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Beware of False Prophets!




Beware of False Prophets


Fundamentalist Christians take a hard line on setting dates for the second advent of Christ. Failed date-setters are labeled as “false prophets.” What are the implications of these accusations? Are the fundamentalist Christians consistent in their position?

Dates Predicted by

Martin Luther, John Wesley, Joseph Wolff

 The fathers of Protestant denominations were keenly interested in Christ’s return and attempted to determine its date. For example, Martin Luther predicted Jesus would return in 300 years from his time. This would have placed the return of Christ between 1830 and 1850. [1] Like many of his contemporaries in the latter 1700s, John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist denomination, predicted 1836 for the date of the Second Advent. [2] Certainly, few would consider Luther or Wesley false prophets.

The 1800s witnessed an epidemic of “Millennial Fever” and a rash of date setting for Christ’s return. Joseph Wolff, the world renowned missionary, preached 1847 as the date of “the coming glory and personal reign of Jesus Christ ...” In 1836 Wolff was invited to present his Second Advent message before the United States Congress and the legislatures of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland. [3] No born again Christian would dare call Wolff, a highly esteemed fundamentalist, a false prophet. In fact many other fundamentalist ministers of that day were setting dates for the end of the world. [4]

In the early 1800s one man, William Miller, was singled out for ridicule for predicting a date (1844) which failed to be the time of the Lord's return. Why was this so, when over a hundred of his contemporaries used the same prophetic reasoning to pinpoint dates which also failed to be the beginning of the Second Advent?

Unfortunately, the evangelist Miller used 1844 as the date for the end of the world in order to scare thousands to convert to Christianity or else be damned eternally. It’s not that Joseph Wolff and others didn’t try the same strategy. What then was the difference? Miller was a farmer who became a preacher. The others were ordained ministers with impeccable fundamentalist credentials. Like Miller, their dates failed, but only “farmer Miller” was labeled a false prophet.

 Twentieth Century Fundamentalists

Fundamentalists of the 20th century look with disdain at the prophetic struggles of their 19th century brethren. Yet hasn’t the 20th century been just as full of failed prophetic predictions? What has been the record of those who teach the seven years of tribulation to bring the end of the world? Basic to their concept is the “imminent coming” of Jesus. They claim that ever since Jesus’ ascension, no prophetic event had to happen before his returnfor centuries Jesus could have returned on any day. In the words of John F. Walvoord, President of Dallas Theological Seminary“the Lord could come at any moment and there are no necessary intervening events.” [5] The obvious inconsistency is the seven years of tribulation which they teach must precede Jesus’ return. The tribulationists cover their inconsistency here by claiming Jesus will secretly return for a moment to rapture his saints. This secret return, they believe, precedes the seven years of tribulation. Furthermore, at the close of the seven years, Christ will visibly return and then “every eye shall see him.”

Fundamentalist False Prophets
—Return Could Be Any Day Before Israel Becomes a Nation

Still this is a false prediction. This view originated in the mid 1800s, when John Darby convinced some fundamentalists of the seven year tribulation. From that time until 1948 many fundamentalists preached that Jesus could return any day. However, on May 14, 1948, a prophetic miracle happenedthe rebirth of the State of Israel. This proved that a prophetic event did occur before their concept of the Second Advent. Hal Lindsey, the student of Walvoord, unwittingly destroyed the “eminent coming” theory when he admitted

“The one event which many Bible students in the past overlooked was this paramount prophetic sign: Israel had to be a nation again in the land of its forefathers.”[6]

If the fundamentalists truly believed that “no prophetic sign had to occur” before the “eminent coming of Christ,” then they were wrong all the years from 1830 to 1948 in saying Jesus could return any day. Literally tens of thousands of fundamentalist clergy and laity before 1948 declared from the pulpit or in personal witnessing that Jesus could return any day. According to their flawed “eminent coming” theory, it was not possible that any prophetic occurrence would precede the second coming. However, this theory was proved to be untrue when Israel was reborn as a nation. By their own definition, these fundamentalists unwittingly fell into the category of false prophets.

Hal Lindsey’s False Prediction

Jesus' Return Within 40 Years of 1948

After 1948, Hal Lindsey and many fundamentalists (on the basis of the restoration of Israel and the generation of Luke 21:29-31) predicted that Jesus would return within 40 years of 1948. [7] Well, 1988 came and passed without the secret return of Jesus to rapture the church—no large groups of Christians were reported as missing then or since, another failed prediction of the seven-year tribulationists.

