No Fear of the Text
By Gary DeMar
President – American Vision
Gary DeMar Study Archive | Norman Geisler and “This Generation” | Norman Geisler, “You,” & “Zechariah the Son of Berechiah” | Biblical Minimalism and the “History of Preterism” | Thomas Ice and the Time Texts | Will the Real Anti-Prophets Please Stand Up? | Time’s Puff Piece: The Devil is in the Details | Dispensationalism : Being Left Behind | Zechariah 14 and the Coming of Christ | Defending the Indefensible | No Fear of the Text | The Passing Away of Heaven and Earth | Who or what is the Antichrist | Rapture Fever: Why Dispensationalism is Paralyzed | Identifying Antichrist | On Thin Ice | Using the Bible to Interpret the Bible | DeMar Articles
Tim LaHaye has written another book on prophecy. No Fear of the Storm was written because LaHaye recognizes that dispensational premillennialism is in trouble. As LaHaye tells it, numerous Christians who once held the pre-tribulational rapture theory are abandoning the system. You know when a majority position is in trouble when some of its biggest guns have to publish a spirited and party-line defense for the purpose of regathering the once faithful pre-tribulational troops. LaHaye tells us in his introduction why he decided to write No Fear of the Storm.
This book was ignited by a letter I received from an old friend that contained a vicious and frenzied attack on the pre-Trib Rapture theory. Obviously, my friend had changed his views! We had corresponded at some length over my concern that he was working too closely with Reconstructionists who refused to accept the plain teachings of the Bible on the nature of the kingdom of God.
LaHaye is honest enough to admit that the idea of a pre-tribulational rapture is a “theory.” What is troubling about his remarks is that he claims that Reconstructionists refuse “to accept the plain teachings of the Bible on the nature of the Kingdom of God.” Keep in mind that the “pre-Trib Rapture theory” is a nineteenth-century invention. This in itself does not make it wrong, but it does make it suspect. No amount of revisionist history can change the fact of the theory’s date of origin. As we will see, it is Dr. LaHaye and his dispensational associates who refuse to accept the plain teachings of the Bible.
LaHaye insists that the Bible should be interpreted literally. He says it like this: “When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense, but take every word at its primary, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context clearly indicate otherwise.” Neither LaHaye nor his dispensational colleagues follow the so-called “literal” or “plain sense” method consistently when it comes to the time texts of Revelation: “The things which must shortly take place” (1:1); “for the time is near” (1:3); “I am coming to you quickly” (2:16); “I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world” (3:10); “I am coming quickly” (3:11); “the third woe is coming quickly” (11:14); “I am coming quickly” (22:7); “for the time is near” (22:10); “I am coming quickly” (22:12); “Yes, I am coming quickly” (22:20). Ingenious is the best way to describe how dispensationalists get around the “plain sense” meaning of these texts.
J. Dwight Pentecost, a leading dispensational advocate, comments very briefly on the nature of the prophetic time texts: “It is to be observed that the time element holds a relatively small place in prophecy.” He has to say this because a literal reading of the time texts will not support the theory that events in the Book of Revelation are yet to be fulfilled. A literal reading of the time texts means that dispensational premillennialism is an impossibility.
John Walvoord’s comments on Revelation 11:14, where the word “quickly” is used to describe the timing of Jesus’ coming, demonstrate how exegetical gerrymandering takes place: “The third woe contained in the seventh trumpet is announced as coming quickly. The end of the age is rapidly approaching.”
How can “quickly” in 11:14 mean “the end of the age is rapidly approaching,” but Jesus’ coming cannot mean “rapidly approaching” in 2:16, 3:11, 22:7, 12, and 20? In fact, Walvoord’s comments on Revelation 22:7 demonstrate how shaky his position is: “The thought seems to be that when the action comes, it will be sudden.” For a dispensationalist it seems to be that way, but the Bible doesn’t say it that way. Nowhere does Jesus say, “When I come it will be fast.” He says, “I am coming quickly.”
Let’s put this in everyday English. You find that your son’s room is a mess. Not an unusual occurrence. You give the following instructions: “Clean up your room, and do it quickly. I’ll be back soon to check on it.” An hour later you examine your son’s progress and find things as they were. You ask your son why his room is not clean, reminding him that you told him to do it quickly and that you would return soon. He says, “Dad, you said you would be back ‘soon.’ As you know, the time element holds a relatively small place in room cleaning. Besides, when I start to clean it, I’ll do it quickly! I could clean it today or next week.” Works for me.
A Prolonged Coming?
Charles L. Feinberg writes in his commentary on Revelation that “things which must shortly come to pass” (1:1) “gives no basis for the historical interpretation of the book. Events are seen here from the perspective of the Lord and not from the human viewpoint (cf. II Pet 3:8). The same Greek words appear in Luke 18:7-8 (Gr en tachei), where the delay is clearly a prolonged one.”
