Prophecy as Fiction?

Wednesday, June 13th 2007
Sep/Oct 2001

Horton: Dr. Tim LaHaye is a noted author, minister, educator, and nationally recognized speaker on Bible prophecy. He's the president of Tim LaHaye Ministries, and founder of the Pre-Trib Research Center. He is one of the nation's most popular authors, especially these days, having written more than forty books, and his current fiction works are the "Left Behind" series, which he coauthored with Jerry Jenkins. Dr. LaHaye, it is a pleasure to talk with you. LaHaye: Well, thank you. It's good to be with you. I love to talk prophecy.

Horton: Well that certainly is clear, given the amount of research and writing that you've done on the topic. Why did you create this series, and also a study Bible, that concentrates on prophecy? LaHaye: Well, you know, I was a pastor for thirty-seven years, and I've often said you can take the pastor out of the church, but you can't take the church out of the pastor. And, so I look at this multitude of people that are reading Jerry and my fiction series-thousands of whom are getting saved and many, many Christians are rededicating their lives-and I feel that it's the thrilling story of the end time events and prophecy that most Christians are not getting in their church. And we wanted to make prophecy clear and understandable to laypeople and so we produced this prophecy study Bible that has every prophecy in the Bible commented on, on the very page where it occurs. So they don't have to do a lot of shuffling around. And then also it has charts and diagrams to help clarify some of the complex teachings of Bible prophecy. And the response we're getting so far indicates that it is really helpful for people to understand and appreciate the 28 percent of the Bible that was prophetic at the time it was written. And I not only did it myself but I had three colleagues-Dr. James Colmes, Ed Hineson, and Dr. Thomas Ice-and the four of us really were the spearheads on this thing and did the majority of the work; however, we also had over fifty scholars from the Pre-Trib Research Center contributing articles. We have about eighty articles, so it just seems to be a complete study Bible that will be helpful for Christians.

Riddlebarger: I have a question for you related to the idea of a study Bible that concentrates on prophecy. One of the struggles, as I'm sure you know, is how do we, as Christians, relate biblical prophecy, specifically as we find it in the Scripture, to current events, to things that we see going on in the Middle East and around the world? How exactly do we do that? LaHaye: Well, I think we have to be careful not to become too extreme, and some folks have been well-intentioned, but they got too specific on the interpretation of prophecy and cast it into disrepute, because Jesus said, "No man knows the day nor the hour." So, anytime you get someone saying that they know the day or the hour, they are really false teachers. And, speaking of false teachers, one of the reasons for such a prophecy Bible is, our Lord warned, in Matthew 24 about nine times, that in the last days prophecy, or false teachers would come-false prophets, false christs, and so on-and what we're trying to do is counteract that false teaching that's already arrived, by good teaching. However, the signs of the times are everywhere. There're probably more signs of the end in our day than in any period in history. And although we can't guarantee that Christ is going to come in our generation, what I say is that we have more reason to believe that he could come in our generation than any generation before us.

Horton: You sound a lot more guarded than a lot of prophecy teachers who share your views, in the main. For instance, that it doesn't have to be, necessarily, this generation. I was raised thinking a generation was forty years, and I've heard more recently-well, obviously forty years have passed, so that can't be a generation. And, you know, the different editions of Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth or John Walvoord's Oil in the Middle East. It seems, I think, to some people that there are many of people out there in the prophecy "biz" who are actually making a lot of claims about the end times and giving very specific definitions to what, on the face of reading these biblical passages, you can't really get out of it, on the face of it. And, leaving a lot of people disillusioned. I think of all the claims that were made about the year 2000, and now there are so many people who are disillusioned. I grew up hearing the ten-headed beast was the European Union, and now it's the ten permanent members of the Security Council. Don't you think that seeing the Bible as primarily about the current headlines today, rather than the unfolding plan of redemption centering around Jesus Christ, is responsible for a lot of the disillusionment people have with prophetic Scripture? LaHaye: You may be in different circles than I am. I don't find a lot of disillusionment. I think the reaction to our fiction series is indicating that the laypeople are excited about the coming of Jesus. And I find that the Church, wherever it has anticipated the coming of Christ in its generation, has been a better church. It has been more on fire for winning souls. It has been more prone to holy living, because they want to be with the Lord and not caught unprepared. And giving them a greater vision for world evangelism, more concern to lay up for themselves treasures in heaven, rather than hoard things down here on earth. So that I see it as a plus. Now, it's true, some "specularizers"-and that's what we call them-they "speculize" on the future and then they fall into disrepute. But the passage you mentioned on "a generation will not pass" I think has relations to Israel being recognized as a nation in 1948. Now we call that the "super sign." But modern prophecy scholars recognize that a generation could be anywhere from 40 to 100 years. So there's still plenty of time. However, that word generation in Matthew 24 doesn't apply to the nation that sees those things coming to pass. It applies to those nations that see the antichrist, the tribulation, the desecration of the Temple, and so on-that generation, that's only going to last seven years, will not pass until "all these things be fulfilled." And so I think it's a matter of applying "that generation" properly.

