Countdown To
ARMAGEDDON ????

INTRODUCTION

Increasingly, the attention of the world is being drawn to the Middle East. This is due, in part, to the combustible nature of the political situation in that part of the world and the impact which events there are bound to have on the fragile possibilities for World peace. However, a second factor which has helped to focus attention on the Middle Eastern situation is the interest in certain religious theories which can be loosely grouped together under the heading of "Premillennialism."

The book market has been glutted in recent years with Premillennial publications, but the book which has gained the most attention is Hal Lindsey's LATE GREAT PLANET EARTH, which has sold several million copies Lindsey's book has served to crystallize interest in the doctrines of Premillennialism. Many have found justification in Lindsey's writings for their belief that the end of the present order of things is very near. Lindsey's book was made into a movie, also titled THE LATE GREAT PLANET EARTH, which further popularized the Premillennial view of the future.

The impact of these theories upon evangelical Christian groups is readily apparent. Many churches which formerly rejected Premillennialism have now endorsed it and are doing all they can to spread it. The growing popularity of these doctrines demands that they be examined carefully in the light of Biblical truth.

WHAT IS PREMILLENNIALISM?

The word millennium is Latin for "1000 years" and Pre is a prefix meaning "before." Premillennialism, then, is the doctrine that Christ will return to earth prior to establishing a material kingdom which will last for 1000 years. The supporters of this theory often cite Revelation 20:4 as a basis for their claims. Though there are many varieties of Premillennialism, most of its adherents adopt the following basic assumptions:
  1. God's Kingdom is not yet in existence;
  2. The Second Coming of Jesus will be preceded by the rise of the antichrist;
  3. Judaism will be re-established in its ancient form and the Jewish Temple will be re-built on Mt. Moriah;
  4. There will be two resurrections from the dead;
  5. The righteous will be removed from the world for a period known as the Rapture;
  6. The world will be plunged into a period of Tribulation which will culminate in the great battle of Armageddon; and
  7. Christ will return to earth to establish a material kingdom headquartered in Jerusalem which will usher in a 1000-year period of peace and prosperity on earth. Let us examine each of these theories in turn.

THE FUTURE KINGDOM THEORY

Premillennialists generally are agreed that Jesus came the first time for the purpose of establishing the Kingdom. However, His rejection by the Jewish nation caused the postponement of His plan. Instead, Jesus established the Church as a kind of stop-gap measure to prepare men for the Kingdom and to last until it was established. They theorize that Jesus is now sitting at God's right hand, temporarily, until He is able to assume the throne of David. (David Brown, CHRIST'S SECOND COMING: WILL IT BE PREMILLENNIAL? 1882, page 120.)

The Bible plainly teaches that the Kingdom already exists. John claimed to be a part of it. (Revelation 1:9.) Paul likewise claimed to be a citizen of it. (Colossians 1:13.) Jesus showed that the Kingdom was to be associated with the Church. (Matthew 16:18-19.) The writer of Hebrews asserts that we have received a kingdom which cannot be shaken. (Hebrews 12:28.) The Church is not a Divine afterthought! The mind of God conceived it before the world began. (Ephesians 3:9-10.) The Old Testament prophets predicted its establishment. (Acts 2:16.) Jesus bought it with His own blood. (Acts 20:28.) Jesus is now ruling His Kingdom from the throne of David. (Acts 2:34-36.)

Premillennialism is wrong because it has the wrong concept of the Church!

ANTICHRIST

Premillennialists believe that a great world leader will arise in opposition to Christianity. They usually insist that he will be the head of a Revived Roman Empire which is often equated with the European Common Market. According to Hal Lindsey: "The way in which this dictator is going to step onto the stage of history will be dramatic Overnight he will become the by-word of the world... He will have a magnetic personality, be personally attractive, and a powerful speaker. He will be able to mesmerize an audience with his oratory." (THE LATE GREAT PLANET EARTH, p. 108.) In the 20th century many possible candidates have been labeled as the antichrist including Adolph Hider, Benito Mussolini, Josef Stalin, Anwar Sadat, Henry Kissinger, George Bush, and Sadaam Hussien! Lindsey insists that the antichrist is alive somewhere in the world right now!

The Bible, however, teaches that antichrist is not a man but an attitude. The word antichristus literally means "opposer of Christ." While this word is not even used in the Book of Revelation, it is used several times in the Epistles of John. John wrote: " Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist; the one who denies the Father and the Son." (1 John 2:22.) Note that John refers to anyone who denies the Father and the Son as antichrist - an opposer of Christ. John gives us a further key to unraveling the identity of antichrist in 1 John 4:3 where he writes: "And every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; and this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming and now it is already in the world." Note again that antichrist is not a man but a "spirit" or attitude which prompts men to oppose Christ. The truth is that there are, have been, and will be many antichrists. Each age has its own opposers of the truth. In one age it may be Domitian, in another the papacy, in another Communistic dictators, and in another rationalistic scholars who have sought to undermine Biblical truth. John confirms this by saying that there were already many antichrists abroad in his own day. (I John 2:18.) The Beast whose number is 666 has appeared and re-appeared all throughout history in the different forms which opposition to Christianity has taken.

