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Chapter Fifteen: Prophecies of a Second Coming

 

When Jesus died and resurrected in 30 A.D., it became possible to argue, as Schweitzer and others have done, that the Kingdom of God had arrived because Jesus was now in the supernatural form of the promised Messiah. Yet, this experience was unsatisfying to the extent that the expected worldly events did not visibly occur. No one came down upon the clouds from heaven to earth. No perfect order of being under God’s control replaced worldly corruption. In order that Christian belief could continue, a new set of prophecies emerged that were focused upon what has been called Christ’s “Second Coming”. Like those prophecies in the Old Testament which shaped Jesus’ career, these ones, too, are based upon writings in the Bible.

Some of the writings about the Second Coming are found in the Gospels of the New Testament where Jesus himself describes the circumstances of his return. There are also passages in the letters of Paul about the “Rapture” and such things. Additionally, Christians continue to look for guidance from prophecies in the Old Testament, especially Ezekial, Daniel, and Zechariah. Christianity has, however, its own book of prophecy in the concluding work of the New Testament: the Revelation of John.

This is the revelation given by God to Jesus Christ ... He (Jesus) made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who, in telling all that he saw, has borne witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ.” (Revelation 1: 1-3) As Jewish prophecy absorbed the idea of Satan as God’s adversary, Revelation has created an evil counterpart to Jesus in the Anti-Christ.

John, the author of Revelation, is traditionally believed to be the same man as the author of the Gospel of John and perhaps even John the disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. Modern scholars tend to doubt that. In any case, the Book of Revelation was written by a Christian living in exile on the island of Patmos in the Aegean sea. He probably died in the city of Ephesus in present-day Turkey. The Book of Revelation was written around 95 B.C. during persecutions of the Roman emperor Domitian. The Christian community was then under great pressure to renounce faith in Jesus and worship the emperor.

Some argue that Revelation was merely an “exhortatory” work intended to encourage persecuted Christians to persevere in their faith. The time to which it refers may have been the period of the Roman emperor Nero’s reign, between 54 and 68 A.D. Nero set fire to the city of Rome so he could rebuild it on a grander scale. He then blamed Christians for the fire. Many died in the ensuing persecution. John of Patmos may have written Revelation to let Christians see beyond their immediate troubles to a time of redemption when the Roman empire would end and God’s kingdom would begin. The image of Jesus as a lamb encourages non-violent resistance to pressures to worship the emperor.

Many others today believe that the Book of Revelation describes events which have not yet happened. They are still waiting for Jesus, the Messiah, to return to earth in power and glory. A Time-CNN poll taken in 2002 found that 59% of Americans believe that the prophecies in Revelation will come true. If this book of prophecy merely described the situation in Nero’s or Domitian’s Rome, few would still be interested in it. Clearly the appeal of Revelation lies in the belief that John is presenting a vision of events in our own time or in a time shortly to come. The symbolism found in his work comes alive in resemblances to historical events happening before our eyes. The challenge is to see them more clearly.

The Prophecy of Revelation

Revelation is a Christian prophecy drawing upon imagery and themes of the Old Testament prophets. The symbolic identification of beasts with empires or nations is reminiscent of Daniel. The idea of marking people on their foreheads who are to be saved comes from Ezekial. The scenario of a period of great persecution followed by a climactic appearance of the Messiah who will defeat the wicked power of earthly rulers and establish a Kingdom of God is patterned after concepts found in several of the prophets.

The Book of Revelation is describing a process that leads to the appearance of the Messianic kingdom which, in this case, lasts for a thousand years. Then Satan comes back, another battle is fought, and God’s eternal kingdom is established. The imagery of Revelation is often gruesome. Its symbolism of numbers helps to establish connections with persons, kingdoms, or events that can be recognized in history.