Prolonged in terms of what? The widow of Luke 18 gets justice in her lifetime. She doesn’t have to wait 2000 years! She lives to see justice done. In a similar way, following the point of the analogy, God “will bring about justice” for the elect “speedily” (Luke 18:8). If the widow received “legal protection” speedily (in her lifetime) (v. 5), then God brings about justice for the elect speedily (in their lifetime).
A similar parabolic analogy is found in Matthew 24:42-51. The evil slave says, “My master is not coming for a long time” (v. 48). How long is a “long time”? The evil slave was alive when the master left, and he is alive when the master returns. “Long time,” therefore, is in terms of an individual’s adult lifetime, approximately forty years.
Feinberg continues with his distorted view of the time texts with his comments on Revelation 1:3 where the time when we should expect these prophetic events to take place is said to be “near.” “These words (Gr ho kairos engus: [‘the time is near’]) appear only twice in the Revelation. Neither reference indicates the possible length involved. Again, all is seen from the perspective of God.” This is interpreting the passage literally, according to the “plain sense”? The “plain sense” meaning of “near” is imminent, approaching, impending, right around the corner, close, nigh. While John may use “near” only twice in Revelation, in his gospel he uses it a number of times. The meaning is clear in each case: “The Passover of the Jews was at hand [engus: ‘near’]” (John 2:13; 6:4; 11:55); “Now the feast of the Jews, the Feast of Booths, was at hand [engus: ‘near’]” (7:2). The feasts were only days away. There is no doubt that the Greek word translated “near” in Revelation 1:3 and “at hand” throughout the gospel of John mean close in reference to time.
John Walvoord writes of “must shortly come to pass” in Revelation 1:1: “The idea is not that the event may occur soon, but when it does, it will be sudden (cf. Luke 18:8; Acts 12:7; 22:18; 25:4; Rom. 16:20).” He gives a similar interpretation of “near” in 1:3, “for the time is near [at hand]”: “The expression ‘at hand’ indicates nearness from the standpoint of prophetic revelation, not necessarily that the event will immediately occur.” Jesus said, “My time is at hand [engus: ‘near’]” (Matthew 26:18). Does his method apply here? Was Jesus’ time to be crucified chronologically near? (cf. Matthew 3:15; Mark 1:15). Most certainly.
A similar use of “near” is found in Matthew 24:32. “Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender, and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.” How far away is summer once a tree begins to put forth leaves? The analogy makes it evident that “near” means “soon”: Leaves = nearness of summer. “Even so you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door” (24:33). Here we find a brief commentary in the text itself on what “near” means – “Right at the door.” That nearness was within the lifetime of the disciples.
There is another piece of exegetical maneuvering that dispensationalists use to save their unworkable “plain sense” understanding of literalism. Robert L. Thomas, in his exegetical commentary on Revelation, tries to salvage dispensationalism by changing how one keeps time. He knows he has a problem with the time texts because a literal rendering of them nullifies a distant future fulfillment. If the literal approach is taken, one is left with the uncomfortable conclusion that the events in Revelation were fulfilled soon after they were written – between A.D. 66-70.
As the matter stands, it has been almost nineteen hundred years since the prediction and much of what the book predicts still has not begun to happen.
The response of this view to the seeming difficulty raised by the delay of more than nineteen hundred years is not that John was mistaken but that time in the Apocalypse is computed either relatively to the divine apprehension as here and in 22:10 (cf. also 1:3; 3:11; 22:7, 12, 20) or absolutely in itself as long or short (cf. 8:1; 20:2). When measuring time, Scripture has a different standard from ours (cf. 1 John 2:18)….
Did you notice how Thomas continually begs the question? The dispute is over when the events are to take place. He begins with the premise that the events prophesied in Revelation have not taken place and then adjusts the meaning of the time texts to fit his futurist position. He assumes to be true what he must prove to be true, that the events have not taken place. If the time texts are taken in their “plain sense,” then there are only two possible meanings: (1) John was mistaken and the Bible is filled with unreliable information, or (2) the events described therein came to pass soon after the prophecy was given.
Thomas has one last hope in avoiding the pre-A.D. 70 fulfillment of Revelation: “When measuring time, Scripture has a different standard from ours (cf. 1 John 2:18).” Isn’t this convenient. Earlier in his commentary he writes that “The futurist approach to the book is the only one that grants sufficient recognition to the prophetic style of the book and a normal [‘plain sense’?] hermeneutical pattern on interpretation based on that style. It views the book as focusing on the last period(s) of world history and outlining the various events and their relationships to one another. This is the view that best accords with the principle of literal interpretation.” Again and again Thomas abandons this principle when he comes to the time texts. He uses 1 John 2:18 in an attempt to prove that “Scripture has a different standard from ours” when it comes to measuring time. This can only be true if one begins with the unproven premise that John was not describing some near eschatological event. John’s readers had heard that antichrist was coming. John assures them that “many antichrists have arisen.” This was evidence that it was the “last hour.” For Thomas, “last hour” is nearly two-thousand years long. Is this what dispensationalists mean by the “principle of literal interpretation” and the “plain sense” method?
Fact or Fiction?
