A number of articles have been published recently that claim that the end is near. Anne Graham Lotz argued that the fig tree illustration in Matthew 24:32 and the proclamation of the gospel to the “whole world” are two end-time signs. I dealt with Lotz’s arguments in my article “Is This It? Are We in the ‘Last Days’?”
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The “fig tree” illustration doesn’t have anything to do with Israel becoming a nation again (Matt. 24:32), and the gospel only had to be preached as far as the Roman Empire could tax the then known world since the same Greek word (oikoumenē) is used in Matthew 24:14 and Luke 2:1. The apostle Paul writes that the gospel had been preached to “every creature under heaven” (Col. 1:23; also 1:6; Rom. 10:18) and “had been made known to all the nations” (Rom. 16:26; also Rom. 1:8; 1 Tim. 3:16).
Billy Hollowell, the author of the article that reported on Lotz’s end-times views is also the author of the article “5 Purported ‘Signs’ That Have So Many Pastors and Theologians Believing That the Biblical End Times Are Approaching.” (As far as I can find, he only mentions four.)
Hallowell begins by declaring that Jesus “proclaimed in Matthew 24:36 that ‘no one knows’ the day or the hour of his return. While the Bible proclaims that humanity cannot know the ‘when,’ Jesus did reveal to the disciples some of the signs of his second coming in Matthew 24:6-8.”
There’s a great deal of confusion about the meaning of Matthew 24:36. Jesus is not referring to His Second Coming but the judgment coming that was going to come upon Jerusalem before that living generation passed away (Matt. 24:1-3). In Matthew 24:34, Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” The “this generation” was their generation, not some distant generation. If Jesus had a future generation in mind, He would have said “that generation” and used the third person plural throughout the chapter. The “day and the hour” Jesus is referring to is the day and the hour when the temple would be destroyed, an event that took place in AD 70. They knew the generation – their generation – but they would not know the day and hour.1 That’s why Jesus told them to head for the hills just outside the city when they saw certain things take place (Matt. 24:15-20). The coming judgment could be escaped on foot. It’s obvious that Jesus is not describing a worldwide great tribulation that encompasses a world-wide audience. Notice what Jesus says in v. 15: “when YOU see” (also verses 6, 9, 20, 23, 25, 26, 33, 34).
One of the signs that prophecy writers point to as an end-time sign is “wars and rumors of wars” (24:6-8). Note that Jesus is addressing His disciples and those of their generation: “And YOU will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars” (v. 6). In fact, there were many wars in the lead up to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Just as Jesus predicted, turmoil was widespread throughout that generation. The Annals of Tacitus, covering the period from A.D. 14 to the death of Nero in A.D. 68, describes that period of history with phrases such as “disturbances in Germany,” “commotions in Africa,” “commotions in Thrace,” “insurrections in Gaul,” “intrigues among the Parthians,” “the war in Britain,” and “the war in Armenia.” Wars were fought from one end of the empire to the other. All this took place during the Pax Romana, the Roman Peace. Wars are not signs except during a time of declared peace.
Jesus also told His disciples that famines in the land would signify the drawing near to judgment (Matt. 24:7). Were there famines during their generation? Indeed, there were. Beginning with the book of Acts, we see that famines were prevalent in the period prior to Jerusalem’s destruction in AD 70.
“Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world [oikoumenē: see Matt. 24:14 and Luke 2:1]. And this took place in the reign of Claudius. And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea” (Acts 11:27B29).
The famine was so great that churches as far away as Corinth participated in relief efforts (1 Cor. 16:1B5; Rom. 15:25B28). The entire Roman Empire was affected.
Again, Jesus was not describing some far off worldwide prophetic event. “The end” Jesus references (Matt. 24:6, 13) is the “end of the age” (24:3; see 1 Cor. 10:11; Heb. 1:1-2; 9:26), not the end of the world (kosmos).
Mixed into the prophetic events of the Olivet Discourse, Hallowell mentions the “‘Gog’ and ‘Magog’ battles that are referenced in the books of Ezekiel [38 and 39] and Revelation [20:8].” The Gog and Magog war was fought centuries ago with ancient weapons against an ancient foe. The historical context is described in the book of Esther where “Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, who were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus” (Esther 3:6).The Gog and Magog war describes Haman’s failure to thwart God’s purpose for His people (Ezek. 39:15). There is not enough space in this article to deal with this topic. I’ve published an outline on the subject that is available as a free download here. In addition, I’ve written The Gog and Magog End-Time Alliance: Israel, Russia, and Syria in Bible Prophecy that is a comprehensive study of the subject.
