|Why This Book?|
We Christians have long needed a book on prophecy and "last things" that the average church member would find interesting and understandable, yet would contain enough detail so the reader could learn what the Bible really says about the end times. This is especially true in view of the diverse "voices of prophecy" hawking their wares via the airwaves or other media. We need a vehicle to unravel the confusion about the end times which is sweeping over the evangelical church, and which began over one and a half centuries ago.
There is an aberrant theology, now widely accepted, that has even become a test of orthodoxy in many otherwise doctrinally sound, evangelical assemblies. The movement, which is called "dispensationalism," has many variations and offshoots. Prophetic pronouncements streaming from dispensationalist sources are inconsistent and constantly changing. Scores of supposedly "God-inspired" interpreters present their own ideas about the end times, opening heretofore hidden Biblical secrets that concern the fate of Israel, Europe, Russia, China, and even the United States. The movement has been successful at penetrating the grass roots of the Church by the aggressive use of television, radio, magazines, books, study guides, seminars, the church pulpit, and even Christian schools and seminaries.
While many evangelical churches have rightly taken strong stands against liberalism, humanism, cults, the occult, and the New Age movement, they have eagerly accepted and promulgated these violently unbiblical doctrines that drain power and steal truth from the gospel. Various groups have sensationalized their "prophetic" message and "fleeced" their followers while they perpetrate deception. They appeal to seekers of the truth, even the "little ones" who have limited knowledge of the Scriptures. Most such false teachers and prophets are themselves innocently deceived. Sincere in their desire to serve Christ, they lead others astray, reinforced by the passionate belief that they represent Biblical truth.
The rest of the Church has mostly looked the other way. They have a point, however, when they say that these are, after all, our brothers and sisters in Christ. We should not let doctrinal differences divide our fellowship. Amen. But the Bible admonishes us to teach sound doctrine. It is our responsibility to do this very thing, lest we be found guilty of permitting, or even encouraging, the dissemination of falsehood, and compounding the problem by claiming Biblical authority for it. If we permit dishonesty or lack integrity in the handling of the Scriptures, and knowingly allow harmful doctrines to proliferate in the Church, we do a disservice both to God and to His people.
The truth by its very nature is confrontational. Jesus demonstrated this, as did the apostles and the reformers. Many gave their lives for their message. Those of you who avoid the battle for the truth are not truth seekers. You cherish the things you already believe. In the New Testament, people such as these abandoned Jesus. They preferred to teach rather than be taught. Others throughout history were so convinced that error was truth that they would do violence to preserve it, but would not even listen to a solid argument that disproved their false beliefs. If you have already made up your mind about last things, I am probably wasting your time. But if you are still seeking and are willing to weigh the Biblical evidence, whether or not it agrees with your current understanding, you will benefit from this book. It will challenge you and bring spiritual growth, because you will have to think seriously and carefully about the Biblical message.
It is not my design to launch a personal attack on sincere Christians who seek to serve the Lord the best they can. For me, the most troubling aspect of writing this book was not the material itself, but how to present its devastating testimony against the doctrines of dispensationalism without alienating fellow Christians who accept them. Probably this cannot be completely avoided. But the truth needs no apology because power and liberty in Christ stream to those who seek it. It is imperative that true believers understand the falsehoods built into the dispensational system of doctrines so that they might know the truth and gain new freedom in Jesus Christ. If I seem a bit zealous in my presentation, remember that Christ wants you to serve Him passionately, lest you be found neither hot nor cold, and end up a discarded relic in the spiritual jungle.
No one has a corner on truth. When I propose to present the "Biblical" approach to certain doctrines, I am no exception. My purpose, therefore, is to present the evidence by letting the Scriptures speak. My commentary seeks to focus on the implications of the Word of God, but it is the Word itself that must reveal the truth. Let the seeker of truth prayerfully weigh and understand this material. Check what I say against what God says and accept the good. It is not necessary to agree with everything in this book to grasp and accept its basic message. "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."
