Back in the 70s and early 80s I was very interested in eschatology and the End Times. There was the occasional sermon on the subject, I went to the seminars at our denomination's annual Youth conferences, and sometimes a guest speaker came in to our or a neighboring church and we'd go to hear him.
So I heard a lot from the book of Daniel about Nebuchadnezzar's dream, the horns, the mouthy horn, and from Revelation with its seals, horsemen, etc. Not to mention the Rapture, the Tribulation, Armegeddon, and the Millenium.
It was also very clear from the studies these men were doing that prophecies were coming true, that we were nearing the End Times, and so needed to be watchful for the Anti-Christ ("the Antichrist [is] a male Jew who [is] probably already alive" -- Jerry Falwell, 1999), 666, and so on. As Jesus Himself said, "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him" (Matt 24:36,44). It was readily apparent to everyone that Jesus' return was imminent, with the odds of making it out of the 80s unlikely. And 2000? Well, it would absolutely be a done deal by then.
For the last 30 years now I've heard how the End Times is imminent, never more than just a few years away. Now it's out at 2010, 2014, ..., but definitely soon.
But those verses that believers interpret to mean the Rapture could happen any time in the next few days, months, or years, reads equally well that it could happen any century, or any millennium. Maybe the year 2742, maybe 3496, maybe 10423. I mean, it's been 2000 years, why not 2000 more?
Yet there's all the evidence of prophecy being fulfilled--the famines, the wars, the earthquakes ("increasing in frequency and severity" as one speaker during my teens put it), the restoration of the state of Israel, the capability for instant worldwide communication, etc.
I know that the people who study this stuff are very diligent, and very serious, and try very hard to understand these prophecies. It's a difficult task, because they're trying to interpret and correlate arcane, cryptic imagery recorded in terms of a world view thousands of years old with recent and current events taking place in a fantastically complex and inter-dependent world of geology, climatology, economics, politics, and culture. So it's no wonder that so many have gotten it so wrong over so long a span of time.
We always think, though, that we're more advanced now, we know more, we understand better, so now we see what was missed before, and clearly now we're nearing the End Times. I expect that's what Whisenaut and Hal Lindsey and Charles Taylor all thought as well.
I think there's some good reasons in fact to think that Jesus is NOT returning any time soon, which I'll get to in Part 2, but either way I think we'd all be better off simply taking Jesus at His word: "No one knows about that day or hour". It's not going to be figured out by anyone, and a lot of time and effort is being wasted on something that is simply going to happen when it happens. In the meantime money is being wasted on books and movies ("Left Behind"), there's fear-mongering, and justification for trashing the environment because Jesus will be returning soon ("As for those evangelicals who believe the second coming of Jesus Christ lets them off the hook in caring for the earth, Rev. Ball says, “With most of these folks, it takes me about two minutes to punch a huge hole in [the Rapture] argument.... I also say, 'Well, you take care of your body, don't you?'”.
Maybe the alternative demands more of Believers than they're ready to bear--if you accept as a hard reality that Christ isn't returning in your lifetime, and that you're going to have to live out your whole life in this world, as will your children, and your grandchildren, and so on for your descendants for centuries or millenia yet to come, then what are your responsibilities to future generations, and how well are you performing them?