Four of the eleven
chapters can be accessed by clicking their titles below:
School of Interpretation
Prophetic Jigsaw Puzzle
Function of the Advent Signs
Lindsey’s Prophetic Jigsaw Puzzle:
Five Predictions that Failed!
LINDSEY’S SCHOOL OF INTERPRETATION
Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph., D., Andrews University
Originators of totally new ideas are few and far
between. This is true for all disciplines, including that of prophetic
interpretation. What at first may appear as a startling new interpretation
of End-time prophecies, under closer scrutiny is revealed to be a repetition
with modifications of an older view. Lindsey’s prophetic scenario is no
exception, as it is largely derived from the school of prophetic interpretation
known as dispensationalism.
Origin. The origin of dispensationalism
is generally traced back to John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), a leader of
the Plymouth Brethren who rejected the idea of the unity of the covenants,
teaching instead that redemptive history is divided in distinct dispensations
or segments of time, in each of which God has been working with humanity
in a different way.1
Applied to the future, the dispensational system
assumes that the Christian Church is not the continuation of God’s Old
Testament people, but rather an “interruption” or an “intercalation” that
began at Pentecost and will terminate when Christ comes invisibly and secretly
to take away believers out of this world to heaven. This event, which
is known as the Secret Rapture, is believed to take place seven years before
the visible and glorious coming of Christ. The Rapture marks the
end of the dispensation of the Church and the beginning of the restoration
of the Old Testament dispensation of Israel.
Extent. The stronghold of dispensationalism
today is the Dallas Theological Seminary, where Lindsey himself received
his theological training. The outlook of the Dallas Seminary is clearly
discernible in Lindsey’s books where he plugs the literature of his former
An estimated two hundred Bible institutes,
including the Chicago Moody Bible Institute, teach dispensa- tionalism
in principle.2 Its influence extends beyond North America to several
other countries, as indicated by 31 foreign editions of Lindsey’s books.
The Prophetic Role of Modern Israel.
The center of the entire End-time prophetic scenario is, for dispensationalists,
the modern State of Israel. Leon J. Wood, a leading dispensationalist,
explicitly states: “The clearest sign of Christ’s return is the modern
state of Israel.”3 The official establishment of Israel on May 14,
1948, with David Ben-Gurion’s Declaration of Independence, is regarded
as the End-time sign which started the prophetic countdown to Armageddon
and to the Second Advent.
II. LINDSEY’S CONTRIBUTIONS
Popularizer. The credit for popularizing
the above view on a global scale must be given to Hal Lindsey. His
popularly written books are selling by the millions at the breathless rate
usually associated with hamburgers. “Seldom,” aptly writes John M.
Mulder, “has a ‘prophet’ been accorded such honor, or rather sales, in
his own land.”4
Lindsey’s popularity extends well beyond his
own land, since The Late Great Planet Earth is said to have sold over 30
million copies in 31 foreign editions.5 “When Hal Lindsey appeared
on television in the Netherlands,” writes Dr. Cornelis Vanderwaal, “it
became clear that even sober Calvinists welcomed his dispensationalism
with open arms. His predictions about the future were accepted and
The return of the Jews to Palestine and the
establishment of the State of Israel are, to say the least, most remarkable
events. So it is not surprising that many Christians and Jews see
in these events the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies.
It is quite possible personally to believe
in the right of the Jewish people to the land of Palestine and in God’s
providential leading in the establishment of the State of Israel, but such
a belief, as I have shown in my book The Advent Hope for Human Hopelessness,
cannot be legitimately grounded on Biblical prophecies.
Date-setter. Lindsey has contributed
to making dispensationalism not only more popular but also more sensational,
by giving specific dates to its End-time scenario. The fixed starting
point of Lindsey’s End-time prophetic scenario is 1948, the year of the
establishment of the State of Israel. He views this event as the
key piece of his prophetic jigsaw puzzle and calls it “the most important
prophetic sign to herald the era of Christ’s return.”7
Lindsey draws this conclusion from the parable of
the “fig tree” given by Christ in His Olivet Discourse: “ From the
fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and
puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when
you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates”
The parable of the fig tree contains, according
to Lindsey, “an extremely important time clue” 8 to calculate the approximate
date of Christ’s visible Return. He finds the time clue in the reference
to the putting forth of the first leaves by the fig tree. This imagery,
for Lindsey, represents the restoration of national Israel which occurred
“on 14 May 1948 . . . when the Jewish people, after nearly 2,000 years
of exile, under relentless persecution, became a nation again.”9
According to Lindsey, Christ referred to this specific event to “indicate
that He was ‘at the door,’ ready to return.”10 To further delimit
the nearness of His Return, Christ then said: “Truly, I say to you,
this generation will not pass away till all these things take place”
Lindsey’s Date of Christ’s Return. “This generation,”
for Lindsey, refers to “the generation that would see the signs—chief among
them the rebirth of Israel.”11 In an interview conducted in 1977
by Ward Gasque and published in Christianity Today, Lindsey emphatically
stated his conviction that “Matthew 24:34 teaches that ‘This generation’
means the generation which sees Israel (the fig tree of verse 32) back
in the land of Palestine—this is the chief sign—and sees all the other
signs of Matthew 24 being fulfilled.”12 NOTES ON CHAPTER II
Since “a generation in the Bible is something like
forty years, then,” Lindsey predicted in 1970, “within forty years or so
of 1948, all these things could take place.”13 By “all these things”
Lindsey clearly means all the events leading to and including Christ’s
Return. To give support to this prediction, he adds: “Many
scholars who have studied Bible prophecy all their lives believe that this
What this means is that, according to Lindsey’s
prophetic scenario, within the forty years of the last generation which
began in 1948, that is, by 1988, all the prophecies pointing to Christ’s
Return must be fulfilled.15
The same conviction is expressed by other dispensational
writers like David Webber and Noah Hutchings who explicitly state:
“Forty is the Jewish number for testing. Since Israel was refounded
as a nation in 1948, she has been tested like no other nation has been
tested before . . . The Bible indicates that Israel will be tested until
the Messiah comes. Forty years from 1948 is 1988.”17
This conviction is also the underlying
assumption of Lindsey’s film, named after his book,The Late Great Planet
Earth. In his review of this film, Gary Wilburn notes that its fundamental
assumption is that: “The world must end within one generation from
the birth of the state of Israel. Any opinion of world affairs that
does not dovetail with this prophecy is dismissed.”18
The same conviction is expressed by the very title
of Lindsey’s book The 1980’s: Countdown to Armageddon (1980).
