Troy Anderson, writing for WND, opens his first of seven articles with this line: “God’s prophet” – famed evangelist Billy Graham – is praying America will experience another “great spiritual awakening.” OK. I’m for that, although I wouldn’t call Graham a “prophet” since he’s been wrong on a number of issues over the years.
The article goes on to say:
“At a time when many believe the midnight hour on God’s prophetic clock is fast approaching, major evangelists – Billy Graham, Franklin Graham, Bonnke, Laurie, Chuck Smith, Banning Liebscher and others – are turning their attention toward America in the hope of helping ignite an end-times awakening.”
Here we go again. In 1983, in his book Approaching Hoofbeats, Graham said that the end was “near.” That was 30 years ago. He published a revised edition in 1992 with the title Storm Warning.
Why the revision? Because he was wrong about world events in the 1983 edition like so many prophetic speculators before him who read the Bible through newspaper headlines instead of paying attention to biblical time indicators, audience relevance, and historical context.
Chuck Smith was even worse with his false predictions. In his 1976 book Snatched Away, he predicted the following:
“That generation that was living in May 1948 shall not pass away until the second coming of Jesus Christ takes place and the kingdom of God established upon the earth. How long is a generation? Forty years on average in the Bible. . . . Where does that put us? It puts us right out at the end. We’re coming down to the wire.”
That was 25 years ago. But it wasn’t the end.
So what does “near” mean? Graham and other prophetic speculators are trying to convey the idea that “near” means very close in our day. So what did John mean when he wrote about prophetic events that “must soon take place . . . for the time is near” (Rev. 1:1, 3) nearly 2000 years ago?
“Near” means “right at the doors”1 (James 5:9; Matt. 24:33), not two millennia in the future. The prophetic texts that are being used to claim that the end is “near” for us were describing a near end for that generation (Matt. 24:34; also see 10:23; 16:28; 23:36).
Prophetic speculation has a dismal track record. For centuries prophecy writers have predicted the near end of all things. The 20th century alone brought out the speculators in droves. Two world wars, Adolf Hitler, genocide, the rise of Communism, and the development of nuclear weapons led many prominent doomsayers to argue that the end was near.
The Bible passages that were used to make these predictions are the same ones being used today, only the names, events, and dates have changed. These prophetic speculators are counting on the short-term memories of their receptive audiences or their general ignorance of how failed date setting has infected and immobilized the church.
I’m all for revival. But must we tie it to the end of the world? What are these evangelists going to tell people to do once they are “revived”? To wait because the end is near?
People aren’t going to work for change if they believe the end is nigh. One of the reasons we’re in this mess is because millions of Christians believed the prophetic speculators and were neutralized by the belief. They waited for an end that never came while their ideological enemies took over, the schools, Congress, the media, and just about everything else.
- The Greek word θυρῶν /θύραις is plural. [↩]