What Shall We Believe? by Aurelia T. Fule
Aurelia Takacs Fule is a former staff member of the Program Agency of the United Presbyterian Church and later Associate for Faith and Order in the Theology and Worship Ministry Unity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). She is retired and living in Santa Fe, N.M. What Shall We Believe? was copyrighted by Aurelia T. Fule in 1987 and is used by permission. This text was prepared for Religion Online by John C. Purdy.
IV. Time Is Running Out
Small, isolated groups that have predicted and awaited the Second Coming on some chosen date have urgently prepared for it. But a sense of urgency in widespread preaching and writing is a new note. And the idea that we are coming to the close of history being held by people in high places is very new indeed.
Many of us recall James Watt, Secretary of the Interior, speaking before a House Committee, defending his policy of leasing wilderness areas with resultant damage to forests and rivers. Mr. Watt was not troubled by such damage. "I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns."
The Secretary of Defense, Mr. Weinberger, noted, "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 everyday I think that time is running out" (New York Times, Aug. 23, 1982). President Reagan in a telephone conversation with Thomas Dine, Executive Director of the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee, on October 18, 1983, mused about Armageddon, the final battle on earth: ‘...and I find myself wondering if -- if we’re the generation that’s going to see that come about" (quoted in AG. Mojtabai, Blessed Assurance, p. 152).
Dangerous thoughts in dangerously high places.
What makes people think we may be coming to the end? Probably the danger of a possible nuclear holocaust, created especially by the powerful nations that produce nuclear arsenals, combines with the interpretation of this situation by the preachers in our midst.
The signs are spelled out by these interpreters. TV millennialists assure us that we know the end is coming "when we see these things coming to pass." To the disciples’ question, "What shall be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?" (Matt. 24:3), Scofield tells us the answer is in verses 4-33. Then he lists the signs in verses 4-14 which "give the character of the age -- wars, international conflicts, famines, pestilences, false Christs all that has characterized the age gathers into awful intensity at the end...." Commenting on Revelation 20, Scofield enumerates seven signs, some of them specific, that precede the return of Christ in glory and the beginning of the day of the Lord:
1. The sending of Elijah (Mal. 4:5, Rev. 11:3-6)’
2. Cosmical (sic) disturbances (Joel 2:1-2, Matt. 24:29, Acts 2:19-20, Rev.6:12-17);
3. The insensibility of the professing church (I Thess. 5:1-3);
4. The apostasy of the professing church (II Thess. 2:3);
5. The rapture of the true church (I Thess. 4:17);
6. The manifestation of the "man of sin," the Beast (II Thess. 2:1-8);
7. The apocalyptic judgments (Rev. 11-18).
Signs one, five and seven could not be matters of opinion, it seems to me, but something observable by many or all people.
But interpretations -- including the signs -- have changed a great deal since Scofield published his Reference Study Bible. He had set in motion a catch- as-catch-can method of handling Scripture, and with individual creativity a flourishing field of preaching the signs has risen. Let us look at two other sets of signs. On the left I list those advocated by Gordon Lindsay in The Second coming of Christ (Dallas, TX: Christ for the Nations. Inc.. 1980),on the right those of Hal Lindsey in The World’s Final Hour (Grand Rapids,
MI: Daybreak Books, Zondervan, 1970). Each author lists seven signs in his book, though Hal Lindsey comes up with 21 in There’s a New World Coming.
Gordon Lindsay’s list: Hal Lindsey’s list:
1. The sign of preaching the 1. "The most important": the
gospel throughout the world Jews become a nation again
(Matt. 24:14). (Ezek. 36: 16-24).
2. "The sign of the Jew," mean- 2. Jews must possess Jerusalem
ing a new homeland (Luke (Zech. 12—14) "before the
21:24). Messiah can come back."
3. "The sign of the Eleventh 3. "The Jew is to rebuild the
Hour," i.e., World War I end- temple . .. in old Jerusalem.
ed at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11 He has to" (II Thess. 2, Matt.
(1918) 11 months after Allenby 24: 15-16).
4. "The sign of atomic destruc- 4. Enemy from the north attacks
tion" (Man. 24:21-22). We Israel (Ezek. 38:2,3,15-16).
have power to utterly destroy
the human race.
5. Men seeking to reach to the 5. Confederacy of Arabs against
stars (Isa. 14:12-14); "Russia Israel (Dan. 11:40-45), "with
started a race for the moon." chariots and horsemen and
with many ships" (this means
— adds Lindsey — a great
mechanized army with ships).
6. Gifts of the spirit outpoured 6. Great confederacy of Arabs
(Joel 2:29, Acts 2:17-21, Dan. enters (Rev. 16:12-14); China
11:32, Luke 21:28). will send 200 million soldiers!
7. "The sign of Communism," 7. Ancient Rome will be revived
the Beast (Rev. 13:1-2), the (Dan. 7:15-25). The European
beast of scarlet (Rev. 17:3), Economic Community is cast
the dragon (Rev. 12:9,13:2,7). in this role -- a dictator and a
false prophet arise, and all is
prepared for the Tribulation.
