Strain Out Those Gnats!

The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. 2 Thessalonians 2:9-11

End time hype, which received a huge boost in the early seventies with the publishing of Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth, has been at an all time high since the release of authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins’ 16 novel Left Behind series. In spite of the fact that more than 35 million of Lindsey’s books and more than 63 million of the Left Behind books have been sold, not everyone is applauding.

A number of prominent theologians are pointing out that these books represent but one view of eschatology amongst several, and not necessarily the most satisfying or historically accepted one. They also argue that, due the particular sensationalist slant of this view (called the “literalist, premillennial, dispensational” view), it has translated extremely well into novel format and especially onto the big screen. Lindsey’s book was adapted into a 1979 movie (narrated by Orson Welles) and the Left Behind series into 3 action thriller films, with a fourth one being planned. Due to the commercial success of the books and films a questionable interpretation of the Bible’s teaching on the “end-times” have now become mainstream, the critics say.

Strain out those Gnats!

Needless to say, eschatological debates amongst Christian are at an all time high as a result of these developments. Premillennialists are arguing with amillennialists who are arguing with postmillennialists. Pre-trib rapturists have a problem with mid-trib rapturists who have a problem with post-trib rapturists, and all of them frown upon so-called “pre-wrath” rapturists. And so it goes on. In fact, the arguments are so severe in certain circles that believers are breaking fellowship with one another because of eschatological differences. A case in point is the compulsory resignation of Marvin Rosenthal from his position as director of the Friends of Israel organisation a few years ago. The reason? Rosenthal changed his views from believing that the rapture of the church is going to take place before the great tribulation to believing that it is going to take place before the period when God’s wrath is going to be poured out at the end of the tribulation.

One cannot help but wonder how on earth Christians got to a place of such pettiness. There was a time when comedian Emo Philips’ classic joke was just a joke (it was voted the funniest religious joke of all time), but now it would appear to have been more of a prophecy than a joke. For those who cannot remember:

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!” He said, “Nobody loves me.” I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?” He said, “A Christian.” I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?” He said, “Protestant.” I said, “Me, too! What denomination?” He said, “Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” He said, “Northern Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative†Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.” I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.

The problem, it would appear, is the very one pointed out by Jesus in his rebuke of the Pharisees: “You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” Whilst the straining out of the gnat indeed seems like a time-wasting display of trivial-mindedness, the greater problem has to do with the swallowing of the camel. Put differently, the real tragedy is not that the devil manages to get us obsessed with nonessentials, but that he makes us lose focus of the essentials in the process. As Mark Twain quipped: “Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture they do not understand, but the passages that bother me are those I do understand.”

Keeping the Main Issue the Main Issue

The main issue pertaining to the so-called “end times” has never been the timing of the rapture, the nature of the millennium or the nationality of the antichrist. No, the main issue is aptly stated in Jesus Christ’s own words at the opening of the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24): “See that no one leads you astray.” This reference to a spiritual seduction and apostasy in the last days, and the reminder to be on the alert, are repeated a number of times in the New Testament, for instance 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3 and 9-11 (quoted at the beginning); 1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Timothy 3:1-5 and 4:3-4; Revelation 13:11-14 and, of course, in the rest of Matthew 24.

One does not need to be a scholar in theology to detect the single greatest characteristic of the coming great deception. In 2 Thessalonians 2 the apostle Paul tells us that the “apostasy” will be characterised by “power” and “signs and wonders”. In the so-called “Olivet Discourse” (Matthew 24) Jesus says that “false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (verse 24). In similar fashion the book of Revelation tells us that the “false prophet” will perform great signs and deceive those who dwell on earth” (Rev 13:13-14).

This is where the primary focus of any eschatological study should be. What makes this focus even more imperative is the fact that we live in a time of great natural calamities, economic uncertainty, war (with the constant threat or “rumours” of greater war), and, above all, global religious transformation. Not only do we see a great apostasy from the Christian faith all across Europe, but in the past few decades we have seen much of the Christian church undergoing a radical shift from a focus on God’s Word to an obsession with signs, wonders and personal experience that is often highly subjective and mystical. Supernatural phenomena in the church are on the rise, and especially angelic appearances are becoming more commonplace in certain Christian circles. If we find ourselves in the last days, what do these changes signify? Is the church coming closer to God and experiencing the foretaste of some latter day great revival, or are we in the process of being deceived?

(Excerpted from the article Angels & Demons that appeared in the Auksano magazine)

2 thoughts on “Strain Out Those Gnats!

  1. RichJ August 26, 2011 / 9:27 pm

    Good point. The peripheral issues will take care of themselves if one can discuss the main issue of how to not be deceived. I do think the amillennial interpretation of prophecy is a wide-open door to deception, and a failing to “watch and be ready.”

  2. naturalchurch August 29, 2011 / 8:15 am

    RichJ, thanks for the comment. I think there’s a danger in every one of the different end-time views, but I also think the danger depends more on the motive underlying the view than the view itself. For instance, escapism or fear could underly a belief in the rapture, an extreme Zionism would favour Premillenialism, Kingdom Now or Dominionism can find an ideal expression in Postmillenialism, Amillenialism could provide an escape from the responsibility of taking a stand against current apostasy in the church (it all happened way back in 70 AD), and so on. I know irresponsible proponents of each view as well as responsible ones, so I don’t think the real problem is with the views themselves but with/in the hearts of the viewers.

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