Why I believe in the pretribulational rapture

The rapture is one of the most important, most controversial, and most poorly understood eschatological doctrines. In this post, I would like to explain from the Bible the reasons why I believe in the pretribulational rapture of the church.

The word “rapture” refers to a “carrying away” or a “snatching away.” The English word “rapture” comes from the Latin noun raptura, which is etymologically related to the Greek verb ἁρπάζω that is used in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. The rapture is an event in which Christ will descend from heaven to the sky above the earth, accompanied by a trumpet blast and the shout of the archangel Michael (1 Cor 15:52; 1 Thess 4:16). Both living and deceased Christians will instantaneously be given glorified resurrection bodies and will be caught up into the clouds, where Christ will lead them back to heaven. Only Christians will see Christ at that time, though the entire world may hear the trumpet blast.

As its name suggests, pretribulationism teaches that the rapture of the church will occur just before the start of the tribulation. The tribulation is a seven-year period corresponding to Daniel’s seventieth week that occurs immediately prior to the second coming of Christ. Before establishing the timing of the rapture, it is imperative to first establish that the coming of Christ for the rapture of the church is an event that is distinct from the second advent, and therefore the rapture is not posttribulational. There are three passages in the New Testament that teach about a return of Christ that is different from the second coming. These three passages are John 14:1-3, 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (see also Rev 4:1).

John 14:1-3

In the Upper Room discourse, which begins in John 13:31, Jesus is preparing the eleven disciples for His departure. At the end of John 13, Jesus mentions that He is going away, which prompted a confused reaction from Peter, who did not understand why he could not go with Jesus. Jesus proceeds to explain in John 14:1-4 that He is not going on an earthly journey, but on a journey to the Father, where He will prepare a place for them, and where they will be reunited forever. In John 14:2-3, Jesus says, In my Father’s house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, I would have told you, for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I am coming again, and will take you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. Jesus says He will take the disciples (who are Church Age believers) to Himself and will take them to the place where He is, to His Father’s house. The Father’s house is the place where God the Father dwells, which is heaven. In other words, Jesus will come to earth, will resurrect the disciples and (by extension) all those who are part of the church (He is not just coming for the Eleven—cf. John 12:26), and will take them to heaven. In contrast, at the second coming, Jesus will come to the earth and stay on the earth. He will establish an earthly kingdom, and therefore will not take the saints back to heaven with Him, but will instead give them an earthly inheritance. These contrasts demonstrate that it is impossible that John 14 is speaking of a resurrection at the second advent.

1 Corinthians 15:51-52

The second of the three major rapture passages is 1 Corinthians 15:51-52. That passage reads as follows: Behold, I tell you a mystery: we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed. In verse 51, Paul says that the resurrection of believers he describes in these verses is a “mystery,” meaning that it is something that was not previously revealed. It cannot therefore occur in conjunction with the second advent, which is spoken of throughout both the Old and New Testaments. The rapture was not revealed in the Old Testament, even if it could be deduced by implication, because it is something that is specifically for the church, and not for Israel. Thus, the translation of living saints to heaven is never revealed in the Old Testament, either. These verses also add the important detail that both dead and living believers will be raised, which creates a serious problem for posttribulationism—there would be no one left to enter the millennium in a mortal body if all believers are given glorified bodies and all unbelievers are killed. More will be said about this problem later on, as it is one of the chief difficulties in the posttribulational system. Thus, there are three reasons why 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 must be speaking of the rapture: it is presented as a mystery; it includes the resurrection of Church Age saints (“we”); and it includes the resurrection both of the living and the dead. Note that the “last trumpet” is not the seventh trumpet, which is sounded at the midpoint of the tribulation (Rev 11:15), nor is it the trumpet that is sounded at Christ’s second coming (Matt 24:31)—it is rather the last trumpet for Christians, or the trumpet blast which signals the end of the Church Age.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

The last of the three major rapture passages is 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Verse 13 reads, But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, so that you may not grieve as do the rest, who have no hope. The Thessalonians, like the Corinthians (1 Cor 15:12, 18), did not know that dead believers would be resurrected. This is interesting in light of 1 Thessalonians 1:10 and 5:1-2, which state that the Thessalonians were fully aware of apostolic teaching concerning the second coming of Christ, and they were in fact waiting for His coming. Thus, they correctly understood that living believers would be saved alive at the second coming, but they did not know what would happen to those who died beforehand. Paul teaches them about the rapture because that is when all Church Age believers will be raised.

Verse 14 continues: For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. The term “in Jesus” refers only to the church, not to OT saints. Thus, this passage is describing a resurrection of Church Age believers only. This is different from the second coming, since Daniel 12:1-3 asserts that OT saints are raised at the end of the tribulation period. Verse 15: For we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. Again, this is a resurrection in which both living and dead believers are raised, so if it was posttribulational there would be no one left to populate the millennial kingdom with mortal bodies. Verses 16-17: For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who remain, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will always be with the Lord. Notice that in the coming of Christ that Paul describes, believers will meet the Lord in the air. This is in contrast to descriptions of the second coming, in which the saints are portrayed emerging from heaven to return to the earth with Christ (Rom 8:19; Col 3:4; 1 Thess 3:13; Jude 14-15; Rev 19:14). How could the saints come from heaven with Christ if they are not raptured until He comes? First Thessalonians 4:16-17 says we will meet the Lord in the air after He has already descended from heaven. The rapture therefore must happen at a different time than the second advent, before the second advent.

Finally, in v. 18, Paul writes, Therefore comfort one another with these words. In both the Old Testament and the New Testament, the nation of Israel is warned about the sufferings they will endure during the tribulation period. The church is not. When Paul tells the Christians in Thessalonica that the coming of the Lord will be a great comfort to them, he does not say anything about it being preceded by the tribulation period, which would not be so comforting. He does not warn them to be on the alert for Christ’s coming lest they be judged, or to watch for the signs Christ is just about to return, or to prepare to endure the turmoil of the tribulation period—which is completely unlike the Olivet Discourse and other second coming passages.

It is also interesting that Paul says the Thessalonians were ignorant about Christ’s coming for His church, yet he says in the very next paragraph that they were not ignorant about the second coming. He says in 5:1-3, But concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need for anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know perfectly well that the day of the Lord comes like a thief in the night. When they are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction comes on them, as labor pains on a pregnant woman; and they will not escape. Paul also referenced the second coming twice before in this letter, in 1:10 and 3:13, and he speaks as though the Thessalonians knew about it. This demonstrates that the rapture is an event that is distinct from the second coming.

None of the rapture passages contains any description whatsoever of the judgment of the wicked, or indicates that there is a judgment of the world at the time of the rapture. There is no indication that Christ is coming to set up His kingdom at that time. There is no judgment of Satan, Israel, the nations, the antichrist, or the false prophet. The world and the universe are not destroyed. All that happens is the resurrection of Church Age saints. On the other hand, every passage that describes the second coming describes the cataclysmic judgment associated with it, while none of the second coming passages describes a resurrection of living believers or even a resurrection of Church Age saints. All of the major second coming passages are set in the context of the end of the tribulation period, while none of the rapture passages says a word about the tribulation period. The rapture and the second coming are therefore two distinct events, and the rapture is not posttribulational. Other distinct characteristics of the rapture include its description as a mystery and the return of Jesus Christ to heaven afterwards.

The distinction between Israel and the church

Having established, then, that the rapture is an event that is distinct from the second advent, and that precedes the second advent, let us now consider the evidence that the rapture occurs before the tribulation period, i.e., immediately prior to the start of Daniel’s seventieth week. One of the strongest arguments for this is the distinction between Israel and the church. Israel is still God’s chosen people (Gen 17:7-8, 19; Isa 49:14-15; 54:10; Jer 31:35-37; 33:23-26; Rom 11:1, 28-29). He has not abandoned them—in fact, He has brought them back to their land and protected them there. But during the Church Age—the time from Pentecost until the rapture—Christ is building His church primarily through Gentiles (Acts 13:45-48; 28:28; Rom 10:20-21). The church is never called “Israel” in the Bible, and Israel is never called “the church,” since these are two distinct entities, although of course some Jews are also part of the church.

Daniel 9:24-27 outlines God’s program for the people of Israel and the city of Jerusalem from the issuing of the decree to rebuild Jerusalem until the coming of the messianic kingdom. The length of His program is seventy weeks of years, or 490 years: “Seventy weeks are determined for your people and for your holy city. . . ” (Dan 9:24). Sixty-nine weeks, or 483 years, completed the time from the issuing of the decree until the crucifixion of Jesus by the Jewish people and their leaders (cf. Zech 12:10; Matt 27:24; Acts 2:36; 4:10). After Israel rejected the Messiah, God temporarily switched the primary dispensational focus of His program to the Gentiles, who form the bulk of the church. Since Daniel 9:24-27 is a prophecy of God’s program for Israel, the Church Age is not included in the seventy weeks; there is only an indefinite gap. According to Daniel 9:27, God’s program for Israel is finished in one week, the seventieth week, which is the tribulation period. Hence, God will resume His program for Israel seven years before the second advent, or at the beginning of the period we call the tribulation. The resumption of God’s program for Israel implies the removal of the church, for God has made the church the focus of His salvific program in this age. Pretribulationism is the only view of the rapture that maintains the unity of Daniel’s seventieth week as a time when the dispensational focus of God’s program returns to Israel.

According to Romans 11:25-26, Israel has experienced a partial hardening “until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in.” After that, their hearts will no longer be hardened, and “all Israel will be saved.” The fulness of the Gentiles comes in when the church is taken to heaven at the rapture. Hence, God will resume His program for Israel immediately after the rapture. That this is immediate is proved by the use of the word “until” (ἄχρι) in Romans 11:25: if Israel’s partial hardening occurs only until the rapture, then it is taken away immediately afterward (“. . . and so all Israel will be saved”—v. 26).

That God will resume his program for Israel immediately after the rapture can be deduced logically, even apart from Romans 11:25-26. God would not remove the church unless there were some people of God to replace it with, for He will not cease to work His program. There is only one candidate for the replacement of the church, and that is Israel (Rom 11:23-24). Hence, when the church is removed, its role is restored to Israel. Again, Daniel 9:27 shows that God’s program for Israel is finished in one week, or seven years.

All the biblical descriptions of the tribulation period show that it is focused on Israel, not on the church, and therefore the church must be removed at the start of the tribulation. The first three chapters of the book of Revelation mention the church some 19 times, yet the church is not mentioned one time in Revelation 4–19, which describes the tribulation period. However, 144,000 evangelists from the twelve tribes of Israel are given a prominent place in Revelation 7 and 14, and Revelation 11 describes ministry of the two witnesses in the city of Jerusalem. Satan singles out Israel for special persecution in Revelation 12, and Israel is specially protected by God. The main battle at the end of the tribulation period is centered in the land of Israel (Rev 16:16). Zechariah 12–14 speaks of ethnic Jews living in Jerusalem at the time of the final battle, with Christ returning to rescue His people and destroy their enemies (cf. Dan 12:1). Passages in Revelation 4–19 contain many references to “saints” and “the elect,” but not to “the church” or those who are “in Christ.” Revelation 19 refers to the bride of Christ, but this is a reference to saints who are in heaven, not on earth. The indication, then, is that the focus of God’s program will return to Israel in the tribulation period. This is confirmed by the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24–25; Mark 13; Luke 21) and numerous passages in the Old Testament that describe the tribulation as a time of great persecution for Israel. Not one of the many passages in the Bible which describes the tribulation even mentions the church. Zechariah 12–13 describes how many Jews will die in the tribulation, but a remnant will repent and be saved. Daniel 9:24-27 presents the tribulation as the final seven years of God’s program for Israel in this age. Jeremiah 30:7 calls the tribulation “the time of Jacob’s trouble.” How can the tribulation be called “the time of Jacob’s trouble” if it is really the time of the church’s trouble? Both the OT and the NT warn the nation of Israel time and again of the things it will suffer during the tribulation period, yet the church is not warned one time.

Because of these problems, most posttribulationists are not dispensational, and those who are have to hold that there is a gradual transition between the Church Age and a return to the time of God’s primary dispensational focus on Israel. Only pretribulationism makes a clear distinction between dispensations and allows for a Jewish millennium.

Posttribulationism

The major alternative to pretribulationism is posttribulationism. The ideas of a midtribulational rapture, a partial rapture, and a pre-wrath rapture have not enjoyed the widespread support accorded to both pretribulationism and posttribulationism because there is no hint anywhere in Scripture of a coming of Christ during the tribulation period. A coming that ends the tribulation period is clearly taught, but posttribulationism denies that this is a separate event from the rapture. One reason why posttribulationism has been so popular over the centuries is that it is required by the amillennial and postmillennial systems of theology. If the church is defined as believers of all ages, then those who have “fallen asleep in Jesus” (1 Thess 4:14) includes Old Testament saints. Thus, there can be no special rapture for those saved after the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. There is no separate rapture in eschatological systems other premillennialism. On the other hand, the dispensational understanding of Scripture requires some point at which the Church Age ends and God’s program reverts back to Israel.

The arguments given above for pretribulationism are implicitly arguments against posttribulationism. However, a few problems specific to the posttribulational scheme may be noted.

Probably the largest problem with posttribulationism is that it does not allow for unresurrected people to enter the millennial kingdom, because all believers are raised at the rapture and all unbelievers are killed at the second advent. There are a great number of passages which assert that only believers will enter the kingdom, e.g., Ezek 20:33-38; Matt 5:20; 25:31-46; John 3:3; 1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-21; 1 Thess 5:3. Possibly the clearest passages are Matthew 13:40-43 and Matthew 25:31-46. The rapture passages assert that both dead and living believers are raised and glorified (1 Cor 15:51-52; 1 Thess 4:16-17). Hence, if the rapture occurs at the end of the tribulation, everyone who enters the millennium does so in an immortal resurrection body.

This is a problem because there are many passages that indicate the presence of people in unresurrected bodies in the millennium. Isaiah 65:20 speaks of people dying in the millennium. Isaiah 65:23 and Ezekiel 47:22 speak of people in the millennial kingdom begetting children, and this is implied in various other verses (Isa 11:6-8; 61:9; Jer 30:19-20; 31:8, 13, 27, 34; Ezekiel 46:16-18; Zech 2:4). Ezekiel 44:22 describes men taking wives in the kingdom. According to Matthew 22:30, marrying and begetting offspring cannot be done in the resurrection body. Various verses describe sacrifices for sin in the millennium (Ezek 40:39; 43:18-27; 44:29; 45:13-25), and acts of sin the millennium (Zech 5:1-4; 14:17-19), showing that there are people in the kingdom who have not yet experienced the perfect sanctification that comes with glorification. Revelation 20:7-9 describes a great rebellion at the end of the millennium in which an innumerable number of people will turn against Christ and assault Jerusalem, resulting in the deaths of all those who have rebelled. This rebellion shows not just that there are mortal men in the millennium, but also that there are unsaved mortal men. The only way the unbelievers could have gotten into the kingdom is by procreation, since only the saved will enter the millennium.

Besides these problems, there are passages that directly state that some people will survive the tribulation period and the second coming. Zechariah 14:5 describes believers fleeing on foot after Christ has returned at the second advent. Daniel 12:1, Zechariah 14:16, and Micah 4:2-3 also refer to survivors of the tribulation period.

Posttribulationists have never been able to resolve the problem of how mortal men enter the millennium, nor can they, for their scheme simply falls apart at this point. The suggestion that some Jews repent as Christ is descending contradicts various verses which teach that there can be no repentance after the midpoint of the tribulation is reached or a person receives the mark of the beast (2 Thess 2:9-12; Rev 14:9-12). When the second coming begins, it is too late to repent; men’s fates are sealed (Matt 7:21-23; 25:10-12, 41-46; Rev 6:12-17).

The major biblical argument for posttribulationism is the claim that the Bible only presents one return of Christ. However, the passages analyzed above describe a return of Christ that is not visible to the entire world, in which Christ does not return all the way to the earth and does not judge the earth. Another argument for posttribulationism that is that pretribulationism is a recent invention, and the church has always believed in posttribulationism. Walvoord notes that “in offering this argument, posttribulationists generally ignore the fact that modern forms of posttribulationism differ greatly from that of the early church or of the Protestant Reformers and are actually just as new or perhaps newer than pretribulationism” (John Walvoord, The Blessed Hope and the Tribulation, 145). Specifically, the strain of posttribulationism that holds that the tribulation is a future seven-year period of time differs from the historic view of most theologians in church history, who spiritualized the tribulation and held that the entire Church Age is the tribulation period. Also, while John Nelson Darby claimed to have developed his teaching on the pretribulational rapture directly from the Bible, it is clear that there were other pretribulationists before Darby, such as a Baptist preacher named Morgan Edwards. Farther back in time, in the early Middle Ages, a document called Pseudo-Ephraim expresses a belief in the pretribulational rapture. Beatus of Liebana, who published the final edition of his Commentarius in Apocalypsin in 786, mentions the “rapture” as if it were common knowledge. See also Francis Gumerlock’s 2002 article and 2013 article, and William Watson’s book Dispensationalism before Darby. On the other hand, prophecy tends to become clearer as the time of fulfillment nears, so the increased popularity of pretribulationism in our day should not be surprising.

Posttribulationists claim that the doctrine of a pretribulational rapture rests on very shaky grounds because it is based largely on inference. However, inferences are different than assumptions, and posttribulationism rests on many unsupported assumptions or assertions. Posttribulationists assume that the church will go through the tribulation period, even though none of the terms that are typically used to refer to the church is used with reference to the saints who are alive during the tribulation period. Posttribulationists have never been able to explain why New Testament writers such as Paul do not warn the church to prepare for the tribulation period, with all of its perils. It seems that the passages in which Paul describes the rapture ought to include a description of the terrible tribulation that will precede it, if indeed the rapture is posttribulational. Another assumption made by posttribulationism is that saints will rise from the dead to meet Christ as He is coming down from heaven. This is never explicitly stated, and in fact Revelation 20:4-6 proves that dead tribulation saints will not be raised until the judgment which follows the second coming. If the rapture is posttribulational, then there is no reference whatever to it in the book of Revelation, in spite of the lengthy, detailed, and sequential presentation of end time events in that book.

Another problem with posttribulationism is that it cannot explain the differences between descriptions of the second coming and descriptions of the rapture. These differences have already been noted. The differences between the coming of Christ for the church and the second advent are very significant, and posttribulationists have not given an adequate explanation for how they can be considered identical.

A final problem with posttribulationism is that it contradicts the premillennial dispensational understanding of Scripture, which is based on a literal understanding of Scripture. If the rapture is posttribulational, it is impossible for there to be people with mortal physical bodies in the millennium, and therefore it is impossible for there to be a literal, physical thousand-year reign of Christ on the earth. No one who believes in a literal millennium can accept a posttribulational rapture without a serious contradiction. Denying the millennium is a major problem, because both the Old and New Testaments are filled with descriptions of a lengthy, literal, earthly kingdom, and Revelation 20 says no less than six times that it will last one thousand years. A denial of the millennium also has much more serious consequences in terms of one’s view of God’s fulfillment of His covenants with Israel, and the completion of Christ’s redemptive work.

Posttribulationism also contradicts dispensationalism in that there is no clear break between the end of the Church Age and the renewal of Israel as the focus of God’s dispensational program. No posttribulationist theologian makes a clear distinction between Israel and the church, which is the sine qua non of dispensationalism. In no way can a dispensationalist accept a posttribulational rapture without seriously contradicting himself.

Posttribulationism also has major practical implications. Should we start digging bunkers and building up a seven-year supply of food to survive the tribulation? Should we try to figure out if the tribulation has already started and whether we should be looking for signs that the second coming is about to happen? Posttribulationism also leads logically to a denial of premillennialism and dispensationalism, thereby undermining a literal approach to interpreting Bible prophecy. I will close with a quote from John Walvoord: “The evident trend among scholars who have forsaken pretribulationism for posttribulationism is that in many cases they also abandon premillennialism. . . . It becomes evident that pretribulationism is more than a dispute between those who place the rapture before and after the tribulation. It is actually the key to an eschatological system. It plays a determinative role in establishing principles of interpretation which, if carried through consistently, lead to the pretribulational and premillennial interpretation” (Walvoord, The Blessed Hope and the Tribulation, 166).

