By Thomas Williamson
3131 S. Archer Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60608
For 2000 years now, misguided Christians have misused the
prophecies of the Bible, especially the book of Revelation, to
do that which Christ forbids us to do in Matthew 24:36 - set dates
for Christ's Second Coming.
Some of the biggest money-making prophecy books of our time have been those which relate events in Revelation to our own time, thus leading to the conclusion that we are now in the "Terminal Generation." But there is nothing new about this genre of prophetic malarkey.
Jonathan Kirsch, in "A History of the End of the World,", notes that "More than a few readers of Revelation in every age, including our own, have thrilled at the idea that the end is near. . . . they persist in poring over the text of Revelation in a fresh attempt to figure out the precise date when it will [end]. They have always been wrong, too, of course, but nothing has discouraged the so-called date setters who study the text, crunch the numbers, and come up with dates when the world must end. Not a single century has passed since the ink dried on the first copy of Revelation without some new prediction of the precise date when its prophecies will finally come to pass."
The first known date-setters were the Montanists, who arose about 156 AD. One of their prophetesses, Maximilla, predicted, "After me there will be no more prophecy, but the End."
The Montanist Church Father Tertullian (late 2nd Century) said, "The biblical command, increase and multiply,' is annulled by the fact that we are living in the last age."
Pope Gregory the Great, about 600 AD, said, I don't know what is happening in other parts of the world, but in this country where we live the world no longer announces its end but demonstrates it."
In 775 the Spanish monk Beatus of Liébana announced that the end would come about 800 AD: "Every catholic ought to ponder, wait and fear, and to consider these 25 years, as if they were not more than an hour, and should weep day and night in sackcloth and ashes for their destruction and the world's, but not strive to calculate time."
Pope Gregory VII, in the 11th Century, said, "The nearer the time of Antichrist approaches, the harder he fights to crush out the Christian faith."
Joachim of Fiore about 1184, taught that the final battle between God and Satan "will not take place in the days of your grandchildren or in the old age of your children, but in your own days, few and evil." He identified the Muslim general Saladin as one of the 7 heads of the Beast of Revelation 13. He informed King Richard the Lion-Hearted that the Saracen army was the Beast rising out of the sea of the book of Revelation, and that the Antichrist (the Pope) was already residing in Rome.
The Spiritual Franciscans, in the 13th Century, saw their founder Francis of Assisi as the "Angel of the 6th Seal" and as one of the 2 witnesses of Revelation 11. They also fingered Pope John XXII as the Antichrist.
Prophecy experts saw the Mongol invasion of 1237 as a fulfillment of the prophecy of the "Kings of the East" and the drying up of the river Euphrates.
Ubertino de Casale, (1259-1330), identified Popes Boniface VIII and Benedict XI as the Land and Sea Beasts of Revelation 13, and calculated the value of Benedict XI's name as 666.
A "Brother John" predicted that 2 Antichrists would arise in 1365 and 1370, and that Jerusalem would soon be rebuilt to serve as the capital of the coming millennial kingdom on earth.
Michael Stifel, a German mathematician, used the pulpit of Martin Luther's church to announce that the end times would begin on October 19, 1533 at 8:00 AM.
In 1606 Nicholas Raimarus published a book in Nuremberg, Germany entitled "Chronological, Certain, and Irrefutable Proof, from the Holy Scripture and Fathers, That the World Will Perish and the Last Day Will Come Within 77 Years."
The "Fifth Monarchy Men" proclaimed the imminent advent of Christ's theocratic kingdom, and almost took over the English Parliament in 1653. When Oliver Cromwell sent troops to suppress them in 1656, they cried, "Lord, appear, now or never!" You guessed it - Christ didn't show up.
George Bell announced that Christ would descend to earth on February 28, 1763. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, opposed that teaching and preached all night on the day Christ was supposed to come, to try to calm the nerves of the agitated crowds.
