Author’s Note: As a premillennial dispensationalist, I’m a bit of an enigma to my biblically conservative brethren. It tends to follow that if you are a believer in the doctrines of grace and in cessationism, you will likely be amillennial in your eschatology. However, there are still many of us who hold to a premillennial view and even believe in (gasp) a literal rapture of the church. The following article is not meant for those who hold to an alternate eschatological view. Nor is it an invitation to start an eschatology debate. There are proper places and forums for those discussions to occur. This is not to say if you disagree with my eschatology that you are not welcome here. You most certainly are. However, it is to say that I want to address an issue specifically that affects my premillennial brethren and do not want to obfuscate the issue with an unnecessary argument. Much thanks for your cooperation in advance.
As I type this article, it is August 21, 2017, and the first full solar eclipse in several decades has come and gone. Much to the dismay of many “end of the world” websites, nothing happened. Seriously, nothing. The eclipse came and went. Many families and schoolchildren got to experience the remarkable precision of God’s handiwork in the heavens. Some places in the United States experienced a darkening of the skies as the moon cast its shadow while passing before the sun. People wore specially made glasses that let them stare at the eclipse without burning their retinas to a cinder. But that was it. Nothing significant happened. The world did not end. World War III did not begin. The Middle East did not invade Israel and the Messiah did not return for His church. Just another celestial event occurred that allowed us to give glory to God for His marvelous handiwork.
Why do I make a point of this? Simply because, for as long as I can remember, there are those within the premillennial camp who seem to look for just about any event that they can point to that says Jesus is coming back. Not soon, or quickly, as in a biblical sense. But as in, tomorrow. No seriously, I mean tomorrow. As though we can pinpoint a day or hour that it is happening. That somehow there is a message in these events that we can discern the exact point of His return. All we need is the right Lucky Charms decoder ring and a little luck, and we can get this thing figured out. Oh, and that admonition that Christ gave us, that no one knows the day or the hour (Matt. 24-36)? That just means we have to figure out the correct Bible code first. Until then, we won’t really know.
The reason for this is that, within the premillennial system, we believe there is a prophetic time clock that starts with the rapture of the true church. When Christ takes His bride out of this world, the events described in Daniel and Revelation, known as the Tribulation, begin. Since there is a timeline to follow in the Tribulation events, there is always a desire to know when it will begin. Unfortunately, this leads to a lot of speculation in the premillennial camp because Scripture gives us no time frame as to when the rapture of the church and the introduction of the Antichrist will occur. An unhealthy obsession has occurred wherein premillennialists then examine the events of the Tribulation and look for patterns in our current time frame that could be considered the foundation for what happens during the end times.
One of the most common examples of this is the Mark of the Beast. The apostle John wrote in Revelation 13: 16-18 that, during the Tribulation, those who swore allegiance to the Antichrist must take a mark upon their head or right hand. Without this mark, no one can buy or sell anything under the reign of the Antichrist. Much speculation has been made as to the nature of this mark, from tattoos, to debit cards, and microchip implants. In reality, Scripture never tells us exactly what the mark is. What it does tell us is that the taking of the mark is a public profession of allegiance to the Antichrist. Thus, unless the Antichrist is in power (a time when the church is not supposed to be present on the earth) and the mark is taken specifically with the intent of proclaiming allegiance to him, nothing we see in existence today is, in fact, “the mark.” None of it. No tattoos, no cards, no microchips, nothing. Yet, many premillennials will share article after article testifying to how said current technological trend could be, might be, the mark. And if they are reminded that this cannot be the mark, given what was stated above, then it is claimed this is prepping of the world for the mark, and thus it is still evil.
Likewise, many premillennials were taken in when Mark Biltz of El Shaddai Ministries (http://www.elshaddaiministries.us/) started a frenzy over lunar eclipses, also known as blood moons (http://www.elshaddaiministries.us/eclipses.php). The eclipse gets its name due to the deep red hue the moon takes on when the earth’s shadow passes over it during the celestial event. Mr. Biltz tied the lunar eclipses to the references in Scripture to the moon turning to blood during the last days (Joel 2:31). A quick perusal of Scripture reveals many other events tied to the events described, such as the stars falling from sky for example (see Matthew 24:29, Luke 21:25, Acts 2:20). It is clear from studying these passages that the event described is distinct from a normal lunar eclipse. It is meant to be a specific sign separate and apart from what people see in the sky regularly. Yet, Mr. Biltz, with the help of John Hagee who later popularized the theory, convinced thousands, even millions, that a normal lunar eclipse was a miraculous sign. He did this by tying the eclipses to groupings within specific time frames, coupled with Jewish festivals, and the twisting of clear passages of Scripture to make them say what was not being said. The result was a tragic misapplication of Scripture that left people panicked, confused, and even hopelessly committed to a false narrative even to this day (for fear of admitting they fell for a lie).