Billy Graham’s False Prediction

It Will Be Over In Two Years [1950]

Excited over the new state of Israel, Billy Graham in 1950 told a rally in Los Angeles, “Two years and it’s all going to be over.” What evangelical will call Billy Graham a false prophet?

Many others set the date of 1988 for reasons different from the 40-year generation. [8] When their prediction failed, the date of 1989 was put forward for the return of Jesus. This, too, failed. Yet none of their seven-year tribulationist brethren accused them of being false prophets.

Harold Camping’s False Prediction

Jesus’ Return in 1994

 For several years before 1994, Harold Camping of Family Radio fame vigorously predicted on radio and by printed page the return of Jesus in 1994. This has proven to be another failed date among the seven-year tribulationists, and, of course, fundamentalists would not call Camping a false prophet. Even Christianity Today, the brain child of Billy Graham and the voice of evangelicals, found the need to exonerate Camping.

Both 19th century and 20th century fundamentalists have had their share of failed predictions. But we should view kindly their attempts to have the Lord Jesus “come quickly.” Unfortunately, fundamentalists fail to be kindly disposed towards those of a different doctrinal view.

 An Accurate Prediction — 1914 End of Gentile Times

Many Christians are convinced of the scriptural validity of 1914 as a prophetic date from the writings of several Bible expositors. Certain that the year 1914 would mark the end of the “Times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24), Christians between 1876 and 1914 searched the scriptures to fine tune the relationship between the end of “Gentile Times” and the “time of trouble” that would terminate the “present evil world.” Christians are not prophets of doom. They believe a gradual destruction of our “world” or “social order”—a destruction of systems and institutions, but not of people. (Zeph. 3:8,9, Psa. 46:6-10, Hag. 2:7) This destruction would be accomplished through war, revolution, and eventually anarchy.

Far from being doomsday prophets, Christians preach the good news (Gospel) of the kingdom. After the symbolic “earth” (social order) of Zephaniah's prophecy is destroyed, the people are shown as remaining. “For then I will turn to the people a pure language, that they may call upon the name of the Lord with one consent.” By contrast, Fundamentalists are dooms-dayers. They believe the overwhelming majority of humankind will be doomed eternally at Christ’s return.

Years before 1914 Christians preached that the termination (eviction) of the Gentile nations and their right to rule would begin with the ending of the “Times of the Gentiles” in 1914.

What Happened in 1914?

So what did happen in 1914? The outbreak of an unprecedented world war caused the following reaction from the publisher of a noted periodical. The August 30, 1914, issue of The World Magazine in a feature article about Bible Student predictions reported:

The terrific war outbreak in Europe has fulfilled an extraordinary prophecy. For 25 years Bible Students have been proclaiming to the world that the Day of Wrath prophesied in the Bible would dawn in 1914. The Bible speaks of a “time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation.” This prophecy of Daniel Bible Students identify as the “Day of Wrath,” the “Time of the Lord,” and the so-called “End of the World,” references which are plentiful in the Scriptures.

Historians have much to say about that eventful year 1914. The following is a part of the historical record.

Edmond Taylor while quoting Arnold Toynbee said:

“Looking back from the vantage point of the present we see that the outbreak of World War I ushered in a twentieth-century “Time of Troubles”... from which our civilization has by no means yet emerged. Directly or indirectly all the convulsions of the last half century stem back to 1914: the two World Wars, the Bolshevik Revolution, the rise and fall of Hitler, the continuing turmoil in the Far and Near East, the power-struggle between the communist world and our own. More than 23,000,000 deaths can be traced to one or the other of these upheavals.”[9]

Britannica Great Books, THE GREAT IDEAS TODAY:

“A world mesmerized by Science and progress mocked the mysticism of religious sects which had long predicted that the world would end in the year 1914; fifty years later the world isn't so sure that it didn't end in 1914.”[10]


“If ever there was a year that marked the end of an era and the beginning of another, it was 1914. That year brought to an end the old world with its sense of security and began a modern age whose chief characteristic is insecurity on a daily basis.”[11]

The year 1914 is clearly marked by unbiased historians as the ending of a world. The convulsions since are at once the processes of its disintegration and the birth pains of a new world. Britannica editors, as noted, observed that a religious group (actually known as Bible Students) predicted 1914 would mark the ending of a world in just this manner.

