I have previously written about this highly embarrassing, and therefore actively covered up, aspect of modern fundamentalism, namely, the movement’s substitution of Jews for Christians as the victims of a supposedly future (but actually past) “Great Tribulation.” Fundamentalists actively support the State of Israel, despite their belief that by doing so, they are helping to lure millions of Jews into a horrible death: “Holocaust II.” They do so for a reason: they expect to escape death personally. This is a powerful incentive.
“The Great Tribulation” is the phrase used by fundamentalists to describe a future time of persecution and slaughter of the Jews. By “fundamentalists,” I mean defenders of the theological system, first proclaimed around 1830, known as premillennial dispensationalism. This is a late variant of Christian eschatology, i.e., the theological doctrine of the last things or last times. There are three basic views: premillennialism, amillennialism, and postmillennialism. (On this subject, see my article, “Millennialism and the Progressive Movement,” published in The Journal of Libertarian Studies [Spring 1996]).
The prefixes pre-, a-, and post-refer to the timing of the time period that Christians believe will precede God’s final judgment. Premillennialists say that Jesus will return to set up a literal 1,000-year period of peace and justice, in which He will rule here on earth through an international bureaucracy of Christians. This view has been held throughout church history. The post-1830 dispensational variant is the view of the famous Scofield Reference Bible (Oxford University Press, 1909, 1917), most Southern Baptists, most Pentecostals, and members of virtually all independent Bible churches. Amillennialists think that the millennium is spiritual and allegorical, and it will have no literal political fulfillment in history. This is the view of Dutch Calvinists, Lutherans, and most Roman Catholics. Postmillennialism proclaims a period of peace and justice during which most of the world’s population will be Christian. This was the view of most Puritans in the first half of the seventeenth century, prior to the restoration to the British throne of Charles II in 1660. It was also a predominant view of Scottish Presbyterian in the seventeenth century and in its American branches until after the American Civil War. Jonathan Edwards is the most famous American postmillennialist.
Jesus did teach of a coming tribulation (Matthew 24, Luke 21). He called this period “the days of vengeance” (Luke 21:22). He said specifically of the timing of this period of terror and slaughter, “Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (Matthew 24:32-34).
While there has been much debate as to the timing of the fulfillment of this prophecy, the dominant view in church history has been that this prophecy was fulfilled in 70 A.D., when the Roman army surrounded Jerusalem, crucified thousands of Jews who tried to escape, and took the city. Two Roman soldiers then burned the temple, according to the post-war court historian for the victorious emperor Vespasian, the Jew Josephus. A short introduction to this interpretation is David Chilton’s 1987 book, The Great Tribulation.
There are amillennialists who believe that the fall of Jerusalem fulfilled this prophecy. Others think the slaughter is yet to come, and will be imposed on Christians rather than Jews, since they believe that the church has replaced Israel as God’s people. Most postmillennialists place it in the past: A.D. 70.
Dispensationalists without exception believe that the event is still in the future. A small, unorganized group, called post-tribulational dispensationalists, think that Jesus will take the Christians out of history only after the Great Tribulation. They believe that Christians will go through it. But there are very few of these people. They have no seminaries or publishing houses. The vast majority of dispensationalists are pre-tribulationists. They say that Christians will be pulled into Heaven and out of history immediately before a seven-year period of church-free history. In the second half of this seven-year period, the slaughter of the Jews will begin.
Among the academic critics of this view, Gary DeMar is the most prominent. His book, Last Days Madness, challenges the position, point by point. His recent book, End-Times Fiction, now in its eighth printing, is a critique of the best-selling series of novels, Left Behind, co-authored by Rev. Tim LaHaye, the husband of conservative activist Beverly LaHaye. There are even a pair of low-budget movies based on LaHaye’s novels.
DeMar has a standing offer to debate any dispensational author. LaHaye has prudently refused the offer for two decades. His official stand-in, whom LaHaye’s foundation supports financially, Thomas Ice, has taken by DeMar in full public view in eight public debates over the last 15 years. To say that Mr. Ice is not up to the challenge is putting it mildly. But at least he shows up. Only he and best-selling author Dave Hunt, an accountant, have been willing to take DeMar’s challenge. (I even got my turn, along with DeMar, in our tag-team debate with Hunt and Ice in 1988.)
DeMar argues, correctly, that the defense of dispensational theology has moved steadily from theological treatises and seminaries to novels and low-budget movies. Today, there are virtually no academically employed or retired seminary theologians under age 80 who still teach the pre-1970 version of dispensationalism, which was made famous by Hal Lindsey’s best-seller, The Late, Great Planet Earth (1970). The seminaries that once taught the system are all in the process of modifying it, but no detailed alternative has been presented, no Systematic Theology, without which there is no public position within Christian circles.
The trusting donors in their pews are unaware of the theological shift that has taken place since the mid-1980’s at the seminaries that are training the next generation of dispensationalists. Over a decade ago, Ken Sidey referred to this transformation, but the people in the pews remain oblivious.