This prophecy starts with John’s greeting to seven churches, which are the Christian communities in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. He is sending them Christ’s message which he reads on a scroll. Next, heaven opens up and John sees a throne. One “whose appearance was like the gleam of jasper and cornelian” sits upon this throne, surrounded by twenty-four other thrones and by four beast-like creatures, each with six wings. The One seated on the throne, who is God, has a sealed scroll in his right hand.

A Lamb, who is Jesus, “with the marks of slaughter upon him”, having seven horns and seven eyes, takes the scrolls from the one seated on the throne. He breaks the first seal, and the next, and the next, until all seven scrolls have been unsealed. The first four times, he sees a horse - white, red, black, and sickly pale - symbolic of death and destruction. Breaking the fifth seal, he hears the groans of the righteous who have been persecuted. After the sixth seal is broken, violent earthquakes and disorderly occurrences in heaven can be seen. The day of Christ’s vengeance has come.

At this point, an “angel rising from the east” who carries God’s seal calls a halt to the destruction about to be unleashed by four other angels. He instructs these angels to “set the seal of our God upon the foreheads of his servants”, who come from the tribe of Israel. One-hundred forty-four thousand persons receive this mark on their foreheads, twelve thousand from each of the twelve tribes of Israel. A “vast throng”, robed in white, gathers before the throne of God and before the Lamb, praising God. An elder explains to John: “These are the men who have passed through the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Now is the time for the Lamb to break the seventh seal. There is silence in heaven for the next half hour.

When the seventh seal is broken, seven angels prepare to blow their trumpets. A great natural disaster occurs after each is blown. Heavenly disturbances take place. When the fifth angel blows his trumpet, smoke rises from an abyss and from the smoke comes a plague of locusts which torment (but do not kill) those persons who do not have the mark of God’s seal on their forehead. When the sixth angel blows his trumpet, a voice instructs this angel: “Release the four angels held bound at the great river Euphrates!” The angels who are released proceed to kill one third of humanity through their “squadrons of cavalry”, numbering two hundred million. Even so, there are many men who continue to worship devils and idols.

Now another angel comes down from heaven holding in his hand a little scroll. John is instructed to take that scroll and eat it. The scroll tastes sweet but makes his stomach sour. He is next given a measuring rod and asked to measure the Temple, the altar, and the number of worshippers. The Gentiles, in the outer court of the temple, are set to “trample the Holy City underfoot for forty-two months (or twelve hundred and sixty days) while two witnesses, dressed in sackcloth, prophesy. They are protected by the Lord. After this period, a beast comes out of the abyss and kills them. Their two corpses lie unburied on the street for three and a half days. Then God breathes new life into them and they are taken up into heaven. At the same time, a violent earthquake kills seven thousand in the city. God’s temple in heaven is exposed and the ark of the covenant is plainly seen.

Now, for the main event, a pregnant woman appears in heaven. A second portent appears: “a great red dragon with seven heads and ten horns”, a diadem on each head. This dragon stands in front of the pregnant woman, waiting to devour her child when it is born. She gives birth to a male child “who is destined to rule all nations with an iron road.” God removes the child to a safe place in heaven while the mother flees into the wilds. She will remain there for the next twelve hundred and sixty days. Meanwhile, a war breaks out in heaven. Michael and his angels defeat the dragon, Satan, and hurl him down to earth. The earth becomes Satan’s stomping ground.

The dragon pursues the mother in the wilds but God allows her to escape. Furious, the dragon next wages war against ‘the rest of her offspring”, Christ’s followers. Now a great beast with ten horns and seven heads rises from the sea. The dragon confers its power and authority upon this creature. The beast resembles a leopard but its feet are like a bear’s and its mouth like a lion’s. Its mouth speaks bombast and blasphemy. The beast is allowed to reign for forty-two months as it wages war against God’s people. A mortal wound, which seems to have healed, is on one of its seven heads. Men worship both the dragon and the beast.

