"Next Year in Jerusalem": Jerusalem in Catastrophic Millennialism
This paper was read by Massimo Introvigne at a seminar on "Law Enforcement and Religious Violence" co-organized by CESNUR and by the Critical Incident Response Group of the FBI at Fredericksburg, Virginia, on June 7, 1999. At the seminar, a team of ten European and North American scholars presented to FBI agents and specialists from various branches of the U.S. administration papers on new religious movements, millennial movements, and anti-cult activities.
Catastrophic millennialism (Wessinger 1997), once called premillennialism, is the view of the end of the world currently predominant both in Evangelical Protestantism and a variety of religious movements not generally regarded as part of the Evangelical fold. Unlike progressive millennialism, or postmillennialism, catastrophic millennialism is a pessimistic worldview. It assumes that things will go from bad to worse until Jesus Christ returns in glory ushering in a Millennium of peace. In this short paper, I will outline the events leading up to the Millennium and the role of Jerusalem in them, according to the prevailing catastrophic millennialist worldview. Although there are many varieties of this worldview, the major contours of an end-time chronology are common. I will draw them from two sources in particular: theological literature from bastions of premillennialism such as the Dallas Theological Seminary and the Chicago-based Moody Bible Institute, and contemporary Evangelical fiction. End-time Christian fiction has enjoyed a long-standing tradition, dating back at least to Forrest Loman Oilar's 1937 novel Be Thou Prepared, for Jesus is Coming. Premillennialist luminaries, such as Salem Kirban (1970, 1997), Pat Robertson (1995) and Hal Lindsey (1996), have all depicted the end of the world in fiction. I will, however, focus mostly on the five published installments of the Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins (1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999). These books have sold more than five million copies in the U.S. alone, have generated a cottage industry of juvenile versions, T-shirts and other paraphernalia, and both the first (Left Behind) and the most recent (Apollyon) instalments have made the New York Times best seller list.
Modern catastrophic millennialism is heavily influenced by a theological theory known as dispensationalism, the father of which, John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), stood at the source of modern fundamentalism. This theory argues that God uses "dispensations" to direct world history. There are different dispensations, both for different historical times (seven, according to most dispensationalists) and for different peoples (Jews and Gentiles). Starting from the reference to seventy weeks in Daniel 9:25, dispensationalism holds that Daniel's first sixty-nine weeks refer to the time of the Jews. With Israel's rejection of Jesus Christ and Pentecost, the time of the Jews stopped, with God's promises to Israel remaining unfulfilled but still valid for a future dispensation. It was now the time of the Gentiles, the time when non-Jews began to rule the world, heralding the persecution of the Jews as a people. Jews will not be wiped out altogether, however, because God's promises to them could not forever go unfulfilled. During the time of the Gentiles, the Church slowly gathers to it believers from all nations. The time of the Church is a parenthesis between the sixty-ninth and the seventieth week presented in Daniel 9:25. As interpreted by premillennialists, it states that, when the Gospel will be preached to all nations (the situation we are now approaching), two events will herald the beginning of the seventieth week, when God will grant a new dispensation and turn his attention once again to his chosen people, the Jews. The first event will evolve very slowly, with the Jews being restored to their historical homeland in Israel, where they will flourish as a powerful and rich nation, and yet still be threatened by outside enemies and by wars and threats of wars. Understandably, the Zionist movement (secular as it has been from the start) and the modern State of Israel have been seen by millennialists as the fulfilment of these prophecies. There are some, however, who believe that Israel should rightly be experiencing a more spectacular degree of prosperity. Left Behind introduces the character of one Dr. Chaim Rosenzweig, an Israeli scientist who invented and patented a miraculous formula that guarantees exceptional harvests even in the desert.