For years, dispensational theology, with its differentiation of God’s program for the church and for Israel, shaped conservative evangelical views. Its literal interpretation of prophecy, promoted by the Scofield Bible and scholars from Dallas Theological Seminary, marked the restoration of Israel as the starting point for many other end-times prophecies, culminating in Christ’s return.
But some say the influence of traditional dispensationalism has declined in the past decade. Others, like Darrell Bock, professor of New Testament at Dallas, say it’s entering a new phase. He sees it going through a period of self-assessment. A new, “progressive dispensationalism” is emerging, one that is less “land-centered” and “future-centered” than past versions. [Ken Sidey, “For the Love of Zion,” Christianity Today (March 9, 1992), 50.]
The donors in the pews still watch “The 700 Club” and visit www.hallindseyoracle.com. They still get excited about the latest developments — always bad — in the Middle East. “Prophecy is being fulfilled before our very eyes!” (Note: all of the pre-1991 prophecies went down the fundamentalist memory hole when the USSR went belly-up.)
ZIONISM FOR FUNDAMENTALISTS
Ever since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, dispensationalists have been sorely tempted to announce, “Prophecy is being fulfilled. Jesus is coming back soon.” This is inconsistent with the academic version of the dispensational system of interpretation, because the official position says that no Old Testament prophecy has been, or can be, fulfilled in the Church Age, that is, before Jesus takes Christians to Heaven seven years before He returns to set up His earthly kingdom. But such subtle theological concepts are way beyond the comprehension of the donors in the pews, who still delight in hearing about prophecy being fulfilled today.
They used to buy paperback books on the topic every time there was a blow-up in the Middle East. But the 1991 Gulf War was the last hurrah for the paperback potboilers. There were none visible in the Christian book stores during Gulf II.
The problem is, ever since 1917, dispensationalists had bet the farm on Russia as the invader of Israel. Russia was the so-called Beast of Revelation. (See the book by a non-dispensational premillennialist professor of history, Dwight Wilson, Armageddon Now!: The Premillenarian Response to Russia and Israel Since 1917.) But the Soviet Communist leaders ruthlessly stabbed fundamentalists in the back in 1991 by abolishing the Soviet Union. It turned out that we could not trust the Communists to be Communists. The leaders turned out to be a bunch of money-grubbing capitalists, with the Party’s treasury to loot and ownership of the factories to privatize — mainly to themselves. The Commie bastards! (Note: I use a King James Version term here [Hebrews 12:8].)
Ever since 1991, fundamentalist TV preachers have been frantically seeking a replacement for the future invading nation “from the north” that will surround Jerusalem and kill two-thirds of the Israelis. Low-tech Arabs do not seem to be front-runners here, but the Arabs are all the preachers have at the moment.
If Jews do not return to the State of Israel, to be concentrated inside its borders, then the prophecy of a final Great Tribulation, where Jerusalem is surrounded by its enemies, cannot be fulfilled. Three and a half years before this Great Tribulation, all Christians get cosmic R&R: their final escape from history and all of its crushing responsibilities, which dispensationalists have prayed for and dreamed about since 1830.
This is why they support the Zionist movement. The Zionists have made the dispensationalists’ interpretation of the Great Tribulation prophecy appear tenable. Zionists have created a nation-state for Jews in Palestine. This has led to the reversal of the Jews’ diaspora after 135 AD, the year Bar Kochba’s revolt was crushed by Rome. The world’s Jews, except for a few million in the United States, are being be lured back into the prophetic trap. Without this trap, the fulfillment of the church’s R&R would have to be postponed, perhaps for centuries, until Jews can finally be lured back in. Without the slaughter of the Jews, Christians cannot get out of life alive.
Fundamentalists were not always pro-Zionist. Dr. Wilson summarizes the pre-1940 position taken by some fundamentalists, who went into print on the matter.
Another comment regarding the general European anti-Semitism depicted these developments as part of the on-going plan of God for the nation; they were “Foregleams of Israel’s Tribulation.” Premillennialists were anticipating the Great Tribulation, “the time of Jacob’s trouble.” Therefore, they predicted, “The next scene in Israel’s history may be summed up in three words: purification through tribulation.” It was clear that although this purification was part of the curse, God did not intend that Christians should participate in it. Clear, also, was the implication that He did intend for the Germans to participate in it (in spite of the fact that it would bring them punishment) — and that any moral outcry against Germany would have been in opposition to God’s will. In such a fatalistic system, to oppose Hitler was to oppose God.
Other premillennial writers placed “part of the blame for anti-Semitism on the Jews: ‘The Jew is the world’s archtroubler. Most of the Revolutions of Continental Europe were fostered by Jews.’ The Jews — especially the German Jews — were responsible for the great depression” (p. 94).
But, after Hitler declared war on the United States on December 10, 1941, this interpretation changed, for obvious reasons. Then came 1948.
I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP
Whenever one of my articles on this aspect of America’s Christian Zionism is published on this site, Lew Rockwell gets e-mails telling him that I do not know what I am talking about, that dispensationalism teaches no such thing. These critics are ill-informed. They are also embarrassed. It really sounds self-serving to promote the Jews’ return to Palestine in order to be slaughtered. That’s because it is self-serving.
