Obscuring the signs of the times
Donald Cameron, Clovenfords, Scotland
The dangers of ignoring the prophetical word
The Lord Jesus had the sternest words for those religious leaders who failed to discern the signs of the times, Matt 16. 1-4. It was their responsibility, not only to observe them, but also to draw the attention of the nation to them. We know the outcome of their failure. We would contend that in the present day there are leaders who not only fail to read the relevant signs, but actually declare them obsolete. Some go as far as to teach that the Olivet Discourse, the Book of the Revelation and many other prophecies were expended in the first century. This effectively puts a bushel over the light designed primarily for the last days. This is called ‘Preterism’ and having mentioned it in previous articles this is aimed at making us more aware of it because it is desperately dangerous. It is not the only diversion, but it does much to explain the current indifference and scoffing attitudes to the Lord’s return. In the Lord’s days the ordinary people, who felt that what they were seeing was what the prophets had foretold, were discouraged to believe that, and most reluctantly submitted to their leaders’ views, e.g., John 7. 40-48.
It is doubly dangerous, in that it underpins most post-millennialism, which claims that the world is progressing morally and spiritually. Who are they fooling? The world will be more inclined to take notice of the gospel we preach if we proclaim a programme that is confirmed, rather than contradicted, by world events. Two or three decades ago well-intentioned but misguided believers were claiming in confident terms certain British cities for Christ. In the meantime we have seen in these same towns mosques and temples have multiplied and churches have closed.
The progressive errors of the modern interpretations of prophecy
Was the Bible wrong? Of course not! But the ‘failed’ predictions do, in the world’s eyes, undermine the authority and infallibility of scripture. ‘When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously’, Deut. 18. 22. We must handle the word of God prayerfully and carefully. Postmillennialism is a bankrupt creed, hiding behind the trivial excuse that the numerous signs, which we are witnessing, have nothing to do with our generation.
In Preterism, people have found a way of ‘improving upon God’s plans’ by denying that there are to be a Great Tribulation, an Antichrist and False Prophet, cosmic and ecological catastrophes and a battle of Armageddon before the Lord’s return in power. Peter received the sternest rebuke given to any disciple, when he challenged the Lord for foretelling His death and resurrection, Matt. 16. 21-23. Sin must be judged before there is any hope of glory. There are many modern Christians who simply refuse to believe the numerous prophecies depicting a world on the brink of destruction. They assume that they will eventually ‘Christianize’ the world and make it fit for the Lord’s return to reign. To them the gloom and doom spells ‘defeatism’.
Many are determined to follow the Catholic teaching that God has finished with the nation of Israel forever. The truth is God still has covenant relationships with both Israel and the church but different timetables in relation to them. Is God faithless to the one and faithful to the other? Their complementary but separate identities are to be preserved even into the new heaven and earth, Rev 21. 12-14. Today, in this day of grace, God is calling out a people from all nations; His work with Israel is yet to be completed.
One of its prime objects seems to be to deny a future for Israel
One of the most extreme forms of Preterism claims that 70 AD was Christ’s ultimate judgement on His enemy, Israel! This is one of the most convoluted pieces of tacit anti-semitism ever devised; it flies in the face of Jesus’ prayer for forgiveness from the cross and of dozens of God’s promises. Isaiah, prophetically quoting Christ, says, ‘The day of vengeance is in my heart’, Isa. 63. 4. The context is His return, bloodstained from Edom, the arch-anti-semitist land, which is particularly singled out by the prophets for latter day judgement. Certainly, we read of Israel in Isaiah 63 verse 10, ‘But they rebelled, and vexed against his holy spirit: therefore he turned to be their enemy, and he fought against them’. Of course, God on many occasions sanctioned their defeat and suffering because they had broken the conditions attached to the Levitical Covenant, Deut. 28-30. But the rest of this Isaiah passage is overwhelmingly about Israel’s ultimate restoration and blessing; just try applying the whole passage to the church, and see where it gets you! Preterists could learn a lot from Hosea, whose prophecy makes a mockery of the miss-application to the church of Israel’s future. Certainly there was vengeance in 70 AD, as there has been before and since. But nothing has to date happened on the scale of most end-time prophecies.
