A prominent London newspaper reported that "a 2002 survey revealed that 59 percent of the [American] population believes the prophecies of the book of Revelation. Seventeen percent believe that the end of the world will happen during their lifetimes." So how close are we to the end?
Millions of dollars have been made from novels and so-called nonfiction books about Armageddon—now a symbolic expression, generally used for the climactic battle to occur just before the end of this age and the second coming of Jesus Christ. Popular author Tim LaHaye has said, "Our generation has more reason to believe that Christ will return than any other" ( The Daily Telegraph , April 1, 2004, also cited in drophead).
His doomsday novels have sold more than 40 million copies. Many mainstream Christians in America have shifted their reading habits to include these books about chaotic world events that climax at Christ's return. (However, LaHaye's books, among others, erroneously portray Christ taking Christians off to heaven in a secret rapture. See our reprint article "Have You Been Misled by the Rapture Theory?"on our Web site at www.ucg.org/reprints for the biblical proof that the theory is wrong.)
Critical articles about these prophetic books, like the one published in The Nation (New York), say, "Obsession with doomsday prophecy increasingly affects U.S. policy in the Middle East" (quoted in This Week , April 17, 2004).
An erroneous approach to fulfilling prophecy
Whether American foreign policy is really affected or not, there are disturbing factors about how some fundamentalist groups approach their role with regard to end-time events in the Mideast. The Independent on Sunday summed up these radical tendencies: "The evangelical view of Israel is terrifyingly simple. Biblical prophecies have started to come true ever since 1948, when the State of Israel was created. The in-gathering of the Jews to the Holy Land is, of course, all part of His [God's] plan to bring on the final battle.
"This is where the forces of Good (the U.S. and Israel) will confront the forces of Evil (the Arabs, Muslims, Europeans and the UN). This battle will lead to the destruction of the earth, at which point Jesus can return to rule for a thousand years. All the Jews have to do in return for the evangelists' support is precipitate the apocalypse by blowing up the Dome of the Rock, building the third temple on the site. And—when Jesus arrives—repent for failing to see that He is the true Messiah" (Supplement, June 20, 2003).
Of course, the above is only one secular reporter's cynical assessment, but it is not all that far from the general approach taken by some TV evangelists. There are elements of biblical truth in this journalist's report as well. Perhaps the primary error is in believing that Christians should play a direct part in influencing the politics or policies of carnal human governments of this world with a view to fulfilling biblical prophecies. That's not what the Bible teaches.
God will see to it that His prophecies are fulfilled. That is His job—not ours! (If you would like to understand the truth about prophecy concerning the Mideast, please request our free brochure The Middle East in Bible Prophecy .)
An increasingly dangerous world
Another Independent on Sunday feature article reported: "Nearly two in three Americans believe Revelation's apocalyptic prophecies to be broadly accurate. Among these, it is understood, is President George Bush" (Supplement, Sept. 7, 2003).
Such beliefs are not entertained without good reason, nor do they emerge from thin air. We live in the kind of world that would naturally foster all kinds of apocalyptic beliefs. These are not normal times.
Professional secular observers of the world scene have spent their adult lives studying and evaluating global political and social trends—and some have come up with some horrifyingly disturbing conclusions. One such observer is author Robert Harvey, a former member of the British House of Commons' Foreign Affairs Committee. He was also an assistant editor for The Economist and is now a leading feature writer for The Daily Telegraph .
At the end of the preface of his latest book, Global Disorder , he wrote: "Unless action is taken as the warm glow of sunset on the Twentieth Century is replaced by the pale dawn light of the Twenty-First, we will gaze towards the same horizon of global horrors as our great-grandfathers, this time through a nuclear haze. The world is a much more dangerous place than it has been for nearly half a century" (2003, p. xxxii, emphasis added throughout).
Regular Daily Telegraph columnist Janet Daley is another intelligent witness to the unfolding events of our anxious times. In the wake of the horrific train bombings in Madrid, she wrote: "Even the Cold War was not this perilous... The serious threat to our lives comes from an entirely new global force... We are now faced with a genuine threat that is almost unfathomable... We are well and truly on dangerous and untrodden ground" (March 24, 2004).
