Lookin’ for Signs in All the Wrong Places

We have to ask ourselves: Is this the time of ‘the end’ that the Bible speaks of so graphically in so many places? … The Bible teaches that there will be a number of signs that are easily discernible as we approach the end of the age. All of these signs seem currently to be coming in to focus.

Approaching Hoofbeats, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Billy Graham. 1985

Jesus Christ also pinpointed the general time of his return when his disciples asked him … “What will be the sign of the end of the age?” In answer Jesus gave many general signs involving world conditions … He said that these signs, such as religious apostasy, wars, famines, etc.. would increase in frequency and intensity just like birth pangs before a child is born.”

The Late Great Planet Earth, Hal Lindsey, 1970

Read what Jesus answered—what He had to say about your day and mine—the latter part of the twentieth century—

Read these words in the light of current world events.

[subheading:]

The Phenomenal Increase of War, Crime, Violence and Fear Are All Signs of Jesus Second Coming!

Good-bye Planet Earth, Seventh Day Adventist Robert H. Pierson, 1976

… let me give you a brief preview of the world YOU live in today, and what the next very few years are going to bring into YOUR life and mine. We are living in a time of extreme DANGER!… All evidence seems to indicate it—pollution, unprecedented crime and violence, family life breaking down, morals in the cesspool, terrorism, local wars in Asia, the Middle East, South America. All signs point to the fact that we are living in the TIME OF THE END of this present civilization! … We are living in the most tremendous days of world history—the very END TIME, the END of this present evil, unhappy, violent world—just prior to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Letter to subscribers of the Plain Truth Magazine, Herbert Armstrong, 1982

 There had been wars, food shortages, earthquakes and pestilences down through the centuries of the Common Era until 1914. … Nevertheless, there had been nothing to compare with what has taken place since … that momentous year.

Watchtower Magazine, Jehovah’s Witnesses, February 1985

All of these authors seem to agree… The headlines in your daily paper are absolute proof that we are living in “the very END TIME.” As the Watchtower Magazine put it, there has been in the past “nothing to compare” with the kind of wars, famines, earthquakes, and pestilences of the past century.

Such claims have certainly sold prophecy-themed books for these and similar authors, and garnered subscribers for prophecy-laden magazines—and members for prophecy-oriented church groups!  The Late Great Planet Earth was purchased by something like 28 million people between 1970 and 1990, and continues to sell briskly even today—even though none of the speculation in the book has come to pass over forty years after its publication. In its heyday, the Plain Truth magazine had a monthly circulation of over 2 million—even though none of the speculation of its founder, Herbert Armstrong, had come to pass since its earliest issues in 1934. The Jehovah’s Witnesses denomination, whose “evangelism” has been almost totally based on End Time Paranoia for generations, currently has over 18 MILLION members! They’ve grown by leaps and bounds even though the organization’s leadership, the Watchtower Society, has speculated endlessly for over a century about specific dates for the End … none of which ever panned out. And the Seventh Day Adventist denomination, which also has focused much of its emphasis on how close we are to The End for over 150 years, has over 16 MILLION members … even though, just like all the others mentioned, none of ITS End Times Speculation has ever panned out either.

What is going on here? These are not isolated cases…the claims of the Watchtower Society that there has been “nothing to compare” in history to the conditions of the twentieth century are echoed over and over by other groups, other books, other TV and radio and Youtube messages. Author after author and speaker after speaker has claimed that the world has experienced ever-increasing levels of “wars, famines, earthquakes, and pestilence” for the past century. In fact, so many have made this claim that surely “all these sources can’t be wrong” … can they?

“Nothing to compare”?

 What terrible wars, both foreign and domestic! What pestilences, famines … and quakings of the earth has history recorded!

…That wars continue frequently to prevail, that death and famine accumulate anxiety, that health is shattered by raging diseases, that the human race is wasted by the desolation of pestilence, know that this was foretold; that evils should be multiplied in the last times, and that misfortunes should be varied; and that the day of judgment is now drawing nigh.

