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Not all biblical scholars agree about the end of days

By HELEN T. GRAY

Whenever speaker and author Gary Frazier goes on a radio show to talk about the “end times,” he knows he’s going to get calls heckling him.

“The climate in the world is just like it was in the days of Noah,” Frazier said. “The overwhelming majority of Americans and the world don’t have a clue about what is happening. They say this is a ‘cyclical’ issue, and we’ll come out of it.”

Frazier has written many books on the end times prophesies and speaks to about 40 churches a year. He also has joined “Left Behind” series creator Tim LaHaye and TV host Ed Hindson in presenting “global warning conferences” across the country.

They aren’t alone.

Several books on the subject have been published of late, including “Rushing Ahead to Armageddon: Russia, Iran and the Invasion of Israel,” by Christopher M. Jones, and “Only His Sheep Will Raise Their Heads,” by Nelda Larson and Janette Trost.

And the message is coming more frequently from the pulpit. David Jeremiah of San Diego preached a sermon series on the Rapture and published an article on “The Great Escape.” John MacArthur of Sun Valley, Calif., also has preached a series on the topic.

“We look about the world today,” Frazier said, “and we are able to recognize that these things are leading to the fulfillment of the prophecies spoken about centuries ago.”

At the other end of the theological spectrum are scholars such as Kate Bowler, assistant professor at Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C., who say it is problematic theology to “read prophecies through the lens of the daily news.”

But regardless of one’s viewpoint, scholars agree there is a curiosity about the biblical prophecies.

“A certain segment has always been fascinated about future events,” Frazier said. “They love this kind of stuff, but most people don’t go to the one place where we can get answers to this, the Word of God.”

Frazier likens today’s world events to a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces are coming together — political pacts, military treaties, rogue nations who may have access to nuclear weapons, the global financial crisis, the calls for a new world currency.

Frazier says his mission is to teach people what the Bible says and how current events are pointing to the end times.

“Because we are living in the last days, we need to be busy winning souls,” Frazier said. “We don’t say to go and sit on a hill and wait for Jesus.”

Not all scholars agree

Thor Madsen, dean of the college at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, said interest in the subject is understandable now for two reasons:

“First, the biblical writers prepare us for extreme natural and moral disasters just before Christ returns, and we see trouble everywhere these days, especially in the United States and the Middle East,” he said. “Secondly, the Bible gives Israel a leading role in end times history, and this nation is under threat as never before, especially with the rise of radical Islam.”

Madsen said biblical scholars reach different conclusions, but they’re OK with that.

“We don’t have to nail down exactly how the end times will play out according to Scripture,” he said. “In details we can disagree agreeably. But some events are given to us as certain. Jesus Christ will return some day. Everyone will face him as judge, according to the gospel. Until then, the church will grow against the backdrop of intense suffering.”

Andy Johnson, New Testament professor at the Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City, said that curiosity about the prophecies has a long history.

“In life there always have been crises,” he said. “I don’t think there has ever been a time when people of faith have not experienced various forms of crises. And there has always been a plea from God’s people for God to intervene and make things right.”

In contrast to some conservative evangelicals, Johnson said many theologians would say we have been in the end times since Jesus’ resurrection.

He said the idea of a “secret” Rapture was not part of Christian theology for 1,800 years. In this scenario, Jesus “secretly” returns, raptures his church out of the world; then comes a period of seven years of tribulation for those left behind before Christ comes again publicly and institutes a 1,000-year reign on Earth.

Johnson says such a Rapture, as written about in the “Left Behind” series, is never clearly mentioned in the Bible. It came from William Nelson Darby, a preacher in the early 19th century, and was incorporated in the popular Scofield study Bible.

Johnson said many Christians do not believe that the New Testament gives a road map of the end times.

“When Christ returns, he just returns,” he said. “All will recognize God’s sovereignty in Jesus, and God will make all things right. There will be resurrection and judgment and renewed creation.”

David Jeremiah, in his article “The Great Escape,” believes we will experience a disaster that will be greater than any natural event the world has seen.

“During a period called the Great Tribulation, the world will experience pain and devastation like never before,” he writes. “But there is an escape route available to every person. Jesus is coming back to rescue the church in an event know as the Rapture.”

But he places the emphasis on evangelism, stating: “Will you be a part of that Great Escape? If so, how many people will also make the Great Escape because of your witness?”

He challenges believers to use current events “as a springboard to talk about Bible prophecy and the coming of Jesus Christ.”

Curiosity about the end

Bowler said that what Christians believe about the end times affects their outlook on the future, whether to be optimistic or pessimistic. Those who hold to the theological view that includes the Rapture of believers before the tribulation see things only getting worse — the rise of the Antichrist, the unraveling of society, the unleashing of evil before Jesus comes.

“We have centuries of prophecy charts,” Bowler said. “In the end, people want a Christian narrative of time, how the story ends. There is a real satisfaction in knowing what will happen in the end, even if it’s bad.”

Barbara Rossing, author of “The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation,” said that splitting the Second Coming into two events, a first and second Second Coming, is not supported by the Bible. To reach such a conclusion, “you have to pick and choose theology and stitch it together.”

“The end times is an important aspect of Christian theology, but not necessarily the Rapture,” she said.

Also it is not biblical to equate contemporary political events with predictions in the Bible, said Rossing, who is a New Testament professor at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago.

“Jesus says no one knows the time (when Jesus will return), and it is not our job to speculate on it,” she said. “One blessing of the end times is it teaches a sense of urgency. But it should not be escapism from this world, but an urgency to live even more how God taught us, to love God and love our neighbor.”

Kansas City Star

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