Have you ever noticed how many people seem to be metaphorically drunk on the millennium? You go back to the early 1800s and you have a broad range of people that are seeking to time the approaching terror and the turmoil of the tribulation correlated with the Second Coming by correlating current events with biblical prophecy. They’re forever trying to “pin the tail on the Anti-Christ.” [1]

On the cultic fringe you have people like Mormon founder Joseph Smith, who was propagating that notion that his generation was living in the very shadow of Christ’s return. Joseph Smith alleged that God told him the return of Christ would take place before he—Joseph Smith—was 85 years of age. Of course, that didn’t happen.

In more main stream millennial circles, the gifted Baptist orator William Miller was circulating the conclusion that his generation was living on the very edge of the millennium. In fact, in 1831 he publicly identified the year of Christ’s return as 1843. How did he do it? Well, he used millennial mathematics. He calculated a day in prophetic parlance as equivalent to year in prophetic history, and so according to Daniel 8, exactly 2,300 days after Artaxerxes’ decree the millennium would commence. Does this sound a little bit like Jack Van Impe today?

Nineteenth-century Historic Premillennialists used millennial mathematics not only to date the time of Christ’s descent but to determine details like the time of Anti-Christ’s demise. Then in 1831 you have [John Nelson] Darby, who adds a unique twist to the dating game by introducing the concept of a secret coming, seven years prior to a second coming. He said that one can determine the time of Christ’s Second Coming after the time of Christ’s secret coming.

Later dispensationalists like [Tim] LaHaye found a variety of new rules to ensure that the dating game could be played on and on. He demonstrated this idea of forwarding the notion that the “generation” who heard the Austrian Declaration of World War I in 1914 would not pass away before Christ’s Second Coming. [2]

So you have the people in the past content to be spectators to unfolding events and timing the events, but today’s brand bent on ensuring that these events become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The problem is if the evangelical death march toward the end time of Armageddon can be subverted, it’s going to be because believers recommit themselves to faithful illumination.

In other words, what I’m saying is, it will be because believers recommit themselves to faithful exegesis—which is to mine what the Spirit has breathed into Scripture as opposed to reading our own predilections into the text. Look, sudden flashes of intuition or inspiration are poor substitutes for the scrupulous study of the Word of God.

We must pray that the Holy Spirit gives us clear minds and open hearts as we dig into his Word. That means a willingness to sacrifice treasured traditions on the altar of biblical fidelity. It means learning to read the Bible for all its worth. Ultimately, it means turning away from sensationalism and marching undeterred toward reading the Bible, studying the Bible, and being intoxicated with the Word of God again, instead of turning on the television and being titillated by the sensationalists. We are dragging Christ’s name through the mud and we need to get back to the Bible, it is critical.

To learn more about reading the Bible for all it’s worth check out my Legacy Study Bible and The Apocalypse Code at www.equip.org.

[1] Principles sources for the following discussion of Smith, Miller, and Darby are Timothy P. Weber, Living in the Shadow of the Second Coming: American Premillennialsim, 1875-1982 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983, ed), Timothy P. Weber, On the Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals Became Israel’s Best Friend  (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), Ernest R. Sandeen The Roots of Fundamentalism: British and American Millenarianism 1800-1930 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), and George Eldon Ladd, The Blessed Hope (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956).


[2] Tim Lahaye, The Beginning of the End (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1972), 38-39; also see the whole of chapter 3, “The First Sign of the End,” and Chapter 15, “Is This the Last Generation?” LaHaye argued that World War 1 uniquely fulfilled the prophecy of Matthew 24:7, which in his mind was the sign to indicate “the beginning of the end.” In 1999 Lahaye coauthored with Jerry B Jenkins Are We Living in the End Times? (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1999) in which he had not yet ruled out the possibility that the generation that saw World War 1 would not pass away until the Lord returns, saying that scenario, “should not be ruled out for another five years or so” (59).