Having grown up in the Bible Belt, I have lived around End Times theology and theories all my life. Many a lunch break was spent discussing what would happen during the rapture in middle school and high school. Everyone wanted to be rapture ready because being left behind was unthinkable.
I inherited the mentality from my friends, not my family. And that was before all the Left Behind books became popular. As each voyeuristic episode grew more destructive and violent, more people were hooked, and more people started writing their own versions. (We lived across the street from a semi-popular “left behind” novelist.) Apparently, millions of Americans love the idea of horrible harm coming to those who do not think as they do. A compassionate Jesus? Who needs him if you are waiting for Armageddon?
Waiting for Armageddon, a documentary by Kate Davis, David Heilbroner, and Franco Sacchi, explores the people who believe that Armageddon is around the corner and that Israel will be the site of Christ’s second coming. It begins by stating that more than 50 million Americans believe that the Bible lays out the future of humankind in precise detail. Among these, many believe that Christ will return to lead a final holy war in the land of Israel. The show claims that 20 million Americans believe Jesus will return in their life time. And remember the Pew statistics I quoted the other day? 41% of Americans believe Jesus will return before 2050.
According to many who believe in Biblical prophecy, the world will be destroyed in a chain of miraculous events:
- The Rapture – believers are snatched up by Jesus
- The Tribulation – seven years of war, violence, and destruction for those left behind
- Armageddon – the final epic battle between good and evil
- The Millennium – the return of the believers to a paradise on earth where there no longer is any evil
First comes “The Rapture” which is based on Thessalonians 4:17: “We will be caught up together in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”
The Rapture comes from the Greek word harpazo which means to snatch up or take up. When Christ returns in the clouds, he will snatch up believers with him. This will happen in an instant. Suddenly, the 50 million or more believers will be gone – whisked out of their offices, homes or wherever it is they happen to be. One minute they are here. The next, poof! Gone. They will be snatched out of their cars, leaving them unmanned on the road which will cause accidents. It will completely terrorize those who are left behind.
Second comes “The Tribulation”, based on Matthew 24:21: “Then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world.” Those who chose not to believe in God before “the Rapture” will be left to suffer the seven year tribulation. 75% of the earth will be wiped out. Ecological disasters, meteors hitting the earth, episodes like 9/11 happening every day, 1/3 of the waters will turn to blood. Five to six years into “The Tribulation”, half of the world will be dead. Violence and wars will radically increase. This is the time period when God finishes his judgment and discipline of Israel.
There is a belief that during this time, there will be enough Jews to create a nation. Supposedly, 144,000 Jews will convert and evangelize. The Jews who do not convert, will perish. The temple will be rebuilt. (The land shall not be sold forever: for the land is mine. Leviticus 25:23.) Thousands of Americans who believe in End Times make pilgrimage to Jerusalem every year to visit the Islamic mosque that used to be the temple. This can be problematic because both evangelical Christians and fundamentalist Jews hope for the destruction of the mosque in order that the temple can be built again. Jews because they believe it is their right. American evangelists because it points to Armageddon. In fact, many Americans interviewed in the documentary dream of something absolutely horrible happening to destroy the mosque (like an earthquake or nuclear boms) so the temple can be rebuilt. Very few are interested in peaceful negotiations. It’s no wonder things are so contentious.
American evangelical fundamentalists explain Islam as a world dominating religion. Believers are required to take over the world for Allah. Yet, throughout history, it could be argued that Islam has been far more tolerant of Jews than Christianity. And get real – it’ not as though the fundamentalists love the Jews. They fully expect them to convert or be destroyed by the wrath of God. It would seem that the God of Christianity wants Christians to take over the world for God more than does Allah want the Muslims to take over the world for Islam. It’s a projection – cast the finger out there at “those people”, when the finger should really be pointed at yourself.
But that’s the nature of fundamentalism. You have to have something to point the finger at so that you don’t have to look too closely at yourself. In the 1970s, the “evil ones” were Red China and the Communist Block of Russia. But with the fall of Russia and the end of the cold war, the evangelicals have had to find new “evil ones” so have shifted their focus to Islam. There must be an evil “them” in order to have a righteous “us”. Doesn’t matter who it is.
Apocalyptic literature was never meant as a script for those in power. It was written for those persecuted by those in power. In the hands of the powerful, it is no longer inspirational, but rather a self-fulfilling prophecy of violence and destruction. For example, John Hagee called for a strike on Iran because of what he understands as Biblical prophecy. Yet, no where does the Bible claim that WWIII is part of God’s plan.
Armageddon is the third stage in the chain of events. “Their flesh will rot while they stand on their feet, and their eyes will rot in their sockets.” Zechariah 14:12.
I’d never heard this before, but mysticism is of genuine concern for many evangelicals because they claim it has led to an interpretation of the Bible that isn’t literal. Yet, mysticism has been around a lot longer than has fundamentalism and has always been the common link between world religions. According to Huston Smith, fundamentalism didn’t come into being until the 19th century. Far from creating bridges, fundamentalism creates deep divides by claiming that it’s way is the only way to Truth.
Anyway, the story goes that the Jews will sign a peace treaty with their Arab neighbors that turns out to be false. This treaty allows the antichrist to move into the temple and declare himself God. This will be when the Jews realize he is not the promised Messiah and this will lead to Armageddon, the epic end-time battle.
The Millennium is the fourth stage in the chain of events. “And they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” Revelation 20:4. Christ is going to trash the planet, but he’s going to clean it up for the millennium. No EPA necessary.
All of this would simply be amusing if there weren’t so many powerful political personalities who believe it. These people are organized and are making their way into every part of politics, both local and national. It’s so bad that many evangelicals who don’t share these particular End Times theories are concerned by the power of those who do.