In literature, the media, and motion pictures, a recurring theme has begun to dominate center stage. It has assumed the proportions of an obsession that overshadows humanity on a global basis. There is now a real and palpable fear that complete global collapse will soon plunge mankind into a stone-age hand-to-mouth existence.
It is the fear of an apocalypse! Its proportions are laid out along the lines of scientific (or pseudo-scientific) observations:
At present, we get anxious daily reports on “solar-terrestrial flux” – the energy flowing between Earth and Sun. Solar flares (CMEs, or coronal magnetic ejections), after centuries of continuous occurrence, are being fearfully studied. They are watched through the eyes of carefully-positioned satellites that stand guard, ready to warn us of high-energy bombardment (virtual space hurricanes). Generated by solar storms, those at the top end of the scale could collapse the world’s electrical power grids … or worse. Once unleashed, we are told, their energy could set in motion a chain of events that might wipe out life on Earth.
And what about the warning cries that atmospheric pollution might raise global temperatures? We are told that melting polar ice caps and a rising sea level could swamp continents and raise the level of the sea, submerging all the major seaports. The global economy would collapse. Blazing hot weather could destroy all agriculture, creating global famine. True or not, some call it the greatest danger faced by humanity.
They say that this “climate change could make the globe so inhospitable that all surviving life would live in a state of constant struggle. This is the long-vaunted internal threat: Man’s greedy exploitation of global resources would turn the “Big Blue Marble” into a brown ball of dust.
In the past, enormous meteorites have collided with our planet, wiping out life on a global scale and leaving hundred-mile craters on Earth’s surface. Today, astronomers keep track (as much as they are able) of similar wandering space rocks. If a big one loomed on a collision course with our planet, the very existence of human life could be threatened. Some come very close to Earth from time to time, perpetuating the fear of imminent doom.
Shifting tectonic plates constantly threaten large population centers with the Earthquake that they call, “the big one.” Millions could die. Even continents might shift. Super-volcanoes, such as the Yellowstone caldera might explode, wiping out entire continents.
Then there is the biblical “pestilence.” Today, man fears a natural global pandemic that might kill millions … or a genetically-modified “superbug,” created in some dark laboratory to reduce the numbers of the enemy, or of mankind in general. Today the Zika virus has us alarmed. Perhaps human genetic experimentation could go awry, causing massive, runaway genetic plagues of half-human monstrosities.
Virtually all scientists are now expressing a fear of artificial intelligence and robotic engineering. Could they develop self-awareness and the desire to control humanity? One famous movie has a computer system called “Skynet” doing just that.
Global war? Economic Collapse? Plagues? Runaway artificial intelligence? Man fears an apocalypse.
Over the past half-century, an astonishing number of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic motion pictures have been fed to an apprehensive public. Looming asteroids, alien invasions, worldwide pandemics (producing the living dead – zombies), ecological disaster, rampaging monsters (perhaps the progeny of genetic manipulation), Solar explosions, atomic wars, rampant overpopulation, technology run amok, perhaps instigated by self-aware cyber-organisms, out-of-control robots, and above all, World War III. The fear of global nuclear holocaust has hung over the heads of mankind since the end of World War II. Its mega-deaths and the Jewish Holocaust set the stage for the State of Israel, as well as the persistent march toward the coming great, final world war that is so often mentioned in Scripture. The Book of Revelation breathes awesome life into the writings of the Old Testament prophets.
REVELATION: THE ORIGIN OF THE APOCALYPSE
All of the above relate to biblical Scripture. The popular use of the word “apocalypse” comes straight from the Bible.
Do you believe that prophecy is being revealed for the latter days? In particular, do you believe that prophecy points to the near fulfillment of end-time events, including the rapture, Great Tribulation and Second Coming of Christ? If the answer to these questions is yes, you are fascinated by apocalypticism. In fact, you are an apocalypticist.
This uncommon noun comes from the Greek apokalupto [apokaluptv], “to reveal.” It consists of two word segments: apo, “away from,” and kalupto, to cover. Very simply, it means “to uncover,” or “reveal.” The same roots form the Greek name for the Bible’s final book: It is called The Apocalypse, from the Greek Apoklupsis [ApokaluyiV], or more simply, The Revelation. Sometimes, this monumental book is called, The Revelation of John, or in longer form, The Revelation of St. John the Divine.