Both differ from Scofield. If one is right, the others must be wrong. But, we need to ask, what is the sense of all this? Even if Scofield or Lindsay or Lindsey is right, what can I do about it, what difference would any of the lists make? The locked-in signs make one feel that nothing really matters, nothing would make any difference.
The modern authors have made one significant change: point 2 on the left, and points I, 2 and 3 on the right are all contrary to Scofield’s "time of the Gentiles." So in our day it has become a sign -- necessary before Christ could return -- that the Jewish homeland, Jewish Jerusalem and Jewish Temple be accomplished. One wonders how it is that until there was a state of Israel no "Bible student" knew that its establishment was so eschatologically essential.
Armageddon as yet has only been mentioned in passing, but war has been alluded to. The hill of Megiddo, or Armageddon, and the surrounding plain of Jezreel, was the scene of decisive battles in the history of Israel (II Kings 9:27, II Chron. 35:22). The word Armageddon is used only once in Scriptures (Rev. 16:16), but imaginations run wild lately with battle plans. Ezekiel 38 and Daniel 11:40-45 are interpreted with abandon. Various portions in Revelation are also used to prove the point. You may be interested to read the six verses in Daniel 11:40-45. Hal Lindsey sums up this passage in There’s a New World Coming (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1984). "According to the Hebrew prophet, Daniel, the Russians will sweep down to join the Arabs in an attack on Israel and will then continue right through Israel to Egypt and take it over....They come into the conflict...as allies of the Arabs but end up double-crossing them" (p. 210). I challenge you to find this in Daniel. The question is not whether Lindsey is right or wrong, but whether this is what Old Testament prophecy is. Is this the business God is engaged in?
Armageddon is not always named, but when war is mentioned with reference to Ezekiel 38 or Daniel, it is always Armageddon talk. Three days after the Israeli army began to invade Lebanon, Pat Robertson spoke on his CBN program on June 9, 1982: "I guarantee you by the fall of 1982, that there is going to be judgment on the world, and the ultimate judgment is going to come on the Soviet Union. They are going to be the ones to make military adventures...by the fall undoubtedly something like this (he free-quoted parts of Ezekiel 38) will happen which will fulfill Ezekiel."
"Something like this" did not happen in the fall of 1982. No one reminded Mr. Robertson that he had guaranteed something. By then he was engaged in other predictions.
Jerry Falwell, preaching on Revelation 16:16 (December 2, 1984), said: "There will be one last skirmish and then God will dispose of this cosmos will destroy this -- the heavens and the earth." During the "holocaust of Armageddo...the Antichrist will move into the Middle East and place a statue of himself in the Jewish temple...and demand that the whole world worship him as Go....Millions of devout Jews will be slaughtered (Zech.
13:8)...but a remnant will escape (Zech. 13:9)...God will keep them because the Jews are the Chosen People of God." But millions are to be slaughtered? The whole sermon went on with the dreadful details of the war. The warriors "will doubtless be approaching 400 million in number." Why doubtless? Why so many?
On an earlier tape, "Dr. Jerry Falwell Teaches Bible Prophecy" (Old Time Gospel Hour, 1979), one hears:...Armageddon is a reality, a horrible reality. But thank God, it’s the end of the days" of the Gentiles, for it then sets the stage for the introduction of the king, the Lord Jesus...."
FaIwell gets all this not from the Scriptures, but largely from his own interpretation of events -- in the framework of his belief. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, March 3, 1981, he said: "We believe that Russia, because of her need of oil -- and she’s running out now -- is going to move in on the Middle East, and particularly Israel .... It is at that time when all hell will break out...when I believe there will be some nuclear holocaust on this earth, because it says that blood shall flow in the streets up to the bridle of the horses...." Some nuclear holocaust! Can he believe this and still smile?
Jimmy Swaggart, Falwell’s closest competitor, rejoices in the coming extermination. In a sermon, broadcast September 22, 1985, he shares his gladness: "I believe Armageddon is coming, Armageddon is coming. It is going to be fought in the valley of Megiddo. It is coming. They can sign all the peace treaties they want. They won’t do any good... It is going to get worse...My Lord! I am happy....I don’t care who it (Armageddon) bothers. I don’t care who it troubles . It thrills my soul."
While a presidential candidate, Ronald Reagan said to Jim Bakker of the P.T.L. network: "We may be the generation that sees Armageddon." His interest in fulfillment of prophecies and in Armageddon is documented. That same summer William Safire reported Mr. Reagan’s words when addressing Jewish leaders: "Israelis the only stable democracy we can rely on as a spot where Armageddon could come." It is true that the ancient hill of Megiddo is in modern Israel, but what possible use could a stable democracy be during "some nuclear holocaust"? I wonder whether in Mr. Reagan’s mind Armageddon is not just a place and a battle, but something for which Israel and the U.S. can plan together? Do these people believe what they are saying? How can they go on cheerfully after disposing of millions of people, nay, most of humanity? The answer is, of course, that they have found a way out.
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