The Expository Files.


Misreading Prophecy

The cover article of the December 15, 1997 U.S. News & World Report carries the title "Dark Prophecies". It is about apocalyptic literature in general, with a heavy emphasis on Biblical prophecy. As I read the article, dreading the worse, I was pleasantly surprised by the rather even-handed approach to the topic. So much of the secular press is filled with ignorance when it comes to spiritual things.

The article asks a question concerning apocalyptic visions, especially those recorded for us in the Bible (the article points out chiefly in Daniel, Ezekiel and Revelation, but I would add to that Zechariah and even some of Jesus' own words in Matthew 24). It asks if it does more harm than good. I would answer that if used correctly, it can do much good; but if misused, much harm can occur. The article referred to such fiascoes as Heaven's Gate and the Branch Davidians. I thought of Paul's warning to the Thessalonians. Some of them , convinced that Jesus' return was near at hand, quit working. Paul informs them first that before Jesus returns that a great apostasy must occur (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12) and that they need to stay busy with life's, earning their livings while maintaining spiritual and moral purity (2 Thessalonians 3:1-15). Misreading prophecy is not a new thing at all.

I thought it was interesting that the chief bad guy in the Book of Revelation (the article calls him the "antichrist", but the book of Revelation never uses the term at all) as been identified as Nero by many scholars, according to the article. At least that would better fit the context of the book than some of the more fanciful theories of late (that the "antichrist" is Gorbachev, or Hitler, or Hussein, or some other 2oth century villain). The book of Revelation itself insists that its message is about 1st century events (Revelation 1:1-3). That important key to understanding the message is often ignored by the speculative theories of our day. Doesn't anyone ever read the first three verses of the book?

There is an interesting summary of others in history who equated the current events of their century with the fulfillment of apocalyptic prophecies. Hippolytus predicted the return of Jesus would occur in 500 A.D. He arrived at this mathematically through considering the dimensions of the ark (!). I suppose that was the first "Bible Code". A monk by the name of Joachim of Fiore fueled support for the crusades through his misuse of apocalyptic literature. The last century, John Nelson Darby came up with an elaborate end-time theory upon which is based the various premillenial theories of our own day. Most of these have picked up on the founding of the modern state of Israel, wars in the middle east, bar codes and the like to suggest that Jesus' coming will occur soon.

Anyway, the article makes for interesting reading. Lots of information that is helpful and the writer does not sound as if he has an ax to grind with religious folks. I appreciate that.

By Jon W. Quinn
The Front Page
From Expository Files 5.2; February 1998