The End this Isn’t

Events like last week’s tsunami often spur on premillenial believers who think that things have never been this bad before and that the end is in sight. This is not new. James Moorhead mentions an encounter that Robert Willett had back in World War I:

…he encountered an energetic man who explained that Kaiser Wilhelm was the beast described in the thirteenth chapter of Revelation and that Jesus would appear within months to “rapture” the saints.

As George Marsden points out in Fundamentalism and American Culture, World War I touched off a frenzy of speculation about Germany and “the Huns” being a possible candidate for the Antichrist and his Empire. One can imagine how a world war would lead people to speculate on such matters. And I am sure that this speculation reached another level when Hitler was around. And yet, the end did not come.

This did not stop speculation. The emphasis shifted from shattered Germany to the Red Menace and the Soviet Union which would surely invade Israel and fulfill Ezekiel 38. The bad interpretation of premillenialism said that “this generation” applied to 1948 and Israel (we are now 63 years later, when does a generation end?). Chuck Smith said the end was probably going to be in 1981…or maybe 1986.

After the Cold War ended with no Russian invasion in sight, there was a bit of a lull as some looked to China as the new possible beast from the East. Then we had 9/11 and the premillenial world went crazy over Islam. Surely Islam would usher in the end by invading Israel.

In some ways, premillenialism cannot ever be proven wrong. You can show people all of these past wrong predictions and they will blow it off as men’s opinions. Dates change, the Antichrist changes, new events are constantly discovered within the same old passages, and the end still does not come. But people love to think that our generation is the most important one, and that things like this have never occurred before. Well, they have. Many of the Biblical texts point to AD 70 and the destruction of the old world. No more Temple, no more Law, no more Jews (their religion was ended at the Cross and there is no more Temple worship that wouldn’t be an insult to God). Read this book and learn a thing or two. God’s kingdom will continue to spread from the River to the ends of the earth, like a mustard seed that grows into a great tree.

I Have to Believe it’s Getting Better

David Field provides some heartening evidence in this paper about how the world is improving for the Church:

Evangelical defeatism is a failure of historical perspective. After all, the statistics are out there. It took 1400 years for 1% of the world’s population to become Christians and then another 360 years for that to double to 2%. Another 170 years saw that grow from 2% to 4% and then, between 1960 and 1990 the proportion of the world’s population made up of Bible-believing Christians rose from 4% to 8%. Now, in 2007, one third of the world’s population confesses that Jesus is Lord and 11% of the world’s population are “evangelical” Christians. The evangelical church is growing twice as fast as Islam and three times as fast as the world’s population. South America is turning Protestant faster than Continental Europe did in the sixteenth century. South Koreans reckon that they can evangelize the whole of North Korea within five years once that country opens up. And then there’s the Chinese church consisting of tens of millions of Christians who have learned to pray, who have confidence in Scripture, who know about spiritual warfare, have been schooled in suffering and are qualified to rule. One day in the next century that Church – tens of millions of Christians trained to die – will be released into global mission and our prayers for the fall of Islam will be answered.

Amen! It is good to see evidence of postmillenial optimism. We walk by faith, not by sight.


A Thought on Israel

Since many pre-millenialists have so hitched their wagon to the current state of Israel, if it were defeated and destroyed in a war, what would happen to their faith? Would it be shattered because what they think the Bible says has been overturned? I hope not. I hope the post-millenialism and preterism will get a hearing as the years tick by and The Late Great Planet Earth keeps turning.


Muggeridge says of Christianity:

Pessimism has, indeed, been Christianity’s great strength, and the reason for its survival. The concept of this world as a wilderness, and of human life as short and brutish, fits the circumstances of most people most of the time. The contrary proposition-that earthly life can be satisfying within its own dimensions and on its own terms-leads to such mental strain and confusion as to be scarcely tenable, other than briefly and artificially.

