It’s a sad fact that many people who read the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24 will make the assumption; that this is referring to the Church at the close of this age in some way. I’ve heard Pastors and Teachers preach and teach that this is about the Church in their sermons. But that is not the correct view; in the light of the historical facts, and timing for this portion of scripture. The very thing many people miss right off is; there was no New Testament Church when Jesus gave the Olivet discourse! That’s right, there was no New Testament at the time Jesus spoke those words. And it is not some unknowable riddle as to what Matthew 24 is showing, once you realize this time period is showing, the Tribulation, and (then) the setting up of the coming earthly Kingdom for Israel. May your heart be swift to hear and understand just how absent the Church is in Matthew 24!
So what have people over looked here? What have they forgotten that is so important? It is the fact that when Jesus spoke about these things he hadn’t died yet, and the veil was not yet torn in two. And in Hebrews 9:17 it declares, “For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth.” So the Bible itself tells us that; when Jesus said these words he could not have been referring to the Church. The New Testament Church as having Gentiles in it would come later, after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Matthew 24 was fully directed at the Jews, and it explains what will happen to the Jewish Nation right before, the setting up of the earthly kingdom of heaven on earth.
As the New Testament Church wasn’t there when Jesus spoke those words; neither will the Church be on the earth when those words are fulfilled.
This (Tribulation) time period as seen in Matthew 24 is showing the 7 years, known as Daniels 70th week. Daniel said, “Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city…” (Daniel 9:24). This puts the time period of this 7 years, as having everything to do with, the Jews, and the holy city of Jerusalem. There isn’t any disclaimer that says another group of New Testament believers are to be included in this. No, just the Jews, and the Holy City of Jerusalem. People should put their pencils away and quit trying to write the Church into these events that are so clearly marked for the Nation of Israel.
It is important to note that in looking at Matthew 10:5-7, when Jesus sent out his disciples, he sent them out to the Jews only. He told them to not go to the gentiles. Jesus said, “And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 10:5-7). So here we have Jesus telling the disciples to go to, the lost sheep of the house of Israel. It really is not that complicated an answer as to why he did that. Jesus was offering the earthly, kingdom of heaven, to the Jews FIRST, which they rejected. So when you look at Matthew 24:14 (it goes back to the Jews again preaching, the earthly gospel of the kingdom, but now in the Tribulation, because the Church is gone.) It’s the earthly kingdom, again, that is being offered during the tribulation. The Church with the better covenant is already gone from the earth, and is missing in this, because we believe in the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The kingdom of heaven is about the earthly kingdom. The kingdom of God, includes both the things in heaven and earth, it’s the larger picture and does include the Church. But here in Matthew 24 it shows what happens to the Jews right before the setting up of the earthly Kingdom for the Jewish Nation. Fulfilling the promises foretold of old, that they would inherit the land forever. (Genesis 13:14-17).
When looking at Matthew 24 we see the two parts of Daniel’s 70th week for the whole Tribulation:
Verses 4-14 of Matthew 24 are showing the first 3 and half years.
The first half of the Tribulation are caused mainly by the wickedness of man, and, are connected to the 4 horsemen of Revelation 6:1-11.
1. The rider upon the white horse, is a man in Revelation 6:2. “…and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.” This connects to Matthew 24:4 where it says “…Take heed that no man deceive you.” This is the anti-Christ coming to power over the dominion of men, deceiving the whole world, and especially the Jews.
2. The rider upon the red horse in Revelation 6:3-4 shows that he goes out “…to take peace from the earth…” This connects to Matthew 24:6-7 “And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars…”
3. The rider upon the black horse in Revelation 6:5-6, “…and I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand.” This connects to Matthew 24:7 where it says, “…and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.” It is interesting that earthquakes are mentioned here, as man can now cause earthquakes, using harrp in Alaska. Even Russia has this capability. But the main point is that; there will be famine as revealed in both Matthew 24:7 & Revelation 6:5-6.
4. The rider upon the pale horse in Revelation 6:7-9, “And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with the beasts of the earth.” In Matthew 24:9-10 it says, “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.”
After the four horsemen, the Tribulation becomes, The Great Tribulation for the second half of Daniel’s 70th week. All these things up to Matthew 24:14 were caused mostly by the wickedness of man on the earth. And these are only the beginning of sorrows! The dividing line for the mid point of the Tribulation is when the anti-Christ goes into the temple in Jerusalem, in verse 15. The anti-Christ then rules unencumbered for 42 months, or three and a half years (Revelation 13:5).
Some highlights of what the Jewish Nation will endure:
“Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains” (Matthew 24:16). This is the Jews from the land of Israel being told to flee, it certainly isn’t talking about the Church.
“But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day:..” (Matthew 24:20). Again the Jews are warned. This is not the Church that is warned about fleeing on the sabbath day.
“…but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.” (Matthew 24:22). Simply put, after the Church is in heaven, the Jews become the elect again on earth.
