By Harry R. Osborne
The war in the Middle East gave rise to much speculation attempting to relate events to Bible prophecy. Many TV preachers were busy warning their audiences of an imminent battle of Armageddon. Several months ago on television, I heard Ed Young from the Second Baptist church in Houston proclaiming that the recent conflict was the “vestibule to Armageddon,” whatever that is. Others have preached on “The Identity of the Antichrist” and a host of other pet premillennial theories. The current speculation is simply the latest in a long line. Let us consider a few examples.
In the early part of this century, World War I gave rise to such speculation. Some premillennialists published books claiming Armageddon was just around the corner. All of them said the events of that time were the “clear” fulfillment of prophecies about “the end time.” The premillennial teachings about the tribulation, Armageddon, the rapture, and the beginning of the thousand year reign of Christ on the earth were all supposed to become a reality within that generation. Of course, the fact that we are still here more than a generation later would strongly suggest that their predictions were incorrect.
World War II brought the premillennial speculators out in force again. Hitler was commonly viewed as “the Antichrist” whose destruction would initiate a thousand year reign of Christ upon the earth. Hitler’s hatred of the Jews and his alliance with Mussolini (the successor to ancient Rome) fueled the speculation to a roaring flame. The events of that time were again said to be the “clear” fulfillment of prophecies found in Ezekiel, Daniel, Joel, Revelation, and other Bible books. The predictions again failed to come true and it was back to the drawing board once again.
The establishment of the Jewish state in Palestine brought another round of speculation from premillennialists. They claimed this was the “clear” fulfillment of Bible prophecy regarding the return of Israel to Palestine. Actually, God had promised that only a remnant would return to the land following captivity (Isa. 10:20-25). That return was to take place after seventy years of Judah’s captivity in Babylon (Jer. 29:10-14). The Bible recorded that fulfillment as having taken place in the 5th and 6th centuries before Christ (see the books of Ezra and Nehemiah; 2 Chron. 36:17-23). God had previously kept his promise to give the Israelites all of the land promised to Abraham (Josh. 21:43-45; 23:14-16; 1 Kgs.4:21;Neb. 9:7-9;Psa.105:42-44).
In more recent time, the Middle East wars of 1967 and 1973 caused a rash of speculation. Hal Lindsey’s book, TheLate GreatPlanetEarth, was written during that time. Lindsey said forces led by Egypt and Russia would join to battle Israel in the great tribulation. We were told that Russia would be the “King of the North” in a confederacy made up of Iran, “black African nations,” Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, “the Iron Curtain countries,” and the Cossacks. We were further told that Egypt would be the “King of the South” in a coalition with the “Arabic nations” (which would include Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and other such harmonious partners) along with the “countries of black Africa.” After Russia was wiped out, the Arabs and the Chinese were supposed to be allies in the battle of Armageddon, according to Lindsey. Lindsey’s whole theory was predicated on the continuance of Nasser’s pro-Soviet policies and Egypt’s continued leadership in seeking the annihilation of Israel. Unfortunately for Lindsey’s theories, Nasser’s death brought a change in Egyptian policy. In its time, Lindsey’s teaching was touted as the “clear” teaching of the Bible.
With the decline of Soviet domination, premillennialists seemed to become unsure about the “Russians” as the focus of the armies allied against Israel. As a matter of fact, the crumbling of Communism across eastern Europe and much of the world has dealt a severe blow to the previous theories of the premillennialists. Their “clear” teachings from books of prophecy suddenly became very unclear. Until late last year, premillennialists got extremely quiet.
The war in the Persian Gulf again brought the proponents of premillennial theories out of the woodwork. However, an amazing thing has happened! The theories have all changed! What we heard to be the “clear” teaching of Bible prophecies a few years ago has suddenly been replaced with entirely different teachings also said to be “clear” from Bible prophecies. I must confess my inability to understand how all of these contradictory, changed, and convoluted theories can be passed off as “clear” teaching by fellows who taught entirely different theories a few years ago. What amazes me even more is that they do it with a straight face!
Over the past few decades, the list of leading candidates for “the Antichrist” included Henry Kissinger, Anwar Sadat, a Soviet president, the head of the European Common Market, and an unnamed man of “Roman descent.” Now, I hear rumors from premillennial quarters that it is surely Saddam Hussein. How is that for “clear” teaching? It seems to me that it would have been far easier for the premillennialists to have understood the truth on this matter than to change their predictions. After all “the Antichrist” is like “the unknown tongue.” Both are an attempt to identify a particular one while the Bible usage is generic. In 1 Corinthians 14, any language foreign to a listener which he did not understand was “an unknown tongue.” In John’s use of the term “antichrist,” he simply refers to one who opposed the person or teaching of Christ (1 In. 2:18, 22; 4:3, 7). Instead of finally seeing the truth, our premillennial friends have stepped into the speculation ring once again in preparation for another bloody nose to their theories when the new “clear” teaching fails again.
For the past 40 years or so, the premillennialists have also told us that the “Babylon” of prophesied destruction in the book of Revelation is either a one-world religion under the control of the Vatican or the Soviet Union. Now, the TV preachers are telling us “Babylon” is the land where ancient Babylon literally existed Iraq. How “clear” can it get?
Actually, these differing theories all have a common point they are false! They all claim that the book of Revelation deals with events of our time, not a past time. When their predictions fail to come true, they simply change them and ask people to accept the new theories as the `”clear” teaching of the book. The premillennialists of this century have perverted and re-perverted the book of Revelation more than any people in religious history. If they would just look at the book and listen to its truly clear statement, they would abandon their absurd theories. Let’s see what the book really says about when its prophecies were to be fulfilled:
Revelation 1:1 “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show unto his servants, even the things which must shortly come to pass.”
Revelation 1:3 “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of the prophecy, and keep the things that are written therein: for the time is at hand.”
Revelation 22:6 “And he said unto me, These words are faithful and true: and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angels to show unto his servants the things which must shortly come to pass.”
Revelation 22:10 “And he saith unto me, Seal not up the words of the prophecy of this book; for the time is at hand.”
From beginning to end, the book of Revelation declares its prophecies deal with things “at hand” and “which must shortly come to pass.” Unlike the modern TV preachers, the Bible’s teaching is really clear. Let us not be fooled by the current peddlers of speculative theories, but let us listen to God’s teaching as declared in his truth. The premillennial theories will change and fail, but God’s word remains constant and true regardless of the changes in the world (1 Pet. 1:23 -25).
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 17, p. 8-9
September 2, 1993