Then, still another beast comes out of the earth: “it had two horns like a lamb’s, but spoke like a dragon.” Wielding its authority, this second beast persuades men to worship the first beast by performing miracles. A statue of the first beast is erected for men to worship. Those who refuse to worship the beast are put to death. There is a regulation that individuals need to have the mark of the (first) beast on their foreheads or right hand in order to buy or sell merchandise. The mark can be either the beast’s name or number. Its number is six-hundred sixty-six.

(Note: The alphabet used by the Greeks and Jews in those days consisted of letters which doubled as numbers. A equaled 1, B equaled 2, C equaled 3, etc. The idea is to assign the equivalent numbers to each letter in a person’s name. If the numbers add up to 666, the person becomes a possible candidate for the beast in this scenario of the final days. The beast mentioned in Revelation is the Anti-Christ.)

Meanwhile, the Lamb stands on Mount Zion along with the one-hundred and forty-four thousand who had God’s name written in their foreheads. These are virgin men. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes and sing a new song difficult to learn. An angel flies through heaven urging men to fear God; for the judgment has come. A second angel announces that Babylon the great has fallen, she who made the nations drink the wine of her fornication. Then a third angel cries that who who worship the beast or bear his mark on their forehead or hand will incur the wrath of God. Happily, the dead will be spared of this punishment.

Now one like a Son of Man sits on a white cloud. He wears a crown of gold and holds a sickle in his hand. An angel urges him to pass his sickle across the earth and reap the harvest which is like grapes for God’s wine press of wrath. Another portent appears in heaven: Seven angels with seven plagues consummate the wrath of God. Those who have won a victory over the beast and his name are holding harps and singing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb. Afterwards, the sanctuary of the heavenly tent of Testimony is thrown open. Out come the seven angels with seven plagues. A voice instructs the angels: “Go and pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth.”

So the seven angels in succession pour out their bowls, turning the earth’s waters to blood. Those who bear the beast’s mark develop sores on their body. The fourth and fifth bowls burn men with flames or plunge the beast’s kingdom into darkness. The sixth angel pours his bowl on the Euphrates river, causing it to dry up and preparing the way for the kings from the east. Then from the mouths of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet (the second beast) three foul spirits come forth, which are devils with the power to work miracles. They are sent to enlist the support of the earth’s kings to do battle against God. The kings are assembled in a place called Armageddon.

When the seventh angel pours out his bowl, a voice from heaven cries: “It is over.” Immediately, there are flashes of lightning, an earthquake, and a hail storm of unprecedented severity. The great city (Jerusalem) is split in three. Other cities, including Babylon, lie in ruins. Then one of the angels that had held a bowl offers to show John what will be the judgment visited on “the great whore, enthroned above the ocean.” This woman is seated on a scarlet beast which is covered with blasphemous names and has seven heads and ten horns. She is clothed in purple and wears much jewelry. On her forehead is written: “Babylon the great, the mother of whores.” She is drunk with the blood of God’s people and of those loyal to Jesus.

The angel informs John that this beast with seven heads and ten horns is no longer alive. The angel says: “The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. They represent also seven kings, of whom five have already fallen, one is now reigning, and the other has yet to come.” The beast who was once alive is one of the seven kings doomed for perdition. The ten horns are ten kings whose reigns have not yet begun. They will share royal authority with the beast for one hour; their purpose is to confer their power and authority on the beast. When they wage war on the Lamb, the Lamb will defeat them. The ocean where the great whore sat is the sea of humanity. The ten horns, future kings, will come to hate the whore, strip her naked, and burn her to ashes. “The woman you saw is the great city that holds sway over the kings of the earth,” Revelation says.

An angel cries out that Babylon the great has fallen. All people should abandon her. The merchants who profited from her commerce may weep for this woman, but heaven will rejoice in her demise. Hurling a large stone into the sea, an angel says: “Thus shall Babylon, the great city, be sent hurtling down, never to be seen again!” Her sorcery has deceived the nations. “For the blood of the prophets and of God’s people was found in her, the blood of all who had been done to death on earth.”

