Learning From Failed End-Time Predictions

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Does anyone remember the prediction that the rapture would happen in 1988? Here's a reminder of other end-time predictions that didn't unfold.

Over the last season I’ve been pressing into worship and enjoying more of the presence of the Lord. I’ve also been having wonderful outings with my beautiful wife and children. I keep thinking, how can I bring more encouragement and assist in the expansion of the kingdom of God in this hour?

Yet, every time things begin to advance, feet start dragging and someone “slams on the brakes.” Bible-believing Christians are supposed to be talking about “doing life together” and growing in the purposes of God. Yet most are continually distracted by politics, fear and apocalyptic end-time scenarios.

I sincerely desire to laugh, love and leave a legacy, but it can be extremely difficult. Many so-called “prophets” are talking about societal breakdown and catastrophe. In their sensationalist best-sellers, they claim to have witnessed the “signs of the times.”

This is so prominent that a message of “good news” and hope is extremely difficult to find these days (and sometimes it’s even rejected).

You probably already know this, but this isn’t the only generation that has made these claims. In fact, over the last century there have been countless assertions about “harbingers” and “signs of the apocalypse.” Leaders in previous eras also insisted they deciphered the book of Revelation and understood the alarming headlines.

So, the pessimistic, cataclysmic claims aren’t new. They’re actually part of the lengthy tradition of anxiety and failed prognostications. In fact, speculative predictions about the end have characterized American Christianity for at least three generations. One would like to think that this madness would ultimately cease, but it never really does. I’ve found that people keep making these kinds of end-time assertions. Yet, an honest analysis would show the “track record” isn’t good. Thousands of “undeniable” claims in previous decades were proven to be wrong. Let me remind you of some of the things affirmed in the past.

A Century of Failed Predictions

At the start of the First World War, the Weekly Evangel, a wide-reaching fundamentalist publication, boldly affirmed that, “The war preliminary to Armageddon, it seems, has commenced.”1 Less than two years later, S.D. Gordon, a popular devotional writer, insisted that the “end of the world” would “occur in our generation. That is to say that the man of average age now living, and all younger, barring the usual accidents of sickness and death, will witness the tremendous climax and transition.”[2]

These mistaken beliefs weren’t exclusive to the early 20th century. There were many similar claims made during World War II. In fact, it got even worse in the midst of the Cold War paranoia that erupted during the Eisenhower administration. In 1958, one of the more noted of the Salvation-Healing evangelists proclaimed, 

Jesus is coming soon … John the Baptist is preaching again! Have you heard John preach lately? I have. You are hearing one of them now.”3

Apocalyptic predictions expanded significantly during the 1970s and 1980s. For example, in 1970, Hal Lindsey, made a nuanced prediction that the rapture would take place in 1981—seven years prior to Israel’s 40th anniversary (leaving seven years for the “Great Tribulation”). Explaining his outlook Lindsey wrote:

A generation in the Bible is something like 40 years. If this is a correct deduction, then within 40 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. … 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’ (Matt. 24:34, NASB). What generation? Obviously, in context, the generation that would see the signs-chief among them the rebirth of Israel.4

Obviously nothing of any biblical significance happened in 1981—and for that matter nothing noteworthy occurred seven years later. It was presumed that in 1988, during the 40th anniversary of Israel’s re-establishment, strategic end-time events would transpire. Countless futurists were predicting the rapture or other apocalyptic scenarios, but they were greatly mistaken. In his hastily written book entitled, 88 Reasons Why The Rapture Will Be In 1988, Edgar C. Whisenant argued that the rapture of the Christian church would occur between Sept. 11-13, 1988. He noted,

Only if the Bible is in error am I wrong, and I say unequivocally. There is no way biblically that I can be wrong; and I say that to every preacher in town”5 … if there were a king in this country and I could gamble with my life, I would stake my life on Rosh Hashana 1988.”6

After his September prediction failed to materialize, Whisenant changed his termination date to Rosh Hashanah 1989—publishing The Final Shout: Rapture Report 1989. This is a pattern that Whisenant would later repeat in 1993 and 1994. Despite his impassioned pleas, the rapture and his cataclysmic understanding of the end times never manifested. As the year 1988 (as well as 1989, 1993 and 1994) passed without major incident, apocalyptic teachers looked ahead to 2007—the 40th anniversary of Israel reclaiming Jerusalem (1967). With this pivotal date in the cross-hairs, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins noted the following:

If we use the 1948 or the 1967 date, apply the span of a person’s lifetime (give or take 10 years for the person to ‘see’ and comprehend the events), then subtract seven or more years for the Tribulation and an interim period between the Rapture and the signing of the covenant with Israel, we come to the same time period for the return of the Lord that many others have suggested … our generation.”7

Nevertheless, to the dismay of Dispensational Premillennialists, 2007 also passed without incident. Despite their feverish insistence, the apocalypse clearly didn’t transpire within a “generation” of 1948 or 1967. Because of this, many who held a cataclysmic view were forced to rethink what a “generation” really was. Some now suggesting that it is a 70- or 100-year span. They’re open to most any adaption, with the single exception of rethinking their erroneous end-time worldview.

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