Premillennialism is wrong because it has the wrong view of antichrist!

THE REVIVAL OF ISRAEL

Premillennialists believe that the ancient promises to Israel have never been fulfilled and that the Jews have a Divine right to the land of Israel. They believe that it is God's will that the Jews return to Palestine and re-build their nation. Near the end of 1977, fifteen top evangelical leaders in America, including John Walvoord, Harold Lindsell, and Pat Boone, ran a full page advertisement in the NEW YORK TMES calling for a U.S. foreign policy which would recognize the unique rights of Israel in the Middle East. Two weeks later Carl Mclntire took a similar full page ad in the TIMES expressing the conviction that Fundamentalists must give their backing to Israel in the Middle Eastern dispute. [ETERNITY, January 1978, pp. 8-9.) Hal Lindsey speaks of "three keys" which he claims provide the basis for the Premillennial interpretation of future events. He says they are:
  1. The rebirth of the nation of Israel;
  2. The return of Jerusalem to Jewish hands; and
  3. The rebuilding of the Jewish temple on Mt. Moriah. In his book he writes: "There will be a reinstitution of the Jewish worship according to the Law of Moses with sacrifices and oblations.. there will soon begin the construction of the temple." (The LATE GREAT PLANET EARTH, p. 57.)
The Bible notes, however, that from the stand-point of God, Judaism has forever served its purposes. The old Law was only a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. Now that Christ has come, the schoolmaster may be dismissed. (Galatians 3:24-25.) When Christ died the veil of the temple was torn in two by God, signifying that the old Law and Temple worship had served its purpose. As a convincing demonstration that He was finished with Judaism as a religious system, God caused Jerusalem to be completely destroyed in A.D. 70 so that not one stone was left standing upon another. Furthermore, the Bible is very explicit in teaching that the Covenant promises to Abraham's descendants have been fulfilled. In Joshua 21:43 we read - "So the LORD gave Israel all the land which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they possessed it and lived in it." Joshua 23:14 reiterates the same fact. It is a misapplication of Scripture and a misdirection of foreign policy to insist that Israel must possess the Middle East because "God wills it."

Premillennialism is wrong because it misunderstands God's purposes for Judaism.

THE TWO RESURRECTION THEORY

Premillennialists hold that "the first resurrection" of Revelation 20:5 is the resurrection of the righteous dead to share in the Rapture. But the Bible teaches that there is only one general resurrection from the dead. Premillennial theory sees events in this order:
  1. The first resurrection;
  2. the Rapture and the 1000 year reign; and
  3. the final defeat of Satan.
However, 1 Corinthians 15:26 teaches that death will not be destroyed by the Resurrection until the final defeat of Satan! In fact, it is the Resurrection itself which neutralizes Satan's greatest weapon (death) and which results in his final defeat. Paul plainly specifies, "The last enemy that will be abolished is death." (1 Corinthians 15:26.) And, then - immediately after the resurrection - the Kingdom is to be delivered up to God. (1 Corinthians 15:24.)

Clearly, there is no time in the Biblical scheme of things for two bodily resurrections separated by a 1000-year reign on earth. It is inconceivable that the doctrine of two resurrections from physical death, if true, would be mentioned only once in a book of symbols when every book in the New Testament touches upon the doctrine of the Resurrection.

The "two resurrection" theory contradicts the clear teaching of Jesus. He said, "Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment." (John 5:28-29.) In John 6:40 Jesus plainly taught that the righteous dead would not be raised up until "the last day." The last day is that day which signals the end of time and earthly matter as we know it! There is simply no time for a 1000-year reign on earth after the "last day." Whatever the first resurrection is, it is not a resurrection of bodies; rather it is contrasted in scripture with the second or bodily resurrection!

Premillennialism is wrong in its concept of the two resurrections.

