PMT 2014-128 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
An interview of me made recently for an introduction to a conference engagement.
1. People now days are fascinated with “the end times.” And with the reboot of the Left Behind series, discussions about the end times will continue to increase. No doubt, we will hear more talk about things like the 7-yr tribulation, the rapture, the mark of the beast, etc. These are key parts to the theology that undergirds the Left Behind books and movie. But what most people don’t realize is that this theology, known as Dispensationalism, is actually a relatively new way to read Scripture. That is, up until only about 150 years ago, no Christian on record ever believed some of things that is depicted in the Left Behind series. Could you comment more on this fact?
Dispensationalism arose in the 1830s in England, about the same time as Mormonism was arising in America, and not long before the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was a time of much prophetic speculation and expectation. John N. Darby created dispensationalism as a prophetic outlook that eventually became a whole theology. He fully expected the Lord’s return in his lifetime, which ended 130 years ago (in 1882). It has constantly been frustrated with wrong predictions of the Rapture, such as Hal Lindsey’s 1980 book “The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon” and his 1996 book: “Planet Earth 2000: Will Mankind Survive.”
2. We use the phrase “end times” a lot. What is the scriptural definition of this phrase?
The “last days” begin with the first coming of Christ and extend to the last day, at his return and the resurrection. The NT clearly speaks of the “last days” beginning in that day (Heb 1:1-2). Pentecost was the actual beginning of “the last days” (Acts 2:16-17). Therefore, even in the first century the NT can speak of its being in the “consummation” (1 Cor 10:11).
“The Revelation of Jesus Christ”
(booklet by Ken Gentry)
Brief argument for pre-A.D. 70 date; s
hows Revelation is God’s covenant divorce decree against Israel.
Overview of main movements of Revelation.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
Christ is the dividing point of history: all before him were the “former days” (Heb 1:1-2) which looked forward to his coming (Matt 13:17; Luke 2:25-32; 24:44). Our calendars rightly place Christ as the center point of history, marking time as B.C. (before Christ) and A.D. (anno Domini, in the year of our Lord).
In light of these realities, we have been living in the “end times” (i.e., the “last days”) since Christ came in the first century.
3. According to the Left Behind theology, Jesus will rapture his church immediately prior to a 7-yr tribulation. What are some scriptural problems with this idea of “rapture”?
There are many problems; I will mention a few.
(a) The key verse for this doctrine is 1 Thess 4:13ff. But in that passage we find: (a) that the coming will be very public, likened to the sounding of a trumpet and the voice of an archangel (1 Thess 4:16), whereas it is supposed to be “secret” rapture.
(b) It is not followed by a millennium, but by our being with Christ forever (1 Thess 4:17).
(c) Christians are resurrected at the “last day,” not 1000 years before the last day (John 6:39, 40, 44, 54; 11:24; 1 Cor 15:23-24, 52).
(d) All men are resurrected simultaneously, the Christians are not resurrected first and separately from the unsaved (Matt 13:29-30, 49-50; John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15).
4. This may be a sad commentary on American evangelicalism, but let’s face it: we are obsessed with the antichrist-who he is, where he will come from, when he will show up. You actually believe that the antichrist was the Roman emperor Nero. What scriptural support do you have for this?
Actually the word “Antichrist” only occurs four times in Scripture: 1John 2:18, 22; 4:3; and 2 John 7. So these passages must determine who and when the Antichrist is. We learn three things: (1) The Antichrist was a first-century phenomenon (1 John 2:18-19; 4:3). (2) The Antichrist was not a single person, but a movement by many people (1 John 2:18-19; 4:3). (3) The Antichrist was a doctrinal tendency within the church, not a political ruler (1 John 2:22; 4:3; 2 John 1:7).
People conflate the Antichrist and Paul’s Man of Sin and John’s beast, but they are fundamentally different concepts.
Women’s Headcoverings (7 CDs)
Informal home Bible study and discussion.
