There’s nothing like a war to get folks stirred up about the second coming of Christ. This is especially true when things are getting heated up in the Middle East. It’s hard to say how things are going to end up between Israel and Lebanon, but right now tensions are running pretty high. Once again the United States is getting pulled into the middle of the mess in the hopes of getting both sides to stop killing each other. Anytime Israel is involved in a conflict many Christians in America hold their breath and their Bibles.
A popular view regarding the end times relates to a Battle of Armageddon taking place in the region now in question. This isn’t the first time serious fighting has broken out in this area of the world, as there was talk about the Persian Gulf War ushering end the new millennium. The book of Revelation refers to this battle and scholars have been trying to figure out what it means for a long time.
I’ve started a book entitled “Left Behind?” which is a response to the book series of the same title. The series is based upon a dispensational approach to interpreting the Bible and in particular the book of Revelation. It’s an entertaining read, and there have been at least two movies made based on these works of fiction. The Scofield Reference Bible has played a key role in popularizing a brand of eschatology that calls for a rapture of the church, a 1000 year period of tribulation, the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem, the rise of the Anti-Christ, and a great final battle in which the Devil is defeated. A key component of dispensational theology is that it is based on a “literal” rendering of Scripture. There’s also no shortage of charts and diagrams that are on display by preachers who affirm this method of interpretation.
Predictions about the end of time have been going on for a long time. First century Christians were expecting Christ to return at any moment, and when he didn’t they had to figure out what they were supposed to be doing. There’s also William Miller of the 1840s who stirred up the people with his charts based on calculations from the book of Daniel. Miller even predicted a specific date, only to have the date pass by with no sign of Jesus’ return. Confused, Miller recalulated his figures and determined he had been off by a year. So, he once again made a prediction and I’m quite sure he was wrong again. Another favorite relates to the book “88 reasons the rapture will occur in 1988.” This too proved false, but on the plus side the book can be purchased at a minimal cost (I couldn’t figure out why the authors were “selling” the book if they believed Christ was returning). Most recently, Y2k scared some folks into thinking about the end of time. Similar expectations surfaced at the end of the first millennium as well. Now, I can turn on the TV as see preachers doing hermeneutical gymnastics with the Bible in order to make events in 2006 tie directly to what was written thousands of years ago. I’m constantly amazed at how preachers revise their predictions of Scripture to fit the situation. It’s even more baffling when the people in the pews buy into it. Jesus said there would be “wars and rumors of wars.” This has been true for centuries.
As a theologian, I am definitely interested in what the Bible has to say about the end times. I know about the pre-, post-, and a-millennial views concerning what the 1000 years are supposed to mean. I’ve read about the pre-, mid-, post- tribulation return of Christ as it relates to dispensationalism. Folks are now asking me about a rapture of the Church and whether I think Hurricane Katrina was God’s judgment on the casino industry. They ask about this war and whether I think Christ’s coming is near. These are interesting questions relating to God’s sovereignty and unfolding of his divine purpose for humankind.
Although aware of passages cited about the End, I always refer to Jesus’ words when he said “no one knows the day or the hour” that things come to an end. Jesus didn’t know when that would be, only “the Father who is in heaven.” Maybe this makes me less interested than folks want me to be about doing biblical arithmetic. My view of Revelation isn’t as sensational as others, because I figure those words from John needed to make sense to a persecuted church in the 90s first and foremost. You can’t divorce a biblical book from its context. Yes, I definitely believe Christ’s second coming is near, but in reality we’ve been in “the last days” since the birth of Christ. That’s been over 2000 years, but to God time takes on a different importance.
There’s always a crowd waiting to hear a sensational message. For me, though, I’ve adopted a “pan-millennial” mindset in that I can’t explain all the details of the End but believe that everything will “pan out” in the final analysis. The most important thing is to be ready for the Lord’s return rather than try to figure out when things will occur. So far, these predictions have been way off. In the meantime, there’s still work for the church to do. Trusting God with the details seems to be best way to go.