(The post formerly known as http://oldmaid.jallman.net/entry.php?id=16 )
Why are rapturist Christians so engaged in the doings of Israel? Well, rapturism teaches that the end-times events will be like dominoes that must fall in unbroken line. They are:
• that national Israel must exist
• so that ethnic Israel will return there
• and will desire to build the Third Temple
• even as real Christians are whooshed up to heaven
• which clears the way for the Antichrist to arise and make a covenant with Israel
• which he will break, plus he will desecrate the Temple
• which makes 144,000 Jews accept Jesus in rejection of the A.C.
• even as the A.C. kills anyone who will not worship him
• until Jesus returns and annihilates him
• and sets up the divine court for (one of several) Judgment Day(s), binding upon specific groups only
• after which the Jewish people crown Jesus as their Davidic king
• and resume animal sacrifices in a cleansed Temple
• until 1,000 years of glorious rule has passed
• after which there will be a final revolt
• followed by another Judgment Day, which also will not be binding upon all humans, only upon specific groups. (Note: a minority of rapturists posit additional Judgment Days, binding upon groups not present/alive to stand before other JDs.)
The Gentle Browser should notice how few of these proposed event-dominoes require the presence or participation of Christians (of any flavor). In rapturist theory, the end of the world focuses on ethnic Israel—whether ethnic Israel wants it that way or not. This is because a belief in the Secret Rapture requires “real” Christians to take their covenant and go sit quietly in a corner (of Heaven), whether Christians (of any flavor) want it that way or not.
Why have rapturists come to believe that their fate is deeply intertwined with Israel’s fate? There are three reasons, namely, the dominoes that rapturists believe will benefit them personally. One is that rapturism ties the date of the Secret Rapture to a key event for Israel. Reason two is that rapturism teaches that the way “fashionably late” Christians treat Jews determines the outcome on Judgment Day (whichever Judgment Day they believe they will attend). Reason three is that rapturism teaches Jesus must rule Israel as an earthly potentate for 1,000 terrestrial years. Rapturists believe Jesus will give them positions of authority in that government.
One. Rapturists believe that Jesus specifically told them when they would be Whooshed Up to Heaven, bypassing a future Great Tribulation. Hal Lindsey was the first famous writer of the movement to advertise this belief. (Rossing says he was the one who invented it.) Lindsey cited “the fig tree” verses, such as Matthew 24:32-34. These verses are: (32) “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. (33) So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. (34) Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.”
Based on these verses Hal Lindsey wrote that the Secret Rapture must occur within “one generation” or within 40 years of Israel’s restoration. Rossing complains, “Never mind that Jesus himself didn’t identify the fig tree as Israel. Lindsey interpreted Israel as the fig tree; and “putting forth its leaves” was Israel becoming a sovereign state—the prophetic “super sign” signaling that Jesus was at the gates and could return any minute” (page 50). Well, Israel was founded in 1948, and no Secret Rapture occurred in 1988. Nowadays rapturists quietly pin their hopes on 2007, since it is 40 years after Israel conquered all the territory that was once allotted to the Twelve Tribes. As nothing happened by the end of 2007, rapturists will have to choose a new date 40 years after some other significant event in modern Israel.
Two. Rapturists believe that they will be Whooshed Up to Heaven and will see, but never face, (any) Judgment Day. They believe that those who are left behind will be judged based on the way they treat the Jews who accept Christ in a future Great Tribulation. (Some rapturists believe that only 144,000 Jews will become Christians. Other rapturists believe that many more Jews will become Christians, but only 144,000 of them will become traveling evangelists. One common explanation for the lack of a single rapturist position is that Rev. 14:1 describes the 144,000 Jews as male virgins. Clearly a literalistic interpretation would lead to the conclusion that no women, no married men, no widowers would be saved.)
The day of judgment is described in Matt. 25:31-46. Those whose works of mercy follow them will have it counted as if “when you did to the least of these My brothers and sisters, you did it unto Me.” Those who did not perform works of mercy will wail, “When did we see You hungry or thirsty or naked or a stranger or sick or in prison, and did not do for You?” (The answer is, “When you did not do for the least of these My brothers and sisters, you did not do for Me.”) Rossing observes,
[Hal] Lindsey applies this parable only to those left behind after the Rapture, and then only to the few who survive the seven-year tribulation. For Lindsey, the predictive message of the parable is that “tribulation survivors” will be judged on the basis of how they welcomed a specific group—the 144,000 Jewish evangelists. But such a bizarre interpretation misses the ethical urgency of the parable for all of us. There is no evidence that “one of the least of these my brothers and sisters” in Matthew 25:40 refers to Revelation’s 144,000. Rather, the parable calls all of us to give an account to God on the basis of how we treat our neighbors in need. (page 182)
Rapturists are not the only belief system to treat 144,000 as a literal number. The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the righteous will live on earth and 144,000 righteous humans resurrected as “spirit creatures with divine life” will rule with Jesus from heaven. Nonrapturist non-Witnesses reject both understandings.
