– by Gary Stearman – www.prophecyinthenews.com

Do you believe that prophecy is being revealed for the latter days? In particular, do you believe that prophecy points to the near fulfillment of end-time events, including the rapture, Great Tribulation and Second Coming of Christ? If the answer to these questions is yes, you are an apocalypticist.

This uncommon noun comes from the Greek apokalupto,"to reveal." It consists of two word segments: apo, "away from," and kalupto, "to cover." Very simply, it means, "to uncover," or reveal. The same roots form the Greek name for the Bible’s final book. It is called The Apocalypse, from the Greek Apoklupsis or more simply, "Revelation."

The Apostle Paul uses a slightly different expression of the same word as a comfort to Christians going through the trials and tribulations of daily life:

"And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels" (II Thessalonians 1:7). Here, the word "revealed" is the very word, apokalupsis. If you love to contemplate His sudden appearance in the heavens, it is more than likely that you have repeatedly studied the Scriptures that give substance to the time and manner of His coming. You yearn for scriptural revelation. You are an apocalypticist.

On occasion, you have probably had to push back a feeling of guilt for being so excited about the closeness of the rapture. You dilute your prophetic enthusiasm in polite society, for fear of being called a "prophecy nut." Worse yet, you find yourself in trouble with other Christians for being too occupied with a "pie in the sky" theology, rather than concerning yourself with charity and evangelism. To no avail, you explain that one can be prophetically excited and a good steward at the same time.

Worst of all, you find that as an apocalypticist, you vacillate between absolute certainty and total doubt. You tell yourself that these must certainly be the end times, but you don’t want to lead astray those less convinced than yourself. You think about all those degreed theologians who totally deny the rapture in the first place.

A desire to understand Bible prophecy can become a passion, particularly after one has begun to view it as already fulfilled in part. The edifice of Christianity is strengthened by over 300 Old Testament references to the Messiah that were fulfilled in the New Testament by Jesus. Born of the seed of the woman, a virgin (Isaiah 7:14), He is the Son of God (Matthew 3:17). He is also the son of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah and David (Matthew 1 and Luke 3), who was born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). We could continue in this way, examining each of the hundreds of fulfilled prophecies until several books were filled.

The effect of such study is the conviction that it is only a matter of time until other key elements click into place. Many past dates with destiny stand as markers, convincing us that similar indicators are now poised to drop into place. They strongly motivate us to search for repetitive patterns, many of which extend into the future.

We deeply desire the privilege of being witness to their fulfillment. Our constant temptation is to develop a supporting structure from Scripture that will allow us to construct a latticework of likely times for His arrival. Paul perfectly expressed our position when he wrote:

"Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13).

Hopefully, we of the living body of Christ will be there to personally witness the actual moment when a cosmic key is turned, allowing a door to open into the new world that will be our eternal home. At that moment, everything will change.

We shall be called home, and the world will be restructured, restored and reconstituted by the Righteous Judge. If you are an apocalypticist, the blessed hope is real and revelation is not just the name of a book of the Bible.

Prophecy: A Practical Paradox

Apocalypticists are often the brunt of condescending jokes and cleverly dismissive remarks. You’re no doubt familiar with them. One you’ve probably heard goes like this: "Well, some people say they are Premillenial. Some say they are Postmillennial. Some are Amillennial. I don’t believe any of that stuff. Me … I’m a Panmillenialist. I figure it’s all gonna’ pan out somehow." His superior snicker tells you that he views a study of the end times as a useless pursuit.

You get that from your good-old-boy, church-goin’ Christian who just doesn’t want to be bothered by the finer details of God’s plan. And he won’t talk about "religion" or "politics" at the dinner table, either.

He often says, "Nobody can agree on prophecy and everybody who’s ever tried to set a date has been wrong." He has been heard to say, "The only folks who don’t argue about Christianity are the heathen." By that, he means that the heathen are sure of what they believe. In so saying, he has relegated your detailed study of redemptive prophecy to the world of the unsaved and the ignorant.