In fact, this is the greatest prophetic unveiling in the Bible. All the threads of prophecy – from Genesis to Jude – come to convergence in twenty-two chapters of Revelation. Its Greek title has become an Anglicized word: Apocalypse. Though not everyone believes in the Bible, virtually the entire world fears a coming apocalypse of some sort.
In fact, this universal anxiety has even produced the term, “post-apocalyptic!” This is an imagined life after the destruction of the world. After the horror of global destruction has come and gone, a ragtag remnant of humanity struggles to exist. Such literary efforts deal with the question of man’s very survival … and of the existence of God.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY
The Apostle Paul uses the same word to send comfort to Christians who, during his lifetime, suffered terrible persecution, the trials and tribulations of life in the Roman Empire:
“And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels” (2 Thessalonians 1:7). Here, the word “revealed” is that same word, apokalupsis. If you love to contemplate His sudden appearance in the heavens, it is more than likely that you have repeatedly studied the Scriptures that give substance to the time and manner of His coming. You yearn for Scriptural revelation. Again, you are an apocalypticist.
On occasion, you have probably had to push back a feeling of guilt, for being so excited about the closeness of the rapture. You dilute your prophetic enthusiasm in polite society, for fear of being called a “prophecy nut.” Worse yet, you find yourself in trouble with other Christians for being too occupied with a “pie in the sky” theology, rather than concerning yourself with charity and evangelism. To no avail, you explain to them that one can be prophetically excited and a good steward at the same time.
Worst of all, you find that as an apocalypticist, you vacillate between absolute certainty and total doubt. You tell yourself that these must certainly be the end times, but you don’t want to lead astray those less convinced than yourself. You think about all those degreed theologians who totally deny the rapture as a legitimate concept.
Understanding Bible prophecy can become a passion, particularly after one has begun to view it as already fulfilled in part. The edifice of Christianity is strengthened by over 300 Old Testament references to the Messiah that were fulfilled in the New Testament by Christ, Jesus. Born of the seed of the woman, a virgin (Isaiah 7:14), He is the Son of God (Matthew 3:17). He is also the son of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah and David (Matthew 1 and Luke 3), who was born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). We could continue in this way, examining each of the hundreds of fulfilled prophecies until several books were filled.
The effect of such study is the conviction that it is only a matter of time until other key elements click into place. Many past dates with destiny stand as markers, convincing us that similar indicators are now poised to drop into place. Modern Israel’s timetable of events strongly motivate us to search for repetitive patterns, many of which extend into the future.
We deeply desire the privilege of being witness to their fulfillment. Our constant temptation is to develop Scriptural connections that will allow us to construct a latticework of likely times for His arrival. We study and observe with great hope. Paul perfectly expressed our position when he wrote:
“Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
We watch for Christ’s appearance, optimistically believing that we’ll be alive to personally witness the actual moment when a cosmic key is turned, allowing a door to open into the new world that will be our eternal home. At that moment, everything will change. Judgment will come.
We shall be called home, and the world will be restructured, restored and reconstituted by the Righteous Judge. Since you are an apocalypticist, the blessed hope is real and revelation is not just the name of a book of the Bible.
PROPHECY: A PRACTICAL PARADOX
Apocalypticists are often the brunt of condescending jokes and cleverly dismissive remarks. You’re no doubt familiar with them. One that you’ve surely heard a dozen times goes like this: “Well, some people say they are Premillenial. Some say they are Postmillennial. Some are Amillennial. I don’t believe any of that stuff. Me … I’m a Panmillenialist. I figure it’s all gonna’ pan out somehow.” His superior snicker tells you that he views a study of the end times as a useless pursuit.
You get that sort of remark from your upstanding, church-attending Christian who just doesn’t want to be bothered by the finer details of God’s plan. And he won’t talk about “religion” or “politics” at the dinner table, either.
He often says, “Nobody can agree on prophecy and everybody who’s ever tried to set a date has been wrong. “ He has been heard to say, “The only folks who don’t argue about Christianity are the heathen.” By that, he means that the heathen are sure of what they believe. In so saying, he has relegated your detailed study of redemptive prophecy to the world of the unsaved and the ignorant.
