Browsing in a local Christian bookstore the other night, looking for something on which to spend a pile of gift cards I got for Christmas, I came upon the eschatology/prophecy/second coming section. Prominently displayed was John Hagee’s most recent edition on the role of Iran in the Middle East as the antichristian antagonist that will lead to the coming war with Israel that culminates in the battle of Armageddon. Several other authors have obviously jumped on the Iran bandwagon now, as evidenced by the titles or subtitles of the books that were prominently featured. I noticed titles by Pat Robertson and Hal Lindsey available as well. It brought back memories.
I find it rather interesting that at least some of the modern prophets who went out on a limb back in the 70’s and 80’s in attempting to predict the return of Christ are still writing books. Back in the 70’s, the antichrist candidate was the evil empire, the Soviet Union, with China figuring prominently and the formation of the European Common Market, that “10 nation confederation roughly analogous to the ancient Roman Empire” a sign that the rapture was just around the corner. It would happen by the late 1980’s, according to statements by Robertson and Lindsey. I’m not sure whether recent prophets LaHaye or Hagee were in on that particular era. I was introduced to the rapture literature of that era by a friend of my mother, who gave me several books by Hal Lindsey, Salem Kirban and Pat Robertson after finding out I was going to a Baptist college for my undergraduate degree. She wanted me to be armed against the heresy of amillenialism that she knew the Bible professors there would be teaching.
I must question how “prophetic” the current works on the shelf are, in light of the complete lack of accuracy in past literature. Attempts to predict the second coming of Christ by looking at the happenings going on in the world hasn’t exactly been very accurate in the past. I guess some of the same authors are trying their luck with a new generation of readers who don’t know about their previous errors. Most people don’t realize that “rapture fever” is not really new, and that people have been caught up in it for a long time. Even in this country, there have been times when the certainty that the rapture was right around the corner. The period before the turn of the twentieth century had all kinds of prophets writing and preaching about the return of Christ. William Miller, whose movement eventually gave rise to the modern Seventh Day Adventists, was particularly certain, and incredibly persuasive. People would leap from upper floor windows at the precise moment he predicted the rapture, to be caught up with Christ, only to fall and either break bones or die. People sold property, even burned houses and barns they knew they would not need in the future. In the decades prior to the Second World War, Hitler seemed to be the personification of the “Anti-Christ,” Germany the reconstituted Roman Empire and the battle of Armageddon would end the war. When that didn’t materialize, a new generation fed off the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine in 1948 and the antichrist moved to the Soviet Union. Of course, none of those predictions, most of which focused on the late 1980’s up to the millenium, came to pass.
I look at the book of Revelation as being generally historical in nature, and thus, subject to the same kind of historical contextual interpretation in the same way that any other book in the New Testament is to be interpreted. The fact that it is apocalyptic means that it is loaded with meaningful symbolism, especially as it would have been read and interpreted by those who received it, read it, and considered it as authoritative scripture. It was literally meant for its recipients, Christians caught in a giant evil of persecution at the hands of the Roman emperors, the result of the evolution of the cult of Emperor worship in the empire and the rapid growth of the Christian church. Revelation is about the inevitable conflict between the two, and the author’s discernment of the Holy Spirit’s message to the church in communicating who gets the final victory.
It is the role of Israel in much of this literature which leads me to the belief that the current writers are just as much off the track as previous authors have been. Both Peter and Paul clearly define the New Testament references to “Israel” as the church. But many of the rapture writers point to the Jewish political state, along with the racial heritage of the Jews, as being recipients of a special form of salvation, which bypasses the convenant of Christ’s first coming in favor of their acknowledgement of his second.
Paul writes, “For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together, as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.” Ephesians 2:14-16, NLT.
I think that passage precludes a role for the Jews, as either a racial or religious group, or as an independent political state, in events relating to the second coming of Christ, even if you accept a premillenial, dispensational Armageddon calendar. At any rate, the current Jewish state is a purely secular entity, bearing no resemblance to the Israel of the Old Testament. The apostle Peter, who once objected to taking the gospel to the gentiles, writes to gentile believers and uses the same terminology to address them as God’s chosen people, as he would have addressed Jews. This precludes the role of a secular political state in the return of Christ.
Peter says, “Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy.” I Peter 2:10. NLT
I tend to agree with those who date the book of Revelation prior to A.D. 70, precisely because the author doesn’t mention the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. Obviously, the writer of Revelation receives inspiration from the Holy Spirit during a time that the temple still exists. If John had been aware of its destruction at the time he was writing, something that would figure so prominently into his vision would not have been left out. Not only that, but he would not have missed the chance to point out that Jesus himself had predicted its destruction and had claimed it would happen before some of his disciples had seen their own death.
Jewish people have the same opportunity to come to a saving knowledge of Christ as anyone else. I don’t see that the scripture teaches otherwise. I believe that the return of Christ is imminent, and that it will not be preceeded by any of the events that today’s Armageddon calendars outline as conditions for it.
That’s my current view in a nutshell. It continues to develop. I guess I can be called one of the proverbial “pan milleniallists,” you know, one of those who believes it will all “pan out” in the end. But one thing I am sure of, and that is the fact that eschatological views should not divide believers. What do you think?