The heavenly throng rejoice that God is entering his reign. Happy are those invited to the wedding-supper of the Lamb. Then the heavens open and a white horse is seen. Its rider, whose name is Faithful and True, wears diadems on his head and wears a garment drenched in blood. He is the Word of God, “King of kings and Lord of lords.” A sharp sword projects from his mouth to smite the nations. Then an angels tells birds in the skies to “gather for God’s great supper”, which means that they are to feast upon the kings and their horde who are opposing God.

Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies mustered to do battle with the Rider and his army. The beast was taken prisoner, and so was the false prophet ... The two of them were thrown alive into the lake of fire with its sulphurous flames. The rest were killed by the sword which sent out of the Rider’s mouth; and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.” (Revelation 19: 19-21)

Next an angel comes down from heaven to seize the dragon, Satan, who is put in chains and locked away for one thousand years so that he can seduce the nations no more. After the thousand years, however, he must again be set loose for a time. Now the souls of those beheaded for Jesus’ sake and those others who have died refusing to worship the beast spring back to life and reign with Christ for a thousand years. The rest have to wait until after his millennial reign is over. This is the first resurrection.

Afterwards, Satan is loosed from his dungeon. He again seduces the nations and musters them for battle against God’s people. They include the “hosts of Gog and Magog.” They lay siege to Jerusalem. But fire comes down upon them from heaven and they are destroyed. Satan is flung into the same fiery lake were the beast and false prophet have been, suffering eternal punishment.

After this event, John sees a great white throne and God seated upon it. Heaven and earth have passed away. The dead are standing before the throne, awaiting judgment. Another book is opened, and the dead are judged according to their deeds. Death and Hades give up their dead until they, too, are thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death. All whose names are not recorded in the roll of the living are flung into the fiery lake.

Now a new heaven and earth arise. There is a new Jerusalem. God at last dwells among his own people. All evil doers have passed away, flung into the fiery lake. An angel shows John the bride of the Lamb, which is the holy city of Jerusalem. There are twelve gates, twelve angels, twelve apostles, twelve tribes of Israel. The city is made of jewels and precious metals. There is no temple since God and the Lamb rule directly. There is no falseness or filth, and there will no no night. The water of life flowing from the throne of God runs down the middle of the city’s street.

Matching Events in Revelation with a Time of Fulfillment

To relate this strange tale to historical events, we run into a problem with symbols. For example, Revelation mentions “Babylon the great”, which, though a city, is represented here as a whoring woman. There once was a great city called Babylon on the Euphrates river in present-day Iraq, about fifty miles south of Baghdad. It was the capital of the Babylonian empire under Nebuchadnezzar. The Persians conquered the Babylonian empire and the Greeks conquered Persia. Much of Babylon’s population was removed to the city of Seleucia around 275 B.C. The historical city of Babylon had become politically insignificant by the time that the Book of Revelation was written in 95 A.D.

No doubt the city of Babylon retained its reputation as a rich and corrupt place in the Jewish consciousness, dating back to memories of the Babylonian captivity. As a real city, however, it had lost much of its power and wealth by the Christian era. It seems therefore more likely that the city of Rome would be cast symbolically as “Babylon the great”. At the time the Book of Revelation was written, Rome was the center of political power in the western world. It was also a place of much commerce.

When the angel said in the 17th chapter of Revelation that the woman - the whore who is Babylon - sits on seven hills, one is reminded of Rome’s seven hills. The reference in the same chapter to “the great whore, enthroned above the ocean” reminds one of Rome’s location near the west coast of Italy whose peninsula lies in the middle of a large sea. Certainly the Christians experienced severe persecution in Rome so that the statement that this woman, Babylon, was “drunk with the blood of God’s people” is apt. If, on the other hand, Babylon is meant to refer to a city or nation in our own time, the reference is unclear.

