Watch out for prophecy interpreters

Over a span of 150 years these names are linked together, William Miller, Ellen G. White, David Koresh, and Timothy McVeigh. The link is prophecy interpretation. Tragedies occurred and the force behind them was misguided prophetic claims.

The first scene in the story occurred in 1843 when William Miller and his followers, obsessed with interpreting prophecy, concluded that Jesus would return that year. Then they decided a mistake had been made and changed it to the next year, October, 1844. They disposed of possessions and prepared to leave the earth. When He did not come then it was an intense disappointment.

But the concept did not end there. A few years later Charles T. Russell, using some of the same prophecies, predicted that the second coming would occur in 1874. It was another disappontment. They changed their prediction to 1914 but were still wrong. Then they said He had returned but was invisible.

Meanwhile, Ellen Harmon, who later became Ellen G. White, had grown up in Miller’s congregation and was obsessed with his ideas about prophecy interpretation. She claimed she was a prophet and had visions from the Holy Spirit. She, along with several other people, brought about the beginning of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, which has always emphasized prophetic interpretation. Her writings are regarded as divine prophecies.

Around 1990 an off shoot from that church, a cult known as Branch Davidians, was led by David Koresh. His interpretations of the book of Revelation and other prophecies led him to believe that he was the final prophet of God before the end, with the assignment of leading God’s people into the final battle and the end of the world. In 1993 the FBI and other government officials raided the compound near Waco, Texas because of abuses, sexual abuse of young girls and the making of illegal weapons etc. After a stand off of a couple of weeks the compound was burned and many people were killed, including Koresh.

Exactly two years later, in 1995, on the anniversary of that tragedy, Timothy McVeigh detonated a truck bomb in front of the Federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and injuring over 800. He did that primarily out of a desire for revenge on the government for what happened at Waco. He was in sympathy with the Koresh cult. McVeigh was convicted of 11 counts of murder. When he was executed he was only 33 years old.

Having grown up in the Adventist Church Koresh was influenced by the writings and teachings of Ellen G. White, the afore mentioned interpreter of prophecies who, in turn, grew up in William Miller’s church and was obsessed with his ideas about prophecy, especially the second coming of Christ. Many of the most foolish and most destructive acts in the world have been done by people who were caught up in the idea of interpreting prophecies.

Now we have in our midst today some who claim to have the gift of prophecy and are enamored with prophecy interpretations. Edward Fudge makes such claims. He wrote a book with the title “Beyond the Sacred Page,” meaning beyond the Bible, in which he claimed to having insights beyond the scriptures, given from heaven. He has said that “The church has missed many blessings by neglecting the ordinary gift of prophecy.”

A theology known as the “AD70 theory” has developed into a full fledged faction. Through interpretation of prophecies they concluded that the second coming of Christ occurred in AD70, along with the resurrection, the judgment, and the passing away of the heavens and earth. It is an obviously untrue concept produced by misinterpretation of Old Testament prophecies.

It is not wrong to read and study Biblical prophecies, the book of Revelation as well as the Old Testament. But it is important to remember that Jesus and the apostles are the final revelators of God’s will. They did not have the penchant for misunderstanding that uninspired people have. Jesus promised the apostles that they would be guided by the Holy Spirit into all truth. Their understanding of God’s plan is the correct one. We need to make sure that we do not stray from their teaching. Regardless of how mentally bright a person may be, when anyone interprets Biblical prophecies to reach conclusions that contradict what Jesus and the apostles said that person is wrong. Several tragedies testify to the fact that there is danger there. Therefore wisdom would tell us that we must not launch out into the theories of uninspired “prophets” but instead we must carefully compare every suggested idea with what is expressly stated in the New Testament. “Test all things. Hold fast to what is good.” (1 Thess. 5:21) God has not put inspired prophets among us today but instead has warned us several times in the Bible to beware of false prophets masquerading as the true ones. (Matthew 7:15, 2 Peter 2:1 and others.) Messages from history and instructions from the Bible should cause us to be ready to avoid claims to prophetic insights in our world today.


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