When I use to catch Hank in the mid-90s to the early 2000’s, there would be occasions in which callers would ask questions about eschatology. Sometimes a smart thinking caller would attempt to squeeze out Hank’s opinion, but he remained fairly uncommitted and would invoke the “inside the pale of orthodoxy” response so as to stay non-committal with his convictions. However, in the last 3 or 4 years, Hank has become one of the most vocal popularizers of preterism, even though he doesn’t call himself a preterist. His zeal for his new found eschatological convictions seem to be born out of a dislike of sensationalistic dispensational novels like Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series and John Hagee’s hyper-Zionism.
Hank regularly excoriates the LaHaye/Hagee view of eschatology on his program in response to these misguided positions. He has also taken to recently publishing his own series of books offering the preterist alternative. This, in turn, has caused quite a stir among his listening audience and his supporters because a good deal of them are more of the sensational, dispensational stripe. But Hank does a good job of insulating himself from any meaningful criticisms of his views on Revelation and the end-times. Thus he keeps his listening audience from hearing his new found preterism being cross-examined.
I get a lot of questions and comments about Hank’s views and I wanted to have a concise review of his most popular book promoting his preterism, The Apocalypse Code. I read such a review in the fall 2007 edition of the Master’s Seminary Journal by Dr. Gregory Harris. I enjoyed it so much I wanted to make it available to a wider audience who don’t have access to the MSJ. I emailed Dr. Harris, and he graciously sent me his longer, unedited review.
Reviewed by Gregory H. Harris, Professor of Bible Exposition.
The Apocalypse Code is Hank Hanegraaf’s reaction to what he and others would consider fanciful interpretations from the Book of Revelation by Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye. While many premillennialists would also not necessarily hold many of the same interpretations on selected passage, Hanegraaf seems to lump all premillennialists together with “guilt by association.” He specifically targets Tim LaHaye since he considers him to be “the standard-bearer for Lindsey’s brand of eschatology” (xviii).
Yet it is significant that in the book section of his rather extensive (for laymen) selected bibliography (295-99) and articles used (300) is the complete absence of Robert Thomas’ two-volume work on the Book of Revelation. One would hope that at least one sentence within the first volume, Revelation 1–7 (524 pages) or the second, Revelation 8–22 (690 pages) might contribute in some way to Hanegraaff’s argument, let alone the dozens of related journal articles produced. (Likewise there are no references to MacArthur, Ryrie, or Pentecost). Hanegraaff takes two “extreme examples” (for lack of better terms) and any type of speculation they may bring to the text to imply that anyone else who holds to a premillennial understanding of the Book of Revelation must arrive at this conclusion by the same hermeneutical means.
Using an acronym “LIGHTS,” which begins with a “literal understanding” of the text, Hanegraaf presents his methodology as the proper means “to interpret the Bible for all its worth . . . ” (xxvii). While this sounds very similar to a premillennial understanding of the text, it is the outworking or application of the hermeneutics that cause the interpretational paths to diverge.
For instance, the “T” section of his acronym “LIGTHS” is chapter six “Typology Principle: The Golden Key” (161-203). Perhaps a better subheading would be “The Hermeneutical ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ Card.” From these previous statements, in reality what Hanegraaff does is employ an allegorized hermeneutic whenever any text does not meet his preterist theology. This allegorizing of different texts basically undermines a great deal of what he would argue against as a literal approach to the text (his “L” section in the LIGHTS acronym. Yet what if the “L” (literal principle) and the “T” (typology principle) stand at odds with each other? How can one discern which is dominant? How does one know?
Most Bible-believing scholars readily accept types as a legitimate component of hermeneutics and recognize that wide debate exists regarding the number and breadth of what and what is not a type. However, Hanegraaf’s use of typology basically inserts his own theology, supports it with his own typology. For instance, in writing about the paramount importance of types, he writes, almost by fiat pronouncement and with no support: “Persons, places, events, or things in redemptive history serve as types of Christ or spiritual realities pertaining to Christ. Palestine is typological of paradise” (9). It should be noted that referring to the land of Israel as “Palestine,” a term God never used in reference to it; the name came from Philistia (Exod. 15:14; 14:29, 31; Joel 3:4), Hanegraaff has shown his own bias already denouncing what he considers to be the racial discrimination against Arabs (xx-xxiii) and the modern “explosive debate over real estate” in the Middle East (xxiii-xxvii), Hanegraaff presents his own conclusion, which presumably will be in the H (historical principle) section. “Ultimately, we must decide whether the land is the focus of the Lord or the Lord the locus of the land” (p. xxvii). Yet God is the one who repeatedly refers to the land, His covenant promises, Jerusalem throughout the Word. Just one example of this hermeneutical divide is Zechariah 14:1-4:
Behold, a day is coming for the LORD when the spoil taken from you will be divided among you. For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city will be captured, the houses plundered, the women ravished, and half of the city exiled, but the rest of the people will not be cut off from the city. Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations, as when He fights on a day of battle. And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west by a very large valley, so that half of the mountain will move toward the north and the other half toward the south.