None of our five critics believe that 144,000 is a literal number. All of those who expressed an opinion insisted that 144,000 is the poetic number of Jews who enter heaven because 144,000 is a multiple of the 12 tribes of Israel with a lot of 10s thrown in. (In the old Jewish-Christian apocalyptic codes ten was the number of completion. So, just as “God owns the cattle on 1,000 hills” [Psalms 50:10] is the Bible’s poetic way of saying “God owns all of them,” then “144,000 Jews” is the Bible’s poetic way of saying, “all of the Jewish people who are among the righteous, from all of time and space, gathered as one.” See Rev. 14:1.) No amillennial writer or apologist would accept such a tiny number as a real one, any more than they accept “one thousand” as a real number.
(Personal aside: Your host might be misreading some of this … doesn’t it sound like rapturism teaches that nobody will be judged based on the way they treat Gentiles? That is, nobody who is Whooshed Up to Heaven is judged at all, and after a future Great Tribulation the only people who would be judged are judged based on the way they treated Jewish evangelists during said Tribulation? It is a key plot point of Left Behind that rapturist Christians hide in bunkers and evangelize over the internet and telephones, but the evangelists who risk their lives in public are usually Jewish converts. In volume 9 the Christians rescue these Jewish converts in a great airlift to the rock city of Petra. What your host has missed here is where, exactly, rapturism proves that nobody will be judged on their contributions, or lack thereof, to tsunami relief or famine relief or earthquake relief because none of those disasters affected Christians or Jews. Surely your host has missed something, but what, when, and where?)
Three. Why do rapturists teach that Jesus has to rule an earthly Israel? They believe it is the only way to fulfill Zech. 14:4 (“His feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives which lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two”). Currie (pages 446-7) argues that Jesus already did that. That is, the early church fathers Tertullian and Eusebius pointed out that Jesus walked upon the Mount of Olives the night before He was crucified—and the fact that Jesus was crucified is what made Israel split in two (a split between those Jews who believed in him and those Jews who did not believe).
Citing Isaiah 49:6 and 60:1-3 and Malachi 1:11, Riddlebarger says that “Calvin concluded that believing Israel in the Old Testament was really the Church in its infancy. There is one people of God in both Testaments, all members of the one covenant of grace whose one mediator is Jesus Christ. Even though Calvin saw but one people of God throughout redemptive history, he was not ready to say that God has no more place for ethnic Israel in his redemptive purposes. Despite Israel’s present unbelief, said Calvin, ‘for the sake of the promise, God’s blessing still rests among them’” (page 118).
Having said that, Currie (page 344) challenges the rapturist teaching that (rapturist) Christians will help Jesus rule an earthly Israel. Currie argues that the only people who will rule with Jesus are those “whose thrones have been committed” (Rev. 20:4)—and that the Apostles were the ones promised those thrones (Matt. 19:28). Martyrs killed by “the beast” (Rev. 20:4) assist them and also have thrones. Currie stresses (page 348) that the only thrones mentioned in Rev. 4:4, indeed the entire book of Revelation, are in Heaven. The verse Rev. 6:9 states that those thrones went to “the souls under the altar” who were murdered. The “souls” of Rev. 6:9 and the “martyrs” of 20:4 are the same people. All of these dead-but-conscious humans remain disembodied. They are ruling in heaven now, not waiting to rule an earthly Israel later. (For example, Saint Peter’s body is still under the basilica that bears his name, but his consciousness is not there. He is very much aware in heaven, and very busy helping Jesus rule. Recall that this is the amillennial definition of “where and when” the Millennium occurs.)
In response some rapturists state that they were promised working jobs in the holy Millennial government, which is not necessarily the same thing as thrones. This annoys fellow rapturists who expect thrones, but it also makes the rapturist position vulnerable to a rare snark by Currie: Will Jesus give rapturists civil service jobs?
It all goes back to number-crunching. Pure amillennialists are comfortable with a vague or symbolic approach to the numbers proffered in Daniel 12, but both preterists and rapturists take the numbers literally. These numbers, they say, provide information about the change in government over the Jewish people. The numbers are 1,260 days (Daniel 12:7, 1,290 days (verse 11) and 1,335 days (verse 12).
Currie the preterist argues that it took Vespasian and Titus 1,260 days to conquer Jerusalem, another 30 days to mop up all remaining pockets of resistance, and another 45 days to sort the prisoners into live-slaves-versus-death-row-candidates, to reward the Roman troops, and to get bored and go home to his victory celebration. Historical events do coincide with the intervals mentioned (pages 136-7).
Rapturists argue that the 1,260 days and the 1,290 days and the 1,335 days of Daniel 12 await fulfillment in the future. They predict that the last half of the future Great Tribulation will be 1,260 days. On day 1,261 precisely, Jesus will return in glory and might to smite the Antichrist and set up the judgment seat. In the rapturist model Jesus will take 30 days to judge the Gentiles who survived the Great Tribulation, which leaves one more interval of 45 days to be fulfilled.
During this additional month and a half, the new thousand-year Messianic Kingdom will be set up. Rapturists assert that Christ will need those 45 days to establish and staff the various bureaucracies that will oversee His reign on a worldwide basis.
I am not making this up.