In the preface, Lindsey writes: “Many people will be shocked by what
will happen in the very near future. The decade of the 1980s could
very well be the last decade of history as we know it.” 19 Since
we are already in 1987, it is legitimate to verify if, to borrow Lindsey’s
own favorite imagery, all the key pieces of his prophetic jigsaw puzzle
are rapidly falling into place according to his timetable.
In the next two chapters we will endeavor first
to identify the key pieces of Lindsey’s prophetic jigsaw puzzle (chapter
3) and then to examine five of the important pieces which have failed to
fall into place (chapter 4).
This exposè of Lindsey’s mistaken predictions
is not intended to dampen hope in a soon-Coming Savior. My only contention
is that the time of Christ’s Return is unpredictable and consequently it
could be sooner or later than Lindsey predicted. Expectancy and readiness
for the Return of our Lord must be based not on a preconceived timetable
of End-time events but on the certainty of His promise, which is confirmed
by the constant signs of divine grace and human rebellion.
1. The most systematic and apologetic
presentation of dispensationalism is given by H. S. Chafer, in Systematic
Theology, 8 vols. (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1947).
John F. Walvoord, the president of Dallas Theological Seminary, has developed
dispensationalism in the following books: Israel in Prophecy
(Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1962); The Millennial Kingdom
(Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1974); The Rapture Question (Grand
Rapids, Michigan, 1957); The Return of the Lord (Grand Rapids,
2. For a most perceptive analysis of the dispensational principles
of prophetic interpretation, see Hans K. LaRondelle, The Israel of God
in Prophecy (Berrien Springs, Michigan: Andrews University Press,
3. Leon J. Wood, The Bible and Future Events
(Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1973), p. 18.
4. John M. Mulder, “The Terminal Generation,” Theology Today,
33 (January 1977): 443.
5. Lindsey himself expressed his surprise at the overwhelming response
from readers of The Late Great Planet Earth. He wrote, “The interest
also proved to have no geographical boundaries as the book was translated
into 31 foreign editions which were circulated in more than 50 countries.
I began receiving letters and even phone calls literally from around the
world . . . more than 30 million read that book” (The 1980’s:
Countdown to Armageddon (Toronto, New York, 1981), pp. 4, 11).
6. Cornelis Vanderwaal, Hal Lindsey and Biblical Prophecy
(St. Catherines, Canada, 1978), p. 8.
7. Hal Lindsey, A Study Manual to the Late Great Planet Earth
(Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1971), p. 13. Of all the signs of the End
given by Christ in His Olivet Discourse, Lindsey claims that “the most
important sign in Matthew has to be the restoration of the Jews to the
land in the rebirth of Israel” (Planet, p. 53).
8. Planet, p. 53; emphasis supplied.
9. Planet, p. 53.
10. Planet, p. 54.
11. Planet, p. 54.
12. W. Ward Gasque, “Future Fact? Future Fiction?” Christianity
Today, 21 (April 15, 1977): 40.
13. Planet, p. 54.
14. Planet, p. 54.
15. Lindsey emphasizes this conviction by saying, for example, that
the last “seven-year period couldn’t begin until the Jewish people reestablished
their nation in their ancient homeland of Palestine” (Planet, p. 42).
16. David Webber and N. W. Hutchings, Is this the Last Century?
(Nashville, 1979), p. 48.
17. Ibid., p. 50.
18. Gary Wilburn, “The Doomsday Chic,” Christianity Today,
22 (January 27, 1978): 22.
19. Hal Lindsey, The 1980’s: Countdown to Armageddon (Toronto,
New York, 1980), p. 1.