The Playground of the Sensationalists
[read in Lamplighter (pdf)]
There are times when I am embarrassed to be a Bible prophecy teacher and preacher, and those times are becoming more frequent.
It's all because Bible prophecy is a playground for fanatics and sensationalists. One person has put it this way: "Bible prophecy is the National Enquirer branch of theology."
The Y2K Hysteria
I am reminded of something that happened to me back in the late 1990s. As we approached the beginning of the new century, the Bible prophecy sensationalists began to crank up their propaganda mill. Accordingly, they began to predict a "Y2K Disaster" (Y2K being an abbreviation for "Year Two Thousand").
One very well known Bible prophecy expert warned of the impending collapse of all the electrical grids due to the fact that computers had not been programmed for dates in the new year of 2000. He argued this would result in national chaos, with riots everywhere. He advised that Christians should buy land in remote areas, build concrete bunkers, and stow away food, water, money and guns.
Another equally well known prophecy author wrote a book about the impact of Y2K in which he listed 42 electrical gadgets that would likely cease operating at the turn of the century. Almost every electrical device in the average home was on the list, from alarm clocks to washing machines.
When I read that ridiculous book, I decided the time had come to write a counter-article. I was not a technical expert, but I had enough common sense to know that my toaster could care less what year it was!
I did a lot of research on the subject, and in the December 1998 issue of this magazine I published an in-depth article about Y2K in which I concluded that it was most likely that it would have no discernable impact whatsoever.
At about the same time, I got a phone call from a person who was putting together a major Bible prophecy conference concerning Y2K. He had already lined up some big name speakers. He asked if I would agree to be one of the speakers. I responded by asking him if he knew where I stood on the issue.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"Well," I replied, "I don't think Y2K is going to have any impact at all, nor do I believe it has any prophetic significance."
There was a long awkward pause.
"In that case," he responded, "I don't think we want you to be one of the speakers."
The organizers of that conference were not looking for truth. They were seeking sensationalism.
Lineup of Planets
Adding to the Y2K hysteria was the fact that a lineup of the planets was scheduled to occur on May 5, 2000.
Some prophecy spokesmen went bonkers over this cosmological event, warning that it would alter the gravity of our planet, producing "killer earthquakes" and "massive tidal waves that would sweep across entire continents." Well, the lineup came and went, and hardly a whimper was heard nor a tremor felt.
Why All the Huksterism?
Why is it that rumor-mongering is so prevalent in the field of Bible prophecy? Well, for one thing, it sells books and tapes. Sensationalism appeals to the carnal nature of Man. People love to speculate about the future, and millions of others love to read the speculations.
Some of it is Satan inspired. Satan hates Bible prophecy. After all, it predicts his ultimate destruction and Jesus' ultimate triumph. So, Satan tries to undermine respect for Bible prophecy by motivating silly and hysterical speculations by Bible prophecy teachers.
These speculations then create the impression that Bible prophecy is nothing but a playground for fanatics. This motivates many Christians to wash their hands of the whole field and to turn their backs on God's Prophetic Word.
The Prophecies of the Popes
The prophecy craziness seems to be intensifying today. Consider, for example, all the recent folderol over the so-called "prophecy" of an Irish Catholic priest, St. Malachy, who lived in the 12th Century. He supposedly wrote a document called "The Prophecies of the Popes." Its modern day proponents claimed the document prophesied the identity of every pope — all 112 of them from Pope Celestine II who died in 1144. And they therefore claimed that Pope Benedict XVI would be the next-to-the-last pope. That meant the current pope, Francis, would be the last, whom Malachy described as "Peter the Roman." And that, in turn, was interpreted to mean that the Lord would return during Pope Francis' tenure.
The first problem with this "prophecy" is that it was unknown before 1595. It is not even mentioned by St. Malachy's biographer who was a contemporary of Malachy.
The second problem is that all the "prophecies" are very accurate up to the time the document was "found." After that, the "prophecies," like those of Nostradamus, are gobbledygook and are incapable of being applied to anyone or any event without a lot of imagination.
And, of course, the third problem is that the new pope who is supposed to be "Peter the Roman," is not named Peter nor did he select that as his papal name. Instead, he became the first pope to choose the name of Francis.