The list of writers describing the unprecedented destructive forces unleashed in 1914 is phenomenal and more continue to add their observations to this day. The following are a small additional sampling:

“It is indeed the year 1914 rather than that of Hiroshima which marks the turning point in our time.” — Rene Albrecht-Carrie, The Scientific Monthly, July 1951.

“Ever since 1914, everybody conscious of trends in the world has been deeply troubled by what has seemed like a fated and pre-determined march toward ever greater disaster. Many serious people have come to feel that nothing can be done to avert the plunge towards ruin. They see the human race, like the hero of a Greek tragedy, driven on by angry gods and no longer the master of fate.” — Bertrand Russell, New York Times Magazine, September 27, 1953.

“The modern era . . . began in 1914, and no one knows when or how it will end . . . It could end in mass annihilation.” — Editorial, The Seattle Times, January 1, 1959.

“In 1914 the world, as it was known and accepted then, came to an end.” — James Cameron, 1914, published in 1959.

“The First World War was one of the great convulsions of history.” — Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August. 1962.

“Thoughts and pictures come to my mind, . . . thought from before the year 1914 when there was real peace, quiet and security on this earth—a time when we didn’t know fear . . . Security and quiet have disappeared from the lives of men since 1914.” — Former U.N. General Secretary, Konrad Adenauer, 1965.

“The whole world really blew up about World War I and we still don’t know why . . . Utopia was in sight. There was peace and prosperity. Then everything blew up. We’ve been in a state of suspended animation ever since.” — Dr. Walker Percy, American Medical News, November 21, 1977.

“In 1914 the world lost a coherence which it has not managed to recapture since . . . This has been a time of extraordinary disorder and violence, both across national frontiers and within them.” — The Economist, London, August 4, 1979.

“Civilization entered on a cruel and perhaps terminal illness in 1914.” — Frank Peters, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 27, 1980.

In his book, OUT OF CONTROL, Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor and professor of American Foreign Policy at John Hopkins University, notes that the 20th century began amid great hope and promise, but became the century of insanity. In elaborating on his observation of 175 million slaughtered in the name of the “politics of organized insanity,” he says:

“Contrary to its promise, the twentieth century became mankind's most bloody and hateful century of hallucinatory politics and of monstrous killings. Cruelty was institutionalized to an unprecedented degree, lethality was organized on a mass production basis. The contrast between the scientific potential for good and the political evil that was actually unleashed is shocking. Never before in history was killing so globally pervasive, never before did it consume so many lives, never before was human annihilation pursued with such concentration of sustained effort on behalf of such arrogantly irrational goals.”[12]

These observations of history confirm predictions that the old world began to end in 1914 and is currently being ushered completely out of existence by a consuming process of wars, revolutions and anarchy. The evidence of history clearly teaches that 1914 is the most significant date in modern times as it marks a sharp break with the past. The wars and upheavals, social turmoil and unrest since 1914 are greater, deeper, and more unrelenting than anything mankind has ever experienced. No one has given a better explanation of the events of the 20th century.

The trouble of the present time and recent past is merely the passing of the old order as a new order of righteousness, peace, and everlasting life is to be ushered in for the benefits and blessing of all the families of the earth who accept and obey God's words of life.


End Notes

[1] The Familiar Discourses of Dr. Martin Luther, trans. by Henry Bell and revised by Joseph Kerby (London: Baldwin, Craddock and Joy, 1818), pp. 7,8.

[2] LeRoy Edwin Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, Vol. 3 (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1954), p. 602.

[3] Froom, Vol. 4. Pp. 323, 324.

[4] Ibid., pp. 406, 518.

[5] John F. Walvoord, Bibiotheca Sacra, April-June 1976.

[6] Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970), p. 43.

[7] Ibid., p. 54.

[8] Collin H. Deal, Will Christ Return by 1988? (Rutherford College, NC: Deal, 1979) p. 158.

[9] Edmond Taylor, The Fall of Dynasties, (New York: Doubleday, 1963) p. 16.

[10] The Great Ideas Today, (Britannica Great Books, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1963) pp. 107, 108.

[11] Rowse, Oxford Historian and Biographer, June 28, 1959.

[12] Zbigniew Brzezinski, Out of Control: Global Turmoil on the Eve of the 21st Century, (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1993), p. 5.