LaHaye uses Revelation 3:10 to “prove” that, first, there is such a thing as a future Great Tribulation, and, second, that Christians will be “raptured” before it comes on the world. LaHaye writes of Revelation 3:10: “One of the best promises guaranteeing the church’s rapture before the Tribulation appears in Revelation 3:10.” This passage, as I hope to prove, has nothing whatsoever to do with a future Great Tribulation. As with much of LaHaye’s book, he assumes much and proves almost nothing.
Earlier in Revelation, John made it clear that he was a “fellow-partaker in the tribulation and kingdom” (1:9). How could John have been in the tribulation that is yet to happen? “The tribulation” period had begun. John was living it, being in exile “on the island called Patmos, because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (1:9). The tribulation experienced by John would intensify into what was “the Great Tribulation” (7:14) and the outpouring of God’s wrath upon Jerusalem and the temple.
Just prior to the fury of that period, the martyred saints cry out from under the altar, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt Thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (6:10). The cry is from those who have been slaughtered by the enemies of Christ, those who “killed and crucified” God’s “prophets and wise men and scribes” (Matthew 23:31-36). In Matthew 23:35 we learn that this was done by the priests of Israel, “between the temple and altar,” a tie into Revelation 6:10. The angel assures the martyrs that the judgment of vindication will come in a “little while” (6:11). Here is another time text. Why does the dispensationalist interpret this time text literally while insisting that the other equally specific time texts hold “a relatively small place in prophecy”? Thomas writes, “Indefiniteness in such a situation is worse than no reply at all.” Why doesn’t Thomas apply this statement to Revelation 1:1, 3; 2:16; 3:10-11; 11:14; 22:6-7, 10, 12?
Jesus tells us in Revelation 3:10 that the “hour of testing is about to come upon the whole world.” In the next verse, Jesus says that He is coming “quickly” (v. 11). Again, the “hour of testing” was on the horizon. LaHaye is still waiting for an event that was “about to come upon the whole world.” But did such a judgment come upon the “whole world”? The Greek word translated “world” is not kosmos but oikoumenes, “the inhabited earth,” the kingdom boundaries of the Roman Empire (see Luke 2:1 for confirmation of this). But doesn’t the qualifier “earth” make this judgment broader than the land of Israel? Not at all since the Greek word for “earth” (ge or ges) is the same word often translated “soil” (Matthew 13:5, 8, 23), “ground” or “earth” (= dirt; 25:25), “land” (27:45), or “earth” (= world; 16:10). A more accurate translation of Revelation 3:10 would be: “Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the inhabited earth, to test those who dwell upon the land.” God’s testing was reserved for the land of Israel and the destruction of their temple. That judgment is in the past.
If you believe that my exposition of the time texts contra dispensationalism has radical implications for eschatology, then you are correct. Let me assure you, however, that the exposition is not some new-fangled theology. This view can be found in a number of older commentaries. The same can be said for the timing of events in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21). For a more detailed explanation of the coming of Jesus in judgment against Jerusalem in A.D. 70, see my Last Days Madness. I can assure you that monumental social implications reverberate through the Christian community when John Walvoord says that the prophetic clock is ticking and when Jerry Falwell tells his viewers that he will be raptured sometime before the year 2000. Christians want to believe that eschatology doesn’t matter. End-time evangelism can only produce spiritual infants who have little understanding of the full meaning of the gospel message.
1. Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 1992.
2. Tim Lahaye, No Fear of the Storm (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 1992), 9.
3. Ibid., 240.
4. J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come: A Study in Biblical Eschatology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan/Academie,  1964), 46.
5. John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ: A Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1966), 183.
6. Ibid., 333.
7. Charles L. Feinberg, “Revelation,” in Liberty Bible Commentary, eds. Edward E. Hindson and Woodrow Michael Kroll (Lynchburg, VA: The Old-Time Gospel Hour, 1982), 2:790.
9. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, 35, 37.
10. Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1-7: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1992), 55-56.
11. Ibid., 32. Emphasis added.
12. LaHaye, No Fear of the Storm, 41.
13. Pentecost, Things to Come, 46.
14. Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 448.
15. An interview with John Walvoord, “Prophecy Clock is Ticking in Mideast,” USA Today (January 19, 1991), A13.
16. Television broadcast, December 27, 1992.
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Date: 26 Dec 2007
Great job! But this study will not convince a dispensationalist, because they bring their structure into the interpretation of Zechariah. What a dispensationalist needs to understand is that his system is fundamentally flawed.
Having been a dispensationalist (went to a dispensational seminary), my view rapidly changed when I first seriously approached the doctrine of the resurrection. The first irrefutable fact is that Jesus only held to ONE RESURRECTION DAY (i.e., physical resurrection) for all mankind. That alone destroys a view that must have three separate resurrection days. In fact, it can be proved beyond dispute that the New Testament only holds to one resurrection day.
Revelation 20, when correctly understood, does not disagree with this. There,the first resurrection is speaking of a spiritual one. When a person experiences the first (spiritual) resurrection, the second death (spiritual, eternal death) has no power.
Again thanks for the insight into Zechariah