Tag Archives: rapture

Pinning the Tail on the Antichrist

As I moved into my teen years, my personal eschatological views were heavily reinforced by some of my book choices.  One of these books was Charles R. Taylor’s World War III and the Destiny of America.  In the summer of 1985, my grandparents invited me to spend a week with them in Mountain View, California, located just outside San José.  I remember the year quite distinctly: Back to the Future made Michael J. Fox a motion picture superstar, Coca-Cola had just introduced Pepsi New Coke, and Bob Geldof produced the massive Live Aid concert event.  In addition to being treated to such tourist destinations as the Santa Cruz Boardwalk and the Winchester Mystery House, as well as a brief tour of Stanford University (my college of choice at the time), my grandfather and I drove up and down central California’s coastal Highway 1 on his Honda Gold Wing GL1200LTD motorcycle, with its new driver-passenger intercom system.  During the trip we briefly discussed, among other things, certain aspects of my grandfather’s theology, some of which differed from that of my dad’s.  Because my grandparents lived so far away from our Michigan home, my interaction with my grandfather was relatively sparse and I was curious to know what he thought of the End Times.  Vehemently anti-Communist (among other anti- philosophies), he expressed a considerable amount of concern over the imminent establishment of a New World Order and the arrival of the Antichrist.  When we arrived back at my grandparents’ apartment, he pulled Charles Taylor’s book off the shelf and gave it to me.

What I found in this book was, to an impressionable teenager, absolutely fascinating!  Not only did Taylor believe that the New World Order was right around the corner with the establishment of the European Economic Community (EEC) – re-stylized as the European Community (EC) in 1993 – but he had also essentially identified which world leader was the Antichrist!  He backed up his New World Order claim by showing how the EEC – which was, at the time of the book’s 1980 revision, just about to add Greece to its number for an even 10 nations – was a literal fulfillment of a “mashup” of Daniel 7 and Revelation 13.  Both instances of the “ten horns” in Daniel 7:7 and Revelation 13:1 were equated with the first 10 nations admitted into the EEC, with Greece already the tenth nation by the time I read the book.  The eleventh nation, claimed Taylor, was to be “another horn” that “came up among them” to pluck up three of the original 10 by their roots (cf. Daniel 7:8 and Revelation 13:1), supposedly as a prelude to ultimate world domination.  With Portugal and Spain having already applied for membership in the EEC and scheduled for accession into the organization in January 1986, Taylor concluded that the country from which the Antichrist would arise would come from one of those two countries, with Spain being the most likely since it was ruled by a monarch, King Juan Carlos I, who began his reign in late 1975 after the death of dictator Francisco Franco.  For years, I kept my eye on King Juan Carlos and confided my suspicions to friends and family.  I also kept the other eye on those sneaky Russkies that Taylor and Hal Lindsey predicted would fulfill the prophetic role of Gog and Magog (see Ezekiel 38-39) and invade Israel, which served as a precursor to the Great Tribulation.

I also kept my eye on the size of the EEC, wondering (fleetingly, of course) whether I would need to revise my views should the EEC ever increase beyond 11 nations.  Little did I know that revising one’s theories about End Times fulfillment was a noteworthy pastime among prophesy prognosticators like Hal Lindsey and Grant Jeffrey.  Of course, if one read only Taylor’s World War III, and not his earlier (1975) Get All Excited! Jesus Is Coming Soon!, one would never have known that Taylor once predicted that the Rapture would likely take place on 5th or 6th of September 1975.  Not once, however, did I doubt Taylor’s genuineness and apparent command of both Scripture and geopolitics.  Neither was I aware that Lindsey had, in The Late Great Planet Earth, predicted that the Rapture would occur in 1981* and, once 1982 had been ushered in, begun rewriting those damning passages from future publications of his book, which were conveniently retitled as apparent sequels Planet Earth 2000 A.D. (1994) and Planet Earth: The Final Chapter (1999) with nary a mention that Lindsey’s penchant for “newspaper eschatology” was well off the mark.

I don’t really recall any further study into eschatology other than Taylor’s and Hal Lindsey’s books during my high school years.  Much of Revelation still didn’t make much sense to me and I chose to stick with some of those tried and true proof texts that Taylor and Lindsey provided to help make sense of the newspaper headlines.  (I remember using Revelation 13 on a variety of occasions, one of which was during a late night phone call with my girlfriend, hoping to scare her into being saved.)  Besides, I hadn’t had any real exposure to any other eschatological paradigms until I began scanning my dad’s bookshelves for books on the End Times.  Lo and behold, there was a book by the late Dr. John Walvoord titled The Blessed Hope and the Tribulation: A Historical and Biblical Study of Posttribulationalism (1976).  Although Walvoord was a proponent of a pretribulational Rapture, the book did a pretty good job of showing me that there was considerable debate within the Evangelical church over the timing of the Rapture in relation to the Second Coming.  Perhaps this book was the seed that caused me to eventually cast a more critical eye on any and all End Times chronologies, but it would still be some time before that seed took root.  Until then, I would still cling to a pretribulational rapture and eventually fall prey to some potentially spiritually and physically damaging behaviors …