The Book of Revelation mentions a great battle between the forces of good and evil in the period leading up to the establishment of the Messianic kingdom. The Lamb, who is the rider on the white horse leading God’s army to victory, is Jesus Christ, now the risen Messiah. The dragon is clearly identified as Satan, chief angel of evil, who is the same as “that serpent of old that led the whole world astray.” (Revelation 12: 9) The Lamb, Satan, and, of course, God Himself are timeless beings who could enter history at any point. Most speculation centers upon the other two figures of evil: the first beast, usually called “the beast”; and the second beast who had “two horns like a lamb’s, but spoke like a dragon.” This second beast is also called “the false prophet.”

The first beast, who is the anti-Christ, is introduced in the 13th chapter of Revelation as a creature rising out of the sea which had “ten horns and seven heads. On its horns were ten diadems, and on each head a blasphemous name.” One of the heads appeared to have sustained a mortal wound which had healed. The beast itself resembled a leopard, but it also had feet like a bear and a mouth like a lion. It was allowed to reign over the world for forty-two months. There was an image (or statue) erected of this beast which people were required to worship; and those who refused were put to death. Also, everyone who wanted to buy or sell in the marketplace had to display the beast’s mark, either name or number, on his right hand or forehead. The number of this beast, representing his name, was six hundred and sixty-six.

The beast’s numerical identification has attracted much attention. Several well-known historical persons have had names which match this number by the technique of gematria which assigns numerical values to letters in the alphabet. Some of them include the Roman emperor Nero (who had portrayed himself as a God in a giant statue) , Napoleon, and even Franklin D. Roosevelt. Because Ronald Wilson Reagan had three names with six letters each, some tried to make his name fit the 666 pattern. John F. Kennedy received 666 votes at the 1956 Democratic convention. But these are superficial numerical resemblances; gematria counts letters in the name according to an ancient numbering scheme.

Another indicator would be that this beast, the Anti-Christ, had ten horns and seven heads, and a diadem, or crown, on each horn. Such imagery is consistent with words in the Book of Daniel, describing political empires. The empire would be a single political organization encompassing ten separate kingdoms. Diadems suggest kingdoms, or, in contemporary parlance, nations. In our own time, the European common market and the European Union have attracted prophetic attention. Some look with suspicion on the United Nations since Revelation says the beast will rule the entire world. However, political entities involving the nations of Europe are preferred candidates for the beast since they imply the resurrection of imperial Rome.

The second chapter of Daniel refers to a metallic statue of a man in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream which the prophet Daniel interprets. The first four sections of the body represent empires which have already passed from the scene. The Roman Empire, the fourth, is symbolized by two legs of iron. The fifth, its feet, are part iron and part clay. Analysts of prophecy associate this last section with the European Union. While the European Union now consists of twenty-five nations, only ten of them enjoy full membership. The beast of Revelation has ten horns. Presumably, a strong leader will emerge from the European Union to fulfill the beast’s evil destiny, according to this view. Some Protestants suspect that the Roman Catholic pontiff may be one of the main evil characters.

Numerology is another approach to identifying the final times. One of the best-known examples was the Millerite movement of the 1840s. In 1831, William Miller became convinced from reading the Bible that the Second Coming of Jesus would occur in 1843. He attracted a large following which anticipated that event. When the promised date passed without incident, Miller rescheduled the event for 1844. Again, he and his followers were disappointed. A remnant of Miller’s flock lives on in the Seventh Day Adventist church.

The basis of Miller’s expectation was a statement in Daniel 8: 14. In answer to the question how long true religion would be trodden down, the answer is written: “For two thousand three hundred evenings and mornings, then the Holy Place shall emerge victorious.” In Numbers 14: 34 and Ezekial 4: 6, the principle is set forth that (in God’s eyes) each day equals a year. Therefore, 2,300 days equals 2,300 years by that equation.

