For more than 40 years I have been following the views of prophecy speculation and the claims made by people about end-of-the-world scenarios.
People have short memories or have no memory about prophecy speculators who have assured an anxious public that Jesus would return by this or that date. His coming is always said to be “near.” The 1980s was described as the “terminal generation.”
In 1970, Hal Lindsey wrote The Late Great Planet Earth which included a prophetic teaser that something called the “rapture” would take place before 1988. It was based on the claim that when Israel became a nation again in 1948 that the “rapture” would occur within a 40-year prophetic window. LGPE sold around 30 million copies.
In 1988, NASA engineer Edgar Whisenant wrote 88 Reasons Why the Rapture is in 1988. When the “rapture” didn’t occur, he revised his book with 89 reasons why the rapture would be in 1989.
Following a similar prophetic script, Pastor Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel in California wrote in his 1976 book The Soon to be Revealed Antichrist that “we are living in the last generation which began with the rebirth of Israel in 1948 (see Matt. 24:32–34).” He repeats the claim in his 1978 book End Times:
“If I understand Scripture correctly, Jesus taught us that the generation which sees the ‘budding of the fig tree,’ the birth of the nation of Israel, will be the generation that sees the Lord’s return. I believe that the generation of 1948 is the last generation. Since a generation of judgment is forty years and the Tribulation period lasts seven years, I believe the Lord could come back for His Church any time before the Tribulation starts, which would mean any time before 1981. (1948 + 40 – 7 = 1981).”1
If this prophetic math sounds familiar, it’s because the same end-time logic was used by Hal Lindsey in The Late Great Planet Earth in 1970.
On December 31, 1979, Smith told those who had gathered on the last day of the year that the “rapture” would take place before the end of 1981. He went on to say that because of ozone depletion Revelation 16:8 would be fulfilled during the tribulation period: “And the fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun; and it was given to it to scorch men with fire.”
In addition, Halley’s Comet would pass near Earth in 1986 and would wreak havoc on those left behind as debris from its million-mile-long tail pummeled the planet. Here’s how Smith explained the prophetic scenario in his book Future Survival…