The Apostle Peter gives us insight into the origin of scripture. “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21). Tragically, not all of the men who claimed to be prophets of God actually were. In this context, Peter warned the early church about false prophets. “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who secretly shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of’ (2 Pet. 2:1-2).
The expression, “false prophets among the people,” refers to the false prophets among the Jewish people. The faithful prophet Jeremiah warned the Israelites of the danger they faced from Nebuchadnezzar and the mighty Babylonian army. Some of the false prophets tried to assure the Israelites they had nothing to fear. Jeremiah spoke with the Lord about the false prophets. “Then said I, Ah, Lord God! Behold the prophets say unto them, You shall not see the sword, neither shall you have famine; but I will give you assured peace in this place. Then the Lord said unto me, The prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spoke unto them: they prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and a thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart. Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who prophesy in my name, and I sent them not, yet they say, Sword and famine shall not be in the land; by sword and famine shall those prophets be consumed. And the people to whom they prophesy shall be cast into the streets of Jerusalem because of the famine and the sword; and they shall have no one to bury them, them, their wives, nor their sons, nor their daughters: for I will pour out evil upon them” (Jer. 14:13-16).
In the Christian era, false prophets and false teachers have done enormous damage to the cause of Christ. Every student of church history could list dozens, if not hundreds, of such false prophets and teachers, but I think especially of liberal theologians like John Shelby Spong, Leslie Weatherhead and John Killinger. In 2002 Dr. Killinger wrote a book with the title, Ten Things I Learned Wrong from a Conservative Church (New York: Crossroad). What were the ten wrong things Dr. Killinger learned from a conservative church? “The Bible Is the Literal, Inerrant Word of God,” “God Is a Great Moral Judge, and Therefore Jesus Had to Die for Our Sins,” “There Is No Salvation Outside the (Conservative) Church,” “Faith Is Always Truer Than Science,” “Jesus Is the Only Way to God,” and others. Dr. Killinger obviously has the right to believe whatever he chooses, but how can he deny these biblical principles still call himself a Christian? I am not for one moment questioning Dr. Killinger’s sincerity, but from a biblical viewpoint, he is a false teacher.
In our study today of “Modern False Prophets,” I am not speaking exclusively of religious teachers like the three men I mentioned. There are scientists, psychics and popular authors who have made false predictions. For example, people like Paul Ehrlich, a professor of biology at Stanford University, have made and are still making some really ridiculous predictions. In his very disturbing book, Green Hell: How Environmentalists Plan to Control Your Life and What You Can Do to Stop Them (Washington, DC: Regnery, 2009), Steve Milloy provides some of the predictions Paul Ehrlich has made. In 1968 Ehrlich wrote a book with the title, The Population Bomb. This radical zero population advocate “predicted that hundreds of millions of people would die in mass famines in the 1970s and 80s” (p. 24). The truth is: there are fewer people dying today from starvation and famine than in the 1970s and 80s. And yet millions of Americans are foolish enough to continue to listen to men like Paul Ehrlich and Al Gore. If Ehrlich decides to publish future editions of The Population Bomb,Steve Milloy thinks he ought to call it The Prediction Bomb(p. 26).
Pamela Winnick’s book, A Jealous God: Science’s Crusade against Religion(Nashville: Nelson Current, 2005), reveals: “Ehrlich preached that the end of the world was imminent and that man himself was to blame…. We must realize,” he said, “that we are extremely lucky, everybody will disappear in a cloud of blue steam in twenty years” (p. 35). Ehrlich made his prediction more than forty years ago. He wanted “the United States government to put sterility drugs in reservoirs and in food shipped to foreign countries” (p. 36). Oddly enough, some of the environmentalists still pay attention to such idiocy.
Most educated Americans are familiar with the writings of Samuel L. Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. Mark Twain’s books, Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Life on the Mississippi, The Prince and the Pauper, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Courtand many others are American classics. Did you know he wrote a book on Christian Science(New York: Harper, 1899)? He predicted there would be ten million Christian Scientists in America by 1920 and three million in Great Britain. He also predicted: “In America in 1920 the Christian Scientists will be a political force, in 1930 politically formidable, and in 1940 the governing power in the Republic-to remain, permanently” (p. 72). He believed that Christian Science would “conquer the half of Christendom in a hundred years” (p. 82). Mark Twain could not have been more wrong. All of his prophecies failed. In this respect, he was a false prophet.
