Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Shoot from the Hip Response

Our home Bible study group is working its way through the book of Revelation.  Someone asked how we are to understand events transpiring in the Middle East right now.  Are we to be concerned that all of the countries in the Middle East and North Africa will become Islamic theocracies and Shiia states as well?  Will all these states join to form a Middle Eastern Arab Shiia super-state which will start Armageddon?

Let’s see… How many countries is it now?  Iran, Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Libya…  I don’t think we have reached seven heads yet or ten horns.

I think biblical prophecy is interesting and there are many things for us to learn from it.  However, I think, for instance, speculation about who or what is the beast and who or what is the Antichrist is rather pointless.  When these people or institutions or states come into being there will be no mistaking them.

I remember back in high school, it must have been 1975, I recall being 10th grade Biology class and expecting the Lord to return.  I don’t recall if it was precisely the Jehovah’s Witness prediction of Armageddon occurring in 1975, but I do recall watching the clock and shrugging my shoulders.[1]  I guess there was no relief from Biology exams.

After the publication of Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth how many evangelical Christians were counting the days till the Rapture (the coming of Christ for the Church prior to the second coming and the Great Tribulation).  As I recall, Lindsey used the founding of the modern state of Israel (May 14, 1948) as his measuring tape to figure out when the Rapture would occur, assuming 40 years as a biblical general. He was thinking of Jesus’ saying in Matthew 24:32-34, and interpreting the “fig tree” as the state of Israel.  So, the Rapture should have been on May 14, 1981 and Christ should have returned on May 14, 1988.[2] I don’t remember where I was then.  It’s possible I was traveling in Macedonia or Bulgaria.  Anyway life has continued now much as before for more than 30 years.

When the European Union was formed, some saw it as the ten headed beast of Revelation.  Lots of speculation, lots of ink was spilt.  The EU now has more heads that ten, even more than ten heads and three horns…

Of course in recent time the “Left Behind” movie and series of books (novels) have made a great impression on people, much as did the movie “A Thief in the Night” in my high school days.  These sorts of fictional representations of events in the book of Revelation require the addition of a lot of imagination to the text of the Bible.  There’s a whole lot speculation added and a lot of interpretation of the biblical text which is driven by one of many different interpretative frameworks

Many Christians want a quick answer to these questions. The answer most would like is: Yes, the Lord is returning next year or next week or tomorrow. Speculating about biblical prophecy can become addictive.  There are many teachers on the web and in print to follow.

I believe that our addiction to prophecy is fueled by our desire to know the future.  Biblical prophecy, however, gives us some broad guidelines about the future, but it’s not a road map or a timetable.  It does give us true information about the future, but it doesn’t satisfy all our “itches”.  It doesn’t always “scratch” where we have a desire to know.

Almost all of us want to know the future. Almost all of us want the security of knowing that our future is certain.  Almost no one wants to live with uncertainty.  Yet our times are uncertain and our ability to predict the future is not great, even given our technological advances.

For me the main message of the book of Revelation is very clear:  Jesus Christ is the victor!  Jesus is the Lord of the Church and of history.   One day he will return for his followers. If you are a Pretribulational Premillenialist,[3] you believe that Christ will come yet another time to set up his kingdom on earth and finally battle and bind Satan and evil and renew the heavens and earth.

The original recipients of the book of Revelation were the seven churches of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey).  They were facing persecution by a bloody Roman emperor. As they would not bow and worship Caesar as a god, they were mercilessly murdered whether in the arena fighting wild beasts or by beheading or crucifixion.  Those who remained needed a message of hope.  The message the Apostle John received was one of hope:  Jesus shall reign over all the earth!  Keep true to your faith, your testimony that Jesus is LORD (God), and you will inherit the crown of Life and have a share in the eternal kingdom of God.

Those of us who live in the West rarely face persecution of the magnitude that these early believers did in that era of the Roman Empire.  For us, persecution for our faith might be something along the lines of being snubbed, being ridiculed and possibly being blackballed from some social organization or terminated from a job (if for instance we espouse creationism while being an elementary or high school teacher).

However, for those present day Christians who live in some Islamic countries and those who live in some Buddhist and Hindu countries persecution even to the point of being murdered is a real likelihood.  The Voice of the Martyrs is an organization dedicated to raising awareness within the Christian Church about those suffering physically, economically and spiritually for their faith in many “closed countries”.  They have a blog ( which documents the suffering of many Christians for their faith.  They also have a website ( which provides much information as well.

Those of us in the West complain of snubs and insults and limitations of our freedom.  We do have a right to be concerned about the infringement of our constitutional rights to freedom of speech, freedom of belief, freedom of worship, freedom of assembly and fair treatment before the law and in the academy.  However, our “suffering” in general pales by comparison with that that believers in northern India or Pakistan suffer, for instance.

Rather than spending loads of time speculating about when exactly Christ will return, we western Christians should support our suffering brothers and sisters with prayer and finances, as well as concrete actions: for instance, mail campaigns to specific government officials. 

I’m not saying that we should ignore biblical prophecy, but in light of what Revelation portrays we should be caring for our brothers and sisters in countries where they suffer persecution.  We can also rest secure in the knowledge that our God is in control of history and Jesus will return and he will conquer.  His Kingdom shall reign over all the earth!

So, should you worry about an Islamic, Shiia super-state that will start Armageddon?  No.  If it happens, we can’t stop it. If it happens, Christ will still be in control.

If you are a Pre-Tribulational Rapturist, you’re leaving anyway. So, don’t worry.

If you’re a Mid-Tribulational Rapturist, hang on tight.  Jesus will come to get you just when it seems the darkest.

If you’re a Post-Tribulational Rapturist, persevere!  The Lord is with you in every difficulty and trial.

If you’re Post-millenial or A-millenial, Jesus will return and conquer.

[1] See this link for info on the JWs’ prediction of Armageddon (and a  whole lot more)

[2] In his critique of Lindsey Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi (Hal Lindsey’s Prophetic Jigsaw Puzzle:
Five Predictions that Failed!
) says it was on page 53 of The Late Great Planet Earth.

[3] You can find out what this is by looking at this Wikipedia link.  It’s a good start.

1 comment:

  1. Shalom Phil,

    Thanks for the thoughtful post. You've motivated me to respond on my (neglected) blog. You'll find yourself referenced!