Gary DeMar has written a detailed, footnoted paper on this subject, “The Bloody Future of Israel in Dispensational Eschatology.” I challenge skeptics to read his paper, follow his footnotes, and come to any other conclusion.
DeMar quotes from a segment of “The 700 Club,” where Pat Robertson interviewed “Messianic Jew” Sid Roth. (Messianic Jews are a small movement of Jewish converts to dispensationalism who retain bits and pieces of the liturgies of Judaism.)
Sid Roth, host of “Messianic Vision,” on the September 18, 1991, edition of the “700 Club,” stated that “two-thirds of the Jewish people [living in Israel] will be exterminated.” He, along with other futurists, bases this view on a futurized interpretation of Zechariah 13:8-9. He sees incidents like that of Blacks against Jews in New York as a prelude to a coming great persecution. Pat Robertson asked Roth: “You don’t foresee some kind of persecution against Jews in America, do you?” Roth responded: “Unfortunately, I believe God foresees this.” Roth believes that the end (pre-tribulational rapture) is near. Since he believes that Jews are destined to suffer, based on a futurized interpretation of Zechariah 13:8-9, he postulates that today’s anti-semitism is a prelude to a greater, future tribulation.
John Walvoord, for three decades the president of Dallas Theological Seminary, the nation’s leading dispensational seminary, wrote the following in his book, Israel in Prophecy (1988):
The purge of Israel in their time of trouble is described by Zechariah in these words: “And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, saith Jehovah, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein. And I will bring the third part into the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried” (Zechariah 13:8, 9). According to Zechariah’s prophecy, two thirds of the children of Israel in the land will perish, but the one third that are left will be refined and be awaiting the deliverance of God at the second coming of Christ which is described in the next chapter of Zechariah (p. 108).
DeMar calls attention to the terrible silence of fundamentalists who believe this view of the future. They refuse to warn Jews about what is in store for them.
Israel’s present population is around 4,500,000. If two-thirds of the Jews living in Israel at the time of the “Great Tribulation” are to die, this will mean the death of nearly 3,000,000! In addition, there is continued immigration from the former Soviet Union supported by Christian organizations like “On Wings of Eagles.” Financial support is raised by Christians to fund Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. “‘This is a biblical issue,’ says Theodore T. Beckett, a Colorado developer who founded the Christian-sponsored, adopt-a-settlement program. ‘The Bible says in the last days the Jews will be restored to the nation of Israel.'” For every three people who enter, two of them will be killed during the “Great Tribulation.” Why aren’t today’s dispensationalists warning Jews about this coming holocaust by encouraging them to leave Israel until the conflagration is over? Instead, we find dispensationalists supporting and encouraging the relocation of Jews to the land of Israel. For what? A future holocaust?
Eugene Merrill, while not discussing Zechariah 13:8 in his commentary on that biblical book, does describe how a future holocaust of the Jews is in view in Zechariah 14:2. Merrill writes:
The restoration and dominion cannot come until all the forces of evil that seek to subvert it are put down once and for all. Specifically, the redemption of Israel will be accomplished on the ruins of her own suffering and those of the malevolent powers of this world that, in the last day, will consolidate themselves against her and seek to interdict forever any possibility of her success. The nations of the whole earth will come against Jerusalem, and, having defeated her, will divide up their spoils of war in her very midst.
If this is to be the future of Jews living in Israel, then why aren’t dispensationalists warning Jews to flee the city? Israel was warned by Jesus to “flee to the mountains” (Matthew 24:16). The New Testament is filled with warnings about the coming A.D. 70 holocaust with no encouragement to take up residence in Jerusalem. In fact, there was a mass exodus from the city by those who understood the world-wide implications of the gospel message and the approaching destruction of what was the center of Jewish worship (John 4:21-24).
Why the silence? One answer is obvious: if such a warning were believed and acted upon by Jews, this would empty the State of Israel of Jews, which would in turn delay the great Christian R&R for untold generations. Problem: there can be no cosmic escape for Christians, called the Rapture, until 3.5 years prior to the Great Tribulation. In short, when it comes to dealing with the miseries of this life vs. a trip to Heaven without death, there is no question that fundamentalists prefer the latter. This escape will at long last solve the moral dilemma of the phrase, “everybody wants to go to Heaven, but nobody wants to die.”
The fundamentalists’ unwavering support of a pro-Zionist American foreign policy began shortly after 1948; it is unlikely to disappear. There is little psychological possibility of persuading premillennial dispensationalists to adopt a non-interventionist foreign policy with respect to the State of Israel. They will not risk losing the possibility of attaining Heaven without dying.
Fundamentalists may oppose government transfer payments (foreign aid) to every other nation, but for the State of Israel, which has been the number-one recipient of such foreign aid, to the tune of about $1.6 trillion since 1973, the political support by fundamentalists will be there.
People ask me, “Does eschatology really matter?” The answer is, yes, it does.
November 1, 2003
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