U.S. military rethinking
In facing and effectively dealing with very real terrorist threats, new military options are currently being contemplated. Not the least of these is the creation and possible use of "small" nuclear weapons as antiterror devices. Large-scale weapons capable of reducing entire cities to rubble are not an effective deterrent to terrorist cells. What would be far more practical from a military standpoint are smaller nuclear weapons designed to penetrate deeply underground targets not now reachable by conventional weaponry.
This is only one option being considered by a special task force of the U.S. Defense Science Board. As an editorial in The Wall Street Journal Europe put it: "The idea is to give the [American] President the option of incinerating enemy weapons, leaders and command-and-control systems with as little damage as possible to civilians" (April 13, 2004).
This "Rethinking Armageddon" editorial concluded: "No American President wants to cross the threshold [of using nuclear weapons again]. But if he has to, to protect American lives, surely it's preferable to have the option of using a highly precise, low-yield weapon that strikes a specific target than the Armageddon alternative."
Much worse to come
Mr. Harvey also addresses the question of what war may well be like during the 21st century. "A war based on prolonged global disorder is indeed in prospect. It will be unlike any that has occurred before. It will not be a general global conflict between major powers. Rather it will be one of constant friction between middle-ranking powers, occasionally flaring into open conflict involving huge numbers of casualties, and even possible nuclear exchanges...
"There will be sporadic, murderous terrorist attacks on a potentially huge scale, ethnic and nationalist clashes sometimes leading to genocide; periodic economic crises, social discontent and a growing anticapitalist backlash" (Harvey, p. 11).
Christ Himself predicted "wars and rumors of wars" and that "nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom" in His Olivet Prophecy. Finally, conflict in the Middle East will become so pronounced that the world will enter a supremely perilous period Jesus called the "great tribulation."
A unique time of world troubles
The Bible predicts an utterly unique time of great trouble for the world in the future—greater than what we now witness. Nothing like it has ever happened before. Nothing like it will ever occur again. Several biblical prophecies focus on this specific period.
One of the major Hebrew prophets alludes to this unique time. "Alas! For that day is great, so that none is like it; and it is the time of Jacob's trouble, but he shall be saved out of it" (Jeremiah:30:7). (To understand who the descendants of Jacob are and their role in world history, please request our free brochure The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy .)
The book of Daniel also addresses this unique period in its concluding chapter: "At that time Michael [apparently an archangel] shall stand up, the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people [the sons of Jacob]; and there shall be a time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered" (Daniel:12:1).
Then in the New Testament Jesus Christ enlarges on the scope and meaning of these Hebrew prophecies. "For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake, those days will be shortened" (Matthew:24:21-22). This particular prophecy is repeated in Mark:13:19-20.
Luke's version of the Olivet Prophecy approaches it from a somewhat different angle. "For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written [in the Old Testament] may be fulfilled" (Luke:21:22). Humankind in general has never perceived the meaning and scope of most prophecies in the Hebrew Bible. Nonetheless, at this future time they will be fulfilled, as Jesus Christ clearly said they would.
In the last book of the Bible, once again, Christ refers to this unique period of global troubles. "Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown" (Revelation:3:10-11).
You will notice that these prophecies are usually followed by a promise of deliverance—coinciding with the second coming of Jesus Christ.
The crucial question of when
The New Testament warns us not to be overly concerned about the exact time of ultimate fulfillment of these major biblical prophecies. Jesus said no one, including even the angels in heaven, knew precisely when this age of man would draw to an end or when He would return. He told His disciples that only the Father knows the time.
Naturally Christ's apostles were still more than curious, as we all are today. Even after His resurrection, they persisted in questioning Him about the timing of His return, but His answer had not altered. "It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority" (Acts:1:7). He focused their attention on getting on with the job of spreading the gospel around the world. So should it be today!
Nonetheless, the Olivet Prophecy recorded by Matthew, Mark and Luke contains statements by Christ Himself telling us to watch major world events and to know what is happening globally—while at the same time keeping our spiritual houses in good order.
We will quote just one: "But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life [it's all too easy to let down], and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth.
"Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man" (Luke:21:34-36). God expects His Church to be constantly alert and aware—and to warn others of these impending events. WNP