The second event is predicted to occur in a matter of seconds, and is called the "Rapture" of the Church. Christians everywhere in the world will suddenly and supernaturally disappear to meet Jesus Christ in Heaven. Christians who have died since Pentecost and are already with the Lord will receive their resurrected and glorified bodies. Left Behind opens with a powerful scene aboard an intercontinental flight. While Captain Rayford Steele is flirting with cabin attendant Hattie Durham (later to become the lover of the Antichrist), many passengers suddenly disappear, to the great astonishment of star reporter Cameron "Buck" Williams, also a passenger on that flight. When he lands his aircraft, Captain Steele (the hero of the saga) discovers that his wife and son have also disappeared (while his skeptical daughter Chloe has been "left behind", just like himself). Millions have disappeared, in fact, including (in an unexpected gesture of goodwill by the Evangelical authors towards their Catholic readers) the Pope in Rome. Slowly but surely, people like Steele and Williams (who will ultimately end up marrying Chloe) come to realize that this is in fact the Rapture the Evangelicals were talking about, and convert. In Israel, Dr. Rosenzweig's best friend and the nation's most prominent scholar, Rabbi Tsion Ben-Judah, also announces on TV his conversion to Evangelical Christianity.
Exactly when the Rapture will occur in relation to other apocalyptic events, is a matter of considerable discussion among catastrophic millennialists. All agree, however, that sometime after the Rapture a new dispensation (the seventieth week) will begin. It will be called the "Tribulation" and will last for seven years. It will start with the signing of a treaty between a powerful Gentile leader and Israel, promising the Jewish nation seven years of peace. This Western leader, although posing as a kind and peace-loving politician, is in fact the Antichrist, a man empowered with unique abilities by Satan. In Left Behind the Antichrist is Nicolae Carpathia, a Romanian politician who suddenly emerges into the world spotlight and takes over the United Nations converting it into a one-world government, the Global Community, being headquartered in New Babylon, near Baghdad. He exchanges his protection of Israel for Dr. Rosenzweig's miracle formula. Romania is traditionally associated with dark figures, ranging from Count Dracula to Comrade Ceausescu, and when Nicolae emerges as an apostle of globalization, one does not have to be a theologian from Dallas Theological Seminary to understand immediately that this man is up to no good. The Antichrist has, however, been identified in popular millennialist literature with a variety of other figures (Fuller 1995), including Saddam Hussein, King Juan Carlos of Spain, and Bill Gates.
What will happen during the Tribulation can be divided in two parts: the first phase, lasting three and a half years, is the period for the duration of which the Antichrist will keep his covenant with Israel; and the second part ushers in his betrayal of it. In the first half, action will center in Rome, Israel and the headquarters of the Antichrist (believed by most millennialist theologians to be in the West, although Left Behind places it near Baghdad). In Rome, we will find a new apostate church, or false religion (referred to in Left Behind as Enigma Babylon One World Faith, and placed under the authority of a liberal American cardinal who has become the new Pope, Peter II). It will gather most of the religions of the world into one organization or federation, although some will inevitably resist. The Antichrist will be busy ruling the world, while considerable destruction and death will be wreaked by God's judgements listed in Revelation 6:2-17 as the first six of seven seals. They include a world war (in Left Behind a US-UK ultimately doomed attempt to resist Carpathia), famine, pestilence, a great earthquake and the persecution of believers. (According to most commentators, many new believers will convert after the Rapture, and this, in fact, is the whole rationale of Left Behind). In Jerusalem, three key events will occur. Firstly, the Temple will be rebuilt and levitical animal sacrifices in the style of the Old Testament will resume. When and how the Temple will be rebuilt, as premillennialist theologian Paul N. Benware writes in an influential textbook (1995, 255), is unclear: "The Scriptures simply inform us that at the midpoint of the Tribulation the temple exists and the levitical sacrificial system is in place". In Left Behind, we are informed that modern technology allowed the moving of the Dome of the Rock to New Babylon. In the novels, sacrifices are performed by Orthodox Jews and are largely irrelevant: these Jews have made their compromises with Enigma Babylon One World Faith and are largely left alone because they really do not count (LaHaye and Jenkins 1999, 119). Secondly, many Jews (mostly non-Orthodox) convert to Christianity. According to millennialist theologians, the 144,000 mentioned in Revelation 7 and 14, who will bear witness to God and be supernaturally protected from the judgements will not all be of Israeli descent, although they will certainly all belong to the Jewish people. In Left Behind, they meet in Jerusalem's main stadium to defy the Antichrist, who also attends the meeting. Thirdly, two mysterious Witnesses appear in Jerusalem (Revelation 11). Clothed in sackcloth, they take residence near the Temple, proclaim the word of God and work astonishing miracles. Both Antichrist followers and orthodox Jews try to kill them (in Left Behind with all kinds of modern weapons), but are struck dead by the power of God. Only when their period of preaching of 1,260 days is over, may the Two Witnesses be killed by the Antichrist; God, however, raises them from the dead and takes them to heaven. Although many interpreters insist that we do not know the identity of the Two Witnesses and that they will probably minister in the second half of the Tribulation, Left Behind identifies them as Moses and Elijah and places them in the first half.
