Responding to Ron Rhodes’ The 8 Great Debates of Bible Prophecy
Debate 8: Ron Rhodes asks, ‘Is It Okay to Set Dates on Prophetic Events?’
Dispensationalist, Ron Rhodes looks at both the case for ‘Yes, Set Dates’ and ‘No, Don’t Set Dates’. In response, I discuss interpreting the timing and dates of key prophecies in the Bible.
Timing of Prophetic Events
Firstly, ‘Is It Okay to Set Dates on Prophetic Events?’ is unfortunately a poorly constructed question, because we don’t set dates on prophetic events, God does. Secondly, it is evident that, when it comes to the prophetic events foretold in the Scriptures, details concerning their timing are not always given. For example, with regard to the Second Coming, Jesus made it clear that no one knew that date except the Father. On the other hand, there are many prophecies that were made by the prophets and Jesus Himself that include timing with their predictions.
Problems arise when timing has not been indicated and folk still try to determine it. In this regard, many have made fools of themselves by predicting dates for Christ’s return. Furthermore, problems occur when assumptions about the timing in other texts affect the texts at hand. In this regard, certain postmillennialists have tried to indicate the start of a literal 1000 year millennium. However, by having knowledge of the start of a literal millennium would mean that one could determine the timing of Christ’s return, which He said no one knows. So, not only do they waste their time with a literal understanding of the millennium, their view also clearly disproves itself.
In this regard, though Premillennialists (including Dispensationalists) have their own versions of a literal Millennium, they escape this problem because they believe that the second coming occurs before the Millennium. For more on this you can read my post, The Millennium.
Next, where timing has been indicated in the Scriptures, often incorrect assumptions and expectations that arise from false doctrine cause many to ascribe wrong or false eras to events in certain texts. This is a common mistake Dispensationalists make with several scriptures. For example, their misinterpretation of the timing of the events in Daniel’s prophecy concerning the 70th Week is the cause of, or results in, their false view of the timing of events in other Scriptures. I say more on this topic earlier in the series, see Daniel’s Seventieth Week and the Book of Revelation – Interpreting Revelation Part 2.
As a result of their misinterpretation of the timing of the texts, they separate what God has joined in Christ, that is to say, the simultaneous salvation of both Jews and Gentiles into His Church. As a result, they sever the Scriptures and falsely align some to a supposed post rapture Jewish period beyond the Church era. Incidentally, another text that has its timing incorrectly assumed by Dispensationalists is Romans 11:25-27, which concerns Jewish Salvation.
Timing vs. Dating
Also of note is that often only general timing is given rather than exact dates. This is done by correlating certain persons and or events with other persons and or events. For example, the exact date of Jesus’ ministry wasn’t predicted in the Old Testament. Nevertheless, it is evident from the Scriptures that His ministry correlates with and follows John the Baptist’s. In this way the timing acts as one of the many proofs that Jesus is the Messiah.
Significant Prophetic Events
Here are examples of prophecies from Scripture with and without time frames:
70 Years Captivity
Jeremiah prophesied that Judah would be in captivity in Babylon for 70 years:
‘And this whole land will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon for seventy years’ (Jer 25:11).
Clearly Daniel understood the timing in Jeremiah’s prophecy before it was fulfilled:
‘In the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the sacred books, according to the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years’ (Dan 9:2).
Daniel was given a detailed time frame concerning the times that Israel would go through after captivity until the destruction of the temple.
“Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator” (Dan 9:24-27).
Daniel was given other prophecies with details that fit within the seventy weeks. For example, specifics are prophesied concerning the ongoing conflict between the Seleucid and the Ptolemy kingdoms referred to by Daniel as the ‘the king of the north’ and ‘the king of the south’.
Three Days And Three Nights In The Heart Of The Earth
Jesus clearly gave a time frame concerning His death and resurrection. Consider the following verses:
“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19).
“For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40).
‘From that time on Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (Matt. 16:21).
Destruction of the Temple
Jesus told His disciples that the temple would be destroyed. This prompted His disciples to ask, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
Bear in mind that the discussion was, initially, in relation to one event, namely the destruction of the temple. As such, it is not clear whether the disciples were referring to Jesus’ ‘coming’ with reference to Him destroying the temple or to His Second Coming, or whether they had conflated these. Similarly, ‘the end of the age’ could be with reference to the end of the Temple Age or the end of the Church Age and of the world at Christ’s Second Coming.
Nevertheless, Jesus gives clarity by answering the questions asked by the disciples in connection with the end of both ages. He separates what the disciples may have conflated, i.e. the end of the Temple Age and Christ’s return at the end of the world.
Here is how He answers the questions with regard to the temple:
Q: “When will this happen?” i.e. when will the temple be destroyed?
A: “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”
Q: “…what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” i.e. what sign will you give that you are coming to destroy the temple?
