Learning From Failed End-Time Predictions

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Is it really the end of the world?
Is it really the end of the world? (Courtesy/World Revival network)

After his September prediction failed to materialize, Whisenant changed his termination date to Rosh Hashanah 1989—publishing The Final Shout: Rapture Report 1989. This is a pattern that Whisenant would later repeat in 1993 and 1994. Despite his impassioned pleas, the rapture and his cataclysmic understanding of the end-times never manifested. As the year 1988 (as well as 1989, 1993, and 1994) passed without major incident, apocalyptic teachers looked ahead to 2007—the fortieth anniversary of Israel reclaiming Jerusalem (1967). With this pivotal date in the cross-hairs, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins noted the following:

"If we use the 1948 or the 1967 date, apply the span of a person's lifetime (give or take ten years for the person to 'see' and comprehend the events), then subtract seven or more years for the Tribulation and an interim period between the Rapture and the signing of the covenant with Israel, we come to the same time period for the return of the Lord that many others have suggested ... our generation."

Nevertheless, to the dismay of Dispensational Premillennialists, 2007 also passed without incident. Despite their feverish insistence, the apocalypse clearly didn't transpire within a "generation" of 1948 or 1967. Because of this, many who held a cataclysmic view were forced to rethink what a "generation" really was. Some now suggesting that it is a 70 or 100 year span. They're open to most any adaption, with the single exception of rethinking their erroneous end-time worldview.

What Do We Make Of This?

Failed end-time predictions were undoubtedly widespread over the last century. As these prognostications didn't pan out, the proponents simply made readjustments and looked for new historical developments. Ongoing catastrophes and civil unrest were exploited to distract from previous errors in calculations.

Just as soon as one termination date passed, another conveniently came into view. I believe those who have made failed end-time predictions must be accountable to the body of Christ for their mistakes. They should be held responsible for their wrong interpretations and the disruptions it has caused. Yet, this is rather difficult to do.  

In early 1977, when Hal Lindsey was asked by a journalist from Christianity Today what he would do if he was wrong about his end-time predictions, he responded with the following, 

"There is a split second's difference between a hero and a bum. I didn't ask to be a hero, but I guess I have become one in the Christian community. So I accept it. But if I am wrong about this, I guess I'll become a bum." 

Though undeniably wrong about his end-time predictions over the last 46 years, Lindsey still hasn't referred to himself as a "bum." It's not necessary for this to happen, yet a simple apology might be nice. So in light of all this, what should be the response?

Some would say the only problem was the setting of a particular day and time. After all, Jesus affirmed, "no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows" (Matthew 24:36). Yet, is it possible that Lindsey and his fellow Dispensationalists have been wrong in more than just "date-setting?"

Could the Bible actually be affirming something different than what has been promulgated through Evangelical radio and newsprint over the last 100 years? Could a fresh reading of Scripture affirm that God is up to something more than just darkness and catastrophe? I sincerely think so. I honestly don't know if North American Christians will ever change our darkened outlook. Yet, in the meantime we must be extremely careful.

Whether it be blood moons, the Shemitah, or widespread social duress, we need to be cautious about what we're proclaiming. Like many others, I'd hate to see additional failed predictions. The apostle Paul said it the following way, "Stop listening to Jewish myths and the decrees of people who have turned away from the truth" (Titus 1:14). Fear, sensationalism, and esoteric readings of Scripture aren't going to propel global missions or the expansion of the church. I hope that we can finally learn the unpleasant lesson of previous generations. A fresh understanding of the "Good News" could change everything.

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