Who in the world is Gog, part II

The somewhat dreadful D.S. Russell discusses Gog and Magog in his book The Method and Message of Jewish Apocalyptic. He ties Ezekiel’s Gog to earlier prophecies of ‘a mysterious foe from the north’, such as Jer 1.14, Zeph 1.7, 14 ff.; 3.8. He also sees Joel’s reference to ‘the northerner’ in Joel 2.20 as possibly this same person. Here is an extended passage from Russell’s book:

     In the LXX of Ezek. 38.2 Magog becomes the name of the people who inhabit the land rathern than the name of the land itself, and this is possibly the interpretation of the text of 39.6. A similar topographical allusion is made in Sib. Or. III.319f. where ‘the land of Gog and Magog’ is set ‘in the midst of the rivers in Ethiopia’; in this passage these names may refer to the Nubians who returned from Egypt with Antiochus when he despoiled the Temple (cf. also III.512ff., 632ff.).

     Elsewhere they more clearly represent the heathen nations who will make their final assault against God’s people as a prelude to the coming of the messianic kingdom. This assault takes different forms and the heathen nations are variously described. The language of Dan. 11.40ff., for example, is reminiscent of Ezekiel’s picture of Gog’s attack on Israel (Ezek. 38.1f.) and of Isaiah’s picture of the Assyrian invasion of his own day (Isa. 8.7f.; 10.5ff.; 31.8f.). There we have a description of an invader from the north who will ‘overthrow and pass through’ with chariots and horsemen and many ships and will meet his end somewhere between the Mediterranean and Mount Zion (11.45). The passage as a whole, from verse 21 onwards, describes the career of Antiochus IV, but towards the end details of his death are given which do not correspond to the facts known about Antiochus. The writer is apparently modifying his account so as to fulfill the old prophecy that God’s great enemy will ‘fall upon the mountains of Israel’ (Ezek. 39.4, cf. Zech. 14.2; Joel 3.2, 12f.; Isa. 14.25).

     This is certainly how the writer of the War of the Sons of Light, etc., interpreted this particular passage in the Book of Daniel. In his description of the final battle between ‘the sons of light’ and ‘the sons of darkness’ he is patently adapting to his own purpose the language of Dan. 11.40ff., and his treatise has not unfittingly been called a midrash on this section of the Book of Daniel. The ‘sons of darkness’ are identified as ‘the Kittim of Assyria’, the reference being apparently to the Roman armies stationed in Syria. Of interest in this connection is the fragmentary commentary on Isa. 10.28-11.4 which interprets Isaiah’s account of an Assyrian invasion in terms of the Kittim. In the great eschatological battle before the coming of the kingdom the Kittim will be slain. The ‘scion of David’ will hold sway over the heathen nations ‘at the end of days’; among those to be vanquished by him is Magog, who is singled out in this document for special mention (Commentary on Isa. 11.1-4).

Russell fails to believe in the actual foretelling of future events as can be seen by his attitude towards scripture and the prophecies of Isaiah. Nevertheless, he summarizes the theme of Gog and Magog in the Jewish Apocrypha well. He concludes by mentioning Gog and Magog in Revelation 20 as two demon kings who are allies of Satan but are consumed by fire from heaven.

Antichrist as a man

Dispensationalists have brought a lot of novelty to the theology of the church in America; talk of “pre-trib rapture” and the like arose in the last 150 years. But one thing that did not come from the dispensational camp is the belief in a literal, physical man termed “the Antichrist”. You don’t have to read much of the Church Fathers to see the man referred to. Take Augustine for example, he writes of 2 Thessalonians 2.1-11 and says:

No one can doubt that he wrote this of Antichrist and of the day of judgment, which he here calls the day of the Lord, nor that he declared that this day should not come unless he first came who is called the apostate—apostate, to wit, from the Lord God. And if this may justly be said of all the ungodly, how much more of him?