Apocalypticists are often depicted as slightly daft. There are many reasons for this, but the primary one is that Jesus didn’t return to establish the Kingdom in the first century. Since then, believers have been divided between, “He’s coming back at some future time,” “He’s coming back, but nobody knows when,” “He could come at any moment,” and “He’s coming back soon … really soon.”
After the passing of the Apostles, with increasing Christian persecution and the diaspora of the Jews, the church settled into a waiting mode. Uncertainty about Christ’s return shifted the emphasis toward various forms of obedience to a state church which believed itself to be the agent of Christ’s return. For the most part, the theology of the Holy Roman Empire of the Middle Ages was built around the idea that the geopolitical state church would conquer the world for Christ. Only after the completion of their master developmental plan would He return to take His seat upon their throne.
By contrast, the Apostles had written to their followers from the perspective of Jesus’ imminent return. They never stated that any particular goal had to be met before He could return. To their followers, His coming was of a personal nature, not a political one. It was not directly connected to the fulfillment of any particular prophetic event. In his first epistle to the Thessalonians, Paul wrote:
“For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? (I Thess. 2:19).
Any Christian reading these words in the first century could not be blamed for believing that Paul meant them to be personally included in the coming of Christ for the Church … while they were still alive. Pronouns like “our” and “ye” certainly refer to Paul’s followers in the first century. A little farther along in the epistle, when he describes the rapture of the church, Paul twice uses the pronoun “we,” which could certainly have included those then alive in Macedonia:
”Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (I Thessalonians 4:17).
Of course, Paul had told his followers that the dead in Christ would be the first to experience resurrection. Then, living Christians would be caught up, (raptured). But even as he wrote this, he used the pronoun “we” to refer to the latter group. “We” would be the group then alive.
In his second epistle to the same church, Paul delivers words of comfort to a people living in a pagan Graeco- Roman society. The pronoun “you” would again seem to include the first-century members of this church in the rapture:
“And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels”(II Thessalonians 1:7).
Nor was Paul alone in this direct way of referring to his contemporaries. John wrote about the appearing of Jesus, again using the pronoun, “we,” saying, in effect, that Christians who were then his contemporaries were likely to witness His coming:
“And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming” (I John 2:28).
Such language opens a wide door for scoffers who actually think it is an evil thing to search the Scriptures for reasons to believe that His coming is near. Often, they even quote the Bible to back up their criticism. Most often they use the words of Christ, Himself, as He spoke to the disciples on the Mount of Olives:
“But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only”(Matt. 24:36).
You’ve heard them quote some form of this verse to make the point that if only the Father in heaven knows the time of Christ’s coming, then it’s a worthless waste of time to study prophecy with any hope of understanding the day in which we live.
But among other things, they always fail to make a critical distinction. Namely, that the context of this Scripture is Christ’s Second Coming, which is distinctly different from the rapture. In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus mentions both the “abomination of desolation,” and the “great tribulation,” which dispensational Christians believe will not happen until after the rapture of the Church. We won’t even be around to not know the day and hour.
Furthermore, in this discourse, He is speaking to Israel, not the church, even to the point that He mentions a geographical place name: “Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains” (Matthew 24:16).
The “day and hour” mentioned here is the coming of the Day of the Lord, culminated by the Second Coming of Christ. Before that time, much other Scripture tells us that the rapture will take place. Indirectly, then, the Olivet Discourse tells us that the rapture is imminent, but also that it comes in the context of the Great Tribulation.
Thus, by both time and place, the contemporary apocalypticist is separated from an event that doesn’t concern him anyway. (By the way, the apocalypticist doesn’t attempt to calculate the day and hour of the rapture. But the general time … and the season … yes).
The cold fact that Jesus is not referring to the rapture does not stop the scoffer. He will quickly add that even if you believe in the rapture (which he doesn’t), it’s a signless event. This being the case, why study prophetic Scripture with any hope of discovering significant clues?
The answer to this question goes to the very nature of God.
“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (II Timothy 4:7,8).
Here, near the end of Paul’s life, he reminds Timothy that there is to be a special reward for those who deeply love (and here, the word for “love” is agape) the idea of the Lord’s soon appearance. In other words, living in the constant hope of His return is central to the life of a faithful Christian. Put another way, those who really love the Lord, simply cannot refrain from thinking that He might appear at any moment.
To Paul, this truth lies at the very center of a righteous life. His promise to return is called the “blessed hope” of the church. We yearn for His revealing. The Bible views apocalypticists as righteous, not silly. Even so, the world regards those who long for the return of Jesus as hopeless idealists, at best.
