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LAST DAYS MADNESSObsession of the Modern Church
By Gary DeMar
American VisionCopyright © 1999 American Vision, Atlanta, Georgia
All right reserved.
THE DATING GAME
Dip into any period of history and you will find prophets of all types, from any number of theological traditions, who claimed they knew when the next endtime event would occur. Some have pointed to the rise in apostasy, lawlessness, natural disasters, signs in the heavens, and an increase in rival religions in their day as unmistakable evidence that the end was near for them. Finding hidden meanings in biblical numbers was another favorite pastime that assured the faithful that the end had to be at hand.
In the second century, Tertullian, in Ad Nationes, wrote, "What terrible wars, both foreign and domestic! What pestilences, famines ... and quakings of the earth has history recorded!" Evaluating current events and concluding that they offer "compelling evidence" that Jesus would return soon has been a common practice among prophecy writers. In the sixth century, Pope Gregory assured the world that the return of Christ could not be far off since he claimed that so many prophecies were being fulfilled in his day.
Of all the signs described by our Lord as presaging the end of the world some we see already accomplished.... For we now see that nation arises against nation and that they press and weigh upon the land in our own times as never before in the annals of the past. Earthquakes overwhelm countless cities, as we often hear from other parts of the world. Pestilence we endure without interruption. It is true that we do not behold signs in the sun and moon and stars but that these are not far off we may infer from the changes of the atmosphere.
Peculiar sectarian cults arose during periods of hype and hysteria, when endtime prophetic speculation was fueled by expected promises of imminent catastrophe and the hope of a future millennium. "At first sight, one could hardly imagine two more dissimilar ideas. The first suggests death and desolation; the second, salvation and fulfillment. Yet the two intertwine again and again. Those who regard the Millennium as imminent expect disasters to pave the way. The present order, evil and entrenched, can hardly be expected to give way of itself or dissolve overnight." Some took advantage of perilous times by heightening eschatological expectations to agitate the faithful, knowing that "men cleave to hopes of imminent worldly salvation only when the hammerblows of disaster destroy the world they have known and render them susceptible to ideas which they would earlier have cast aside."
Others stirred the revolutionary fires in those preoccupied with a coming apocalypse. The zealous were duped into joining a "vision of a new moral order, a world purified and freed from conflict and hatred," a world based on socialistic and communistic ideals that proved tragic for those caught up in the frenzy.
The End is Near-Again!
The small and the great, the sane and the insane, the sacred and the profane have been quick to predict when the end might come. For example, Billy Graham and Barbra Streisand-two people on different ends of the spiritual spectrum-have at least one thing in common: They both believe that we cannot hold out much longer. Barbra Streisand believes "the world is coming to an end." She just feels "that science, technology, and the mind have surpassed the soul-the heart. There is no balance in terms of feeling and love for fellow man." Billy Graham, feeling equally pessimistic, writes: "If you look in any direction, whether it is technological or physiological, the world as we know it is coming to an end. Scientists predict it, sociologists talk about it. Whether you go to the Soviet Union or anywhere in the world, they are talking about it. The world is living in a state of shock." Billy Graham does not "want to linger here on the who, what, why, how, or when of Armageddon." He simply states that "it is near." What does Graham mean by "near"? The Book of Revelation states that the time was "near" for those who first read the prophecy (Rev. 1:1, 3). Since Revelation was written during Nero's reign, prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the prophetic events of Revelation were fulfilled during the lifetime of those who first read the prophecy.
Prophetic D�j� Vu
As early as the second century, prophets were suggesting dates for the bodily return of Christ. The "prophet" Montanus was one of the first to propose such a date. He proclaimed the imminent appearance of the New Jerusalem, the signal for which was to be a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Montanus as a new convert to Christianity believed himself to be the appointed prophet of God. Two prophetesses, Prisca and Maximilla, soon joined him. They claimed to be mouthpieces of the Paraclete, the Greek title used in John's Gospel for the Holy Spirit. The Montanists' predictions failed. Their failures, however, did not deter other date setters:
In the third century, a prophet called Novatian gathered a huge following by crying, "Come, Lord Jesus!" Donatus, a fourth-century prophet, commanded attention when he stressed that only 144,000 people would be chosen by God. He found this magic figure in Revelation 14:1 (a verse which the Jehovah's Witnesses use to proclaim their own version of this heresy). Both Novatian and Donatus were branded as heretics by the Church.