Psalm 50: A call to authentic worship

Probably most Christians are familiar with the biblical statement, “He owns the cattle on a thousand hills.” However, most Christians know very little about the psalm in which this statement is made, which is Psalm 50. Psalm 50 contains a significant message, but is poorly understood and largely neglected apart from the single familiar verse it contains. The message of Psalm 50 is that worshiping authentically means serving God from the heart and keeping His commandments; no one will please God merely by performance of religious rituals. Believers must not substitute the formalities of worship for a life of worship, and unrepentant hypocrites must realize that no one will be saved by an insincere profession of faith or by joining an assembly of believers.

In Psalm 50, the psalmist Asaph, who is called “the seer” in 2 Chronicles 29:30 (cf. 1 Chr 25:1-3), reports a vision of God coming to judge His people. This judgment scene was real in the sense that Asaph saw it, but he was the only one who saw it. The judgment he saw was therefore like a report card, rather than the final judgment.

Psalm 50 begins with the issuing of a summons: God, [even] God, Yahweh, has spoken, and summoned the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting (v. 1). God sends out a summons to the entire earth for all of his saints to be gathered to a great assembly; however, this summons is heard only in the vision seen by the prophet Asaph. Thus, this psalm reveals what God would say to His people if they were physically assembled in His visible presence.

In verses 2-3, Asaph describes how he saw God coming to the great assembly: Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God has shined forth. Our God comes, and does not keep silence; a fire devours before Him, and it is very tempestuous around Him. God flashes forth in a dazzling blaze of glory from His dwelling place (Zion) to call His people to a great assembly—not to the final judgment, but to an interim evaluation. When God’s glory is visibly manifested, as Asaph sees it, it is with a fearful and fiery tempest (cf. Exod 19:16-19; Deut 9:3; Pss 18:13; 97:2-5; Dan 7:10; Nah 1:2-8; Hab 3:3-5). The Lord is a stronghold to those who take refuge in Him (Nah 1:7), but is an all-consuming fire toward His enemies in the day of His wrath (Nah 1:8; cf. Lev 10:2; Ps 21:9; Heb 12:29).

In verse 4, God calls witnesses to the judgment scene: He calls to the heavens above, and to the earth, that He may judge His people. Under the Mosaic Law, two witnesses were required to render a judicial sentence (Deut 19:15). Here, heaven and earth are called to be witnesses at a judgment of God’s people. The earth will witness to the works of man, and the heavens to the righteousness of God (cf. Deut 31:28; Pss 19:1; 97:6). Although the call of inanimate objects to bear witness sounds like a metaphorical personification, every human action does in fact effect a change on the physical world, while God’s righteousness has a corresponding effect on the heavenly world; they both, therefore, contain a record which constitutes evidence in a court of law. Likewise, both are in fact capable of responding to commands from their Creator (cf. Gen 1:11-18; Matt 8:26-27).

Verse 5 gives the content of the summons: Gather My saints together to Me, those who have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice. God’s saints, that is, those who have set themselves apart to Him through covenant sacrifice, are to be gathered together out of all the earth to a great assembly. As will be seen, this group includes all who profess to be God’s people, and within this group are both true believers and those who have made an insincere profession of covenant loyalty. God’s covenant with Israel was originally made at Sinai (Exod 24:1-8), but each individual Israelite (or proselyte) had to confirm his own participation in the covenant by means of repeated sacrifices (a covenant was confirmed with the shedding of blood—cf. Heb 9:18-20).

The introduction to the judgment scene is completed in verse 6 by a call to the heavens, i.e., the universe: And the heavens will declare His righteousness; for God Himself is judge. Selah. God has called the heavens as a witness in this grand courtroom scene to affirm His righteousness, and therefore His fitness to judge. The order of the physical universe attests to the moral perfection of its Creator.

The earth now having, in the vision, produced God’s people and the evidence of their works, the trial begins. God first addresses the people as a whole in verse 7, calling them to attention: Hear, O My people, and I will speak; O Israel, and I will testify to you: I am God, [even] your God. The reason why the people must pay attention is that the Speaker is God. Not only is He God, He is specifically the God of His covenant people. Therefore, He will hold the people accountable to keep their covenant obligations—toward God (vv. 7-15), and toward man (vv. 16-21).

Before criticizing His people for what they were doing wrong, God first affirms them for what they were doing right. In verse 8, He says, I will not reprove you for your sacrifices; and your burnt offerings are continually before Me. The Law prescribed a “continual burnt offering,” which was presented each day in the morning and evening, in addition to regular sacrifices to be repeated each sabbath, each new moon, and on feast days (see Numbers 28). During the time of David and Solomon, when this psalm was composed, the morning and evening sacrifices were duly offered each day, and so were the prescribed sacrifices at the feasts.

However, sacrifice is not ultimately what God values; what He values is righteousness in the heart, as verse 9 explains: I will take no bull out of your house, nor male goats out of your pens. If the people were told that God wanted something from them, they would probably assume that He wanted one of their animals for a sacrifice. This is, after all, what they were accustomed to giving God. However, as God begins to explain in this verse, He does not need our material goods, our money, or our animals. He is totally sufficient in Himself, and He owns everything (cf. Job 41:11). What He really wants is our hearts.

In verses 10-12, God reminds the Israelites that the world is His: For every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the mountains; and the creatures of the field are Mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world is Mine, and the fullness thereof. The bulls that the Israelites brought to the temple every day were already God’s before they even sacrificed them. If God were hungry—a ridiculous idea, but here hypothetically stated for sake of argument—He certainly would not be dependent upon man for food, since He owns all the sustenance in the entire world.

In verse 13, God asks a rhetorical question to drive the point home: Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? As a spiritual being, God has no need for physical sustenance. More than this, God is the Creator of all things and is ontologically independent from all else (cf. Job 34:13-15; 35:5-8). It is God’s creatures who are dependent upon Him, not Him on His creatures (cf. Acts 17:24-25). While the pagans did in fact speak of their gods getting hungry if sacrifices were not offered, the true God says such an idea is absurd. God did not command the Israelites to offer sacrifices because He has physical needs.

In our own day, many people think that God needs their money. Christian organizations think that the key to increasing the effectiveness of their ministries is raising more money. However, a focus on money typically weakens organizations spiritually, as the materialistic philosophy of wealthy donors and businessmen becomes the philosophy of the ministry (cf. Matt 6:24; 19:20-24; Mark 4:19; Luke 8:14; 18:24; 1 Tim 6:9-10; Heb 13:5; James 5:1-4; 1 John 2:15-17). The first century church grew without substantial financial patronage, which shows that the Lord does not need money. What the Lord really needs, if we may speak of Him as needing something, is the hearts of people. God works through people to do great things, and it seems that He especially blesses when His people are of ordinary means. While God certainly wants believers to give to full-time Christian ministers and to needy brothers, He is able to provide for His own even if the people fail to give as they ought or if they have little to give. A Christian organization that raises money by giving special honor and favors to the rich (contra James 2:1-13) is weakening its ministry, not increasing its effectiveness.

The assertion in verses 8-13 that God does not need animal sacrifice begs the question for the Old Testament worshiper: What is it, then, that God wants? Verse 14 gives the answer—God wants us to offer Him our hearts. Offer thanksgiving to God, and pay your vows unto the Most High. Offering “thanksgiving” refers to a metaphorical sacrifice, the substance of what is represented by ceremony—a verbal expression of a true heart of devotion toward God. What God wants is worship from the heart, not empty ritual (cf. Ps 69:30-31; Hos 14:2). Paying vows to God is another expression of heartfelt worship, since vowing was entirely voluntary; however, once a vow was made, it had to be kept, or “paid” (cf. Deut 23:21; Eccl 5:4-5).

In verse 15, God promises to be faithful to those who honor Him from the heart: And call on Me in the day of distress: I will deliver you, and you shall honor Me. Most people who hold to some sort of belief in God will cry out to Him for help when they are in trouble, but God does not deliver all who do so. Psalm 50 teaches that God only responds to those who honor and obey Him. Many people seek to use God as a tool to help them get what they want, but they refuse to submit to God’s directions regarding how to live and think. For those who do obey God and are delivered from trouble by Him, the proper response is to “honor,” or glorify, God. Praising God for deliverance implies that the help He gives man is entirely by grace, and not by earned merit for man’s righteousness, as later rabbinic Judaism would come to teach.

Beginning in verses 16-17, God addresses a group of hypocrites who had made a formal profession of faith and were participating in the rituals and ceremonies of Judaism, but who had denied the faith through their actions: But to the wicked God says, “What are you doing, declaring My statutes, and having taken My covenant in your mouth, since you hate instruction, and cast My words behind you?” The focus of vv. 7-15 was on the means of fulfilling the greatest commandment: “You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deut 6:5). Israel was formally keeping the rituals of sacrifice prescribed in the Law, but had made ceremonial acts of religious devotion their primary focus, rather than the inner righteousness of the heart. Within Israel, a second, smaller group of people had also formally placed themselves under the covenant through religious ceremonies, but this group believed they could receive the blessings promised in the covenant without obeying the moral stipulations of the Law. Thus, the message of vv. 16-21 concerns the second greatest commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18). The failure of the hypocrites to love their neighbors demonstrated their abrogation of the whole Law. Verse 17 accuses the hypocrites of casting God’s words behind their back, which means they are living and acting in complete disregard of God’s commands.

In verses 18-20, God makes specific accusations against the hypocrites: When you saw a thief, you consented with him, and you joined in with adulterers. You have given your mouth to evil, and your tongue frames deceit. You sit [and] speak against your brother; you slander your mother’s son. Not only have hypocrites broken the seventh and eighth commandments (Exod 20:14-15), they have openly approved of stealing and adultery. They have deliberately caused harm with their mouth and have spoken lies. They have even committed the ultimate treachery by publicly defaming their own brothers.

God concludes His message to the hypocrites by assuring them in verse 21 that He will judge them: These things you have done, and I kept silence; you thought that I am surely such a one as yourself. But I will reprove you, and set [your deeds] in order before your eyes. The fool ignores God’s Word and lives as if God does not exist and the day of judgment will never come. However, the reason for the delay in God’s judgment is not indifference, but longsuffering. God knows exactly what the hypocrites have been doing, and He will present their deeds before them at the judgment, exposing them as frauds. In fact, if this were an actual day of judgment, rather than a judgment in vision alone, the hypocrites would be destroyed immediately after the evidence was duly exhibited. God’s longsuffering is often misinterpreted as indifference, but in fact God is just—unlike the hypocrites—and He will settle accounts on a future day of judgment.

The psalm ends in verses 22-23 with an epilogue of warning and promise: Now consider this, you who disregard God, lest I tear you in pieces while there is no deliverer: he who offers thanksgiving honors Me; and to him who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God. The hypocrites disregard God (cf. Ps 10:4), but in God’s mercy they have only been condemned in this vision, giving them time to repent before the final judgment. While many wicked men believe they can get away with their misdeeds because of their smarts and strength, God warns them that no one will be able to save them in the day of His wrath. However, those whose faith is sincere—as demonstrated by going beyond the mere formalities of worship to live a life of praise and obedience to God—will obtain God’s salvation.

Psalm 50 is thus a strong Old Testament call to have a faith that is genuine, rather than trusting in membership in a covenant community and performance of covenant rituals for salvation. Faith that is unaccompanied by works is dead, and cannot save (cf. Rom 2:17-29; James 2:14-17). Further, salvation is an individual matter, not a corporate decision. The man who numbers himself among God’s people but is wicked in character must repent of his sins and glorify God in order to escape the coming judgment.

It is well known from the New Testament that the rabbis and Pharisees of the intertestamental period made Judaism a religion of external and largely manmade laws which emphasized outward acts of legal conformity, thereby passing over the need for inner righteousness. However, this form of Judaism should in no way be superimposed on the Old Testament, for there are a great many Old Testament verses which directly clarify the primacy of heart righteousness over sacrifice (1 Sam 15:22; Pss 40:6-8; 51:16-17; Prov 21:3; Isa 1:11-20; Jer 7:22-23; Hos 6:6; Mic 6:6-8).

The great paradox of Psalm 50 is that it was not written by a man who was opposed to ritual. The inspired superscription of Psalm 50 reads, “A Psalm of Asaph.” Asaph was a Levite whom David appointed to lead worship before the ark in Jerusalem (1 Chr 16:4-7, 37). We know that Asaph also ministered during the early part of Solomon’s reign (2 Chr 5:12). It is possible that Psalm 50 was composed while Solomon’s temple was being built, or at the time of the dedication of Solomon’s temple (959 BC). If this is the historical setting, then Psalm 50 was intended to function as a warning against misuse of the temple for hollow ritualism. It would be a temptation for the Israelites to think that because they had a beautiful temple and wonderful rituals—and they were performing all the rituals—that God was pleased with them. It is a temptation for us, as well, to think that because we have been baptized, and we attend church, and we sing songs of praise to God, and we participate in the rite of communion, and we give money to the church, and we celebrate Christmas and Easter, that God is pleased with us (cf. 1 Cor 13:3). We must remember that there is an authentic and an inauthentic way to worship, and that authentic worship, as an expression of authentic faith, honors God in all of our life, and not just in specific acts of worship within the church.

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Practical implications of the identification of Babylon the Great with the United States of America

This post is the sixth one in a series on how biblical prophecy relates to the United States of America in 2021. The first post described how the election of a Democratic president and Congress in the United States will further the implementation of a radical Leftist agenda that is diametrically opposed to biblical Christianity. The second post provided a basic introduction to biblical prophecy, which is necessary due to the lack of teaching on biblical prophecy in churches today. The third post argued from biblical prophecy that we are currently living in the end times, i.e., close in time to the tribulation period, which makes it possible to identify many prophetic entities with entities in the contemporary world. The fourth post put forth the argument that the United States of America is the entity called “Babylon the Great” in the book of Revelation—a highly significant entity which shapes the world of the end times, to which more than two chapters of prophecy are devoted (Rev 17:1–19:5). The fifth post dealt with the most common objection to this identification, which is the imminence of the rapture—the idea that we cannot identify prophetic entities in our own time, because the rapture may not happen for thousands of years in the future.

The conclusions reached in this study—that Babylon the Great is the United States of America, and that the rapture will happen in the relatively near future, but not today, and not as a complete surprise—have enormous practical implications. This article will address these practical issues in four sections. The first section describes the future of the United States and how this will affect Christians both in the United States and around the world. The second section addresses the all-important question of what American Christians ought to do in light of biblical prophecy. The third section takes a longer view, describing some of the things that will happen as the rapture draws nearer, especially addressing the question of whether the rapture will happen at an unexpected moment. The fourth section briefly summarizes the conclusions of this study.

The future of the United States

For most American Christians, it would be a great shock if the United States government actually closed down Christian non-profit organizations, colleges, seminaries, and churches; this is not something they expect to happen. People understand that there are threats to religious liberty due to the LGBTQ agenda, but many Christians are currently (in September 2021) more concerned about pandemic-related restrictions and requirements. Christian organizations have 20-year or 40-year plans, with endowments and estate planning that assume they will continue to operate for decades or even centuries into the future. Churches encourage individuals to follow financial plans that assume they will retire in the United States decades from today, without losing access to the U.S. financial and legal system due to their religious beliefs. Most American Christians never even think about the possibility of their pastors being arrested and jailed. It would be almost unimaginably shocking to most if a situation occurred in which the U.S. government required every citizen to sign a pro-LGBTQ affirmation or face incarceration. Yet the book of Revelation reveals that what is coming in the United States is not mere legal problems or workplace restrictions for Bible-believing Christians, but is rather the mass murder of all biblically faithful Christians. Further, the United States government will not just kill Christians within its own borders, but will seek to kill Christians around the world (Rev 17:6; 18:20, 24; 19:2).

There were many countries in the twentieth century that prohibited evangelical Christianity and persecuted evangelical Christians, and there still are in the twenty-first century. (I have specified “evangelical,” because most countries allow for a state-sanctioned “church” that replaces certain aspects of biblical theology with government ideology.) There were many countries in the twentieth century in which evangelical Christians once worshiped freely and had networks of churches, but when communists took power they destroyed all the church buildings and jailed and killed evangelical Christians. There have also been many countries in the recent past in which a political party or strongman has destroyed its political opponents—such revolutions are commonplace in history, even in democracies. With regard to the United States, however, there are two special problems. The first problem is that the United States has protected religious freedom for 250 years, and American Christians are so unprepared to lose this freedom, they do not want to even think about alternatives or contingency plans.

The second problem is that United States is more powerful than all the other countries that have persecuted Christians in the past. The United States and its cultural and economic forces (especially big tech) truly have power over the entire world in a way that no country ever has had before. The radical Leftist political movement in the United States is closely connected to politics in countries around the world, and the U.S. government and corporations strongly promote Leftist policies in other countries, with the result that the Left’s militant homosexual agenda and drug-legalization agenda is being imposed in countries around the world. To restate the problem, as the United States goes bad, it is taking the whole world down with it. When the Soviet Union banned Christianity and missions work, it could only do so in the countries under the control of its armed forces; the church actually expanded in Latin America and Africa due to the work of American missionaries. However, when the United States bans Christianity, both the U.S. government and American corporations will seek to impose this ban worldwide, with considerable success.

The United States is also different from Russia or China in that it has been the center of world Christianity for over a hundred years. Many churches, pastors, missionaries, and seminaries around the world depend on the United States for financial support and academic scholarship. When the church in the United States is shut down, many Christian institutions in other countries will collapse immediately due to a lack of funding, and many pastors, seminary professors, and missionaries will find themselves in desperate financial straits which may preclude them from continuing in ministry.

The United States is in deep trouble, spiritually and politically, and the rest of the world is in trouble with it. There is a real war against Christians, God, and the Bible in the United States, and the antichristian faction is determined to make biblical Christianity illegal throughout the whole world, replacing it with an antichristian value system. The bad news is that the United States will never get out of trouble; no politician can save it, and sin will run its course. The good news is that the world is ripening for the return of Jesus Christ, and the gates of hell will never prevail against Christ’s church.

What American Christians should do

Bible prophecy was given so that believers can know what will happen before it happens, and so they can plan and prepare accordingly. Thus, it is critical to ask and answer this question: What should American Christians do, in light of the realization that the United States of America is Babylon the Great?

An opportunity to survive the coming persecution

The book of Revelation reveals that the antichristian movement in the United States will culminate in a program of official persecution in which Christians will be killed in large numbers for their faith. Often in the Bible and throughout church history, Christians have fled from places where they are being persecuted to places where they can live and worship freely. In fact, many of the original colonists of the United States were Christians who left their home countries in Europe in search of religious freedom. In the book of Acts, the original group of Christian believers was concentrated in Jerusalem, until persecution came and forced many to disperse. Acts 8 shows that this dispersion resulted in the spread of the gospel to new regions, in fulfillment of the Great Commission. Early on, the Jerusalem church was comfortable and growing, but insular and non-missional; it took persecution to force Christians to leave in large numbers and proclaim the gospel of Christ to other nations. Within the book of Revelation, while some of the churches in Revelation 2–3 were called to endure persecution, the nation of Israel is called to flee from its land at the midpoint of the tribulation period to a place of refuge where it will be protected from the antichrist (Rev 12:6, 13-17; cf. Matt 24:15-16; Mark 13:14; Luke 21:20-21).

Most people have an innate desire to protect their own lives and the lives of their family and friends, so if they were given a clear-cut ultimatum between being jailed and executed in their own country, or moving freely to another country, they would choose to move to another country. The main difficulties are: (1) most American Christians are hoping that a severe persecution will never come. (2) Christian leaders refuse to make contingency plans, even if they think it is likely that their churches or institutions will be closed by the government in the foreseeable future. (3) Most American Christians love the material comforts of their country, and do not want to give them up. (4) It is very disruptive to move to a different country where one does not already have friends, family, and community. Thus, until sizable groups of American Christian emigrants are established in other countries, it will be hard for the less adventurous to leave.

