I’m not one who sees the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy every time a Palestinian sneezes near the Israeli border, but those people are out there. It seems like every time anything happens in the Middle East, we see all sorts of “prophecy experts” coming out of the woodwork with portents of the apocalypse. While I’ll admit that this sort of “tomorrow’s news today” interpretation of Scripture may have some sensational appeal (perhaps “morbid fascination” would be a better term), it has never made much sense to me.
Still, if people are going to be so quick to interpret current events as prophecy-fulfillment (and you know the ones I’m talking about — Hal Lindsey, Chuck Missler, and the folks at sites like Rapture Ready, Prophecy Today, Olive Tree Ministries, etc.), they could at least be consistent. Here we are nearly two months into one of the biggest ecological disasters in history, with no mention of any possible significance on any of those prophecy sites.
I’m not saying I believe this oil spill is necessarily prophetically significant. I just wonder — given the hermeneutic that Scripture prophetically speaks of specific current events during our generation — which of the following scenarios seems more likely:
First (and we could use any number of examples here), the claim that Psalm 83 “informs us that the Palestinians, Syrians, Saudis, Jordanians, Egyptians, Lebanese and affiliated terrorist entities like the Hamas, Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda, will confederate together to destroy Modern Day Israel” (Source). Thanks to a recent book called “Isralestine“, the hottest new thing in prophetic speculation is that this Psalm is an unfulfilled prophecy of an End Times war that will happen in the near future. Is this possible? Maybe, but I’m a little skeptical whenever someone claims to have “discovered” the real meaning of a text which has been “misinterpreted” for thousands of years. Those are pretty specific claims to make from a text that seems to be simply an imprecatory psalm — a song of prayer for deliverance from God’s enemies. (Which is not simply my opinion, but one shared by theologians throughout Church history — for example: John Calvin, Adam Clarke, Matthew Henry, etc).
Now consider a second scenario. Revelation 8:8-9 reads, “The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.” If we are to believe as the prophecy gurus tell us that Bible prophecy was written to describe specific events thousands of years in the future, how might the apostle John have described what we’re seeing in the Gulf of Mexico?
Perhaps “something like a great mountain, burning with fire”
“was thrown into the sea”
“and a third of the sea became blood”
“A third of the living creatures in the sea died”
“and a third of the ships were destroyed”
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think Revelation 8 is talking about the oil spill. I’m just pointing out what appears to be an inconsistency in pop-prophecy interpretation. If these people will grasp at straws to find prophecy fulfillment in the Middle East, then why not run with something that seems more obvious, like this Revelation 8 scenario? It’s not like they won’t ever make assertions about activity in the Gulf of Mexico. Hal Lindsey wasted no time in 2005 proclaiming that Hurricane Katrina was the beginning of God’s judgment on America, which he claims must be destroyed because “the last days lineup of world powers does not include anything resembling the United States of America” (source).
The answer is simple. All of these interpreters of prophecy are Dispensationalists who believe in a “pre-tribulational rapture”. In their timeline of End Times events, the events depicted in Revelation 8 couldn’t possibly happen yet, because the Church hasn’t been raptured. This understanding of eschatology forces them to selectively choose events that they feel fit into their preconceived ideas of how and when certain things must happen, which is a dangerous approach to take to Bible interpretation. After all, that’s how the Pharisees interpreted Scripture, and they missed the Messiah when He came! Jesus didn’t fit their preconceived ideas about how and when he would come.
Of course, there’s also the possibility that this recent Newsweek article is correct, and that these prophecy experts (along with most of evangelical America) are so deep in their affiliations with the political right that they won’t look at an event like this as prophetic judgment because it would force them to make big oil companies and the Republican Party look like bad guys. I’m not cynical enough to believe that as their motivation, but the fact is that, with a history of inaccurate date-setting and inconsistent interpretation from the prophecy watchers, Dispensationalists (and, by association, all Christians) leave themselves open to these sorts of questions, as well as accusations of insanity from guys like this.
So what are we to do with all this? I’m not sure I really have any answers. The more I’ve studied my own personal eschatological beliefs, the more agnostic I have become with regard to the End Times. I’m not so sure it’s my place to speculate (or at least not to make claims so firm that I’m not willing to budge) on the timing and nature of Christ’s return beyond what is explicit in Scripture. Jesus is coming back in glory to judge the living and the dead (2 Timothy 4:1), to finally destroy Death (1 Corinthians 15:26), and to make all things new as He dwells with His people forever (Revelation 21:1-5). What that will look like is a mystery, but I’m willing to bet it will be more spectacular than whatever I might imagine in my wildest dreams!
In the meantime, we have a responsibility to be stewards of Creation, and to be salt and light in a fallen world. This means we ought to put to an end all these prophetic myths that promote speculation rather than stewardship (1 Timothy 1:4). There’s a lot of work to be done, and Jesus Christ has charged his Church to do it. Don’t get left behind.
EDIT: I should point out that I don’t lump all dispensationalists into the same category. There are many that I greatly respect, and I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush. See the comments below.