Scholars have concluded that the papal prophecies of St. Malachy are a complete fraud, written by a man named Arnold de Wyon. He was motivated by a desire to get his candidate for the papacy confirmed in 1590 by providing a description of him in the "prophecies." The folks in his day and time did not buy it, and they selected another person.
Yet, our modern-day prophecy sensationalists have tried to pass off this forgery as containing some sort of "profound prophetic insight."
The Mayan Calendar
Another recent prophetic craze that amounted to nothing was the Mayan Calendar fiasco. This ridiculous frenzy was centered around a calendar produced by the Mayan civilization of the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico — a society that flourished from about 250 to 900 AD. The calendar ended on a date that corresponded to December 21, 2012 on the Gregorian calendar. Some Bible prophecy enthusiasts began to speculate that the date would mark the end of the world or the beginning of the Tribulation.
The furor over the December 21, 2012 date was further heightened when it was learned that on that same date there was supposed to be a galactic alignment of the earth with the center of the Milky Way. And to add fuel to the fire, the National Center for Atmospheric Research announced that 2012 would be a peak year for solar flares. This was enough to send the Bible prophecy sensationalists into overdrive!
Well, 2012 came and went, and nothing particularly important occurred. Bible prophecy sensationalists should have hung their heads in shame. Instead, they went looking for a new crusade.
The Blood Moon Theory
And they quickly found it in a "Blood Moon Theory" proposed by a pastor in Washington State. He had discovered that there is a phenomenon in astronomy called a "tetrad." This occurs when there are four total lunar eclipses (usually producing red or "blood" moons) in a row over a two year period of time. He pointed out that since the time of Christ, there had been 87 tetrads, with a maximum of eight in a century. Some centuries had not had any.
But he discovered an even rarer phenomenon. Of the 87 tetrads that have occurred since the First Century, only eight have fallen on Jewish feast days, and he claimed the last three of those had been prophetically significant, pointing to a major event in Jewish history — a claim that simply was not true.
For example, he claimed that a tetrad in the 15th Century had been a prophetic omen pointing to the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. But the blood moon tetrad falling on Jewish feast days occurred in 1493-1494 — the two years following the event they were supposed to have prophesied! The same was true of his claim that a tetrad falling on Jewish feasts days was prophetic of the re-establishment of Israel in 1948. Again, the tetrad occurred in 1949-1950 — the two years following the event.
In actuality, of the eight tetrads falling on Jewish feast days since the First Century, only one could be considered "prophetic" in nature. That was the last one in 1967-1968. The Six Day War occurred following the first blood moon in this tetrad.
But these facts denying the prophetic significance of the blood moon phenomenon seemed unimportant to the prophecy buffs who jumped aboard the band wagon and began proclaiming that the tetrad of 2014-2015 — the only one of the 21st Century that would fall on Jewish feast days — would be of great prophetic importance.
The pastor who discovered the blood moon phenomenon in 2008 originally suggested that it was a sign that the Lord would return after the last blood moon of the 2014-2015 tetrad — specifically, in September of 2015. Later, he retreated from that position. He and others are now arguing that the tetrad is simply a sign that "something important" will happen in Israel during that two year period of time. My response is, "Duh! You call that a prophecy?" Something important is likely to happen in Israel during any two year period of time.
My response is, "Duh! You call that a prophecy?" Something important is likely to happen in Israel during any two year period of time.
The Latest Craze
The latest prophecy craze that is gaining momentum is what prophecy sensationalists are calling "The Prophecy of the Ten Jubilees."
This so-called end times prophecy was first revealed to the public in March of 2008 in a magazine called Israel Today. The magazine is published in Israel by Messianic Jews and is distributed worldwide over the Internet.
The article asserted that a remarkable end time prophecy had been found in an 800 year old manuscript written by a German rabbi named Judah Ben Samuel (1140 - 1217).
The rabbi's "prophecy" read as follows:
When the Ottomans conquer Jerusalem they will rule over Jerusalem for eight jubilees. Afterwards Jerusalem will become a noman's land for one jubilee, and then in the ninth jubilee it will once again come back into the possession of the Jewish nation — which would signify the beginning of the Messianic end time.
This prophecy, of course, is amazingly accurate. The Ottoman Turks conquered Jerusalem in 1517 and proceeded to rule over the city for 400 years to 1917 — a total of eight jubilees (a jubilee being 50 years according to Leviticus 25:8- 12).