The second half of the Tribulation starts when the Antichrist breaks his covenant with Israel. He enters the Temple in Jerusalem, forbids further levitical sacrifices, and installs an idol of himself in the Temple. He has persuaded many that he died and was resurrected (in fact by Satan, if it is not just a deception), and now proclaims himself God. There is no further need of a world apostate church, and it is destroyed together with all its leaders. All religions are persecuted. In the meantime, Jesus has broken the seventh seal and seven trumpets are sounded, each one bringing a new judgement, including a world agricultural crisis and a plague of locusts that torment people for five months without being allowed to kill anyone. Chronology, here, is open to even wider debate. The last instalment of Left Behind published to-date, under the title of Apollyon, ends with the locust plague while the Antichrist as yet has neither entered the Temple nor destroyed the apostate church Enigma Babylon. The faithful, however, are preparing for the last phase of the Tribulation, when only those bearing the mark of the Beast will be allowed to buy and sell, by developing an alternative survivalist economy and secret Internet links among believers.
The locusts correspond in Revelation 8 to the fifth trumpet, while the sixth trumpet announces an army of 200 million men "from the East" bound to destroy one third of mankind. Whilst from now on - awaiting the next novel of the saga - we lose the guidance of Left Behind, premillennialist literature explains that the Eastern army invasion is really the beginning of the battle of Armageddon, which is less a "battle" than a war. The name "Armageddon" is traditionally associated with the plain of Megiddo, in Israel, but Revelation 14 mentions an area believed to be some 180 miles in length. Many interpreters believe that the battle will, in fact, center either on Jerusalem itself or somewhere in the valley of Jehoshaphat, east of Jerusalem. There are at least seven different main theories on how these armies will move and how the war of Armageddon will develop (Pentecost 1964, 342-58). They try to interpret the pouring of seven bowls that marks the judgement of the seventh and final trumpet of the seventh seal. Of particular interest is the sixth bowl, in which the river Euphrates dries up and an army from the East heads towards Armageddon. Many understand this to mean that the Antichrist will have moved his headquarters to Jerusalem and that Eastern powers will challenge his authority. It is clear, at any rate, that Tribulation Christians will have no part in the war, fought out between two camps of equally demonic warriors. In fact, when Jesus Christ will appear in Armageddon, the two camps will unite and turn against him. Obviously, they will be destroyed: Armageddon will become the great "winepress of the wrath of God" (Revelation 14:19-20) where blood will flow up to the height of the horses' bridles. Finally, the Antichrist himself and his mysterious ally, the False Prophet, will be thrown into the lake of fire, and yet another dispensation will begin.
This is the Millennium, the Kingdom gloriously inaugurated by Jesus standing on the Mount of Olives, following the destruction of all his enemies. It will be a glorious time of spiritual and social prosperity that will last for a thousand years. Jews, now all converted, will be fully restored to their now Christian land, and the promises made to them in the Old Testament will finally be fulfilled. Views of the Millennium vary, but many believe that the saints raptured before the Tribulation, together with those who during the Tribulation, will all return to Earth to share Jesus' glorious kingdom. At the end of the Millennium, Satan (kept captive during the previous thousand years) will be released, and will subsequently persuade others to join him in rebellion. They and Satan himself will be quickly dispatched to the lake of fire and eternal damnation, joined by the unrighteous dead (resurrected only to hear their final sentences). All saints will reign forever in a New Jerusalem, in a "new heaven and a new earth" with features we can hardly imagine - it will. perhaps, be more a metaphysical state than a place.
