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More Signs of the Last Days
A key unfulfilled sign involves a Matthew 24 prophecy that the gospel would be preached to the whole world "and then the end will come," Bickle says. "The top mission agencies are predicting that within 10 years all of the earth's 6,000 people groups will have the gospel preached to them."
However, many Bible scholars at secular universities and mainline seminaries reject the premillennial interpretation of prophecy. Known as preterists, they say the visions described in the book of Revelation pertain to people and events in the first century.
"The bottom line is that critical scholars of Revelation read the book as anti-imperial resistance literature," says Stephen D. Moore, a New Testament scholar and expert on the book of Revelation and professor of New Testament at The Theological School at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. "It's sort of a vitriolic tirade against the Roman Empire of John's day."
But David Criswell, former editor of the Evangelical Standard at Tyndale Theological Seminary and Biblical Institute in Fort Worth, Texas, says writings from early church fathers show they believed prophecies in the book of Revelation referred to future events. Criswell says it wasn't until the Middle Ages that preterist theology gained momentum as Catholic scholars attempted to discredit the Reformation.
"The Bible says there will be scoffers in the last days, which will cause the hearts of many sincere people to disregard the reality of the last days," says Jim Tolle, pastor of the 25,000-member Church on the Way in Van Nuys, California.
"But there is a convergence of far more things than ever in the history of the world that point to the fact we are in the last days. There is more deception today than ever before. We are seeing a geometric increase in the amount of earthquakes, natural disasters and diseases. And there has been a multiplication of military conflicts."
A recent poll by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found 79 percent of American Christians believe in the Second Coming. But on the timing and circumstances of Christ's return, Christians are divided. About a third-34 percent-say it will occur after the world situation reaches a low point, 37 percent say it's impossible to know the circumstances preceding Christ's return, and 4 percent say Christ will return when the world situation improves.
Peter Wagner, president of Global Harvest Ministries, is an adherent of partial preterism, believing most end-times prophecies were fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. However, unlike full preterists, Wagner believes Christ will return after Christians transform the culture and people move into "God's prosperity."
Richard J. Mouw, president and professor of Christian philosophy at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, says he was raised to believe that the pope was the Antichrist; later it was Stalin; and today Islam "seems to be the likely target"-making him nervous about these sorts of identifications. However, Mouw says he believes the world "could very well be in the last days."
"Humankind seems more and more lawless, and life is getting increasingly fragmented and chaotic. This is how the devil works, causing fragmentation and confusion," Mouw says. "We need to preach more about the possible return of Christ in our own lifetimes-but without the highly speculative interpretations that [were] so prevalent in the past."
Is Jesus Coming Back?
Some Christians are convinced that Jesus' return is imminent. Doyle W. Flowers Jr. of Atlanta, author of Jesus Really Is Coming Back ... Soon! says the Second Coming is less than two decades away. "God confirmed to me about two years ago that the return of Christ was at the steps," he told Charisma.
In his book, Flowers describes a vivid dream in which he was picked up by a tornado. He says God revealed to him that he would be taken to heaven in the Rapure at some point in his lifetime.
Yet critics of premillennialism are quick to remind us that preachers have unsuccessfully predicted Jesus' return many times during the last 2,000 years, including farmer William Miller, who unsuccessfully calculated the end of the world in the early 1840s, and Edgar C. Whisenant, who wrote the controversial best-seller 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988.
Hal Lindsey's 1970 mega-seller The Late Great Planet Earth popularized prophetic beliefs about the last days. Lindsey has since been criticized for a portion of the book in which he quotes Jesus in Matthew 24:34 saying the generation that witnessed the signs given in the Olivet Discourse would not die before their fulfillment.
"What generation?" Lindsey wrote in what became the world's best-selling nonfiction book of the 1970s. "Obviously, in context, the generation that would see the signs-chief among them the rebirth of the State of Israel. A generation in the Bible is something like 40 years. If this is a correct deduction, then within 40 years or so of 1948, all these things could take place."
Lindsey, whose book was read by Israel's first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion shortly before his death, says critics have misconstrued what he wrote, claiming he stated Christ would return 40 years after Israel's rebirth. When 1988 came and went, many pastors shied away from teaching about prophecy, believing it had become too controversial.
"It's almost like the body of Christ went into embarrassment mode about the end times," Bickle says. "But then in the last four or five years ... the signs of the times are beginning to make more sense."
Lindsey says he never set a precise date for Christ's return. But he claims this is "the generation that will live to see the fulfillment of the ‘birth pangs' that Jesus predicted would all come together in one time frame shortly before the tribulation's events that bring about His return."
Experts say one of the key signs of the last days is the growing interest by Jews in the question of whether Jesus is the Messiah. David Brickner, executive director of the San Francisco-based Jews for Jesus, says a growing number of the world's nearly 14 million Jews are discovering Jesus as their Messiah and revival is beginning in Israel.
"What we are seeing now in the beginning of the 21st century is openness and a surge of Israeli believers in Jesus," Brickner says.
For Bernis, Yeshua's return centers on the "divine timing that God has ordained."
"I've been in 50 countries ministering to Jewish communities," Bernis says. "There are Jews in just about every country in the world. These are clear signs of the last days that are often overlooked when we talk about end-times prophecies. Israel is restored, Jerusalem is restored, the Jews are coming back from the four corners of the earth and they are being restored to Jesus, their Messiah."
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