This is the second of a two-part series. “Why do Americans love war?” was the first installment of the series.
Apocalypticism or apocalyptic thinking seems to dominate most discussions revolving around the rise of ISIS/ISIL and the United States’ policy toward the Middle East generally and Israel specifically.
According to Merriam-Webster, apocalypticism is a doctrine concerning an imminent end of the world and an ensuing general resurrection and final judgment. The old “American Heritage Dictionary” I have kept at my desk for dozens of years defines it as a general belief in the imminent destruction of the world.
Christian eschatology (prophetic interpretation concerning the last days) is associated with the Book of Revelation. The Book of Revelation and the apocalypse have come to have a synonymous meaning. Almost all Christians today believe that the “fulfillment” of the Book of Revelation is in the future, with emphasis on the near future, and the second coming of Christ. Most people, especially Americans, have over the entirety of our nations’ history been saturated with apocalyptic writings mostly based on biblical prophecies with futurist interpretations.
The rise of ISIS/ISIL in the Middle East has only served to increase such conversations. Fundamentalist Christians expecting the rise of an antichrist, the rapture and 1,000 years of Christ rule are looking at the Middle East and wondering whether ISIS and its proclaimed caliphate is it.
An apocalyptic conversation or discussion will draw blood in a few seconds. Somehow, people by nature are attracted to end time apocalypticism. They seem to love tragedy and horror and to be obsessed with predictions of the future.
Most all apocalyptic teaching is presented in biblical language as if it were the direct teaching of the Bible. In fact, there are religious cults that base their entire teaching on apocalypticism. Such false teaching has on numerous occasions prompted people by the hundreds to sell their possessions, don white robes, climb to a mountaintop and await Christ’s coming based on varying interpretations of symbolic Scripture, which sadly ignores a very obvious proclamation in I Thessalonians 5:1-3: “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” (ESV) In other words, only the Father knows the day and time, and anyone telling you anything else is a false prophet.
Apocalypticism is a type of fatalism that neutralizes human action and resistance to tyranny. It is a syndrome of inevitability which prompts us to think that there is nothing that we can do about anything.
Governments, along with organized religion, have seized upon apocalypticism to promote wars, encourage false patriotism and regiment populations because of the “divine nature” of the crisis.
The American Civil War was considered by both sides as a divine cause, and both sides claimed to have God’s backing. George W. Bush couched the Iraq war in religious terms at an Israeli-Palestinian summit at Sharm el-Sheikh four months after the invasion of Iraq began in 2003. One of the delegates, Nabil Shaath, Palestinian foreign minister at the time, said, “President Bush said to all of us: ‘I am driven with a mission from God.’ God would tell me, ‘George go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan.’ And I did. And then God would tell me ‘George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq.’ And I did. And now, again, I feel God’s words coming to me, ‘Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East.’ And, by God, I’m gonna do it.”
Not a week goes by that I don’t get apocalyptic letters, books or other media from Personal Liberty or Bob Livingston Letter readers. Apocalypticism is ingrained so deeply that it is sacrosanct. No one dares question futuristic interpretation of the prophecies. Fundamentalist Christianity is based on it. Any profession of disbelief is tantamount to heresy, as is any notion that the U.S. doesn’t owe blind allegiance to the modern nation of Israel.
Apocalypticism supports and justifies political action and long-range planning. Most professing Christians today believe that the establishment of national Israel in modern history is the continuing fulfillment of prophecy. Whatever the U.S. government does in support of the national goals of Israel is never questioned by the American people because they believe that it is according to “divine will.” This is how organized religion came to support Zionism without suspicion on the part of the people. (Remember what I told you last week, that modern Zionism has nothing to do with Jews or Judaism. Therefore, criticism of Zionism is not anti-Semitism, though Zionists have long used the claim of anti-Semitism to quell all criticism. There are Jews who are not Zionists, and there are Zionists who are not Jews.)
In Genesis 12:1-3, God gave a blessing to Abram (Abraham) saying, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (ESV)
Upon this rests the Christian’s belief that the modern-day physical nation of Israel is somehow special.