In the last half of the twentieth century, excitement about the approaching rapture of the church rose to fever pitch. Following World War II, and the statehood of Israel, there was the growing conviction that something big had changed. During both World Wars, Postmillennialism had reigned supreme in the leading theological circles.
This is the belief that the institutional church would bring the world into a kind of new golden age, through the teaching of Christ. Postmillennialists believe that the current era is the millennium, though it is not necessarily to be regarded as a literal thousand-year period. After that, Christ will return to accept the Kingdom then already established by the church.
Through the first half of the twentieth century, the great powers of theology were dominant in propagating this belief, producing a formal church, rooted in a belief that its prime function was to perfect society. But in mid-century, a radical change uprooted this belief. Israel became a nation, fulfilling many Old Testament prophecies. One of them was often pointed out as a direct description of Israel’s new statehood:
“Who hath heard such a thing? who hath seen such things? Shall the Earth be made to bring forth in one day? or shall a nation be born at once? for as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children. Shall I bring to the birth, and not cause to bring forth? saith the LORD: shall I cause to bring forth, and shut the womb? saith thy God. Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all ye that love her: rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn for her” (Isaiah 66:8-10).
SINCE THE SIXTIES
Indeed, there was much rejoicing among certain Christian groups at the time of modern Israel’s birth. Surprisingly, however, Israel’s emergence didn’t immediately change the Postmillennial teaching that continued to dominate most church pulpits. This theological development would await a powerful event that took another twenty years.
The signal event to which we refer was in many ways, as important as Israeli statehood, itself. Since 1948, Israel had fought for its existence. Tensions had increased, and in 1956, Egypt had clashed with Israel in the Sinai Penninsula. Israel won a decisive victory, but the U.S. and other Western countries had insisted that Israel withdraw. This was accomplished in 1957, But for the next ten years, Egypt continued to build its war machine. Thus, in the name of peace, Western diplomacy had given Egypt a decade to rearm itself. This situation led directly to the 1967 war.
Egypt finally announced a blockade of the Gulf of Aqaba in June, 1967. On June 5th, the famous Six-Day War began, as Israel attacked Egypt’s airfields, as well as those of Iraq, Syria and Jordan. By June 10th, the war was over, with Israel in control of Judea and Samaria, Gaza, the Golan Heights and Sinai Penninsula.
Israel’s rapid victory was seen as a modern miracle. Out of the war came many stories of angelic appearances and impossible victories. There were dozens of stories that seemed to point to Divine intervention. Suddenly, in the lives of the world’s Christians, Israel’s very existence came to be viewed as a direct result of the Lord’s actions. In retrospect, even Israel’s statehood came to be viewed as a sign that God’s prophetic program was on the move into the final days.
Until that war, Israel was for the most part, seen as miraculous only by the Jews. They believed that their ancient destiny had been fulfilled at long last. Only a few Christians had been awakened to Israel’s role in fulfilled prophecy. Suddenly, the Land blossomed with fruits and flowers. Israeli horticulture was not just prophetic, but profitable.
Amazingly successful books were written, showing that modern Israel was a fulfillment of prophecy.
The Six-Day War vaulted Israel into international prominence. Prophecy was no longer a study of the past, but of the present … and the near future! Prophecy preaching began in earnest, leading first hundreds, then thousands of preachers to proclaim, “Jesus is coming soon!”
For centuries – literally, ever since the days of the Apostles – a tiny remnant of true believers had been saying, “Jesus could come at any moment.” But it’s quite a different thing to say, “Jesus is coming soon!” The word “soon” sets an outer limit on the time of anticipation. Soon means within a few years … a few decades at most. Apocalypticists knew that the clock was ticking.
THE GREAT BALANCE
In the study of eschatology, balance is everything. Eschatology comes from two Greek words, eschatos, meaning “last,” and logos, meaning “word, or discussion.” It is a discussion of last things, in other words, apocalypticism. It is the general discourse upon how and when Christ will be revealed … the “who, what, where, when and why” of His coming.
The proper study of eschatology is vital in the accurate understanding of Scripture as a whole. Christ’s coming touches upon every aspect of theology. The great subjects of sin, redemption, resurrection and judgment must all be understood in terms of prophecy, both in past fulfillment and future discovery. God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the inspiration of the Word, the Virgin Birth, Israel in History and Prophecy must all be fitted within the context of the ages.