Although endless variations exist, this is the basic plot (largely centered on Jerusalem) of how according to Christian catastrophic millennialism this world will end. This is by no means the eschatological worldview of fringe "cults" and "sects" only: it has been suggested that at least one third of contemporary Americans share some kind of premillennialist belief (Wills 1990; Boyer 1992). What will they do in the next few months, as history enters the third millennium? For most of them the answer is simply: nothing at all, or at least nothing special. Premillennialism - with or, more often without date-setting - has been prevalent among Evangelical Protestants for almost two centuries (Froom 1978-1982). The large majority of these believers have prepared for the Second Coming by minding their own business, if anything by trying to be better citizens, workers and spouses, lest they be "left behind" when the Rapture comes. Fringe groups and individual lunatics seeing themselves literally as the Two Witnesses, or the last freedom fighters against the Antichrist, have always existed. Although they have occasionally caused tragedies, they have always remained small and marginal, and have found no support among the larger millennialist community. Emotions may run high among fringe groups and individuals as we move into the year 2,000, and incidental instances of violence may certainly erupt. On the other hand, there is no evidence that this is causing any kind of deviant behaviour among an even remotely significant percentage of the millions of premillennialist believers.
The phenomenal success of millennial literature and fiction may certainly contribute to a growing fear of globalization, embodied among conspiracy theorists of various brands in the U.S. government as the only surviving superpower, the UN, NATO or the European Union. Fear of globalization may, in rare instances, cause violence both by minority religious movements and against some religious movements (denounced in a certain kind of literature, particularly in Western and Eastern Europe, and in Latin America, as agents of U.S.- led globalization and enemies of national identities). However, fear of globalization is widespread and is fueled by many sources other than millennial textbooks and novels. Let's hope, without being naive, that next year in Jerusalem we will witness purely peaceful celebrations, or at least no more than the usual degree of religious conflict and controversy.
Benware, Paul N. 1995. Understanding an End Times Comprehensive Prophecy Approach. Chicago: Moody Press.
Boyer, Paul. 1992. When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture. Cambridge (Massachusetts) and London: Harvard University Press.
Fuller, Robert. 1995. Naming the Antichrist: The History of an American Obsession. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Froom, LeRoy Edwin. 1978-1982. The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers. 2nd ed. 4 vols. Washington D.C. and Hagerstown (Maryland): Review and Herald.
Kirban, Salem. 1970. 666. Wheaton (Illinois): Tyndale House Publishers.
1997. 1,000. Wheaton (Illinois): Tyndale House Publishers.
LaHaye, Tim, and Jerry B. Jenkins. 1995. Left Behind: A Novel of the Earth's Last Days. Wheaton (Illinois): Tyndale House Publishers
- 1996. Tribulation Force: The Continuing Drama of Those Left Behind. Wheaton (Illinois): Tyndale House Publishers
- 1997. Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist. Wheaton (Illinois): Tyndale House Publishers
- 1998. Soul Harvest: The World Takes Sides. Wheaton (Illinois): Tyndale House Publishers
- 1999. Apollyon: The Destroyer is Unleashed. Wheaton (Illinois): Tyndale House Publishers
Lindsey, Hal. 1996. Blood Moon. Palos Verdes (California): Western Front Publishing.
Oilar, Forrest Loman. 1937. Be Thou Prepared, for Jesus is Coming. Boston: Meador Publishing Company.
Pentecost, J. Dwight. 1964. Things to Come. Grand Rapids: Dunham.
Robertson, Pat. 1995. The End of the Age. Waco (Texas): Word Books.
Wessinger, Catherine. 1997. "Millennialism With and Without the Mayhem". In Thomas Robbins and Susan J. Palmer (eds.), Millennium, Messiahs, and Mayhem: Contemporary Apocalyptic Movements, New York and London: Routledge, 47-59.
Wills, Gary. 1990. Under God: Religion and American Politics. New York: Simon and Schuster.
See also "Next Year in Jerusalem": An Update based on "Assassins", the New Book in the "Left Behind" Series, and on the Novel "The Visitation" by Frank Peretti
[Home Page] [Cos'è il CESNUR] [Biblioteca del CESNUR] [Testi e documenti] [Libri] [Convegni]
[Home Page] [About CESNUR] [CESNUR Library] [Texts & Documents] [Book Reviews] [Conferences]