In 1971, Ronald Reagan declared a recent coup in Libya to be a sign of the end: "That's a sign that the day of Armageddon isn't far off. Everything's falling into place. It can't be long now." Supposedly Libya was to fulfill end-times prophecies by aligning with the Soviet Union. Since that time, the Soviet Union has fallen and Libya is now aligned with the United States. (So much for all the signs of the times "falling into place)."
In 1980 televangelist Pat Robertson announced that "The onrush of events toward the end of the year may see the world in flames. I guarantee you by the fall of 1982 there is going to be a judgment on the world."
In 1979 Jerry Falwell denounced the Camp David peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, saying, "This treaty will not be a lasting treaty. You and I know there's not going to be any real peace in the Middle East until the Lord Jesus sits down upon the throne of David in Jerusalem." After almost 30 years, the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt has remained intact.
These are just a few of the hundreds of examples that could be given, from the 2nd Century up to modern times, of predictions based on the Book of Revelation or other Bible prophecies, that failed to come true. There is a constant torrent of new prophecies of this nature coming forth today, and they need to be regarded with skepticism. Everything that the Bible teaches is true, but the Bible was never meant to reveal the date of Christ's coming or the other detailed scenarios of end-times events that are falsely deduced from obscure Bible verses lifted out of context.
Delusion of the Millerites - No One to Be Saved After 1844
The story of the Millerite movement in the Northeastern USA, which taught that Christ would return on October 22, 1844, is well known. Their delusion was amply supported by prophecies wrenched out of their historical context from the Books of Daniel, Revelation, etc.
Those who refused to embrace the 1844 date for Christ's return were accused of apathy, of spiritual blindness and of perhaps not even being saved. In 1836, William Miller wrote, "I did not think the door would be closed until about AD 1839 - but what does this general apathy mean. After the door is shut - he that is filthy will remain so." Joseph Marsh, on October 2, 1844, proclaimed that soon "The door of salvation will be forever closed."
When Christ was a no-show in 1844, some Adventist groups continued to teach the "shut-door" doctrine which insisted that it was impossible for anyone not already saved before October 22, 1844 to come to salvation. After the passage of some years, it became necessary to quietly drop this inconvenient notion, in order for the Adventist churches to be able to admit new converts as members.
Whitney Cross, in his book "The Burned-Over District," reports on how the Millerites and Adventists found "signs of the times" in all the news events and social trends of their day: "The breaking and scattering of churches; reluctance to imbibe sound doctrine; the spread of seducing beliefs like Shakerism, Catholicism and free thought; false prophets and teachers; and the scattering of holy people' - such occurrences received increasing attention. . . . They found the world beyond rescue, legislatures corrupt, and infidelity, idolatry, Romanism, sectarianism, seduction, fraud, murder and duels all waxing stronger. One of the chief reasons for a sudden terminus was the feeling that every associated body . . . when once occupied . . . has never been regenerated; but has fallen into pollution.' Church and state alike had filled the cup of iniquity' and were now fitted for destruction.'"
This type of negative, pessimistic preaching about how things are inevitably and irretrievably getting worse and worse, thus "proving" that Christ must return soon, is as prevalent today as it was during the Millerite excitements. But such preaching has no more predictive value today, as to the timing of Christ's return, than it did when the Millerites used it to prove the 1844 return of Christ.
Delusion of the Jehovah's Witnesses - Date Setting Frenzy
In 1917, the Jehovah's Witnesses proclaimed, "In the year 1918, when God destroys the churches wholesale and the church members by the millions, it shall be that any escape shall come through the works of Russell." (Charles Taze Russell was the founder of the Russellites, or Jehovah's Witnesses).
In 1918 the book "Millions Now Living Will Never Die," confidently stated that "Therefore we may confidently expect that 1925 will mark the return of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the faithful prophets of old, particularly those named by the Apostle in Hebrews 11, to the conditions of human perfection."
Watchtower magazine on August 15, 1968 stated that "The Battle of Armageddon will be over by the autumn of 1975. It may involve only a difference of weeks or months, not years."