…Of all the signs described by our Lord as presaging the end of the world some we see already accomplished… For we now see that nation arises against nation and that they press and weigh upon the land in our own time as never before in the annals of the past. Earthquakes overwhelm countless cities, as we often hear from other parts of the world. Pestilence we endure without interruption. It is true that we do not behold signs in the sun, moon and stars but that these are not far off we may infer from the changes in the atmosphere.

The first quote above is from Tertullian, in Ad Nationes, from about 197 AD. Too bad he didn’t understand how bad it would get 1800 years later! Perhaps he was reacting to the smallpox plague that only killed 5,000,000 people between 165 and 180 in the Roman Empire. Why today, smallpox plagues kill … uh … zero. The last case of smallpox recorded was in 1977.

Contrary to books and sermons and articles insisting the Earth has been experiencing more and more epidemics/pestilence in the past century, the reality is that deaths from almost all kinds of communicable diseases have been in a steep decline for well over a century. Could an epidemic of some plague unknown today ravage mankind in the future? Of course. May there be such epidemics before the actual Return of Jesus? Of course. But to say that there has been in the past century a startling level of “increasing” epidemics which is somehow a “sign” of the imminent Return is just not being honest with historical records AT ALL.

The second quote above was from Cyprian, writing in the third century.  And the third quote above was from Gregory the Great in the sixth century. Gregory may have had in mind, in part, the Plague of Justinian (likely bubonic plague) around the time of his birth that has been estimated to have killed something like 25,000,000 people worldwide. Or perhaps the “extreme weather events” just a few years before that:

The extreme weather events of 535–536 were the most severe and protracted short-term episodes of cooling in the Northern Hemisphere in the last 2,000 years.The event is thought to have been caused by an extensive atmospheric dust veil, possibly resulting from a large volcanic eruption in the tropics,or debris from space impacting the Earth. Its effects were widespread, causing unseasonal weather, crop failures, and famines worldwide.

…The Byzantine historian Procopius recorded of 536, in his report on the wars with the Vandals, “during this year a most dread portent took place. For the sun gave forth its light without brightness…and it seemed exceedingly like the sun in eclipse, for the beams it shed were not clear.”

Could similar plagues and “weather events” occur in the future, before the Return of Christ, which would have as deep an impact as these ancient events? Of course. But to claim that there has been a startling increase in such things in the past century is just not being honest with historical facts.

Or perhaps Gregory also had in mind the Antioch earthquake of 526 that was reported to have killed an estimated 250,000. A number of ancient earthquakes, and subsequent tsunamis, and resultant famines, have killed even more than that … one in the eastern Mediterranean in 1202 killed over a million. One in China in 1556 killed over 830,000.

But haven’t the number of powerful earthquakes been increasing in recent decades, indicating a “sign” of the soon-coming Return of Christ? Not according to the FAQ on the official website of the US Geological Survey:

Although it may seem that we are having more earthquakes, earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or greater have remained fairly constant throughout this century and, according to our records, have actually seemed to decrease in recent years.

The USGS site is full of charts showing the exact details of earthquake frequency, of all sizes of quakes. There just is no scientific evidence at all to support the claims by prophetic writers that we have been experiencing some sort of astonishing increase in seismic activity that is a sure prelude to the Second Coming.

Could the coming decade bring a change in that circumstance? Of course. But the Prophecy Pontificators of the 20th century quoted above were not talking about 2012-2022. They were writing decades ago, about the current situation in their own time, and the immediate future—which is now decades in the past.

Gregory the Great can maybe be excused for not having enough historical context information at his fingertips to be able to realize that maybe he wasn’t living close to The End. Prophecy Pundits today HAVE no excuse. They don’t have to deal in guess work or generalities. The Internet is loaded with historical and scientific facts they can tap into. Instead many seem to still be addicted to quoting … one another.

And continuing to insist that we are just “that” close to The End. After all, Hal Lindsey SAID SO! And he’s a … famous prophecy expert. No, not just “famous” … a GIANT! The Rapture Ready website tells me so!

Hal Lindsey is a giant in the world of Bible Prophecy. During the early eighties, the New York Times hailed Hal Lindsey with the honorable title “The Jeremiah of Today”. The New York Times also accredited Lindsey with being the best-selling non-fiction author in the world during the 1970’s, after reporting only half of the books he had actually sold. He has also been called the father of modern-day Bible prophecy and remains one of the most well-known names in prophecy.