Aside from the motive of self-preservation (both physically and spiritually), strong humanitarian and evangelistic arguments can be made in favor of American Christians emigrating. The mass movement of American Christians to other countries around the world would help spread the gospel, especially if American Christians rediscover old methods of evangelism that resulted in large numbers of converts during an era when there was more cultural openness to the gospel. Even if American Christians do not regain a fervency for evangelism, they will do what they do well, which is to establish well-developed infrastructure—churches, schools, universities, seminaries, publishing houses, and other parachurch organizations, all with impressive physical campuses and comfortable homes nearby. While American Christians have the financial means to fund such infrastructure through donations, even more potential exists in the assets held by Christian organizations and churches in the United States. Since property values and salaries are many times higher in the United States than in less developed countries, a Christian organization that liquidated all of its assets in the United States could build much bigger and better overseas, with money left over for an endowment. On the other hand, to allow all of those assets to be confiscated by the government, rather than moving at least parts of the organizations and their assets overseas, seems like an unnecessary waste. In addition, while the courageous suffering and martyrdom of Christians is not without value, it would seem better for the global church to preserve as many lives of Christians as possible.

Revelation 18:4 – A warning to flee from evil

Revelation 18:4-5 gives a direct command to Christians who are living in Babylon the Great. Those verses read as follows: Then I heard another voice from heaven, saying, “Come out of her, My people, so that you will not participate in her sins, and so that you will not receive of her plagues; for her sins have piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.” These verses clearly command Christians who are living in Babylon the Great to leave, warning them that they risk both participation in her sins and sharing in her judgment if they do not. The key interpretive question is whether the command to come out of Babylon the Great is given only to Christians who are living in Babylon the Great during the tribulation period, or whether it is also directed to Christians who are living in Babylon the Great before the tribulation period.

Certainly it makes sense that Christians who are living in Babylon the Great during the tribulation period ought to flee for their lives as soon as possible, before their country is destroyed in judgment (cf. Gen 19:12-15). The gospel will be preached to the whole world during the first half of the tribulation period (Matt 24:14), resulting in an innumerable multitude of converts from every nation (Rev 7:9-17), which implies that there are converts from Babylon the Great. However, since the destruction of Babylon the Great apparently occurs as part of the first seal judgment (Rev 6:1-2), all believers who are in Babylon the Great during the tribulation period will be new converts who are saved immediately after the rapture, who must flee right after their conversion, as there are perhaps only a few weeks between the rapture of the church and the total annihilation of Babylon the Great by the antichrist (God’s instrument of judgment).

However, the reasons given in Revelation 18:4 as to why Christians should flee Babylon the Great are broader than an appeal to tribulation saints to seek to preserve their physical lives because of the imminent judgment of Babylon the Great. These reasons are “so that you will not participate in her sins, and so that you will not receive of her plagues.” The command to flee so as not to participate in the sins of Babylon the Great would seem odd if applied only to a context in which believers are saved a few days or weeks before the judgment falls; it must apply to a much longer time period prior to the rapture, and stands as a warning regarding the great pressure to apostatize that will be applied to those who attempt a “normal life” in Babylon the Great. Various other verses in the book of Revelation refer to the judgment of God on those who participate in Babylon the Great’s sins, even if they are not destroyed at the same time as she is (Rev 14:8; 17:2; 18:3). Participation in the sins of Babylon the Great therefore implies receiving of her plagues. Applying the warning to the current situation of Christians in the United States, there an increasingly grave danger in attempting to participate in the economic and cultural life of the United States as a Christian, due to way in which the whole American system is being set up to directly oppose the Word of God.

The fact that a command is given to leave Babylon the Great implies that there are a considerable number of Christians living in Babylon the Great, who need to be warned to leave. To the reader of the book of Revelation this may be surprising, given the fact that Babylon the Great is so thoroughly wicked and murders Christians (Rev 17:6; 18:20, 24; 19:2). However, the command to leave would make more sense if there is a large population of Christians in Babylon the Great before the mass arrests and executions of Christians begin. In the context of the tribulation period, the rapture will be a powerful testimony to the truth of Christianity, and may lead to the salvation of a considerable number of new converts immediately afterward. Those who are saved within Babylon the Great right after the rapture certainly would need to be informed that their country is about to be destroyed, and that they should flee for their lives immediately.

Another implication of the command to leave Babylon the Great is that Christians have the ability to leave Babylon the Great. Once again, this implies a window of opportunity between the time that Christians should realize their country is Babylon the Great and the time when they can no longer leave because they are in jail or on death row.

An interesting aspect of the command to leave is that it is open-ended. Revelation 18:4 does not give a specific moment to leave, nor does the text specify where Christians who leave should go (contrast Matt 24:15-16; Mark 13:14; Luke 21:20-21). In the context of imminent judgment early in the tribulation period, evangelists will likely warn new converts to leave immediately, and to go to some faraway place. However, with regard to the application of this command to believers living in Babylon the Great prior to the tribulation period, the indefiniteness of the command gives individual Christians some leeway as to when to leave and where to go. It is still a command which must not be put off in perpetuity, but different individuals have different circumstances which affect their ability to leave. That said, the day will come in which faithful Christians will be arrested and will not be allowed to leave the United States. Thus, it is not wise to plan to wait until the last possible moment to leave, especially since the complexity of international real estate and finance entails a long and complicated moving process for Americans who move overseas.

It is interesting that persecution is not mentioned in Revelation 18:4-5 as a reason to flee Babylon the Great. Persecution was also not mentioned as a major concern in the letter to the church at Laodicea (Rev 3:14-22). Larger than the threat of the loss of one’s life is the threat of the loss of one’s soul—the overwhelming pressure to conform to the sinful, materialistic system of morality promulgated by Babylon the Great. It is no secret that while the church has been growing in some less developed parts of the world, the evangelical church in the United States has been in a long decline. Large numbers of young people who grew up in Christian homes have renounced Christianity, large numbers of Bible colleges and seminaries have closed, and many of the young people who are still in the church have a very weak commitment to the Word of God. There are no longer large numbers of new converts, and the churches that remain are growing ever-weaker in doctrine and practice. However, while the spiritual threat is the main one, it is connected to the pressures of persecution, and there will come a day when it will be difficult or impossible for faithful American Christians to emigrate from their country. Thus, the command to leave Babylon the Great does imply that it should be obeyed before persecution closes the door to emigration. As for new converts after the persecution starts, most will probably be able to leave the United States if they do so immediately after their conversion and can join supportive communities of Christians elsewhere in the world—although these communities must beware of frauds who will seek to harm them.

Revelation 18:5 begins with the word “for” (Gk ὅτι, hoti), which gives an explanation as to why the sins and plagues of Babylon the Great mentioned in verse 4 are such a great danger. By the time this oracle is spoken, Babylon the Great’s accumulated “sins have piled up to heaven,” metaphorically speaking (cf. Gen 18:21; 2 Chr 28:9; Ezra 9:6; Jer 51:9; Jonah 1:2; also Gen 15:16; Rev 14:18), and because of this “God has remembered her iniquities.” When God “remembers” Babylon the Great’s iniquities, this means He brings into view all of the wicked things she has done in order to pour out just judgment on her (cf. Pss 109:14; 137:7; Jer 14:10; Hos 8:13; 9:9). This is something that happens very early in the tribulation period, when the physical destruction of Babylon the Great is imminent. However, it happens again at the end of the tribulation period, when God judges all the nations of the world for participation in Babylon the Great’s sins (Rev 16:19). Thus, the warning that judgment will fall on Babylon the Great in the future for her extreme sinfulness is a reason to flee Babylon the Great well before her destruction, in order to avoid the moral and spiritual corruption to which nearly all who live in such a thoroughly wicked place will succumb.

What Christians should not do

It is a great tragedy that many pastors and other Christian leaders today speak prolifically about current events without ever relating them, or relating them properly, to Bible prophecy. Many seek to ignore prophecy altogether. When evangelical Bible scholars and pastors do speak about prophecy, all too often it is only to plant a twisted (spiritualized) view of prophecy in the minds of their hearers, and to denounce those who read Bible prophecy literally. Nevertheless, it is widely recognized that the United States is in the process of eliminating religious freedom and freedom of speech by means of imposing a radical homosexual agenda which attempts to force all institutions and individuals to actively support homosexuality. Christian leaders are reacting to this trend in a variety of ways, which are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

The worst reaction to the new Leftism among evangelical Christians has been to show sympathy with the Leftist agenda, and to join with the Leftist cause. A sizable minority of evangelicals actually voted for Joe Biden and rejoiced when he became president. These evangelicals are likely to comply with government regulations that will require the admission of homosexual students, homosexual church members, homosexual seminary professors, and so forth. Behaving in a way that is so obviously and openly contrary to both the Word of God and other Christians raises questions about the salvation of those in this group.

Probably the most common evangelical reaction to the progress of the Leftism in the United States is denial—a refusal to accept the fact that the Leftism will continue to tighten its grip over U.S. culture and politics until it has eliminated its Christian opponents. This group of evangelicals responded to the 2020 election results by saying, “We are just going to keep on doing the things we have always been doing! We will have faith, not fear!” The Christian leaders in this camp are releasing master plans for the long-term future of their ministries; they are investing huge sums of money in permanent physical infrastructure, with new building campaigns; and they are encouraging their donors to leave estate gifts in order to impact future generations for Christ. However, this reaction refuses to accept the clear signs—and, more importantly, the biblical prophecies—that the U.S. government will not allow churches and Christian institutions to continue to operate according to biblical standards for much longer. In other words, it will not be possible to “keep doing what we have always been doing,” because the government will not allow this in the future. This attitude also assumes that there are no significant problems with what the church has been doing, and refuses to self-evaluate in order to identify and own up to failures—especially the failure to pay proper attention to biblical prophecy, which is a symptom of the failure to pay proper attention to the Word of God.

A related reaction is the call for political and social activism in order to “protect our liberties” and “turn America back to God.” Evangelicals of this sort are “battling for America’s soul” on social media, in law courts, in politics, in schools, and on television. They are telling people that America is at a critical point right now, but if Christians just pour enough money and effort into the cause of defending freedom, the country can still be turned around. This reaction of course ignores political and societal realities, but, more importantly, it is accompanied by a mistaken view of biblical prophecy. By far the prevailing view of eschatology among Bible scholars and pastors today is that the end could come suddenly at any moment, that no one knows when this will happen or what events will precede it, and that there are no specific references in biblical prophecy to anything that is happening in the world today—the point of view that I have called “eschatological agnosticism.” This is the view of most Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Baptists, regardless of whether they may be amillennial or premillennial. Thus, all of these Christian leaders are completely in the dark with regard to how God is working His plan in the world today, what will happen, and how Christians ought to respond. In fact, they are vehemently opposed to attempts to understand what the Bible prophesies about events in the world today. They assume that it is possible for Bible-believing Christian institutions to continue to function normally in the United States, either because the rapture could happen before the government shuts down churches, or because the United States could be turned around spiritually and politically. While there is nothing sinful about engaging in legal political activism in an effort to protect Christian freedoms, Christian leaders ought to recognize that these efforts will ultimately prove futile, and that severe persecution of Christians in the United States will inevitably come, in accordance with the prophecies concerning Babylon the Great. Pouring money into politics and lawsuits is not the best stewardship of resources. The best course of action, in accordance with Revelation 18:4, is to peacefully leave the United States and seek refuge in countries where Christianity has better legal protections. This is something that Christian leaders have refused to consider, though the trends are clear even without understanding that the United States is Babylon the Great.

Yet another common way in which Christian leaders in America are reacting to government threats is to say, “They are just going to have to shut us down and put us in jail!” This attitude presents an either/or choice between yielding to antichristian government demands or going to jail, while ignoring the fact that a third option exists—moving to a friendlier country. The end result of this attitude will be a huge number of American Christians being needlessly jailed and, eventually, executed. All the financial investments that American Christians have made in their country will be forfeited, as the government takes over Christian institutions. American Christians have the resources to move both themselves and their institutions overseas, and there are many Christian communities in less economically developed countries that would love to have American-style institutions. It seems that some American Christians have a view of patriotism that requires them to die fighting for the U.S. Constitution and other political ideals, rather than abandoning their earthly citizenship out of love for their heavenly citizenship. Others are so comfortable with life in America that they would not consider leaving. Yet if Christian institutions are being shut down and Christians are being jailed, there will be no physical comfort for Christians in the United States, unless they sacrifice their souls.

A major problem underlying all of these misguided reactions is that most Christians have never heard prophecy explained clearly and correctly, and so they are completely unaware of what the Bible says about the United States. A related problem is that no Christian leader has even suggested making contingency plans to move overseas if the government announces its intention to close Christian institutions, and most individual Christians are currently unwilling or unable to leave on their own, without following a leader. If this situation continues, there is likely to be a chaotic, panicky, and uncoordinated exodus of evangelical Christians from the United States whenever large numbers of Christians begin to be arrested for their faith.

Conclusion

American Christians need to let go of the American Dream. America is no longer the place where they, their children, and their grandchildren can pursue their dreams of “the good life” that rewards honest work with economic and social advancement. This is because faithful Christians and churches will come under increasing pressure until they are outlawed and exterminated. While I believe in respecting authorities and obeying the law insofar as it does not require me to sin, there is a danger in holding such a fondness for America that prevents one from even thinking about moving to another country or abandoning the mainstream American way of life, like the fondness that Lot and his wife held for life in Sodom. In truth, the American Dream has always been a dubious pursuit from a spiritual perspective; Christians ought instead to live a life of service and sacrifice for the Lord. We need to remember that our citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20), and our call is to make disciples of Jesus throughout the whole world (Acts 1:8).

When should American Christians leave the United States, and where should they go? The answer to that question will be different for different people. But every American Christian should realize that he will not be able to continue to live freely in the United States for many decades to come. The exact date when the United States will begin to jail and execute large numbers of Christians is not in biblical prophecy, although it may coincide with the writing of a new constitution or the passage of the equal rights amendment, or with the loss of a key court case. For now, the persecution continues to build gradually. In any case, American Christians need to face the reality that their country is going to harm them sooner or later if they refuse to accept homosexuality. The prudent and biblical response is to make plans to move overseas. In the short term, there are still many countries in the world in which Christianity is fully legal, although Christians must be wary of the progress of the militant homosexual agenda in other countries as well. It is wise to prefer countries with conservative moral values over those with abundant wealth and physical comforts, and to be willing to live under a different political system than that of the United States. Also, there are some countries in which Christianity is not currently fully legal which may grant Christianity full legal protection in the future. Christians should be especially attentive to events in the Middle East, since that is where God’s program is focused at the end of the age.

There are many American Christians, both leaders and laymen, who believe they are in the process of losing their religious freedoms. They also realize that American culture is having a significant negative impact on the spiritual health of the church. The exodus of young people from the church has been well documented, as has the involvement of Christians in sin and the doctrinal weakening of the church due to cultural influences and pressures. The anti-Christian agenda of mainstream American institutions is also well known. In spite of all these things, nearly every Christian is planning to stay in the United States for the rest of his life. Virtually no one is making contingency plans to leave for a friendlier country or a better environment, and no leader or group is calling for an organized, coordinated exodus. Why not? It makes no sense. It is like a group of people standing on the beach waiting for a tsunami to come in. These people document in detail all the signs that the tsunami is coming, and they are filled with anxiety as they see it build, step by step. Yet people just keep discussing how bad it will be, and how much damage it may do. Some are frantically piling up stones to try to stop its advance. But no one is running to higher ground, which is the obvious solution.

Looking to the end of the age

The New Testament speaks repeatedly of the extreme difficulty believers will face in the end times, in the period leading up to the rapture of the church (2 Thess 2:3; 1 Tim 4:1-3; 2 Tim 3:1-9, 13; 4:3-4; 2 Pet 3:3-6; Jude 17-19; Rev 3:14-22). It calls this period “difficult times” (2 Tim 3:1)—strong language when considering all the persecutions and false teachings that have beset the church since its inception. The Bible expressly teaches that there will be a great, worldwide rebellion against God at the end of the present age (2 Thess 2:3), and that this rebellion will make inroads in the church as well as the world (2 Tim 4:3-4). The multitude of martyrs in Revelation 7:9-17 shows that the whole world is vehemently anti-Christian throughout the first half of the tribulation period, before the antichrist sets up his image in the temple. Surely the mass murder of Christians in the first half of the tribulation period does not come out of nowhere, but simply continues and strengthens a policy of severe persecution against Christians that was already in place throughout most of the world before the tribulation period (cf. Rev 17:6; 18:20, 24; 19:2). The world’s rebellion against God culminates in the second half of the tribulation period with open worship of the antichrist and the devil by the entire unsaved world, with the death penalty imposed on those who refuse to comply (Rev 13:4, 8, 15-18). Most of the unbelieving world will repudiate the gospel in spite of many astonishing signs from heaven and even the preaching of angels. For these things to happen during the tribulation period, the world must first become incredibly hardened and spiritually deluded in the era leading up to the tribulation period.

It should be noted that these prophecies of a great worldwide rebellion could not be fulfilled if the United States, as the world’s wealthiest, most powerful, and most influential country, were to experience a genuine spiritual awakening at the end of the age. If the world as a whole will rebel against God at the end of the age, this rebellion must be led by the country which acts, more than any other, as the leader of the world—the United States of America. In fact, the United States will become so irremediably wicked, and will accrue so much guilt for its actions, that God will destroy it utterly at the beginning of the tribulation period, as the firstfruits of His destruction of all the nations of the world at the end of the tribulation period.

While there are clear indications that we are now living in the end times, it is also clear that the world has not yet matured to the state in which it is found at the beginning of the tribulation period. The mass murder of Christians in the United States and around the world is an example that has already been cited. Some other examples include: (1) there will be a ten-nation confederation in Europe, with the antichrist rising to power within it (Dan 7:7-8, 24; Rev 17:12). (2) There will be a temple in Jerusalem (Dan 9:27; 2 Thess 2:4). (3) Israel will be at peace with its neighbors and disarmed (Ezek 38:8, 11). (4) The nations of Asia will be capable of equipping an army of 200 million men (Rev 9:13-21). It was argued earlier in this study that Daniel 9:27 proves that there is no gap between the rapture and the start of the tribulation period. That verse also proves that the rapture will not come as a surprise, for it shows that the beginning of the final seven years of God’s program for Israel in this age is simultaneous with the inception of the seven-year treaty between the antichrist and the state of Israel—a treaty that will surely be negotiated and publicized before it is formally ratified.

If the rapture were to occur without warning today, it would be a chaotic disaster. Cars, trucks, and buses driven by Christians would suddenly veer out of control and cause great injury and loss of life. Planes piloted by Christians would plummet from the sky, plunging passengers to their deaths. Children and babies would be left alone, abandoned by their parents. Is this truly the way a merciful and gracious God would act? I think not. The Bible clearly indicates that the rapture marks the dividing line between the Church Age and the tribulation period, and that the tribulation period begins with the ratification of a seven-year treaty between the antichrist and the state of Israel (Dan 9:27). The Bible gives enough information about the antichrist for Christians to be able to identify him before the rapture, and Christians will be able to follow the progress of the peace negotiations between the antichrist and the state of Israel. Likely a date will be set for a signing ceremony when the treaty will come into effect, and Christians can prepare for the rapture to happen at that specific date and time. Many other details will come into clearer focus as end-time events continue to unfold.

Summary – the United States of America is Babylon the Great

The United States of America is no insignificant entity. It is the prime player in today’s world, which is the world of the end times. It can hardly be imagined that the United States could be passed over in prophecies of the tribulation period. Even as a passive actor, simply suffering destruction, the fall of the United States would not be a minor event, or one with only a minor effect on the world economy and the balance of power in the world. The Bible has much to say about Gentile nations, especially if they have something to do with prophetic history. It can hardly overlook the United States, the most powerful and prosperous nation in all of human history, and the dominant force in the modern world. American Christians who have been looking only to the Middle East to find events of prophetic significance have overlooked their own country. The United States differs in its greatness and scope of action from the great powers of the past; its power and luxury are on a different order of magnitude, both in terms of their advanced stage of development, and in their truly global reach. Never before has one nation been able to stamp its own image upon the whole world. Only in America’s sin is there a close kinship to world kingdoms of the past, though even in this the United States has managed to plunge lower depths of depravity, since many of its sins are made possible or are made much worse by its technology. The activities of the United States in the world are universal, deep-seated and wide-ranging, and they are laden with profound eschatological import. With its tangled tentacles extending into every sphere of life in every corner of the globe, the United States is shaping the world of the end times—politically, economically, culturally, and spiritually.