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light,…” (Matthew 24:29). It is the Jews that will be gathered in the day of darkness, as it was foretold (Ezekiel 34:12-13). The Church will not be left, in that daunting and darksome day, because the Church is the light of the world, and was caught up to heaven in the rapture 7 years ago. The Church is preparing to ride down from the halls of heaven, to the mortal shores of earth! Riding upon white horses as part of the armies of heaven (Revelation 19:14).
“And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven:” (Matthew 24:30). It is the Jews that will see the coming of the Son of man in the clouds, as the Church already heard the voice of the Son of God, and will return with him as part of the armies of heaven. (John 5:25) (Revelation 19:14). And besides, the Church sees Jesus as the Son of God, not the Son of man. (Galatians 2:20; Matthew 14:33, 16:13-16; John 7:69, 9:35, 11:27, 20:31; Ephesians 4:13; 1 John 4:15, 5:10-20). It is an unfortunate oversight to suggest that the Church will be on earth and see Jesus coming as the Son of man. When in contrast, the scriptures say that the Church sees Jesus as the Son of God. Proving yet again the Church is not there.
“And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (Matthew 24:31). These are the Jews being brought back to Jerusalem by the Angels, as foretold from ages past (Psalm 50:3-7, Isaiah 27:12-13). They are gathered from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Isaiah 11:10-12; Deuteronomy 30:3-6; Nehemiah 1:8-9; Zechariah 2:6-13; Psalms 147:2). This is a touchstone Jewish theme found all throughout the Old Testament. The Church was already gathered by Jesus as he promised in John 14:3; to return in the clouds and gather the Church unto himself. And as the Church is received by the Lord to heaven. The Jews are gathered 7 years later by the angel’s to Jerusalem, when the Lord comes to rend the heavens.
From Matthew 24:27-44 the emphasis is on the coming of the Son of man. The term Son of God was not used here because Jesus is dealing with the Jews, showing yet again the Church is not on earth at this time.
“Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left” (Matthew 24:40). Jesus told the angels, to first gather out the tares; those that offend, them which do iniquity, and to sever the wicked from among the just (Matthew 13:30, 13:40-41, 13:49-50). This clearly doesn’t concern the Church because she was raptured 7 years ago. Some like to refer to this as the rapture, but this is judgment upon the wicked that are still on earth when Jesus returns. The angels are told to put the tares in bundles, and then cast them in the fire (Matthew 13: 40-42).
“Who then is a faithful and wise servant,…” In verses 45-50 This phrase is used four times. Jesus is referring to the Jews at the end on the Tribulation. Jesus called the Apostles friends and not servants starting in John 15:15.
Over and over again Matthew 24 is explained through the eyes of the Tribulation period. And over and over again it is explained in the light of the earthly kingdom, promised to the Jews.
It could be written and it could be said, that Matthew 25 continues on with the same view. It starts out with the word, then, to show it follows Matthew 24 in sequence.
The 10 virgins are understood, when they are viewed in the Jewish light of, the virgin daughters of Zion. The five wise are Jewish believers who will go forth, in the day of darkness with actual oil in their lamps. The five foolish say in their hearts, the Lord will not do good nor evil, since they don’t believe (Zephaniah 1:12). Over and above this; it’s a sin to think the Holy Spirit can be bought, so this is not talking about some in the Church going and purchasing the Holy Spirit (acts 8:18-24). The Oil in the lamps is now literal, because the Holy Spirit already went to heaven with the Church in the rapture.
As Matthew 25 goes on, it talks about the judgment of the nations:
The servants being given talents. The term servants being used identifies the Jews (Matthew 25:14, 19, 21, 23, 26). Yeshua called the Apostles friends (John 15:15).
The Lord comes with the angels and sits upon the throne of his glory. (Matthew 25:31)
He will separate the sheep from the goats. (Matthew 25:32)
This is for those who are still alive on earth at the setting up of the earthly kingdom. (Matthew 25:33)
The King shall say unto them on his right hand, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you (from) the foundation of the world:” (Matthew 25:34)
The Church is not here because we were chosen (before) the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-4).
The King will say, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40)
All Nations will now be judged for how they treated the Jews. (Matthew 25:41)
All of these concepts have to do with the Jews, and how they were treated during the Tribulation, and the setting up of the kingdom.
The scriptures keep showing us how the earthly kingdom is to be set up as promised to the Jews.
Remember, the Church is entirely missing in Matthew 24, as she was never there to hear those words! As the age of grace followed the words spoken, and as the Church gracefully departs this world before they’re brought about.
Time does doesn’t allow us to go into every aspect of Matthew 24 and Matthew 25. But seeing all these consistent patterns connecting to the Jewish Nation. We see how foolish it is to try and put the Church into any of this, and especially when there wasn’t a New Testament Church at the time Jesus said these things.
Author of ‘Precepts of the Blessed Hope’
What is the Apocalypse?
