Awakening Christians from the futurist delusion

John MacArthur

MacArthur concedes Matt. 16:28 is a “Prophecy of the Second Coming.”

Then, he says it isn’t.

John F. MacArthur, popular pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, is clearly a futurist. He is waiting for Jesus to set up a 1,000-year kingdom of peace on Earth. So, when I noticed one of the topic headings in The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB), I was taken aback.

Jesus promised several times to return within the lifetime of his listeners. One of the clearest examples is Matt. 16:28, a verse futurists routinely claim refers to the Transfiguration described in the following chapter. But notice how the verse appears with its heading in The MacArthur Study Bible:

The Prophecy of the Second Coming
Mk 8:38-9:1; Lk 9:26, 27
Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.

The Prophecy of the Second Coming?” Baffled, my eyes moved down the page to MacArthur’s study notes. I could not imagine what his comment would be:

…it seems most natural to interpret this promise as a reference to the Transfiguration…

What? I checked the verse number again. Yes, I was at the right verse. I stared in disbelief.

Now, it seems to me that if something is a prophecy of the Second Coming, then, the Second Coming would be the fulfillment, right? Am I missing something? Have I not studied enough? I’ve studied the Bible for decades, but still haven’t come across any hermeneutical principle that would allow for MacArthur’s contradictory interpretation.

Evidently, deep inside MacArthur’s subconscious, he realizes Matt. 16:28 must be a prophecy of the Second Coming; but what prevents him from actually believing and preaching it? I can only speculate. I suspect that being a fifth-generation preacher steeped in futurism and heading up a ministry supported by thousands of futurists would make it extremely difficult to see things any other way, let alone go so far as change his position.

The example I have exposed is not just a fluke. I routinely consult The MacArthur Study Bible and discover numerous illogical interpretations clearly influenced by the author’s futuristic view of the Second Coming. In the following, I present another.

The biblical use of types and antitypes is a subject not difficult to understand. The American Heritage Dictionary defines antitype as follows: “One that is foreshadowed by or identified with an earlier symbol or type, such as a figure in the New Testament who has a counterpart in the Old Testament.” For instance, Sodom and Egypt were sinful cities playing prominent roles in the history of Israel. In the book of Revelation, sinful Jerusalem is referred to as Sodom and Egypt (Rev. 11:8). Sodom and Egypt are Old Testament types; Jerusalem is the New Testament antitype. Simple. However, John MacArthur is hopelessly confused by this subject because of his futuristic presupposition. I shall explain.

Elijah was a great Old Testament prophet. Isaiah and Malachi foresaw a special preacher coming onto the scene ahead of the Messiah who would be the antitype of Elijah. Isaiah wrote first:

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isa. 40:3, KJV).

About 300 years later, Malachi mentioned him again:

‘Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,’ says the Lord of hosts” (Mal. 3:1, NASB throughout unless otherwise noted);

‘Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse’” (Mal. 4:5-6).

So, Elijah was the Old Testament type, and someone else would become the New Testament antitype just before the “great and terrible day of the Lord.” That turned out to be John the Baptist (Luke 1:13, 16-17; Mark 1:2-4). This was confirmed by Jesus himself (Matt. 11:13-14; 17:11-13).

That’s it. Simple. Elijah was the type; John the Baptist was the antitype. John appeared before the great and terrible day of the Lord, the time of Judea’s destruction culminating in the razing of the Temple in 70 C.E. There is simply nothing more to this.

However, a problem remains for futurists like John MacArthur. They think the great and terrible day of the Lord is ahead of us. Since this would require an Elijah to immediately precede it, MacArthur attempts to create one. He agrees Isa. 40:3 refers to John the Baptist, but adds, “It likewise sees the future forerunner who is to be like Elijah preparing for Christ’s second coming” (John F. MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, NASB ed. [Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006], Isa. 40:3). So now, MacArthur has two antitype fulfillments. Then, regarding Malachi’s prophecy, he says, “John the Baptist was a type of Elijah.” But, since a type must be from the Old Testament and the antitype from the New, and since a type must precede an antitype, how could John be a type of Elijah?

John the Baptist a type of Elijah?

MacArthur needs to make John a type so he can have an antitype in the future; but in doing so, he has managed to take the simplest of subjects — something any grade-school child could understand — and interpret it backwards! He could get all this straightened out if he would stop denying the first-century return of Christ. As long as he predicts a future return, he will remain blind to the meaning of much of the New Testament.

MacArthur refers to preterism as a “serious interpretive blunder” (MacArthur, 1358); but we would like to see him address some of his own blunders before pointing a finger at preterists.

John F. MacArthur appears to be a man of high moral character, he always looks sharp, his website is classy, and he loves to battle for the truth. In a word, he is impressive. Probably, some Christians see him as just about perfect. Sadly, it is just this type of person who is best suited to spreading serious error:

Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than the truth itself” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.2).

In the quotation above, Irenaeus implies all those who teach error do it intentionally; they do it “craftily.” However, I am not suggesting MacArthur is purposely or “craftily” deceiving people. He is deceived himself. Nevertheless, this much is true: a slick and professional looking ministry can lend a definite air of credibility to false teaching. The big-name deluded prophecy teachers don’t dress like slobs. They all look professional, and they all teach a lot of truth. That’s the problem: there is so much truth, one assumes the error must be truth too. When delivered by a neatly dressed preacher, it becomes easy to assume there’s nothing wrong with any of it.

Ultimately, I assume good intentions and pray John MacArthur will eventually awaken from his futuristic delusion.

Some of the material above is covered in greater detail in the following articles:

Did the Transfiguration Fulfill Matt. 16:28?

Are These the “Days of Elijah?”

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