“Gog and Magog” in Revelation 20:8 is being used like Jezebel (2:20), Egypt and Sodom (11:8), and Babylon (17-18) are used – symbols of defeated Old Testament enemies of the people of God. The symbolic “Gog and Magog” war in Revelation 20:8 doesn’t have anything to do with what’s going on today since it doesn’t take place for at least another 1000 years, “when the thousand years are completed” (20:7). According to modern-day prophecy theorists, the thousand years hasn’t started yet.
One of the most popular claims is that Israel becoming a nation again in 1948 is a fulfillment of Bible prophecy. Hallowell explains it like this:
“That brings me to the next modern-day phenomenon that has piqued the interest of Bible experts: the 1948 re-emergence of Israel after a Jewish state was noticeably absent from the map for nearly 1,900 years.
“Here’s why that matters: futurists who see many Bible prophecies as being currently unfulfilled believe that the Old and New Testament scriptures consistently predicted that a state of Israel would once again emerge at some point in the future.
“Consider that Ezekiel 36:24, which was written 2,500 years ago, includes the following words that are attributed to God: ‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.’”
The thing of it is, the book of Ezekiel was written before the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC (Dan. 1:1-2) and the eventual return from exile 70 years later (Dan. 9:1-2; 2 Chr. 36:21; Ezra 1:1; Jer. 25:11, 12; 29:10; Zech. 7:5).
Any prophecy about the return of Israel to their land was fulfilled when Israel actually returned to their land after the Babylonian captivity, reestablished Jerusalem as the capital, and rebuilt the temple. Read the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Nothing is said in the New Testament about Israel returning to their as a necessary prophetic sign.
Let’s not forget that the temple Jesus predicted would be destroyed (John 2:19) was a rebuilt temple. Nowhere in the New Testament is there any mention of another rebuilt temple. Jesus had predicted that “not one stone here” – the temple that Jesus’ disciples pointed out to Him, not a future rebuilt temple – “will be left upon another, which will not be torn down” (Matt. 24:2). This happened as Jesus predicted with the dismantling of the temple in AD 70.
To his credit, Hallowell mentions that many prophecy experts do not believe that the 1948 reestablishment of Israel as a nation is what is being prophesied in the Old Testament:
Other experts, though, would counter that this verse [Ezekiel 36:24], among others, related to the Babylonian captivity during which the Jews were forcefully taken by King Nebuchadnezzar II and were held in Babylonia after being expelled from Judah following its conquest around 597 BC. — and not to the 1948 re-creation of Israel.
The New Testament doesn’t say anything about Israel becoming a nation again or the need for the reestablishment of Israel as a nation as a necessary fulfillment of Bible prophecy. A number of prophecy pundits argue that the fig tree parable in Matthew 24:32 is prophetic proof that Israel has future prophetic significance. The parallel account in Luke states, “Behold the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they put forth leaves, you see it and know for yourselves that summer is now near” (Luke 21:29-31). If the fig tree represents Israel, then there is a problem with what Jesus says in Matthew 21:19-20: “‘No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.’ And at once the fig tree withered.” You can download a free PDF of “Is Modern-Day Israel a Fulfillment of Bible Prophecy?”
Read related article: “Is This It? Are We in the ‘Last Days’?”
The third issue that Hallowell says “is sparking intrigue among Bible enthusiasts about the world’s proximity to the end times is the fact that American culture is changing at a rapid rate, with traditional understandings of marriage and gender transforming, as a more progressive view on sexuality takes root.”
Let’s not forget that homosexuality was a moral issue when the church was in its infancy (Rom. 1:18-32; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; 1 Tim. 1:8-14). Generally, such acceptance of moral degradation signals the end of a man-centered, secular, and material worldview. It does not by definition mean an inevitable apocalyptic end. Some nations are holding the line against the insanity of homosexuality and sexual redefinition. The United States is not the kingdom of God. God’s church is bigger than America.
Why bother trying to stop the moral slide when, as John MacArthur stated, “‘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”?2 Can you imagine what would have happened to the early church if this type of thinking had been promoted after the deaths of Stephen (Acts 7:54-60) and James the brother of John (Acts 12:1-3)? The church had some of its own moral problems (1 Cor. 5:1-2). The apostle Paul describes the persecutions he suffered through (2 Cor. 11:16-33; also 2 Tim. 2:9; 3:11). We know that Peter would suffer martyrdom (John 21:18-23). It would have been easy for prophecy writers to claim that the end of the world was near and that there was no hope for societal change given that most Christians had no influence, social, political, or otherwise. The Roman Empire crushed all opposition. In time, however, the culture was reclaimed by the advance of the gospel and the application of God’s Word to all areas of life.