Obviously this is important since it describes the return of the Lord to earth. Does Zechariah 14:1-4 refer to literal Jerusalem where “His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives,” or is it some sort of life lesson for Christians to decipher? Would Hanegraaff place this under the “L” (literal) section, “H” (historical), or “T” (typological)? This is important because he ends his introduction saying: “In the pages that follow, you will answer these and a host of other questions by internalizing and applying the principles of a methodology called Exegetical Eschatology . . . In the process you will not only be equipped to interpret the Bible for all it’s worth but you may well discover that you hold the key to the problem of terrorism in one hand and the fuse of Armageddon in the other” (xxvii). Throughout the book Hanegraaff’s use of typology is repeatedly allegorizing any prophetic text that does not suit his conclusion.
Hanegraaf claims the need for Scripture to be interpreted by Scripture as the last element in his lights acronym:
Finally, the S in LIGHTS represents the principle of scriptural synergy. Simply stated, this means that the whole of Scripture is greater than the sum of its individual passages. You cannot comprehend the Bible as a whole without comprehending its individual parts, and you cannot comprehend its individual parts without comprehending the Bible as a whole. Individual passages of Scripture are synergistic rather than deflective to with respect to the whole of Scripture.
Scriptural synergy demands that individual Bible passages may never be interpreted in such a way as to conflict with the whole of Scripture. Nor may we assign arbitrary meanings to words or phrases that have their referent in biblical history. The biblical interpreter must keep in mind that all Scripture, though communicated through various human instruments, has one single Author. And that Author does not contradict himself, nor does he confuse his servants (9-10).
Such reasoning is sound and many premillennial scholars would wholeheartedly agree with this principle. Accordingly, since Hanegraaf claims to base his teaching from within the text, to use his own words, individual passages must be compared in Scripture to see if they harmonize. In other words, the scriptural synergy principle he advocates applies just as much to himself as it does to Lindsey and LaHaye and anyone else.
One of the major positions Hanegraaf holds in interpreting the Book of Revelation is that Nero was the first beast of Revelation 13:1-8, namely, the Antichrist. Hanegraaf mocks LaHaye’s (and others) rejection that the advent of the Antichrist has occurred in history past and that instead a future individual with any future relevance to the Jewish people is divine prophecy that awaits fulfillment. Hanegraaf notes that to hold such a position may “well reveal the utter falsity of the assertion that Jews right now are living in the shadow of the mother of all holocausts—a holocaust that will wipe out two-thirds of them. Not just two-thirds of the Jewish population in the Middle East, mind you, but two-thirds of the Jewish population on Mother Earth!” (109).
It seems from Hanegraaf’s understanding that either Lindsey or LaHaye invented such a concept of such a prophesied destruction. Yet Scripture is the one that repeatedly presents this, even proclaiming not only that two-thirds that will perish, but a third will be cleansed and brought into a proper spiritual relationship. Since Hanegraaf “L” section of his LIGHTS acronym is the literal principle, one should at least consider what he wrote regarding this: “The plain and proper meaning of a biblical passage must always take precedence over a particular eschatological presupposition and paradigm” (2). It would reason that one would apply the “literal principle” to a passage such as Zechariah 13: 8-9:
“And it will come about in all the land,” Declares the LORD, “That two parts in it will be cut off and perish; But the third will be left in it. “And I will bring the third part through the fire, Refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, And I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are My people,’ And they will say, ‘The LORD is my God.’”
God Himself promises to bring about the judgment. This either occurred historically or awaits future fulfillment. Nonetheless, such was/is God’s Word—not man’s decrees.