Note the Lord’s own lengthy setting out of end-time events
One of the Lord’s lengthiest discourses is that found in Matthew 24 and 25, Mark 13 and Luke 21. He gave it a day or two before His betrayal. Sadly, it is little valued today compared with the only marginally longer Sermon on the Mount or the parables. It follows His lament over the city and His prediction of its forthcoming destruction. The disciples then asked a triple question, ‘When shall these things be? And what shall be the signs of thy coming, and of the end of the world?’
Jesus answered all three, but, like most predictive prophets, He did not specify precisely at which point He switched from the near to the distant future. Thus others, down through the centuries, as for instance during the Bar Kochbar revolt of 135 AD, have been able to draw comfort and even instruction from the Lord’s warnings. Jesus, in Matthew 24 and Mark 13, emphatically confirmed the principle of multiple fulfillments by foretelling the end-time ‘abomination of desolation’, which had already been fulfilled in 168 BC and was to be again in 135 AD, but it is the final fulfillment that will be the most comprehensive.
In practice, we find that it is Luke’s Gospel, which most specifically answers the first question, chapter 21 verses 20-24. We know that neither the Lord’s coming nor the end of the world has occurred to date. Thus, the bulk of what is prophesied here in this discourse still lies ahead. Preterists assume that the Lord answered only the first of the disciples’ questions. In verse 24 He foretold the dispersal of the Jews to all nations and of Jerusalem being trodden down until ‘the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled’. Yes! This is one of the great unspent ‘untils’ of Bible prophecy concerning Israel. And how right it was. The Jews have never in those subsequent nineteen hundred odd years had undisputed title to Jerusalem. A mosque dominates the skyline. Even at the moment of the Lord’s return, when His feet touch the Mount of Olives in fulfilment of Acts 1 verse 10-11 and Zechariah chapter 14 verses 1-4, Gentile domination will be in evidence. However, Zechariah closes with the promise, ‘There shall no more be the Canaanite in the house of the Lord of hosts’, Zech. 14. 21. The Canaanite equates to the modern ‘Palestinian’. Has that ever happened to date? God has declared His perfect agenda, and that, as ever, clashes with perverted political correctness. The present position of Israel is completely compatible with Deuteronomy chapters 28 to 30. It is still ‘the times of the Gentiles’, which commenced with Nebuchadnezzar but the Lord Jesus confirms Daniel’s prophecy that they are to come to an end, Dan. 2. The 70 AD dispersal of the Jews has a time limit upon it.
Jesus gave a parallel ‘until’ in His lament, ‘For I say unto you, ye shall not see me henceforth till ye say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord’, Matt. 23. 39. One glorious day when the city, which on the first Palm Sunday challenged the acclamation of the pilgrims, will at last cry out those words of Psalm 118, the ‘Stone’ initially rejected by the builders will at last be recognized by Israel as the Chief Corner Stone.
The consequences of all this false doctrine are frightening. It is more pervasive than we perhaps realize. It has seriously infiltrated some modern hymnbooks. It brings comfort and even encouragement to anti-semitism, inasmuch as it implies that God has finished with the Jewish nation. Christians are deprived of many of the most pertinent signs of the times and are compelled to look at the Middle East with secular eyes.
Most false prophetic agendas are dependant upon the Augustinian assumption that predictive prophecy is merely allegorical or symbolic. We follow the old adage attributed to Dr. BONAR that ‘where the plain sense makes sense, seek no other sense’. True, there is a significant minority of symbolism and a certain amount of allegory in prophecy. But the symbolism is either about things in the heavenly and angelic realm that are as yet inconceivable to us in any other language. Huge amounts of the Olivet discourse and the Revelation are in the plainest of plain language. Over-allegorization may be conveniently and politically correct for a multi-cultural society but it is compliant with Babylonianism, Greek philosophy, New Age and much, much more. Perhaps that is what it is all about. Who is on the Lord’s side?