A popular metaphor for prophetic irrelevance is the sinking Titanic theme. “This metaphor was made famous, of course, by the 1950s radio preacher J. Vernon McGee, who warned his listeners with the rhetorical question, ‘Do you polish brass on a sinking ship?’ (Quoted in Gary North, Rapture Fever: Why Dispensationalism is Paralyzed (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1993), 100.) Apparently, McGee used the metaphor often, elsewhere referring to the ‘sinking ship of civilization.’” (Joel McDurmon, “Do You Polish the Brass on a Sinking Ship?”)
Eschatological ideas have consequences, and many Christians are beginning to understand how those ideas have shaped the cultural landscape. A world always on the precipice of some great and inevitable apocalyptic event is not in need of redemption but only of escape. As one end-time speculator put it, “the world is a sinking Titanic ripe for judgment.” (Jan Markell, “Kingdom Now: We’re Not Returning to Eden” For a response, see Gary DeMar, “Is the World a Sinking Titanic?,” Biblical Worldview (May 2007), 4–6.)
In February 1973, I was sitting in a pub in Ann Arbor, Michigan, discussing the end of the world with a high school friend. He was outlining what he claimed was on the horizon based on the bestselling book of the 1970s The Late Great Planet Earth, a book that beat out The Joy of Sex (1972) for the best-selling non-fiction book prize for the decade. (Bruce J. Schulman, The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture, Society, and Politics (New York: The Free Press, 2001), 93.)
Lindsey made the following prediction in TLGPE:
“The most important sign in Matthew has to be the restoration of the Jews to the land in the rebirth of Israel. Even the figure of speech ‘fig tree’ has been a historic symbol of national Israel. When the Jewish people, after nearly 2,000 years of exile, under relentless persecution, became a nation again on 14 May 1948 the ‘fig tree’ put forth its first leaves. Jesus said that this would indicate that He was ‘at the door,’ ready to return.
“Then He said, ‘Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place’ (Matthew 24:34, NASB). What generation? Obviously, in context, the generation that would see the signs—chief among them the rebirth of Israel. A generation in the Bible is something like forty years. If this is a correct deduction, then within forty years or so of 1948, all these things could take place. Many scholars who have studied Bible prophecy all their lives believe that this is so.” (Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan,  1971), 53–54.)
David Chilton makes the case that “this generation,” when studied in terms of how it is used in the Gospels can only mean the generation to whom Jesus was speaking. He begins by refuting the claim “that the word generation here really means race, and that Jesus was simply saying that the Jewish race would not die out until all these things took place.”
Chilton then offers this challenge: “Get out your concordance and look up every New Testament occurrence of the word generation [43 times in the NT] (in Greek, genea) and see if it ever means ‘race’ in any other context. Here are all the references for the Gospels: Matthew 1:17; 11:16; 12:39, 41, 42, 45; 16:4; 17:17; 23:36; 24:34; Mark 8:12, 38; 9:19; 13:30; Luke 1:48, 50; 7:31; 9:41; 11:29, 30, 31, 32, 50, 51; 16:8; 17:25; 21:32. Not one of these references is speaking of the entire Jewish race over thousands of years; all use the word in its normal sense of the sum total of those living at the same time.”
You don’t have to go far to see how right Chilton is. Begin with how “generation” is used in Matthew 1:17. Substitute “races” where the word “generations” appears. “This generation,” as Chilton points out, “always refers to contemporaries. In fact, those who say it means ‘race’ tend to acknowledge this fact, but explain that the word suddenly changes its meaning when Jesus uses it in Matthew 24!” (Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion (Lake Horn, MS: Dominion Press,  2007), 85.)
When it was first published three and a half decades ago, Paradise Restored helped to precipitate a massive paradigm shift in the Evangelical and Reformed world from abject pessimism to unabashed optimism. The reasons are simple enough: this classic work is forthrightly Biblical. It is masterfully written. It is pungently clear. And it is powerfully persuasive.
New English Bible: “I tell you this: the present generation will live to see it all.”
Today’s English Version: “Remember this! All these things will happen before the people now living have all died.”
Moffatt’s Translation: “I tell you truly, the present generation will not pass away, till all this happens.”
Weymouth’s Translation: “I tell you in solemn truth that the present generation will certainly not pass away until all this has taken place.”
Not only are Lindsey and others wrong on the meaning of “this generation,” but they are wrong on making 1948 prophetically significant. The math is quite simple: 1948 + 40 = 1988. In 2028, 80 years—two full generations—will have passed away.