It seems to me that the Devil is having his way with a number of preachers in the spotlight lately. I’m becoming more aware of an aire of bitterness and vindictivenss between popular theologians who disagree on some debatable issues like the Rapture. The term ‘false prophet’ and ‘false teacher’ seems to be flying both directions. What must the unsaved who are witness to these ego competitions be thinking? The only conclusion I would expect from the unsaved is one of being turned off completely or so confused that they don’t know who or what to believe. God help us.
January 17, 2005
Having just finished reading the Assemblies of God (AOG) “offical position” paper on the Rapture I was so impressed with the concise summary of the position and Biblical references that I though it a good idea to add a link.
January 12, 2005
In the wake of the Christmas Day Tsunami that has claimed more than 150,000 lives throughout Sumatra, Indonesia, Thailand, India and even the shores of NE Africa, there seems to be a sense of anticipation or expectation of what the next large scale tragedy might be or when it’ll happen. Another tidal wave? A devastating earthquake? Perhaps an unprecedented volcanic eruption? Maybe all of these things and more? Take notice of these ‘birth pangs’. Contrary to the headline repeated on NBC National News last night, the Earth isn’t trying to tell us something through these tragic events, but the one and only true, living God is…
Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,[a]’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.
The End Times News headlines have been updated for 2004. Often times we tend to forget some of what has happened over the span of just few short years. The return of Jesus is nearer than ever. God has clearly been confirming a message through those who truly love him and serve him that it’s time to WAKE UP!
The largest city in the state of California is Los Angeles, which means ‘The Angels’ in Spanish. Often times I think its the ‘City of Fallen Angels’ or ‘LOST Angeles’… The ‘Entertainment Capital of the World’, where the majority of television and film production companies reside, is responsible for most of the trash that comes into our homes through the electronic portal we know as television. Los Angeles is also less than 20 miles away from the San Fernando Valley, which has the regretable distinction of being the ‘Pornography Capital of the World’. Having lived in Los Angeles for 20 years I’ve seen a series of disasters and tragedies which I’ve always thought of as God’s attempt to get the peoples attention; major earthquakes, community destroying fire storms, mud slides, riots, blackouts…whats next I wonder?
Just a few weeks ago over 3500 homes were reduced to ashes by wild fires in Southern California. Then, just a fews days later, a freak thunder storm lingered over South Central Los Angeles during rush hour, dumping over 5 inches of rain in 2 hours, pelting cars with hail stones nearly the size of golf balls, unleashing 150 lightning bolts, and turning many of the streets into torrential rivers 3 feet deep, stalling thousands of cars knocking out street lights and traffic signals resulting in countless accidents. Hundreds of homes which were never before considered to be at risk were flooded with sewage and water that poured in through the doors and walls. Former Gov. Gray Davis declared a state of emergency, but the stories of tragedy and personal loss have already been forgotten by the local news. South Central Los Angeles is an area (principality) plagued by crime and poverty. Crack and prostitution are rampant, and the bullets from drive-by shootings or gang rivalry have an uncanny tendency to randomly kill children and babies. Many of the people who live in this area of Los Angeles feel helpless to do anything about the moral decline of their neighborhood, while many other people have no regard for life or property.
The day after the storm as I watched the inner city children on the local news playing in the piles of snow-like hail on a sunny day, I wondered if God has gotten the attention of the people of South Central. This kind of storm just doesn’t happen in Los Angeles.
Just when I thought I’d read or heard everything there was on the Rapture, about a week ago I heard a new teaching on the radio that has inspired me to do a short study on the Old Testament scriptures which were covered, which foreshadow the upcoming Rapture of the Church. Check back here for more in the days ahead…
After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence.
…Be ready in the morning, and then come up…
“…forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance.”
The LORD said to Moses: “Make two trumpets of hammered silver, and use them for calling the community together and for having the camps set out.
“At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.
1 Thess 4:14-18
We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.
When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.
And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets.
But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.
1 Corinthians 15:51-52
Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed– in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
The First Trump of God deals with Israel and the Law (Ex 19). The Last Trump of God deals with Grace and the Church being gathered up to heaven.
Aug / Sept / Oct 2003 Update:
October 4, 2003
In light of the recent blackout in the United States its interesting that the entire country of Italy experienced their worst blackout since World War II on September 28th. Whats even more interesting is that the Italian blackout happened on the Sunday that the Pope announced a new set of cardinals. Speaking of popes and cardinals, a new movie called ‘Luther‘ starring Joseph Fiennes, which chronicles the beginning of the Protestant Reformation by Martin Luther has just been released and it’s a ‘must see’. I had mediocre expectations of this movie and was gratefully surprised at what a gem it turned out to be. Even Catholics should see this movie, ( especially Catholics ).
August 18, 2003
BLACKOUT… a time when people can’t see the Light.
4 days later after the largest blackout in history and we still don’t know the exact cause. Al Qaeda is claiming responsibility, but that doesn’t mean anything since lying and deception are such an instrinsic part of their culture. Millions of people were affected; some were simply inconvenienced while others suffered greatly. People were trapped in elevators for hours, each grocery store probably had to trash in excess of $ 1 million in perishable food, people slept in the streets because they couldn’t get home or were evicted from the hotels they had been staying in. Thankfully looting wasn’t a big problem, despite the summer heat. In the Book of Exodus one of Lord’s judgements against Egypt was darkness that covered the land.