William Miller, one of the founders of Seventh-day Adventism, was a very devout man. His study of Daniel 8:14 convinced him that the Lord would return around 1843. He argued that the Lord would come back sometime between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844. He eventually fixed the date at April 17 or 18, 1844. Do I have to tell you that William Miller was wrong? When a man makes a prediction and it does not come to pass, does that not make him a false prophet (Dt.18:21-22)? Tragically, honesty does not ameliorate the errors of false prophets. Why do not serious Bible students believe our Lord’s words? “But of that day and hour knows no man, no, not the angels in heaven, but my Father only” (Mt. 24:36). Did William Miller not know the meaning of the word “only?” Unlike some of the prophets in the Pentecostal movement and in some other denominational groups, Miller had the good sense not to set any other dates.
A religious leader named J. F. Rutherford (more commonly known as Judge Rutherford) predicted the world as we know it would end during his lifetime. In 1920 he published a booklet with the title, Millions Now Living Will Never Die(Brooklyn: International Bible Students Association). Rutherford insists that the social order “legally ended in 1914, and since that time has been and is passing away.” He believed a new order would replace the old. He also argued: “That these things shall take place within the present generation and that therefore there are millions of people now living on earth who will see them take place” (p. 12). He further stated: “Therefore we may confidently expect that 1925 will mark the return of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the faithful prophets of old, particularly those named by the Apostle in Hebrews chapter eleven, to the condition of human perfection” (pp. 89-90). Many of Rutherford’s followers have not had the good sense of William Miller. Even after Rutherford was shown to be a false prophet by having missed the time of Christ’s return, some of his followers continued to make predictions. Needless to say: They have all been wrong.
Edgar Cayce, probably the world’s most famous psychic, was born and reared at Hopkinsville, Kentucky. He was a member of the Christian Church. He supposedly read the Bible through every year. He also taught Bible classes at the Christian Church in Hopkinsville. He was called “the sleeping prophet.” He is probably best known for his so-called “medical readings.” We know he was a false prophet – not only because he made many foolish predictions, but because of the views he promoted. For example, late in life he embraced reincarnation. How could a committed Bible believer – which he claimed to be – endorse reincarnation?
Dr. Douglas Groothuis has written a number of books on the New Age movement. One of those books has the title, Revealing the New Age Jesus: Challenges to Orthodox Views of Christ (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1990). Dr. Groothuis says: “Cayce prophesied many events which failed to materialize, such as, the shifting of the earth’s axis in 1936 and the rise of Atlantis in 1968 or 1969″ (p. 209). If Cayce were a true prophet, why did he have to hedge his guess about the rising of Atlantis? Why did he have to say 1968 or 1969? Cayce also predicted that China would become a Christian nation by 1959. Since he died before these prophecies were supposed to be fulfilled, he did not have to worry about their fulfillment.
Most of the older people in my audience probably remember how the media fawned over Jeane Dixon, a crystal ball gazer, technically called a scryer. While she was living, she made a number of predictions. More than three hundred daily newspapers carried her astrology column. Rene Noorbergen’s book, The Soul Hustlers: An Expose of Astrology, the UFO mystery That Will not Die, and What Psychics Don’t Tell You(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), has one chapter with the title, “Will the Real Jeane Dixon Please Stand Up?” According to Rene Noorbergen, Jeane Dixon claimed that “the same spirit that worked through Isaiah and John the Baptist also” worked through her (p. 114). Noorbergen lists some Jeane Dixon’s predictions. She predicted that Jacqueline Kennedy would never marry the Greek shipping magnate, Aristotle Onassis. “While her column carrying this announcement was still fresh, Mrs. Kennedy was marrying Aristotle Onassis on the island of Skorpios in the Aegean (sea).” She also predicted that Walter Reuther, a prominent union leader, would run for president in 1964″ (p. 120).
Jeane Dixon predicted that a child born in the Middle East in 1962 would revolutionize the world. She said he would bring all mankind together before the end of the (twentieth) century. “This will be the foundation of a new Christianity,with every sect and creed united through this man who will walk among the people and spread the wisdom of the Almighty Power…. He is the answer to the prayers of a troubled world” (p. 120). Noorbergen says Jeane Dixon called that world leader the “Antichrist” (p. 121).
There is one other psychic I must mention in passing – Sylvia Browne – probably the world’s most famous modern psychic. I think she writes a new book every month. In one of her latest books, End of Days: Predictions and Prophecies about the End of the World(New York: Dutton, 2008), she claims to have some insight into the end of the world. She has exactly the same amount of information about the end of the world that Missy does, which is to say, none. She says as a psychic she can see through the end of this century (that is, the twenty-first century). She predicts: “The twenty-first century is going to usher in the arrival of an extraordinary flood of highly advanced spirits from the Other Side” (p. 205). She says the lost continents – Atlantis and Lemuria – will “rise magnificently from their underwater graves” before the year 2050 (p. 219). Since she will not be around in 2050, she will not have to give an account of her ignorance. Oh, incidentally, I did not tell you who Missy is. She is my longhaired Dachshund.
