– republished with the author's written permission
9 December 2008
Addressing his congregation, a minister was recently heard to say,
If I teach you that the Rapture of the church is imminent, you'll become obsessed with the idea. You won't be able to think about anything else. In fact, I believe that the desire for Rapture is an unhealthy preoccupation. It's an event that's been preached for centuries, and Jesus still hasn't come back. Folks, we should really be centred on worship, Christian service and personal spiritual growth. Hoping for an event that may not come is a waste of time.
This admonition came from the pastor of a large evangelical church. Not so long ago, illustrating a theological shift that is becoming all too familiar, this very church proclaimed that latter-day prophecy was being fulfilled, and that Jesus could return at any moment!
This quiet change reflects a phenomenon that has plagued the entire age of the church, which has taken many turns in its position on the doctrine of last things. The last two thousand years have witnessed the first century's apostolic expectancy of Rapture and Resurrection dissolve into the belief that there would be no Rapture and no millennium at all.
Augustine spiritualised the Apocalypse, saying that the Millennium had already begun with Christ's First Coming. He saw only the age of the church, followed by the Second Coming of Christ. Centuries passed, and that teaching was modified into another: The church became "redeemed Israel," and the Kingdom Age was founded under Christ and the Apostles. The Millennium is past; the church will Christianise the world, then Jesus will come to receive His throne. The role of the individual believer is to support the growth of the church, as it becomes increasingly dominant.
Today, many large churches have quietly followed this pattern, returning to the doctrine and the general belief that the church will convert the world, giving rise to a golden age which brings in the Kingdom. It also holds that the church becomes the redeemed Israel, inheritor of the ancient promises. To believe this, one must turn aside from every prophetic Scripture that calls for a latter-day collapse of morality, numerous international wars, natural upheavals, and domination by an evil world order that comes to power after the Great War predicted in Ezekiel 38.
One must also forget all the Scriptures that predict the regathering of the Jews, which the following verses condense into a compact and powerful statement:
For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries and will bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, I will cleanse you.Anew heart will I give you also, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you shall keep my judgments and do them.And you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers and you shall be my people and I will be your God (Ezekiel 36:24-28 emphasis added).
Furthermore, latter-day Israel will be victorious over those who would destroy them. In the Bible, . their enemies are well defined and vicious Israel's restoration is to be greeted by those who would take their promised inheritance. The following statement evokes the present "Palestinian" conflict:
Thus says the Lord GOD; because the enemy has said against you, Aha, even the ancient high places are ours in possession (Ezekiel 36:2).
Today, the highest of all those places – the Temple Mount – is possessed by those who deny that Israel ever had a Temple there at all.
But we must never forget the excitement among Christians in the decades following Israel's victory in the 1967 Six-Day war. Ancient Mount Moriah was captured and then returned to the enemy in the name of peace. But something changed in the process. Israel was perceived as dominant … being on the verge of strength and unity, standing as a strong nation. Can we so quickly forget the spiritual anticipation that characterised the decades following Israel's victory in the 1967 Six-Day War? Remember the land brought back from being a desert waste? Isaiah's prophecy was widely quoted;
The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose(Isaiah 35:1).
Israel, once a desert, was called the "California of the Middle East," providing produce for Europe and Asia. In those days, countless books, pamphlets and sermons praised the regathering of Israel, breathing new life into believers. First in the United States, then quickly spreading to other countries, the doctrine of the pre-tribulation Rapture became popularised in a way that hadn't been seen since the passing of the first-century Apostles.
Before that, the dawn of the twentieth century had witnessed the formalisation of pretribulational teaching. C. I. Scofield's reference Bible stood at the peak of a mountain of published teaching on this belief. But only decades later, following the 1967 war, did the world really sense the nearness of Christ's return for His people. Though it was not correct, many in the church proclaimed that the "times of the gentiles" (Luke 21:24) had come to an end. Yes, they were factually mistaken, but their hearts were in the right place.
Pretribulational doctrine depends upon, as the proper understanding of the latter days they degenerate into paganism and apostasy and fall into the hands of the ungodly, who are subsequently judged in the Tribulation … following the age of the church.
Rapture enthusiasts rode high on the premise that Israel had taken the Temple Mount, and thought that it wouldn't be very long before the prophesied events that herald the Tribulation would happen in rapid succession. As we and others have so often said, the cry coming from the pulpit and the mass media during the closing decades of the twentieth century was, "Jesus is coming soon!"
It was not said that, "Jesus is coming when you least expect it," but "Jesus is coming soon!" Acting on this general sentiment, some were moved to set dates, using complex calculations and numerous "reasons" why Jesus should come for His church on such-and-such a day. They were universally mistaken, and bore the quiet ridicule of others, who prided themselves on not having fallen for the temptation to expect Christ at a particular season, or in conjunction with some important world event.
This fact alone cooled the ardour of the watchful. Again, they were faced with the prospect of being accused of folly as they called for something that never happened. Watchful Christians strained to discern patterns that would suggest that the gathering storm was closer than the day before. Many did this with great caution, recalling that in the 1930s and 40s, many Christian leaders had namedAdolph Hitler as the antichrist.