There’s been a long history of discounting the future because of end-time prophetic thinking, as Greg L. Bahnsen writes:
The effect of the teachings rising out of these years [of the 18th century] was a drastic pessimism which precluded the courage to face liberal defections (indeed, such defections were expected and inevitable) or to undertake long-term projects for the church.3
For example, Francis William Newman rejected the belief espoused by John Nelson Darby, the founder of dispensational premillennialism and the pre-tribulational “rapture” of the church doctrine, that “the imminent return of Christ ‘totally forbids all working for earthly objects distant in time.’”4 This would have included the study of mathematics, medicine, art, music, and the sciences unless there were “immediate spiritual results.”5
Social and political endeavor was no longer seen as legitimate; . . . Missions had to abandon the aim of establishing Christian institutions and concentrate simply on the conversion of individual souls, as A. A. Hodge astutely observed of premillennial strategy. The visible church was depreciated, its pastoral office deemed unnecessary, and its historic doctrine disregarded. In Geneva, 1840, Darby declared that restoration is impossible in this dispensation, that it is delusive to expect the earth to be filled with the knowledge of the Lord prior to His advent, and that we must expect a constant progression of evil.6 Hope was cut out of the heart of Christendom. As one might expect, such pessimistic predictions as to the value and effect of the church on earth tended to become self-fulfilling prophecies.7
What millions of Christians have believed eschatologically about the future has had a negative impact on our nation’s moral, social, and political world.
Another sign that Hallowell points to that prophecy “experts” claim must mean the end is near “is the idea that the Christian gospel continues to be preached in even the most remote and hard-to-reach geographic areas throughout the world.” Matthew 28:19 is a command to “make disciples of all nations,” not just preach the gospel. There is a difference. Why bother making disciples of the nations (not just people in nations) if the end is just around the corner?
Hallowell confuses the Great Commission with what Jesus predicted in Matthew 24:14 as a lead-up to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 – preaching the gospel of the kingdom to “the whole world.” Actually, it’s not the “whole world” (kosmos) but what was the then known world – the Roman world. The Greek word that’s used is oikoumenē not kosmos. Oikoumenē is also used in Luke 2:1 which describes the limits of the taxing authority of Rome to the boundaries of the Roman Empire. The word is also used to describe the limited extent of the famine that occurred during the reign of Claudius. It was Empire-wide (oikoumenē), not worldwide (Acts 11:27-30).8
Prophetic speculation has been a thorn in the side to a thriving Christian worldview. Assuring Christians that the end is near because of certain signs is misreading the Bible. Most of the signs regarding the end refer to the end of the Old Covenant Age that passed away with Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. The outward manifestation of that end was demonstrated to the world when the obsolete temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. Jesus is the true temple.
Gary DeMar, “The Passing Away of Heaven and Earth” in Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church, 4th ed. (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 1999), chap. 15. ↩
John F. MacArthur, The Vanishing Conscience: Drawing the Line in a No-Fault, Guilt-Free World (Dallas: Word, 1994), 12. ↩
Greg L. Bahnsen, “The Prima Facie Acceptability of Postmillennialism,” The Millennium, Journal of Christian Reconstruction, 3:2 (Winter, 1976-1977), 51-52. ↩
Francis William Newman, Phases of Faith; or, Passages From the History of My Creed (London: George Woodfall and Son, 1850), 35. ↩
Newman, Phases of Faith, 37. ↩
For the discussion of the rise of pretribulational rapturism see J. A. De Jong, As the Waters Cover the Sea: Millennial Expectations in the Rise of Anglo-American Missions 1640-1810 (J. H. Kok N.V. Kampen, 1970), 163-164, 191-192; Iain H. Murray, The Puritan Hope: A Study in Revival and the Interpretation of Prophecy (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1971), 187-206, 284-287; cf. Dave MacPherson, The Unbelievable Pre-Trib Origin (Kansas City: Heart of America Bible Society, 1973), passim. ↩
Bahnsen, “The Prima Facie Acceptability of Postmillennialism,” 51-52. ↩
For a detailed study of how oikoumenē is used in the New Testament, see Gary DeMar, “The Myth that the Gospel Has Yet to be Preached in the Whole World,” 10 Popular Prophecy Myths Exposed and Answered (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2010), chap. 8. ↩