Hal Lindsey’s Prophetic Jigsaw Puzzle
Four of the eleven chapters can be accessed by clicking their titles below:

Lindsey's School of Interpretation

Lindsey's Prophetic Jigsaw Puzzle

Lindsey's Perplexing Puzzle

The Function of the Advent Signs

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Hal Lindsey’s Prophetic Jigsaw Puzzle: 
Five Predictions that Failed!



Chapter 2

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. 
   
 I.  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 professors.
 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 believed.”6

 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”  (Matt 24:32-33).

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”  (Matt 24:34).

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  

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 is so.”14
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.

NOTES ON CHAPTER II

 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, Michigan, 1971).
 
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, 1983).


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.

 
 

 

 
 
 
 
 


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