Apocalypticists are often depicted as slightly daft. There are many reasons for this, but the primary one is that Jesus didn’t return to establish the Kingdom in the first century. Since then, believers have been divided between, "He’s coming back at some future time," "He’s coming back, but nobody knows when," "He could come at any moment," and "He’s coming back soon … really soon."

After the passing of the Apostles, with increasing Christian persecution and the diaspora of the Jews, the church settled into a waiting mode. Uncertainty about Christ’s return shifted the emphasis to various forms of obedience to a state church which believed itself to the be the agent of Christ’s return. For the most part, the theology of the Middle Ages was built around the idea that the geopolitical state church would conquer the world for Christ. Only after the completion of their master developmental plan would He come back.

By contrast, the Apostles had written to their followers from the perspective of Jesus’ imminent return. They never stated that any particular goal had to be met before He could return. To their followers, His coming was of a personal nature, not a political one. It was not directly connected to the fulfillment of any particular prophetic event. In his first epistle to the Thessalonians, Paul wrote:

" For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? (I Thes. 2:19).

Any Christian reading these words in the first century could not be blamed for believing that Paul meant them to be personally included in the coming of Christ for the Church … while still alive. Pronouns like "our" and "ye" certainly refer to Paul’s followers in the first century. A little farther along in the epistle, when he describes the rapture of the church, Paul twice uses the pronoun "we," which could certainly have included those then alive in Macedonia:

"Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (I Thes. 4:17).

Of course, Paul had told his followers that the dead in Christ would be the first to experience resurrection. Then, living Christians would be caught up (raptured). But even as he wrote this, he used the pronoun "we" to refer to the latter group — "we" would be the group then alive.

In his second epistle to the same church, Paul delivers words of comfort to a people living in a pagan Graeco-Roman society. The pronoun "you" would again seem to include the first-century members of this church in the rapture:

"And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels" (II Thes. 1:7).

Nor was Paul alone in this direct way of referring to his contemporaries. John wrote about the appearing of Jesus, again using the pronoun "we," saying, in effect, that Christians who were then his contemporaries were likely to witness His coming:

"And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming" (I John 2:28).

Such language opens a wide door for scoffers who actually think it is an evil thing to search the Scriptures for reasons to believe that His coming is near. Often, they even quote the Bible to back up their criticism. Most often they use the words of Christ, Himself, as He spoke to the disciples on the Mount of Olives:

"But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only"(Matthew 24:36).

You’ve heard the scoffers quote some form of this verse to make the point that if only the Father in heaven knows the time of Christ’s coming, then it’s a worthless waste of time to study prophecy with any hope of understanding the day in which we live.

But, among other things, they always fail to make a critical distinction. Namely, that the context of this Scripture is Christ’s Second Coming, which is distinctly different from the rapture. In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus mentions both the "abomination of desolation," and the "great tribulation," which dispensational Christians believe will not happen until after the rapture of the Church. We won’t even be around to not know the day and hour.

Furthermore, in this discourse, He is speaking to Israel, not the church, even to the point that He mentions a geographical place name: "Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains" (Matthew 24:16).

Thus, by both time and place the contemporary apocalypticist is separated from an event that doesn’t concern him anyway. (By the way, the apocalypticist doesn’t attempt to calculate the day and hour of the rapture. But the general time … and the season … yes.)

The cold fact that Jesus is not referring to the rapture does not stop the scoffer. He will quickly add that even if you believe in the rapture (which he doesn’t), it’s a signless event. This being the case, why study prophetic Scripture with any hope of discovering significant clues? The answer to this question goes to the very nature of God.

" I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:

"Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing" (II Tim. 4:7,8).

Here, near the end of Paul’s life, he reminds Timothy that there is to be a special reward for those who deeply love (and here, the word for "love" is agape for "divine love") the idea of the Lord’s soon appearance. In other words, living in the constant hope of His return is central to the life of a faithful Christian. Put another way, those who really love the Lord, simply cannot refrain from thinking that He might appear at any moment.

