words mean anything, Jesus’ use of the personal pronoun “you” as opposed to the use of “they” indicates the people hearing Jesus’ warning were the ones that would be affected and not some future generation.
Thirdly, Jesus stated, “When you therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains (Matthew 24:15,16).” If this reference is one of the signs that the world is coming to an end, then why confine a major warning to a small locale and then tell the people of that small region to flee? If this is one of the signs that is signaling the end of the world, what is the use of fleeing? Where are you going to go? It is over; fleeing to survive is absolutely futile.
I’m sure many will struggle with this interpretation as they go through the list of signs and events declared by our Lord in Matthew 24, but I would encourage them to contact American Vision, Gary Demar, and order his end-time packet series. His website address is http://www.americanvision.org. The phone number is 770-222-7266. As you browse the website, you will find a section on eschatology (Bible prophecy). I would encourage anyone to purchase these materials and study them like a faithful Berean to see if these things be so (Acts 17:10,11) Some of the books, CD’s, and DVD’s go into great detail Biblically and shows that the entire Olivet discourse was fulfilled in 70 AD and is history, rather than a future fulfillment.
I also reject the “Last Days Madness” (to coin a phrase by Gary Demar) based upon the Biblical criteria found in God’s warning in the book of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy 18:22 states, “When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou salt not be afraid of him.”
Clearly, many so-called “prophecy” writers and preachers that hold to the dispensational view have given many predictions about the End-Times and the Second Coming of the Lord. They all have one common denominator. They have all been one thousand percent wrong. Not one of their dates and end-time scenarios have panned out. Yet, we still continue to buy their books, listen to their tapes, and believe their interpretation of Scripture.
God says in paraphrase, “If someone predicts something in My name and it doesn’t come to pass, they were not speaking for Me.” These “End of Days” prophets spoke presumptuously from their own hearts. I’m not saying these brothers in Christ are not saved or are false in the sense that they are purposely trying to deceive. I just believe their interpretation of Scripture is faulty and thus their conclusions and predictions are erroneous.
It is important to note as well, though all three millennial positions (premillennial, amillennial, and postmillennial) have been advocated in the Church throughout most of its history, the dispensational pre-tribulation rapture theory is the theological “new kid” on the block. This novel interpretation of Scripture was first popularized in the 1850’s. Slowly, but surely, however, its influence grew to the point that I dare say many Bible-believing Christians accept it as the orthodox view of the End-Times.
Ideas have consequences, however, and a belief system will lead us somewhere. Since the Church has adopted this position, what has happened to America and the world? This view has taught: “Why polish brass on a sinking ship and why rearrange furniture in a burning house?” As a result, the Church has for decades withdrawn into our buildings trying to save the lost and then stack them up at a spiritual bus stop so Jesus can return and rescue us from the mess on the earth. Thus in affect, the Church has acted as though it is spiritual to neglect, abandon, and retreat from the market place of ideas, the gates of our cities, the Cultural Mandate established in Genesis, and the Great Commission established by our Lord (Matthew 28:18-20). This accounts for the inactivity of the Church in America while babies are being murdered in their mother’s wombs, homosexuals parade their sins like Sodom, and evil flourishes under our watch. Wonderful brothers and sisters in the Lord actually believe this is God’s will based upon this view of the End-Times. They fail to see the fatalism it has produced and how it has paralyzed the Church. It is this view of Scripture that I’m convinced has greatly hindered the Church’s obedience to be salt and light to preserve and protect God’s creation and creatures from evil.
So, maybe it is high time for the Church to rethink what is happening in the Middle East as the fulfillment of Matthew 24. Perhaps, we are long overdue in thinking are real problem is actually found in Matthew 5:13 which states, “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.”
My last point concerns the history of America. When you study the Colonial Fathers and the Founding Fathers, you will find this view strangely missing. They held to a Kingdom/Covenant view of Scripture that taught an eschatology of victory. They were for the most part Presbyterians and the early Methodists that believed in the Crown-Rights of King Jesus and His word as the standard by which men shall live by and will one day be judged by. In other words, they believed in time and history that the Great Commission will be fulfilled. The Mayflower Compact declares “in the name of God, for the glory of God, and for the advancement of the Christian faith.” Our spiritual forefathers and foremothers came to these shores believing that America was to be a city set on a hill that was to be a light to the nations. Strange, when the Church believed this, God blessed this nation beyond any other nation in the earth. What has happened to us since we have rejected this understanding of Scripture and adopted the dispensationalist view instead? Jesus taught, “Ye shall know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16a).
Finally, what one believes about the End-Times does not determine one’s salvation. Men can believe the Lord is coming back tonight and I can believe that He won’t be back until the Great Commission is fulfilled, either way, we will make it to heaven. Our salvation is not based upon our views of the End-Times, but based upon our common belief in Jesus Christ, His atoning work on the cruel cross ,and His subsequent resurrection from the dead. The historical creeds of the Church dealing with the topic of eschatology simply stated that Christ would return to judge the living and the dead. How it happens and when it happens remains a struggle. The only important matter about our views of the End-Times is that what one believes about the future can affect the quality of one’s faith today.
IN KING JESUS’ SERVICE,
Rev. Rusty Lee Thomas