THE RAPTURE

One of the most cherished doctrines of Premillennialism is that of the so-called Rapture. According to Robert Strong, the Rapture refers to the "sudden and possible secret coming of Christ in the air to catch away from the earth the resurrected bodies of those who have died in faith and with them the living saints." Those who hold this view are disagreed among themselves as to whether this period will last 3-1/2 or 7 years. Hal Lindsey describes it this way: "Someday, a day that only God knows, Jesus Christ is coming to take away all those that believe in Him. He is coming to meet all true believers in the air. Without benefit of science, space suits, or interplanetary rockets, there will be those who will be transported into a glorious place more beautiful, more awesome, than we can possibly comprehend. Earth and all its thrills, excitement, and pleasures will be nothing in contrast to this great event. It will be the living end. The ultimate trip." (THE LATE GREAT PLANET EARTH, p. 137.)

The Bible is unaware of any such doctrine! The word "rapture" is not even found in the Bible! When Christ comes again it will be no secret - "every eye will see Him" (Revelation 1:7.) Paul says that when we are "caught up" with the Lord we will "always be" with him. (1 Thessalonians 4:17.) This would not allow for a 1000-year return to earth to participate in the "Millennium." When Jesus comes to be glorified with His saints, He will simultaneously destroy the wicked. (2 Thessalonians 1:8-10.) Death will ultimately give way to the Resurrection and Judgment, not Resurrection and Rapture! "And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment." (Hebrews 9:27.) The time between the Resurrection and the consummation of our hope will be but a "moment"; not 7 years! (1 Corinthians 15:52.)

Premillennialism is wrong because it insists upon a "Rapture"of which the Bible has no knowledge.

ARMAGEDDON

According to Premillennialism the 1000-year reign will be preceded by a period of terrible tribulation which will climax in the Battle of Armageddon. According to the theory: "The tribulation will be God's wrath on this Christ rejecting world... There will be wars and at least one-half the world's population will be killed... Men will be scorched with fire, there will be great earthquakes and one hundred pound hail. Cities will fall and every island and mountain will disappear." (Bible Believer's Evangelistic Association, GOD'S PLAN FOR THE AGES.) The central feature of the Tribulation will be Armageddon. Hal Lindsey envisioned this scenario:
  1. Russia, allied with the Arab states will invade Israel;
  2. Russia will then double-cross her Arab allies and will make war upon them and the African states;
  3. The Revived Roman Empire, headed by antichrist, will enter the war and defeat the Russians using nuclear weapons;
  4. An army of 200 million Red Chinese will cross the Euphrates and enter the war, thus setting up the climactic battle on the plains of Armageddon.
The Bible furnishes no basis for these speculations. The Scriptures reveal that the "tribulation" had already begun in the days of the Apostle John! (Revelation 1:9.) The faithful New Testament Church at Smyrna received this message from Christ: "Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life." (Revelation 2:10.) The tribulation represents that spirit of opposition which has confronted the true Church of God all throughout history. In varying degrees, it is something which the Church must constantly contend with!

Armageddon is not a physical battle to be waged with guns, tanks, and nuclear war-heads! Rather, it is a spiritual struggle between the forces of good and evil. The word Armageddon is a combination of the Hebrew words "Har" meaning "mount" and "Megiddo" which was the site of several crucial battles in Jewish history. (cf. 2 Kings 23, Judges 5:19; Judges 7.) Literally, then, Armageddon is "the mountain of Megiddo." In the descriptive language of the Prophets, the word "mountain" was used symbolically to refer to the church. (cf. Isaiah 2:2.) Armageddon, then, simply refers to the spiritual baffles which must be fought by the church.
Ours is not a fleshly enemy - "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." (Ephesians 6:12.) Armageddon is the continuing struggle between the forces of good and evil. It is fought whenever and wherever right confronts wrong. It rages within the heart and within the nation! It is a battle which is being fought now! Christians must arm themselves and fight. (Ephesians 6:11, 2 Corinthians 10:4, 1 Timothy 6:12.) The faithful of God must confront every form of evil in every age at Armageddon!

Premillennialism is wrong because it has a mistaken idea about the meaning of the Tribulation and Armageddon.

THE 1000-YEAR REIGN

Premillennialists insist that the Bible clearly teaches that Christ will reign on earth for 1000 years. They base their belief on their interpretation of Revelation 20:4, which says, "And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years." It is held that this verse teaches a literal rule of Christ on earth from David's throne in Jerusalem.