There is a principle stated in Daniel 12:8-10 that the referents of certain eschatological prophecies cannot be understood before the stage begins to be set for the fulfillment of those prophecies. Thus, while the identification of Babylon the Great should be obvious at the present time, it would have been impossible to make this identification before the United States became the dominant power in the world. Today, the identification of Babylon the Great is clear, due to the way in which the United States of America is aligning with Revelation 17–18. The main reason why this interpretation has not yet gained wide acceptance in the church is due to a commitment to eschatological agnosticism on the part of most Bible scholars and pastors. It is hoped that the arguments made in this treatise will help refocus the church’s attention on the literal interpretation of Bible prophecy.

My hand now scoops up Babylon,
Her walls and all that city fair,
Her jewels, arms, and heart of stone
I toss into the careless air.

She ruled, bent nations to her ire,
Nor hosts of slain could slake her lust,
Until a Vengeful Hand of fire
Gripped hard, reduced her to this dust.

I turn, struck numb with fear and shame:
Is it mere fancy that a Hand
Throttles with fingertips of flame
The towers of my own proud land?

—John Ackerson

Both the previous two posts and this one are part of a chapter in a commentary on the book of Revelation that I am writing. That chapter can be downloaded here. Support for this work is appreciated; visit my Buy me a coffee page to make a donation.

The imminence of the rapture: does the Bible teach it?

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In my previous post, I presented arguments in favor of identifying the United States of America with the prophetic entity called “Babylon the Great” in Revelation 17:1–19:5. The foremost objection to this identification among pretribulationists is the theological position known as the doctrine of the imminence of the rapture, or “imminence” for short. The name for this doctrine is somewhat confusing, because whereas the English word “imminent” means “impending” or “about to happen,” the theological doctrine of imminence teaches that the rapture may or may not be about to happen. Essentially, it is an assertion that nothing specific or certain can be known about the development of God’s prophetic program before the rapture happens. Those who believe in imminence would object just as strongly to an assertion that the rapture will in fact happen in the near future as they would to an assertion that the rapture will not happen in the near future. In other words, the doctrine of imminence ironically rejects the assertion that the rapture is truly imminent.

According to the doctrine of imminence, it is never possible to know before the rapture whether one is living in the end times, because that would imply that one could have at least a general idea of when the rapture will occur. Adherents of the doctrine of imminence reject, for example, assertions that the modern state of Israel has prophetic significance, and that the digitization of currency has prophetic significance. With regard to Babylon the Great, some might say that the United States could be Babylon the Great if the rapture were to occur soon; however, it is impossible to know for sure, since the rapture could occur thousands of years in the future.

Thus, the problem raised by the doctrine of imminence is not just whether Babylon the Great is to be identified with the United States, but whether any prophetic entity or event may be identified with a contemporary entity or event. This objection has nothing to do with the exegesis of Revelation 17–18, but rather concerns the exegesis of texts throughout the New Testament and the implications of a theological system. In the discussion which follows here, it will be shown that there are serious exegetical and theological problems with the doctrine of imminence, and that this doctrine should be rejected by pretribulationists.

Texts purported to teach imminence

Space will permit only a brief survey of the texts held by some to teach imminence. One category of such texts are those which state directly that Christ will come as a thief in the night, or that no man knows the day or the hour. Such statements are found in Matt 24:36, 42, 44, 50; 25:13; Mark 13:32-33, 35; Luke 12:40, 46; Acts 1:7; 2 Pet 3:10; 1 Thess 5:1-3; Rev 16:15. An exegetical analysis of these texts reveals that each is speaking of the second coming, and they are saying that Christ’s return in glory to judge the world and establish His kingdom will happen at a time when no one is expecting it to happen; therefore, professing believers living in the second half of the tribulation period must always be ready. Warnings regarding the second coming have the tone of, “Watch out, or you will perish!” (Matt 24:37–25:30; Mark 13:33-37; Luke 12:35-48; 21:34-36; 1 Thess 5:1-3; 2 Pet 3:10; Rev 16:15). Such a tone would not suit a passage describing the rapture, since Christ will not destroy the unbelieving world when He comes for the church—unbelievers will still be able to repent afterward. Thus, Christians are not commanded to be on the alert for the rapture. In fact, 1 Thessalonians 5:10 states that all Christians will be safely raised at the rapture, regardless of spiritual lethargy or watchfulness. Christians are to live righteously, of course, but for other reasons.

A second category of texts includes Romans 13:12 (“the day has drawn near”), James 5:8 (“the coming of the Lord has drawn near”), James 5:9 (“the Judge stands before the doors”), and 1 Peter 4:7 (“the end of all things has drawn near”). An analysis of the terms used (“the day,” “the end of all things”) and the context (judgment) shows that these verses refer to the second advent, not to the rapture. Regardless, a statement of imminence would have to be worded like the group of verses cited in the previous paragraph, e.g., “You cannot know when the Lord will return” or “The Lord’s coming will take you by surprise.” The “coming of the Lord has drawn near” group of passages are to be interpreted in the same way as parallel passages in the Gospels. When John and Jesus said, “the kingdom has drawn near,” they meant that the offer of the kingdom has drawn near, not that the kingdom would in fact be established immediately (Matt 3:2; 4:17; 10:7; Mark 1:15; cf. Luke 19:11). This has been true throughout the Church Age, since any generation of Jews that accepts Jesus as the Messiah will see the second coming (cf. Acts 3:19; Rom 11:25).

Other passages that are cited as “proof” of imminence do not directly state the doctrine and need not be read to imply it. Some of these passages refer to the second advent, since entering the kingdom is viewed in the New Testament as the goal of all believers. For example, “the appearing of the glory of . . . Jesus Christ” (Tit 2:13; cf. Matt 24:30; 2 Tim 4:1) cannot refer to the rapture; and there are many events in our own lives that we eagerly anticipate even while knowing that those events cannot occur immediately (cf. 1 Cor 1:7; 2 Pet 3:12). With regard to some other passages, serious problems would be created if they were read as statements of imminence. For example, if it is argued that Paul used the pronoun “we” in 1 Thessalonians 4:15 (“we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord”) because he believed the rapture would occur in his lifetime, he was simply wrong, and the Scripture is in error. If, on the other hand, the statement “we who are alive” is read simply as a generic reference to the living, there is no problem; but if read over-literally, it would be an assertion that both Paul and the Thessalonian believers will in fact be alive when the Lord returns, when in fact they all died nearly two thousand years ago.

Exegetical problems with imminence

A major exegetical problem for the doctrine of imminence is that the New Testament contains many prophecies, and the rapture could not have occurred before those prophecies were fulfilled. Some examples are the revelation that Paul would have a great ministry in Corinth (Acts 18:9-11); Agabus’ prophecy of a famine (Acts 11:28); the various prophecies that Paul would be bound in Jerusalem (Acts 20:22-23; 21:11); and the prophecy that Paul would go to Rome and stand before Caesar (Acts 23:11). Peter was told that he would die when he was old—implying that the rapture could not occur before his martyrdom (John 21:18-19; 2 Pet 1:14). Paul, too, knew that he had to die and was also told of other things that he had to do and suffer (2 Tim 4:6-7; cf. Acts 9:15-16; 16:9-10; 22:21; 1 Cor 4:9; Phil 1:20-26). So how could Paul (supposedly) write in his epistles that the rapture was imminent, if he knew it was not? Walvoord suggested that Paul had not yet been told of his death when he wrote and had not heard the prophecy of Peter’s death, so that as far as he knew, the rapture could occur at any time (John F. Walvoord, The Rapture Question [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979], 202.) This explanation, like all other claims that the apostles told believers that the rapture could happen at any time, is problematic under the doctrine of inspiration. The Bible is the Word of God, not the word of man, and, as such, contains no errors. If the Holy Spirit allowed Paul to write an uninformed opinion on this issue—and to present it not as his own opinion, but as biblical truth—how could we know that he did not make other mistakes as well? The Holy Spirit knew that the rapture was not imminent in the first century; He knew and knows when the rapture will occur, and therefore He could not have said that He expected the rapture to occur in the first century, for He cannot lie (Tit 1:2; Heb 6:18).

In addition to the prophecies about Paul and Peter and others, many specific prophecies were also given to the seven churches of Asia Minor in Revelation 2–3, and it is evident from what is written to these churches that the rapture could not happen for some time after the date of writing. Most of the passages which are supposed to prove the imminence of the rapture were written before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, and the destruction of Jerusalem was prophesied in Daniel 9:26 to occur before the coming of the antichrist. The destruction of Jerusalem was also prophesied by Jesus (Matt 22:7; 24:2; Luke 19:43-44). Even the Old Testament prophesied that Jerusalem would exist as a Jewish population center throughout the tribulation period (Zech 12; 14:2), so the prophecies of Jerusalem’s destruction also imply that Jerusalem would be rebuilt and reoccupied by the Jews before the tribulation period. Daniel 9:27 explicitly requires the existence of a Jewish state in Israel and a Jewish temple in Jerusalem at the start of the tribulation period, following the destruction of Jerusalem after the rejection of the Messiah (Dan 9:26). All of the New Testament books from Matthew to 2 Peter were written before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. With so many prophecies of Jerusalem’s destruction, including the prophecies by Jesus, surely the apostles would not have been so ignorant as to think that the rapture could occur before that event, nor would the Holy Spirit have allowed them to say so.

Jesus himself indicated that He would not return immediately after His ascension. In Acts 1:8, He told His disciples, “you will be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” He also said, “Go therefore, and make disciples of all the nations” (Matt 28:18-20; cf. Luke 24:47). Although the Great Commission does not end with the rapture (cf. Matt 28:20, “even until the end of the world”), it was obviously directed first to the church and therefore could not have been obeyed had the rapture occurred shortly after Pentecost, for it would take time to evangelize the whole world (cf. Matt 13:37-39; Acts 2:39). Indeed, the entire point of the parables Jesus spoke in Matthew 13 is that there will be a considerable gap of time between the offer of the messianic kingdom at the first advent and the coming of the kingdom at the second advent. During this interim period, the membership of the kingdom is being formed as the gospel of the kingdom is proclaimed. These parables are designed to address a question that would have arisen after the previous chapter (Matthew 12), namely, what happens to God’s kingdom program when the Messiah is rejected? The answer is that the kingdom will still come, but not immediately. In the parable of the mustard seed (Matt 13:31-32; Mark 4:30-32), the image of the great tree with birds nesting in it shows that the church will become global, and that the age will not end until it has reached a point of maturity. The parable of the wheat and the tares, the parable of the seed which grows and ripens, and the parable the leaven also show that the age will not end until it has come to maturity (Matt 13:24-43; Mark 4:26-29; cf. Luke 13:18-29, which is in the context of the salvation of the nations). These all imply a significant interim period. The parable of the nobleman who goes on a long journey (Luke 19:11-27) teaches the same thing, and Luke says Jesus told that parable because the disciples “supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately” (Luke 19:11). The parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price show that it will cost you everything in this life to gain the kingdom, again implying that the kingdom is not immediate (Matt 13:44-46; cf. Mark 8:34-38). Jesus’ statement, “And lo, I am with you always, even until the end of the world” (Matt 28:20) also suggests that the world would not end for some time to come. Jesus’ final instructions to the disciples before His death in Luke 22:35-37 are to prepare for opposition and a long journey.

In the Gospels, even the demons expressed knowledge that the time of their final punishment was not yet at hand (Matt 8:29), and Revelation 12:12 says Satan will know when his time is short. In Philippians 1:20-26, Paul discusses his struggle between death and life, which one he would prefer. He says, “I am torn between the two” (Phil 1:23) that is, between death and life. He does not mention a third option, for Paul apparently did not consider it possible that he could be raptured at the moment he was writing. Paul also says the apostles are “as men doomed to death” (1 Cor 4:9), not mentioning the rapture (remember that John 21:22-23 does not say that John would not die). In Revelation 2:10, Christ commands the church in Smyrna to be “faithful unto death,” implying that they would not be taken to heaven alive in the rapture. The popular phrase “if the Lord tarries” is not found in the New Testament, while the phrase “if the Lord wills” occurs several times (Acts 18:21; 1 Cor 4:19; 16:7; Heb 6:3; James 4:15). In John 21:22, Jesus says, “If I want him to tarry until I come, what is that to you?” This shows that Jesus would not be coming immediately: it is John who has to tarry if he is to have a possibility of being raptured.

Besides the prophecies already noted which directly predict specific events during the Church Age, there are also numerous prophecies which describe the world of the tribulation period in terms that were incapable of fulfillment before modern times, proving that the rapture could not have been imminent throughout church history. In many cases, these prophecies show that the world still today has not yet matured to the state in which it is found at the beginning of the tribulation period, though it is getting closer.  (For more details, see this post.) For example, when John wrote the book of Revelation, there were approximately 250 million people in the entire world, yet he describes a fully mechanized army of 200 million in Revelation 9:16-19. Even during World War II, there were never more than 50 million men in uniform in all the armed forces of the world combined. Today the manpower for an army of 200 million is available in Asia, but the Asian countries do not possess the vast quantity of tanks and other equipment necessary to arm such a force. Thus, the sixth trumpet judgment of Revelation 9:13-21 was incapable of fulfillment before the global population boom of modern times, and even today the nations of Asia are not capable of equipping an army of 200 million men.

Prophecies of the tribulation period also include clear indications of an instantaneous global communications system, which did not exist until very recently. For example, how could people everywhere on the earth immediately hear the news of the deaths of the two witnesses and look at their dead bodies lying on the street, if not through modern digital communications (Rev 11:9-10)? A global communications system that includes a system of electronic financial transactions is also indicated by prophecies of the worldwide implementation of the mark of the beast, without which no one can buy or sell (Rev 13:16-18). Although the technology for such a system exists today, there are still many underdeveloped parts of the world that currently lack the infrastructure to require all financial transactions to be processed electronically, and there are currently many different electronic payment systems and currencies.

Significantly for the present article, the prophecy of a single entity, Babylon the Great, making all the nations of the world wealthy and corrupting them all with its value system demands the existence of a highly developed system of global exchange that has only recently come into being, by means of modern modes of transportation and communication.

Some pretribulationists posit a gap of indeterminate length between the rapture and the tribulation period in an attempt to avoid the problem of the world not currently being in the state in which it is found at the start of the tribulation period. However, according to Daniel 9:24-27, the prophetic clock of God’s timetable for Israel stopped when the Jewish people refused to accept Christ as their King, crucifying Him instead. The church is a parenthesis in God’s program for Israel, a non-national people of God that will move the nation of Israel to jealousy and repentance (Rom 11:11). The prophetic clock starts ticking again when the church is removed from the earth at the rapture, and the nation of Israel resumes its role as the principal people of God on earth (cf. Rom 11:25-27). Daniel 9:27 reveals that God’s program for Israel takes seven years to finish before the complete fulfillment of the promises to the nation of Israel in the messianic kingdom. In other words, when the church is removed, its role is immediately restored to Israel—there is no other candidate to replace the church in God’s program—and there are only seven years left in God’s program for Israel before the promise of the messianic kingdom is fulfilled. Thus, there is no gap between the rapture and the start of the tribulation period.

Theological problems with imminence

The doctrine of imminence is a crucial issue because it determines a whole system of interpretation of prophetic passages. Specifically, imminence dictates a sort of eschatological “agnosticism” (for lack of a better term), i.e., an eschatological non-knowing. The teaching that we cannot know when the rapture will occur results in an insistence upon interpreting prophecy vaguely enough so as to make the return of Christ at any moment theoretically possible. Imminence cannot accept any interpretation which would imply that certain events must yet happen before the rapture. But imminence also asserts that the return of Christ could be hundreds or thousands of years away, meaning that interpretations which apply prophecy specifically to the current world situation cannot be put forward with dogmatism. Nor is there any need to know these details if they will not affect the lives of believers during the Church Age. Thus, imminence sets a method of interpretation which results in broad agreement on some general doctrines of eschatology, but which cannot hope to explain any of the specifics or details, since these would necessarily be restricted to a certain period of time; imminence cannot even allow for positive identification of prophesied events, countries, and persons prior to the rapture. This is a serious problem, because prophetic passages are quite clearly specific and detailed; they contain numerous references to specific places, persons, conditions, regions, and countries in the world of the end times—above all, Israel. In order to maintain the position that the rapture could happen at any moment, some prophetic passages must be interpreted in a figurative or idealized manner in order to allow for a range of interpretations; or, the reality of the current world situation must itself be twisted, with pastors and popular writers alike claiming that the everything is now in place for the tribulation to begin, only to be proved wrong again and again.

The generalized nature of an imminence-based eschatology has contributed much to the state of mass confusion in evangelical eschatology. Since few details are inherent in this eschatological system, interpretations of the details cannot be standardized and interlocked among prophetic passages, or even made coherent. Those within this system are free to develop their own views of the details, drawing upon sundry evangelical authors, popular entertainment, conjecture, or almost anything else, to form their own opinions. Often interpreters blend various things they have heard. They are able to do this because there is nothing about an imminence-based eschatology which constrains or discourages them from holding widely divergent views on specific prophetic passages. This problem is not limited to laymen: scholars who put forth imminence-based interpretations are also unable to agree on the details. In fact, the lack of order in popular eschatology and the numerous varieties of views are chiefly characteristic of premillennial dispensationalism. Something is wrong. The state of confusion in premillennialism is a direct result of its failure to understand the rapture properly. This is indicated by the fact that many of the disputes within premillennialism are about the rapture, and new theories about the rapture continue to be put forward by premillennialists.

Because imminence results in an unclear and uncertain interpretation of prophecy, the doctrine of imminence is foreign to premillennialism. Clarity and certainty on prophetic issues is central to the premillennial outlook. Imminence hinders these aims, for it mandates a figurative or generalized interpretation of certain passages when the literal interpretation would be too specific or problematic for the doctrine of imminence—a method that is at odds with the literal hermeneutic. Unlike parables, which are intended only as illustrations of a principle, each detail of a prophetic vision carries a literal significance. In fact, the language of prophecy is the most precise in all the Bible. Consider how every prophecy that has been fulfilled has been fulfilled literally and in every specific detail (e.g., Dan 2:31-33, 36-40; 7:1-7, 17; 11:2-35). There is absolutely no indication that eschatological prophecies were meant only to communicate generic truths, so that they could fit any of many possible world situations. Prophecies have specific referents, and they are meant to be specific enough so that they will fit one, and only one, recognizable fulfillment. Only pagan oracles were designed to fit a broad spectrum of outcomes, since the pagan prophets did not know what would happen in the future. If biblical prophecy really is not precise enough and detailed enough to allow the positive identification of its referents before all is fulfilled, then it may well be questioned whether biblical prophecy is prophecy at all, for apparently it has no specific content and could just as easily describe any of a large number of possible outcomes, with no way to verify its accuracy. But if prophecy is prophecy, then the claim made by imminence that prophetic referents cannot be identified in the last days is a denial of the perspicuity of Scripture, since it claims that the descriptions of eschatological entities in prophecy are so vague that they could plausibly be applied to any world situation at any time throughout the entire Church Age.

The Bible does not teach that believers will not be able to recognize the end times when they come. In fact, the detail of biblical prophecy suggests exactly the opposite. A clear indication that we are living in the end times is that Israel is regathered and established in the land, and has now been self-governing for nearly 75 years and in full possession of Jerusalem since 1967. The modern state of Israel, with Satan’s vehement opposition to it and God’s unmistakable establishment of it in the face of Satan’s attacks, shows that God’s program is driving towards a conclusion in our time. Nevertheless, because of the doctrine of imminence, dispensationalism, which has developed a coherent theology of Israel past and Israel future, struggles to understand Israel present. Imminence cannot even allow for the possibility that there could be prophecies of Israel’s pretribulational restoration to the land. Many pretribulationists claim on the basis of imminence that the modern state of Israel may not have any prophetic significance whatsoever—it could be destroyed, and the nation could be scattered and regathered again prior to the tribulation period. This is then sometimes used as justification for political opposition or indifference to the state of Israel. Thus, those who hold to imminence can never present a cogent perspective on what God is doing in our time, and their failure has serious practical ramifications due to the profound eschatological significance of contemporary events. Imminence denies that the direction of history in the present day is knowable, or even that there is a biblical framework for understanding the modern state of Israel. Yet one of the major reasons why God gave prophecy is so that believers who are living in the end times would know what is going on in the world and what will happen next, and can plan accordingly (cf. Dan 12:8-10; Rev 22:10).