Between 1917 and 1967, Jerusalem became a no-man's land for one jubilee (50 years) while it was divided between Israel and Jordan, with the boundary between the two actually being designated a "no-man's land." In 1967 Israel conquered the city of Jerusalem in the Six Day War, beginning the ninth jubilee which will lead up to the "beginning of the Messianic end time." This ninth jubilee will conclude in 2017 — and thus the reason for the current prophetic frenzy.
When this "prophecy" was revealed in 2008, very few seemed to notice it until World Net Daily picked up on it and published a major article about it on its website in October of 2012. The validity of the prophecy was endorsed and the significance of Rabbi Ben Samuel as a Torah scholar was emphasized.
That's when the "prophecy" really took off. Since that time it has been accepted and endorsed by many of the Who's Who of Bible prophecy. Some are saying that 2017 could mark the date of the Rapture and the start of the seven year Tribulation.
The rapid embracement of the Ten Jubilees Prophecy is a clear indication of how gullible Christians can be. Consider these facts:
- Where was this lost Prophecy found?
- Why hasn't a copy of it been presented to the public for review?
- Who is the person who wrote the original article for Israel Today? It was signed, Ludwig Schneider. This man has been identified in various places as "a German language scholar" and a "Pentecostal pastor." I could find evidence of neither. His entry in Wikipedia simply states that he is a German journalist and a Messianic Jew who founded Israel Today magazine.
- Who translated the prophecy? Even if Ludwig Schneider is a "German language scholar" that does not mean he could translate medieval German dating back 800 years ago. How many English professors could translate the English of Chaucer just 600 years ago? The answer is very few.
- Ludwig Schneider never makes a claim in his article that he was the one who found the prophecy or that he was the one who translated it, despite the fact that the proponents of the prophecy say he both found and translated it.
- Ludwig Schneider refers to Rabbi Judah Ben Samuel as "a top Talmudic scholar." There is no evidence of this. In fact, in the Jewish Encyclopedia he is identified as a person who focused his writing on ethics and who considered the study of the Talmud "to be fruitless."
- The Ottoman Empire did not come into existence until 1299, 82 years after the death of Rabbi Samuel. How could he know about an empire that did not exist at the time he supposedly wrote the prophecy?
I think it is obvious that this is a bogus prophecy that someone made up recently and attributed to Rabbi Samuel.
The Search for the New and Exciting
What is particularly distressing to me is that all the prophetic craziness over extra-biblical "prophecies" has become characteristic of people who claim to be Bible prophecy experts. They, of all people, should be watchmen on the wall, intent on warning people against giving any significance to such non-biblical, socalled prophecies. Evidently they feel that they must constantly be feeding the public something new and sensational in order to justify the existence of their ministries.
I actually had a person write me a letter along this line. He criticized me for "never coming up with anything new." He said my ministry was "boring" because I kept preaching "the same old message" of the Lord's soon return. I responded by telling him that the Bible is all we need and that the message of the Lord's soon return is anything except boring — it is an exciting message full of glorious hope for a sin-weary, war-torn earth.
The thirst for the sensational never seems to be satisfied. It is currently being manifested in a new fad of prophecy conferences which I would describe as "prophecy circuses."
I was invited to be a featured speaker at one of these conferences about a year ago. I accepted the invitation without realizing what kind of conference it was. I thought it was going to be a legitimate conference where Bible prophecy specialists would deal with serious topics.
Fortunately, one of my staff members warned me about the conference. He suggested that I call the organizer and get a list of speakers and topics. I did so, and to my horror, I discovered that the conference was going to feature four kinds of speakers: Bible prophecy experts, survivalists, conspiracy theorists, and paranormalists (persons who specialize in UFO's, Aliens and the Nephilim).
One of the ministries promoting these bizarre conferences has evidently come under some considerable criticism because the head of the ministry recently posted a defensive essay on the ministry's website that was appropriately titled, "The Dark Side of Bible Prophecy: Why We Must Discuss the Strange and the Supernatural."
He began his essay by stating that more and more people are asking him why he is putting together conferences that emphasize paranormal phenomena like UFO's, hybrid giants, mystery lights, aerial trumpets and explosions, alien implants, and the Nephilim.
He answered the question by writing: "There is another aspect of Bible prophecy that, up until the last couple of decades, has remained quietly in the background. It grows out of the biblical pronouncement that the latter days would witness a veritable explosion of dark and alien power." My response to this statement was to ask, "What ‘biblical pronouncement'?"