(Currie, page 137)
(Personal aside: it is understandable that old school rapturists continue to expect thrones, as it is a more traditional interpretation than, say, a job in the Water Department or the Roads Commission. Also, rapturists who expect thrones have more liberty to see the 45/75 days as a symbol of “completion” which in their view offers it some protection from preterist counterattack. The “symbolic” approach also, in their view, offers some protection against amillennial questions such as, ”Why would the God who created the heavens and the earth in six days need 75 days to take out the trash?” To old-school rapturists, the extra days are poetic not literal.
One final observation on this point: if preterists are correct that the Bible accurately predicted the events of the year 70, then rapturists would have to revise their strategy. It would be a formidable task for the average rapturist to try to match, say, Currie point for point—but if rapturists were to invoke “prophetic perspective,” then they could tell preterists dismissively, “Fine, we’ll agree about some events in the year 70. We simply expect the prophecies to come true again in the near future.” However, the overwhelming majority of rapturists decline this option; they fear it would make them indistinguishable from Idealist-amillennialists.)
Our critics argue that rapturists misinterpret the scriptures by insisting upon these three dominoes. If that is true, then why do rapturists believe in those dominoes? And what are the consequences of these beliefs?
Olson proposes that rapturism and its documents such as the Scofield Reference Bible could not keep up with the ever-growing covenants. For example, the ever-growing covenant “is evident in the developing language of the Old Testament, which moves from a strictly earth-bound view of material blessing to an increasingly spiritual understanding of fulfillment” (page 283). As a result it can be hard for Christians brought up in rapturism to make the transition—to recognize “the New Testament’s use of types such as Zion and Jerusalem (Heb. 12:22), Israel (Gal. 6:16), and Bride (Eph. 5 ; see Hos. 2:19-20 ; Isaiah 54:5-8) in reference to the Church” (page 282). Olson quotes the Scofield footnote to Hosea 2:
That Israel is the wife of Jehovah … now disowned but yet to be restored, is the clear teaching of the passages” (Scofield Reference Bible, p. 922). Of Revelation 19:7 he writes: “The ‘Lamb’s wife’ here is the bride (Rev. 21:9), the Church, identified with the ‘heavenly Jerusalem’ (Heb. 12:22, 23), and to be distinguished from Israel, the adulterous and repudiated ‘wife’ of Jehovah, yet to be restored (Isaiah 54:1-10; Hos. 2:1-17), who is identified with the earth (Hos. 2:23)” (Scofield Reference Bible, p. 1348).
(Footnote 110 of Olson’s book, page 282)
“Once again, the solution for the dispensationalist is to create divisions: God will have two brides, an ‘earthly wife’ and a ‘heavenly bride,’” concludes Olson (page 282). Olson queries, “Such divisions bring up difficult questions: If God has two brides, is He a polygamist?”
Currie asks, how do average rapturists view the Church?
They believe it is not the zenith of God’s plan throughout the ages or even anticipated in the Old Testament. They call it rather a ‘parenthesis’ in God’s eternal plan—a temporary stand-in for Old Covenant Israel. They believe that the Jews’ rejection of the Messiah in His first advent forced God to initiate ‘Plan B’. So God is left with two plans, the one foretold in the Old Testament for the Jews, and the last-minute substitute that became the Church … Because the original plan with its Messianic Kingdom could not be established without the Jews’ approval, God set up the Church for a couple of thousand years, waiting for the right time to offer His Kingdom to the Jews again. That is the purpose of the future seven-year Great Tribulation: to prod the Jewish people into accepting their Messiah. It will do nothing for the Church, which will already have been raptured to the safety of Heaven—put forever on the back burner of God’s eternal plan. Those Jews who “accept Christ” during the Great Tribulation and the Millennium will never become a part of the Church. Rather, they will remain an eternally separate chosen Israel. (pages 272-3)
Personal aside #1: The Left Behind novels promote this belief in their names and terminology. Interestingly, the novels dismiss two Catholic popes—one is whooshed up to heaven; the other endorses the Antichrist—then put forward their own Jewish papal figure. This is the Orthodox scholar and rav Tsion Ben Judah. Ben Judah obtains this position of leadership partly because he converted to rapturist Christianity on his own, without the guidance of a Gentile Christian, and partly because his cyberaudience exceeds “more than a billion daily.” The servants of the Antichrist repeatedly refer to the resistance, not as Christians or the Church or People of the Way, but as Judah-ites.)
(Personal aside #2: Do the villains call the believers “Judah-ites” because the evildoers fear to speak the name of Christ? Not at all. In Volume 11, the Antichrist attempts to smear Chloe’s name by claiming she named her little son Jesus Savior Williams and that she believes he really is Jesus. This time it is the villains who attempt to paint Chloe as a Terminatrix figure, who would rear little Kenny Bruce to become a pint-sized general. Additionally, after the Antichrist revives from an attempt on his life, he hijacks the Christian call-and-response “He is risen / He is risen indeed”. Now the doomed crowds chant and believe that it refers to the Antichrist, not Christ. No, the reason the rebels are called Judah-ites is to remind the reader that the Jews are the intended recipients of whatever grace survives in the Great Tribulation … along with the bulk of the miseries. Gentiles only appear in the story because they missed the express elevator specifically sent to ferry them away from all this.)
Rapturists believe that the fate of the Jews can be seen in Daniel 9:24-27. Rossing challenges the rapturist interpretation of these crucial verses.
