by Mark M. Mattison
On the 22nd of October, 1992, I finally picked up a pamphlet that for weeks had been sitting in my mail slot. I didn't know who had put it there, but it looked interesting.
My interest turned to near shock when I read the title of this pamphlet. It was entitled: "Rapture Oct. 28, '92 (9:00 A.M. C.S.T.)." Was this title just a gimmick to get people to read it? (If so, it worked on me!) Or was this tract really teaching that Christ's coming was less than a week away?
As I began to read this interesting pamphlet, I realized that its writer was serious after all. Apparently the Lord had miraculously revealed to over a thousand people that the great tribulation was to begin in 1993 and would last until 1999. Prior to this, the rapture was to take place on October 28, 1992, at 9:00 a.m. central standard time. To participate in the rapture, I had to "Believe the coming of Jesus Christ in October 28, 1992. If you don't know your wedding day, you can't marry with Jesus (Rev. 19:7-8)."
The pamphlet went on to tell of what would happen to those who missed the rapture. A united Europe, led by the antichrist, would force everyone in the world to accept a computerized worldwide social security number to be imprinted on their foreheads or hands. Those who refused would suffer remarkable persecution, which of course was described in revolting detail.
My final reaction to the pamphlet was one of sorrow - sorrow for those who really did believe in this prediction and who would have to face October 29 without their hopes having been fulfilled. What a tragedy that we still don't want to take seriously Jesus' warning that "No one knows about that day or hour" (Matt. 24:36, NIV).
It is true that we millenarians have a "thing" for nice round numbers. Yet we must remember that we still don't "know the day or hour." The one thing we can predict with certainty is that in the next few years we will hear more predictions about the end of the world in the year 2000. As we hear these predictions, we should remember Paul's warning "not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy" (2 Thess. 2:2, NIV) as well as Jesus' warning that "many false prophets will appear and deceive many people" (Matt. 24:11). Jesus may return in or around the year 2000, but he may not. The truth is that we do not know the exact time of Jesus' return.
A Popular Chronology
Many Bible students have argued that after the secret rapture of the Church, Russia will invade Israel. This will be followed by the revelation of the antichrist, who will lead a united Europe in forcing everyone to accept "the mark of the beast" on their foreheads or hands. After this tribulation period, Christ will return (again) and defeat everyone at the battle of Armageddon.
Though this may be true, we are not convinced that this program accurately reflects the predictions of the Scriptures. We suspect that many prophecy students spend far too much time studying newspaper headlines and not enough time studying the Scriptures themselves. We tend to think that Bible prophecies (better, "predictions") are misused and misinterpreted.
We don't want to be misunderstood at this point. We are not saying that we don't believe in Bible prophecy. We very much do. But we do not believe that Bible predictions are calculated to "scare" people into accepting Christ so that they can be raptured and escape the horrors of the coming tribulation. What we do believe is that we must study and evaluate every claim, every doctrine, and study the Scriptures closely so as not to be deceived by false predictions. Incidentally, we expect every claim in this article to be tested as well.
A Secret Rapture?
A popular theory is that prior to the tribulation period, Christ is going to secretly return to earth to snatch away Christians and take us to heaven to await the end of the world. However, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18, which describes the "rapture" (our being "caught up...in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air", NIV), also describes "a loud command with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God" (NIV). Hardly a secret event. We are also reminded of Revelation 1:7, which says that Jesus "is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him" (NIV). Jesus is going to return and he is going to bestow immortality on us. We will be "caught up" to meet him in the air. But it does not appear that this will happen secretly, years before the end of the world.
A Russian Invasion?
Another popular teaching is based on Ezekiel 38 and 39, which states that "Rosh, Mesech, and Tubal" will invade Israel. This has been taken to mean that Russia, Moscow, and Tobolski will invade Israel prior to the coming of Christ. However, Ezekiel probably was not thinking of modern-day Russia. He was probably thinking of "a well-known land in antiquity on the banks of the Tigris river, bordering on Elam and Ellipi," in the far western part of modern Iran.Reference This focuses attention on the Middle East, not Russia. The fact that the invaders come from "the far north" (38:15) does not rule out a Middle-Eastern invader, for in Zephaniah 2:13 the country "to the north" is identified as "Assyria," a Middle-Eastern nation.
A European Antichrist?