Delusion of the Branch Davidians, the Wackos of Waco
The Mount Carmel compound of the Branch Davidians, near Waco, Texas, was established in 1935 by Bulgarian-American prophet Victor Houteff, who chose the state of Texas, based on a reference in Isaiah 19:24 to "in the midst of the land" which Houteff interpreted to be Texas.
(Such interpretations may seem bizarre, but they are no more so than those of respected prophecy teachers who find references to "the United States in prophecy" in such obscure places as "beyond the rivers of Ethiopia," Isaiah 18:1, and Tarshish or Tartessus, a city in southern Spain, Isaiah 60:9. These are the folks who endlessly boast about their "literal interpretation" of Bible prophecy and yet change Spain and Ethiopia into "the United States." Or maybe they are just really lousy at geography).
In 1955, Houteff's widow Florence Houteff, announced that God's earthly kingdom would be established on April 22, 1959. Mrs. Houteff prophesied that on that date, "the faithful would be slaughtered, resurrected and carried up to heaven." A whole lot of other stuff was supposed to happen on that day: War would break out in the Middle East, all Jews and Arabs would be cleared out of Jerusalem, the Davidic Kingdom would be ushered in, Victor Houteff would come back from the dead, etc.
One thousand faithful followers gathered at Mount Carmel to be wafted up to heaven, having previously given up all their possessions. But nothing happened.
When that prophecy failed, Ben Roden, who had argued for a 1960 date for the end, formed a splinter group called the Branch Davidians. Vernon Howell eventually made himself leader of this group and changed his name to David Koresh.
Koresh saw himself as the Seventh Angel of Revelation 1 and the Lamb of Revelation 5, and believed that he and his followers were living in the time of the breaking of the Seven Seals. When federal agents besieged his compound in 1993, he regarded their activities as the necessary fulfillment of the prophecy of the Fifth Seal, and refused to surrender. As a result, he and almost all of his followers were killed after the compound was set on fire as federal agents sought to break in.
Delusion of Herbert Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God
- "Prediction Addiction"
Joseph Tkach, in the book "Transformed by Truth," noted that Worldwide Church of God founder Herbert Armstrong set dates for the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth: "Mr. Armstrong . . . offered many predictions about its timing (all of which failed to come true). He said that the Worldwide Church of God would first be miraculously transported to a place of safety, probably Petra - an ancient, walled city in the south of Jordan, a place of protection against the terrors of Armageddon - in 1936. He later mistakenly predicted that this event would occur in 43 and then again in 72. Three and a half years after the church was taken to safety, Christ would return and the battle of Armageddon would commence. When all these predictions failed and numbers of people left the church in response, he became much more careful about setting prophetic dates."
Tkach, himself a prominent Worldwide Church of God leader, goes on to list more false prophecies of Herbert Armstrong that appeared in the Plain Truth magazine:
"When the former Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1980, Mr. Armstrong wrote, In the past 2 weeks, this world has entered into a "whole new ball game." The intervention of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan changes the whole world picture.' A few pages later he asked, Can WE discern the signs of the times? END-TIME EVENTS are going to happen FAST from here on! The 80s well might see the END of this present world; WAKE UP!'
"A few months later Mr. Armstrong wrote, Signs are now fast appearing that our Work of the GREAT COMMISSION may be much more near completed than we have realized.' And in a related article in the same publication he ventured his prediction that God's great work through His church (Philadelphia era) may be FINISHED in a matter of months.'
"On June 30, 1980, Mr. Armstrong wrote, This present election travesty may well be the very LAST political election for the presidency of the United States, with little incompetent men vying for the coveted prize.'
"On March 6, 1981, Mr. Armstrong said that conditions in the world fulfilling biblical prophecies are now fast accelerating, indicating that we are indeed in the last of the last days' and predicted that terrible, frightful things are going to happen in the next few years that are going to take the lives of probably 2/3 or more of all the people now living on the face of the earth.'"
