Middle East Conflict and End Times

Interview with Canadian Catholic News Service, July 31, 2006

Middle East conflict leads to End Times predictions

  by Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News

OTTAWA (CCN)—As war and rumors of war in the Middle East dominate the headlines, some evangelical pastors are stepping up End Times predictions and warning the Rapture could happen any moment and Christians will be taken up into heaven.

After that, the world will be plunged into seven years of tribulation. The Antichrist will then appear and his reign will culminate in a massive battle at Armageddon — located not far from where the present day fighting is taking place — and that battle will usher in the end of the world. Then Jesus Christ will return with the raptured Christians and reign for 1,000 years of peace.

Tsunamis, earthquakes and war involving Israel are signs of the times that correlate with the Book of Revelation and other prophetic passages in the Bible, they say.

Even the mainstream news media is picking up on ferment in Biblical prophecy circles. On July 31, CNN’s Paula Zahn interviewed Baptist Pastor Jerry Falwell, who claimed that many other prominent Protestant Christians such as Billy Graham believe that Christians will be taken up into heaven en masse before the Antichrist appears. Falwell’s interview was preceded by a documentary that quoted an array of other preachers with similar beliefs. Falwell said he believed the Rapture could occur at any time, but said that since the Bible says no one knows when it will occur, we must plan for future generations.

Catholic novelist and painter Michael D. O’Brien, whose best selling novel Father Elijah paints a fictional future based on the same prophecies, shares some of the concerns about the unprecedented signs of the times, but he criticizes some of the beliefs popularized by the fictional Left Behind series.

The belief that Christians will be raptured before the tribulation “plays into the hands of the Antichrist,” O’Brien said in a July 31 telephone interview. It makes people think, “The Antichrist can’t be here because we haven’t been raptured yet.”

O’Brien maintains that many who make direct correlations between Scripture verses and current events are “End Times determinists.”  

He opposes what he calls the “lock step procedure” to the end. Instead he described himself as a “Catholic providentialist.”

“Grace can change and mitigate prophecy,” he said, pointing to Jonah’s prophecies about the destruction of Nineveh. The city was not destroyed because the people repented. O’Brien believes grace can “mitigate the sufferings that will one day come as outlined in the book of the Apocalypse.”

O’Brien also said the Bible needs to be read on a number of different levels.  It has literal, metaphorical, anagogical and eschatological dimensions. While Father Elijah deals with Biblical prophecy, O’Brien had a different purpose in writing the novel.

“The purpose of all my novels is to critique the spirit of materialism in whatever form it takes and to call my readers to reach out to God for the solution for our human problems and our sociopolitical problems,” he said. In other words, he used the prophecies to critique our present-day world, not make predictions.

While O’Brien reads the Bible on many different levels, he still believes its literal meaning is important. He said that before Christ comes again, the Antichrist, a human figure, will appear. He also said “that the whole household of Israel will come into the Christian faith” before Christ’s return.

“The Catholic Church always teaches that these things must come, these trials and tribulations will one day take place around us as literal, historical events.”

O’Brien said a Christian’s primary task is to “stay awake and watch,” and to “maintain a spirit of calm vigilance.”

Giving a “purely linear analysis” to the Book of Revelation and prophecy “can lead us to jump to all kinds of wrong conclusions,” he said. “We can use Scripture very subjectively to prove our guesses.”

“We may be pointing to a certain figure on the world stage and saying there is the Antichrist, but quietly behind the stage the actual Antichrist, appearing to be a benevolent humanitarian, is amassing power, preparing for his day,” he said.

He said he is “very sorrowful” about the events in the Holy Land, and that the Jewish people “have not ceased being God’s chosen people.”

O’Brien said that Christians err, however, when they conflate the Jewish people with the secular, modernist state of Israel.

“It is a complex situation and a volatile one,” he said. “Pope Benedict has said very clearly that what is needed in the Middle East is a just solution for the three major parties, Israel, Lebanon and the Palestinian people. This will take much prayer and sacrifice because the spirit of hatred and murder is at work.”

O’Brien rejects either/or solutions that resemble choices between the devil and the deep blue sea. He believes there is a third, God-given alternative that must be sought.

“Hezbollah are clearly the bad guys in the present situation,” he said, “but  Israel and Western nations must be extremely careful about resorting to a lesser evil to stamp out a bigger evil.”

God can open up a third way, the way He parted the Red Sea. O’Brien noted that in the history of the Jewish people, God helped them as long as they were faithful, but when they abandoned Him, God “left them to deal with the consequences of their disobedience.”

“What is at stake here are fundamental principles of humanity, God-given principles,” he said. “These must be kept in mind.”

 “As Christians, let’s make sure we do not lose our moral sense in all of this,” he said.

 O’Brien also warned those living in the West about getting too complacent.

“What interest does God have in preserving a radically corrupt and death-filled remnant of former Christendom?” he said. “The culture of death is self-destructive, and thus our civilization cannot last unless mankind returns to living wholeheartedly life and truth.”

“Unless we repent, the world as we once knew it is drawing toward its tragic conclusion,” he said.

 +   +   +