Opinion

Repetitive Prophecy Books Keep Getting It Wrong

Ron Rhodes has written many popular prophecy books. While there’s always something new in each book, most of his books repeat the same themes and errors. His latest book is Jesus and the End Times. Like his previous books, this one follows the outdated and discredited dispensational model. The next prophetic event is supposed to be the “rapture of the church” to be followed by the Great Tribulation.

It’s good to see that dispensationalists are moving away from the claim that the “parable of the fig tree” (Matt. 24:32) is about Israel becoming a nation again in 1948. After quoting several prominent dispensational writers, he comments:

My personal assessment is that the parable of the fig tree has nothing to do with Israel’s rebirth in the land, for that issue is nowhere present in the context of Matthew 24. (71)

Even so, he believes that the prophetic events described by Jesus in Matthew 24 take place after the so-called “rapture of the church.” This is far from the truth. The events of Matthew 24 (the Olivet Discourse) take place before the generation of Jesus’ day passed away. I discuss this in great detail in my books Last Days Madness, Wars and Rumors of Wars, and Is Jesus Coming Soon?

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Notice how many times Jesus uses the second person plural “you” throughout the chapter. Jesus was addressing His present audience. He was not describing the “end of the world” (KJV). Almost all modern translations, even the New King James Version, translates the Greek word aion as “age,” a reference to the Old Covenant age that required a physical temple, animal sacrifices, and sinful human priests.

Like so many dispensationalists who claim to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15), Rhodes must add words to Matthew 24:34 to get it to say what he needs it to say. Here’s what the passage says:

Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.

Here’s what Rhodes says it means:

Contextually, Jesus was saying in this verse that those people who witness the tribulation signs stated earlier in Matthew 24 … will see the coming of Jesus Christ within that very same generation.

There are at least two problems with this interpretation. First, “this generation” always refers to the generation to whom Jesus was speaking (Matt. 11:16; 12:39, 41, 42, 45; 23:36). Second, Jesus specifically states that it was going to be their generation that would see and experience all the events He specified: “so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door” (24:33). If Jesus had a future generation in view, He would have said “that generation will not pass away” and “when they see.”

Again, I’ve covered this topic in the above-mentioned books.

Rhodes insists that the “tribulation is global…. Nowhere on earth will be safe” (32). It’s very clear from the context of Matthew 24 that the tribulation is not global. The tribulation can be escaped on foot by retreating to the mountains outside of Jerusalem. Nothing is said about the whole wide world:

Therefore, when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things out that are in his house. Whoever is in the field must not turn back to get his cloak. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath.

Jesus is answering a question regarding the temple (24:1-2). It was still standing. Notice the audience reference “you”: “when you see the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place.” “The holy place” refers to the temple. The people were living at a time when the temple was still standing and sabbath laws were strictly enforced.

Rhodes appeals to Revelation 3:10 to support his claim that the Great Tribulation described by Jesus in Matthew 24 will be global, even though John writes that he is a “fellow partaker in the tribulation” (Rev. 1:9). He is referring to the tribulation mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 24:21. This tribulation was the greatest ever because it ended the Old Covenant order.

Here’s how Rhodes translates the passage:

Revelation 3:10 describes it as “the great time of testing that will come upon the whole world to test those who belong to this world” (32, italic in original).

Rhodes is using the New Living Translation that really isn’t a translation. The following is a literal translation of Revelation 3:10 that was addressed to the church in Philadelphia, and I don’t mean Philadelphia, Mississippi, or Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:

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 all the known world, to test those who dwell on the land.

The Greek word mello is used and means that an event is about to happen. The New Living Translation ignores the nuance of the Greek. It’s not the only translation that does this. “Whole world” is also incorrect.

The usual word for “world” is kosmos. Kosmos is not used. It’s oikoumenē, a word that has a limited geographic scope. It’s used in Matthew 24:14, Luke 2:1, and Acts 11:28 as well as other places. For a comprehensive study of how oikoumenē is used in the New Testament, see my book 10 Popular Prophecy Myths Exposed and Answered (chap. 8).

The gospel had been preached throughout the then known world (e.g., Rom. 1:8; Col. 1:6, 23; 1 Tim. 3:16). The famine mentioned in Acts 11:28 was empire-wide. The most obvious meaning is found in Luke 2:1: “Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth.” In a marginal note, the translators of the New American Standard Bible have, “I.e. the Roman Empire.” The Roman Empire could only tax people under its domination. That’s why Luke chose to use oikoumenē instead of kosmos. But even kosmos can refer to limited geography (Rom. 1:8). Dispensationalist Norman Geisler writes the following regarding Colossians 1:23 and the meaning of “every creature under heaven”:

This is obviously a figure of speech indicating the universality of the gospel and its proclamation, not that every person on the globe heard Paul preach. In Acts 2:5 this phrase describes countries without including, for example, anyone from North or South America (cf. Also Gen. 41:57; 1 Kings 10:24; Rom. 1:8).”1

Much more could be said about Jesus and the End Times. I’ll discuss Rhodes’ comments on Revelation 1:1-3 in a future post.

  1. Norman L. Geisler, “Colossians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament (An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty), John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, eds. (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983), 675. []
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