Beware of False Prophets

ugly.jpgRecently, I was intrigued to discover that I am, most likely, in the last generation before the Rapture.  How do I know?  Well, a prophecy expert told me so!  According to this man, every sign of the last times has now been fulfilled and the Rapture is coming.  In fact, there is a whole group of Jews in Jerusalem today, according to the expert, who are preparing to rebuild the temple.  All the temple implements have been created.  The Ark of the Covenant has been found.  The database of Jewish men who are eligible to serve as priests has been completed.  All that needs to happen now is for an errant SCUD missile to smash the Dome of the Rock and the Muslims will turn over the temple mount to the Jews.

Isn't that great?  Aren't you excited?

I was reminded of another prophecy seminar about 20 years ago, when a pastor confidently told the congregation "the GOG of the biblical Gog and Magog is now in place!"  Who is GOG? you might wonder.  I was told it was an abbreviation for Russian leaders Gorbachev, [someone whose last name started with an "O"], and Gromyko.

Sound familiar?  The subject of prophecy has long been a cash cow of dispensational premillennialism.  How many prophecy seminars have you sat through?  How many charts have you looked at?  How many different variations of the biblical dispensations have you memorized?  And yet still, the subject intrigues us, not unlike the pagan world's fascination with astrology.  We want to know the future.  And we have a distinct advantage: we have a Book of divine revelation that holds the truth about the future.

Even now, the Left Behind book series and movie franchise is producing astounding revenue.  Over 60 million copies of the book series have been sold worldwide.  Another 10 million books have been sold in the related children's series. Three major motion pictures have been produced.  Prophecy is officially a fad of our culture.

The Bible clearly states: "But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father."  If Jesus doesn't even know the time of his return, why do we insist on speculating about it ourselves?

The answer given by most prophecy gurus would be this "to prepare people for the return of Christ."  This would be a noble goal.  I do not doubt that people are being saved as a result of some of these ministries.  I do not doubt that many Christians are being challenged with holy living in the light of the imminent return of Christ.

However, as pastors, we must protect ourselves and our flocks, as one writer puts it "from speculations and sensationalism which do not build up the body of Christ, but lead to delusion, resentment, and faithlessness when would-be prophecies under the guise of interpretation fail."  Prophecy is big business today and we must insist on textual accuracy with those who would teach our people about this important topic.

The major problem I have with some of these prophecy "experts" is in the realm of biblical interpretation.  Like most of them, I am a premillennialist and hold to a pretribulation rapture.  Here are the two issues I take with prophecy "experts" today:

First, they point to passages like the Olivet discourse in Matthew 24:

And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?  And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.  For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.  And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.  For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.  All these are the beginning of sorrows.

Well, clearly all of these signs have been fulfilled in almost every generation since the time of Christ.  Prophecy experts will say that because there are MORE wars, earthquakes, famines, etc., than ever before in history, we must be closer to the Lord's return.  Well again, we're obviously closer to His return than anyone in history, but that does not mean that God is somehow obligated to return NOW.  He may, but He may also delay His coming for another 2000 years.  We just don't know.

Second, because there is not much specificity with the signs before Christ's return, prophecy leaders will most often attempt to relate current events to those biblically prophesied to be part of the Great Tribulation.  This is where I take issue again with the "experts" for two reasons: 

  1. Because the prophecy teachers claim to be observing the formation of features of Tribulation history prior to the actual beginning of the Tribulation, they are effectively converting Bible interpretation into a form of prophecy itself.  Now I would certainly agree that there is a future Tribulation coming.  The Scripture generally outlines the actual events that will transpire.  But I seriously challenge the claim of any prophecy "expert" to identify specific current events as the fulfillment of the descriptions of the Day of the Lord.
  2. In biblical history, prophetic fulfillment has ALWAYS been identified and proclaimed by prophetic authority.  It takes such authority or the actual appearance of Christ Himself to identify any particular pattern of trouble in the world as THE Tribulation.  We cannot get that authority by claiming special interpretation.

I want to be very clear in my concluding remarks.  The study of eschatology is valuable.  There is no doubt that God intended us to know a certain time line of events, however vague they may be discerned.  I do not believe that dispensational differences should ever be a test of fellowship for believers.  He recorded specific details in books such as Ezekiel, Daniel, Isaiah, and Revelation, among others, that point us to truth about the future.  Why did God provide this information to us?  I believe that the study of prophecy should motivate the believer to at least three responses:

  1. "Even so come, Lord Jesus."  We long for the return of Christ, the redeeming of our bodies, the eternal worship of and fellowship with God.  As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5, we GROAN.
  2. "I will trust in Him."  He keeps His promises.  He will complete His covenant with Israel.  He will punish sin.  He can be trusted.
  3. "Here am I, Lord, send me."  The spiritual needs of this world are great.  In light of the imminent return of Christ, we must be diligent in making disciples of all nations.

It's been many, many years since I sat petrified in my chair as a boy watching the "Thief in the Night" films.  While prophecy is a wonderful subject and one about which I plan to write more, there is great danger and, yes, even great error in many of the prophecy seminars being propagated today.  Today's false prophets have a slick presentation, full-color and glossy, but error is still error.  Let's be careful in this subject as we do in so many others to not go farther than the Bible.  I am confident that we know enough to respond correctly to the revelation God has given.  Jesus will return, at the time appointed by the Father, no sooner and no later.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Josh Larsen on May 10, 2006 at 2:20 pm

    Great post, Brian. I laughed out loud the first time I saw the picture you’ve chosen to use for this post. It’s perfect. I too was both shocked and thrilled to learn that I am a part of Generation R (the R can stand for either Rapture, Revelation, Return, tRibulation, antichRist, or my favorite, one woRld government). You’ve already heard me vent about this issue, so I’ll spare your blog, but suffice it to say that I thought your post was right on target. Good job.

    Reply

  2. Hi Brian,

    Good remarks on the subject of prophecy. I would agree with you concerning those who make much of the events of today as truly a fulfillment of prophecy for the future events yet to come. As you mentioned and I believe also the next calendar event is the rapture of the church. There is nothing that is preventing the rapture from taking place today other than God’s will bringing it about. That is the Christian’s expectative hope and certainly “a” motivation for living a Romans 12:1-2. I believe that an emphasis on prophecy is certainly a subject that catches the attention of not only Christians but also the lost as to what is going to happen next. What a shame it is when those who should know better, step out of bounds with their personal spectulation of events going on in today’s world. So often what happens is that those who interpret Scripture correctly throughout the Bible go off course when it come to prophecial Biblical passages. One thing is for sure and that is if the Lord does not come today then we shall be closer tomorrow. Looking forward to reading more of your thoughts on this subject.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Aaron Carpenter on May 18, 2006 at 8:39 pm

    Brian,
    I am in wholehearted agreement with you on this. Having survived Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina while living on the Gulf Coast, I know first-hand how a large-scale disaster changes everything people once thought was “normal.” Life simply does not continue as it once did. Also notice how FEMA, an agency that has spent billions of dollars preparing for worst-case scenarios, was completely unprepared to deal with New Orleans after Katrina. In light of this, does it not seem foolish to assume we can look around us today and see conditions that match those of the Tribulation world? Just the simple fact that millions disappear without trace or explanation will change the global setup as we know it. Within a week following the rapture, I am certain global politics and economics will resemble nothing that we can even imagine today. So why are we so confident that “all the pieces are in place?” When the Rapture happens, all those pieces will get dumped off the board, and a new game set up in its place.

    Reply

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