For Darby and proponents of his system, [the prophet] Daniel’s final seventieth week with the desecration of the Jewish temple has not yet happened. It remains “unfulfilled prophecy,” awaiting fulfillment in some not-too-distant future time. According to Darby and the dispensationalists, the first 483 years of the Daniel porophecy were fulfilled in ancient Israel’s history only up through week number sixty-nine.
But something happened. With the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, “God obviously stopped ‘the prophetic stopwatch’” one week short of the end. “The clock could not have continued ticking consecutively,” asserts [Hal] Lindsey, since Rome’s destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 A.D. did not follow the chronology of Daniel in the literalist way dispensationalists require.
God paused the prophetic stopwatch for two thousand years because the Jews, who should have crowned Jesus as their Messiah and king, rejected him. God was forced to stop the clock and turn to a different plan, starting yet another dispensation of human history. With language like “God was forced,” dispensationalists put God in a corner in a way that traditional theology would never permit—but a sense of prophetic inevitability is necessary for their system.
According to dispensationalists, Israel’s prophetic stopwatch has been stopped now for the past two thousand years. We are currently living in a “parenthesis” or “gap” on the divine stopwatch, between Daniel’s sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks … Any minute now, God will remove true Christian believers from the earth in the Rapture, keeping the church completely separate from Israel—a key element in the system—and then the prophetic stop watch can resume for the final “week” or seven years of Israel’s history … Critics point out that if you actually read these verses in Daniel, there is no indication of a gap of thousands of years before the final seventieth “week” of years … Such a move strains the [rapturist] claims of literalism, since there is no “plain sense” warrant for inserting a chronological gap into the Greek or Hebrew texts. [snip] [The rapturist] view that Jesus is not yet a king causes dispensationalists to arbitrarily split up Bible verses with gaps of thousands of years. (pages 26-27)
Riddlebarger concurs (pages 103-4): “The category used by dispensationalists to understand the nature of the Kingdom in the present dispensation of the church is that of ‘mystery.’ And though, says [John] Walvoord, God knew in advance that Israel would refuse Jesus’ offer, the Kingdom was postponed because Israel willfully rejected the offer … This present dispensation results from humanity’s ability to frustrate God’s redemptive-historical purposes.” Riddlebarger then asks why Walvood says that the “mystery of the Kingdom” is a present reality “because Christ is reigning now in Heaven” (page 104). Riddlebarger says, “If this is true, the Kingdom must be present in some sense and not postponed … Either the Kingdom is present in some sense or it is not. If it is present, it has not been postponed.”
Riddlebarger then builds on this. “Despite Walvood’s efforts to insist that God is sovereign, the lack of human cooperation frustrated his plan, thereby forcing a delay in its inauguration for at least two thousand years. But the New Testament knows nothing of a Kingdom offered and a Kingdom withdrawn according to the whims of unbelieving Israel.” Paul certainly believed the Kingdom had come because Jesus had come (Eph. 1:3-14). Jesus also believed the Kingdom existed, because Jesus described it in the parables of the sower and the mustard seed (Matt. 13). Riddlebarger states that if the Kingdom of God would not truly exist until the Second Coming, then everything Jesus said in Matthew 13 is “unintelligible.” It also contradicts Jesus’ own statement that “the Kingdom of God has come to you” (Matt. 12:28, Luke 11:20). Jesus used the word ephthasen, meaning “arrived,” but according to Riddlebarger, rapturists teach that Jesus really meant to say engiken, meaning “near.” John the Baptist and Jesus originally did use this word (see Matt. 10:7), but then Jesus stopped using it and said ephthasen. Citing his source Hoekema, Riddlebarger admits there are only minor differences between these words. His point is that it is rapturists who make great distinctions between the words and then insist upon using the weaker word in a way that denies the present reality of the Kingdom (page 107).
Implied in these statements about God being “forced” to do anything is the notion that if God “has” to do things the Jews’ way, then God also “has” to do things the rapturist way. Also, if God cannot get the Jewish people to do what God wants, then maybe the rapturists can get the Jewish people to do what God wants. This may be a reason for the “red heifer” breeding program initiated by a handful of zealous rapturists. Rossing cites Jewish experts who point out that “a strange technicality makes it unlikely that animal sacrifice could resume even if a third temple were rebuilt. According to Number 19, only the ashes of a pure red heifer can cleanse a person from contact with human death … the technical difficulty is that no pure red heifer has been born in recent times; and the ashes of the last red heifer ran out in 70 A.D.” (page 61). As long as no red heifer exists, there is no reason to rebuild the Jewish Temple because it cannot be opened for business without those ashes. That also means, as Rossing observes, that any arguments between monotheists over who “owns” the Temple Mount in Jerusalem are (slightly) less likely to flare up, for the moment. But now a handful of rapturists have decided to supply those heifers and ashes (if they can), regardless of whether the Jewish majority in Israel gives its blessing for the project.