Conclusion

In some minds, it will be wholly legitimate to dismiss all the exegetical evidence for the identification of the United States with Babylon the Great, and to dismiss all the exegetical problems with alternative views of Babylon the Great, on the basis of the doctrine of imminence. This objection essentially says, “That view cannot be right because it contradicts my theology.” However, a better approach is to say, “Part of my theology cannot be right, because it does not fit the Bible.” Imminence is a carryover from amillennialism, in which there is no clearly defined endgame—Jesus returns arbitrarily at some point in history, without any particular event to prompt His return. Imminence is also based, in part, on the failure to distinguish clearly enough between the rapture and the second coming, resulting in the misidentification of many passages which refer to the second coming as rapture passages.

Imminence has handcuffed pretribulational interpreters, resulting in an eschatological agnosticism. Speculation runs rampant, because no one can know for sure what will happen next, and no one can positively identify any prophetic entity. But such a view cannot give a coherent account of Revelation 17–18. The description of Babylon the Great is far too specific to not be able to identify the entity described—the greatest superpower in the history of the world—before the start of the tribulation period. Attempts to preserve the doctrine of imminence by interpreting Babylon the Great as a false religious system (Revelation 17) and the antichrist’s empire (Revelation 18) are impossible on a literal reading of the book of Revelation.

Those who say that there could be a great worldwide revival or population loss or economic depression, or that Israel could be dispersed again in the Church Age, and that the rapture might not happen for two thousand more years, fail to understand the direction of history. History is not cyclical, endlessly repeating events without meaning; rather, the world is heading toward a goal, in accordance with God’s sovereign plan. Further, the world of today (Israel in the land, a great superpower corrupting the world and making all the nations wealthy, an alliance uniting all of Europe, digital currency, etc.) matches the description of the world of the end times in biblical prophecy far too precisely to doubt the conclusion that we are in fact living in the eschaton.

Some people mock those who recognize the fulfillment of biblical prophecy in their own time, pointing out that all such claimed fulfillments in church history proved to be wrong. Of course all attempts before modern times to match eschatological prophecy with the interpreter’s own time were a miserable failure, for the last days had not yet arrived. Yet when those attempted identifications are examined, it is obvious that they are all very stretched, and in no way does the prophecy literally resemble the purported fulfillment. It is not fair, therefore, to say that someone who correlates prophetic entities with entities in the world today is doing exactly the same thing as failed interpreters of prophecy from generations gone by. In fact, it stands to reason that as the tribulation period draws near, entities described in prophecy will come into existence in the world. I would argue that at any point in the history of the church, the best way to try to understand eschatological prophecy is to compare the current state of the world with the state of the world in the tribulation period in order to see if the tribulation period is near. If one is not living close in time to the tribulation period, then it will not be possible to make positive identifications of prophetic entities. The history of the interpretation of biblical prophecy proves that prophecy cannot be understood unless it is contextualized in the world in which the fulfillment will occur. Yet imminence denies the very possibility of contextualization. Interpreters who hold to imminence and who interpret prophecy in a manner consistent with that doctrine can only suggest generalized and very uncertain eschatological interpretations, resulting in confusion and speculation, due to the assertion that biblical prophecy cannot be related with certainty to the world in which we live.

On the other hand, some Bible teachers try to artificially make the Bible fit the current state of affairs in the world in order to make it sound as if the rapture could occur today and the tribulation could begin immediately, with the world stage already fully set. Indeed, virtually all premillennialists who have rejected the aspect of the doctrine of imminence which claims that nothing can be known about the timing of the rapture before it happens, nevertheless hold that the rapture could occur at any moment, and distort both prophecy and contemporary political events to make this seem possible. The argument of this essay is that both the view that the rapture could occur today, as well as the view that the rapture could occur thousands of years from now, must be rejected. Although the present world is to be identified with the world of the end times, it is clear that a number of changes must still occur in the world prior to the start of the tribulation period. These are not changes that can occur instantaneously, but are rather things that will require an extended period of time to unfold. Predicting such changes is not artificially fitting the Bible into the current geopolitical situation, since I am arguing that the final state of the age has not yet been reached. Further, these predictions would seem highly implausible and speculative apart from the prophetic Word. Consider the following: (1) The United States will lead the world in the mass murder of evangelical, Bible-believing Christians (Rev 17:6; 18:20, 24; 19:2). (2) The whole world will use a single digital currency and/or electronic payment system, which will be controlled by the United States (Zech 5:5-11; cf. Rev 13:16-17; 17:18). (3) Israel will achieve full peace with the Arab world and will voluntarily disarm (Ezek 38:8, 11-12). (4) Forty or so nations in Europe will be consolidated into a confederation of ten (Dan 7:7-8, 23-24). (5) A Jewish temple will be built in Jerusalem, where the Dome of the Rock now stands (Dan 9:27; 2 Thess 2:4). (6) There will be fully mechanized armies in East, South, and Southeast Asia with a combined strength of two hundred million men (Rev 9:13-21). These six very specific predictions can hardly be described as fitting the Bible into the current state of world affairs or as following conventional wisdom. But conventional wisdom is seldom an accurate guide to the future, for the course of history turns on radical and unusual developments—often stemming from apparently minor causes—that conventional wisdom can never foresee. Conventional wisdom only sees current trends and current knowledge, and cannot foresee the forces that will interject change into history. Scripture, on the other hand, has given believers a description of the key entities in the world of the end times, so that we can understand the direction of events in the present time, as eschatological events begin to unfold. The rejection of the doctrine of imminence is necessary to understand the eschatological significance of present events.

Both the previous post and this one are part of a chapter in a commentary on the book of Revelation that I am writing. That chapter can be downloaded here. Support for this work is appreciated; visit my Buy me a coffee page to make a donation.

The case for identifying Babylon the Great with the United States of America

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The book of Revelation gives more attention to an entity called “Babylon the Great” than to any other single subject, with more than two chapters (17:1–19:5) dedicated to a discussion of this entity. As it is presented in this section, Babylon the Great is clearly the most significant player in the world of the end times. As such, its identification ought to be obvious to anyone living in the end times. However, at present pretribulational dispensationalists are badly divided as to the interpretation of these chapters, and commentators who do not follow a strictly futuristic view of Revelation 4–22 add even more interpretations to the mix. The lack of consensus on the identification of a prophetic entity that ought to be plainly evident indicates that none of the prevailing views does justice to the text of the book of Revelation, resulting in a state of confusion.

This article will argue that Babylon the Great is the United States of America, and that this identification is definitive and excludes all other possibilities. What follows below is a summary of a much longer and more detailed argument regarding the identity of Babylon the Great, available for free download here. This article is part of a commentary I am writing on the book of Revelation. Support for this work is appreciated; visit my Buy me a coffee page to make a donation.

The Unity of Revelation 17 and 18

Traditionally, most (not all) pretribulationist interpreters have differentiated the Babylon the Great of Revelation 17 from the Babylon the Great in Revelation 18, arguing that Revelation 17 speaks of an apostate church symbolically as a harlot, and that Revelation 18 describes a literal city. However, an analysis of Revelation 17–18 shows that both chapters refer to the same entity, and that this is a political entity, not an apostate church.

First, Revelation 17:18 directly states that the harlot of Revelation 17 is the great city (more accurately, the great “polis,” or state) of Revelation 18: “And the woman whom you saw is the great state, which has a kingdom over the kings of the earth.” Revelation 17:18 clearly establishes that the harlot is a political entity, not a religious one. Babylon the Great is a world hegemon, a superpower that dominates world politics, economics, and culture in the last days.

On the other hand, there is no direct statement of any kind in Revelation 17:1–19:5 to the effect that the harlot is an apostate church or other ecclesiastical entity, rather than a political entity with ungodly spiritual values and practices. Revelation 17 does not even mention a false religion or system of worship of any kind, such as idolatry and occultism (contrast Rev 9:20) or heretical teaching (contrast Rev 2:14-15). There is a remarkable lack of references to a religion of any kind in Revelation 17:1–19:5. The major argument that Revelation 17 describes a worldwide church is that this is an implication of the term “fornication” and the figure of a harlot. However, a study of references in Scripture to committing fornication in a figurative sense shows that this figure is used of a nation (Ezek 16:26; Jer 2:20; Mic 1:7) and individuals (Jer 5:7; Matt 12:39), but nowhere in Scripture is a false religion or apostate church said to commit fornication. Likewise, while individuals are sometimes said to figuratively “play the harlot” (Exod 34:15-16) or to be “adulterers” (Isa 57:3; Jer 9:2; Heb 12:16; James 4:4), and the figure of a harlot may be applied to nations or cities, it is never applied to a false church or religion. The harlot image is used of Jerusalem (Isa 1:21; Ezek 16), of Israel and Judah (Jer 3:1-10; Ezek 23; Hos 2:1-13), of Tyre (Isa 23:15-18), and of Nineveh (Nah 3:4). The latter two uses show that harlotry can refer to commercial intercourse and the transmission of the materialistic value system which accompanies it, as well as to a powerful country that lures other countries to itself and then takes their money.

The main difference between the Revelation 17 and Revelation 18 is this: Revelation 17 portrays Babylon the Great and its fall by means of heavenly signs and symbols, whereas Revelation 18 portrays the impact of Babylon the Great’s fall on the earth in a largely non-symbolic fashion.

The Name “Babylon the Great”

Traditionally pretribulationists have held one of two major views of the identity of the political Babylon the Great, which all acknowledge is described at least in Revelation 18. These are the proposals that Babylon the Great is Rome and that it is old city of Babylon in Iraq. The identification of Babylon the Great as Rome was originally developed by Protestant Reformers who saw the Roman Catholic Church as the primary source of evil in the world; now, its major proponents are critical (liberal) scholars and other preterists who believe that John was describing the politics of his own day, rather than prophesying. If one believes that John was prophesying of an eschatological entity, and that the Roman Catholic Church is not the primary source of evil in the world, then there is virtually no basis whatsoever for the identification of Babylon the Great with Rome; thus, few pretribulational dispensationalists now hold this view. The view that Babylon the Great is the city of Babylon in Iraq is more widely held by pretribulational writers. This view is based almost exclusively on the use of the name “Babylon.” However, the assertion that this name must refer to a rebuilt city of Babylon in Iraq falls apart quickly upon analysis.

First, it is striking that in Revelation 17:5, John says the name of the harlot is a “mystery,” even though he reads it plainly. That verse is best translated, “and upon her forehead a name written, a mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of the Harlots and of the Abominations of the Earth.” Although some translations attempt to alleviate this difficulty by making the word μυστήριον, mystērion (“mystery”) the beginning of the harlot’s name, this is an extremely improbable interpretation. Babylon the Great is never called “Mystery” elsewhere, as would be expected if this word were part of its name. The only other occurrence of μυστήριον, mystērion in Revelation 17:1–19:5 is in 17:7, in which the angel tells John that he will reveal “the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carries her.” Thus, it is the woman’s identity that is a mystery; mystery is not part of her character, as if she represents a mystery religion (i.e., a religion with occultic secrets).

If Babylon the Great were a reference to the rebuilt city of Babylon in Iraq, its name would be no mystery. Even if it were a reference to Rome, the name would not be especially mysterious, since Rome was the great world power of John’s day, and Peter even refers to Rome as “Babylon” in 1 Peter 5:13. Instead, Revelation 17:5 indicates that the name refers to some future entity whose identity was entirely unknown in AD 96, which was therefore represented symbolically—as with other eschatological entities in the book of Revelation. The characterization of the name “Babylon the Great” as a mystery shows that it is consistent with the literal hermeneutic to understand the name as referring to something other than a rebuilt city of Babylon in Iraq.

Virtually all writers refer to Babylon the Great as “Babylon,” which tends to leave the impression that Babylon the Great is the old city of Babylon, rebuilt. However, an examination of the occurrences of this name in Revelation reveals that John never follows this practice. The book of Revelation calls this entity “Babylon the Great,” “the great city, Babylon,” and “Babylon, the great city,” but never “Babylon” absolutely, alone and without modifiers (Rev 14:8; 16:19; 17:5; 18:2, 10, 21). Four times, it is simply called “the great city,” without the use of the name “Babylon” (Rev 17:18; 18:16, 18-19). Conversely, in the Old Testament, Babylon is only called “great Babylon” (= “Babylon the Great”) once, in Daniel 4:30, and there in a speech by a pagan king. It is never called “the great city, Babylon,” “Babylon, the great city,” or even “the great city.” If a rebuilt city of Babylon were in view in Revelation, it ought to be called “Babylon” without modifiers at least once, if for no other reason than to make it clear that Babylon the Great is indeed the old city of Babylon, rebuilt. Instead, the consistent use of the descriptive adjective “great” accompanied by the definite article indicates that a different entity is in view in the book of Revelation. Following the biblical terminology, this article always uses “Babylon the Great” for the eschatological entity in Revelation 17:1–19:5.

The primary reason that the book of Revelation calls the harlot “Babylon the Great” is that she represents an entity that did not exist and was wholly unknown at the time the book was penned. Hence, the Revelator chose to use a metaphor and state that the real name was a mystery (Rev 17:5). Similar naming conventions are used in the Bible for other future entities: Russia is called “Gog,” and many of the modern countries mentioned with it in Ezekiel 38:1-6 are called by other now-defunct names. The antichrist’s ten-nation confederation is represented by the Roman Empire (Dan 2:40-43; 7:23-24). The name of Antiochus IV was not given in his descriptions in Daniel 8 and 11. The name of the antichrist is never given, only the number of his name (Rev 13:18). But even though none of those names is given, there has been and will be no doubt as to the identification of these persons or nations when they come, for the Bible gives identifying information that is far more specific than a name. The name “Babylon the Great” was chosen, rather than some other name, to show that the entity it represents is the pinnacle of the glory, wealth, power, and wickedness of the kingdoms of man.

Babylon the Great is not Destroyed at the End of the Tribulation Period

It is commonly held that Babylon the Great is destroyed at the end of the tribulation period, either at or just prior to the second coming of Christ, due to the placement of Revelation 17:1–19:5 in the narrative and the mention of Babylon the Great in the description of the seventh bowl (Rev 16:19). If this view is correct, then Babylon the Great would have to stand for the antichrist’s kingdom or base of power, since the antichrist dominates the world economic system throughout the second half of the tribulation period (Rev 13:16-17) and is the most powerful ruler on earth (Rev 13:7). On the other hand, if Babylon the Great is destroyed at any time before the second coming, and especially if it is destroyed before the midpoint of the tribulation period, it could not be identified with the antichrist’s kingdom, since the antichrist remains in power until Armageddon (cf. Rev 13:5-7). Babylon the Great must refer to some other entity that is even more powerful than the antichrist’s kingdom at the start of the tribulation period. The destruction of this entity is therefore necessary to facilitate the antichrist’s rise to power. A number of reasons will be presented in favor of the latter position.

In Revelation 14:8, which is the first verse to mention Babylon the Great in the book of Revelation, an angel proclaims “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the Great, which has given all the nations to drink of the wine of the wrath of its sexual immorality.” The two verbs ἔπεσεν ἔπεσεν, epesen epesen (fallen, fallen) are in the aorist tense, which is typically used to indicate past action. Within the narrative context of the book of Revelation, this proclamation is issued at the midpoint of the tribulation period. Even if one does not accept that the book of Revelation is organized chronologically, it should be noted that the sequence of angelic announcements in Revelation 14:6-11 is very specific. The angel who warns against receiving the mark of the beast is said to have “followed” the angel who proclaimed the fall of Babylon the Great in the past (Rev 14:9). The mark of the beast is implemented after the midpoint of the tribulation period, which marks the time of these angelic announcements as the midpoint. Thus, Revelation 14:8 is a clear statement of the fall of Babylon the Great before the midpoint of the tribulation period.

According to Revelation 17:16-17, Babylon the Great is destroyed by the antichrist and the ten kings in the European alliance that comprise his base of power (cf. Dan 2:42; 7:7-8, 24; Rev 13:1). Prior to this time, Babylon the Great has dominated world politics and has controlled the world economy. Since Revelation 13:3-7 presents the antichrist’s kingdom as the dominant world power during the second half of the tribulation period, and Revelation 13:16-17 shows that he controls the world economic system throughout the second half of the tribulation period, Babylon the Great must be destroyed before the midpoint of the tribulation period. Certainly the fact that Babylon the Great is destroyed by the antichrist’s militaries, rather than directly from heaven, argues strongly for its fall occurring before the second advent.

If Babylon the Great is destroyed before the midpoint of the tribulation period, this raises the question of how this momentous event is related to the judgments of the first half the tribulation, namely, the seal judgments and the first six trumpet judgments. While the seal judgments do not directly mention Babylon the Great, there are many textual indications that Babylon the Great is destroyed early in the tribulation period, as a major part of the first four seal judgments. The first seal judgment pictures the antichrist conquering through war (Rev 6:1-2), and it is entirely in accord with Revelation 17 to understand this to signify his destruction of Babylon the Great.

While Babylon the Great is mentioned in the narrative of the seventh bowl judgment (Rev 16:19), that verse does not state that Babylon the Great itself is destroyed with the cities of the nations after the seventh bowl is poured out, but rather that Babylon the Great called to remembrance before God, for the purpose of finishing God’s wrath against her. To use the terminology of the book of Revelation, Babylon the Great caused all the nations to drink of the wrath-bringing wine of her fornication (Rev 14:8; 18:3; cf. 17:2). According to Revelation 16:19, it is exactly this wine that is poured out in the seventh bowl judgment. By judging the nations that drank of Babylon the Great’s cup, God is judging Babylon the Great itself, destroying and condemning all that she has produced.

Revelation 17:1–19:5 is placed between the narrative of the seventh bowl (Rev 16:17-21) and the narrative of the second advent (Rev 19:6-21) because the entire word system created by Babylon the Great will be judged at the second advent. However, Revelation 17:1–19:5 is a topical unit, not a narrative unit. The introduction of Babylon the Great and the description of its fall are dramatically placed just before the final judgment. Yet while the final judgment is universal, the destruction of Babylon the Great is a targeted judgment which occurs at an early stage of the tribulation period.

The Identification of Babylon the Great as the Great World Superpower of the End Times

A study of Revelation 17:1–19:5 shows that Babylon the Great is the world’s great superpower in the end times. The following facts emerge from an analysis of this section of the book of Revelation: (1) Babylon the Great has the largest economy of any entity in the world. It is the center of wealth in the world, and it is responsible for an extended period of global wealth creation in the end times. (2) Babylon the Great has shaped global culture in the end times, in a directly antichristian manner. (3) Babylon the Great has the greatest political power of any entity in the end times. (4) Babylon the Great is considered to have the strongest military in the world of the end times. All of these characteristics uniquely and definitively match the United States of America. For exegetical details, see the larger paper.

Most commentators assume, based on the use of the Greek word πόλις, polis with reference to Babylon the Great, that Babylon the Great is a city, not a large nation-state composed of many cities, towns, and villages. However, “city” is only one possible meaning of word πόλις, polis. The lexicon LSJ gives “country,” “state,” and “community” as other possible meanings, with numerous examples from Classical Greek. In fact, πόλις, polis was the normal word for “state” in extrabiblical Greek, and typically carried political implications. It is hard to think of a better term that the angel could have used to describe the United States than ἡ πόλις ἡ μεγάλη, “the great polis.” The term ἔθνος (nation) generally denotes a racial or ethnic group, and there is no American race. The term βασιλεία (kingdom) encompasses all the domains ruled by a state, not just the state itself—which in the case of Babylon the Great could refer to the entire earth (Rev 17:18). The term βασιλεύς (king) would create confusion as to whether a nation or a its leader is in view, and is not the normal term for a political entity in Greek. The term χώρα (country) refers to a tract of land or a district, and does not carry political implications. Thus, there is no better term in the Greek lexicon to describe a modern sovereign state than πόλις, polis.

Babylon the Great is a world hegemon, a country which dominates world politics, economics, and culture in the end times. Further, the text of Revelation indicates that it is a unique entity in the world, ἡ πόλις ἡ μεγάλη the great polis. It uniquely makes all the nations of the world wealthy, reigns over the nations of the world, imposes its culture on all the nations, and leads them in a massive downward spiral of materialistic depravity that culminates in worldwide worship of Satan and the antichrist during the second half of the tribulation period. These are things that can only be done once, and the United States is now doing them. Never before in history has a single country dominated all the other countries of the world and enjoyed such preeminence in comparison to all the others. The United States finds itself in the historically unique position of monopolizing every significant power source in the world—a position it began to occupy since the end of World War II, and which was greatly enhanced by the end of the Cold War.