So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days.
Could this be seen as a warning? I think it can. Here are some of America’s greatest cities, New York City, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Detroit, but they’re so dependent on electricity which is delivered on an unreliable system that is out of their control. The day is coming soon when darkness will cover the land again:
I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth…
The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom was plunged into darkness.
Men gnawed their tongues in agony and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.
However, those who acknowledge the name of the Lord will be kept from harm…read this psalm:
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD , “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.
If you make the Most High your dwelling- even the LORD , who is my refuge- then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
“Because he loves me,” says the LORD , “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.”
It seems true that interest in the 2nd Coming of Christ has waned in these recent months, despite record breaking temperatures, the largest blackout ever, the ordination of homosexual priests, and the push for Israel to give up their land. The appointed time only draws nearer.
So the war has begun. As of this moment it is still unclear whether or not Saddam Hussein was injured or killed during the initial attack. Despite almost a dozen American casualties it seems that this war has been too easy so far, which is rather disconcerting. In the end if we were to lose only 5% of our combat troops that would amount to 2,000 lives. Hardly insignifcant. God loves each of them. Here at home and all across the world in major cities people are protesting against the war, againt the Bush administration and against everything that America stands for.
‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing’
– Edmund Burke
Many of these people whose stale motto is “Give Peace a Chance” have no idea that the promoters of the largest organized protests are actually funded by enemies of the United States…they either don’t know or they don’t care. The World Worker’s Party, a communist organization, has been on of the largest sponsors of the catchy “Not in My Name” protests. Clearly there is something going on here thats on more of a spiritual level. I’m sure the battle is raging in the heavenlies. Many people are wondering if Armageddon is about to happen. Nobody can really say just yet, but it is going to happen, thats as sure as the Second Coming of Christ and the Rapture of His church before the Second Coming. It doesn’t take much of an imagination to see the equivalent of a World War starting soon when you consider the complexities of having to deal with Turkey, Iran, Russia, North Korea and China all at the same time. There will be wars and rumors of wars…
1 Peter 3:12-15
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.
Are you ready? If Christ were to return tonight while you are in your bed, would you be ready?
These are only a few exceprts from the Congressional Record by:
HON. A. S. HERLONG, JR. OF FLORIDA
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Thursday, January 10, 1963
- Develop the illusion that total disarmament [by] the United States would be a demonstration of moral strength.
- Use technical decisions of the courts to weaken basic American institutions by claiming their activities violate civil rights.
- Get control of the schools. Use them as transmission belts for socialism and current Communist propaganda. Soften the curriculum. Get control of teachers’ associations. Put the party line in textbooks.
- Infiltrate the press. Get control of book-review assignments, editorial writing, policymaking positions.
- Use student riots to foment public protests against programs or organizations which are under Communist attack.
- Gain control of key positions in radio, TV, and motion pictures.
- Eliminate all laws governing obscenity by calling them “censorship” and a violation of free speech and free press.
- Break down cultural standards of morality by promoting pornography and obscenity in books, magazines, motion pictures, radio, and TV.
- Present homosexuality, degeneracy and promiscuity as “normal, natural, healthy.”
- Infiltrate the churches and replace revealed religion with “social” religion. Discredit the Bible and emphasize the need for intellectual maturity which does not need a “religious crutch.”
- Eliminate prayer or any phase of religious expression in the schools on the ground that it violates the principle of “separation of church and state.”
- Discredit the family as an institution. Encourage promiscuity and easy divorce.
- Internationalize the Panama Canal.
Q: I am a pretribulationist believer, so could you please explain and tell me what John 6:38-54 means when it says that He (Jesus) would raise us at the last day? I'm confused.
A: I was a little stumped on this one too. So I called Chuck Smith & Chuck Missler on KWVE national radio live today and got your answer on the air.
Chuck & Chuck basically said "be careful to not let just 1 scripture throw you off from your belief in a PreTribulaton Rapture. Anyone who reads the Bible with a literal interpretation in mind can only come to the conclusion that the timing of the Rapture is before the Tribulation. The Last Day referred to in John 6:39 is the Last Day of an Era, not the Last Day of the Tribulation."
Now that I think about it, its more clear to me why Chuck & Chuck's answer is correct. The end of the era that is referred to is the Church Era! This era that we're in right now, what is often referred to as the 'Parentheses' in the Prophetic Timeline when discussing the 70 Weeks of Daniel (the 70th Week hasn't happened yet, its the 7 years of the Tribulation). Its also interesting to note that the word in Greek for 'Last Day' in this passage is eschatos, where we get the word Eschatology which is the study of the End Times of course.
What do you watch for, when you are watching the news? Signs that interest rates might be climbing, maybe it's time to refinance. Signs of global warming, maybe forget that new SUV. Signs of new terrorist activity, maybe think twice about that flight to Chicago.
