WHY END TIMES DOCTRINES MATTER
March 1, 2006
Recently, in this space I pointed out a few of the many Biblical weaknesses of the pre-tribulation “Rapture” doctrine, the elaborate approach to end times made famous in the 1970s by Hal Lindsey’s “The Late Great Planet Earth” and more recently by the “Left Behind” fiction series.
Response to the article was rather overwhelming and surprisingly ran about 85 percent positive in favor of the article. Many of the writers were like me. They had been raised in the pre-trib rapture doctrine, but no longer believed it. As a result of the article, I shared emails with some truly delightful people who agreed with my premise and some equally as delightful people who disagreed with me, sometimes quite strongly.
The purpose of this column is twofold. One, I want to explain why eschatology is not just something to talk about, but actually matters; and two, I need to correct a grievous error I made in the column I wrote in the rapture column. Please allow me to do the latter first.
In the article, while talking about Daniel’s Seventy Week Prophecy, I made the statement that the Messiah would be cut off in the midst of the seventieth week and that the prophet Daniel said that. The problem is: Daniel did not say that. I infer that from the text, but it does not actually come out and say that.
It was a serious mistake on my part to attribute to Daniel something I merely conclude from the text. I apologize to my readers. My mistake was an innocent one, but because it concerned the text of scripture, an inexcusable one. I relied on my faulty memory and should not have.
Before I leave that subject, Daniel said it was to be 69 weeks “unto the Messiah the Prince.” He then says: And after three score and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for Himself. (Daniel 9:26) It is generally believed that Jesus ministered for about three-and-a-half years and then was crucified. The question is: When did Jesus become the Messiah, thus marking the end of the 69th week? At the beginning of His ministry, or when He was crucified?
I believe Jesus became the Messiah the day He was baptized in the River Jordan by John the Baptist. That is when John says he saw the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus and remain. The meaning of the word “Christ,” which is the equivalent of the Hebrew term “Messiah,” is “the Spirit anointed One. Jesus was anointed by the Spirit when He was baptized. He then ministered for three plus years and was crucified, “but not for Himself.”
That’s why I believe there were only three-and-a-half years left in the Seventy Week prophecy as of the date Jesus was crucified, which is probably why there is no mention of seven years in the Book of Revelation.
I could write much more about this most famous of all Old Testament prophecies and perhaps will some other time, but for now let’s get back to the subject of why end time doctrines matter.
Eschatology is probably not a heaven or hell doctrine. It is not up there with believing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and believing that He was resurrected from the dead, which are essential, basic doctrines of Christianity. However, the Bible would not have so much to say about the subject, if it didn’t matter. The truth is, eschatology can have a major impact on how a believer lives in the here and now.
If you believe the antichrist is going to take over the world some time soon, you are not likely to have a very positive outlook on the future of the world. You cannot reasonably believe that the influence of the gospel will increase dramatically, because after all, according to your eschatology, things have to get worse, not better. In fact, many adherents to the rapture doctrine speak and act as if bad news is good news. For them, the worse things get, the sooner the end will come.
Earthquakes in various places. Wars and rumors of wars. Trouble in the Middle East. That’s all good news to the rapture folks. To them, it means the end is in sight. I heard one preacher, who liked President Bush, say that he thought the rapture would probably occur sooner, if John Kerry won the election, but implied that he was going to vote for Bush anyway.
I know people who believe that it would be a waste of time to go to Bible College or get the long term training required to be a doctor or a lawyer, because there just isn’t time for such things because the rapture is so close.
People who might otherwise pursue a vocation in the political arena, where they might make a real difference in the way their state or even the entire country goes, avoid that field because of their belief that the entire world is all going to be taken over by the antichrist anyway, so why bother.
How can such a perspective not lessen people’s ability to influence the world around them or prevent them from being the salt and light they are supposed to be in the world?
I realize that there are rapture adherents out there fighting the good fight and making a real difference in the world, but I know firsthand of others who believe all such efforts are an exercise in futility and live their lives accordingly.
I also worry about the perpetuation of the notion that the Lord will not let His people go through tribulation. Laying aside for a moment the debate over whether there is even going to be a future Great Tribulation, there is no promise in scripture that Christians will not be persecuted. In fact, the opposite is true.
Those who do not believe God would let His beloved go through the tribulation must have forgotten about the horrific things that happened to Christians in ancient Rome, or are not aware of the murder and torture of believers in more modern times under Idi Amin in Uganda or the Communist dictators in Red China. Are they not aware of what is happening to Christians in the Sudan?
Perhaps it would so some of us good to reread the second half of the 11th chapter of the Book of Hebrews, where it describes the torture, persecution, and death of believers who died in faith. Persecution and tribulation is part of the package. We are to pray for our leaders so we hopefully can live tranquil lives, but persecution is a promise to all Christians, as the apostle wrote: Those who live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.
The bottom line is this: What one believes about the end times very much affects one’s view of the world today. It affects people’s real life attitudes, and for some even their vocational choices. It affects their politics. It affects whether they see themselves in this fight for the long haul or simply on their way out of here.
I confess that I am still unsure about my own eschatology. To be honest, at this stage I have more questions than I do answers, even though I have been studying this subject for several decades. As a result of my recent article on the rapture, I have been having a lot of interesting discussions with people who hold eschatological views I wasn’t previously aware even existed. The important thing to keep in mind is that eschatology should not be a basis for division. It matters, but it is not a basis for parting company.
I will close with this thought. I have taught my children to say The Lord’s Prayer since they were very young. We even lifted the last words of that prayer and made them a closing to other prayers, even mealtime prayers. When we would close out a prayer regarding some matter, we would all say together at the end, “And most of all, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”
Jesus taught us to pray those words. He taught us to ask our Father in Heaven that His will be done on earth as His will is done in Heaven. In Heaven, things are run quite differently than they are down here, so some changes will have to occur if God is going to answer that prayer. And answer it He will, when we have the faith to believe it and are not having faith to believe the devil is going to take over.
When I speak of God’s will being done on earth, I am not talking about a theocracy. I am not talking about using the law or military might to make people behave like Christians. That is neither possible, nor desirable. I am talking about believing that the hearts of men can and will be changed by the gospel on a wholesale level, thus making this world a different and better place. More like heaven. That beats the daylights out of waiting around for some antichrist to take over.
I am talking about changing the world as the early church did; those believers about whom it was written that they turned the world upside down. To turn the world upside down, though, some of us need to have our eschatology turned right side up.
If it turns out that the Lord returns before Christians change the course of history, well so much the better, as long as He finds us doing His business, not sitting around secretly cheering for bad things to happen so we can all get raptured out of here.
© 2006 Bill Sizemore - All Rights Reserved
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Bill Sizemore is a registered Independent who
works as executive director of the Oregon Taxpayers Union, a statewide
taxpayer organization. Bill was the Republican candidate for governor
in 1998. He and his wife Cindy have four children, ages eight to thirteen,
and live on 36 acres in Beavercreek, just southeast of Oregon City, Oregon.
If the rapture is real and it occurs before I hear from you, I hope I am not here to answer your email. But then on second thought, if in the end it really is going to be as it was in the days of Noah, maybe I should hope I will be here, because in the days of Noah, it was the bad guys who were taken away, not the good ones.