Riddlebarger: So as you work through Matthew 24, you would argue that when Jesus answers the disciples' questions he's really pointing them ahead to those events that are going to transpire when, as you put it, the "super sign," the birth of Israel begins, in 1948? Am I understanding? LaHaye: Yes. I believe that Jesus did not rebuke the disciples for talking about signs. They said, "What will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?" So that's this repetition. "What will be the sign of the end of the age?" And he didn't say, "I don't want to tell you that." He went on and explained it to them that there would be wars and rumors of wars, and historically we're seeing that very thing happen when this world-every time you read the newspaper, it's all about war, rumors of war-we have a "United Nations" that's been in operations for about fifty-two years, and they were set up in order to keep wars from progressing. And it has made matters worse. I read the other day where there are something like eighty-nine skirmishes, or revolutions, or wars going on in the world right now. And, of course, there aren't any major ones, but I guess they're major if you're in them. And yet, this unrest is compounding. Someone has said we've had 15,000 wars in human history. That's because we have nations, and nations are governed by people who are misled by the Deceiver. Satan has targeted nations and the Bible folds out all of the plan of God in the times of the Gentiles, that we believe that the times of the Gentiles are rapidly coming to a close because there are so many things taking place today. For example, one of them is that man for the first time in human history has the capability of destroying himself from off the face of the earth. Man has never been driven by such an obsession as today, to have a one-world government. You can't get on an airplane without someone over the loudspeaker saying, "Welcome to the one-world alliance." The one-world madness has gripped people. They have summits all the time. It's just a matter of time, unless God intervenes, then we're going to have that one-world government. So that, what we're trying to say is that the scenario is taking place. Someone has beautifully said … that "future events cast their shadow before them." And the shadow of the future events could very well be the time that we're in now. How long it will last no one knows.

Horton: Dr. LaHaye, you've mentioned that this approach has, especially in the light of your remarkable sales with the "Left Behind" series, that many people have come to the Lord through these prophecy books. One of the questions, though, when you say, for instance that even if the Lord doesn't return in our generation, a church that is thinking in those terms is more apt to be evangelistic and spur people on to holiness. How would you respond to those who say, "When I see the Left Behind movie, or when I read some of the books, I don't really see the Gospel, I don't see the plan of redemption from Genesis to Revelation, centering on Christ, as much as I see … 'you don't want to be left behind, you better make sure that you're ready, that you're not a carnal Christian, you're not backslidden.'" And is that really the gospel? LaHaye: Well, I think you have to separate what you said between our books and the movie. Jerry and I had nothing to do with the movie. And they have to bear the responsibility for what is or isn't in that movie. But I want to tell you that no one can read our "Left Behind" series and make that statement as credible because we vigorously make sure the gospel is given there. In Tribulation Force for example, you have the narration given by the two witnesses with someone in Jerusalem, and it sounds like you're reading from Nicodemus, the discussion Jesus had with Nicodemus, the gospel is very clearly set forth. And then, in addition to that, Jerry and I have covenanted with God that every book will have what we call a believable conversion that's reproducible in the heart of the reader. And I think that's one of the reasons so many people are coming to Christ. We haven't given an invitation as such, we just let people watch as someone that they've been reading about makes his confession of faith in Christ. And we try to use the right words so that some person who understands what we're trying to say can have the same experience. So I don't think that's a valid criticism.

Riddlebarger: I was raised, as was Mike, in dispensational fundamentalism, and although I have changed positions now, I look back on those years as years in which I was raised on the gospel and my family taught me what it was to trust in Christ and so on. But one of the questions that I have, and I'd like to ask this of you, and it has always troubled me even back in my dispensational days, and that was a question that has to do with the nature and character of the millennium. After Christ comes back and sets up the millennial kingdom on earth, and is ruling and reigning from Jerusalem, one of the things that I understand dispensationalists to teach is the ongoing practice of animal sacrifice in Jerusalem. What is your take on that? I still struggle with that whole notion. LaHaye: Well, first of all, let me point out something that I think we should not lose sight of. And that is, we Christians have the greatest message of the future of any religion, any philosophy, anyone in the world. In fact, when notables in this world have funerals, who do they ask to come and conduct the funerals? Billy Graham, or someone who will present the Gospel, because the only hope for the future is Christianity. And I wish someone, someday would-maybe I'll do it myself-write a book contrasting the future plans for all the other religions of the world contrasted by what we have in Christ. It is just incredible. And the millennium-you know I think a better word for the millennium is "utopia." It is going to be such a magnificent period of time. And it's true, the Jews are going to reestablish their Temple as a memorial. It's going to remind them of why they are redeemed and living in utopia, on a regular basis. For example, we have that today. I hope you go to a church that has communion on a regular basis. You don't have to repent of your sins and be born again over and over, and Christ doesn't have to be crucified over and over. Instead you go in there and you have a memorial that remembers Christ, and remembers what he has done for our salvation. The same thing will be true for the Jews during the millennial kingdom. They will have a memorial to remind you that Christ is the means of salvation.