Or signs that the world may be coming to an end, and the last battle between good and evil is about to unfold?
For evangelical Christians with an interest in prophecy, the headlines always come with asterisks pointing to scriptural footnotes. That is how Todd Strandberg reads his paper. By day, he is fixing planes at Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Neb. But in his off-hours, he's the webmaster at raptureready.com and the inventor of the Rapture Index, which he calls a "Dow Jones Industrial Average of End Time activity." Instead of stocks, it tracks prophecies: earthquakes, floods, plagues, crime, false prophets and economic measurements like unemployment that add to instability and civil unrest, thereby easing the way for the Antichrist. In other words, how close are we to the end of the world? The index hit an all-time high of 182 on Sept. 24, as the bandwidth nearly melted under the weight of 8 million visitors: any reading over 145, Strandberg says, means "Fasten your seat belt."
It's not the end of the world, our mothers always told us. This was helpful for putting spilled milk in perspective, but it was also our introduction to a basic human reference point. We seem to be born with an instinct that the end is out there somewhere. We have a cultural impulse to imagine it—and keep it at bay. Just as all cultures have their creation stories, so too they have their visions of the end, from the Bible to the Mayan millennial stories. Usually the fables dwell in the back of the mind, or not at all, since we go about our lives conditioned to think that however bad things get, it's not you know what. But there are times in human history when instinct, faith, myth and current events work together to create a perfect storm of preoccupation. Visions of an end point lodge in people's minds in many forms, ranging from entertainment to superstitious fascination to earnest belief. Now seems to be one of those times.
The experience of last fall—the terrorist attacks, the anthrax deaths—not only deepened the interest among Christians fluent in the language of Armageddon and Apocalypse. It broadened it as well, to an audience that had never paid much attention to the predictions of the doomsday prophet Nostradamus, or been worried about an epic battle that marks the end of time, or for that matter, read the Book of Revelation. Since Sept. 11, people from cooler corners of Christianity have begun asking questions about what the Bible has to say about how the world ends, and preachers have answered their questions with sermons they could not have imagined giving a year ago. And even among more secular Americans, there were some who were primed to see an omen in the smoke of the flaming towers—though it had more to do with their beach reading than with their Bible studies.
That is because among the best-selling fiction books of our times—right up there with Tom Clancy and Stephen King—is a series about the End Times, written by Tim F. LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, based on the Book of Revelation. That part of the Bible has always held its mysteries, but for millions of people the code was broken in 1995, when LaHaye and Jenkins published Left Behind: A Novel of the Earth's Last Days. People who haven't read the book and its sequels often haven't even heard of them, yet their success provides new evidence that interest in the End Times is no fringe phenomenon. Only about half of Left Behind readers are Evangelicals, which suggests there is a broader audience of people who are having this conversation.
A TIME/CNN poll finds that more than one-third of Americans say they are paying more attention now to how the news might relate to the end of the world, and have talked about what the Bible has to say on the subject. Fully 59% say they believe the events in Revelation are going to come true, and nearly one-quarter think the Bible predicted the Sept. 11 attack.
Some of that interest is fueled by faith, some by fear, some by imagination, but all three are fed by the Left Behind series. The books offer readers a vivid, violent and utterly detailed description of just what happens to those who are left behind on earth to fight the Antichrist after Jesus raptures, or lifts, the faithful up to heaven. At the start of Book 1, on a 747 bound for Heathrow from Chicago, the flight attendants suddenly find about half the seats empty, except for the clothes and wedding rings and dental fillings of the believers who have suddenly been swept up to heaven. Down on the ground, cars are crashing, husbands are waking up to find only a nightgown in bed next to them, and all children under 12 have disappeared as well. The next nine books chronicle the tribulations suffered by those left behind and their struggle to be saved.
The series has sold some 32 million copies—50 million if you count the graphic novels and children's versions—and sales jumped 60% after Sept. 11. Book 9, published in October, was the best-selling novel of 2001. Evangelical pastors promote the books as devotional reading; mainline pastors read them to find out what their congregations are thinking, as do politicians and scholars and people whose job it is to know what fears and hopes are settling in the back of people's minds in a time of deep uncertainty.
Now the 10th book, The Remnant, is arriving in stores, a breathtaking 2.75 million hard-cover copies, and its impact may be felt far beyond the book clubs and Bible classes. To some evangelical readers, the Left Behind books provide more than a spiritual guide: they are a political agenda. When they read in the papers about the growing threats to Israel, they are not only concerned for a fellow democratic ally in the war against terror; they are also worried about God's chosen people and the fate of the land where events must unfold in a specific way for Jesus to return. That combination helps explain why some Christian leaders have not only bonded with Jews this winter as rarely before but have also pressed their case in the Bush White House as if their salvation depended on it.