Miller started his calculation with the decree of Artaxerxes in 457 B.C. which allowed Levite priests and other Jews to return to Jerusalem from Babylon. (See Ezra 7: 12-26) The year 1844 marked the 2,300th anniversary of Artaxerxes’ decree. Miller, who announced this discovery in 1831, believed that a spectacular meteor shower which occurred on November 13, 1833, confirmed Jesus’ saying that, shortly before his return, “the stars will fall from the sky.” (Matthew 24: 29)

By such logic, William Miller adressed one of the main questions underlying modern interest in Biblical prophecy: Why has Jesus’ return taken so long? Two-thousand years of world history furnishes many examples of wars, earthquakes, religious persecutions, moral degeneracy, and the like. But why has God waited so long to schedule Christ’s Second Coming? Why should we who live so many years after Jesus lived continue to believe in his imminent return? Something must be unique about our own time that would place Jesus’ return here. Miller found the answer in a particular number of years separating the time of prophetic events from his own.

Focus on Israel

For students of Biblical prophecy today, a compelling new element is that the state of Israel has recently been revived. The Jews had no nation of their own for nearly two millennia after Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D. Now they are back in their original homeland. Since 1948, they have had their own state. In the 1967 war, Israel captured lands from Jordan which again put the Jewish people in control of Jerusalem. Another significant event might be the rebuilding of the Third Temple, whose site is now occupied by mosques. Even if the script is incomplete, the fact that Jews are back in Palestine as a political entity puts them in play in several of the Old Testament prophecies and in the Book of Revelation.

The main interest now centers in an event known as the battle of Armageddon. It is not always clear from Revelation and other scriptures what predict might happen. What do contemporary analysts of prophecy say? Dr. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum has devised a scenario of events surrounding the great battle.

For him, a necessary precondition is that a significant number of Jews accept Jesus as the Messiah. Satan, fearing the end of his reign, then sows anti-Semitism in the world in hopes of destroying the Jews so they will be unable to plead for Christ’s return. Two-thirds of the Jewish population is killed. Satan orchestrates the campaign of Armageddon to exterminate the remaining one third.

During the first half of the seven-year period of tribulation, the world is ruled by ten kings. They combine a number of false religions into a single worldwide system. In the middle of the seven years, the Anti-Christ (the beast) turns against these ten kings. Three of them are killed in a war and the remaining seven submit to the beast’s authority. The Anti-Christ then takes charge of the world, politically and religiously. He takes over the Temple in Jerusalem, seats himself in the Holy of Holies, and declares himself God. An intense persecution of the Jewish people begins.

In the first stage of Armageddon (beginning with the sixth bowl judgment in the 16th chapter of Revelation), three unclean spirits come out of the mouths of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet as the angel pours his bowl upon the Euphrates river. These spirits, who are demons, persuade the kings of the earth to wage war on the Anti-Christ’s behalf against God and Jesus, the Lamb. The kings are gathered for battle at a place called Armageddon which is in the valley of Jezreel. This is not the site of the battle, but only a gathering place.

Babylon is meant to be the capital of the Anti-Christ’s worldwide empire. In the second stage of the campaign, this great city is destroyed. God uses Gentile believers to destroy the city which becomes inhabitable. Jews are warned to flee the city before it is too late. In the 18th chapter of Revelation, an angel announces Babylon’s fall.

The Anti-Christ receives the news that his capital city has fallen. Inspired by Satan, he takes the kings in his army to attack the city of Jerusalem, moving south from Armageddon. The inhabitants of Jerusalem fight fiercely but they are no match for the Gentile kings. Half the Jewish population is taken away into slavery, while the other half remains in the city. The soldiers of the anti-Christ plunder and rape.

Most Jews are no longer in Jerusalem. The third of the population which remains has fled to a safe place, known in Hebrew as Bozrah. Its Greek name is Petra. This is a city in southern Jordan, easily defended, which is surrounded by cliff rocks. This territory has eluded domination by the Anti-Christ.

Having destroyed Jerusalem, the armies of the anti-Christ now march south against Bozrah, hoping to destroy all the Jews who remain. Before the Messiah can come, the Jews must confess their iniquities. One sin, in particular, they must confess: that they rejected Jesus as Messiah. Having done that, they must then mourn for Jesus, as for an only son, and plead for him to return.

