The Previous Interest in Prophecy
From about the mid-1800’s to the mid-1900’s the church in America developed an interest in prophecy. This focus on end times resulted from the rise of the premillennial and pre-tribulation perspectives.
The premillennial position teaches that Christ will return to establish and reign over an earthly kingdom for a thousand years. This teaching is of special importance because it includes the belief that the Jewish nation will be reestablished and become foundational to this Millennial Kingdom. Up to the time of this teaching it was widely believed that the church had displaced Israel as God’s people, and therefore that God had no future plan for the Jewish nation. During a time when the Jews were scattered and had no homeland, premillennial prophecy asserted that they would again inhabit the Promised Land, a position for which they were often ridiculed, this outcome being perceived to be an impossibility. Nonetheless this prediction became a reality in 1948.
The pre-tribulation perspective asserts that the church will be raptured, caught up to heaven, prior to a seven year tribulation period of terrible judgment on the earth, which will end with the return to Christ to set up the Millennial Kingdom. This seven years of tribulation will culminate with Christ returning to defeat the armies that will be gathered in the land of Israel in the Battle of Armageddon.
It believe that this interest in prophecy developed because this premillennial, pre-tribulation position gave shape to the large body of prophetic teaching in Scripture that previously was largely ignored because the church could not make sense of it. The premillennial, pre-tribulation perspective seemed to make sense of both Scripture and related historical developments such as found in the rebirth of the nation of Israel and developments in the Gentile nations. In fact, this teaching seemed to make so much sense of Scripture and history that it gained wide popularity, even among Christians whose churches did not adhere to these perspectives.
The Curious Current Indifference
It would seem that contemporary political developments would heighten this interest in prophecy. One would think that the return of Israel to the Land in 1948 would have earned some legitimacy for this position, and that the prominence of the tiny nation of Israel in contemporary world events would inspire added attention to prophecy. It would further seem that national and global developments frequently described as unsustainable would draw attention to the teaching of Scripture on end times, especially since the specifics of these developments in many ways fit the template of Scriptural prophecy.
It might be added that this correspondence is not just a matter of making Scripture fit current events. As with the return of Israel to the Land, many prophetic teachings have been presented prior to the historical developments that reflect their fulfillment. For example, various prophetic teachers predicted the rise of China when it was still a backward, isolated nation. I recall a sermon by my father-in-law, preached in the 1950’s, on “The Sleeping Giant of the Orient” to this effect.
In spite of these developments that corroborate prophetic teaching, and in spite of indications that the return of Jesus Christ might be approaching, and in spite of a disintegrating global picture for which the reign of Christ is the only answer, Christians in America seem to have little interest in the study of prophecy. For example, megachurches, which seem to comprise the cutting edge of contemporary American Christianity, largely exclude prophetic themes from their preaching and teaching.
This is silence is curious. Why the current indifference to prophetic teaching just when it should be grabbing our attention? Let me suggest two primary factors fostering this lack of interest.
Erroneous Prophetic Templates
Many denominations and other groups and individual churches do not hold to the prophetic views described above, and even express opposition to them. I have found it interesting that usually their treatment of prophetic passages consists of for the most part ignoring them. However, when they do address them, they tend to draw a few practical principles from them, but regarding their prophetic meaning they usually conclude, “Well, good people differ on their interpretation and no one really knows, so there is no point in speculating, and those who do are misguided.” In other words, their template does not fit Scripture or current development, so from a practical perspective they tend not to hold any prophetic position at all.
Since “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable…,” this represents a strange and unfortunate position, especially since prophecy comprises a very large segment of Scripture.
Of course, this position does not attract much interest. “We don’t know and neither does anyone else,” is not an especially inspiring position. It would make for a rather short book promising meager sales. Therefore, we would not expect much interest in prophecy from churches taking this position.
Erroneous Template Regarding God
However, the churches described above were around previously when the church displayed far greater interest in prophecy. Therefore, another more compelling factor must be squelching prophetic interest today.
I believe that this more influential factor is that the prophetic Jesus is foreign to the Jesus popular among contemporary American evangelicals.
Pretty much everything we know about Jesus in today’s evangelical world can be summed up by, “Jesus loves you.” Evangelism entails sharing the love of God.
It is difficult to get from this description of God to the God described in prophecy who is about to bring seven years of judgment so horrible that if it lasted longer the entire world would be wiped out. Nor is it easy to reconcile this Jesus who is all about love with the one coming on a white horse who will destroy His enemies at Armageddon, the bloodiest battle ever fought. Psalm 2 prophesies this regarding the dealing of Jesus with the nations: “He will break them with a rod of iron; He will dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” In light of these prospects Psalm 2 advises, “Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son lest He be angry, and you perish in the way when His wrath is kindled but a little.”
Though all the world around us appears to be morphing into the pre-millennial, pre-tribulation prophetic picture, the contemporary evangelical church in America, at a time when it should be most interested in prophecy instead manifests disregard because the template of Jesus propagated by today’s church has no relationship to the Jesus of prophecy.
One problem with this adherence to a truncated, amputated Jesus is that someday soon we will stand before the real Jesus, and on that day many might not recognize Him. Perhaps a bigger problem resides in the impact on the church today caused by our failure to embrace the Jesus of Scripture in His fullness, a Jesus of both love and judgment.