Augustine discusses some various conjectures as to who the Antichrist might be and then says:

Thus various then, are the conjectural explanations of the obscure words of the apostle. That which there is no doubt he said is this, that Christ will not come to judge the quick and the dead unless Antichrist, His adversary, first come to seduce those who are dead in soul; although their seduction is a result of God’s secret judgment already passed. (City of God XX.19)

In remarks attributed to Pope Urban at Clermont which called for the First Crusade, he mentions the coming of the Antichrist as a motivation to take Jerusalem:

And you ought, furthermore, to consider with the utmost deliberation, if by your labors, God working through you, it should occur that the Mother of churches should flourish anew to the worship of Christianity, whether, perchance, He may not wish other regions of the East to be restored to the faith against the approaching time of the Antichrist. For it is clear that Antichrist is to do battle not with the Jews, not with the Gentiles; but, according to the etymology of his name, He will attack Christians. And if Antichrist finds there no Christians (just as at present when scarcely any dwell there), no one will be there to oppose him, or whom he may rightly overcome. According to Daniel and Jerome, the interpreter of Daniel, he is to fix his tents on the Mount of Olives; and it is certain, for the apostle teaches it, that he will sit at Jerusalem in the Temple of the Lord, as though he were God. And according to the same prophet, he will first kill three kings of Egypt, Africa, and Ethiopia, without doubt for their Christian faith: This, indeed, could not at all be done unless Christianity was established where now is paganism. If, therefore, you are zealous in the practice of holy battles, in order that, just as you have received the seed of knowledge of God from Jerusalem, you may in the same way restore the borrowed grace, so that through you the Catholic name may be advanced to oppose the perfidy of the Antichrist and the Antichristians then, who can not conjecture that God, who has exceeded the hope of all, will consume, in the abundance of your courage and through you as the spark, such a thicket of paganism as to include within His law Egypt, Africa, and Ethiopia, which have withdrawn from the communion of our belief? And the man of sin, the son of perdition, will find some to oppose him. Behold, the Gospel cries out, ‘Jerusalem shall be trodden down by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.’ ‘Times of the Gentiles’ can be understood in two ways: Either that they have ruled over the Christians at their pleasure, and have gladly frequented the sloughs of all baseness for the satisfaction of their lusts, and in all this have had no obstacle (for they who have everything according to their wish are said to have their time; there is that saying: ‘My time is not yet come, but your time is always ready,’ whence the lustful are wont to say ‘you are having your time’). Or, again, ‘the times of the Gentiles’ are the fulness of time for those Gentiles who shall have entered secretly before Israel shall be saved. These times, most beloved brothers, will now, forsooth, be fulfilled, provided the might of the pagans be repulsed through You, with the cooperation of God. With the end of the world already near, even though the Gentiles fail to be converted t the Lord (since according to the apostle there must be a withdrawal from the faith), it is first necessary, according to their prophecy, that the Christian sway be renewed in those regions either through you, or others, whom it shall please God to send before the coming of Antichrist, so that the head of all evil, who is to occupy there the throne of the kingdom, shall find some support of the faith to fight against him.

And more recently within the Reformed tradition Herman Ridderbos discussed the Antichrist in his Paul, An Outline of His Theology:

The most striking thing of course is that this power inimical to God is concentrated here in the figure of what Paul calls the man of lawlessness…In this striking qualification Paul’s corporate way of thinking unquestionably plays a part. Just as elsewhere he places Adam and Christ over against one another as the first and second “man,” as the great representatives of two different orders of men, so the figure of “the man of lawlessness” is clearly intended as the final, eschatological counterpart of the man Jesus Christ, who was sent by God to overthrow the works of Satan. The traits with which the man of lawlessness is described in 2 Thessalonians 2 provide the clearest evidence that not only the prophecy of Daniel, but the appearance and the glory of the man Jesus Christ himself as well determined the representation of the man of sin. His coming, just as that of Christ, is called a parousia; it is marked by all manner of powers, signs, and wonders, like those of Christ in the past;

This belief is not new, it is attested by the universal church.