I am deeply concerned about the detrimental influence of people like Edgar Cayce, Jeane Dixon and Sylvia Browne, but I am far more concerned about people like Hal Lindsey, Jack Van Impe and John Hagee. Millions of Americans have no idea who Cayce, Dixon and Browne are, but they regularly hear Lindsey, Van Impe and John Hagee on Trinity Broadcasting Network. All three of these men claim to get their messages either from the Bible or directly from God. Did you know that John Hagee says he has “felt divinely inspired?” In his book, Beginning of the End: The Assassination of Yitshak Rabin and the Coming Antichrist (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996), he says he was visiting with Rabin, Israel’s prime minister, when it dawned on him that he knew very little about his Jewish roots as a Christian. “From that moment,” he affirms, “I have felt divinely inspired” (p. 5).
The very title of Hagee’s book is disturbing, Beginning of the End.“Beginning of the end” of what? He says dogmatically: “The shot that killed Yitshak Rabin launched Bible prophecies on a fast track” (p. 8). Hagee says the “generation which sees the rebirth of Israel is the terminal generation” (p. 93). Israel became a nation again in 1948. That was more than sixty years ago. A generation is usually considered to be forty years. Another of Hagee’s books, Jerusalem Countdown: A Warning to the World(Lake Mary, FL: FrontLine, 2006), asserts: “The final battle for Jerusalem is about to begin” (p. 3). He says “we are standing on the brink of a nuclear Armageddon…. The coming nuclear showdown with Iran is a certainty” (p. 17). I have a very simple question to challenge you: Why does anyone pay any attention to men like John Hagee, Hal Lindsey and Jack Van Impe?
Van Impe has written several books which demonstrate his ignorance of the time of our Lord’s coming and the end of the age. I shall mention only one: 2001: On the Edge of Eternity (Dallas: Word, 1996). Van Impe insists: “Christ is coming soon.” He does not tell us what “soon” means. He concludes: “Be ready for the world-shattering events of the year 2001and beyond as we find ourselves teetering on the edge of eternity” (p. 204). I suppose he thinks the word “beyond” gives him an escape from being considered a false prophet.
Nobody in our generation has done more to give people a false hope of the Lord’s immediate return than Hal Lindsey. His book, The Late Great Planet Earth(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 197), sold over 35,000,000 copies in just nineteen years. The book was written almost forty years ago. The last time I looked the planet is still here. In 1976 Hal Lindsey wrote another book with the title, The Terminal Generation (Old Tappan: Revell). Lindsey quotes the Apostle Peter: “The end of all things is near” (1 Pet. 4:7). He concludes: “Today we can really be sure that ‘the end of all things is near’” (p. 185). And how can we be sure? Do you know what the answer to my question usually is? “We can be sure because of “the signs of the times.’”
In another of his publications, The World’s Final Hour: Evacuation or Extinction (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970), Lindsey lists and discusses seven signs that prove “the end of all things is near.” If there are signs that point to the time of the Lord’s second coming, why did our Lord tell his immediate disciples: “But of that day and hour knows no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only” (Mt. 24:36). Hal Lindsey should examine the meaning of the word “only.” Jesus Christ himself while he was on earth did not know the time of his return to claim his own (Mk. 13:32).
When I was a student at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, I became a friend with a young Seventh-day Adventist preacher. He asked me one day why I was not an Adventist. I explained that I did not believe in observing the Jewish Sabbath. I also told him I strongly objected to setting dates for the Lord’s return. He admitted that some of the Adventist preachers had made mistakes in setting dates. He then said: “But the Lord will come in the next twenty years.” I asked him how he knew. He replied: “The signs of the times.” Our conversation occurred either in 1946 or 1947 – more than sixty years ago. I have a very simple question for false prophets who set dates: When will you ever learn?
Jesus specifically promised: “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself’ (John 14:3). We know Christ is coming back. We do not and cannot know when. When he is coming back does not matter. That he is coming back is what matters. Peter explains how Christians should think about Christ’s second coming. “Seeing that all of these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons you ought to be in all holy conversation and godliness…. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that you look for such things, be diligent that you may be found in him in peace, without spot, and blameless” (2 Pet. 3:11,14).
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