Perhaps the most common error is for premillennials is to take the headlines from news agencies like Fox News or CNN and use them as proof that prophecy is coming true. For example, when Europe unified under one union, many premillennials speculated that the rest of the world would soon follow. Maps were organized to show ten likely unions, to include a North American Union, wherein nations would align together for economic and governmental benefit. Such groupings were considered proof of the coming one world government in which ten kings would submit to the Antichrist as modeled by the beast with seven heads and ten horns in Revelation 13. Every political decision, every military movement, every financial report lead many to declare this indeed was happening and the rapture was not far off. Yet, to date, no other major unions have occurred. In fact, a major nation within the European Union, Great Britain, just voted to leave. So, despite the major amount of prophetic “evidence,” the proposed ten unions have yet to materialize.
These examples represent only a fraction of the issues that have occurred within the premillennial camp. They serve to help us understand that there is an ongoing problem within our eschatological sphere that needs to be corrected.
The reason this methodology of discerning prophetic evidence is a problem is that it fails to rely solely upon the Word of God. Christians are seeking to prove their eschatological beliefs by looking to fallible human interpretations of events yet to come. Despite being told by Christ that we cannot know the time of His return, many premillennials are desperate to prove Him wrong so that they can know information they are not privy to. In an effort to validate their beliefs, they are looking to overcome the fact that Scripture bars us from this knowledge by appealing to sources outside the Word of God. It creates the contradictory notion that we can trust Scripture more by seeking information outside the very Bible we claim to believe.
Additionally, while understanding the end times is important, because Scripture itself tells us it is important, we can actually become imbalanced in our pursuit of these things. The primary calling of Christians is to glorify God. We do this through worship, discipleship, evangelism, edification of the body, prayer, and study of the Word. Often times, pursuit of end times events becomes a full-time occupation, to the exclusion of God’s other commands in Scripture. Rather than reading the Bible to know God more and to grow in holiness, premillennials can often err by reading it to look for secrets, codes, and puzzles which will help them reveal when these things will take place. Every news event is a potential clue to the day of the rapture, every cultural trend is a possible link to the one world government.
Such imbalance leads Christians away from the means of grace revealed in the Word of God. Rather than drawing us into more intimate worship of the Savior, we can end up engaging in a spiritual treasure hunt, looking for the prize that reveals the end of days. Rather than call the lost to repentance now, we may find ourselves urging people to look to the events of our time and beg them not to miss the rapture. Granted, we want people to be taken up into glory on that day; but, if salvation is about decoding the clues and waiting until just the right moment to cling to Christ, we are doing the unsaved a great disservice. We can no more discern the day of Christ’s return than we can the last breath anyone will take. Our greatest concern should not people the missing of the rapture. It is should be that there are a great many of them are dying right now outside of the salvation given by Christ alone. Even if we could convince someone that Christ is returning for His church next year, it does that person absolutely no good if they died tomorrow still in their trespasses and sins. We ought to be calling them to repentance and faith now, so that, whether they die a week from now or are caught up in the rapture in the years to come, they will spend eternity with Christ.
Additionally, while we seek the Scriptures for Bible codes, we can fail to see the very words which bring conviction of sin and repentance in our own lives. Christians ought to be studying the Word to come to a greater knowledge of our Lord and His desire for our lives. This leads us to greater obedience and a stronger walk in our faith. But the pursuit of identifying the Antichrist and end of days can keep us from looking at ourselves in the mirror of God’s Word. If we can spot trends in leading to a one world government, but we cannot see the patterns of sin in our own lives, we have failed to rightly discern the Scriptures.
What to Do
Those of us who fall into the camp of premillennial eschatology need to rightly understand not only what we believe, but why. God did not give us history in advance to test our investigative and deduction skills. Christ told His apostles, when they asked about His second coming, to not lose heart. The events He described were only the “beginning of the birth pains” (Matthew 24: 3-8) In other words, they were not to be considered mile marker posts to tell us the end is just around the corner. In fact, our world has seen all these things and more happen since the day Christ ascended to the right hand of His Father. The point of seeing these events is not to be trail of crumbs to follow, rather it is to be a glaring reminder that He will, in fact, return one day. The promise of events yet to unfold is meant to cause us to glorify God and pray for His soon return. It should draw us closer in worship, not bog us down in trying to figure out the pieces of a puzzle.
Additionally, we need to study eschatology within the totality of Scripture. God has given prophecy through apostles and prophets to reveal His pre arranged, eternal plan of redemption throughout history. The giving of prophecy was not merely about determining the when, where, who and how. It is about revealing the marvelous plan of God to bring reconciliation between Himself and rebellious sinners through the shed blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. End times prophecies were given to us to reveal that God does intend to put an end to all sin in this world and to bring us into eternal, glorious fellowship with Him. These prophecies should give us reason to rejoice in Christ’s second coming, not turn us into Bible code mystery detectives.
Christians of all eschatological camps need be well rounded in their study of God’s word. As we read the Scriptures and apply their timeless truths in our lives, we will have a greater appreciation for the things that are yet to come. We will come to understand the great wisdom of God and look forward to seeing His promises unfold as He works His plan out in His timing. By all means, be a good student of the end times. But, whatever you do, please stop studying it with tomorrow’s headlines in the other hand.