Satan, the angels (both good and evil), the Body of Christ, stewardship, reward and service, sanctification, personal tribulation, international tribulation and ultimate glorification are parts of the eschatological picture.
A misunderstanding of prophecy invariably blanks out the perception of His overall plan. Sound doctrine depends upon sound prophetic interpretation. At least a third of Scripture is specifically tuned to people and events that were future at the time of the writing.
Liberal extremists will deny that any Scripture at all is prophetic. In fact, even some sound pastor-teachers will avoid the direct teaching of prophecy. First, they find it too difficult to interpret prophecy. And this is for good reason: prophecy often presents complex and thorny issues. Second, they find that it tends to split their congregations, since prophecy cuts into the heart of worldly belief systems that may have crept into the church.
In the end, there are two common extremes. On one side, there are sensationalists, with special revelations about the date of the rapture, or a new eye-opener proving that the church will go through the first half of the Tribulation. Grandstanding and self-promotion are not unheard of in the world of Bible teaching.
Conversely, there are those who have declared prophecy to be the purview of wild-eyed self-promoters. They react by throwing up their hands and declaring prophecy off-limits.
Neither extreme is correct. Balanced study of prophetic Scripture will include all aspects of systematic theology, from the sin of Satan to the Restoration of the cosmos, and from atonement to glory. Balance is everything. The true apocalypticist knows this.
THE APOCALYPTICIST AS WITNESS
For at least two reasons, a thorough knowledge of eschatology is absolutely necessary for a convincing presentation of the Gospel.
The first has to do with the inspiration of God’s Word. If it can be shown that Bible prophecy is inerrant, it can also be shown that the message of the Gospel is true and reliable.
Earlier, we mentioned that many Old Testament references to the Messiah were fulfilled in the New Testament. The presentation of ancient prophecy that has already seen fulfillment is surely one of the best tools we have for effectively bringing the Word to the unredeemed world. The prophet Isaiah, alone, has brought many to Christ:
“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).
The virgin birth – dating back to the “seed of the woman” prophecy in Genesis 3:15 – can be presented while witnessing for Christ. His miracle birth, death and resurrection set the terms of salvation. To be born again, is to experience the new birth in Christ.
The entire fifty-third chapter of Isaiah is a witness to the One who bore the sins of mankind. The fact that it has been entirely fulfilled is – in and of itself – a phenomenal witness for Christ:
“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:3-6).
In fulfillment of the ancient prophecies, He came to provide redemption for all. Prophecy demonstrates God’s plan in a palpable way. And just as it convinces, it can also convict.
This brings us to the second aspect of eschatology in the presentation of the Gospel. The apocalypticist knows that no other device is quite as capable of sounding a warning to the unsaved and the ungodly. Prophecy, in both Old and New Testaments, is most often concerned with bringing stern warning to the wicked and immoral of the world. Those who have never been introduced to the Bible are often shocked to learn that many global events are being brought to the staging point right now. The world may soon radically change, and for the first time, they will be forced to face themselves.
Currently, there is a perfect example that fits this model. It is the 38th chapter of Ezekiel, in which a massive enemy alliance stages itself for an invasion of Israel. A number of current political analyses, articles and even novels have shown that Ezekiel’s scenario is currently having its final details set on the world stage.
Russia, mired in post-Communist degeneration, is looking for ways to regain her lost power. To the south, an array of sheikhdoms and Islamic dictatorships cry out for someone to bring them out of the continual chaos that plagues them. Meanwhile, Turkey and Europe are rapidly falling into the subtle clutches of radical Islamic jihadists who threaten to dominate their culture.
The apocalypticist has long since recognized that this is precisely the setting for Ezekiel’s prophecy:
“And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, set thy face against Gog, the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him, And say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold I am against thee, O Gog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal: And I will turn thee back, and put hooks into thy jaws, and I will bring thee forth, and all thine army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed with all sorts o armour, even a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords: Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya with them; all of them with shield and helmet: Gomer, and all his bands; the house of Togarmah of the north quarters, and all his bands: and many people with thee. (Ezek. 38:1-6).