Tkach admits that "We also made more than 100 prophetic predictions that failed. For one, we said that Europe was going to unite and take the American and British people into subjection and slavery. We predicted this would happen by the early 1970s - and of course, it didn't.
"The sad fact is that for 50 years we predicted the end of the world would come in just 4 to 7 short years. When those 4 to 7 years passed into history without our predictions coming true, we'd say that the world would end in another 4 to 7 short years. . . . "
Tkach goes on to list false prophecies by WCG minister Roderick Meredith published in the Plain Truth:
1957 - "After 1965, we are destined to run into increasing trouble with the Gentile nations. America and Britain will begin to suffer from trade embargoes imposed by the brown and oriental races . . . We will begin to experience the pangs of starvation and the scarcity of goods!"
1963 - "You might as well wake up and FACE FACTS! The world you live in won't be here 15 years from now!"
1965 - "Frankly, literally dozens of prophesied events indicate that this final revival of the Roman Empire in Europe - and its bestial PERSECUTION of multitudes of Bible-believing Christians - will take place within the next 7 to 10 years of YOUR LIFE!"
Tkach concludes his review of false WCG prophecies by saying, "Our prayers are that God will touch the hearts of those still gripped by such cognitive dissonance, those who are suffering from prediction addiction."
It will come as no surprise to some that the Worldwide Church of God discredited itself by propagating so many wacky, zany false prophecies. There was no reason to expect anything different - after all, they were a false cult.
The problem is that there are many basically orthodox, evangelical, Trinitarian ministries that are still putting out their date-setting and prophetic speculations, in the same manner as the WCG used to do. Just as the WCG discredited their whole cultish, anti-Trinitarian, British-Israelite system by their failed prophecies, we who are true evangelicals tend to discredit our basically sound system of doctrine when we put forth our false, speculative prophecies.
I respectfully disagree with men such as Hank Hanegraaff and Jack Hayford who felt that the Worldwide Church of God reformed itself enough to be accepted as a true New Testament church with totally sound doctrine. I don't see it that way.
However, I do feel that Joseph Tkach and the WCG deserve credit and gratitude for the way they have publicly repudiated and apologized for the false prophecies and "Prediction Addiction" of their denomination. Many of us as evangelicals and fundamentalists need to make our own apologies, and renounce our date-setting errors and "Prediction Addiction."
Date-Setting - An Unethical Ministry Tool
Date-setting for Christ's Second Coming is a ministry tool that has been used by orthodox, Bible-believing groups (Millerites, Hal Lindsey, Jack Van Impe, etc.) as well as heretical cultish groups (Jehovah's Witnesses, Branch Davidians, Worldwide Church of God).
It is an effective ministry tool, a tactic that works for various types of groups, because there are always plenty of people who are seeking otherwise forbidden and unavailable knowledge about the details of the future and the timing of Christ's Second Coming.
Any preacher who wants to build up the crowds, donations, and book and video sales needs only to start offering inside information on the dating of Christ's Second Coming and the signs of that coming. In many cases, the preacher may sincerely believe his own predictions and not necessarily be motivated by desire for monetary gain.
Yes, date-setting and signs of the times preaching are effective ministry strategies, but they are ultimately invalid and unethical, because these predictions over a period of 2000 years have always been wrong, and because the Bible tells us we are not authorized to have this type of specific knowledge about the future (Mark 13:32, Acts 1:7, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2, etc.)
The favorite proof text for the date-setters is Amos 3:7, "Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets." This, like the other proof texts, they use, has been lifted from its context. Amos is speaking here of God's promise to reveal the coming judgment on Israel by the Assyrians, which took place in 722 BC. God says He will reveal this secret to His prophets who are under divine inspiration, including Amos.
We do not have any such inspired prophets today. We have no promise from God that He will let us know the date of Christ's return. "Therefore be ye also ready, for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh." (Matthew 24:44)