The seventh chapter of Daniel's prophetic book describes a fierce ruler arising from a terrible nation and persecuting the saints. Believing this nation to be Rome, many students of Bible prophecy expect to see a revived Rome, i.e., a fully united Europe, from which the antichrist will arise. But what if the terrible empire of Daniel 7 is not Rome? The word "Rome" appears nowhere in the book of Daniel. Daniel's prophecies specifically identified Medo-Persia and Greece (8:20,21; 11:2), but the final mighty empire was never named. If anything, it is described as a Middle-Eastern nation (11:21-45). So it is far from certain that we may expect another world tyrant from Europe.
The Mark of the Beast
Revelation 13:16,17 tells us that "the beast" will force everyone to receive a mark on the forehead or on the right hand. Without this mark, one cannot buy or sell. Many Bible students have interpreted this to mean that the mark will be a type of credit card or social security number stamped on the skin or surgically planted as a computer chip. Though this is possible with modern technology, we would like to suggest that another interpretation of Revelation is very possible.
Revelation 14:1 talks about God's people who had Jesus' "name and his Father's name written on their foreheads" (NIV). Similarly, 9:4 describes "those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads" (NIV). We are reminded of the fact that we are "marked in him (Christ) with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit" (Eph. 1:13, NIV). No one interprets these "marks" as literal. They are understood as symbols of God's ownership; we are "marked" as God's own people. Is it possible that the "mark of the beast" is also a symbol of ownership? That the placing of the mark "on [the] right hand or on [the] forehead" (NIV) is a symbol of "the beast's" attempt to control what we do and what we think? If so, that could mean that "the mark of the beast" is much more subtle than we have thought. Perhaps the only way to avoid "the mark" is to be on guard against the antichristian influence of worldly principles.
Prophecy and Politics
An even greater concern, however, is how many Bible students derive their politics from a certain interpretation of predictive prophecy rather than from the gospel. The gospel of the cross is one of peace and reconciliation. Yet many who are watching for the antichrist's coming are actually opposed to the peace process in Israel and across national boundaries. But the Jesus who said "love one another" (John 13:34, NIV) and even "love your enemies" (Matt. 5:44, NIV) would not dissuade us from seeking peace. The Apostle Paul urged us to "live at peace with everyone" (Rom. 12:18, NIV). This does not imply surrendering our religious convictions, but it is certainly a call to renounce all forms of violence and to promote conditions of prosperity and peace.
True, Paul wrote that "While people are saying, 'Peace and safety,' destruction will come on them suddenly" (1 Thess. 5:3, NIV). But this descriptive statement does not negate our mission of peace! Paul opened this very epistle wishing grace and peace to the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 1:1). And Jesus pronounced as blessed those who are "peacemakers" (Matt. 5:9).
And when bloodthirsty tyrants do emerge among the nations, God's saints are called to fight them not with guns and knives but with nonviolent resistance (cf. Dan. 11:33-35; Rev. 7:14; 12:11; 13:7-10). Some modern-day prophetic watchmen have withdrawn from society and stockpiled weapons in anticipation of the beast's coming. Fear has the power to transform us into that which we fear, but love has the power to overcome evil. "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear...The one who fears is not made perfect in love" (1 John 4:18, NIV; cf. Rom. 12:21). The Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas feared their government's military so much they began to build a military of their own, inviting attention to themselves and arranging for the fulfillment of their own prophecies. Christians today should not stand in the way of peaceful negotiation; we should be at the forefront of it. Otherwise we will perpetuate the suspicion and the violence.
We have no desire to be dogmatic in the area of Bible prophecy and we recognize that our understanding may be wrong. The really important fact is that prophecy points us not so much to the newspapers as to the person of Christ. We are more interested in the actual return of Christ than in the signposts along the way. It is not wrong to try to discern some of those signposts (cf. Matt. 24:32,33), but our hope is in Christ, not in the timing of the rapture.
In the meantime we may be on our guard against false prophets and teachers who proclaim themselves to be divinely-inspired authorities on these matters. They may be discerned by their fruit (Matt. 7:15ff). For example, a couple of months after I read the pamphlet described at the beginning of this article, I read that the man behind the movement had been arrested for swindling his followers of up to four million dollars. Apparently he had invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonds with maturities as late as May of 1993, despite the fact that he had predicted the rapture in October of 1992.
1James D. Price, "Rosh: An Ancient Land Known to Ezekiel," Grace Theological Journal, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1985, p. 69.
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