In summary, the book of Revelation describes Babylon the Great as the dominant superpower in the world of the end times—so dominant, that it actually shapes the culture and economy of the world as it exists at the start of the tribulation period. The nature and scope of Babylon the Great’s dominance is such that only one such entity could ever exist in the history of the world, and there is no doubt that the United States of America is this entity. While some aspects of the prophecy remain to be fulfilled—most notably the prophecies of Babylon the Great’s attempts to put Christians to death worldwide (Rev 17:6; 18:20, 24; 19:2)—enough aspects already match so as to leave no doubt as to the fulfillment of the rest.

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Are we living in the end times?

This post is the third in a series on how biblical prophecy relates to the United States of America in 2021. The first post described how the election of a Democratic president and Congress will further the implementation of a radical leftist agenda that is diametrically opposed to biblical Christianity. The second post provided a basic introduction to biblical prophecy, which is necessary due to the lack of teaching on biblical prophecy in churches today. There is still one more background issue to address before addressing directly the subject of the United States in biblical prophecy. This is the question of whether we are living in the end times today, that is, whether we are living in a period relatively close in time to the second coming of Jesus Christ, and to the seven-year tribulation period which will precede His coming. The tribulation period begins with the rapture of the church, an event in which Christian believers will be removed from the earth. While there is no calendar date for the rapture in Bible prophecy, the Bible does provide enough specificity about the world of the end times to allow us to know when we are living in the end times, i.e., when the rapture and the tribulation period are relatively close in time. In fact, world events are indeed beginning to line up with the Bible’s description of the end times, with prophecies that have already been fulfilled or that are in the process of being fulfilled, although the world still has not reached the state in which it is found during the tribulation period.

The most salient feature of the world of the end times is the regathering of the Jewish people to the land of Israel and the reestablishment of the state of Israel. The reestablishment of the state of Israel is a critical stage in the development of God’s prophetic plan, because redemptive history is centered around the nation of Israel (the Jews). Jesus originally came to offer the messianic kingdom to the Jewish people, but the vast majority of Jews rejected Jesus as their promised Messiah and King, crucifying Him and persecuting His church. Jerusalem was destroyed in judgment in AD 70, and most of the Jewish people were dispersed from their land. The church, which is a non-national entity, is an interim stage in God’s plan until Israel again becomes the people of God spiritually as well as physically (Romans 11).

The Bible is very clear that at the end of the Church Age and during the tribulation period, the Jews will be living in the land of Israel. During the first half of the tribulation period, Moses and Elijah will return to earth and prophesy in Jerusalem, in order to call the nation of Israel to repentance and to belief in Jesus as the Messiah (Rev 11:1-13; cf. Mal 4:4-6; Matt 17:11; Mark 9:12). An Israeli state makes a seven-year pact with the antichrist at the start of the tribulation period, as described in Daniel 9:27. That verse also states that the antichrist will break his pact with Israel at the midpoint of the seven years, and will turn against the Jews. A number of passages describe how the antichrist will invade the land of Israel at the midpoint of the tribulation, with many Jews fleeing to a place of refuge east of Israel at that time (Dan 11:41; Matt 24:15-16; Mark 13:14; Luke 21:20-21; Rev 11:7-8; 12:6, 13-17). Daniel 9:27 describes the system of sacrifices functioning in a Jewish temple in Jerusalem until the midpoint of the tribulation period, at which point the antichrist will set up his own image in the Holy of Holies and will demand to be worshiped as God (Matt 24:15; Mark 13:14; 2 Thess 2:4; Rev 13:14-15). At the very end of the tribulation period, all the armies of the world will be gathered together in the land of Israel, in a desperate attempt by Satan and the antichrist to kill all the Jews before Jesus returns; however, Jesus will return and wipe out these armies before they can accomplish their purpose (cf. Mic 4:11; Zech 12:2-3, 9; 14:1-3; Rev 14:20; 16:16; 19:19-21).

The return of Israel to their land at the end of the age is not just an accident of history; rather, God has promised to bring Israel back to their land in the end. The Bible is clear that there is an eschatological regathering of Israel while the Jews are still in a state of unbelief, to prepare the nation for its spiritual restoration. Various passages describe this, all of them disputed yet no less authoritative for this reason; probably the clearest are Ezekiel 34–37 and Hosea 3:4-5. (For details, see the comments in my Interpretive Guide to the Bible on these passages.) It is important to emphasize that God has restored Israel to the land for His own name’s sake, rather than because of their obedience. God’s plan is for the Jewish people to be firmly established in the land with their own state before the tribulation period begins; then for the nation of Israel to turn to the Lord and be purified during the tribulation period, and for the Lord to return and set up His kingdom at the end of this period. The restoration of Israel to the land is necessary as a precursor to the nation’s spiritual restoration. For the Jews to be reached and converted en masse, it is necessary for Jewish culture and settlement to be concentrated in the land promised by God to Israel’s patriarchs, coupled with a renewed passion for Jewish identity and nationalism. Large numbers of secular Jews would probably lose their Jewish identity were it not for the state of Israel. The restoration of a Jewish state is also necessary to set up the events of the tribulation period, including the pact between the antichrist and the Jewish state, and the abomination of desolation in the temple. The modern state of Israel recently celebrated its 73rd anniversary. It has also now been more than 50 years since Israel gained full control over the city of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. In spite of Satan’s ongoing efforts to foil the fulfillment of prophecy by driving Israel out of the land, the state of Israel has continually grown stronger and more deeply rooted.

Several aspects of biblical prophecy regarding Israel remain to be fulfilled in this age. First, Ezekiel 34–36 describes the Jews living in the mountains of Israel and taking vengeance on “Edom,” which is apparently a reference to the Palestinians. This indicates that after Israel finally subdues its enemies, the West Bank will be fully annexed to the state of Israel and will be filled with Jewish-majority cities. Second, biblical prophecy is clear that there will be a rebuilt Jewish temple in Jerusalem, presumably where the Dome of the Rock now stands. This temple functions as a place of (illegitimate) Jewish sacrifice throughout the first half of the tribulation period (Dan 9:27), while throughout the second half it will be the place where the antichrist sets up his throne and his image to be worshiped as a god (2 Thess 2:4; Rev 13:14-15; 16:10). While some Jews have made serious plans for the construction of the third temple, they have not yet had the opportunity to begin construction work. Third, while Ezekiel 37 portrayed the restored nation of Israel as a mighty army, Ezekiel 38:8, 11-13 prophesies that by the time of the tribulation period Israel will dwell securely, without walls and apparently without a military. While Israel has recently made peace with several Arab countries, it still faces severe security challenges. The coming of peace between Israel and the Arab world is also indicated by prophecies which state that when the antichrist invades Israel at the midpoint of the tribulation period, many Jews will find refuge in modern-day Jordan, which the antichrist will be unable to conquer (Daniel 11:41; Matt 24:15-16; Mark 13:14; Luke 21:20-21; Rev 12:6, 13-17). Fourth, since the antichrist will make a treaty with Israel at the start of the tribulation period, this indicates that Israel will develop closer ties to the European Union over time, with a long-term goal of joining the EU.

A second key feature of the world of the end times that Bible teachers have long recognized is the universal use of an electronic payment system, and very likely a universal digital currency, all controlled by a central authority. The main indicator of this is the description of the mark of the beast (antichrist) in Revelation 13:16-18 (see also Zechariah 5:5-11). The mark of the beast which is imposed globally at the midpoint of the tribulation period is not just an externally visible tattoo or brand with the antichrist’s name or number. It also contains the personal identifier of each individual who has the mark, so as to identify that person as a worshiper of the antichrist. This identifier or computer chip is connected to the electronic payment system that is used for all financial transactions, so that those who do not have the mark are completely excluded from the global financial system and cannot buy or sell. The mark is imposed throughout the entire world, excluding no one except those who refuse to worship the antichrist. This necessitates global economic development, with even the poorest parts of the world possessing the necessary infrastructure to make and receive electronic payments. Already cell phones and the internet are available in the remotest and poorest parts of the world, though many people still lack access to technology. The world is also on track to develop a universal method of electronic financial transactions, replacing paper money and coinage. Notably, the United States is making plans to release a digital currency, by which means all financial transactions will be processed directly by the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank. This will give the U.S. government a record of every financial transaction—there will be no private transactions—and, much more significantly, will give the government the power to block financial transactions. However, these things are still in the planning stages; there is not as yet a single global currency or a global standard of financial transactions. Thus, while it is obvious that the world is being prepared for the mark of the beast, the mark could not be implemented at the present time.

Third, pretribulationists have long recognized that the antichrist’s base of power consists of a confederation of ten countries and their rulers (Dan 2:42; 7:7-8, 24; Rev 13:1; 17:3, 12-13), in which the antichrist emerges as an eleventh ruler (he is probably the commander of the joint military force), though he will overthrow three rulers during the first half of the tribulation period and will seize power over the entire confederation. The book of Daniel presents the antichrist’s empire as an eschatological form of the Roman Empire (Dan 2:40-44; 7:7-8, 23-24), and Daniel 9:26 specifically identifies the Romans as the antichrist’s ancestral people. The major opponents of the antichrist from the midpoint of the tribulation period onward are armies from the north, south, and east (Dan 11:40-44), so it is apparent that the antichrist’s base of power is in the west (in relation to Israel), i.e., in Europe. The establishment of the European Union as a confederation of the countries of Europe is therefore a step toward the establishment of the antichrist’s kingdom. From the collapse of the Roman Empire until the collapse of the Soviet Union, Europe was politically fractured. However, the European Union has successfully joined together nearly all the countries of Europe from the Atlantic Ocean to the border of the old Soviet Union. Even after the withdrawal of the United Kingdom (which is likely temporary), the EU still contains about 440 million people, making it a significant world power. However, while the EU is a precursor to the antichrist’s kingdom, it has not yet taken the form in which the antichrist’s kingdom is described in prophecies of the tribulation period. In accordance with biblical prophecy, we can expect that in the future the countries of the EU will (1) develop stronger ties, including a military alliance; and (2) consolidate into a confederation of ten countries or administrative units.

Prophecies of the tribulation period also imply that there will be a new arms race and a great expansion of the world’s militaries in the runup to the tribulation period. The world’s political entities and military forces will also be grouped into distinct regional alliances. Ezekiel 38–39 describes the invasion of Israel by a huge, fully-mechanized military force led by Russia but also including the armies of other countries of the former Soviet Union, Iran, and some African countries. Revelation 9:16 describes a fully mechanized army from South, East, and Southeast Asia numbering 200 million. The antichrist’s European armies are clearly very substantial as well. Even at the end of the tribulation period, after seven years of severe plagues and deadly wars, there are still so many soldiers gathered for the final battle that they fill the entire land of Israel from north to south and west to east, for a length of 184 miles (Rev 14:20). At present, Russia, China, and India are aggressively modernizing and expanding their militaries, and many smaller countries are doing the same. However, prophecy shows that this is still just the beginning stages of what will be an unprecedented buildup of the world’s military forces.

A final often-noted characteristic of the last days is that they are a time of great spiritual darkness and a great worldwide rebellion against God. There are numerous passages in the New Testament that refer to a time of apostasy in the last days that was still future at the time when the New Testament was written, and therefore cannot be understood as a reference to the entire Church Age (2 Thess 2:3; 2 Tim 3:1-9, 13; 2 Pet 3:3-6; Jude 17-19). The last days will feature not just unprecedented opposition to God in the unbelieving world, but also a falling away within the church (Rom 11:19-22; 1 Tim 4:1-3; 2 Tim 4:3-4; Rev 3:14-22). When the entire unbelieving world worships the antichrist and takes his mark in the face of extraordinary signs from heaven, this is the result and culmination of an unprecedented worldwide rebellion against God that began well before the start of the tribulation period.

Christians who believe in the pretribulational rapture of the church have long recognized parallels between the modern world and the world of the tribulation period described in biblical prophecy. However, some pretribulationists reject out of hand the very possibility of recognizing these parallels, on the basis of a misleadingly-named doctrine called “imminence,” referring to the imminence of the rapture. The rapture of the church is an event which occurs at the start of the tribulation period (concurrent with the start of the antichrist’s pact with Israel), and is a distinct event from the second coming of Christ at the end of the tribulation period. Although the word “imminent” means “about to happen,” the theological doctrine of imminence strongly asserts that the rapture may not be about to happen—the rapture could still be thousands of years away. The doctrine of imminence asserts that it is impossible to know whether we are living close in time to the rapture. Imminence is thus a common objection to the literal interpretation of Bible prophecy, since a literal interpretation of prophecy reveals clear parallels between the world of the end times and the world in which we live. It should be noted that imminence is a theological objection, not an exegetical objection, which puts the cart before the horse—theology ought to be derived from exegesis, and not vice versa. It is easy to show that the Bible contains prophecies of many events in the Church Age, which implies that the rapture could not occur or have been considered imminent before the fulfillment of these prophecies (see Dan 9:26; Matt 13:24-43; 22:7; 24:2; Mark 4:26-29; Luke 19:11-27, 43-44; John 21:18-19; Acts 1:8; 9:15-16; 11:28; 16:9-10; 18:9-11; 20:22-23; 21:11; 22:21; 23:11; 1 Cor 4:9; Phil 1:20-26; 2 Tim 4:6-7; 2 Pet 1:14; Revelation 2–3). It is also easy to show that passages which state that no one can know the day or hour of the Lord’s coming are, in context, references to the second coming of Christ at the end of the tribulation period, and are not references to the rapture of the church (Matt 24:36–25:13; Mark 13:32-37; Luke 12:35-48; 21:34-36; 1 Thess 5:2; 2 Pet 3:10; Rev 16:15). However, the doctrine of imminence deserves a more extended discussion, and so will be the subject of a future post.

This post has described how various events and entities of the modern world are beginning to line up with biblical descriptions of the tribulation period. The world in which we live is still different in some ways from the world described in the tribulation period, but there are elements of our world that are unmistakable elements of the last days. One of these elements is the rise of a great superpower that dominates the world of the end times in every respect—a cultural and economic superpower unlike any the world has ever seen before, which becomes responsible for the moral and spiritual corruption of the entire world. In my next post, I will make a case for identifying the entity called Babylon the Great in Revelation 17:1–19:5 with the United States of America. Like the other prophecies of the end times noted in this post, the Untied States already has many key characteristics of this prophesied entity which make the identification unmistakable, but there are also some key aspects of the Bible’s description of Babylon the Great that have yet to be fulfilled—especially a murderous worldwide campaign of persecution against Christians which is driven by Babylon the Great (Rev 17:6; 18:20, 24; 19:2).

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An introduction to biblical prophecy

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In my previous post, I discussed the impact that a Democratic president and Congress will have on Christian religious freedom in the United States, given the rapid radicalization of the American Left. I argued that persecution of Christians is quickly increasing, and that it is only a matter of time before biblical Christianity will be made illegal in the United States. Although some people suggest that current trends could be permanently reversed through political activism or a nationwide spiritual revival, I stated that biblical prophecy gives a very bleak spiritual outlook for the United States. However, before discussing the subject of the United States in biblical prophecy, some preliminary matters must be addressed. These include (1) basic concepts and definitions in biblical prophecy, and (2) the question of whether we can know that we are living in the end times.

The doctrine of last things is called eschatology, and the final period of world history is called the eschaton. Major positions in eschatology can be defined by views of the millennium. Revelation 20:1-7 refers six times to a period of 1,000 years, at the beginning of which Satan is bound, and during which resurrected saints reign with Christ over the earth. This 1,000-year period is called the millennium, or the “millennial kingdom.” The millennium is also called the “messianic kingdom” because of biblical promises of a future reign of the Messiah (Christ) over the whole world from David’s throne in Jerusalem. The belief that Revelation 20 describes a literal thousand-year future reign of Christ on the earth is called premillennialism. According to premillennialism, the millennium has not yet begun, and Christ’s second coming to earth will happen before the millennium starts. The second coming is the return of Christ to the earth in power and great glory, judging the wicked and saving the righteous (Rev 19:6-21). The millennium follows the second coming. At the end of the thousand years, there will be a final rebellion against God, which He will crush without difficulty (Rev 20:7-10). Following this, there will be a final resurrection and judgment (Rev 20:11-15). Then eternity begins—eternal punishment for the wicked, and eternal bliss for the righteous (Rev 21:1–22:5).

There is a general consensus among premillennialists that the millennium will be immediately preceded by a seven-year period of time called the tribulation (Revelation 4–19). The tribulation will be a time when the earth is plagued by God, while God’s people are persecuted by satanic leaders known as the antichrist and the false prophet. According to the doctrine called the pretribulational rapture of the church, Christian believers will be removed from the earth and taken to heaven before the start of the tribulation period, which means that the saints who are persecuted during the tribulation are ones who were converted to Christianity during the tribulation period itself.

The rapture is an event in which Christ will come to the sky above the earth in a manner that is visible only to Christians. In an instant, both dead and living believers from the Church Age will be given glorified bodies and will be taken to heaven by Christ. The basis for the doctrine of the rapture is three passages in the NT that describe a return of Christ that is distinguished in important ways from biblical descriptions of the second coming. These three passages are John 14:1-3, 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. The rapture also appears to be indicated in Revelation 4:1.

Although premillennialists hold differing views on the timing of the rapture of the church, the view called pretribulationism has long been recognized as the one that follows the most literal and consistent interpretation of prophetic passages, and therefore the one that is most faithful to the premillennial outlook. As its name suggests, pretribulationism teaches that the rapture of the church will occur before the tribulation. Although some pretribulationists posit a gap of time between the rapture and the start of the seven-year tribulation period, the view that is most consistent with the dispensational distinction between Israel and the church (explained below) is that the seven-year tribulation period begins immediately after the rapture (cf. Dan 9:2427; Rom 11:17-27).

In summary, the pretribulational, premillennial viewpoint teaches the following basic order of end time events: (1) the rapture of the church; (2) the seven-year tribulation period; (3) the personal, visible return of the Lord—the second coming; (4) the thousand-year reign of Christ—the millennium; (5) the final judgment and eternal state.

The reason why Christians hold different views of biblical prophecy is not because the Bible is unclear or contradictory. The different approaches to biblical eschatology are based on different methods of interpreting the Bible, or hermeneutics. It has long been recognized that following the literal hermeneutic results in a premillennial understanding of biblical eschatology, because the thousand-year future reign of Christ on earth (Revelation 20:1-7) is understood literally. The literal hermeneutic is a method of interpretation which “gives to each word the same exact basic meaning it would have in normal, ordinary, customary usage, whether employed in writing, speaking, or thinking” (J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, p. 9). The literal hermeneutic allows for due recognition of figures of speech and metaphors as indicated by the context. The bottom-line rule for the literal hermeneutic is the common sense, natural meaning of communication. At times there will be disagreement as to what this is, but the basic principle is clear.

The Bible itself does not formally teach a hermeneutic. There is little discussion, particularly in the Old Testament, of the method by which the reader is to understand the text. This implies that the language used in the Bible is to be understood in exactly the same way as language used in ordinary communication—no special method is needed. This is confirmed by the way in which biblical writers interpret other biblical texts. For example, in Daniel 9:1-23, the prophet Daniel reads the prophet Jeremiah’s prophecy of a seventy-year exile (Jer 25:11-12; 29:10), and, realizing that the seventy years were almost up, Daniel prayed to God for the restoration of divine favor to Israel. There was no question in Daniel’s mind as to whether the seventy years were literal years. Daniel had no doubt that the prophecy would in fact be fulfilled, that it would be fulfilled literally, and that it would be fulfilled in exactly seventy years. Daniel did not take seventy years as merely a metaphor for a long period of time, or as a symbolic expression of God’s graciousness, or as a mere approximation. He took the seventy years to mean seventy years. He did not wonder whether the meaning of the prophecy could change through time, or whether there might be uncertainty as to its fulfillment. He had no question as to the beginning point of the seventy years, even though there were three different deportations from Jerusalem. To him, the prophecy was clear, direct, specific, and understandable. Daniel’s interpretation of another prophet’s prophecy provides a template for our own method of interpreting biblical prophecy.

