Prophetic Speculation

The following is an updated edition of an article that first appeared in O Timothy magazine, Volume 10, Issue 3, 1993. It was originally titled “Date Setting and Sign Looking.”


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Recently I received a report that said Jesus must be coming soon because of chip implant technology. Allegedly, someone saw a man pay for his groceries by running his hand over the store’s cash register scanner as part of a government experiment. 

There is no doubt that rapid advances have been made in chip implant technology, but this means very little as far as the coming of Christ is concerned. Christ’s coming is imminent and is not predicated by signs. Further, we have no way of knowing if the sign of the antichrist will involve an implanted chip. The Bible says the sign of the antichrist will be “a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads” (Revelation 13:16). A computer chip is not a mark. Based upon the simple reading of the Scripture, it is more likely that the sign of the antichrist will be some sort of a visible tattoo rather than an invisible implanted chip. 

To try to figure out the identity of the antichrist or the mark of the beast by observing current events is vain speculation and is a waste of time. 

Jack Van Impe’s 1993 video was entitled
A.D. 2000 - The End? Though he didn’t say for sure that the Lord would return in the year 2000, he came very close. In his catalog of publications, he advertised the video in these terms:

• A dynamic, power-packed video of Dr. Van Impe expounding on the following:
• The 6-Day Theory--as predicted in the Jewish Talmud and by the Apostles Peter and Barnabas, and also by church historians, including Irenus in A.D. 140.
• Chronological charts and calendar of Jewish holy days leading up to Messiah’s appearing!
• Mystery circles in the field.
• Earthquakes, famines, AIDS ... and the end!
• Why Jewish rabbinical scholars, Hindus, Muslims, New Agers, and secular leaders are proclaiming A.D. 2000 as the beginning of the new and final age.

Though he denied that he was setting a date, it is obvious that in 1993 Van Impe strongly believed the Lord would return in A.D. 2000. In an article in the January-February 1993 issue of his magazine, Perhaps Today, he gave the following chronology to demonstrate that the Lord would probably return in September of 1999:

“Let’s figure that out again--1948.5 plus 51.4 equals 1999.9--around September of the year 1999. Now, we are not date-setters! Of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my father only (Matthew 24:36). But wait! Don’t say, ‘No one can know the APPROXIMATE time when Christ will return,’ for Jesus also said in verse 33 that we will know when it is near, even at the doors.”

Van Impe would have done well to have quoted the entire verse in Matthew 24:33: “So likewise ye, WHEN YE SHALL SEE ALL THESE THINGS, know that it is near, even at the doors.” The Lord Jesus said those who see ALL of the events of Matthew 24 fulfilled will know the time of His return. He is referring, obviously, to those who are alive during the Great Tribulation. What are ALL THESE THINGS that Christ had prophesied in Matthew 24? Verse 15 refers to “the abomination of desolation” that shall “stand in the holy place.” Verse 21 refers to “great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” Verse 24 refers to powerful miracles performed by false christs. Verse 29 speaks of the sun and moon darkened, and the stars falling from Heaven. We are seeing none of these things today, let alone all of them.

Matthew 24 and Revelation 6-18 Do Not Refer to Church-Age Events

While it is true that portions of Matthew 24 have been fulfilled through church history in a preliminary, fore-viewing sense (e.g., false teachers, false signs, false christs, earthquakes, wars), the prophecy actually describes the events of Daniel’s 70th Week. Christ spoke of “the beginning of sorrows” in verses 4-8 as false teachers, wars, famines, pestilences, earthquakes. We believe the term “beginning of sorrows” has a two-fold application, as many prophecies do. For one, it refers to the general course of the church age. The things described in Matthew 24:4-8 have been evident throughout the age and have grown in intensity particularly in the last century. But the beginning of sorrows more particularly refers to the first part of the Tribulation. And Matthew 24:9-30 clearly refers to events of the Great Tribulation that the church-age saints will not see.

I believe this exposes the error of concentrating on speculative prophecy. Sure, it’s interesting to witness current events and to SPECULATE about when the Lord MIGHT come. It’s interesting to SPECULATE about whether or not the European Union is the revived Roman Empire, but I don’t believe the Lord wants His people to focus on these things. He wants us to focus, rather, on the Great Commission. 

The writings of the apostles do not contain prophetic SPECULATION. Does SPECULATION really have a place in Bible preaching and ministry? Are we to be SPECULATORS? No, we are to preach the SURE Word of God and leave the speculation to the prognosticators of this world.