Somehow, the Jewish leaders recognize their mistake. They do repent and, for two days, confess Israel’s national sin. The Jews then plead for the Messiah to return and save them from the anti-Christ’s armies which are approaching Bozrah. There is a national regeneration of spirit accompanied by new acts of prophecy, both true and false, as the Jews plead for the Messiah to save them.

Jesus, the Messiah, does respond to those pleas. He returns to earth at Bozrah. (This is the person mentioned in Isaiah 63: 1 who is “coming from Edom, coming from Bozrah, his garments stained red.’) The Messiah alone fights the nations at Bozrah and defeats them. He is stained with their blood. A chorus of Hallelujahs is heard in heaven. In Revelation, the heavens open up exposing a white horse upon which sits the Messiah, who then smites the nations with a sharp sword emanating from his mouth. The deed is done. The armies aligned with the Anti-Christ are slaughtered, and birds pick at their carcasses.

Actually, the battle between the Messiah and the armies of the Anti-Christ continues from Bozrah into the Valley of Jehoshaphat, which is east of Jerusalem. The Messiah first saves the tribe of Judah before he rescues the Jews of Jerusalem. The Anti-Christ himself is one of the first casualties when the Messiah swings his sickle. This evil character descends into Hell. Many on earth view the Anti-Christ’s body, marveling that he was defeated so easily. The blood of the slain runs thick for more than a hundred miles to empty into the Red Sea.

When the fighting has ended, Jehovah ascends the Mount of Olives. Several cataclysms take place in nature as the Great Tribulation comes to an end. A cry, “It is ended”, comes from heaven as the seventh bowl is poured into the air. The city of Jerusalem is split in three. This opens up a new valley which allows the Jews in Jerusalem to escape and be saved. So ends the event known somewhat erroneously as the Battle of Armageddon. According to Dr. Fruchtenbaum, it’s all about saving the Jews and restoring their true religion through Jesus, the Messiah.

This is, of course, but one interpretation. The main event proposed for the future is scarcely recognizable in terms of the current situation. Even so, the Book of Revelation makes it clear that the Jewish remnant mentioned in the seventh chapter - the hundred and forty-four thousand from the tribe of Israel who receive God’s sign upon their forehead - are to play a special role in the final days. They, along with the righteous throng of Christians, are to survive the great tribulation and participate in the Messiah’s triumph.

For there, at the beginning of the 14th chapter of Revelation, these hundred and forty-four thousand Jews who are marked with God’s name stand with the Lamb, Jesus, and sing a new song which no one else can learn. And later the Messiah, on a white horse, defeats the armies of the Anti-Christ. An angel seizes the dragon, Satan, and locks him up for a thousand years. After that, Satan comes against Jerusalem once again but is again defeated and then is flung eternally into a lake of fire. Finally, Jerusalem is rebuilt of jewels and precious metals. God and Jesus, the Messiah, rule over this holy city of Israel.

Prophetic Influence on Current Policies

Looking through historical eyes, one might wonder what to make of such prophecies in relation to our own time. The fact is that they are believed in the highest circles of the U.S. Government. By all accounts, President Bush is himself a sincere believer in Jesus and in the Biblical prophecies.

When a visitor to the Jack Van Impe Ministries web site asked Van Impe if he thought President Bush “believes and knows he is involved in prophetic events concerning the Middle East ”, Van Impe revealed that he had been contacted by then National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and been asked to prepare an outline of Biblical prophecies for the White House. “He (President Bush) will know exactly what is going to happen in the Middle East and what part he will have under the leadership of the Holy Spirit of God,” Van Impe said.

Secular Americans find it troubling that religious ideology should thus sway policies of a modern government. The Secretary of the Interior in the Reagan administration, James Watt, raised a few eyebrows when he commented that protecting the natural environment would not matter so much if Christ returned to earth soon. Apocalyptic expectations, focused on the short term, would seem to contradict the long-term imperative of saving the earth from environmental degradation.

