By Dr. Gary DeMar
How many times do prophecy writers have to get their predictions wrong before a majority of Christians finally reject them? We don’t have to go back very far to see how popular prophecy writers have dominated the evangelical marketplace. Their books have sold millions of copies since Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth that was published in 1970 and predicted that a pretribulational rapture would take place sometime before 1988 – 40 years after Israel became a nation again. Because the so-called “rapture” was to take place before the dreaded tribulation period, the prophetic endpoint should have take place in 1981. Sure enough, on the eve of what Lindsey called the “Great Snatch,” he published The Terminal Generation.
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Many Christians had opted out of politics because of their belief that these prophecy writers were on target. What they didn’t know was that every generation has had so-called “prophecy experts” who assured the people of their day that the end was on the horizon.>
As we’ve seen, there are a number of moral, educational, legal, and political consequences attached to today’s prophetic insanity. David Schnittger pointed out the problem nearly 30 years ago:
Many in our camp have an all-pervasive negativism regarding the course of society and the impotence of God’s people to do anything about it. They will heartily affirm that Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth, and that this must indeed be The Terminal Generation; therefore, any attempt to influence society is ultimately hopeless. They adopt the pietistic platitude: “You don’t polish brass on a sinking ship.” Many pessimistic pretribbers [those who believe that the church will be “raptured” prior to all hell breaking loose on planet Earth] cling to the humanists’ version of religious freedom; namely Christian social action and political impotence, self-imposed, as drowning men cling to a life preserver.
One would think that after nearly 2000 years of false predictions today’s prophecy writers would think twice about getting involved in the forecasting game. Unfortunately, they’re still at it, and as a result millions of Christians have been culturally immobilized because of their belief that certain prophetic events are on the horizon and are inevitable. Why bother to get involved in politics when everything is destined for the crapper?
Recently there was a prophecy conference in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. An article written by Dave Tombers for WND offers this summary:
The author of several dozen books, including “The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days,” says today’s news reports indicate a new alliance is developing of nations that haven’t regularly gotten along with each other in the last, oh, few thousand years.”
The speaker was Mark Hitchcock, a prolific prophecy writer who publishes at least three seemingly new prophecy books every year. I have all of them. There’s nothing new in any of them. Only the dates and the end-time bad guys have changed.
Probably without understanding what he had written, Tombers makes an important admission. Hitchcock’s books are based on “today’s news reports.” News headlines are being used to interpret the Bible. The late Greg L. Bahnsen has described this interpretive methodology as “newspaper exegesis,” a form of retroactive prophetic explanation where current events are used as an interpretive grid for understanding the Bible. For example, in an earlier book on prophecy, The Coming Islamic Invasion of Israel, Hitchcock claims that “Ezekiel is God’s war correspondent for today’s newspapers. We have gone through his inspired prophecy in Ezekiel 38–39,” Hitchcock writes, “with our Bibles in one hand and today’s newspaper in the other.”
Hitchcock said something similar to the packed house of prophecy enthusiasts in Minnesota: “It’s as if today’s headlines were written 2,600 years ago.” He was referring to prophecies from the Old Testament that he asserts were written with our day in view. This is hardly the case. In fact, a good argument could be made that Ezekiel was recording a prophecy that was on the horizon for a much closer generation, one nearer to the prophet’s own time.
Tombers continues with a summary of some of Hitchcock’s views as they were presented at the conference:
He pointed to one prophecy he feels is nearing fulfillment. Known by those watching prophecy as the Gog-Magog war, the text of the prophecy can be found in Ezekiel 38. It describes an alliance of nations that go to war with Israel.
Anyone who takes the time to read Ezekiel 38 and 39 will see that the war is fought with weapons that were common to Ezekiel’s day. The enemy is on horseback and fights with bows and arrows, clubs, shields, and chariots. The nations that are mentioned were in existence in Ezekiel’s day.
Prophecy writers like Hitchcock claim to follow the Golden Rule of Bible interpretation:
When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense. Take every word at its primary, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context clearly indicate otherwise.
This follows the methodology outlined by David L. Cooper:
“When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages, and axiomatic and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise.”[If an Israelite picked up a contemporary news source, what conclusion would he have come to? He would have been looking for a future battle fought with weapons that he was familiar with. Reading modern-day weaponry into the passage is not a biblical approach to Bible interpretation.
Hitchcock went on to argue, “As of 2010, it was discovered that Israel sits on natural gas and oil fields that suddenly makes their land very appealing.” Israel’s enemies in Ezekiel were after silver, gold, cattle, and goods. These comprise the “great spoil” that the nations in Ezekiel’s day were after (Ezek. 38:13). These were the very things they brought back with them from their captivity from Babylon: “Every survivor, at whatever place he may live, let the men of that place support him with silver and gold, with goods and cattle” (Ezra 1:4). Here we see a parallel that fits the time. Why jump 2600 years into the future and read all types of modern-day contrivances into the Bible when the text is plain enough on its own?
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Contrary to Hitchcock, there is no mention of natural gas or oil anywhere in Ezekiel 38 and 39. It’s not that the Bible writers weren’t familiar with oil. There were pools of an asphalt-like material called “pitch” or “tar” (KJV: “slime”):
“Now the valley of Siddim was full of tar pits; and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, and they fell into them. But those who survived fled to the hill country” (Gen. 14:10).
The tar was used for waterproofing (Gen. 6:14; Ex. 2:3) and as a binding mortar (Gen. 11:3). My point is, if God wanted to identify a future discovery of crude oil in Ezekiel 38 and 39, He could have chosen any of the Hebrew terms already in use at that time to make the point. Ezekiel’s people would have understood what the prophet was describing.
Hitchcock’s methodology reads modern-day news stories into the Bible. This is called “eisegesis” (from Greek εἰς “into”): reading into a passage material that is not present. Exegesis (from the Greek ἐξ “out of”) draws out from the text what is actually in the text. Anything else is speculation.
If you are interested in this subject, especially on a thorough study of Ezekiel 38 and 39, see my book Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future. It’s a real eye-opener. It will change the way you view Bible prophecy.
Jan Markell, the sponsor of the prophecy conference, has stated that the “world is a sinking Titanic.” Markell wasn’t the first to use the sinking Titanic metaphor. It was made famous by the 1950’s radio preacher J. Vernon McGee, who asked, “Do you polish brass on a sinking ship?” What effect do you think the constant teaching that the world is coming to an end has had on the moral, social, cultural, economic, legal, and political landscape in America?
I know that Bible prophecy is popular today (as it’s been popular any time there’s been a war, an earthquake, or some dictator claims he wants to rule the world), but most of it is fabricated. When put under biblical scrutiny, sensationalistic prophetic analysis doesn’t have a leg to stand on. See my book Last Days Madness for a thorough study of the subject.
- David Schnittger, Christian Reconstruction from a Pretribulational Perspective (Oklahoma City, OK: Southwest Radio Church, 1986), 7.
- Tim LaHaye, “Introduction,” Mark Hitchcock and Thomas Ice, The Truth Behind Left Behind, 7.
- David L. Cooper, When Gog’s Armies Meet the Almighty in the Land of Israel: An Exposition of Ezekiel Thirty-Eight and Thirty-Nine, 3rd ed. (Los Angeles: Biblical Research Society,  1958), [i].
- Quoted in Gary North, Rapture Fever: Why Dispensationalism is Paralyzed (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1993), 100.