Repeatedly, preachers who have focused on prophetic speculation have proven to be false teachers. They observe; they speculate; then they prognosticate--and their prognostications turn out to be wrong. They prophesy economic collapse, but the economy doesn’t collapse. They prophesy Y2K pandemonium, and there is no pandemonium. They speculate that the U.S. invasion of Kuwait to drive out Sadam Hussein will usher in the events of Revelation, but it doesn’t happen. They speculate that the preparation for the rebuilding of the Jewish temple means that it will certainly happen in this present lifetime (e.g., Grant Jeffrey’s
The New Temple and the Second Coming, p. 3).

There are many preachers whose ministries focus almost exclusively on speculative prophecy. They are Middle East watchers; they delve into conspiracies; they see prophetic significance in El Nino; they speculate about the mark of the Beast and the identity of the antichrist. 

There
are prophecies being fulfilled today. There are the prophecies about apostasy (e.g., 2 Timothy 3-4; 2 Peter 2). There is Daniel’s prophecy that many shall run to and fro and knowledge shall be increased (Dan. 12:4). There is Israel’s return to the land in a spiritually-blind condition (Ezek. 37:7-8). There is the rage of the nations as described in Psalm 2. 

There is no doubt that we are seeing the stage set for the grand fulfillment of Bible prophecy. The stage is being set by such things as computer and communications technology, military technology, religious syncretism, and globalism. 

But when it comes to the events described in the book of Revelation (chapters six through 18), none of that will happen until the church-age saints are Raptured. The events of Revelation is not the church’s program. Thus, it is a waste of time to speculate about the identity of the antichrist or the nature of his mark or Armageddon or the army of the east or whether the European Union is the revived Roman Empire or how the events of this present time will fit into Daniel’s 70th Week, because we cannot know the answers of such questions.  

This Present Period Is an Interlude

The Old Testament prophecies about Israel’s conversion and glorious kingdom look ahead to the 70th Week of Daniel and the second coming of Christ. This present church age is an interlude. Israel’s prophetic clock ticked away through the 69 weeks of Daniel 9, which are weeks of years, then stopped at Christ’s death. According to Daniel 9:25-26, the Messiah would come, and then be “cut off” after the 69th year. That is exactly what happened. The Lord Jesus Christ presented Himself as Israel’s Messiah and King. John 1:11 says that “he came unto his own, and his own received him not.” Christ was rejected by the nation Israel, as prophecy said He would be, and He turned to the Gentiles, to call out a people for His name from among the heathen nations. That is what He is doing today. This is explained in passages such as Luke 19:11-27; Acts 15:13-18; and Romans 11:1-29. Christ’s disciples thought He would establish the kingdom immediately, but He explained that this would not happen. Christ would return to heaven; Israel would be scattered to the nations; and only later would Christ return to establish the promised kingdom.

During this present interlude in the prophecies pertaining to Israel, Christ is calling out a people for His name from among the Gentile nations (Acts 15:13-18). At the end of this period, New Testament believers will be caught away to heaven, and Israel’s prophetic clock will start again and the final week of Daniel’s 70 Weeks, a week of seven years, will be fulfilled. The events of Daniel’s 70th Week are described in Scriptures such as Isaiah 2; Zechariah 12-14; Matthew 24; Luke 21; and Revelation 6-18. 

During Daniel’s 70th Week, also called “the time of Jacob’s trouble,” Israel and the world will be subject to great troubles--judgments from heaven and unspeakably horrible wars, famines, pestilences, earthquakes, and such. The antichrist will make a peace pact with Israel and will rule the world. After three and one-half years, the phony peace pact will be broken and the antichrist will desecrate Israel’s Temple and set himself up as God. That will mark the beginning of the last half of Daniel’s 70th Week and the start of the most terrible period of trouble the world has ever seen (Dan. 9:26-27; Mat. 24:15-28). Sometime during the 70th Week, Israel will be converted and at the end, Christ will return in power and glory to establish the promised kingdom and to judge the nations (Mat. 24:29-30; 25:31- 32; Zech. 12:9-14:21).

The Christian’s Duty Is Not to Look for Prophetic Signs 

Christians have an entirely different program from that of the nation Israel. We are not told to look for the fulfillment of Israel’s prophecies. Our work is to carry the gospel to all people. That is the great business of the individual Christian and of the churches. Christians are to be ready at all times to be caught away from this world (1 Thess. 4:13-18; 1 Cor. 15:51-58). For the Christian, the coming of Christ is imminent, meaning it can happen at any time. Christ warned: “Watch therefore; for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. ... Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh” (Mat. 24:42, 44; 25:13). 

This is a very important Bible truth. It is essential that the Christian be ready to depart at any time, ready to stand before the Lord Jesus Christ. “But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. ... For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:4-9).