Magog (Russia), Persia (Iran), Ethiopia, Libya (Northeast Africa), Togarmah (Turkey) and Gomer (Germany and Eastern Europe), unite to invade Israel. Now, that’s apocalyptic! And it’s a warning to the ungodly that judgment is coming. Even the most secular mind must give pause in the face of the growing evidence that just such a scenario is building at fever pitch. It’s happening … right now!
At the same time, and in the same way, the ungodly can, through prophecy, be made to understand that the God of the Old Testament is Deity. It is no coincidence that these nations have come together since Israel became a nation once again.
The apocalypticist, well grounded in prophecy, can point this out in a powerful way.
Furthermore, Ezekiel’s prophecy tightly links God’s judgment to the outcome of the battle of “Gog, the land of Magog.” The enormous force that comes against Israel will be overthrown, and that action will precipitate the Day of the Lord:
“And it shall come to pass at the same time when Gog shall come against the land of Israel, saith the Lord GOD, that my fury shall come up in my face. For in my jealousy and in the fire of my wrath have I spoken, Surely in that day there shall be a great shaking in the land of Israel; So that the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the heaven, and the beasts of the field, and all creeping things that creep upon the Earth, and all the men that are upon the face of the Earth, shall shake at my presence, and the mountains shall be thrown down, and the steep places shall fall, and every wall shall fall to the ground” (Ezek. 38:18-20).
In these verses, the apocalpyticist naturally sees the apocalypse! Far more than a mere military action, and far more than nuclear weapons, it will be a time of geological upheaval unlike anything ever witnessed by man. Massive shifts in the Earth’s crust will be accompanied by volcanism and meteorological upheavals. Fiery objects will fall from the heavens. Judgment will come upon all those left on Earth after the rapture.
Most interesting of all, “the great and the terrible day of the Lord”(Joel 2:31) will come “at the same time” as the defeat of Gog’s forces. The awesome power of the Lord will be revealed to all men.
Jesus rebuked the Jews of His day for failing to discern “the signs of the times” (Matthew 16:3). Prophetic awareness tells us that life on planet Earth is not going to get better and better. The apocalypticist watches in sadness as “Bible Belts” become casino carnivals, and thinks, “How many casinos did I drive past to get to church today?”
“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come … But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (II Tim. 3:1,13).
CENTURY TWENTY-ONE PARADOX
This brings us to that perennially favorite debate question: “Are we living in the last days?” And here, we come to an interesting paradox. (As an apocalypticist, you will have noticed that prophetic study usually presents you with a paradox.) Christians are used to this: Did the Lord choose you from before the foundation of the world, or did you choose to follow Him? The answer is “yes” to both. But of course, that answer is impossible. Then again, nothing is impossible with God.
But, back to the question about the last days. When the Apostles use the term, they are referring to the closing days of the church age. In the broadest sense, however, they are describing the general deterioration that has characterized the entire church age. To the apocalypticist, the term “last days” holds no clue as to timing or dating. But it does indicate a trend, as when Peter wrote:
“Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the Earth standing out of the water and in the water” (II Pet. 3:3-5).
Clearly, Peter was writing about a time following his own. Today, in retrospect, we know that, through the leading of the Spirit, he was writing about the naturalistic philosophy called uniformitarianism. It declares that for millions of years, the Earth has slowly and uniformly formed itself into the environment we see today. Science now denies that God has any part in the natural world. They scoff at believers who want to describe nature’s intelligent design. Is this proof that we are living near the time of the rapture? No, but it gives you that certain “last days” feeling. And let’s not forget all those preachers, crying out, “Jesus is coming soon!” Don’t bother telling them that we are not at the end of the church age. All that may be said, is that we are – or we are not – living in the last days. A paradox, indeed. But apocalypticists are quite accustomed to living in such slippery environments.
And speaking of paradoxes, perhaps the greatest paradox of all is so obvious that it’s often overlooked. Namely, that we are living in the twenty-first century. At this writing, it has been about 2,022 years since Christ’s birth in 3 B.C. That’s two millennia, plus! We are now well into the third millennium since the coming of the Messiah.
And what it so important about this fact? Prophecy has long suggested that it would be about two thousand years between His first and second comings. And upon this point, we are reminded of a key Old Testament prophecy:
“For I will be unto Ephraim as a lion, and as a young lion to the house of Judah: I, even I, will tear and go away; I will take away, and none shall rescue him. I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early. Come, and let us return unto the LORD: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight. Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the LORD: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the Earth” (Hosea 5:14-6:3).