Currie asks (pages 448-9) why rapturists send mixed signals about “sacrifices.” They want to see animal sacrifices restored, and even Currie admits that Zech. 14:21 says there will be regular sacrifices. Currie’s point is that Catholics call the holy feast a “sacrifice”—and that it is offered in Jerusalem in churches every day. (This is because Jesus was the last sacrifice, but Jesus also is in the holy feast.) Rapturists reject this understanding, arguing that only animal sacrifices can fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah. Currie responds, “Protestants are emphatic that the Crucifixion of Christ was the last sacrifice ever needed. [So] why would God even allow animal sacrifices to be performed—sacrifices that were only a shadow of our Lord’s passion?” Although mainline Protestants are not always united with Catholics on the terminology, they agree with Currie on the “why” question. Were not animal sacrifices supposed to stop when the Messiah is revealed, not started?
Rapturism teaches that ethnic Israel had to establish national Israel so that the Third Temple would be built. Since Jesus prophesied that the Temple would be desecrated and destroyed, it has happened once. Since the prophet Daniel prophesied the Temple would be desecrated, it has happened twice. Rapturism teaches that the Temple has to be built a third time—not for its own sake, but so that the Antichrist can desecrate it. None of our critics either accept or dispute the proposal that an Antichrist would desecrate any holy building he encounters. Our amillennialist critics do not deny that a Jewish Temple would be a likely target for physical damage. They simply disagree that it is the real or most important target. The “temple” the Antichrist will attempt to defile is made of people. Riddlebarger explains:
Paul asked the Corinthian believers, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple, and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple” (1 Cor. 3:16-17). Paul also said, “We are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor. 6:16). The same idea is found in Eph. 2:21-22, where Paul wrote, “In him [Christ] the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple of the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his spirit.” In the Old Testament, the tabernacle was that place where heaven and earth intersected, for there God chose to be present with his people and revealed his divine glory (Exodus 40). Because of Christ’s redemptive work, however, the two peoples are not only made into one, but they are knit together into the one body of Jesus Christ. The church is now that place where God’s glory resides and where God dwells with his people. In this temple there is neither Jew nor Greek, as all are living stones in Christ Jesus.” (page 121)
(Personal aside: In Left Behind‘s Volume 2 the Third Temple does get built. Moses the lawgiver and Elijah the prophet materialize in Jerusalem and promptly denounce it. Their two challenges are as follows. On the one hand, they argue that “God does not dwell in temples made with hands! The body of believers is the temple of the Holy Spirit!” On the other hand, the fictional Moses and Elijah insist that “Israel has constructed a temple of rejection! … Israel remains largely unbelieving and will soon suffer for it!” The fictional Moses and Elijah are “ablaze with anger” not merely because the Antichrist helped the Jews build this Third Temple. [Thus by definition it was “born” contaminated.] These “two witnesses” are explosively insulted that the Jews would want a temple of their own accord; it is a manifest “rejection” of God and God’s Messiah that will make Israel “suffer”.
The effect is that if any real-world Jews want a Third Temple, certain real-world elements in rapturism are eager to help them, which gives the portrayal that the temple is a good thing—but in the novels, the fact that the Jews actually build it is portrayed as a very bad thing, a “rejection” of God for which Israel must now “suffer,” perhaps even if no Antichrist-assistance had been involved. [See Volume 2, pages 402-403.] After the novels have concluded, that is, after the Second Coming of Christ, real-world rapturists portray the temple as being a good thing again, during the Millennial reign. Rapturist teaching states that animal sacrifices will resume in this cleansed Temple, while Jesus Christ watches approvingly from King David’s throne.
Update: August 2007: In the final volume #16, the Third Temple is destroyed by divine fire and replaced with a pure Fourth Temple. Jesus’ throne, David’s duties, and the animal sacrifices are all placed there.)
Twice Riddlebarger reports (page 32, 35) that Hal Lindsey has labeled the amillennial position as “demonic and heretical.” Riddlebarger observes that one way rapturism advances its case is to claim that no rapturist can be anti-Semitic while simultaneously claiming that amillennialism is by definition anti-Semitic. Thus a “not-so-subtle use of ad hominen arguments” is employed to prevent Christians from doing any serious comparison-shopping.
[Lindsey writes,] Amillennialism … became a philosophical basis for anti-Semitism. Amillennialism teaches that the Church has been given the promises made to the Israelites because they crowned a history of unbelief by rejecting the Messiah. Therefore, since in this view the Israelites have no future in God’s plan, and since they believe that “the Jews engineered the execution of Jesus,” a subtle justification for the persecution of the Jews resulted. I am thankful to say that no person who believes in the premillennial view can be anti-Semitic. (quoted by Riddlebarger, pages 35-36)
Currie immediately replies that rapturism ignores Rev. 15:1 which says “the wrath of God is ended” when Jerusalem fell. “Anti-Semitism is a twisted sort of [Rip Van] Winkle Warp that ignores the history it finds inconvenient. Present-day anti-Semites may try to hide behind religious reasons, but it is my experience that they have other motives. We must not be fooled into anti-Semitism; God’s wrath with Judaism was ended in the ‘winepress’ of 70 A.D.—period” (page 314). Even many non-preterist amillennialists agree: the rapturist script implies that a Great Tribulation is due in the future because either the Jews have done something to deserve it, or else they refuse to do something (such as “accepting Christ”) that would stop it.