Walter Russell mead is sitting in his office at the Council on Foreign Relations in midtown Manhattan on a soft June afternoon, at work on a book that was born last September. He published an acclaimed history of U.S. foreign policy last year and was working on a study about building a global middle class. But he has put that aside. Piled around him now are the Koran, a Bible, books on technology and a stack of Left Behind books. When Mead predicts that our century will be remembered as the Age of Apocalypse, he does not mean to suggest that the world will soon end in a fiery holocaust. "The word apocalypse," he observes, "comes from a Greek word that literally means 'lifting of the veil.' In an apocalyptic age, people feel that the veil of normal, secular reality is lifting, and we can see behind the scenes, see where God and the devil, good and evil are fighting to control the future." To the extent that more people in the U.S. and around the world believe history is accelerating, that ancient prophecies are being fulfilled in real time, "it changes the way people feel about their circumstances, and the way they act. The grays are beginning to leak out of the way people view the world, and they're seeing things in more black-and-white terms."
At the religious extremes within Islam, that means we see more suicide bombers: if God's judgment is just around the corner, martyrdom has a special appeal. The more they cast their cause as a fight against the Great Satan, the more they reinforce the belief in some U.S. quarters that the war on terror is not one that can ever end with a treaty or communique, only total victory or defeat. Extremists on each side look to contemporary events as validation of their sacred texts; each uses the others to define its view of the divine scheme.
In such a time of uncertainty, it's a natural human instinct to look for some good purpose in the shadows of even the scariest events—and for some readers the theology of the Left Behind books provides it. Some stumbled on the series by accident, and were hooked. Deborah Vargas, 46, of San Francisco bought her first Left Behind book in January at a Target, looking for a good read. She got much more than she had bargained for, especially after Sept. 11. "It was almost a message right out of the Bible," she says. "Something within me started to change, and I started to question myself. What was I waiting for? A sign?" Since then, she says, her life has been transformed, and she is now a regular in the Left Behind chat rooms. "I want to talk about it all the time."
Talk to the people who were already inclined to read omens in the headlines, and you hear their excitement, even eagerness to see what happens next. "We sense we are very close to something apocalyptic, but that something positive will come out of it," says Doron Schneider, an Evangelical based in Jerusalem. "It's like a woman having labor pains. A woman can feel this pain reaching its height when the child is born—and then doesn't feel the pain anymore, only the joy of the happy event." Even the horror of Sept. 11 was experienced differently by people primed to see God's hand in all things. Strandberg admits that he was "joyful" that the attacks could be a sign that the End Times were at hand. "A lot of prophetic commentators have what I consider a phony sadness over certain events," he says. "In their hearts they know it means them getting closer to their ultimate desire."
People who were strangers to prophecy don't always find as much comfort there. When Dave Cheadle, a Denver lay pastor at an inner-city ministry, sent out an Internet letter after 9/11 suggesting that Revelation was the relevant text for understanding what was happening, he got a huge—and frightened—response: "People were asking themselves whether they were ready to die. Very sane, well-educated people have gone back to the storm-cellar thing to make sure they have water and freeze-dried stuff in their basements." Some had trouble reconciling their warm image of a merciful God with the chilling warnings they were reading. "They're asking people to believe that we have a God who simply can't wait to zap the Christian flight crew out of jets so they crash?" asks Paul Maier, a professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University and an author of Christian fiction, who finds in the Left Behind books a deity he does not recognize. "You can't believe in a God who would do this kind of thing."
Others, already believers, have come away from this past winter feeling a need to change tactics, change jobs, find a new way to get the urgent message across. Rick Scarborough, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Pearland, Texas, a Houston suburb, resigned his pulpit this month to put all his energy into recruiting Christians to become politically involved. "I am mobilizing Christians and getting more Christians to vote. I am preparing a beachhead of righteousness," he says. Meanwhile Wyoming state senator Carroll Miller, a popular legislator from Big Horn County, announced his retirement from politics in part so that he could spend more time speaking at churches and men's clubs, helping people come to grips with the prospect of the Second Coming. "It's very important that we as a Christian nation know what the Scriptures have said about these days," he says. "I'm putting forth my personal effort for my own sake as well as for my family and friends."
Miller knows people who have prepared Bibles with the relevant passages indexed about what will occur during the Tribulation, so that their left-behind friends and relatives will know to prepare for the earthquakes and locusts and scorpions: when "the sun became as black as sackcloth and the moon became as blood." After a while, sightings of the Antichrist come naturally: when U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan tells the World Economic Forum that globalization is the best hope to solve the world's problems, when the forum floats the idea of a "united nations of major religions," when privacy is sacrificed to security, the headlines are listed on the prophecy websites as signs that the Antichrist is busy about his business. "He's probably a good-looking man," says Kelly Sellers, who runs a decorative-stone business in Minneapolis, Minn. "I'm sure he's in politics right now and probably in the public eye a little bit." Sellers has read every Left Behind book and is waiting for the next one—"anxiously." "It helped me to look at the news that's going on about Israel and Palestine," which, he believes, "is just ushering in the End Times, and it's exciting for me."