While teaching Bible classes on the Book of Revelation (also called the Apocalypse), I discovered that many students were misled by dispensationalist teachings, although most, if not all, had never heard the term "dispensationalism." So pervasive have these doctrines become that I had to write copious supplementary material to build a foundation for understanding the Book. I have taught the subject on and off for about twenty-five years, and find that the dispensationalist approach severely distorts and misrepresents the message God planted there and in many other portions of Scripture. The Apocalypse promises to bless those who read it. But dispensationalism and its doctrinal progeny bury the blessing. It is not mainly about great horrors and disasters in the distant future; it is not about the "great tribulation;" and it was not written primarily to reveal the course of end time events. It is about the spiritual conflict of our present age. It provides a message of comfort, hope, and encouragement to God's children who must endure persecution and strife in this troubled world. It reveals the victorious, conquering Christ who engages and destroys the powers of darkness while He upholds and protects the righteous until they inherit the glorious new heaven and new earth.
The Bible contains few, if any, prophetic links to specific events in today's world; the happenings recorded in our daily newspaper; but it does describe such events generically, bringing warning and comfort to each generation. This distinction makes a big difference in understanding Biblical prophecy and the times in which we live.
My students have occasionally had difficulty with sound teaching because of the deceptions they have heard. They may be confused about Biblical prophecy in general or may have lost their objectivity due to emotional attachments to those teachings. Others have invested a great deal of time and energy in learning or teaching unsound doctrines, and are not ready to give them up. Many are quick to assume a defensive posture, without adequately weighing the evidence. Some will reject the message in this book, even if it is presented in a way that "makes sense," both Biblically and rationally. Seekers of truth, who have no "ax to grind," will prayerfully consider everything.
This book shows that the dispensationalist view of the end is certainly incorrect, but it is far easier to find flaws in a system of doctrine than it is to construct such a system in the first place. The Bible presents many clues, but it seems that God deliberately leaves most of our questions about the future and the hereafter unanswered. "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face." The need for this book arose from a need to build a foundation for my study in the Book of Revelation. When the foundation is weak, it is sometimes necessary to tear down and uproot before the building and planting can begin (Jer 1:10). God commissioned this book for that very reason, as I felt compelled to write the things He showed me. Often I would awaken from sleep during the night and write for hours, until I had set down the message He had put in my spirit.
Although he opposed Christianity, Thomas Paine was right when he said, "To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason is like administering medicine to the dead." This statement applies to many Christian participants in theological "discussions" and to others sitting under formal instruction. Although Mr. Paine said it, the truth is still God's truth, no matter where it comes from. Faith and reason work together synergistically to strengthen our knowledge of the truth. Faith without reason leads to presumption and doctrinal error. Reason without faith fails to apprehend God and the entire realm of the spirit. Dispensational doctrines give short shrift to reason. If you read and understand everything in this book, you can never again adhere to dispensational doctrine with rational integrity. This will be made abundantly clear to the reasonable faithful who bear with me through the following pages.
This book began as my supplementary class material accumulated until it dawned on me that I should organize it and write the book I had wished for. Thus these pages defend the oldest established and still dominant Biblical approach to the study of "last things" (eschatology). Explanations are rendered in plain language and the falsehood of dispensationalism is laid bare so that careful, responsible readers can understand why it must be rejected. Some Christians may believe that the sequence of major events precipitating the end of the age is not very important. But the Bible gives the subject a great deal of attention, as witnessed by the sheer quantity of passages quoted in Part Three of this book. Moreover, it is very important to understand the ministry of Jesus Christ in His Church, and to be warned about the damaging distortions dispensationalism has brought to that subject.
Dispensationalists claim that they alone present the true plan for the unfolding of last things. They charge that their critics love to argue against them, but that they possess no cohesive Biblical description of their own for the end times. That is not true. The main elements of the end are so plain that they fairly emerge from the pages of the Bible to the student who studies on his own, not distracted by the complexities of today's "prophetic" ramblings. Nevertheless, my experience tells me that there is a need for such a description.
This three-part book thoroughly explains, from an amillennial viewpoint, the purposes of history and how it will progress towards its climax at Christ's coming. This is a doctrinal book, but, with the Lord's help, I sought to make it stimulating and inspirational, rather than dry and technical. Theological concepts are brought "down to earth" and applied to the Christian reader's life. Here revealed is the intimate connection between the subject of last things and the way we understand the gospels, the epistles, and the believer's expectation of the blessed hope.