(Personal aside #1: The proposal that it is “anti-Semitic” to question the reasons for a future Great Tribulation “to prod the Jews into accepting Christ” is troubling. Most of the people who defended the Jewish people in the 20th Century were nonrapturist. In World War II they included the Eastern Orthodox of Bulgaria, led by Tsar Boris III, who refused to hand over 50,000 Jews to the German occupying forces. The Bulgarian crowds sat on the train tracks so that the Nazis could not move Jews to the death camps. In Norway the Lutherans and northern Reformed Church resisted Nazi ideology by holding a teachers’ strike rather than teach Nazi propaganda. In Denmark an urban legend arose that the king said if the Jews had to wear a yellow star he would be the first person in the kingdom to wear one. [In truth, the Danes smuggled almost 5,000 Jews to safety in Sweden. The more romantic urban legend has eclipsed this equally compelling truth.] Miep Gies and Corrie Ten Boom were not rapturists. And yet, the majority of Christians in Europe did nothing. In the States, rapturists were right there alongside nonrapturists passing the anti-immigration laws that kept the Jewish refugees trapped in Europe where they perished. On the other hand, rapturist General Orde Wingate helped train the Israeli army even though most of his peers did not care and saw no reason to get involved. Now that Israel has a national state, suddenly people want to be their friend … but only if they “do this” and “do that.” Both rapturists and nonrapturists have ideas about what they would like Israel to do. Rapturists want the Jewish people to build the Third Temple, claim certain lands, and accept Christ. Meanwhile nonrapturists press them to extend citizenship to non-Jews, among other things. It seems there is plenty of praise and blame to go around. Goodness only knows how rapturists will respond when they hear that the Presbyterian Church in the States voted to divest its funds from Israel for the same reason the PCUSA divested itself from South Africa in the 1980s. The Anglicans/Episcopalians plan to take a vote on the matter by the end of 2005.)
(Personal aside #2: One of our Dart-article sources, Ben Witherington III, “disputed an ‘unwarranted’ view by dispensationalists that the last generation of Christians are ‘exempt’ from tribulation. ‘Why should the last generation of Christians expect to do less cross-bearing than previous ones?’ he asked” [page 9]. In rapture theory every time there is a great tribulation it falls on the Jews. The Jews were crushed in 67-73 [but rapturism calls what happened to Christians in 64-70 one of “the ordinary tribulations”]. The Jewish people had another seven years—that the outside world will admit to—in World War II. It is estimated that there should be 100 to 120 million Jews alive on this planet. Only 13 million Jews are alive today . Yet in rapture theory the Jewish people have another seven years of unparalleled misery coming their way before the world ends. If the hypothetical plot of the Left Behind novels ever came true, then many Jewish individuals who saw their lives begin in death camps could see their lives draw to a close in death camps. In fact the Antichrist is recorded [Volume 11, page 223] as calling his latest project “the final solution to the Jewish problem”, an unmistakable phrase with an unmistakable message. Simultaneously—possibly because of the Health and Wealth gospel elements compatible with rapturism—rapturism teaches that some of the last generation of Christians can avoid “cross-bearing” and go straight to heaven, but the cross-bearing still has to get done. Who does the bulk of this work of Christian cross-bearing? The Jews get to do it! Does this seem strange to anyone else?)
Here Riddlebarger (pages 180-194) proposes a dramatically different scenario. (It was tempting to reproduce all fifteen pages.)
Both rapturist and nonrapturist Christians tend to separate ethnic Israel from the Christian church, if only temporarily. Postmillennialists and rapturists see ethnic Israel as a group yet to be returned to the spotlight of redemptive history. Amillennialists tend to see ethnic Israel as a group that rejected a messianic offer that was accepted by Gentiles. For this reason a-Mills occasionally refer to all Christians, regardless of race, as “the Israel of God.” (That is, they follow a Jewish Messiah.) Paul himself frequently speaks in this manner (Gal. 4:28, Gal. 6:16, Romans 4:16).
Then Paul wrote the book of Romans. The bulk of this book demonstrates Paul’s working out the question of whether redemptive history retained a place for ethnic Israel, Paul’s people. Paul wrote that it was his “heart’s desire and prayer to God that Israel may be saved” (Rom. 10:1). Indeed, Riddlebarger notes that many people interpret Romans 11 as promoting “the likelihood of the conversion of large numbers of ethnic Jews before the return of Christ” (page 181). Certainly rapturists and postmillennialists believe in a mass conversion of Jews before the end of the age. Riddlebarger the amillennialist proposes something very different from their two models.
Rapturists and post-Mills believe that Romans 11 strengthens their case for a millennial rule on earth with Israel in a starring role, but Riddlebarger believes that Romans 11 says nothing about an earthly Millennium. This is not a problem for him, since he believes it is largely irrelevant. “As Stanley Gretz correctly pointed out, ‘this hope’ for the future role of Israel does not require ‘an earthly millennial reign of Christ, for the conversion of Israel could just as easily prepare for the inauguration of the eternal state as for an earthly golden age’” (page 181).
Riddlebarger interprets Romans 11 in a way that reminds him of a pendulum. When only a portion of the first-century Jews accepted Jesus as their Messiah, Riddlebarger says that Paul says that the pendulum swung very, very far in the direction of the Gentiles. From this Riddlebarger believes Paul made four points:
One. Israel “stumbled” but did not “fall” (Rom. 11:11). Paul refers to the pendulum swing as a “mystery”—but pendulums swing back (page 190).