But what does Revelation 20 actually say? Note some things which are not said in this often mis-quoted and misunderstood section of the Bible:
  1. Revelation 20 does not specifically mention the Second Coming of Christ - these events are not connected with it.
  2. Revelation 20 does not mention us. Those who reign are souls (i.e. disembodied spirits) who are referred to as "they."
  3. Revelation 20 does not mention the reign "of" Christ, but the reign of souls "with" Christ. There is a difference!
  4. Revelation 20 does not mention a reign on earth. According to Revelation 6:9 the souls of the martyrs who are described as reigning are under the altar in heaven.
  5. Revelation 20 does not mention a bodily resurrection. The first resurrection mentioned here is something which is contrasted with the second or bodily resurrection.
  6. Revelation 20 does not mention David's throne. A plurality of thrones is mentioned.
  7. Revelation 20 does not mention the city of Jerusalem or the land of Palestine.
  8. Revelation 20 does not indicate that the reign was for 1000 literal years. It is said of the martyrs that "they lived and reigned..." In other words, they lived for exactly the same period that they reigned. If the reign is 1000 literal years, then they only lived 1000 literal years!
  9. Revelation 20 does not mention Christ on earth. Instead, Christ is with the souls of the martyrs which were in heaven.
A great deal must be read into Revelation 20 before anything resembling Premillennialism will emerge from it. What does Revelation 20 actually say when it is read carefully?
  1. It says that Satan can be bound. (20:1.) How? By the preaching of the Gospel! The sword of the Spirit is the chain which has the power to restrain the devilish influence of the old serpent.
  2. It says that the martyrs who died for the cause of Christ will see their faith vindicated. How? By the triumph of the Gospel for which they died. When the Gospel which they preached is triumphant, they share in that triumph. They are victorious (i.e. sit on thrones) when the Word of God is victorious! The power of the Gospel is such that the reign of the truth is spoken of symbolically (Revelation is, after all, a book of symbols) as a thousand year reign. One thousand years suggest completeness, fullness, totality. When the Gospel is preached in all its original power and purity, then it has the capability to fully, completely, and totally overpower the influence of the Devil. When this happens, the martyrs who gave their lives for the Gospel's sake share in its triumph. (cf. Romans 1:16, 8:37.)
  3. Revelation 20 also warns that Satan can be loosed! How? By the failure of Christ's followers to proclaim the Gospel. Where the voice of the Gospel is not heard, then the influence of Satan rages unchecked.
  4. Finally, Revelation 20 confirms that there is a coming day of Universal Judgment when all mankind will be summoned to give an account of the things done in the body. (Revelation 20:12-15.)
Premillennialism is wrong because it misunderstands the nature of the thousand year reign!

IS THIS THE END?

Premillennialism has built its popularity on its sense of immediacy. It claims to provide an insight into the near future. Those who preach the doctrines of Premillennialism are convinced that the end of the present order of things is at hand. Pat Boone wrote concerning the Second Coming of Christ: "...the signs that it's about to happen are everywhere." In the original edition of THE LATE GREAT PLANET EARTH, Hal Lindsey theorized that the end would come within 40 years of the founding of Israel, which took place in 1948. In more recent editions of the book, Lindsey somewhat modifies his prediction, but in the movie version, he strongly suggests that the end will come before the end of the 20th Century. The 20th Century has now become the 21st Century and the end did not come.

It should be remembered that speculations about the Second Coming of Christ are not at all new. In the 2nd Century, Montanus of Phrygia proclaimed the imminent return of the Lord. During the Reformation, the German theologian Melchoir Hoffman set the time of Christ's return as October 22, 1844. In 1920, J.F. Rutherford, head of the Jehovah's Witnesses, wrote a book entitled MILLIONS NOW LIVING SHALL NEVER DIE in which he claimed that 1925 would be the year of Restoration when Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would be restored to life in visible form. (pp. 88-89, 100.) More recent literature by the Jehovah's Witnesses predicted that the present age would come to an end in the Fall of 1975! (LIFE EVERLASTING IN FREEDOM OF THE SONS OF GOD, p.29.) Surely the long list of those who have mis-read the "signs of the times" should caution us against any extreme or extravagant predictions concerning future things!

What does the Bible say about the Future?

  1. Christ Is Corning Again. "This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven." (Acts 1:11.)
  2. Christ Is Coming Unexpectedly. Jesus Himself plainly said "you do not know the day nor the hour." (Matthew 25:13.) He also said: "For this reason you be ready too; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will." (Matthew 24:44.) Clearly, Jesus did not expect men to be able to unlock the secret of the time of His coming! In fact, He went so far as to say: "But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone." (Mark 13:32.) Even Jesus Himself does not know the time the Father has chosen for His return! Anyone claiming to gauge the future by reading the "signs of the times" is claiming a knowledge denied to the Angels of Heaven and the Son of God. The time of Christ's return is both unknown and unknowable!
  3. We Must Make Ready Now! Since we cannot know at what time the Lord may come, we must be ready at all times. The coming of Jesus may be soon or distant, but our only opportunity for making ready for His return is now! (2 Corinthians 6:2.) The question is not: "When is Christ coming?" but "Will I be ready?" Jesus said, "Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time is." (Mark 13:33.)
"But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.." (2 Peter 3:10.)

BIBLIOGRAPHY