1948 loomed large when I was a teenager. Here’s why:

On May 14, 1948, in Tel Aviv, Jewish Agency Chairman David Ben-Gurion proclaims the State of Israel, establishing the first Jewish state in 2,000 years. Ben-Gurion became Israel’s first premier.

What this meant was proclaimed loudly in my church: Israel becoming a nation meant the fulfillment of prophecy.

(This banner is from the cover of a Revelation for the Rest of Us, which I wrote with Cody Matchett.)

Behind the term “fulfillment” was a fast-growing genre of prophecy books. From the lesser-known but at the heart of much of the speculations, was Salem Kirban. He wrote a book called 666 and A Guide to Survival and Revelation Visualized and he produced charts and answered questions.

He spawned Hal Lindsay’s famous The Late Great Planet Earth and then later There’s a New World Coming and Combat Faith.

So well did these books sell that some professors got in on the action, none more famous that Dallas Seminary’s J.D. Pentecost’s Things to Come, Charles Ryrie’s Dispensationalism, and numerous books by John Walvoord. I remember his The Rapture Question and Every Prophecy of the Bible.

On top of Kirban and Lindsay and other dispensational writers were thousands of preachers and pastors and Sunday School teachers and parents teaching hither and yon that 1948 meant within a generation the Rapture would occur.

I remember hearing that Hitler and Stalin and Mussolini (Italy! Roman Catholic Italy! The Pope!) had been tagged as the antichrist, but they died before their gig was done.

Then so many became focused on Russia as the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s Gog and Magog.

If not Stalin, perhaps Khrushchev.

I was still in college when it shifted from Khrushchev to Gorbachev with his birthmark (of the Beast).

Or perhaps it was Kissinger. That was a bold and daring move to connect the antichrist to the USA.

No, we had to look more closely into the European Union, which got connected to the vision in Revelation of Babylon’s various tribal alliances. When the EU got to ten states, we had the magical number and somehow the antichrist had to be connected.

The problem was that the one-generation rule was getting stretched. Remember the words of Jesus in Mark 13 and esp Matt 24 about “this generation will not pass away until all these things are fulfilled.” One generation, when I was a younger teen, was 25-30 years. It got close to 30 years so a few speakers began to suggest 40 years – but when 1988 ended with Dick Clark’s “Auld Lang Syne” and the ball dropped into 1989 some of the eschatologians of the day drooped in their confidence.

Now I come to my point and I want you to hear it carefully:

They were all wrong because they failed to see where they could have been right (but missed the point).

Each of the names above, not to ignore the thousands others who preached and taught or who wrote books and became prophecy “buffs,” were wrong. They read Revelation as Speculation, and speculate they did.

In abundance.

In stacks of books and sermons.

They read the Book as predicting 1948 and Russia and Israel, with (notice this) America as God’s special nation. Did you see where Tim LaHaye (an arch speculator) and Jerry Jenkins anchored their story?

They all read it as prediction, prophecy, and they filled in the lines with speculation.

They were all wrong because they failed to see where they could have been right (but missed the point).

They were all wrong. So very wrong.

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And wrong-headed because they failed to see that the Book of Revelation is not for speculators but for beleaguered Christians of Western Asia Minor who were experiencing the powers of Babylon (Rome, folks, Rome) coming down on them and creeping into their churches.

So John the Seer wrote to tell them how to discern the realities of Babylon and how to live as Christian dissidents in a world ruled by empire.

What the speculators missed was the discipleship of this book.

They located themselves on God’s Side and pointed fingers at the Beast’s Side and turned themselves into local prophets with special esoteric knowledge of what was to come.

They were wrong. The failed the Book of Revelation. They failed the church.

American Christianity is what it is today in part because of this profound failure.

They were wrong because they failed to see where they had the possibility of seeing something right.

What was right was that, Yes, Hitler and Stalin and Mussolini and others were agents of the Beast – the Wild Thing – wrecking justice and peace with violence and war and slavery and oppressions. What they got wrong was that America cannot be exempted from the ways of the Beast.

Discerning, dissident disciples of Jesus are called to perceive and resist empire, wherever it is. They are not called to speculate and identify and shelter in a basement awaiting their Rapture. They are called to discern and resist by turning from Babylon and by walking in the Way the Lamb.

I’m looking forward to the publication of Revelation for the Rest of Us, which I wrote with Cody Matchett.