Two. Israel was experiencing a time of “hardening,” of which their encounter with Jesus was only the latest example (Rom. 11:7-10). It had started before he came along, and Paul said it would continue after Jesus left. However the words used to describe how long it would last are not, in Riddlebarger’s opinion, words that can be defined as “permanent, irreversible, forever” (pages 190, 192).
Three. Paul’s use of the word “until” (achri) in Rom. 11:25 is definitely a word signifying a time period with an end (page 191). Riddlebarger cites Douglas Moo and Geerhardus Vos, both of whom believe that Israel’s return in “fullness” (Rom. 11:12, 15) “‘will trigger the climactic end of salvation history.’ This places the time of Israel’s acceptance immediately before the return of Christ and the bodily resurrection” (page 188).
Four. Paul’s use of the word houtos (“and so” or “and in this manner”) in Rom. 11:26 is taken by most scholars to refer to the day when “the fullness of Gentiles” has been achieved and the world ends. Those scholars see “all Israel” as “the elect individuals within the community of Israel, ‘the sum total of all the remnants through history’” (page 191). Riddlebarger and his sources argue that houtos should not be seen in “a temporal manner … Indeed, there is no evidence that the term has this meaning. Rather, the difference has to do with the meaning of ‘all Israel’” (page 191).
What Riddlebarger means is:
When the fullness of the Gentiles come in when Israel’s hardness of heart is removed, ethnic Jews will be saved in the same way in which the members of the present believing remnant are saved, only in such great numbers that Paul could say “all Israel” will be saved.
[An objection is that] since the gathering of the fullness of the Gentiles takes place during the present age and not just at the end of time, why, then, should the fullness of Israel be different? Paul appealed to the redemptive-historical pendulum swinging back and forth between Israel’s barrenness leading to blessings for the Gentiles, which in turn will lead to even greater blessings for Israel. This is, Paul said, a mystery, about which he did not want his Gentile readers to be ignorant. Jews and Gentiles are grafted into the same root and are made righteous before God by the same means. Paul’s point was that Israel’s barrenness will be reversed. Although the roles of Jews and Gentiles are inextricably bound together throughout redemptive history, it is only when the fullness of the Gentiles has come in that “all Israel” will be saved. Even though Israel’s fullness is of the same kind as that of the Gentiles, it does come immediately before the end, unlike that of the Gentiles.
Throughout this whole section of Romans, Paul describes an oscillation between the hardness of Israel, which in turn produces the fullness of the Gentiles, which in turn produces a jealousy which one day will lead to the fullness of Israel. If all Paul wanted to tell us here was that God was going to save the sum total of elect Jews throughout the ages, then “the salvation of Jewish Israel will be limited forever to a remnant.” It is hard to see how this could produce the doxological comments which end Paul’s discussion. (page 193)
There are 15 pages of chewy material here, but the highlights are these: Paul argued that a day would come when the Jews would be “jealous” or “envious” of the Gentiles and would seek out Jesus for that reason (Rom. 11:11). Paul had feared his people were slipping away from heaven, and it wrung his heart. He prayed in anguish about it until, apparently, he received an answer that made him a very happy man. Now in history there has never been a time when the Jewish people were “jealous” enough of Christians to join of their own free will and heart’s desire, except for the small group of first-century believers. Riddlebarger argues this “remnant” is far too small to fulfill Paul’s criteria. Therefore Riddlebarger argues that this event must be a future event. He believes Paul is prophesying as much. This day of “Israel’s fullness”—the pendulum suddenly swinging in a single large blow—will come just before the end, just before the return of Christ and the resurrection.
Notice what Riddlebarger’s position does not say. He believes there is no reason to link Israel’s choice to any earthly Davidic kingdom with Jesus on the throne. Thus there also is no reason to propose a great tribulation specifically to corner or browbeat the Jewish people into accepting Jesus as Christ. It is a free-will decision, and it is their decision. This position undercuts the rather insulting proposals that Jewish converts would not otherwise voluntarily vote for Jesus so much as to vote against The Other Guy. (Riddlebarger is taking no position for or against any worldly upheavals just before the end—he simply takes the stand that any Jewish believers will make their choice out of honest “jealousy.”) Oh, and the biggest point? If Christians would like to see Jewish people and Christians worshipping side by side, then Christians should focus on bringing the good news of the Gospel to the Gentiles.
Riddlebarger’s position reverses almost every point of rapturism regarding its perceptions and attitudes toward the Jewish people and nation.
Riddlebarger admits his view is a minority one among amillennialists, but he believes it is supportable in scripture. He thinks this point has gotten buried in the modern attempts to link Israel to an earthly Millennium. Instead, Riddlebarger (page 194) and his sources state that Israel’s choice is “connected to the end of the age. When all Israel is saved, the resurrection is at hand.”
Before we conclude this section, it is important to include a note from the proposed participants. Rossing cites Israeli Jew Gershom Gorenberg who “specifically points to the danger of anti-Semitism in dispensationalism.”