Why, here’s even a famous quote they feature from this Giant:

 To the skeptic who says that Christ is not coming soon, I would ask him to put the book of Revelation in one hand, and the daily newspaper in the other, and then sincerely ask God to show him where we are on His prophetic time-clock.”
-Hal Lindsey, There’s a New World Coming, 1974

The answer Hal got was obviously that we were at “minutes to midnight” I guess.

Hal had strongly pitched just four years earlier in his 1970 Late Great Planet Earth book that Jesus pretty much HAD to return by 1988 because that was forty years (what he defined as a “biblical generation”) after the founding of the modern nation of Israel in 1948. And he insisted that the generation that saw the restoration of Israel would have to be the one that also experienced the Return of Christ, based on his interpretation of other scriptures.

Hal has always preached the “pre-Tribulation Rapture.” His version of this speculative doctrine has been that seven years before the return of Christ, all true Christians will be caught up to Heaven to be with Jesus, while the Great Tribulation breaks out on Earth. So if Jesus was to return in 1988, the Rapture would have to be at least seven years before that… 1981 at the latest.

No time to waste! The basic content of Hal’s TANWC book was repackaged by the “Spire Comics” publishers as a comic book, which was rushed into print in 1975 so that prophetically-hip’70s youth would’t miss out on the action!  Nothin’ like a psychedelic Rapture—in your mini-skirts and bell-bottoms, no less!  GROOVY!

Beyond the ridiculous mini-skirts and bell-bottoms and heavenly psychedelia, the problem with Hal’s challenge to skeptics quoted above is this…  2011 is PAST a whole “biblical generation” from when he began publicly insisting the End was imminent in 1970 in The Late Great Planet Earth.

Therefore it would appear that Hal himself was clueless on “where we are on His prophetic time-clock.”

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4 Responses to Lookin’ for Signs in All the Wrong Places

  1. Pingback: Lookin’ for Signs in All the Wrong Places | Currently StaRRing …

  2. Linda Gallia says:

    Today we were flipping through TV channels this morning. Stopped on one televangelist initials “GF” and he said: “this man (the beast of revelation) will appear on the scene during this year”. Another prophecy to “watch”. If it doesn’t happen we know what the Bible calls him. :o)

  3. Jack Harper says:

    Hello, thanks for your website. I really enjoyed the historical background on false prophecies. I was one of those 70’s teenagers who believed that Christ was going to return in our day and age. I was scared and excited that we would actually see the return. I know realize the fallacy of a pre-tribulation understanding. It took God a while to open my eyes. My question for you is what form of end time eschatology do you prescribe too and do you cover it in your blog? Thanks again…Jack Harper

    • I subscribe to the NOBODY KNOWS scenario. 🙂 The Bible has VERY little to say about how, and even less to say about when, Jesus will return. As a young adult in the 1970s I was also convinced that the Return would be by 1975. The cult (YES, it was a cult …) I was involved with did not teach a pre-trib rapture to heaven. They preached a sort of “sideways” instead of “up” rapture … the members of the “True Church” would be whisked away to a “Place of Safety” ON EARTH. (Most thought it would be in the area of Petra in the Middle East.) There they would be supernaturally protected while the Seven Last Plagues were poured out, then be “changed in the twinkling of an eye” to supernatural beings and rise… with the dead in Christ… to meet Jesus “in the air” as He returned. Then they would “land” with Him on the Mount of Olives, and get ready to help Him run the Millennium on earth, ruling over those humans who were left. Obviously, none of this ever happened. I was 18 when I started believing that … I never expected to get gray hair and wrinkles and grow old. I’d be “in the Kingdom” before that. Hah. 🙂 I am now 69 with mostly white hair and plenty of wrinkles. I have had plenty of time to finally realize that ALL of the speculation is worthless. What we need to do with our lives is to live like it will happen tomorrow… because if we die in an accident or from a heart attack or whatever… it WILL happen for us! Our next waking moment we will find out what it was all about. But not until then. No, until then we should live like it will happen tomorrow by doing the most we can to love and minister to people NOW. That’s what “builds treasure in heaven,” not gathering up esoteric knowledge…about the unknowable.

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