For the sake of our study, Hanegraaf’s position on the Antichrist needs to be explored briefly. He concludes: “Internal evidence points to the fact that when John recorded the Revelation of Jesus Christ, the sixth king—Nero Caesar . . . ” (114). So accordingly, he argues for all events of Revelation 13 as having transpired during the days of Nero. Note the past tense used throughout:
We must ever be mindful of the fact that the ghastly terrors of Revelation are designed the “Great Tribulation” not just because Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed, or because of the massive loss of life, but because the Beast of Revelation purposed to destroy the foundation of the Christian church of which Christ himself was the chief cornerstone. The Great Tribulation instigated by Nero is thus the archetype for every type and tribulation that follows before we experience the reality of our own resurrection at the second appearing of Christ (114).
Hanegraaf supports his claim by delineating some of the atrocities of Nero’s reign, especially in regard to horrific persecutions of Christians (114-15; 147-49). In fact, the massacre was so bad during Nero’s reign, Hanegraaf concludes:
The malevolent state massacre of Christians he instituted continued unabated for some three and a half years. In the end, Peter and Paul themselves were persecuted and put to death at the hand of this Beast. Indeed, this was the only epoch in human history in which the Beast could directly assail the foundation of the Christian church which Christ himself was the cornerstone. Only with Nero Caesar’s death, June 9, AD 68, did the carnage against the bride of Christ finally cease. Not only is there a direct correspondence between the name Nero and the number of his name (666), as noted above, but the “forty-two moths” he was given “to make war against the saints” (Revelation 13:5-7) is emblematic of the time period during which the Beast wreaked havoc on the Bride. If LaHaye is looking for a literalistic interpretation for his ubiquitous three and a half years, he need look no further! (148-49).
A good place to begin in response to this is with both the subject index and the Scripture index for The Apocalypse Code. For instance, Revelation 13:11-18 requires the advent of “another beast” different than the first beast of Revelation 13:1-7, and yet intricately connected with his reign. This second beast in Revelation 13 is generically and henceforth referred to as “the false prophet,” the title originating from the text (Rev. 16:13; 19:20; and 20:10). It should be noted that the Apocalypse always presents this other beast with a definite article when referring to him as “the false prophet,” instead of a false prophet or false prophets in general.
Under the index heading of “false prophet” (281), Hanegraaf lists pages, but each reference pertains to critics of the Bible who considered Jesus to be a false prophet. So if Nero was the beast historically, Scripture necessitates “the false prophet” who will lead the entire world in forced worship and in forced reception of the mark of the beast. Twice the Greek word “it was given” to him (Rev. 13:14-15) to do something beyond his normal or natural capacities. Yet there is no a trace of evidence presented that such the false prophet existed. Logically speaking from a biblical standpoint, one cannot have the advent of the first beast of Revelation 13:1-8 without the advent of the other beast of Revelation 13:11-18.
In the same way, the Scripture index for The Apocalypse Code omits any biblical references for the false prophet where he is specially called that, namely Revelation 16:13, 19:20, and 20:10. This is imperative for numerous reasons: first, whoever the false prophet is, he is alive with the first beast at the Lord’s return, second, he is cast alive into the lake of fire with the first beast, and third, they are alive one thousand years later when Satan receives his ultimate fate.
So when Hanegraaf cites the death of Nero by suicide on June 9, AD 68 (148-49), the scriptural synthesis principle is just as true for him as with anyone else, present author included. Hanegraaf rails against “unbridled speculation, or subjective flights of fancy” (xvii) and encourages the reader concerning his own The Apocalypse Code: “In the pages that follow, you will answer these and a host of other questions by internalizing and applying the principles of a methodology called Exegetical Eschatology . . . In the process you will not only be equipped to interpret the Bible for all it’s worth but you may well discover that you hold the key to the problem of terrorism in one hand and the fuse of Armageddon in the other” (xxvii). No, actually Acts 1:7 offers a better theology of whose hands hold the end times events: “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority.”
To put such principles as Hanegraaf says he employs requires that Jesus Christ returned to earth at the latest on June 8, AD 68 – the last full day of Nero’s life – because if Nero is the Antichrist, he must be alive at the Lord’s return along with his unknown-to-history false prophet who by no means deceived those who dwell on the earth (Rev. 19:20). Either Nero meets these biblical requirements, or he must be discarded as a consideration for fulfilling the biblical requirements for the Antichrist. The just are told to live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4), yet to accept that the life or death of Nero in anyway remotely matches these Scriptural requirements-plus dozens more-goes vastly beyond accepting by faith. .