In an interview published in Christianity Today on April 15, 1977, seven years after the publication of TLGPE and 11 years from the 1988 date, Lindsey told W. Ward Gasque:
“I don’t know how long a biblical generation is. Perhaps somewhere between sixty and eighty years. The state of Israel was established in 1948. There are a lot of world leaders who are pointing to the 1980s as being the time of some very momentous events. Perhaps it will be then. But I feel certain that it will take place before the year 2000.”
In that same 1977 interview, Gasque asked Lindsey: “But what if you’re wrong?” Lindsey replied: “Well, there’s just a split second’s difference between a hero and a bum. I didn’t ask to be a hero, but I guess I have become one in the Christian community. So I accept it. But if I’m wrong about this, I guess I’ll become a bum.”
• “What a way to live! With optimism, with anticipation, with excitement. We should be living like persons who don’t expect to be around much longer.” (Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970), 145.)
• “I don’t like clichés but I’ve heard it said, ‘God didn’t send me to clean the fish bowl, he sent me to fish.’ In a way there’s a truth to that.” (An Interview with Hal Lindsey, “The Great Cosmic Countdown: Hal Lindsey on the Future,” Eternity (January 1977), 21.)
• “The church is not in the business of taking anything away from Satan but the souls of men. The world is a sinking Titanic ripe for judgment, not Garden of Eden perfection.”
• “This world is not going to get any easier to live in. Almost unbelievably hard times lie ahead. Indeed, Jesus said that these coming days will be uniquely terrible. Nothing in all the previous history of the world can compare with what lies in store for mankind.” (Charles C. Ryrie, The Living End (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1976), 21.)
• “‘Reclaiming’ the culture is a pointless, futile exercise. I am convinced we are living in a post-Christian society — a civilization that exists under God’s judgment.” (John F. MacArthur, The Vanishing Conscience: Drawing the Line in a No-Fault, Guilt-Free World (Dallas: Word, 1994), 12.)
• “The [dispensational] premillennial position sees no obligation to make distinctly Christian laws.” (Norman L. Geisler, “A Premillennial View of Law and Government,” Moody Monthly (October 1985), 129.)
Tom Sine offers a startling example of the effect “prophetic inevitability” can have on some people:
“Do you realize if we start feeding hungry people things won’t get worse, and if things don’t get worse, Jesus won’t come?” interrupted a coed during a Futures Inter-term I recently conducted at a northwest Christian college. Her tone of voice and her serious expression revealed she was utterly sincere. And unfortunately I have discovered the coed’s question doesn’t reflect an isolated viewpoint. Rather, it betrays a widespread misunderstanding of biblical eschatology … that seems to permeate much contemporary Christian consciousness. I believe this misunderstanding of God’s intentions for the human future is seriously undermining the effectiveness of the people of God in carrying out his mission in a world of need…. The response of the (student) … reflects what I call the Great Escape View of the future. So much of the popular prophetic literature has focused our attention morbidly on the dire, the dreadful, and the destruction of all that is.” (Tom Sine, The Mustard Seed Conspiracy: You Can Make a Difference in Tomorrow’s Troubled World (Waco, TX: Word, 1981), 69.)
Can you imagine what would have happened to the early church if this type of thinking had been promoted after the murders of Stephen at the hand of the soon-to-be apostle Paul (Acts 7:54–60), James the brother of John at the hand of Herod (Acts 12:1–3), the martyred saints in Revelation (Rev. 6:9–11; see 1:9; 2:10; 7:13–14), and the prophesied destruction of the temple and the judgment upon Israel before their generation passed away?
Saul was converted on the Damascus Road and Herod was “struck by an angel,” “eaten by worms and breathed his last breath” (12:20–24), Nero committed suicide in AD 68, and the remnants of the Roman Empire are a tourist attraction today.
With so much prophetic material in the Bible — somewhere around 25% of the total makeup of Scripture — it seems difﬁcult to argue that an expert is needed to understand such a large portion of God’s Word and so many ‘experts’ could be wrong generation after generation. In this course, Gary DeMar strips Bible prophecy of all of its mystical and magical interpretations and sets the record straight. Complete with audio, video, and text, Eschatology 101 is the next best thing to sitting in a classroom with Gary himself.
American Vision’s mission is to Restore America to its Biblical Foundation—from Genesis to Revelation. American Vision (AV) has been at the heart of worldview study since 1978, providing resources to exhort Christian families and individuals to live by a Biblically based worldview. Visit www.AmericanVision.org for more information, content and resources
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