The sack of Rome by the Vandals (A.D. 410) was supposed to bring on the end; the birth of the Inquisition (1209-44) prompted many well-meaning saints to conclude that it was the beginning of the end; the Black Death that killed millions was viewed as the prelude to the demise of the world (1347-50). The plague disrupted society at all levels. Giovanni Boccaccio wrote a vivid description of how some people responded. For some,
debauchery was the road to salvation, or, if there was to be no salvation [from the plague], to happiness in the few days that remained. These profligates abandoned all work and drifted from house to house, drinking, stealing, fornicating. "People behaved as though their days were numbered," Boccaccio wrote, "and treated their belongings and their own persons with equal abandon. Hence most houses had become common property, and any passing stranger could make himself at home.... In the face of so much affliction and misery, all respect for the laws of God and man had virtually broken down.... Those ministers and executors of the laws who were not either dead or ill were left with so few subordinates that they were unable to discharge any of their duties. Hence everyone was free to behave as he pleased."
Martin Luther "frequently expressed the opinion that the End was very near, though he felt it was unwise to predict an exact date. Christians, he said, no more know the exact time of Christ's return than 'little babies in their mothers' bodies know about their arrival.'" This, however, did not stop him from concluding that the end was not a distant event. In January 1532, he wrote, "The last day is at hand. My calendar has run out. I know nothing more in my Scriptures." As it turned out, there was a lot more time to follow. Many other disasters, natural and political, gave rise to the same speculation, century after century.
Contemporary events like the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 were interpreted as evidence of the fulfillment of biblical prophecies. Above all, the French Revolution excited a spate of interpretations on both sides of the Atlantic designed to show that the world was entering upon the last days. Millennialism was widely espoused by leading scholars and divines. In America the names of Timothy Dwight (President of Yale), John H. Livingston (President of Rutgers), and Joseph Priestly come to mind: in Britain, George Stanley Faber, Edward King, and Edward Irving. A spate of pamphlets and sermons by Church of England clergy and orthodox American ministers poured forth from the 1790s; and there was a constant reference back to the prophetical studies of Sir Isaac Newton, Joseph Mede, and William Whiston. The usual method of interpretation was some variant of the year-day theory, by which days mentioned in the prophecies were counted as years, weeks as seven-year periods, and months as thirty years. There was general agreement in the late eighteenth century that the 1,260 days mentioned in Revelation 12:6 were to be interpreted as 1,260 years, and that this period was now ended. An alternative theory, which became increasingly popular after 1800, emphasized the importance of the 2,300 year period of Daniel 8:14 and the 'cleansing of the sanctuary' which would fall due some time in the 1840s. The fulfillment of the time prophecies meant that mankind was living in the last days, that the 'midnight cry' might soon be heard, and that the coming of the messiah might be expected shortly. Such beliefs had an influence far beyond the members of explicitly adventist sects. They were part and parcel of everyday evangelical religion.
The lessons of history are recorded for all to heed. For many, however, the past is a distant memory. All that counts is the present. Sure, they were wrong, the prophecy "experts" warn us, but it will be different with us.
The First Millennium
As the last day of 999 approached, "the old basilica of St. Peter's at Rome was thronged with a mass of weeping and trembling worshipers awaiting the end of the world," believing that they were on the eve of the Millennium. Land, homes, and household goods were given to the poor as a final act of contrition to absolve the hopeless from sins of a lifetime. Some Europeans sold their goods before traveling to Palestine to await the Second Coming. This mistaken application of biblical prophecy happened again in 1100, 1200, and 1245. Prophetic speculation continued. "In 1531, Melchior Hofmann announced that the second coming would take place in the year 1533.... Nicholas Cusa held that the world would not last past 1734."