“He observed, ‘They don’t love real Jewish people. They love us as characters in their story, in their play, and that’s not who we are … People who see Israel through the lens of Endtimes prophecy are questionable allies.’ Their support can backfire when disappointed dispensationalists realize that Jews don’t fit their script as they predicted, or when ‘Israel’s real needs lead it to depart from the “prophetic” program’” (page 62).
On Israel’s neighbors
Rossing has visited the Holy Land, met the people from all (peaceful) sides of the populace, and possibly has been inside the Dome of the Rock (page 59). This building sits upon Temple Mount. With something akin to wonder, Rossing observes that “Left Behind portrays Muslims as voluntarily agreeing with the Antichrist’s proposal to move the Dome of the Rock to his capital city of ‘New Babylon’ in Iraq, but such a scenario is sheer dispensationalist fantasy. The shrine is the most famous symbol of Jerusalem; the golden dome glows from posters on the walls of almost every Arab restaurant you will ever visit and in Muslim homes around the world” (page 60). The idea that Muslims would let their shrine be moved—which they would not do if one asked them today—to make room for the Jewish Temple—which “only a tiny minority of Jews support” (page 60)—to fulfill a rapturist Christian prophecy—strikes Rossing as “astounding.”
Rossing adds that Hal Lindsey “in his recent writings has determined that the Holy of Holies is not under the Muslim shrine but next to it, so that the two buildings theoretically could stand next to one another” (page 59). But Rossing observes that “[dispensationalists] bank their entire hope for the Second Coming of Christ upon the rebuilt Temple” (page 60). Therefore they believe it must be built regardless of whether other buildings are in the way, and regardless of the response of those who intend to protect those other buildings.
(Personal aside: If memory serves, there also is a small Christian church atop Temple Mount.)
There is one other group living in the Middle East. “Palestinian Christians do not even exist in the eyes of dispensationalists,” writes Rossing. An Anglican priest living there tells her, “They do not view us as really Christian … They call us cultural Christians only” (page 62).
Who are these Christians? A few are Israeli citizens, but “many” have no citizenship. “They are members of traditional churches whose presence in the region goes back centuries, even millennia—Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Melkite, and Roman Catholic. These churches claim roots going all the way back to Pentecost, the event in the biblical book of Acts when the Holy Spirit descended on believers in Jerusalem. More recent Palestinian churches include Lutherans, Episcopalians, Anglicans, Baptists, and other evangelicals, whose presence dates to mission work in the 19th and 20th Centuries,” writes Rossing (page 63).
Christians make up about 2 percent of the Palestinian population. [Their] influence … is much greater than their numbers, thanks to the schools and hospitals they operate, the long history of their association with holy sites as well as other cultural factors. [snip] Today the Middle East’s Christians’ numbers are dwindling. Christians are squeezed by many forces. They long for partnership and solidarity with other Christians internationally—a partnership they do get from Anglicans, Lutherans, Roman Catholics and other churches around the world.
But they will not find that solidarity with [rapturists]. Dispensationalist tours bring plane-loads of American Christians to the Holy Land … Halsell describes participating in two such trips led by Jerry Falwell, each with hundreds of participants. “Christians were all around us, tens of thousands of them. But Falwell did not arrange for us to meet Christians.” Dispensationalist tours focus exclusively on biblical holy sites and Israeli monuments, completely overlooking the Christians who have lived in the region for millennia.
In the dispensationalist view, God’s promises do not apply to Christians who are currently living in the land, who have faithfully gathered for prayer and cared for the Christian holy sites and whose claims to the land go back many generations. [snip] The fact is that the Christian church in the Middle East is Arab. These Christians are ignored in the dispensationalist script because they do not fit neatly into Darby’s end-times prophetic scenario. (pages 63-64)
Rossing notes that “The Rev. John Hubers of the Reformed Church in America posits that to many Americans modern Israelis look like the wilderness-busting pioneers of the U.S. frontier … [Hubers] suggests, ‘one explanation for the tenacious hold of the dispensationalist myth on the American consciousness (even beyond evangelical circles)—it echoes themes of the American frontier myth. We hear our own story in Israel’s story’” (pages 70-71).
Rossing adds that the most extreme Western Christians do not ignore Christians in the Middle East—instead the extremists believe that these “cultural Christians” should be deported. Rossing had no difficulty finding local Christians who told her stories of being evicted from their houses with the clothes on their back and being driven to they-didn’t-know-where-until-they-got-there (pages 62-63). As Rossing hastens to add, “many Israelis challenge this phenomenon” (page 73). However Western outsiders have considerable influence in the area. Christian extremists in Western countries support and encourage extremist strands in Israel.
(Personal aside: None of our showcased critics had a comment on what would happen to the Christian holy places—the Church of the Nativity and so forth—if the Christians who have maintained these shrines are deported. Is it a case of, “Thank you for in-some-cases risking your life to live here and maintain this holy site until our tour group could see it. Now that we’ve seen it, we don’t need you anymore”? Because, well, those ancient places need care, and if one does not care about the caregiver, does anyone care about how long those holy places would, well, not fall down? It was just a question your host had hoped to see answered, given that rapturists are very protective of a theoretical Third Temple which is not even a Christian site.)