Riddlebarger: So, Israel and the Church then remain distinct during the millennial age? LaHaye: Yes, I think that Israel is going to be the leader of the world nations. It's going to have the capital there in Jerusalem, and the King of Kings will rule supreme. And the people will go up there to show their allegiance to Christ on a regular basis. It will be an act of worship, and a time of rejoicing. It'll be a wonderful thing. It won't be detrimental at all. And there will be a distinct separation. Now, just as an amateur philosophy, or just a guesstimate-I wouldn't want anyone to hold me to this-but I rather imagine that the imbalance of population today, where you have so many more Gentiles than Jews, will be rectified, because there's going to be an overwhelming number of Jews returning to Christ, and nations will be rejected. The sheep will be turned into the millennium and the goats will be cast into hell. And … the Gentile believers will be martyred by antichrist, so that they'll be few people left standing at the end of the tribulation. And so the number of Gentiles and the number of Jews going into the millennium will probably be somewhat compatible, so that a population through the millennium will be kind of an equal divide, at least-now there's nothing in Scripture that guarantees this, but it's just my theory-that they will kind of be equally divided during the millennium.

Riddlebarger: Well that raises a question that I've always had. What will Christians be doing in the millennium? Because, after all, they've been taken in the Rapture, and they've been raised from the dead, so they are presumably in their resurrection bodies while the Gentiles who go through the tribulation along with the Jews are also in natural bodies, so what are redeemed Christians doing during the millennial age? LaHaye: We're going to be doing a lot of things. And I'll have to admit, there are some things that most of us don't know about that time. It's going to be so much better than anything that we've ever dreamed of that we really can't fathom it. But we're going to have tasks to do, one of which will be to rule and reign with Christ. Some people will be given several cities because of their faithfulness. Remember that parable of the talents, and how one man took his one talent and made ten out of it, and he got ten cities, and the other five talents and he got five cities? Well that would indicate that you're going to have a commensurate reward depending on how faithful you've been. And that's one of the exciting things about our series and about our prophecy study Bible is that people study prophecy, and as it becomes a living, molding, life-changing experience in their lives it motivates them to prepare themselves for the millennium, and become the rulers and reigners with Christ who are going to judge the world, and we're going to judge angels. Now, I'm not sure I know all about what that means, but we're going to be actually participating with Christ during the millennium and ruling this world.

Horton: Could you give us a little bit of background into, I guess one of the biggest questions in interpreting prophecy-and that is the relationship between Israel and the Church? In your chart at the beginning of your study Bible you have the Church there represented as in a valley-you have these peaks of Bible prophecy-but then the Church is represented as being in a valley-I forget what it's called-the valley of the Church-the prophets did not see this. What do you think is the relationship between Israel and the Church, and of, therefore, the Old and New Testaments? LaHaye: Actually the Church and Israel being separate is a very important factor to understand. God is not through with Israel. He has a long-range plan for them. But it's almost like they're on the prophetic sidetrack waiting for their time to be brought back in. When Christ comes-it's interesting in the passage you read in 1 Thessalonians-when Christ shouts from heaven there will be the voice of the archangel. That could indicate that the angelic power of the angel Michael, who was kind of the leader of Israel in the Old Testament, will be the leader of the Jews again for the next seven years. But, the Jews were the torchbearers of God, to communicate the plan of God. That's why he set them in the center of the earth, to communicate his message and the devil thwarted that by idolatry and their worship of other gods, and so on. The rest of that is history. Then Jesus came along and he raised up the Church. He said, "You are the light of the world." And he gave us the commission to be the lampstands. In Revelation 1, 2, and 3 you find the churches are the lampstands, and they have been the light of the world for these last 2,000 years. Not as well as we should have been, but we have been the only light of the gospel for these 2,000 years. And then after the Rapture they'll be no one here to communicate the gospel, so the Lord, in his marvelous grace raises up 144,000 Jewish witnesses-12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel-and they go out as the torchbearers again to communicate the truth of God, and the result-I get so excited about this, in Revelation 7-will be a multitude which no man can number, from every tongue and tribe and nation. Talk about missionary evangelism, and soul-winning opportunity. The greatest opportunity is yet to come, and that's during the tribulation period.