His sister-in-law Jodie thinks technology is a key to hastening the End Times. "'When Christ returns, every eye shall see Him,'" she quotes from Revelation. Thanks to CNN and the Internet, "we're getting to a place where every eye could actually behold such an event." The books were enough to persuade Sandra Keathley, a Boeing employee in Wichita, Kans., not to buy Microsoft's Windows XP, because she has heard rumors that it carries a method of tracking e-mail. (In fact, the software had an instant-messaging bug that was later fixed.) If the Antichrist were to come, she fears, "and you want to contact another Christian, they could see that, trace it."
The growing audience for apocalyterature extends even into mainline Protestantism, a tradition that has spent little time on fire and brimstone. "I would go for years without anyone asking about the End Times," says Thomas Tewell, senior minister of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in midtown Manhattan—hardly a hothouse of apocalyptic fervor. "But since Sept. 11, hard-core, crusty, cynical New York lawyers and stockbrokers who are not moved by anything are saying, 'Is the world going to end?', 'Are all the events of the Bible coming true?' They want to get right with God. I've never seen anything like it in my 30 years in ministry."
There has never really been a common religious experience in America, and that is as true as ever now: some ministers report that these days when they announce they will be preaching on the Apocalypse, attendance jumps at least 20%. But elsewhere church attendance is back down to where it was before Sept. 11, and those pastors see little sign of existential dread. Pastor Ted Haggard, who started a church in his Colorado Springs, Colo., basement that now has 9,000 members, attributes the surge in End Times interest to the Christian media empire as much as anything else: "Because of the theology of our church, I don't think we're close to a Second Coming," he says. "But many of the major Christian media outlets believe that there is fulfillment, and people respond to that. People love gloom and doom. People love pending judgment. No. 1, they long to see Jesus, and No. 2, they look for the justice that Jesus will bring to the earth in his Second Coming."
Go into a seminary library, and it's hard to find scholarly books on apocalyptic theology; academics tend to treat this tradition as sociology. They see End Times interest rising and falling on waves of cataclysm and calm. Masses of people became convinced the end was nigh when Rome was sacked in 410, when the Black Death wiped out one-third of the population of 14th century Europe, when the tectonic shudders of the Lisbon earthquake in 1755 caused church bells to ring as far away as England, and certainly after 1945, when for the first time human beings harnessed the power to bring about their total destruction, not an act of God, but an act of mankind.
America, a country born with a sense that divine providence was paying close attention from the start, has always had a weakness for prophecy. With its deep religious history but no established church, this country welcomes religious free-lancers and entrepreneurs. Both the visionaries and the con artists have access to the altar. It took the shocking events of the last mid-century to draw apocalyptic thinking off the Fundamentalist margins and into the mainstream. The rise of Hitler, a wicked man who wanted to murder the Jews, read like a Bible story; his utter destruction, and the subsequent return of the Jews to Israel after 2,000 years and the capture of Jerusalem's Old City by the Israelis in 1967, were taken by devout Christians and Jews alike as evidence of God's handiwork. Israel once again controlled the Temple Mount, a site so holy to Islam and Christianity as well as Judaism that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's simple act of visiting the mount was sufficient to ignite the current Palestinian uprising. The Temple Mount is the location of al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam, and is also the very place where Christians and Jews believe a new temple must one day be rebuilt before the Messiah can come. An Australian Evangelical once set fire to the mosque to clear the way, and to this day security remains exceptionally tight for fear that those who take Scripture literally might not just believe in what the prophets promised, but might also try to help it along.
But it took something more, a pre-eminent theological entrepreneur, to bring a wider American audience to the apocalyptic tradition. Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth, published in 1970, became the best-selling nonfiction book of its decade; Time called Lindsey "the Jeremiah of our generation" for his detailed argument that the end was approaching. "That's the first book I ever read about last days, and it changed my life," says George Morrison, pastor of Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada, Colo., where average Sunday-morning attendance is 4,000. "All of a sudden, I was made aware that wow, there's an order to this thing." Lindsey's explanation of the Bible's warnings came just as a backlash was stirring against '60s liberalism, an echo of the 18th century reaction to the Enlightenment. Lindsey caught the moment that launched a decade of evangelical resurgence, when for the first time in generations believers organized to put their stamp on this world, rather than the next.
The election of Ronald Reagan brought "Christian Zionism" deeper into the White House: Lindsey served as a consultant on Middle East affairs to the Pentagon and the Israeli government. Interior Secretary James Watt, a Pentecostalist, in discussing environmental concerns, observed, "I don't know how many future generations we can count on until the Lord returns." Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger affirmed, "I have read the Book of Revelation, and, yes, I believe the world is going to end—by an act of God, I hope—but every day I think time is running out." It was no accident that Reagan made his "evil empire" speech at a meeting of the National Association of Evangelicals.
It never seemed to hurt that Lindsey's predictions passed their "sell by" date: during the Gulf War, sales of his book jumped 83%, as people feared Saddam Hussein was rebuilding Babylon and dragging the world to its last battle. Nowadays Lindsey sees his early warnings being vindicated almost daily. "The Muslim terrorists are going to strike the U.S. again and strike us hard so that we cease to be one of the world's great powers," he says. "It's not far off." When he wrote his best seller, he says, not many people took prophecy seriously. "I was called a false prophet for saying there'd be a United States of Europe back in 1970, but there is one now. People have watched this scenario continue to come together, and that's why so many people today are believing we are in the midst of last days."