But if you continue reading the essay, he finally produces two scriptural foundations for his fascination with the paranormal. One is the presence of supernatural giants on the earth during the time of Noah — called Nephilim (Genesis 6:1-4). These creatures appear to have been the product of fallen angels mating with human women. Since the Bible says that society in the end times will be like "the days of Noah" (Matthew 24:37), then shouldn't there be Nephilim on the earth again?
The answer to that question is provided in Jude 6 where we are told that the "angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode," are being "kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day." Based on the judgment they received, it seems very doubtful to me that any other fallen angels would follow in their footsteps in the future.
The reference to society being like it was in "the days of Noah" more likely means that the end time society will have the two main characteristics of Noah's society — namely, immorality and violence (Genesis 6: 5 & 11).
The other scripture reference that is cited in the essay is Daniel 2:43. This verse contains a description of the feet of the great image of a man that Nebuchadnezzar saw in his famous dream that Daniel interpreted to signify a succession of world empires that would impact Israel (Daniel 2:31-45). In the King James Version, the verse reads:
And whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay [the feet of the man], they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men: but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay.
The argument of the paranormalists is that this verse refers to angels mating with humans once again in the end times, producing a new group of Nephilim. To interpret the verse in this way requires a very active imagination. Nor is there any reference to sexual activity. The verse is simply saying that the last Gentile empire, represented by the feet of the statue, will be composed of a mingling of people who will be loosely affiliated, just as clay does not cleave to iron.
So, in actuality all this verse is saying is that the final revival of the Roman Empire will consist of a loose confederation of states (before it will be firmly united when the Antichrist takes over). The unstable confederation is symbolized by the iron and clay that do not "cleave one to another."
Here are other conservative translations of the verse that make its meaning much clearer:
NIV: "And just as you saw the iron mixed with baked clay, so the people will be a mixture and will not remain united, any more than iron mixes with clay."
Holman: "You saw the iron mixed with clay — the peoples will mix with one another but will not hold together, just as iron does not mix with fired clay."
To summarize, this is a prophecy that in the end times the Romans shall mix themselves with people of many other nations and unite in setting up a final Gentile world kingdom, but this union will be highly unstable. That is exactly the situation that exists with the European Union today. And it will continue that way until the Antichrist takes over and solidifies it for a short time.
Date-Setters and Antichrist Seekers
Two of the worst forms of sensationalism that give the field of Bible prophecy a bad name are the date-setters and those who are determined to identify the Antichrist.
I never cease to be amazed at the mental gymnastics of those obsessed with identifying the Antichrist. It has become a competitive intellectual sport. In my opinion, it ranks in irresponsibility right up there with attempts to establish the date of the Lord's return. Most of the attempts end up being nothing more than exercises in silliness.
In my book, The Man of Lawlessness: The Antichrist in the Tribulation, I devote an entire chapter to surveying different attempts to identify the Antichrist — all of which are fruitless since the Bible clearly teaches that we cannot know the identity of the Antichrist before the day of the Lord, which begins with the onset of the Tribulation (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3).
The date-setters are the worst ones when it comes to giving Bible prophecy a black eye. They do more damage than all the sensationalists combined. That's because the press always focuses on them, and then, when the dates they have set come and pass without the Lord's return, the press mocks them and the whole field of Bible prophecy.
Satan loves date-setters because they discredit Bible prophecy, causing both seminaries and pastors to shy away from it. And ignoring Bible prophecy must delight Satan because he does not want anyone studying prophecy. Why? Because Bible prophecy clearly reveals that a day is coming when Satan will be totally defeated and Jesus will be totally triumphant.
But the fanatics who love to play with prophecy seem to never learn. Do you remember Edgar Whisenant? He was the man who published a pamphlet entitled "88 Reasons why the Rapture will be in 1988." He sold over 4 million copies of the pamphlet and created a national frenzy with it. And when nothing happened in 1988, he quickly published a new pamphlet which presented 89 reasons why Jesus would come in 1989!
The most recent example of this nonsense has been Harold Camping who owned one of the nation's largest Christian radio networks. He used that network to proclaim that Jesus would return in 1994. Did he learn his lesson? No! In 2010 he cranked up his prognosticating machine and once again set another date for May 21, 2011. And when nothing happened on that date, he proceeded unabashed to revise the date to October 21, 2011.