Here, in one of the most wonderful prophecies of the entire Bible, written in the eighth century B.C., the Lord speaks to Israel and Judah through the prophet Hosea. He says that He will come to both the northern and southern Kingdoms as a rampant lion, then return to His place in heaven. Of course, this prophecy has long since been fulfilled.
Israel has been judged and scattered and repeatedly afflicted. They have earnestly sought Him for nearly two thousand years – represented by the “two days” mentioned in the above portion of Hosea. As of May 14th, 1948, they have been “revived.” They are now a secular state, regathered in unbelief. They have been revived, but not “raised up,” (a term referring to Israel’s spiritual rebirth).
This is prophesied to happen in the “third day.” If millennia are depicted in Scripture as days, we are now living in the third day. We can therefore expect Israel to be spiritually reborn, and very soon. The Bible is most emphatic about this event. It comes at the beginning of the Tribulation period, as shown in the seventh chapter of Revelation (The Apocalypse, for all you apocalypticists), where the 144,000 Jews are sealed and anointed by the Lord.
Repeating for emphasis – as apocalypticists often do – this is the time period in which we now live!
But just how can we say that we are now living in the third day? Well, according to the “millennial-day” theory, the seven days of creation foreshadow the seven millennia of human history, each “day” being a thousand years in length.
The Epistle of Barnabas was, at one point, considered for canonization in the New Testament. The great nineteenth-century scholar, J.B. Lightfoot, published a famous English translation, from which the following selection is taken. In condensed fashion, it presents a belief which is thought to have been common among the disciples of Jesus in the first century:
“Of the Sabbath He speaketh in the beginning of the creation; And God made the works of His hands in six days, and He ended on the seventh day, and rested on it, and He hallowed it. Give heed, children, what this meaneth; He ended in six days. He meaneth this, that in six thousand years the Lord shall bring all things to an end; for the day with Him signifyeth a thousand years; and this He himself beareth me witness, saying; Behold, the day of the Lord shall be as a thousand years. Therefore, children, in six days, that is in six thousand years, everything shall come to an end. And He rested on the seventh day. this He meaneth; when His Son shall come, and shall abolish the time of the Lawless One, and shall judge the ungodly, and shall change the sun and the moon and the stars, then shall he truly rest on the seventh day” (Barnabas 15:3-5).
As an apocalypticist, this comes as no news to you. You have long since acknowledged with some exhilaration we are living at the very beginning of the seventh day since creation … the seventh millennium. This is the day in which Barnabas said the “Lawless One” would be defeated. For this to happen, he must be revealed. It is logical to assert that this event must happen in the near future. Not long ago, the media wondered aloud whether he might be alive today. Then, in a paroxysm of scorn, they tossed the idea into newsroom wastebaskets across the land. You, however, quietly retained your thoughts on the matter, and kept your eyes open.
Speaking of quiet thoughts, the apocalypticist may muse, “Since I’m already living in the seventh millennium, can I still be called a Premillennialist?” Without a doubt, that’s an interesting question.
Apocalypticists will not have missed late developments in the United Nations, where the corrupt meet to redistribute the world’s wealth to their sons and daughters. They also regard the United States as a huge pie, to be cut up and served to the “more deserving,” which will then be governed by their paid lackeys in a system that divides the world into ten zones of control. Hmmm … doesn’t the Bible say something about ten kings, one of whom will rise to power as the man of sin, the antichrist?
And apocalypticists must be watching the breathtaking rise of China as a world trader and manufacturing colossus. A generation ago, the Chinese couldn’t even own property. Now, China boasts dozens of nouveaux riche millionaires, who, in a rampant orgy of conspicuous consumption, say that they will become the world’s most powerful class. The “kings of the east,” are on the march.
And surely, apocalypticists will have noted that the most potent concentration of geopolitical power in the world is now squarely focused on old Persia (the new Iran), Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Arabia. One can almost feel the nuclear heat radiating from the area.
These are but a few examples of why the apocalypse must be very, very near. Allow me to say that it’s no accident that many preachers have risen to proclaim “Jesus is coming soon!” The Spirit of the Lord has moved them to speak these words. And soon…means soon! So, am I an apocalypticist? What do you think?