Actually, the more Evangelicals became involved in politics, the more they engaged with the world here and now, the more interest in End Times theology drifted back into the realm of entertainment. And many argued that was a healthy sign. Not all Evangelicals embrace End Times theology, and some see in it a dangerous distraction. Jesus said that when it comes to the time of judgment, "no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, but My Father only." In that light, if Christians are called to put their faith in Christ, whatever trials they face, then it undermines that trust to try to read the signs, unlock the code, focus on what can't be known rather than on what must be done: heal the sick, tend the poor, spread the Gospel.
It is one thing to become politically active to deploy that Gospel to improve people's lives, another to try to promote a specific religious scenario. Intercessors for America, a 30-year-old prayer ministry, helps keep people politically connected through e-mail alerts and telephone-prayer chains. The June 11 Prayer Alert implored, "Lord, raise up government leaders in Israel, the United States (and worldwide) who will not seek to 'divide the land,' and who would recognize the unique significance of Jerusalem in God's end-time purposes." A refusal to consider Israel's withdrawal from any occupied territory would tend to complicate the peace process: virtually every proposal has involved a land-for-peace swap. Yet at the same time, "if this wave of terrorism continues without a meaningful peace treaty soon," predicts John Hagee, pastor of the 17,000-member Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, "the sparks of war will produce a third world war. And that will be the coming of the End Times. That will be the end of the world as we know it."
To the true believers, that seems less a threat than the fulfillment of a promise. "If we keep our eyes on Israel, we will know about the return of Christ," says Oleeta Herrmann, 77, of Xenia, Ohio. "Everything that is happening—wars, rumors of war—in the Middle East is happening according to Scripture." Herrmann is a member of the End-Time Handmaidens and Servants, a group of global missionaries who preach the Gospel with an emphasis on End Times teachings. Sept. 11 is proof of her belief that the Second Coming of Christ is "closer than it ever has been," Herrmann says.
And therein lies the central paradox in this wave of End Times interest. If you believe the end is near, is the reaction hope, or dread? "Even though the Left Behind series has been popular, many people still think of the End Times as negative," wrote Kyle Watson on his prophecy news website, AtlantaChristianWeekly.com. He thinks believers should be excited about the end of the world. "Try viewing prophecy and current events [as] how much closer we are to being with Christ in heaven."
That impulse to hope for a good ending is one Cal Thomas, the conservative columnist, sees even in the disciples' questions for Jesus. He cites Bible passages in which the Apostles press Jesus for clues about how the future unfolds. "This is intellectual comfort food, the whole Left Behind phenomenon, because it says to people, in a popularized way, it's all going to pan out in the end," he says. "It assures them, in the midst of a general cultural breakdown and a time of growing danger, that God is going to redeem the time." Evangelicals who had felt somehow left behind in secular terms, by a coarse culture and a fear of general moral decay, welcome arguments that even the most tragic events may be evidence of God's larger plan. In fact, you don't have to be religious to be hoping for that as well.
—With reporting by Amanda Bower/New York, Rita Healy/ Denver, Marc Hequet/St. Paul, Tom Morton/ Casper, Adam Pitluk/San Antonio, Matt Rees/ Jerusalem, Jeffrey Ressner/Los Angeles, Melissa Sattley/Austin and Daniel Terdiman/San Francisco
The question of when the Rapture takes place is one of the most divisive and controversial subjects of Christian debate today. The tone of this debate has gradually deteriorated to the base level of insults and character assassination. Proponents of both sides are accusing the other of heresy. Sadly, this is what it has come to.
After much reading and studying I have decided for myself that the greatest likelihood is that the Rapture will occur before the 7 year Tribulation spoken of in the Book of Revelation. I have to insist that you give careful consideration to arguments from both sides before drawing any of your own conclusions.
Regardless of who is right we should agree that Jesus is righteous and that salvation can only come through acceptance of the final atoning sacrifice of Jesus dying on the cross for our sins. Our salvation is not at all tied to when the Rapture will occur. If we all lived our lives as if the Rapture could happen at any moment then the world would be a better place and we wouldn’t have this debate.
The content of this web site is both original and borrowed. Although much of the content is original I prefer to not take any authorship credit since I borrow so much. When it comes to the Gospel whats most important is sharing The Word, rather than who wrote what.
One piece of advice for all is to shy away from the date-setters who preoccupy themselves with trying to determine the ‘day and the hour’ of our Lord’s return. It is clear that we will be witness to many signs in the Last Days that the hour is approaching, but the Bible says “nobody, not even the angels” know what that hour is.
My prayer is that the information shared on this web site will be a blessing to those who need reasurrance that our Blessed Hope is that Jesus Christ is returning for his loved ones very soon.