A foundational assumption of hermeneutics for a believer ought to be the verbal, plenary inspiration of the Bible—that is, that every word of the Bible is inspired by God. This makes the Bible the authority, not the mind of the interpreter. The interpreter must let the text speak for itself; he must try to find what the text says, rather than inserting his own ideas into it. The only way to do this is to apply the literal hermeneutic. Alternative hermeneutical methods, such as the allegorical hermeneutic, subjectively put the interpreter’s own ideas into the biblical text and make the interpreter a greater authority than the text itself.

A natural implication of premillennialism and the literal hermeneutic is dispensationalism. Dispensationalism teaches that the Christian church is distinct from Israel. That is, the Jews are still God’s chosen people, and Gentile Christians are not “spiritual Israel.” The blessings that God promised to ancient Israel will be fulfilled to ethnic Jews—God’s promises to Israel have never been canceled or transferred “spiritually” to the church. Dispensationalists usually view the modern state of Israel as a step in the fulfillment of God’s promised eschatological restoration of the Jewish people. Also, because God gave the Jewish people the right to possess the land of Canaan forever (cf. Gen 17:8; 48:4; Jer 31:35-40; 33:19-26), dispensational Christians have been some of the strongest political supporters of the state of Israel. Many dispensational churches are also active in Jewish evangelism, as they seek to be part of God’s work to restore His people spiritually as well as physically.

The major alternative to premillennialism is amillennialism, which as its name implies teaches that there will not be a literal thousand-year kingdom of God on the earth. Inherent in amillennialism is a conflict with the literal hermeneutic. This is because there is a period of “a/the thousand years” mentioned six times in Rev 20:1-7. The Bible states that the saints will reign with Christ (Rev 20:4, 6) on the earth (Rev 20:8-9) during these thousand years. This description matches numerous Old Testament prophecies of an earthly kingdom, promised to Israel, over which the Messiah will reign (e.g., Isa 65:17-25; Ezekiel 40–48; Dan 7:13-14). Oswald T. Allis, a prominent amillennialist, concedes that “the Old Testament prophecies if literally interpreted cannot be regarded as having been yet fulfilled or as being capable of fulfillment in this present age” (Oswald Allis, Prophecy and the Church, p. 238). Another amillennialist says, “Now we must frankly admit that a literal interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies gives us just such a picture of an earthly reign of the Messiah as the premillennialist pictures” (Floyd Hamilton, The Basis of Millennial Faith, p. 38). However, amillennialism rejects the literal hermeneutic in favor of the allegorical hermeneutic, which “is the method of interpreting a literary text that regards the literal sense as the vehicle for a secondary, more spiritual and more profound sense” (Pentecost, Things to Come, p. 4). A common criticism of the allegorical method is that “the basic authority in interpretation ceases to be the Scriptures, but the mind of the interpreter” (Pentecost, Things to Come, p. 5). Another criticism of the allegorical method is that “one is left without any means by which the conclusions of the interpreter may be tested” (Pentecost, Things to Come, p. 6). While non-literal hermeneutical systems go by many names today, they are all varieties of the allegorical hermeneutic, designed to replace the plain teaching of Scripture with man’s ideas (cf. 2 Cor 11:3). By using the allegorical hermeneutic to turn physical promises into spiritual ones, amillennialists teach that the promises God made to Israel in the Old Testament have been transferred to the predominantly Gentile church, and that ethnic Israel will not experience a political restoration in the eschaton—God has cancelled His promises to the Jewish people and rejected Israel as a nation forever because of their crucifixion of Jesus. Amillennialists specifically deny that the Jewish people will have a place of special privilege in a future messianic kingdom. In fact, amillennial Christians have frequently persecuted the Jews, as they observe Jewish hostility towards the Christian gospel without balancing this with the recognition that Israel remains a special object of God’s love due to the promises God made to the Jews’ forefathers (Rom 11:28). Many amillennialists today are distinctly hostile towards the modern state of Israel, perhaps because Israel’s political restoration supports the dispensational claim that the Jewish people have a special place in God’s prophetic program.

In summary, the literal hermeneutic is the only method of interpretation that can reveal what biblical prophecy means, because all other hermeneutical methods subjectively put the interpreter’s own ideas into the biblical text. Application of the literal hermeneutic results in an eschatological framework that is:

  1. Pretribulational—recognizing that the present era of biblical history will end with the rapture (removal to heaven) of believers who are part of the Christian church, and that this will be followed by the final seven years of God’s program for Israel before the second coming of Christ, as described in Daniel 9:27.
  2. Premillennial—recognizing that the kingdom of God is not a present spiritual reign of Christ in the hearts of Christians, but is rather a literal (political) future kingdom. Although Christ will reign forever, the first phase of His kingdom will last for 1,000 years, and will begin after Christ returns to the earth in power and great glory at the end of the seven-year tribulation period, destroying the wicked completely and bringing the righteous into His kingdom.
  3. Dispensational—recognizing that the nation of Israel continues to have a special place in God’s plan, and that Israel will be the political and spiritual center of Jesus Christ’s coming kingdom on the earth.

With this basic introduction to biblical prophecy, we are now ready to discuss the issue of whether our current situation in history is close in time to the tribulation period. This will be the subject of my next post.

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The war against Christians in America

This is the first of a series of posts related to the November 2020 elections in the United States. The first post will give an overview of what the election of a Democratic president and Congress means for the persecution of Christians in the United States. The following posts will analyze what is happening from a biblical viewpoint, answering the crucial questions of how to understand these events within the framework of biblical prophecy, and how American Christians should respond. It is my conviction that the American church has failed to understand these events and respond properly to them because it does not understand or accept biblical prophecy, which is the key to making sense of the events of our time. Too many Christians are shocked by what is happening because they do not understand what the Bible says about the world becoming dramatically worse before the return of Christ, and they do not believe that the United States—the dominant country in the world of the end times—is even mentioned in biblical prophecy. In fact, difficult days are ahead, though in the end it will all work out for good as part of God’s plan to wind up the affairs of this world and replace the kingdoms of this world with His own eternal kingdom.

The narrow and disputed election victory of the Democrats in November 2020 and January 2021 appears to be a watershed moment in the history of both the United States and of the entire world. It signifies not just a change of agenda, but a takeover of the world’s most powerful country by a party that intends to prosecute its ideological opponents for alleged political and religious “crimes.” This represents a radical departure from traditional party politics in the United States, which sought to preserve freedom of speech and the democratic system of government by allowing the free expression of opposing views. While the more “political” issues get the headlines, I would like to point out how the Democratic Party has shifted radically to the left on religious issues over the past few decades, and what the current threats to religious liberty are.

  1. In 1993, Congressman Chuck Schumer and Senator Ted Kennedy cosponsored the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which specified that the enforcement of government laws and regulations must allow broad latitude for religious objections, in order to prevent unintentional restrictions on religious freedom. The RFRA passed Congress nearly unanimously, and President Bill Clinton enthusiastically signed it into law.
    • Now, Chuck Schumer has vowed to pass the Equality Act immediately after Democrats regain control of the Senate, and Joe Biden has promised to sign the Equality Act into law. The Equality Act essentially seeks to make sexual liberties override religious liberties. It stipulates that all people must be allowed to use the bathroom or locker room of their choice, without any exemption for Christian organizations or parental religious beliefs. In fact, it specifically states that the RFRA cannot be used to provide “any claim, defense, or basis” for challenging the requirements of the Equality Act. When the Equality Act was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2019, all the Democrats voted for it, but only eight Republicans joined them. The Senate never voted on the Equality Act due to Republican opposition, and President Trump also issued an official statement opposing it.
    • If the Equality Act is passed in the Senate without a successful Republican filibuster, it will create immediate legal problems for Christian institutions, resulting in a court battle. One obvious area of contention will be whether Christian organizations can expel or refuse to admit students, staff, or faculty who are active homosexuals or who undergo a “gender transition.” Probably state and federal governments will deny student loans and other financial aid to schools that refuse to comply, accreditation agencies will revoke accreditation, the IRS will revoke tax-exempt status, and some states may revoke Christian schools’ licenses to operate. Some individual school presidents or pastors may be charged with criminal offenses. The current Supreme Court would almost certainly rule in favor of Christian institutions, but some lower courts would not. Also, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court could be lost by packing the court or by deaths and retirements. More disconcertingly, the Equal Rights Amendment is very close to passage by the states and by Congress, and not even a conservative Supreme Court could overturn a constitutional amendment. (Some liberals even want to rewrite the entire Constitution.) Once the Equality Act is passed, it will be nearly impossible to overturn, as there is not enough popular support, and certainly not enough establishment support, for the protection of Christian churches and schools which have policies that exclude homosexuals.
    • Another bill that has been proposed in the U.S. House, the Do No Harm Act, also specifically annuls provisions of RFRA and redefines statutory harm to include the supposed emotional harm that is inflicted on homosexuals by Christians organizations with lifestyle standards that refuse membership to practicing homosexuals.
  2. In 1996, President Clinton signed the Communications Decency Act in order to restrict internet pornography. This act passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 414-16, and the Senate by a vote of 91-5.
    • Now, mainstream opinion journalists and the big tech companies openly advocate pornography as something positive and healthy, and pornography illustrating all sorts of sexual perversion has been added to the sex ed curriculum of some public schools. (In some states sex ed is K-12, with a heavy emphasis on presenting homosexuality and transgenderism in a positive light, and warning that abstinence is harmful.) The Democrats are also mandating sexual abuse in schools by requiring schools to allow students and teachers to use the locker room or restroom of their choice, and it seems likely that they will soon pass laws that erase all legal distinctions between male and female toplessness. Even worse things are likely on the horizon. Unfortunately, a growing number of Republicans are also in favor of such indecency, although nearly all political opposition to sexual immorality is to be found within the Republican Party.
  3. In 1996, President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman, prohibited federal recognition of same-sex marriages, and declared that states do not have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. This act passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 342-67, and the Senate by a vote of 85-14. In 2000 and 2008, the people of California voted in favor of propositions that banned gay marriage. In his 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama stated repeatedly that he believes marriage is between a man and a woman, and that he is opposed to gay marriage.
    • In 2012, Obama completely reversed his position, violating his oath of office by refusing to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act without the law being repealed by Congress. (This began a trend; Democratic executives at all levels of government have since stopped enforcing laws which they dislike, usurping legislative power.) Pressure from Obama and the federal government led to the 2015 Obergefell decision by the Supreme Court that made same-sex “marriage” the law of the land, as liberal justices usurped the power of Congress and read into the Constitution a right that was clearly never intended by those who passed the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868. Immediately afterward, the Obama administration launched a global campaign of persecution against all those who advocate the very position that Obama himself advocated only a few years earlier. There was great celebration by Leftists and the mainstream media when Kim Davis, a Christian county clerk in Kentucky who declined to place her signature on marriage licenses for same-sex couples, was imprisoned. The depth of hatred that Democrats have for those who hold a different ideology—especially those who espouse biblical Christian values—seems to know no bounds.
  4. In the 1990s, liberal Democrats led an anti-smoking crusade, winning class-action lawsuits against the big tobacco companies, increasing cigarette taxes, banning smoking indoors, and educating people about the dangers of cigarette smoking. Senator Joe Biden coined the term “drug czar” in 1982 and led the effort to establish the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) in 1988. Senator Biden and President Clinton supported the reauthorization of the ONDCP in 1996 as part of the “War on Drugs.” The 1996 reauthorization bill specifically prohibited the use of federal funds for research related to the medical use or legalization of marijuana.
    • Today, Biden and the Democrats have pledged to legalize marijuana nationwide. Several liberal states and municipalities have already legalized (decriminalized) hard drugs, and the Democrats will legalize these nationally sooner or later. It is unfortunate that some Republicans also favor the legalization of marijuana, although there is far more opposition to drug legalization within the Republican Party than within the Democratic Party.
    • While at this point Christians are not being punished for opposing drugs, it is possible that such persecution could come. Simply living in a society where drugs are openly sold and consumed is spiritually and physically oppressive.

The following is a list of other assaults on Christian religious liberty that are likely to come in the United States soon.

  • An expansion of “hate speech” laws that will require the recognition of the legitimacy of transgenderism by punishing those who refer to transgender persons using the pronoun of their birth (physical) gender. This has already begun as a workplace rule and a requirement by media companies, but will expand to include fines or imprisonment for all violators in all contexts.
  • It is possible that an anti-Christian “doctrinal statement” may be introduced into workplaces and/or made a requirement for holding public office, which would require people to recognize the legitimacy of homosexuality, homosexual “marriage,” transgenderism, and so forth. In authoritarian countries that have a façade of democracy, it is common for only those candidates approved by the ruling class to be allowed to run in elections. This removes all possibility of a future change in the ruling party’s core policies. Already it seems likely that conservative Congressmen who anger the left-wing establishment will be expelled from Congress by Democratic Congressional leaders, overturning elections.
  • There will be a continuing expansion of the types of sexual perversion that are not merely recognized as legitimate, but that are celebrated, protected, and aggressively advocated. “Homosexual” became “LGBT,” which has become “LGBTIQ+”, and this will likely be expanded to include pedophilia, incest, bestiality, and who knows what else.
  • There may be some sort of regulations imposed on Christian schools and homeschools that will require all students to be indoctrinated with the leftist worldview, especially on the homosexual issue.
  • There will be a continuation and acceleration of the purge of cultural symbols of the past from museums, parks, government buildings, and history books.
  • Big tech, publishers, and the rest of corporate America have already begun aggressive ideological purges of books, articles, videos, websites, merchandise, and advertising that are deemed “offensive” or “contaminated” due to association with a conservative “sinner.” Some sort of ideological purges will likely be made official U.S. government policy at some point, as in many other countries. I fully expect that the day will come when Amazon removes my books and WordPress removes my blog, if I do not first migrate elsewhere.
  • Services may be denied to individuals who are known to be part of a hated class of people (i.e., conservative Christians) by companies that fear even the slightest association with ideological opponents of the Left. Eventually this will likely mean exclusion from basic services, such as air travel, hotel, cell phone, banking, internet shopping, and even insurance. This is a more radical form of the discriminatory policies that were once imposed on blacks in parts of the U.S., which is now being done under the false pretense of “inclusion” and “anti-discrimination.”
  • Joe Biden has stated that he may ask Congress to pass a “domestic terrorism” law and to create a special office in the White House to fight “ideological extremists.” Such a law would likely allow the president to suspend the civil liberties of conservative groups or individuals that he deems “ideological extremists” and would allow Biden to use federal funds to promulgate propaganda for liberal “values” in the media and schools.
  • In spite of this past summer’s “cancel culture” assault on Senator Tom Cotton and President Trump for proposing the use of the military to control leftist rioters, and Trump’s toleration of the vast left-wing protests at his own inauguration, the military is already being deployed to deter conservatives from protesting the Leftist ascent to power. This shows that the Democrats are willing to use military force to crush opposition to their agenda. Any resistance to the crackdown will provide an excuse for stronger measures.
  • The homosexual agenda will be imposed on other countries through strongarm tactics by corporate America and as part of the official foreign policy of the United States. Foreign companies, political leaders, and governments that oppose homosexual “marriages” or other aspects of the liberal agenda will face a devastating boycott.

How did we get to this place? The United States has been decaying spiritually for quite some time. By the late 1990s, it had became clear that the homosexual rights movement, which was an outgrowth of the feminist movement, was a polarizing “wedge” issue because it forced everyone to take a stance on one side or the other, with no middle ground (in spite of the talk at the time of moral relativism, tolerance, and multiculturalism). Further, militant homosexuals made clear that they were not just seeking toleration, but also a ban on all criticism of homosexuality and the opportunity to “proselytize” children and teenagers by presenting the homosexual lifestyle as normal, healthy, and even superior. Throughout the 1990s and the early 2000s, homosexual rights continued to be expanded at all levels of government in the United States, and the movement even began to make inroads in the church. However, it was the Obama presidency that radicalized and hardened the Left—and not just on the homosexual issue—making Leftists unwilling to compromise or take a conciliatory posture towards conservatives. Beginning towards the end of the George W. Bush presidency, but accelerating at a feverish pace since the end of the Obama presidency, left-wing Democrats have waged an unrelenting war on conservatives, with no desire to “turn down the temperature,” compromise, or be amicable.

Too many Christians and pastors view the conflict in America as purely political, rather than spiritual. In fact, Daniel 10–12 teaches that visible political conflicts are merely a manifestation of an invisible spiritual conflict between God and His agents and Satan and his agents. The real conflict is spiritual, and the spiritual drives the political (see this post). This does not imply that political activism is the best way to fight the spiritual battle, or that the Republican Party is always right. But it does mean that political events are not without spiritual significance, and are not always secondary issues or matters on which pastors and churches should remain silent or refuse to take sides. In the United States today, it is clear that the Democratic Party has a thoroughly satanic agenda and attitude. While I recognize that there are many problems in the Republican Party, only the Republican Party still has many advocates for biblical morality on key issues, and President Trump was a very strong defender of Christian religious liberty. Political activism will not save America, but it sure is important not to be supporting the side that is persecuting God’s people. One’s Christian faith should not be separated from any area of one’s life, and certainly not from contemporary politics, where Americans are literally voting on whether to persecute Christians. Shame on evangelical Christians who voted Democratic in the last election. Shame on Christian leaders who steered people away from voting Republican.

American political “Leftism” is looking increasingly like a religious system. Leftism holds to a dogmatic system of beliefs, seeks to impose them on others, and seeks to identify and eliminate heretics. Leftism is in many ways a political religion, because it uses politics as a means of spreading its values and forcing conversions. Homosexual rights is one of its core tenets; some others currently include more general sexual openness, abortion, assisted suicide/euthanasia, legalized drugs, Darwinian evolution, global warming, and economic socialism. Christianity, in its traditional and biblical form, is viewed as the greatest threat to the religion of Leftism and its ideological opposite. The fervor of Leftists in America is also characteristic religious fervor, which can be seen in Leftists from top to bottom—from the corporate executives who eagerly cut all ties with anyone who is deemed a “sinner,” to the opinion journalists who ceaselessly rail against conservatives without any attempt to be nice or fair or unhypocritical, to the many people in my own neighborhood who aggressively post atheistic and Democratic Party signs in their front yards year-round. It is clear that there is a satanic energy behind the religious fervor of Leftism, as Satan makes a final great push to wipe out Christians and Jews before Jesus returns.

Even before the Democratic Party takeover of Congress and the White House, the Left found a way to exercise political control over American institutions without formally being invested with political power, by a near-total takeover of the elite establishment. If a corporate executive is heard saying something as innocuous as, “I do not believe a man should marry another man”—a moral principle so fundamental to human civilization that it has been taken for granted by virtually everyone in world history before just the last few decades—that executive will be fired and will not be able to find another job. Teachers, government workers, and even many private employees could also be fired for making such a statement. As for big tech companies, they have shown that they do not just have the power to censor content on their own platforms—they also have the power to censor competitors’ platforms. Essentially they have considerable power to control content across the entire internet, at least in the United States. Virtually any website or cell phone app can be censored by leftist American tech giants. Without passing a constitutional amendment to annul freedom of speech, the Left now strictly controls what may and may not be said. When the leftist establishment acts in concert to censor and purge conservatives, they are carrying out extrajudicial punishments without legal due process or legislative action. Without respect for the Constitution, for due process, and for free exchange of ideas, true democracy cannot exist, since debates, campaigns, and elections cannot be truly free. There can be no effective political opposition to leftist ideology, particularly on the all-important moral and spiritual issues.

There is some uncertainty at present as to what the Democrats might do in the short term to attack Christian individuals and institutions that oppose homosexuality and that in general espouse a biblical worldview. It is clear that strong repressive measures are coming, including not just restrictions on Christians but also the legalization of more sinful practices. Some of the coming measures are doubtless ones that very few people are currently talking about. I do not personally know exactly when or how all of these measures will come. Perhaps the worst will not come until the Republican Party also shifts more fully to the left on moral and spiritual issues. However, I can say with confidence that the day will come when not only will Bible-believing institutions and churches in America be closed, but the United States will actually lead a worldwide campaign to persecute and kill Christians wherever they may be found. The United States will never be turned around spiritually and politically, and efforts to save America are futile. Ultimately, American Christians will need to follow the steps of their forebears and peacefully leave their country in search of religious freedom elsewhere. How do I know these things? From biblical prophecy, which will be the subject of my next post.