To Paul, this truth lies at the very center of a righteous life. His promise to return is called the "blessed hope" of the church. We yearn for His revealing. The Bible views apocalypticists as righteous, not silly. Even so, the world regards those who long for the return of Jesus as hopeless idealists, at best.

In the last half of the twentieth century, excitement about the approaching rapture of the church rose to fever pitch. Following World War II, and the statehood of Israel, there was the growing conviction that something big had changed. During both World Wars, Postmillennialism had reigned supreme in the leading theological circles. This is the belief that the institutional church would bring the world into a kind of new golden age, through the teaching of Christ. Postmillennialists believe that the current era is the millennium, though it is not necessarily to be regarded as a literal thousand-year period. After that, Christ will return to accept the Kingdom, then already established by the church.

Through the first half of the twentieth century, the great powers of theology were dominant in propagating this concept, producing a formal church, rooted in a belief that its primary function was to perfect society. But, in mid-century, a radical change uprooted this belief. Israel became a nation, fulfilling many Old Testament prophecies. One of them was often pointed out as a direct description of Israel’s new statehood:

"Who hath heard such a thing? who hath seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? or shall a nation be born at once? for as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children.

"Shall I bring to the birth, and not cause to bring forth? saith the LORD: shall I cause to bring forth, and shut the womb? saith thy God.

"Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all ye that love her: rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn for her" (Isaiah 66:8-10).

Since the 1960s

Indeed, there was much rejoicing among certain Christian groups at the time of modern Israel’s birth. Surprisingly, however, Israel’s emergence didn’t immediately change the Postmillennial teaching that continued to dominate most church pulpits. This theological development would await a powerful event that took another twenty years.

The signal event to which we refer was, in many ways, as important as Israeli statehood, itself. Since 1948, Israel had fought for its existence. Tensions had increased, and in 1956, Egypt had clashed with Israel in the Sinai Penninsula. Israel won a decisive victory, but the U.S. and other Western countries had insisted that Israel withdraw. This was accomplished in 1957. But, for the next ten years, Egypt continued to build its war machine. Thus, in the name of peace, Western diplomacy had given Egypt a decade to re-arm itself. This situation led directly to the 1967 war.

Egypt finally announced a blockade of the Gulf of Aqaba in June, 1967. On June 5, the famous Six-Day War began, as Israel attacked Egypt’s airfields, as well as those of Iraq, Syria and Jordan. By June 10, the war was over, with Israel in control of Judea and Samaria, Gaza, the Golan Heights and the Sinai Penninsula.

Israel’s rapid victory was seen as a modern miracle. Out of the war came many stories of angelic appearances and impossible victories. There were dozens of stories that seemed to point to Divine intervention. Suddenly, in the lives of the world’s Christians, Israel’s very existence came to be viewed as a direct result of the Lord’s actions. In retrospect, even Israel’s statehood came to be viewed as a sign that God’s prophetic program was on the move into the final days.

Until that war, Israel was, for the most part, seen as miraculous only by the Jews. They believed that their ancient destiny had been fulfilled at long last. Only a few Christians had been awakened to Israel’s role in fulfilled prophecy. Suddenly, the Land blossomed with fruits and flowers. Israeli horticulture was not just prophetic, but profitable.

Amazingly successful books were written, showing that modern Israel was a fulfillment of prophecy.

The Six-Day War vaulted Israel into international prominence. Prophecy was no longer a study of the past, but of the present … and the near future! Prophecy preaching began in earnest, leading first hundreds, then thousands of preachers to proclaim, "Jesus is coming soon!"

For centuries – literally, ever since the days of the Apostles – a tiny remnant of true believers had been saying, "Jesus could come at any moment." But it’s quite a different thing to say, "Jesus is coming soon!" The word "soon" sets an outer limit on the time of anticipation. Soon means within a few years … a few decades at most. Apocalypticists knew that the clock was ticking.