Riddlebarger: I have a question related to the discussion of the Church and Israel from Hebrews 12, where the author to the Hebrews is speaking in verse 22 about the Christian believer who hasn't come to Mount Zion, but to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. There you have Old Testament Jerusalem now being clearly equated with the Church. And, of course, that's one of the passages that led me to raise some questions about dispensationalism. LaHaye: Chapter 12?

Riddlebarger: Yes, chapter 12, it actually starts at verse 18, but goes on through the end of the chapter there…where the author to the Hebrews seems to say that a number of those Old Testament images, especially from the book of Isaiah and the Psalms, seem to be in fact fulfilled after the coming of Christ by the Church-that the Church is the city referenced there, this heavenly Zion, and so on. There are a number of places like that. Paul's reference in Galatians 6 to the Church as the Israel of God…there are a number of others where you've got equations like that. But in the Hebrews passage, how would you respond to that as a dispensational theologian? LaHaye: Well, I would take Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 10:32, where he separates between the Church, the Gentiles, and Israel. Now the three kinds of people living on the earth today, and anytime you have an outline of the future, you've got to make allowance for the Gentiles, the Jews, and the Church of God. And I think in the pre-tribulation position we make that very clear. Paul says give none offense, neither to the Jews, the Gentiles, nor the Church of God. And if you take the Bible literally, as we do, then that means there are three distinct people of God, and there is a sense where the Spirit of God works in the heart of a person, and you become a new creature in Christ. And a new heart is given to you. Well, a new heart is going to be given to Israel, too, when they turn to God, and they have a marvelous conversion experience. But it will come in Israel's experience, and…now today it happens sometimes to individual messianic Jews that receive Christ, but in that time the nation will en masse turn to Christ and recognize he is the Messiah. And by the way, I'm sure even from your Reformed background-you'll get a blessing out of this-that, when I was on the Larry King show with Jerry, he told us off camera that he believed, that even though he's not a believer, he believed that Jesus Christ was the most influential person who had ever lived. Well, I hear this from many places. H. G. Wells wrote his five-volume commentary on world history and when he got all through-here's a skeptic-realized he'd given more space to Jesus Christ than anyone who'd ever lived.Horton: Whoops! LaHaye: Because he is the most influential person. The thing that is unique about that is that he also fulfilled about 109 to 121 messianic prophecies. No one in the history of the world has ever done this. And here he is the most influential person, which he became by the way in only three-and-a-half years, and then he fulfilled all these messianic prophecies that show he is the Messiah. Unfortunately, Israel can't accept it today. They are like one Jewish rabbi who told my friend John Ankerberg on his TV show one time, when John confronted him with this, he said, "Well, I believe that Jesus is the Messiah for you Gentiles, but our Messiah hasn't come yet." What the Jews are admitting is that they're either going to have to accept Jesus as Messiah or someone else identically like him. And that's not going to happen. But fortunately the Jews will respond just prior to the millennium and it will be as … in fact, I get excited about it because book nine is going to cover this … when the Jews will be so disillusioned they will turn to Christ in a marvelous way. They'll reject antichrist and the only thing left for them is Christ and then the miracle of God in that he takes them en masse into the wilderness where he preserves them and nourishes them according to Revelation 12. And that's going to be an exciting story.

Horton: Well, Dr. LaHaye, despite any differences that we have here amongst ourselves or with you as our guest…it is wonderful that we can talk about these things, because we share a common faith in Holy Scripture, and that the Bible is our foundation, for both of us, whatever our differences are. You've been much too generous with your time. We appreciate you taking the time to be with us. Could you just give us a little bit of an indicator of what is in the future for you? What are you working on at present? LaHaye: Oh, I've got a few books that I'm working on right now. I'm going to write a book on the case against preterism, and pre-trib answers to post-trib questions. I guess I'll spend the rest of my life trying to communicate my understanding. You see, this pre-trib message gives such hope to people. And I'm not trying to put your position down, but I've watched people that just, you know, live life as ordinary people. But when they get captivated by the promise of Jesus' return-and it's a vital part of their life-it just helps them in their marriage. It helps them in their business. It helps them anticipate a greater world. One of the reasons this world is in such a disillusionment is that they think a worse world is coming. And someone has sagely said, and I'll leave you with this thought, that for the Christian, this world is as bad as it gets. But for the unsaved, this world is as good as it gets.

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Wednesday, June 13th 2007

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