With respect to the war in Iraq, some secularists accuse President Bush of placing himself in a Biblical drama of the end times which would lead him to pursue certain policies that would otherwise make little sense. Does the President see himself as an heroic figure in prophecy by acting to hasten the Messiah’s return? Such a view seems exaggerated. As Van Impe said, Bush would be acting “under the leadership of the Holy Spirit” rather than consciously trying to force events to go in a particular religious direction.

The fact is that the prophetic scenario presented in the Book of Revelation does not include a positive role for any political or religious leader. The only positive characters in the story are the Lamb, which is Jesus the risen Messiah, and, of course, God. The one-hundred and forty-four thousand Jews marked with God’s sign and the community of persecuted Christians, while also positive, play a passive role in the drama. The two principal human figures, the Anti-Christ and the false prophet, are both strongly negative characters. Men in positions of worldly power and authority can only contribute to Satan’s cause.

One should recognize that in Revelation the Lamb does not need human assistance in defeating the beast’s forces that are gathered at Armageddon. He accomplishes this himself by a sharp sword protruding from his mouth, which is the word of God. To an extent, human beings can hasten the day of Second Coming by preaching the Gospel of Jesus throughout the world. Jesus himself told the disciples that “this gospel of the Kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the earth” before the end came. Dedicated Christians can also “put pressure” on God, as Schweitzer terms it, by reciting the Lord’s Prayer, which asks God to bring his heavenly Kingdom down to earth soon. But the decision when this should happen is God’s alone to make.

Why the great interest in Biblical prophecy? Jesus asks his followers always to be ready for the Kingdom, whenever it may arrive. There is no need to know the exact date. One should keep oneself in a state of moral readiness at all times, not just when there would be no more time to repent and be saved. “Be alert, be wakeful,” says Jesus. “You do not know when the moment (of the Kingdom’s arrival) comes.” (Mark 13: 33)

Why try to learn the date beforehand? There is, indeed, something presumptuous, perhaps even sacrilegious, in trying to speed up the process of the Kingdom’s arrival because of one’s personal desire. Does one want to have the Kingdom come sooner because one loves Jesus so much? Is one afraid of dying before the Judgment Day arrives? The Bible is clear on the fact that the righteous dead will be resurrected into the Kingdom of God. There’s no need to worry on that score.

The effect of prophetic knowledge is not so much an ability to influence events as to develop certain attitudes about historical persons, institutions, nations or groups. If the beast is a political empire in Europe, one would tend to view all such entities with grave suspicion. All “One World” schemes are potentially linked with Satan; they should, of course, be shunned like the plague. On the other hand, the state of Israel is a nation uniquely favored by God; and God will bless those who bless the Jews. One should therefore sympathize with the Israeli government, for instance, in discussions concerning its policies with respect to the Palestinian people.

The prophet Daniel foretold a peace negotiation that would lead to the destruction of many people in Israel and elsewhere. (Daniel 9: 26-27) “We have made a treaty with Death and signed a pact with Sheol ... for we have taken refuge in lies and sheltered behind falsehood.” (Isaiah 28: 15) Are not secularized Europeans pressuring Israel to sign a peace treaty with the Palestinians? The Anti-Christ will pose as a man of peace while, in fact, he unleashes the period of tribulation. America should not join in appeals for a false peace, say some inspired by their reading of prophecy. So when President Bush asked Ariel Sharon to pull his tanks out of Jenin in 2002, thousands of angry emails flooded the White House.

If the focus is upon God’s Kingdom rather than politics, let those who are incurably curious peek into the details of Biblical prophecy. Inquisitive persons will, of course, want to know. Jesus himself said, however, that in those times there will be many false prophets claiming to speak in his name. For those who would prepare themselves for the arrival of God’s Kingdom, he offered a piece of timeless advice: Forgive the offenses of others and God will forgive you. We receive this moral instruction, thanks to Schweitzer’s close reading, from Jesus himself; it’s really all we need for our own salvation.

The end

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