God gave Abraham three promises: a great nation, the land of Canaan and through his offspring (seed), all nations would be blessed. But the promise to Abraham and his descendants was conditional on obedience. He made the Israelites (Abraham’s descendants) a great nation, but they forfeited it through their disobedience. God scattered them to winds. He gave them the land of Canaan, but they forfeited it with disobedience (See Nehemiah 1:7-8, Hosea 8). Their lack of obedience to God caused them to lose the land forever, as Christ told them would happen when they rejected him (Matthew 21:33ff) and fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD. And the seed promise was fulfilled through Christ (See Isaiah 42:1, 6-7; 43:5-7, 44:1-5; 49:6, Galatians 3, 6:13-16).
So who are Abraham’s offspring and heirs to the promise? It is those who are of Christ — God’s true Israel, not some modern-day Israel nation created by the United Nations by rooting out the area’s occupants in 1948. Nor is it some future apocalyptic physical Israel kingdom of God.
The very first reference to “Israel” in the New Testament is applied to Jesus. It is Jesus who would be the “shepherd of my people Israel” (Matthew 2:6, quoting Micah 5:2). It would be through Jesus on the cross that God would “give help to Israel his servant” (Luke 1:54; see also 1:68-79). Simeon, who was looking for the “consolation of Israel,” would find it in Jesus Christ. Jesus would save the Gentiles and “your people Israel” (Luke 2:25, 32, 34).
There are three main views of Christian eschatology and the book of Revelation: premillennialism, postmillennialism and amillennialism. Post- (after) and pre- (before) refer to the time around a 1,000-year rule that Christ will appear to establish and rule over his earthly kingdom. Amillenialism is the view that God’s kingdom is spiritual, not physical, and that at the end of the church age (which began on the Day of Pentecost as described in Acts 2) Christ will return in final judgment and establish a permanent reign in a new Heaven and new Earth. (I am a Christian who believes the amillennialism view is the correct one.)
Premillenialism was the commonly held view in the pre-Augustinian church. In the late 1600s, premillennialism gained popularity among the American Puritans. But the 18th century American theologian Jonathan Edwards was a postmillennialist, and his view attracted many followers into the mid-19th century, until it fell from vogue and was replaced among most fundamentalists by premillenialism, which is still the most popular view among Christians today.
Two of those views — premillenialism and postmellenialism — deny or pervert Scripture. God’s kingdom is spiritual, and it is the church. Paul referred to the church as the household of God in I Timothy 3:15. Jesus told Peter in Matthew 16 that the church would be built on the profession of faith, and that he (Peter) would receive the keys to the kingdom. Jesus told his disciples that some of them would not taste death until they saw “the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Neither Peter nor the other disciples are still alive awaiting the kingdom. That prophecy was fulfilled in Acts 2 when the kingdom was established on the Day of Pentecost. If the kingdom has not yet been established, then Christ is a liar.
As for the rise of a single antichrist to battle Christ and persecute Christians, that term is found in only four verses — and none of them is in Revelation. The antichrist or antichrists are those who deny Christ, deny He came in the flesh and deny God, according to I John 2:18-19, I John 2:22-23, I John 4:2-3 and II John 1:7. John writes in I John 2:18 that “many antichrists have arisen.” If there is one antichrist and he is yet to come, then John is a liar.
Neither ISIS/ISIL, nor Russia, nor any other entity that has been or will be named by premillenialists can rise and be the antichrist, as premellenialism proponents claim, and still be Scripturally correct. Antichrists are everywhere because anyone opposing Christ is one.
The point is that most people hold futurist beliefs about the Book of Revelation and about modern physical Israel without ever questioning the source of their beliefs. And if one dares raise questions, he or she is quickly shouted down with charges of anti-Semitism or worse.
Apocolypticism dominates conventional wisdom. Apocolypticism and Zionism dominate American foreign policy, forcing all U.S. presidential hopefuls and most prominent politicians to don a yarmulke and genuflect before Israel’s prime minister and the Jerusalem Wall if they have any desire to be considered relevant on the national political scene.
For most of the past 70 years, America’s foreign policy has been predicated on what is in Israel’s best interests. As Joe Biden said in 2007, “Imagine our circumstance in the world were there no Israel. How many battleships would there be? How many troops would be stationed?”
It’s high time for that to change and America’s interests put first, before Israel’s, before Saudi Arabia’s and before any other nation’s, but apocalypticism keeps us rooted in the status quo.
Additional sources consulted:
Article edited to clarify Christ’s 1,000-year rule.