As the second Millennium approaches, we can expect increased activity among the prophetic speculators as we are assured that the time of the end is imminent. Lester Sumrall wrote in his book I Predict 2000 A.D.: "I predict the absolute fullness of man's operation on planet Earth by the year 2000 A.D. Then Jesus Christ shall reign from Jerusalem for 1000 years." In Armageddon Now!, Dwight Wilson observed that there had been no significant increase regarding "hazardous speculation" because "the quarter century that remains makes the year 2000 too far removed to induce a sense of crisis or terror; but as it approaches, the cry of impending doom may be expected to swell. To the extent that this cry is reinforced by continuing crises in the Middle East there will grow an ever more deafening roar of 'Armageddon Now!'" Remember, this was written in 1977, a full fourteen years before Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.
Was Wilson right? Mikkel Dahl predicated in The Midnight Cry that the present era would end by 1980. Reginald Edward Duncan predicted in The Coming Russian Invasion of America that the Millennium would begin in 1979. Emil Gaverluk of the Southwest Radio Church predicted that the rapture would occur by 1981. The year 1988 saw an abundance of books predicting the rapture of the church since this was thought to be the final year of the "terminal generation" because of the resettlement of the nation Israel in 1948. The most notorious was Edgar C. Whisenant's 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Is in 1988. Upon the release of his calculations, Whisenant remarked, "Only if the Bible is in error am I wrong, and I say that unequivocally. There is no way Biblically that I can be wrong; and I say that to every preacher in town." When the author's intricate system of predicting the end failed, he went on undaunted with a new book called The Final Shout: Rapture Report 1989. It seems that he had made a critical error because he was following the wrong calendar:
My mistake was that my mathematical calculations were off by one year.... Since all centuries should begin with a zero year (for instance, the year 1900 started this century), the first century A.D. was a year short, consisting of only 99 years. This was the one-year error in my calculations last year . The Gregorian calendar (the calendar used today) is always one year in advance of the true year. Numbered correctly from the beginning, i.e., 1 A.D., 1989 Gregorian would be only one thousand nine hundred eighty eight years of 365.2422 days each.
Whisenant was not alone in making 1988 the termination point of the last days. Many others succumbed to last days madness. Clifford Hill writes that "two young men from Denmark announced that they were the two witnesses of Revelation 11:3 sent by God to prepare the way for Messiah. Two years earlier I had met two young Americans camping on the Mount of Olives also claiming to be the two witnesses."
On the heels of Whisenant came Grant R. Jeffrey's Armageddon: Appointment with Destiny. Jeffrey writes that through his own research into biblical prophecies he has discovered a number of indications "which suggest that the year A.D. 2000 is a probable termination date for the 'last days.'" His argument is little different from that of Edgar Whisenant's 88 Reasons thesis. Instead of Whisenant's 365.2422 days, Jeffrey concludes that a biblical year is made up of only 360 days. Here is an example of his reasoning:
The year when [Jesus' reading from Luke 4:18-21] occurred, the fall of A.D. 28, was, in fact, not only a Jubilee Year, but also the thirtieth Jubilee since the Sabbatical-Jubilee system of years began when Israel crossed the Jordan River in 1451 B.C. Thus, Jesus Christ precisely fulfilled "the acceptable year of the Lord" on the exact year of Jubilee-the year of liberty and release.
Please note that He stopped reading at "the acceptable year of the Lord" because He knew that the next phrase of the prophet's sentence, "and the day of vengeance of our God," which refers to Armageddon, would be postponed exactly 2000 biblical years (2000 biblical years times 360 days equals 720,000 days divided by 365.25 equals 1971.25 calendar years).
If we add 2000 biblical years (1971.25 calendar years) to the beginning of Christ's ministry on a Jubilee Year when He read the prophecy about "the acceptable year of the Lord" in the fall of A.D. 28; we arrive at the year A.D. 2000, forty Jubilee Cycles later.
The next Jubilee Year will occur in A.D. 2000, completing the Sabbatical-Jubilee system of years-the seventieth Great Jubilee.
Excerpted from LAST DAYS MADNESS by Gary DeMar Copyright © 1999 by American Vision, Atlanta, Georgia
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.