________________

*In The Late Great Planet Earth, Lindsey predicts that Jesus’ Second Coming would occur in 1988, 40 years after Israel’s independence.  Why 1988?  Because, according to Lindsey, Jesus states in Matthew 24:32-34 that His Second Coming is intimately tied with the flowering of the fig tree, an alleged biblical symbol for national Israel, and that the “generation” that sees the flowering of the fig tree (i.e., Israel) would witness the return of the Christ.  Since, according to Lindsey, a “biblical” generation is exactly 40 years long – it’s never been explained to me how this “fact” is calculated! – and Israel’s nationhood was restored in May 1948, then the Second Coming would have to occur in 1988 (1948 + 40 = 1988).  Based on Lindsey’s beliefs in a pretribulational Rapture and 7-year Great Tribulation – yet another eschatological “fact” for which there is no explicit biblical mention – Jesus would have to rapture His Church no later than 1981.

2 Comments

Filed under eschatology, futurism

Eschatological Thieves in the Night

Undergirding my childhood eschatology was Charles Anderson’s now-famous painting, which was commissioned in 1973 by Leon and Ruth Bates of the Bible Believers’ Evangelistic Association. “The Rapture” depicts a glorified Jesus hovering over a city skyline. White-robed Christians are painted in mid-rapture*, which results in empty graves (presumably verified to be empty upon inspection by unsaved family members) and vehicular carnage as Christian drivers and pilots are whisked away to meet their Savior in the sky.  When “other-worldly” images such as these – or, alternatively, bad Christian novels adapted into bad Christian movies staring Kirk Cameron – pervade the Evangelical church, it is quite easy to see why so many Evangelicals retain the premillennial, pretribulational eschatology with which they were first fed.  The visually-striking mind-pictures conjured up by this eschatological paradigm can be extremely powerful, so much so that any competing eschatology is dismissed immediately as unbiblical.

Like the entire creation/evolution debate, eschatology was not heavily stressed in my home.  Perhaps it was because my father was somewhat agnostic at the time as to the timing of the Rapture in relation to the Great Tribulation.  (Later on, in my still-pretrib college years, he surprised me with a paper he wrote for one of his seminary classes that argued for a midtribulational rapture.)  Nevertheless, none of the churches which I attended as a boy did anything to provide me with a more comprehensive understanding of various End Times scenarios.  From Winnetka Bible Church in the Chicago suburbs to Bloomington, Indiana’s Evangelical Community Church to South Church (formerly South Baptist Church) of Lansing, Michigan, never once did I ever encounter a discussion during the weekly sermon or Sunday school class that treated me to an objective look at eschatological systems that competed with their belief in the premillennial return of Jesus.  (I can certainly understand why, for such a study would consume a massive amount of time – time better served protecting flocks against theological paradigms that their spiritual shepherds believe are incorrect and spiritually damaging.)

Aside from various mentions in Sunday school of Jesus’ imminent return at Winnetka Bible Church, my first detailed exposure to eschatological occurred at the age of eight while attending Sunday school in Bloomington.  I remember very distinctly one of my childhood friends giggling uncontrollably while pointing out various mentions of women’s breasts in the Song of Solomon.  What a find!  However, he also pointed out something even more exciting than biblical mammary glands:  a detailed description in Revelation 13 of a seven-headed, ten-horned Satan!  Although I know now that my friend was incorrect in identifying who (or what) was being spoken of in this passage, it was a very formative moment – one that underscores the extreme influence passages removed from their cultural and canonical contexts can have on young, formative minds.  (For that matter, I certainly never forgot where those sacred boobies were located.)

It wasn’t until a year later – after our move to Michigan, and about the time my father piqued my interest in biblical studies by presenting me with Henry Morris’ commentary on Genesis, The Genesis Record – that I was exposed to more systematic approaches to the End Times.  In addition to borrowing a copy of Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth from a friend, Morris’ commentary on Genesis also provided me with a healthy (?) dose of premillennialism in its attempt to intimately tie its young-earth creationist treatment of Genesis with the book of Revelation.  Further immersing me into premillennial eschatology were the occasional viewings at my church of the 1972 film A Thief in the Night and its three sequels: A Distant Thunder (1978), Image of the Beast (1980), and The Prodigal Planet (1983).  Despite the cheesy production standards, the series’ writer, Russell S. Doughten, did a phenomenal job impacting a generation of believers by weaving scattered and unrelated eschatological passages into a horrific, violent narrative that potentially exists just over history’s horizon.  Enhanced by a significant amount of imaginative material designed to fill in the “blanks” that exist in premillennial eschatology – well, those images became seared permanently into my eschatological psyche.  Even today, there is still something inside of me that is allured by such grandiose storytelling.

I have a question for my readers who have rejected and moved beyond premillennial eschatology as I have:  Do you also find yourself strangely attracted to such End Times scenarios despite your intellectual and spiritual aversion to them?

* Rapture is a term derived from the Latin verb rapere, which translates the Koine Greek verb ἁρπάζω (harpazo), which means “to snatch away, to seize hastily.”  First Thessalonians 4:17, the verse that inspired Anderson’s painting, uses the verb form ρπαγησόμεθα (harpagēsometha).

10 Comments

Filed under eschatology, futurism