As the twentieth century drew to a close, presidents came and went, along with other leaders, some of whom had been particularly singled out as the evil characters alluded to in prophetic Scripture. Though they have grown older, some of them remain influential to this day. Realising that some of these men could rise to take power over the world in a predicted consortium of power, their behaviour and public statements are closely monitored.
For years, the question has been asked, "If we're so close to the Rapture and subsequent judgment, shouldn't the antichrist be alive today?" Some answer in the affirmative and try to deduce the identity of this evil "prince who shall come." Others smile knowingly and congratulate themselves for never having yielded to that temptation. It is this smug superiority that rises from time to time, forcing many of the watchful to retreat. Nobody likes to be embarrassed. Enough pressure from anti-prophecy scoffers even forces theological shifts away from premillennial expectancy, toward postmillennial self-satisfaction.
Zion, the Great Sign
And then there is Israel, the focus of all timed prophecy. It was David who named the historic Mt. Moriah by the name that marks a major movement. He called it "Zion," from the Hebrew word that means, "a sign or marker," which it surely is. Zionism is the great latter-day sign. That it is from the Lord and not men may be seen in the hatred that the world has for the Zionist movement.
For centuries, the church forgot the dispersed people, who had drifted all over the world and settled into the obscurity of daily existence, while still keeping their customs, rituals and Hebrew language … in secret, lest they be persecuted. Sometimes, they were hunted out and slain like animals in government-sanctioned pogroms.
Then, on the heels of organized Zionism and two world wars, they were back in Israel and for a while, the world welcomed their presence as a modern miracle. Even anti-Semites had to grudgingly acknowledge their miraculous conversion of a barren wasteland into a verdant paradise.
Israel's Prime Ministers came and went, most of them intellectual collectivists who dreamed of creating a modern socialist utopia. Most of them were not at all religious, preferring secular solutions to modern socio-economic problems. Yitzhak Rabin is a good example of this. One of Israel's heroic founders, he fought against those who would have destroyed Israel before it grew to greatness.
In 1941, he joined the Palmach division of the Haganah, Israel's defence force. In 1974, he succeeded Golda Meir as Prime Minister and distinguished himself by heading Operation Entebbe. In 1993, he stood on the White House lawn with Yasser Arafat and Bill Clinton. His infamous handshake signalled the coming collapse of heroic idealism. Shortly before his 1995 assassination, he vehemently declared that modern Israel had nothing to do with the fulfilment of biblical promises. As time went by, it became more and more clear that global politics, and the cynical alliances of East and West, were the driving forces in Israel's destiny.
The point: even Rabin was embarrassed by the thought that he might be seen as a "prophecy nut."
The Chosen People were led by the nose through a morass of "peace treaties," "peace processes," "accords," such as Oslo, "roadmaps to peace," "two-state solutions," and other foolish concoctions of statecraft. While pretending to stand up for the People of the Book, the speakers, singers, dancers and comedians of the international farce waltzed upon the oilsoaked sands of the Arab princes and dined in their banquet halls of power.
Prophecy watchers noticed that when the notorious Gog invades Israel, he is challenged by this selfsame group of people … the Arabs and their Western partners. Ezekiel 38:13 links the northern and southern divisions of the Arab powers with the "merchants of Tarshish," representing the global merchant bankers. Together, they (the Western Alliance) speak up in opposition to the invasion:
Sheba, and Dedan, and the merchants of Tarshish, with all the young lions, shall say to you, Are you come to take a spoil? Have you gathered your company to take a prey? To carry away silver and gold, to take away cattle and goods, to take a great spoil? (Eze 38:13).
The Blessing of Prophecy
The stage is set. Paul's "perilous times" are here. Peter's latter-day "scoffers" are in full voice. There is the growing reality of another of Paul's stark predictions:
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own desires, having itching ears they shall heap up for themselves teachers, (2 Timothy 4:3).
Those who have eyes to see have no trouble seeing where we are.
About a third of all Scripture is specifically devoted to prophecy. Understanding in this area is essential to understanding the Bible. A valid systematic theology must include a well ordered interpretation of prophetic context–from Genesis to Revelation.
Yes, prophecy can be overemphasized to the exclusion of the Christian walk and fellowship. It can also be neglected as "too controversial," or "a waste of time." Sensationalistic and erroneous interpretation has given rise to this view. Unfortunately, the latter case is the usual one. Those who expect Christ's imminent return are often ridiculed as escapists or " scripturally illiterate". As in all pursuits, balance is needed when studying prophecy.
Prophecy gives the church a way of warning an errant society that judgment is at the door. It affirms the sovereignty of God,
Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure (Isaiah 46:10).
It warns of the pitfalls of the end times, with evil growing ever more powerful, and teaching ever more erroneous. Such warnings sharpen the focus of believers, who redouble their devotion to the Word. Prophecy gives sensitivity and the ability to discriminate between the true and the false. Properly understood, prophecy produces an inner peace that can be found nowhere else. Above all, premillennial teaching produces hope in an increasingly pagan world. Properly understood, prophecy is a real blessing!
To be continued...
You can contact Gary Stearman via his website at http://www.prophecyinthenews.com/authorbio.asp?Author_ID=24
The above article was obtained from the Israel Report - Editor - Mike Claydon - Sub Editor/Research -Warren Smith.