Shows that Paul was referring to a woman’s hair, not a veil or material headcovering.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
5. What about the mark of the beast, the dreaded number “666”? People fear finding this number on their credit cards, driver’s licenses, etc. There’s also a fear of having a computer chip implanted, since it might be the mark of the beast. How legitimate are these types of fears?
Revelation was written to persecuted Christians in the first century about events soon to occur (Rev 1:1, 3; 6:11; 10:8; 22:6, 10). He was writing it to encourage beleaguered Christians to persevere in the faith. The beast is associated with seven mountains (Rev 13:1, cp. with 17:9-10). Generically this speaks of Rome “the seven hilled city.” But more narrowly it speaks of the sixth emperor of Rome, Nero Caesar (Rev 17:10) who reigned for 13.5 years and was followed by Galba Caesar who reigned six months.
The number of the beast (Rev 13:18) is 666. NOT a series of six 6s, but a full value of six hundred and sixty-six. In antiquity (before the arising of Arabic numbering), people used their alphabets for numbers. If you spell Nero Caesar’s name in Hebrew, it happens to come to the value of 666. John is a Hebrew, he is writing a very Hebraic book (with many OT allusions, images, and concepts), with very Hebraic writing style (with many “ands” and awkward Greek grammar which is obviously rooted in Hebrew). Thus, he fittingly numbers the beast in an Hebraic fashion.
Therefore, the beast is in our past, not in our future. And consequently, looking for the beast in our day is contrary to a proper understanding of Revelation.
6. In your mind, then, we should read these scriptures in light of what was happening in the world and in the times of the first century. Do you think Left Behind theology gets it wrong precisely because they ignore the original cultural context of the apocalyptic writings?
Very much so. The first-century Christians did not approach the prophecies of Scripture with “The Late Great Planet Earth” in hand. They understood them as speaking in terms they would understand. Many times NT prophecies emphatically declare that certain events are near. For instance, the great tribulation (Matt 24:21; cp. 24:34), the judgments of Revelation (Rev 1:1, 3; 22:6, 10).
They also approach symbolic passages with a naive (and inconsistent!) literalism. You cannot read Revelation, for instance, as if it were literal. We are not to expect fire-breathing prophets, locusts with the faces of men, seven headed beasts, and so forth.
7. I fear that Left Behind theology breeds a lot of fear and pessimism in the church. I hear a lot of people say things like, “The world is getting worse.” A number of years ago, I was even told by a dispensationalist that, “There was nothing we can do to save our world; it will only get worse.” Is this true? Will the world “only get worse”? Will the church’s mission on earth not prevail?
Jesus commanded us to “make disciples of all the nations” (Matt 28:19). He did not simply say: preach to them, or witness to them, but to actually make them to be disciples. He gave this command on the basis of all authority in heaven (Matt 28:18) and promised to be with his people to the end (Matt 28:20).
The kingdom of Christ was established in the first century (Matt 12:28-29; Mark 1:15; Col 1:13). It is to grow like a mustard see (Matt 13:31-32), leaven (Matt 13:33), and a growing plant (Mark 4:26-29). Thus, we should expect its slow and sporadic growth. We certainly have seen growth since the first century, a growth we enjoy as freedom to worship God here in America.
To look to the decline of the church is to look to the failure of the great commission. Many prophecies teach that the kingdom will eventually grow strong and dominate the world. Therefore Jesus promised in John 12:31-32: “Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” Was he mistaken? And for this reason, he teaches us: “God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17). Should we not expect that?
8. What, in your mind, is the greatest harm being done in American evangelicalism by buying into some of the views espoused by Left Behind?
I see two leading problems (1) Pessimism. Pessimism can lead to lethargy, and it most definitely leads to short-sightedness and despair. We need to develop a long term expectation, and an expectation of victory. (2) Embarrassment. Dispensationalism has long embarrassed the church and Christianity with failed calls for the Rapture, failed designations of the “Antichrist,” and so forth.