The Christian can know the general times and seasons, but we cannot know the time of Christ’s return. We can’t know the day. We can’t know the year. We can’t even know the decade. In fact, we cannot be sure even about the century! 

THE HOLY SPIRIT IS RESTRAINING THE DEVIL’S PROGRAM IN THE WORLD, AND THIS IS THE ELEMENT OF PROPHECY THAT MAKES IT IMPOSSIBLE FOR US TO KNOW WHEN CHRIST WILL COME. 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 says: “And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: ONLY HE WHO NOW LETTETH WILL LET, UNTIL HE BE TAKEN OUT OF THE WAY.” 

I BELIEVE THESE VERSES SAY THAT THE HOLY SPIRIT IS RESTRAINING THE MYSTERY OF INIQUITY (WHAT ELSE COULD RESTRAIN THE DEVIL’S PROGRAM?), AND HE WILL RESTRAIN UNTIL HE IS TAKEN UP WITH THE NEW TESTAMENT SAINTS. THUS, EVEN THOUGH SIGNS ARE BEING FULFILLED IN PRESENT WORLD EVENTS, WE STILL CANNOT KNOW BY OBSERVING THESE EVENTS WHEN CHRIST WILL RETURN. 

The Holy Spirit’s restraining presence is the missing element. We don’t know how long He will restrain. He has the power to slow the devil’s program down and to keep things from progressing.

The Bible says: “Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain” (James 5:7). The Lord’s primary purpose in this age is to call out a people for His name among all nations. The Spirit of God is the omnipresent God; He has always been in the world in one sense; but He came at Pentecost in the special sense of equipping the churches for the Great Commission (Acts 1:8) and convicting sinners of their lost condition and drawing them to Christ. He is controlling the events of history for this objective. He will do this as long as He wants, and it is impossible to know when this evangelistic program will be completed and the time for the fulfillment of prophecy will occur.

The Bible plainly tells us that the reason that Christ has not yet returned is His desire to save sinners. “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us- ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:8-9).

We will not know the time of Christ’s coming until it happens. It will be a surprise. We will not see the antichrist make his covenant with Israel. We will not see the Two Witnesses stand in Jerusalem to denounce the antichrist and call upon men to repent. We will not see them killed and we will not see them resurrected. We will not see the antichrist stand in the temple and announce himself as God. We will not see the mark of the beast forced upon the world. We will not see the great judgments poured out. We will not see the northern power of Ezekiel 38-39 descend upon Israel and be destroyed by God. We will not see the armies of the world congregate in the Middle East to stand against Christ at Armageddon. Those events belong to Daniel’s 70th Week, which is part of Israel’s program.

Christians are part in another program altogether, and we need to mind our business and make sure that the work God has given us is fulfilled.

I fear that there is a lot of time wasted by Christians in the study of current events and in trying to find prophetic fulfillment in these events. I’ve done this myself at times, but I believe it is a sidetrack. Certainly, it is wise to know that the hour is late, but the fact is that the hour has been late for 2,000 years. We have been living in the last hours for all of that time. God has been longsuffering toward this wicked world, “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). God has been calling out a people for His name. That is why the gospel is to be preached throughout the world in every generation. This is the means whereby God is saving people and adding them to the churches. God is calling men through the gospel (2 Thes. 2:14). It is therefore the worldwide preaching of the Word of God that is to be the priority of every believer and of every Bible-believing assembly. 

Just before Christ ascended to heaven, the apostles asked, “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). They wanted to know about prophetic details and dates. The Lord’s reply is instructive: “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea,, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8).

The Lord told them they were not going to know the details of prophetic events and dates beyond that which is written in Scripture. Instead, they were to give themselves to proclaiming the Word of God to the ends of the earth.

In conclusion, let me emphasize exactly what I am saying and what I am not saying: 

First, I don’t believe it is wrong to study prophecy. Prophecy forms a large part of Scripture and it is important for the Christian life. Prophecy is a great light and encourager and motivator. At the same time, I don’t believe we should go beyond written prophecy and give ourselves over to speculation. 

Second, I do not believe we can determine the time of the Rapture by observing world events. I believe the Rapture will be a surprise and will not be preceded by specific signs. 

Finally, anything that detracts from the Great Commission is dangerous, even if it is the study of current events in light of Bible prophecy. Many who attend prophecy conferences have no zeal to win souls to Christ and no burden for world missions. They are caught up in carnal enthusiasm for prophetic speculation, but they are largely uninterested in the far more important business of holy living, discipleship, church building, and world evangelism. 

This is unscriptural.