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Should churches comply with COVID-19 closure orders?

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John MacArthur has been one the best known and most respected pastors in American evangelicalism for many decades. Recently he has been in the news for defying an order by California governor Gavin Newsom that requires churches to temporarily refrain from holding normal services within their buildings in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. At the time of this post’s publication, MacArthur is currently being threatened with arrest and fines, and is garnering support in a polarized political environment from Franklin Graham and leading conservative political activists. Many Christians assume that MacArthur is being persecuted for his Christian faith. While Governor Newsom does have a long track record of hostility towards biblical Christianity, his order mandates a broad but temporary closure of establishments that also includes churches. In any case, Peter commanded Christians to submit to the very worst of all the Roman emperors—Nero (1 Pet 2:13-17)—so we must ask whether Pastor MacArthur has a legitimate biblical basis for defying Governor Newsom’s order.

In an article posted on the website of Grace Community Church, MacArthur argues from the Bible that the government does not have the right to ban churches from meeting for services, or to limit the number of people who can gather at one time, or to ban singing in church services. While some of MacArthur’s supporting arguments are problematic, I don’t know of any pastors who would disagree with the major points listed above, as applied in generic circumstances. However, the main article does not address the issue of the context in which the closure orders have been issued, which is the COVID-19 pandemic. An Addendum by the elders of Grace Community Church states, “It is, of course, legitimate for Christians to abstain from the assembly of saints temporarily in the face of illness or an imminent threat to public health.” However, they go on to assert, “the virus is nowhere near as dangerous as originally feared,” and it is this evaluation of the danger posed by COVID-19 that led the church to reopen. This is a reversal of the church’s earlier policy; in an article published on May 23, the church leadership wrote in response to a court ruling that kept churches in California closed, “the Ninth Circuit decision is sadly the law of the land in California, and we gladly submit to the sovereign purposes of God. . . . the elders of Grace Community Church desire to delay our reopening and leave it in the hands of God.”

First of all, it must be stated that MacArthur and the leadership of Grace Community Church are mistaken in their scientific and political evaluation of the COVID-19 pandemic, and they ought to know better. The overwhelming consensus of medical experts is that COVID-19 is a deadly disease, and wherever there have been outbreaks of COVID-19 the intensive care units of hospitals have quickly filled to capacity with critically ill patients—something that does not happen with influenza outbreaks. Patients who recover often do not recover fully—they can have long-term or even permanent damage from the disease, which affects the body differently than the flu. Further, COVID-19 is so contagious that even asymptomatic carriers who do not wear masks will spread it to virtually everyone who spends time in proximity to them. Contrary to the conspiracy theories, government leaders around the world would not shut down large sectors of their economies unless they were convinced it is absolutely necessary to do so. Further, churches meetings are being prohibited as part of a general ban on indoor gatherings for public health reasons; the government is not targeting churches for their religious beliefs. Very liberal governors have also closed bars, theaters, sports arenas, and gyms—establishments that they surely do not want to drive out of business. These closings are intended to be temporary, not recurring or permanent.

Is compliance with an order for churches to temporarily stop meeting because of a pandemic contrary to Scripture? Before addressing that question, it should be noted that the government order only prohibits large gatherings of people indoors. As Jonathan Leeman notes on the 9Marks blog, some other large churches have chosen to hold outdoor services, or even to split into dozens of house congregations until the pandemic is over. (See also this CT article.) Most churches are using technology to livestream preaching online and to hold interactive Sunday School classes or small group discipleship via a video conference tool such as Zoom or Skype. MacArthur’s presentation of the issue as an either/or choice between holding regular services inside the church building or not meeting at all presents a false dichotomy (“Christ or Caesar”). MacArthur has rejected the other options, not because he believes they are unbiblical as temporary measures to help contain a pandemic, but because he disagrees with the government’s assessment that large indoor gatherings pose a serious public health risk, calling it “lies and deception.” Apparently if MacArthur was convinced that COVID-19 is a deadly disease, he would have complied with the governor’s order to refrain from holding church services. Here MacArthur is usurping the prerogatives of the state, as it is the role of government officials to decide how deadly a disease is, and what measures should be taken to stop its spread; if every man could decide for himself what should be done, the result would be anarchy and a public health disaster. The government of course makes mistakes, but Christians are still called to obey the government as long as the government does not require Christians to act contrary to Scripture. In this case, the government is allowing for alternatives to meeting inside a church building. (It should be remembered that a church is people, not a building.) MacArthur’s congregation is also defying the government’s requirement to wear face masks indoors because, in MacArthur’s view, “they understand the reality” of the risk posed by COVID-19. This is simple rebellion against the government.

MacArthur argues that the state does not have authority over the church or family, but that these are three spheres of separate authority. However, the New Testament teaches that churches and families are to submit to the state (Rom 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13-17), except in those rare cases where the government commands believers to disobey God (Acts 5:29)—and even then, Christians are to follow Christ’s example of nonresistance (1 Pet 2:21-25). In reality, churches comply with government regulations and requirements all the time—building codes, occupancy codes, blight ordinances, and so forth. In addition, it is the job of the government to intervene when criminal activity or activity that adversely affects public health and safety is occurring within churches or families; thus, the government has some legitimate oversight of churches and families. I would argue that the government is within its biblical rights to temporarily order church buildings to close during a pandemic, or even to order “non-essential workers” to quarantine at home. Disputes over whether the government is acting within its constitutional rights should be resolved through legal processes, without civil disobedience.

MacArthur has stated that pastors who are keeping their church buildings closed are not “shepherding their people,” and that the pandemic will “reveal the true church,” in spite of the fact that his own church only recently reversed its closure policy. By “shepherding their people,” MacArthur is apparently referring to preaching to thousands of people in a giant auditorium, as he does on Sundays. However, it is hard to understand how people who watch MacArthur preach on live video are being fed any differently than those who are sitting in the auditorium. One could also argue that a small group or Sunday School class that meets via Zoom or Skype and actually interacts on a personal level is being shepherded in a way that a pastor preaching to thousands of people cannot do. Of course the New Testament directs churches to assemble in person, as there was no way to meet via video conferencing in the first century AD. Under normal circumstances, believers should assemble physically in the same place and meet face to face in order to do such things as corporate singing and communion, which are difficult or impossible to do remotely. However, often circumstances are not normal, and when technology is used well it can come close to replicating many aspects of in-person church. In addition, in other countries and cultures where churches face strong government persecution, Christians often gather in small house churches or even meet in secret locations in order to avoid arrest, and this is not unbiblical compromise.

It is ironic that the article on the Grace Community Church website lists one of the reasons for reopening as: “The unity and influence of the church has been threatened.” Yet the article also contains such polarizing affirmations as: “pastors who cede their Christ-delegated authority in the church to a civil ruler have abdicated their responsibility before their Lord” and “our prayer is that every faithful congregation will stand with us in obedience to our Lord.” The truth is that the pressure MacArthur is placing on other pastors and churches to reopen is likely to cause church splits, as congregations divide between those who believe that COVID-19 is a serious threat and those who think it isn’t. Some pastors are preaching that the Bible requires everyone to physically attend church every time there is a service, regardless of the risk, and that merely watching the service online is disobeying God. This sort of legalistic preaching is likely to kill many people physically, as well as causing great spiritual damage to congregations and to the church’s reputation.

Quarantines provide great opportunities for spiritual growth that are being missed by those who insist on business as usual. (See the excellent Quarantine Blessings video by Rick Griffith.) Many Americans ran out of patience after only a few weeks of staying at home and began to resume their normal activities as much as possible, ignoring the risks posed by COVID-19. However, being in quarantine is a great way to learn such virtues as patience and discipline, and to rest from one’s regular business while engaging in quieter activities. Pastors and churches would do well to take advantage of this change in circumstances to grow in new ways, rather than insisting on unbiblical defiance of government orders to temporarily stop meeting indoors.

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Darío el medo: una solución a su identidad

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[For English, click here]

Para un resumen de los puntos de vista sobre Darío el Medo, consultar el siguiente artículo: Las identificaciones de Darío el medo (español) | English | Français | Português | Norsk | Kiswahili | Русский | العربية | 中文 (繁體) | 中文 (简体) |

El libro bíblico de Daniel describe una figura conocida como Darío el medo, el hijo de Asuero, de quien se dice que fue el que asumió el mando sobre el imperio neobabilónico después de la caída de Babilona ante una fuerza medo-persa (Daniel 5:31). Darío el medo es un personaje principal en Daniel 6, y se dice que la visión de Daniel 9 ocurrió durante su reinado. Sin embargo, surge un problema cuando se intenta identificar a Darío el medo en la literatura extrabíblica antigua. Darío el medo es generalmente considerado un personaje de ficción por la erudición crítica moderna. (Hay unos pocos eruditos críticos que aceptan la historicidad de Darío el medo, pero no muchos). La perspectiva convencional afirma que Ciro el persa conquistó Media alrededor del 553 a. C. y destituyó al último rey medo. Ciro, como rey de Persia, reinó sobre todo el imperio (medo-)persa cuando Babilonia cayó en el 539 a. C. Los eruditos evangélicos de la Biblia han propuesto varias soluciones para armonizar el libro de Daniel con esta versión de la historia, sin embargo, sigue existiendo un cierto grado de insatisfacción con estas soluciones.

Cuando comencé a escribir mi disertación sobre Darío el medo, la discusión académica estaba esencialmente estancada. Ni los eruditos evangélicos ni los críticos tenían alguna idea nueva significativa y ninguna de las partes consideraba convincentes los argumentos de la otra parte. Sin embargo, la mayoría de los eruditos no eran conscientes de que Jenofonte, un historiador griego, describe un rey medo a quien él llama Ciajares (Ciaxares) II, quien se asemeja mucho a Darío el medo de Daniel. La perspectiva de que Ciajares II es Darío el medo fue la interpretación estándar judía y cristiana desde Josefo y Jerónimo hasta Keil en los 1870s, pero fue abandonada después del descubrimiento de inscripciones cuneiformes que parecían respaldar el recuento de Heródoto del ascenso de Ciro, lo cual no permite la existencia del Ciajares II descrito por Jenofonte.

La tesis que yo argumento en mi disertación doctoral del 2014 y libro publicado (ambos titulados Darius the Mede: A Reappraisal [Darío el medo: una revaluación] y disponible en formato pdf aquí y aquí, o como libro impreso aquí) es que Ciro compartía poder con un rey medo hasta aproximadamente dos años después de la caída de Babilonia. Este rey medo es llamado Ciajares (II) por el historiador griego Jenofonte, pero es conocido por su nombre de trono Darío en el libro de Daniel. Ciro no hizo una conquista hostil de Media, no destronó al último rey medo, y no se convirtió en el más alto regente del imperio medo-persa sino hasta después de la caída de Babilonia. Ciro era el corregente de Darío, el rey hereditario del reino de Persia, el príncipe heredero de Media y el comandante del ejército medo-persa, aun así, era Darío quien fue oficialmente reconocido como el máximo poder del reino. Darío murió de muerte natural dentro de los dos años posteriores a la caída de Babilonia, y como él no tenía un heredero masculino y Ciro se había casado con su hija, Ciro heredó su posición luego de su muerte y unió a los reinos de Media y Persia en un solo trono.

Mi reconstrucción del ascenso de Ciro en gran parte está basada en el recuento detallado dado por el historiador griego Jenofonte, el cual concuerda notablemente bien con el libro de Daniel y es respaldado por una sorprendente variedad de otras fuentes antiguas. El recuento del ascenso de Ciro dado por el historiador griego Heródoto, el cual constituye la base para la reconstrucción de estos eventos por historiadores modernos, es una reestructuración legendaria de un mito propagandístico promovido por Ciro como medio de legitimización de su conquista en la mente de una población babilónica hostil. Las referencias en textos cuneiformes a Ciro (y a su hijo Cambises) como “rey” poco después de la caída de Babilonia pueden ser fácilmente explicadas a través de una corregencia que duró hasta la muerte de Darío el medo/Ciajares II.

Los principales argumentos de apoyo hechos en el libro incluyen los siguientes:

  1. Se había descubierto que la confiabilidad histórica de la Ciropedia de Jenofonte es mucho mayor que la que sostiene el consenso erudito actualmente. (Steven W. Hirsch, un erudito de Jenofonte, también argumenta a favor de una perspectiva mucho más alta sobre la confiabilidad histórica de la Ciropedia). Se encontró que Jenofonte era históricamente creíble, y superior a Heródoto, con respecto a sus relatos de la crianza real de Ciro, la existencia de Belsasar, la existencia de Gobrias y el matrimonio de Ciro con la hija de Ciajares.
  2. La inscripción de Behistún de Darío Histaspes (“Darío I”) manifiesta que dos medos, quienes lanzaron rebeliones en contra de Darío en momentos separados, lo hicieron basándose en (presuntas) falsas afirmaciones de ser parte de la familia de Ciajares. El hecho de que ellos afirmaran tener una relación con Ciajares, en vez de con Astiages, es evidencia de que Ciajares II realmente existió y que fue el último rey medo.
  3. La adopción de “Darío” y “Asuero” (= Jerjes) como nombres de trono de los primeros dos reyes persas en la dinastía que siguió a la de Ciro es evidencia de que fueron usados como nombres de trono por reyes de una dinastía anterior. Esto es una evidencia indirecta de que en realidad hubo un rey medo llamado “Darío” y otro llamado “Asuero” como los presenta el libro de Daniel (Daniel 9:1). El uso de nombres de trono por los reyes persas también proporciona plausibilidad a la sugerencia de que el nombre de pila de Darío el medo era “Ciajares”.
  4. Hay fuerte evidencia histórica de que los medos y los persas habían formado un gobierno aliado, y por lo tanto la historia de Heródoto sobre cómo Ciro había subyugado a los medos y depuesto al último rey medo es históricamente imprecisa. Jenofonte y Heródoto están de acuerdo en que el rey medo Astiages entregó a su hija Mandane en matrimonio con Cambises I, quien era el rey de los persas. En el contexto del antiguo Oriente Próximo, matrimonios así representaban la formación de alianzas políticas y parece que Astiages hizo una alianza así con Persia con miras a frenar la hegemonía de Babilonia. Un pasaje en el Persae de Esquilo está anotado en el capítulo 4, el cual presenta a Astiages como fundador de la alianza, aunque sin mencionarlo directamente. El capítulo 3 menciona textos bíblicos que describan a los medos y persas gobernando su imperio en conjunto, y también menciona evidencia arqueológica que representa a los medos como socios principales e iguales, en vez de sus vasallos.
  5. La estela de Harán, la cual es una inscripción de Nabónido, menciona a un cierto “rey de las tierras de los medos” junto a los reyes de Egipto y Arabia como los enemigos principales de Babilonia. Esta inscripción fue producida varios años después de la supuesta conquista de Media por Ciro, y por lo tanto parecía indicar que Ciro no depuso al último rey medo.
  6. El historiador Beroso, cuya historia del imperio neobabilónico es bien respetada pero pobremente preservada, se refiere a las acciones de un “rey Darío” no especificado poco después de la caída de Babilonia. La versión convencional de la historia de este periodo no reconoce a ningún “rey Darío” tan temprano.
  7. Valerio Harpocración, un investigador profesional y lexicógrafo de la biblioteca de Alejandría, afirma en una obra léxica que había un rey del imperio medo-persa llamado “Darío” quien reinó un tiempo antes de Darío Histaspes. Una vez más, la versión convencional de la historia de este periodo no tiene explicación para este “Darío”.
  8. El dramaturgo trágico griego Esquilo, quien escribió antes de Heródoto, describe dos reyes medos quienes precedieron a Ciro como gobernantes del imperio medo-persa. Aunque Esquilo no nombra a estos dos reyes, el presenta al primero como el fundador de la dinastía, al segundo como su hijo y el rey que estaba en el trono cuando Babilonia cayó, y al tercero, Ciro, como el sucesor natural del segundo rey. La historia convencional de este periodo no reconoce a este segundo rey medo.

Los eruditos tienden a ser escépticos cuando se les presentan nuevas teorías, y con justa razón. Mi propio comité de disertación en el Seminario Teológico de Dallas estuvo bastante escéptico cuando propuse este tema. Sin embargo, después de una investigación exhaustiva en los textos de fuentes primarias del periodo, la evidencia que respaldaba la descripción de Jenofonte de un rey medo reinando en paralelo con Ciro, y que correspondía a Darío el medo de Daniel, fue convincente. Hasta ahora, mi trabajo ha sido bien recibido por eruditos evangélicos de la Biblia, varios de los cuales me han comunicado que ahora abogan por mi posición. Algunos otros me han dicho que mi trabajo los ha incitado a comenzar sus propios proyectos de investigación en textos comerciales babilónicos o temas relacionados. Los eruditos evangélicos parecen estar muy contentos de tener una nueva solución al problema de Darío el medo que encaja bien tanto con el libro de Daniel como con la literatura extrabíblica antigua. Es mi esperanza que la evidencia para identificar a Ciajares II con Darío el medo no solamente revitalizará la discusión académica sobre Darío el medo, sino que también esto creará un cambio significativo en la forma en que el ascenso de Ciro al poder es entendido por historiadores del imperio neobabilónico y el imperio medo-persa. Para concluir, presento una lista de referencias a mi libro o disertación en artículos académicos y fuentes en línea, comenzando con unas cuantas obras adicionales mías:

  1. Después de haber publicado mi disertación, hice una presentación sobre Darío el medo en la convención anual de 2015 de la Evangelical Theological Society, “Darius the Mede – The Evidence for Identifying Him with Xenophon’s Cyaxares II”.
  2. Fui coautor de un artículo con Rodger Young, “The Remembrance of Daniel’s Darius the Mede in Berossus and Harpocration”, el cual fue publicado en la edición julio-septiembre 2016 de Bibliotheca Sacra. Este artículo fue brevemente reseñado por Brian Collins en su sitio Exegesis and Theology.
  3. Fui el creador principal del volumen de Daniel de la Photo Companion to the Bible (BiblePlaces.com, 2019). Este volumen puede ser consultado para fotografías que ilustran la arqueología del libro de Daniel. Una fotografía que es relevante para el tema de Darío el medo es la que se muestra en la parte superior de este artículo, la cual es un relieve tallado en Persépolis que representa a los nobles medos y persas como iguales en estatus.
  4. Mi disertación fue revisada favorablemente por Benjamin Noonan en la edición de junio del 2015 de The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (página 386 de reseñas de libros).
  5. Kirk MacGregor sigue mi línea de argumentación en las páginas 51-54 de su artículo en Journal of the International Society of Christian Apologetics de abril del 2016, “A Contemporary Defense of the Authenticity of Daniel”.
  6. Paul Tanner favorece la identificación de Darío el medo con Ciajares II, y él incluye una extensa argumentación en su comentario sobre Daniel en la serie Evangelical Exegetical Commentary; ver también su reseña de mi libro en Amazon.
  7. Christian Varela ha escrito un artículo extenso en español, “Un Análisis De La Identidad De Dario El Medo del Libro De Daniel” (páginas 324-53 en El Pueblo del Pacto: Hechos Destacadas de la Historia de Israel). Varela cita mi libro ampliamente mientras argumenta desde una perspectiva adventista que Darío el Medo debería ser identificado como Ciajares II.
  8. James Bejon tiene una extensa discusión sobre Darío el medo en su comentario en línea sobre Daniel (Apéndice 5, comenzando en la página 9).
  9. Rodger Young publicó un artículo, “Xenophon’s Cyaxares: Uncle of Cyrus, Friend of Daniel,” en la edición de junio 2021 (64.2) de JETS, páginas 265-85. Young argumenta por la historicidad de Ciajares II, citando fuentes bíblicas y extrabíblicas como apoyo.
  10. Referencias a mi trabajo han aparecido en varios sitios web cristianos, como la página de Thomas Ross sobre mi libro en su sitio web apologético, el artículo del blog de Peter Goeman, el artículo de Kyle Pope en Focus Online, la referencia de John Oakes en su sitio web Evidence for Christianity y el link del sitio web de Daniel Prophecies de Eddie Van Gent.

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