Why Sensationalism Prevails
One of the reasons prophetic craziness tends to prosper among Christians is because Christians as a whole tend to be rather naive and gullible. All a person with a weird idea or preposterous theory has to do is mention the name of Jesus several times and Christians tend to swallow what he has to say — hook, line and sinker.
A classic example of what I'm talking about is the "Drilling to Hell" scam that swept American Christendom several years ago in the early 1990s. This incredible tale got started in this country when it was announced by the Trinity Broadcasting Network. The story concerned a supposed discovery by a geological group in Siberia which claimed to have drilled a hole over 14.4 kilometers deep (9 miles). They said they had dropped a microphone down the hole and had heard people screaming in agony in Hell!
Many ministries across the United States picked up this report and repeated it in their newsletters and their radio and television shows. But one evangelist, Rich Buhler, a Christian radio talk show host in California, thought he smelled a rat, and he decided to investigate the claim.
His investigation led him to what was supposed to be the source of the claim — a Finnish newspaper owned by Finnish Christians. But the editor of that publication stated that their article was simply based upon a word-of-mouth recollection of a staff member who claimed he had read it in a major daily Finnish newspaper. That newspaper was then contacted, and its editor reported that the "article" was really only a letter to the editor.
Rich Buhler (who died in 2012) must have been a very persistent man because he continued to trace the story from one source to another until he finally ran across a Norwegian man who he discovered was the one who originally wrote to TBN with the tale. His conversation with the man went as follows:
"Are you the one who sent information to a Christian television network in the United States about scientists drilling into hell?" I asked.
"Yes," he said, without hesitation.
"Well," I continued, "Do you have any way of knowing whether it is true?"
"Yes I do," he replied.
"Tell me about it," I asked.
"None of it is true," he said. "I fabricated every word of it!"
The man then told Buhler that he had included his name, address and telephone number with the report he had sent to TBN. He explained that he was prepared to tell them it was a hoax, if they contacted him. They did not.
Responsible Bible Prophecy Teaching
I am glad to say that there are some very responsible Bible prophecy teachers on the scene today — men who do not traffic in speculations and sensationalism. I have in mind men like Andy Woods, Al Gist, Don McGee, Gary Fisher, Don Perkins, Gary Frazier, Nathan Jones, August Rosado and Ed Hindson.
One Bible prophecy expert who has exhibited consistent responsibility over the years is Mark Hitchcock. Mark is an attorney who became a pastor. He currently serves as the pastor of Faith Bible Church in Edmond, Oklahoma.
Mark is a prolific writer of excellent books about Bible prophecy. And every time he sees a new sensationalist fad come roaring down the highway, he puts up a road block in the form of a book on the subject — a book that is always level-headed, biblically based, and full of common sense. The field of Bible prophecy needs more like him.
The Value of Bible Prophecy
There is no doubt that Bible prophecy is a playground for fanatics. Tragically, what is usually overlooked is that it can also be green pastures for disciples.
Pastors often dismiss it to me out-of-hand with a comment like this: "It's all pie-in-sky, with no relevance to the present." I can understand their attitude in light of all the silly nonsense that goes on among Bible prophecy enthusiasts.
But the pastors are dead wrong, and I can easily prove it, for you can radically transform any congregation if you can convince them of two fundamental prophetic truths:
- Jesus really is coming back. Most Christian will confess a belief in this truth, but they believe it superficially with their minds and not truly with their hearts.
- Jesus could return at any moment. There is not one prophecy that must be fulfilled before Jesus can return for His Church in the Rapture.
If a pastor can ever get these two truths firmly established in the hearts of his congregation, they will be motivated to holiness and evangelism. What could be more down-to-earth and practical than that?
The time is long overdue for Christians to start exercising some discernment, first by testing everything by the Word, and second, by using some common sense.
But, of course, the problem with common sense is that it is not very common!
Christians as a whole are very gullible people. I suppose that is due to the fact that our strength is love, and one's strength is always his weakness. The enthusiastic person, for example, is also impulsive. And a people of love can easily be deceived because they are reluctant to challenge motives.
Tragically, the gullibility of the Christian community strikes at the heart of the Gospel. You see, when the world observes how gullible we are, they conclude that only such a people could believe that Jesus was really resurrected from the dead.