A: The sign he gives is “‘So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains …’ (Matt 24:15-16)
Bear in mind that Jesus also spoke of His imminent “coming on the clouds,” which clearly had to do with Him bringing judgment upon Israel. He said, “But I say to all of you, from now on you will see the Son of sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matt 26:64).
Christ’s Return and the End of the World
Though Jesus new in which generation the temple would be destroyed, He was not yet privy to the timing of His return at the very end. He avoids combining the end of the Temple Age with His return at the end of the world by answering the latter in this way:
Q: “When will this happen?” i.e. when will Jesus return to judge the world?
A: “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left”(Matt. 24:36).
Having emptied Himself of His Divine ability and having not yet ascended, Jesus was at this point uninformed concerning the timing of His Second Coming.
Q: “…what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” i.e. what sign will indicate that Jesus is going to return?
A: Jesus does not give a ‘sign’ for this event. Instead He answered them saying, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains” (Matt 23:4-8).
Having said, “concerning that day and hour no one knows”, Jesus said, “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matt 24:36-44). In this case Jesus’ coming has to do with Him returning to judge the believers’ works, as their sins have already been judged at the cross, and unbelievers for their sin.
Furthermore, the idea that Jesus is referring to two distinct periods, i.e. the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world, is evidenced by Jesus indicating that their generation would experience the temple being destroyed and by Him also speaking of prolonged troubles as “the beginning of the birth pains.”
Restoring the Kingdom to Israel
“Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority…” (Acts 1:6-7).
Concerning the timing of the restoration of the kingdom to Israel, Jesus said, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority” (Acts 1:7). Jesus had willingly told them about the timing of the destruction of Jerusalem and of the temple as it was already revealed in Daniel, but said nothing concerning the timing of restoring the kingdom to Israel and His Second Coming, because God had said nothing about the timing of these in Scripture.
The restoration of the kingdom to Israel had to do with the giving of the Holy Spirit to believing Israelites, which is Christ’s Church, initially comprising only believing Jews. In this way alone, Israel is restored to her role of being God’s kingdom of priests (see Exodus 19:6; 1 Peter 2:5,9; Rev 1:6,10). Gentiles were only later engrafted as part of God’s restored Israel.
Paul said, not all Israel is Israel, therefore do not confuse God’s restoration of the kingdom to Israel, i.e. the Holy Spirit given to the Messiah’s Church, with Him providentially allowing for a modern state of Israel to exist. For more on this, may I recommend a PDF article that I discovered on the internet, Restoring the Kingdom to Israel – The Christian Researcher.
- Things That Were Soon To Take Place
‘The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place’ (Rev 1:1). The phrase ‘what must shortly (or soon) take place’ goes hand in hand with the phrase “for the time is near (at hand)” (Rev 1:3). These verses establish the very imminent nature of what was prophesied. For more on this please see my post Taking Issue with Futurism – Interpreting Revelation Part 1.
The main thing we need to know concerning timing is that we are to be about God’s business of reconciliation until Christ’s return, and that each day is a day closer to that incredible day. Until then, He has promised to never leave us nor forsake us. Hallelujah!
Finally, I would like to close with a link to my post Toppling Dispensationalism. In it I warn of the outcomes of this false doctrine that is taught and believed by thousands of my brothers and sisters in Christ. May God keep our eyes on Jesus as we proclaim His salvation for all in this the only ‘dispensation’ before His return and the final judgment.
Responses To Ron Rhodes’ ‘The 8 Great Debates of Bible Prophecy’:
- Bible Prophecy: Literal or Allegorical
- Toppling Dispensationalism
- Israel is Saved or Judged, not Replaced or Distinct
- The Signs of the Times – Do Current Signs Point to Prophetic Fulfillment? – PART 1
- The Signs of the Times – Do Current Signs Point to Prophetic Fulfillment? PART 2 – Israel
- The Signs of the Times – Do Current Signs Point to Prophetic Fulfillment? PART 3 – Middle East, European Union, Globalism?
- The Signs of the Times – Is America in Bible Prophecy?
- The Signs of the Times – Can We Know When the Ezekiel Invasion Will Occur? PART 1 – Israel regathered from Many Nations
- The Signs of the Times – Can We Know When the Ezekiel Invasion Will Occur? PART 2 – Russians and Muslims to Invade Israel on Horseback?
- When Will The Rapture Occur?
- Taking Issue with Futurism – Interpreting Revelation Part 1
- Daniel’s Seventieth Week and the Book of Revelation – Interpreting Revelation Part 2
- Babylon, the 144000 and The Two Witnesses – Interpreting Revelation – Part 3
- Who is the Antichrist? – Part 1
- Who is the Antichrist? – Part 2
- Who is the Antichrist? – Part 3
- Who is the Antichrist? – Part 4
- The Millennium
- Prophetic Events and Their Timing